I don’t know the reason why The Leisure Society are named as they are, and I doubt I ever will, but it does seem to be a name well suited. Their gig at the Junction 2 on Monday night was relaxed, good humoured and pretty laid back so yeah, I reckon you could indeed say the whole evening was pretty leisurely. I’m actually very late to the party with this lot, I’d not even heard of them five days ago, so for the first time ever I turned up to do a gig review completely clueless of who the band were and what they’d sound like, but I needn’t have worried. It turned out to be one of those gigs where you can just sit back and just let the music wash over you, there’s really no effort required at all. The whole evening had a rather amiable air to it if I’m honest – the corduroyed crowd sidled in quietly (seats filled first of course), the support band called us “polite”, and members of the main act supped red wine between songs – it all seemed very civilised indeed.
Support for the night was Alessi’s Ark, aka Alessi Laurent-Marke a singer (flanked by two companions tonight) from London and with one huskily sweet voice. Alessi’s Ark eased us into the evening with 30 minutes of sultry, hand-wringing folk-pop. Having confirmed that the Ark she was guiding was not in fact the same Ark that The Leisure Society were alone aboard (that’ll make sense in a minute), Alessi led us through a set list which included impressive numbers such as ‘Whatever Makes You Happy’ and ‘The Good Song’’, along with an interesting take on The National’s ‘Afraid of Everyone’. With their well-crafted instrumental composition and the unassuming and modest stage presence of Alessi, this was a perfectly selected support act for the main event.
It was quickly apparent that The Leisure Society have the ability to improve your mood. The first three songs of the set were so joyous and carefree that you couldn’t help but be drawn in. Set opener ‘The Sleeper’ is comprised of soaring harmonies and lilting melodies, helped in no small part by the use of the violin and flute to tremendous effect. The latter of these comes to the forefront in ‘Save It For Someone Who Cares’ which came next – shrill bursts from the flute here were almost bird like, and it’s something which came again and again through the set. You know that Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah scene from ‘Song of the South’ where Uncle Remus strolls through the countryside with songbirds flitting around his head? Well yeah, that’s what some of this music reminds me of. There’s almost a storybook type feel to their sound, and that’s not for one minute suggesting it lacks depth or sincerity – it’s just wonderfully at ease. ‘Fight for Everyone’, inspired by the London Olympics and taken off their 2013 album ‘Alone Aboard the Ark’ then continued the feel good factor but now with a more contemporary feel.
Nick Hemming, front man and co-founder of the band told us in a pre-gig Q&A that he draws influence from a wide range of subjects, so a mid-set trio of three hometown (Burton-upon-Albion to be precise) inspired songs was no great surprise. The latter two of these began what was probably the stand out section of the set for me. Beginning with the melancholic and rueful ‘We Were Wasted’, the band then juxtaposed it next to a lively rendition of ‘Dust on the Dancefloor’ – indie pop descending into frenetic guitar thrashing all round – before jutting starkly back to the band’s piece de resistance, the magnificent ‘Last of the Melting Snow’. This song received an Ivor Novello nomination and was named by Elbow extraordinaire Guy Garvey as his ‘song of 2008’. This song is also heart breaking. Performed live to a room in utter silence there was an almost magical, enchanted feel to it and it’s not one that many bands could pull off, these guys did it to perfection.
Though clearly a well-rehearsed and well-honed act, the encore provided us with a couple of firsts. A slightly disgruntled Nick Hemming reveals that ‘We Go Together’ is his favourite song off the latest album but it never gets requested – “sod you all!” – so the performance of this vintage, sepia soaked love song was a world exclusive. Then came an even more ambitious attempt; this one the subject of repeated and unrequited requests from an audience member, so it was with a definite sense of pessimism that the band left the stage and took to the floor for an acoustic rendition of ‘The Darkest Place I Know’. I say pessimism, as the odds seemed to be stacked against them. Hemming’s voice was as good as gone by this point, he wasn’t sure of the lyrics, it was unrehearsed, a band member had a broken foot…the excuses kept coming! With a little crowd encouragement however, they pressed on and were rewarded with the biggest cheer of the night. As the set closed off with twanging guitars and another collage of sound that they build up so well, I doubt you’d have found a member of the audience who hadn’t been thoroughly impressed with what they’d witnessed over the last hour or so, least of all me. The Leisure Society, eh? You easily stick a ‘P’ in front of that.*
*I understand that the two words aren’t spelt the same, I’m still having it though.