At Her Majesty’s Pleasure 

The Midlands Rocks

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.

Hardwicke Circus played in a series of prisons, resulting in our latest album, At Her Majesty’s Pleasure.  Here is what prison officials said following our concerts:

HMP Coldingley 

Yes, it was great.  

The best bit of Coldingley was when 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 , which in itself surprised me but I had heard through recent meetings that he was into music and spent all his spare time writing music. He sat at the front and brought  his own guitar (which I also observed, no one was allowed to touch) 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, he performed a rock song with the backing  of Hardwick Circus. At the end of his solo performance, the entire audience got to their feet and gave him a standing ovation . Mr X’s face was full of pride and the audience members who I suspect on occasions had been negative to Mr X during his time held him in a different light .  Mr X  took his seat in silence once more but I could see he was pleased with himself and I was pleased for him.

It made a massive difference to someone who struggles with prison, giving him confidence and showing others you don’t have to look like a rock star to sound like one!

HMP Werrington

Hardwicke Circus performed live at Werrington on the 21/10/21 to a group of 25 children, this would have been more but due to covid restrictions in the performance area which was the chapel it had to be capped at that.

The band were really professional and polite and engaged with the children well, the performance was excellent and was a first at Werrington which was well received by the children who attended. A nice touch was getting one of the children to sing alongside the band which went down really well. Overall this was a positive experience by a really good band and I will admit to listening to quite a few of the bands YouTube videos at home!!

HMP Standford Hill

On the 9th November 21, Hardwicke Circus visited HMP Standford Hill and put on an unforgettable concert for our prisoners. This was their 4th visit to our prison and they were as popular as ever.

They played a set list that lasted over one hour with the highlight being a collaboration with several of our men singing and rapping along with the band.  A moment that many in attendance won’t forget for a long time! The band are so engaging and bring a new dimension to connecting with their audience. They conducted a question and answer session after the gig, where our prisoners had many interesting questions that all the band members got involved with. The evening was a complete success and really helped bring a smile to many of our men’s faces, as well as help motivate many of our would-be- musicians!

HMP Downview (Women's)

Just to say we had Hardwicke Circus in this afternoon.  25 women attended in the Chapel and have to say they were brilliant.  Well worth all the hard work from all to put it on and certainly a different way to spend my Monday afternoon. I hope everyone else who has them in has the same positive feedback that we have just had from our residents.

HMP Ford

I got a lot of comments back stating how enjoyable the event was. Not something inmates usually have the opportunity to be involved in but they all found it very enjoyable in. Went down really well!

The Borderland 

The Rebirth of Cool

What if after I had told you 18 months ago that when I set up this blog to write about cool music, cool people and cool things that I would be reviewing an album that at times reminded this writer of New Model Army, Crusty Rockers The Levellers you would of raised an eye brow right!

What if I said they chucked in a load of Boomtown Rats Sax?

Oh and the lead singer has a voice that is somewhere between the geezer from Crash Test Dummies and Gary from Reef, but making Gary sound as smooth as Tony Bennett!

And if you were still following this blog by then – how about an album of songs that jumps right out of the 80’s rock scene and owes as much to Born In the USA Springsteen, Hot House Flowers and The Waterboys as it does to current artists such as Sam Fender, Blossoms, Catfish and the Bottlemen?

You’d thing this new writer was off his not so young head and too many disco biscuits had rattled his brain beyond any kind of understanding of what makes a great album in 2021.

What if I told you that all of the above is true, that Hardwick Circus have released an album that incorporates all of the above and more, so much more that this writer listened to the album 3 times in a row straight and wrote this review straight afterwards.

Trust me – this is all I ask – read on and then go listen to it.

Hardwicke Circus are a 6 piece band from Carlisle – literally the last place in the UK before your Scottish (well nearly) – thats all I know about them – but I’m going to find out more – so lets focus on the album.

The Borderland is an assured debut album as you will hear in many a while, its also one that will surprise you almost at every turn.

Lets get the elephant in the room out of the way first – vocalist and guitarist Jonny has a voice that to say its going to be marmite to a lot of people is putting it lightly – none more so then the opening track Guiding Light – a vocal so deep I’ve not heard since that strange MMM MMM MMM Song by Crash Test Dummies – its a brave opening song and maybe thats the point – you get over that and then your into the album that by the end of it your probably saying he’s the best new vocalist around and has a richness n tone to it that is matched by few others – at its best its part Frank Turner, Joe Strummer and even David Johansen from the New York Dolls. You decide – I know where I sit (now).

But what about the songs – well I’m pleased to say it’s full of stadium filling/gig singalong belters such as recent single Walking on Broken Glass thats a triumphant a tune you’ve heard for a whle, filled with that 80’s style sax – with a hook to die for. Nowhere left to run and Lets make new mistakes are incredibly great pop fused songs that will sit happily next to the best of anything your favourite acts have put out in recent years. You get Tom Petty, 80’s REM and with Lets make new mistakes synths which could make Blossoms pack it all in – its that good.

Hands Up Don’t Shoot may just be the best of the bunch – a song that tackles racism and police brutality head on. Its brave as its catchy and shows depth to the band as well as a social consciousness which is a theme that runs through the whole album.

Lockdown (of course there would be) is a song that sounds like Peter Gabriel wrote it – the 80’s influences are everywhere but in a gritty real way that that made later era Dexy’s so essential.

They even have time to put in a song written about and dedicated to Tyson Fury – The Ballad of the Gypsy King is a Madness, Glam Rock Stomper if played by Peter Buck on Mandolin. When they make a film of Tyson’s life if this isn’t on the soundtrack then there is no justice in the world.

The slower ballads are also really great – Carry the Torch especially which is particulary heartfelt.

Final tracks A reason to Believe and The Debatable Land end the album on a high and The Levellers influence on the The Debabtable Land can’t be avoided but for me its the power and vision of Joe Strummer and The Clash that shines through.

I should really dislike this album – and I’m sure my early 20’s me is sneering even now – but I’m different now and I would be quite upset if I was to miss out hearing this album because I have a feeling it’s going to take the band to another level. As a newish band I can only think of the likes of The Heavy North, Sam Lambeth and maybe a few others that are carrying this type of blues, country, rock n soul off with any type of style. So for me thats just perfect!

Its out now – so do yourself a favour – park your preconceptions at the door and go and have a listen.

Get Ready to ROCK!

This band hail from Carlisle, apparently Hardwicke Circus is the first roundabout in Carlisle, as a the band say, they are the “greatest band you’ve never heard of”, somehow I think that is all about to change with this awesome debut album.

They have already released one single from the album- “Let’s make new mistakes” – which I love and completely agree with the sentiment.

The smooth, dark chocolate vocals of Jonny Foster, entice you into the opening track, “Guiding Light”. With no less than three of the band doing a majestic job on backing vocals, and complimenting the lead vocalist perfectly, leaving you assured you’re in the presence of an accomplished new band who work seamlessly together to produce pure class.

‘Lockdown’ – this is about the band holing up together in a cottage during lockdown to write when their live shows got canned, a tad tongue in cheek narration but nevertheless it is no filler and a great reflection on how this band adapted to ensure they continued on their musical journey when their gigs got cancelled.

The style of ‘Carry the Torch’ is reminiscent for me of Gaslight Anthem both in melody and lyrical style “ I know there’s an ocean between every wave”

If you’re not up and dancing along to the infectious beat of ‘My Sweet Love’ then please check if you’ve still got a pulse!

‘Hands up, Don’t Shoot’ is very Stranglers-esque, personally I like it. ‘The Ballad of the Gypsy King’ is all about Tyson Fury. What story-telling, stylistically I could hear the influence of Shinedown, love the diversity on this album.

The closing track of the album is ‘The Debateable Land’ which has very poignant lyrics, a real call to arms.

Personal stand out tracks: No Surrender, Nowhere Left to Run, Let’s Make New Mistakes (I’m game!), A Reason to Believe

I would love to see this band live, they’ve undoubtedly got an exciting future ahead of them

This is a cracking, feel good album that is completely new and yet lulls you into a sense of familiarity, possibly because of some of the influences that have clearly helped developed their unique style.

I know it’s good when I’m not even halfway through the album, and I’d already added it to my top 10 albums of the year – what a debut, buckle up and enjoy the circus ride! *****

Review by Karen Clayton

Hot Press Magazine 

Full-bodied Cumbrian pub rock is here.

Hardwicke Circus is the first roundabout you hit when you drive into Carlisle, a fitting moniker for a band that is putting the Cumbrian town on the musical map. Fresh-faced veterans of over 700 gigs, they recall 1980s Neil Young – who they’ve supported at London’s Hyde Park. Frontman Jonny Foster blends Elvis Costello, Joe Strummer and Bruce Springsteen; the fabulously named Lewis Bewley-Taylor plays every instrument that ever-contained keys; and Andy Phillips expertly blows flute, tenor and baritone saxophones.

‘My Sweet Love’ contains New York Dolls echoes, while ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’ possesses The Clash trick of a protest song with an arena style sing-a-long chorus. The Tyson Fury epic, ‘Ballad Of The Gypsies’, calls to mind Dylan’s ‘Hurricane’. Big Country-style synthesizers are rolled out on ‘Let’s Make New Mistakes’ and The Ramones get the Billy Bragg treatment on ‘A Reason To Believe’.

Tom Foster is a full-blooded songsmith, and his outstanding band facilitate all the sounds in his swarming head. The fusion of styles makes the band’s sound unique. The Borderland is going to be quite the spectacle on their upcoming tour which includes ten dates playing prisons. A rock and roll beast of a band.

Maximum Volume 

Hardwicke Circus are not a band i've come across before despite having played over seven hundred gigs, supported both Bob Dylan and Neil Young and made the local ITV news station in Cumbria. They comprise Jonny Foster (lead vocals & guitar), Tom Foster (drums & vocals), Joe Hurst (bass & vocals), Lewis Bewley-Taylor (all keys & vocals), Jack Pearce (all saxes & vocals ). 

This proud Carlisle based band, named after a roundabout in their hometown were due to play the South By Southwest film, interactive media, and music festival in Austin, Texas but due to the covid restrictions they were unable to attend. The band also had 165 gigs cancelled which would be the death knell in any other group, but they took the opportunity to rent a farmhouse in the Yorkshire Dales and record their debut album 'The Borderland'. The album opens with `Guiding Light` with its driving drum and bass rhythm section leading us in before Jonny's deep vocals join. The chorus almost has a Simple Minds texture about it. At the midway point there's an interesting guitar solo accompanied by some organ like keys.  We also have a delightful saxophone solo towards the end with some sax tinges throughout the song. I felt that `No Surrender` was a song made for a live occasion. It really seemed to have it all, catchy guitar chords, delicate saxophone tones and harmonic backing harmonies. It even has a break towards the end allowing the audience to repeat “No Surrender” along with the band.

`Lockdown` had a funkier vibe about it with hand tapped percussion. I wasn`t quite sure about the high pitched vocal harmonies but the brass, guitar riffs and keyboard solo more than made up for them. There seemed to be a message of hope in `Walking On Broken Glass` a quite anthemic tune which appeared to inspire a feeling of positivity. Another track that enjoys some delightful saxophone tones, a brief guitar solo and some tambourine tinges.

`Carry The Torch` begins as a stripped back melancholic number about a lost love but grows from acoustic guitar, tapped drum rim, piano keys, and aching vocals to more of an expansive musical gathering with a poignant saxophone solo and underlying piano traces. We return to a more uplifting tune with `My Sweet Love` which almost seems the opposite of the last number with a sort of stirring declaration of devotion.

`Hands Up Don`t Shoot` opens with a riff similar to “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” before branching off into a kind of rock oriented protest song against gun crime and probable racist abuse. I really enjoyed the vocals that had a hint of Cumbrian dialect in the delivery, especially the chorus. There was an almost Springsteen grandiloquence about `Nowhere Left To Run` with keys and saxophone almost vying to be heard. Again it`s another light, breezy, pop, funk rock offering.

`The Ballad Of The Gypsy King` is a quite captivating and rousing tribal folk tribute to two time world heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury. We return to a more empowering anthemic rock aria with `Let`s Make New Mistakes` a number that quite races along.

`A Reason To Believe` opened with an early Dexy`s Midnight Runner`s texture and is another quite bombastic composition with all you`d expect and a positive message of hope thrown in for good measure. We end with `The Debatable Land` which is a kind of call to arms musically and has an almost Celtic folky vibe to it. A number that has all it`s roots in the land of their birth.

`The Borderland` is a well thought out, measured, and superbly executed rock album that seems to have its origins in Eighties pop rock with hints of bands like Simple Minds, Deacon Blue, and Big Country. The amount of hard work and time spent on the road has ensured that these guys are no slouches musically. A band that will go down a storm at any festival that would be smart enough to book them.

Rating 8.5 /10

Sophie Brownlee

Prepare to be intrigued. From the off, Jonny Foster’s flat and heavy vocals, akin to JJ Cale with a touch of 10cc, atop a foreboding and gripping keyboard beat, guitar swirling overhead, announce Hardwicke Circus’ laconic, enigmatic sound. The saxophone adds a warm rush in ‘Guiding Light’, the uplifting and flickering opener, crowned with surprising harmonies and a sparse but enveloping mix. It’s almost a shame that it totally steals the show from the rest of the album. 

‘No Surrender’ rocks an indie-folk vibe, while ‘Lockdown’ is busier and choppier, cushioned by low-set vocals and contrasting high replies. It shows off a sassy and fun side with clipped, sugary guitar. This five-piece from Carlisle make no bones about their outsider status on the scene in terms of a low-fi sound and aesthetic. It’s the mythical, wandering edge of The Doors wrapped in the tightness and songwriting skill of The Rolling Stones, glistening with a Big Band feel from the addition of sax and Lewis Bewley-Taylor’s keys. Just take ‘Walking on Broken Glass’, where sax croons, the guitar runs, keys chime and the vocals string it altogether in a summery breeze   a song.

Foster’s vocals deliver a Gallagher-esque laconicism that smacks even more in the sadly stirring love song ‘Carry The Torch’; the chorus fragments in a mirroring of emotions as the guitar echoes the vocal rhythm. An impassioned sax solo with stacks of reverb soars, lingers, and oozes on. There’s innovative and groovy use of layering in the poppy ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’, while ‘Let’s Make New Mistakes is a flowing, warm indie-rock piece full of danger and possibility; the step rhythms and harmonies perfect to make, shake, and make mistakes to. It builds in pace until its rushing, racing, flooding past you, breaking for an Capella second before plunging back into the pulsing embrace. 

Rock solid guitar drives ‘A Reason to Believe’. before Foster breaks out challengingly in closer ‘The Debatable Land’. Keys chime in to lend support, while drums from Foster’s brother, Tom, provide the backbone. The songs do seem to follow a formula - albeit not a bad one - though the rhythms are intoxicating, the delivery moody and begging. Sax struts and swaggers through another great solo. 

Hardwicke Circus deliver on so many fronts, marrying indie, seventies Glam Rock and Jazz; they possess real edge, and they know exactly what they’re about. 

Additional Reviews 

INTRODUCING: Hardwicke Circus, by Elly Bailey

Five-piece band Hardwicke Circus - whose members include a saxophone and keys player - are paying homage to the great bands of the past. They take influences but they don’t copy, and the result is a unique sound, soul-infused classic rock ‘n roll.

Having gained a large internet following, and fans all over the UK through playing countless shows, they are quickly gaining a reputation as the next rock band set to take over the music industry. Watching them live only enforces this belief. 

Lead singer and guitarist Jonny Foster will entice you with his smooth, confident vocals, but also his unpretentious swagger. With a Jagger-esc vibe about him and the looks and clothes to match, he makes the perfect frontman for the band, managing to keep his voice heard amongst the instrumentation played, all whilst making it look easy.

The potential of this band is huge, and being hindered by a detail as frustrating as travel is not something that these boys are going to let happen. They have cleverly taken matters into their own hands, having recently secured a residency at The Hope & Anchor in Islington. Definitely a set of shows that you should check out if you’re in the area!

Cool, young and talented, Hardwicke Circus are a band that are making waves, creating something different, and standing out in the sea of similarity in the music industry. 100% ones to watch.

Where The Music Meets

Ready for some modern old-sounding indie-rock? Hardwicke Circus, a.k.a. the most styled kids on the block have just surprised the hell out of us here at WtMM. Already reaching a lot of consensus around the Web, these guys bring all the guns to every song they make. The latest one is probably the best example of their power.

Please Don’t Try This At Home, is an unpretentious rock anthem that sounds like an homage to the great great bands. The vocals sound a bit like Jagger. The amount of band power does not shy away from The Doors or the guys that play with Bruce Springsteen for hours and hours. And there are definitely abundant amounts of The Who all over the song –  just listen to those epic entrance guitars! But the best of it all is the amount of feeling put into the song. It sure shows these guys are having fun doing it. Makes impossible to stay still while listening. And very easy to fall in a sort of bro-love with this seven guys.

And if you feel this might be one-in-a-million, try to stay indifferent to their previous releases: the ingenious sun-set starter Why You Looking For Love?, the gunny When The Chips Are Down, or the Springsteen sounding Nowhere Left To Run. All of them released in under a year.

Their forthcoming EP entitled Hot Moves comes out on 13th October. We should expect for a show-maker, party-starter, heart-warmer of a disc.

Social Music EP by Ben Walker

Hardwicke Circus is the name of a seven-piece from Carlisle who specialise in bringing some heavily melodic rhythm and blues music in a complete package that really packs a punch. Following their self-titled EP, the band have now returned with Social Music, another a five tracked EP acting as a brilliant taster to what this band are all about and how much they have to offer audiences.

Kicking things off is ‘Nowhere Left To Run’, a piano led intro that instantly bursts into a kaleidoscope of instruments: a bit of synth, trumpets, bass and guitar all intertwine for a few bars before vocalist Jonny Foster’s husked vocals kick in, carrying the track in a different direction than expected. The transition into the pre-chorus’ high “oohs” is fantastic and really shows a lot of range in Jonny’s voice. The track only continues to grow as each instrument proceeds to fade in and out of the ear and the occasional flourishes from the guitar really boost the song in such a way that it makes for an interesting listen throughout. The structure is somewhat abnormal is hitting the ear in an unusual, but delightful way before heading into a superbly played saxophone solo that simply comes out of nowhere. A great start and a great introduction to the band.

It is often hard for a seven-piece to truly utilise their full potential, however Hardwicke Circus’ following number, ‘Ride On The Track’ uses each instrument in such a way that it does not dominate Johnny’s vocals but simply makes for some incredibly well used backing sound. The almost western vibe to the track is incredibly different from the predecessor yet still makes for an equally pleasant listen, the simple but incredibly bold guitar solos add a beautiful dynamic which forces the head to bob along to. Just like making the most of their instruments, it is equally easy for seven piece bands to overcomplicate, however the simplicity of this track is what really brings it to life, it really does feel as though each instrument is working together instead of trying to trump the rest, which makes for an overall listen that is definitely something remarkable.

‘Love Her Madly’ stresses a far faster tone and a lower tone to Jonny’s voice, whilst yet another drastically different sound is created and, compared to the other numbers, the track does not particularly shine out from the rest of the record. Not only are the vocals somewhat too hard hitting. There doesn't seem to be much of a message and the instrumentation definitely overpowers the song. The song does grow into a more interesting listen with the sporadic flourishes from the trumpets and, as the other sounds begin to pile up, they do reach a nice level of composition. However the track feels like a minor bump compared to the rest of the record’s overall tone.

The variation throughout Social Music is definitely admirable as, in the space of just five songs, Hardwicke Circus have managed to successfully demonstrate almost every aspect of their sound. Whether it be through the subtle nuances of the backing instrumentation or a powerful solo, the record seems to have most aspects covered. ‘Woman’ holds an incredibly driven bass and guitar intro which catches the ear instantly and feels like the most ‘rocky’ part of the record. The backing bass-line bounces brilliantly off of Jonny’s lyrics and yet another subtle spring from the keys really morphs the track into a holistic package and possibly the highlight of the record.

Subtlety definitely does a lot for Hardwicke Circus and they have clearly learned to feature the trait into their tracks and, as such, Social Music is a brilliant demonstration into what the band are all about. Is the record revolutionary? No, but nor does it set out to be. As the title implies, Social Music is about just that, providing a chilled out vibe that people can bond over and, in that respect, whether it be seeing this band live, or simply listening to it in the background with a mate, Hardwicke Circus have achieved their goals and have produced an EP that I feel many will come to enjoy. 

I feel like we are just on the tip of the iceberg with Hardwicke Circus and they are still only just finding their feet. Whilst their sound definitely does pack a punch, I personally am intrigued and can’t wait to see how they manage to grow it further.

Feature in GQ Magazine - by Thomas Barrie

With a first album on the way and support dates for Neil Young and Bob Dylan among the 700-odd gigs they’ve played, Hardwicke Circus have exploded out of Carlisle to take the UK by storm

Way back in the murky past that was the 2014 Brit Awards, the Arctic Monkeys won the award for British Album Of The Year and Alex Turner sauntered up to the stage to collect the trophy, followed by his three grinning bandmates. Clutching the mic and gesticulating a little too much, he delivered a paean to rock’n’roll. “It just won’t go away,” Turner declared. “It might hibernate from time to time and sink back into the swamp. It seems like it’s fading away sometimes. But it will never die. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

To look at Hardwicke Circus, you’d think Turner was pretty much bang on the money. If Turner made his name as the musical – or, more specifically, lyrical – flaneur of a night out in Sheffield, the Cumbrian six-piece are trying to do the same for their hometown of Carlisle. “If you drive into Carlisle,” says frontman Jonny Foster, “the first roundabout you’ll hit is Hardwicke Circus. Whenever we’d travel anywhere, I’d say, ‘We’re from Carlisle,’ and the response would be, ‘Where the fuck is Carlisle?’ But there are no excuses now.”

As lockdown loomed in March, the band booked a farmhouse “at the top of a Yorkshire fell” and set about writing for an album that comes out later this month. Their original plan was to stay a week, says Foster, but with lockdown announced, the owner wouldn’t let them leave. “She had this strange idea that we couldn’t leave her home, so we were stranded on this farm for another two weeks! We got a lot of work done, but it was just like Withnail And I.”

In a sense, the whole thing was a welcome break from touring. Foster estimates that the band has played “four shows a week” for the last three years, or “well over 700 gigs”. They’ve played pubs, clubs and universities, but also prisons, canal boats and biker rallies, with their biggest date yet coming in support of Bob Dylan and Neil Young at London’s Hyde Park last summer. “It was a real pinch-me moment. [Growing up], we spent every spare moment learning how to play Bob Dylan songs. His music is the Holy Grail.”

It’s unsurprising to hear Foster talk in such glowing terms about Dylan, and not just because, well, he’s Bob Dylan. Perhaps more than many other young bands these days, there is a deliberate low-fi, almost traditional rock’n’roll feel to the band’s music and aesthetic; Foster himself has drawn comparisons with Mick Jagger in the press, while others might look at the mops and leather jackets and immediately think of The Jam. Foster names fellow three-chord enthusiasts Sam Fender and Fontaines DC as contemporaries he admires. And in keeping with their post-punk-meets-Brit-Invasion mien, the band’s vehicle of choice has, until now, been an old riot van. Now, they’re looking to upgrade to a double-decker bus, Foster confides, to give them a permanent, mobile base they can live in on the road. The plan is to have a built-in stage that can be erected anywhere, at any time, letting them tour until their hearts are content (and, one imagines, providing a great backdrop for photoshoots).

If previous videos and promotional materials have leaned heavily on the band’s local roots and pride, and their commitment to an aesthetic and sound not influenced too heavily by trends – not for them emo rap or streetwear collaborations – then the video for latest single “Addicted To Your Love” is little different. A black-and-white video sees the band interspersed with various couples dancing and generally showing each other a lot of love, in a swaggering, upbeat three-and-a-half minutes. Hardwicke Circus, of course, shot their bit in Carlisle. 

“Addicted To Your Love” by Hardwicke Circus is out now.

Hardwicke Circus, The Prince of Wales, Ledbury

I can't recall ever receiving an email from Russ, at Ledbury's POW before, but this gig was a change of program, they conjured up the energetic and rapidly rising Hardwicke Circus to play their Sunday evening slot. The band had been touring over the South, playing anywhere and everywhere, and would eventually head to Carlisle. There's a buzz about the band, a confidence, a band that was going places, check out their website, it's impressive for such a 'young' band. They are guided by Dave Robinson, co-founder of Stiff Records, and in his day, road manager for Hendrix, it's hard to believe you could have a better man behind you, 'If it ain't Stiff, it ain't worth a f***.'

They take a couple of songs to settle into their positions, tight as they were with literally 'Nowhere Left to Run'. Jonny has that warm thick voice, bit like woolly Southerners with a cold! Zack is like a caged tiger, he wants to move with those guitars, but there's nowhere to go. Andy, a statue, breathing down into his silver sax while Ben is bolted down. The only activity is Tom, bouncing around at his drums and Lewis, whose all over those key, sliders and knobs, the busiest hands in the band? The band are firing on all six cylinders, and it sounds pretty bloody good, as they dabble with the devil, 'Way Down in the Hole', Tom Waits, fully wired.

Jonny has the wiry look and swagger of a young Jagger, don't know about the moves with no space, but there's a nice touch of humour in his tales of the road. Most of the songs are theirs, taken from a couple of EP's, with the inevitable 'borrowed' and remoulded worthies to add to the mix. We're all chorusing to 'Addicted to You Love', the sound in this tiny pub is amazing. They close out the first set on a cracking pop'rocking, 'Woman'.

Hardwicke Circus are soon somersaulting through a second set, we all lift a glass for 'In Vino Veritas'. It bubbles like champagne under Lewis's fingers, before pouring into an anthem on the rocks, 'Walda', rocks you like a Glaswegian kiss. They wind the clock back to '78, riding The Jags for 'Back of my Hand', before we're all pulled into chorusing 'Hands Up', hand's up, don't shoot, brilliant.

You can't help feel the band are standing on the precipice of the big stage, they have real presence, an easy manner, humour, and above all else, some bloody good music. For the first time, in my memory, there was a collective decision to do a third set. Well it would have been a real challenge to pack everything together and get loaded into their ex-riot van.

I hope to have the opportunity to see this band again soon. Here is a final thought, they sometimes have a trombonist to add, he's on the EP, a dangerous weapon in such a tight space, could have had your eye out!

Review by Graham Munn

Hardwicke Circus, New Wave Punk Worley’s at The Swan,

Thursday nights in Stourport can be eventful in some way or other. Sliding into the Swan on the warm night, it was wonderful to feel a buzzing atmosphere all around from the audience..Headliners tonight Hardwicke Circus stormed onto the stage with pure professionalism. .Blending Americana with Indie Rock, the septet stopped by at the Swan the night before they journeyed to Hyde Park for their Bob Dylan and Neil Young support slot. .Taking to the stage with hit after hit, the musicianship in this band is incredible. Bouncing off one another with killer arrangements, the band are filled with youngsters too. .Hits such as “Walda” and “Woman” created a stadium feel in the Swan. Anthem after anthem, this band are all about the arrangements. Including a brass section alongside the warm rock structures, it created a soulful performance to each track. .Rock stars in the making, imagine The Rolling Stones creating an album with The Doors jamming with Primal Scream… THIS is Hardwicke Circus. Transforming their influences into their own originality, this night was one to remember for time to come. A beautiful rock and roll journey was had by all. Having heard about the success of their Hyde Park gig, it’s no surprise that this band are destined for stardom. They well and truly tore the roof off the Swan.

Chloe Mogg
Slap Magazine Worchester.

Hardwicke Circus, Hope & Anchor London - RNR Magazine

For out of town bands trying to make a dent in the concioussness of the capital's great and good, the second day of the new year is one of the worst to attempt it. Hardwicke Circus seemed totally unfazed by it though, as the alramingly fresh faced septet took to the stage of the famous pub rock haven. The last night of a monthly residency, the proud Cumbrians have been slogging it around the UK for a couple of years taking it all in their youthful stride, and their dogged tenacity finally seems to be paying off.

They've got the songs to do it to, cheerily charasmatic frontman and songwriter Jonny Foster has dozens of them, as their two sets tonight prove. The radio ready rock/soul of Nowhere Left To Run, the banner waving Why You Looking For Love, and the spruce funk of Nobody Loves You (Like I Do) all scream "geniuses at work". On top of that there's a handful of well chosen covers - Dylan, The Jags, Harold Melvin. Not particularly obvious, but crowd pleasers all. 

There's a retro pub rock element but that's just because it's great classic music that gets under the skin and into the feet. This isn't hard-nosed striped down RnB of Dr Feelgood, this is the real rhythm and blues - soulful, funky, passionate - played by a bunch of guys who love to play, not for fame but because they love it and believe in it, and know they can deliver. They're already lined up for several of this year's festivals. Get in early for the feel good hit of the summer!

Hardwicke Circus live at the Hope & Anchor, Islington 

The band played a great set from a standing start and they managed to take a tried and tested format and enliven it with youthful vigour, twisting the tropes of soul and rock into some stimulating shapes. So disco keys met sledgehammer guitars (Chips Are Down); the horn section got as many soloes as the guitars and the tempos varied delightfully to keep the crowd engaged (although not so engaged they matched the Brum crowd during a cheekily requested singalong, to our fair City’s shame). There are plenty of bands with ability but this outfit’s advantage is Jonny Foster, a charismatic front man evoking the spirits of all the right icons, all hair, shape throwing and rabble rousing; his raspy soulful pipes showing promise already.

Southside Johnny support review by Andy Nathan

Even support band Hardwicke Circus looked and sounded like young Asbury Jukes protégés, with a horn section and lead singer Jonny Foster, one of two brothers, coming over like a young Mick Jagger or Van Morrison, long-haired and loose-limbed with a rough-edged R n B voice. It was therefore something of a shock a few songs in when he introduced the band as from Carlisle as I had assumed to that point they were New Jerseyites.

Songs like ‘Heartless Woman’ and ‘Nobody Does You Like I Do’ impressed alongside a cover of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, the musicianship was very tight, and while very sixties influenced, they showed enough freshness to be marked as an interesting sounding band potentially  going places.

Nozstock by Gavin Brown

Hardwicke Circus were another revelation on the Orchard Stage, the band came across like prime Rolling Stones and the Small Faces clashing heads with Give Out But Don’t Give Up era Primal Scream and the Black Crowes and the band have got the songs to match. A twelve legged rock n roll machine, they swaggered across the stage and belted out some stadium sized anthems in the Sunday sun. The songs the band play like Walder and Rebel Because Of You are big and anthemic with great use of the organ and at times have huge eighties style choruses that ring out and are perfect to sing along to. Hardwicke Circus are another band to definitely seek out and they easily deliver another highlight of the weekend.

Kendal Calling by The Confidentials

The Carlisle band got Saturday started with an immediate groove. The crowd were slow to warm up after a presumably heavy night the evening before, but the boys were on point from beat one, letting everyone know they're not a first-on-the-bill sort of act. It wasn't long until the tent was rocking, and all before anyone had time to grab lunch. Hardwicke Circus will soon outgrow stages like the one they played at KC16, and not just because there are so many of them crammed onto the stage. Like many acts they were spotted across the festival checking out their favourite performances and chatting to fans - a much-loved trait of bands at KC.

Kendal Calling by Never Enough Notes

Carlisle-band Hardwicke Circus took to the House Party Stage early on Saturday afternoon, packing out the tent. With influences from the likes of Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones, these guys are vintage-tinged rock at its best. If you like 60s indie with a modern twist, give these guys a listen.

O2 Academy Belfast supporting Alabama 3, by Jonathon Kardasz

Look, anyone who doesn’t turn up for the support band(s) at a gig is a chump because who knows when you might see the latest best band you’ve never seen? Hardwicke Circus started their set in a virtually empty venue, but from the first song they had the few present tapping their feet and grinning, and everyone that arrived during the twelve song set ended up likewise, filling the floor and enjoying a powerful horn driven set of soul infused rock songs. The seven piece band had endured a six hour drive from Cumbria but that didn’t stop ‘em filing the room with youthful enthusiasm and chops that belied their age.

A disparate bunch, they managed to look like a band despite seemingly having no sartorial commonality (much like the E Street Band when they first started out), thus Jonny Foster (guitar & vox), Zack McDade (guitar) and Ben Wilde (bass) rocked the, well rock look – waistcoats, drainpipes, paisley shirt etc. and as for the horn section (Andy Phillips & Nick Kent) – well have you ever seen a horn section that wasn’t dapper or without at least one trilby? But massive applause for Lewis Bewley on keys and an insanely gonzo fringed cowboy shirt and humongous applause for drummer Tom Foster and a three piece shirtless suit combo the likes of which haven’t been seen on stage since Mud were in their polyester pomp.

The band played a great set from a standing start and they managed to take a tried and tested format and enliven it with youthful vigour, twisting the tropes of soul and rock into some stimulating shapes. So disco keys met sledgehammer guitars (Chips Are Down); the horn section got as many soloes as the guitars and the tempos varied delightfully to keep the crowd engaged (although not so engaged they matched the Brum crowd during a cheekily requested singalong, to our fair City’s shame). There are plenty of bands with ability but this outfit’s advantage is Jonny Foster, a charismatic front man evoking the spirits of all the right icons, all hair, shape throwing and rabble rousing; his raspy soulful pipes showing promise already.

The only time their youth showed was a mid-set decision to sandwich a cracking original Drive with two covers, preceding it with Baby Please Don’t Go and following it with Love Her Madly, something of a misfire as their own excellent tune was expunged from the memory by the all persuasive chorus of an overly familiar tune (even if the band did breathe new life in to it as a Doors / Stax hybrid). It’s a gamble covering material in this situation – sure, a familiar tune gets the crowd grooving and can be fun to play, but the risk is the set ends with the crowd’s mind buzzing with the cover rather than the originals. That comment notwithstanding, this was a splendid set from a band with much promise – given the popularity of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and St Paul & the Broken Bones it’s great to see home-grown talent with the potential to match the challenge from over the pond.

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