The High Hazels sold out The Leadmill in their hometown on Thursday 20th November 2014. I interviewed frontman James Leesley ahead of the gig to find out about the tour, the debut album and to learn more about this up and coming Sheffield band.
“There’s nothing like playing back here” James told me at the prospect of tonight’s sold out headline show in his hometown of Sheffield. “We’re expecting a lot of people and we hope they all enjoy it! We hope they’re impressed.”
Tonight’s show marks the first time that the High Hazels have headlined Sheffield’s famous Leadmill venue. But judging by the fact that the show was almost sold out before the day even arrived, it won’t be the last!
James’ excitement and pride to be headlining it was clear to see. “Being from Sheffield, you hear about (The Leadmill) from when you first start. It’s heritage and the bands that have played here are second to none. There’s plenty of decent venues around but this one has something about it – you think this is where people have made their career and gone on to massive things.”
Of course along with the excitement of a headline show in your hometown, there is of course an added pressure. “You know a lot of the people have seen you before, so you have to take it that step up and make sure you’re better than last time. You put pressure on yourself to really deliver. But I think it’s good pressure and you’ve got to have it or you’re not going to get anywhere.”
But the indie four-piece – who consist of James Leesley, Scott Howes, Paul Barlow and Anthony Barlow, are no strangers to the big stage. Their two previous shows at the Leadmill saw them support the excellent ‘Crookes’ and ‘Dry The River’, while this summer saw them perform in front of their biggest audience to date on the main stage at Sheffield’s annual Tramlines Festival.
But not being signed to a major label means big supporting roles can be hard to come by, as James explained: “Those sort of opportunities seem to be done either label-wise, or simply a band liking you and asking you to tour with them. And that could happen tonight, or in ten years! Or it could never happen. But hopefully we’ll get the chance again as it’s great to do and you get great experience playing in the bigger venues.”
The band’s success has been remarkable considering their short history. But despite playing their first gig as the High Hazels less than two years ago, their roots go as far back as primary school. “Myself, Scott and Anthony had been very close mates right through school since Primary. We’d played in various little bands and things like that but we needed a bass player. And as it happened, Anthony’s brother Paul – who’s actually a drummer by trade, said he’d play bass. He liked what we were doing and he knew us as people and he took to it like a duck to water and that’s how it started.”
The group, whose name comes from a ‘Hazels Park’ near where they grew up, took to the stage for their first gig on 30th November 2012 at The Great Gatsby in Sheffield. James had a wry smile on his face when reminiscing about this gig, telling me “We were nervous. Very nervous! “, adding “It was really intimate thing with a lot of people watching and we had a lot of intricate parts to play so we all just had our heads down – it wasn’t a proper gig really!”
The group, who site numerous musical inspirations from the 1960’s, have come a long way since then with the release of their debut album and a UK tour all in the last few months.
James explained that recording the self-titled debut album was the highlight of the band’s career so far, telling me that “we knew at the time that this was what we wanted to be doing” before going in to more detail. “It took us a step up. We recorded it in Leeds, and we lived in a flat together for nearly a month so everyday we were going down to the studio and it was constant. We were just in our element.”
To promote the album, which was released 27th October, the High Hazels embarked on a headline tour of the UK in November. James said that he was loving the touring experience and picked out the show at Cardiff’s Gwdihww Bar as the highlight. “Things just seemed to come together. And we got to stay in a country club for the night and that had a jaccuzzi and everything! So we we’re pretending to be the Rolling Stones for the night!”
Whilst picking Cardiff as the highlight so far, James had high hopes that tonight’s show in Sheffield would be even better and it was certainly a cracker!
The headliners were supported by two local bands – ‘RedFaces’ and ‘Laurel Canyons’, both of who James described as “ones to watch.”
First up was ‘RedFaces’. A very young band but one bursting with potential, the four piece indie rockers majorly impressed the crowd with a set list that included ‘There’s a Storm Coming Your Way’ – the title track of their latest EP. After seeing this performance, there is little doubt that ‘RedFaces’ will be headlining notable venues such as The Leadmill themselves in no time!
The penultimate band of the evening was ‘Laurel Canyons’. James of the High Hazels had told me earlier that “They’ve got a really good songwriting ethic. We like the way they’re going about it. They’re another good band to watch.” And their mellow sound entertained the crowd ahead of the main event with tracks including ‘Know Nothing’, ‘Never Said A Word’ and ‘Led Astray’.
The High Hazels hit the stage at around 9:30pm, receiving a great reception from the home crowd. They opened with ‘Hearts Are Breaking’ from the debut album, before running through a number of tracks including ‘Banging On My Door’ and ‘Hanging Moon’.”
Three members of the band left the stage following the song ‘Loneliness Inn’, leaving frontman James on stage alone to perform a beautiful acoustic rendition of ‘Shy Tide’ – a song also from the band’s debut album.
James then took to the organ for ‘Promenade’ – something he had only done for the first time live during this tour but all went smoothly as the band thrilled the crowd. This song was highlighted by the band as one of their favourites, but James explained to me that they had almost given up on it in the studio. “We were so close to just sacking it off. But we just tried to reinvent it with this old organ sound and it built up from that and became what it is now.”
The roof was then raised by the next song – ‘Misbehave’. “I think as a live song, ‘Misbehave’ is the one that’s being banded around and gets the spark going.” And it certainly did this evening!
‘Night Song’ and finally, ‘Valencia’ concluded a wonderful performance from the High Hazels – a show that will no doubt be one of the highlights of the band’s career to date!
So what’s next for the band? Well, despite this being the end of their UK tour they have three more live dates still to come in 2014! Next month they hit London, Liverpool and Leeds and the frontman explained “We’re building quite a following in them sort of areas so we wanted to visit them after the tour.”
James also hinted at the possibility of a new album sooner rather than later. “There’s six or seven tunes that we’ve been working on for a while but haven’t had chance to really get our teeth into yet. But we’ll do it when were ready. We’re always writing – some stick with us and some fall by the wayside, but the plan is to do a second album. But we’re not going to rush it. This album still has plenty of time to run it’s course. “