I’m shamefully new to The Leisure Society, having only really got into them towards the end of last year after hearing ‘Last of the Melting Snow’ played on Lauren Laverne’s BBC 6 Music show. I’d heard the song before but hadn’t really properly paid attention. I don’t mean that I didn’t listen to the song properly – just that it sounded so familiar, so classic, that I took it for granted as part of the musical fabric of life. And I mean that as an absolute compliment. (The fact that ‘Last of the Melting Snow’ was nominated in 2009 for the Ivor Novello award for Best Song Musically & Lyrically backs me up nicely, I feel.)
So, for some reason towards the end of 2012, on that particular day I decided to pay attention to the ‘stuff in between the records’ and found out that this marvellously melancholic song was by a band called The Leisure Society. With freshly minted Spotify Premium account on hand, I put ‘Last of the Melting Snow’ on repeat play for several days before venturing onto the rest of the album that contained that track, ‘The Sleeper’ (along with bonus EP ‘A Product of the Ego Drain’). At which point, the whole album went on repeat play for several weeks. This was ridiculous – I was loving the first album so much, I didn’t have time to explore the second album! Eventually I managed to get onto the second album, ‘Into the Murky Water’, and found that to be equally addictive. The purchase of the albums on iTunes signified that this was a band whose music I would want around me all my life, not just for the time of a Spotify subscription. They were – are – my new favourite band.
The first few paragraphs of the programme notes that Chris Addison wrote for a show The Leisure Society did at the Barbican describe perfectly how I felt on discovering The Leisure Society. If you’ve ever fallen in love with a band, what he wrote applies to you.
Hearing Your New Favourite Band for the first time makes you think, “Of course that’s how music should be being made. It’s so obvious now. How had I not realised that before?” Their particular combination of melody, lyrics, arrangement, voice, production – it all makes such blinding sense. It’s like being told the answer to a puzzle and immediately understanding it but knowing that you could never have arrived at the solution yourself.
And so, serendipitously for me, having just discovered the band, it wasn’t long before I had new material to fawn over: the third album, ‘Alone Aboard the Ark’ came out last month, and has been on, yes, repeat play. With a new album came a tour and, perfectly for someone of advancing years, a sit-down gig at Queen Elizabeth Hall, which brings me neatly onto last night’s gig.
For me, a great gig isn’t just about hearing the songs you love played loudly or raucously or a bit wonkily. I don’t go into a gig thinking that this is what I want but if I leave a gig with a new perspective on songs I thought I was already familiar with, I know it’s been a great one. I’m still growing into ‘Alone Aboard the Ark’ and last night’s gig absolutely made me fall in love with the album. The songs, when played live, just made absolute sense immediately. That’s not to say the recorded album doesn’t do that but I find with the best albums the songs are so layered it can take many listens to unleash the full potential. Not going to last night’s gig wouldn’t have stopped me from enjoying ‘Alone Aboard the Ark’ and knowing that it was an excellent album. But going to the gig opened up my ears to the songs’ heartbeats, giving me immediate access to their essence.
The feeling I got from last night’s gig reminded me of seeing Elbow when they toured ‘Build a Rocket Boys!’ I loved the album but it was the live experience that really unlocked it for me. The Elbow and Leisure Society comparison’s apt, actually. On a musical level, both are quintessentially English bands (in fact, The Leisure Society used that term to describe themselves last night), albeit sounding completely different to each other. I don’t mean that they’re musically insular – just that both of them have a canon of music that I can’t ever imagine a band outside of England producing. And in terms of stage presence, there’s a charming self-deprecation that’s evident. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think when a band have paid their dues – and, from the interviews I’ve read, The Leisure Society have definitely done this via the long slog – they get so much more goodwill and loyalty from an audience and that keeps them grounded (even if they’re disgusting good looking and talented). That said, the Elbow comparison may have been on my mind after reading someone’s review of The Leisure Society’s Norwich gig: Up close and personal for the best gig ever. [Link removed 4 January 2019 as it doesn’t work any more.]
There are so many great memories from last night but I think the very English stampedette to the front (after a fair bit of cajoling by the band) for the final song ‘A Matter of Time’ is my favourite part of the show. I don’t easily clap along to songs – preferring to be the ‘cool’ type and stick my hands in my jeans instead – but I was right in there last night. I can’t explain it – I think there was just so much love in the room.
The Leisure Society play their biggest gig to date at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 5th December. See you there?