Hardwicke Circus [aka The Hardwickes] "At Her Majesty's Pleasure" is out now: https://tinyurl.com/thehardwickes

The life and times of Her Majesty’s Pleasure begins with rough-hewn Hardwickes emerging from broken bones and bygone band members, fuelled and ready to meet their most dynamic crowd yet: the citizens of our established UK correction houses. Destinations: Werrington, Downview, Send, Maidstone, East Sutton Park, Lewes, Ford, Elmley, Coldingley, Standford Hill and Rochester to perform a set of original music followed by an intimate anything goes Q&A session.

Recorded in prison chapels, The Hardwickes have produced an album that will forever align themselves with the disenfranchised. Sticking to pandemic restrictions, reduced crowds of young offenders, men, and women of all ages & convictions gathered to experience this travelling brotherhood. At Standford Hill, songs such as ‘When The Chips Are Down’ inspired inmates to jump on stage and spit their own bars, at Elmley prison officers and inmates stood side by side to collaborate with the band’s rendition of an early Dylan number, and electric violin players hijacked ‘The Ballad of the Gypsy King’ making it the best version out there. But perhaps the most extraordinary moment came from Coldingley - 

"A prisoner on E-Wing, a complex chap, recently on an ACCT, never socialises with others, introvert and finds it difficult to fit in. Appears to have little in the way of friends, was managed under the ‘complex case’ for a period of time. Mr X turned up for the Hardwicke Circus event, sat at the front and brought his own guitar. He spoke to no one in the audience, sitting in silence but appeared to be enjoying the band immensely. The band lead asked if anyone would like to sing, Mr X immediately put his hand up, I saw others in the audience nudging each other and rolling their eyes. I did myself wonder how I would manage the situation if he got heckled off the stage. However, Mr X confidently got up on the stage, took prize position and took the lead vocals. To everyone’s amazement (including mine) he was outstanding.” Mr X gave the most electrifying, operatic blues rendition of 'Born Under a Bad Sign' that the band had ever heard. The whole room erupted, cheering as if it had only just discovered music for the first time. Only after our performance did we find out from an officer that Mr X had been in the jail for years and had never spoken a word to anybody - prison officers or inmates. Not a word to anyone. But on hearing The Hardwickes, the music took over.

This journey does not stop with the clanging of cell doors - The Hardwickes are proud to be in connection with many of the inmates, hearing tales of improved wellbeing in the cells and an uptake of poetry, lyricism, guitar playing and performance since the band’s visit. This recording is a fast paced, Act Now documentation of a band with it all to give. In times of half-baked truths and trickery, forgery and fame, art can be revolutionary - The Hardwickes at Her Majesty’s Pleasure takes us one step closer to the human connection we are all capable of. 

Album Review - The Midlands Rocks 24/06/2022

Carlisle’s Hardwicke Circus (aka The Hardwickes) first came on my radar via their exciting debut album, Borderland. Since that album hit the streets, the band have undergone line-up changes which only served to galvanise the group and, as a baptism of fire, the band visited 12 prisons last autumn for a series of intimate gigs. At Her Majesty’s Pleasure captured the quintet at two of those shows and this “official bootleg” live album captures the band in all their unbridled glory.

There’s no prolonged introduction to set the scene, just the delicious riff that heralds the arrival of opening shot ‘Walking On Broken Glass’…and what a riff it is! Hardwicke Circus have a muscular, punchy sound and they soon start throwing their weight around with a sound that’s far bigger than their constituent parts. Jonny Foster’s authoritative vocals ring out, and they are nicely counterpointed by Andy Phillip’s sublime saxophone as drummer Tom Foster and bassist Joe Hurst combine to create a weighty rhythm section that anchors Lewis Bewley-Taylor’s ethereal keys. With Tom and Joe also providing backing vocals Hardwicke Circus are an intriguing tangle of melodic lines and haunting harmonies that intertwine in strange and unexpected ways.

Hardwicke Circus have a sound that’s built for the biggest stages (surely it’s only a matter of time until they’re headlining Reading) but it sounds equally at home in the confines of HMP Standford Hill and HMP Elmley. You can hear some of the great British songwriters in Hardwicke Circus (Ray Davies, Billy Bragg, Mark Knopfler) but they’ve an original thing going on and they sound like no one but themselves. However, the band explore some roots on a choice cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, on which they put their own indelible stamp whist retaining the essence of the original (and that’s how all covers should be handled). It’s to the bands credit that their very own ‘My Sweet Love’ stands shoulder to shoulder with Dylan’s classic, and sounds at home in such illustrious company.

There are a few guest appearances, such as inmate Nazim Uddin who adds some nifty vocals to ‘When The Chips Are Down’ and officer Jamie Childs on the aforementioned ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, both of which add an authentic live feel. And to all intense and purposes this is the quintessential live experience, as Hardwicke Circus showcase some of their best tunes, all of which become more urgent on stage. Case in point being ‘Ballad Of The Gypsy King’, a highlight from the Borderland album, sounds just as good in the live environment when bolstered by a hundred voices singing along. Like early Stones jamming with the Faces, ‘Man Of The Town’ walks with a cool swagger and sets things up nicely for ‘The Weight’. Perhaps best known for appearing on the Easy Rider soundtrack, the context of being performed in prison is particularly pertinent and makes for a fitting closer.

At Her Majesty’s Pleasure continues to propel Hardwicke Circus on their upward trajectory but, of equal importance it stands a testament to the positive power of music. Hardwicke Circus’ prison tour left a raft of reformed characters in its wake and in that respect At Her Majesty’s Pleasure is a win/win.

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