"The Borderland" - the debut album from Hardwicke Circus out now.
Listen here: https://slinky.to/TheBorderland
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.
(The Rebirth Of Cool)
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), Ben Manders (guitars, vocals), Joe Hurst (bass, vocals), Lewis Bewley-Taylor (keys, vocals), Andy Phillips (saxophone, vocals) and Tom Foster (drums, 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 Johnny`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
(Maximum Volume Music)
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.
So right now I’m sat here in my apartment currently listening to “Borderland,” the debut album from six-piece Carlisle, UK based band, Hardwicke Circus. I have to say the lead track “Guiding Light” sends me on a journey of the likes that if The Wallflowers had a lovely mixing with The Doors & The Rolling Stones.
As I roll through the tracks on “Borderland”, I get the feeling of being taken aback in a time machine to the best parts of the 80s. With a light new wave feel at times transitioning to a bluesy Springsteen “Dancing In TheDark”/ “Born In The USA” feel when the saxophone starts to beam it’s light in “Walking On Broken Glass,” this album is sending me to so many happy places all at once. I literally get the feeling of cruising down the highway in a cherry red 1985 Corvette convertible.
The album takes a somber turn with “Carry The Torch” as the lead singer laments a lost love, but then gets back up to the swinging sway of things with “My Sweet Love,” which somewhat reminds me of early Elton John mixed with a bit of Huey Lewis. “The Ballad Of The Gypsy King” brings to mind close knit nights out in the pubs & “Let’s Make New Mistakes” makes me want to do just that…get out in the world, kick up my heels, experience life, & make new mistakes.
All in all, “Borderland” is a nostalgic romp into the 80s with the excitement of modern nuances. Hardwicke Circus is Jonny Foster – Lead vocals and guitars, Tom Foster – Drums and vocals, Joe Hurst – Bass and vocals, Lewis Bewley-Taylor – Keys and vocals, Andy Phillips – Saxophone and vocals, & Ben Manders – Guitars and vocals.
As the resident Cumbrian (by location, not birth, I’m afraid!) at ÜRHQ, I tend to be the first port of call for bands hailing from the remote Northern bastion. Today is one of those days, and I find myself whisked off to our county town of Carlisle to check out the debut full-length album from Hardwicke Circus. These guys are certainly not clowning around though as they have been building up some serious buzz with their energetic live shows, so it’s about time I check them out and see what they have to offer.
With a handful of EPs under their belt since their inception in the mid-2010s, Hardwicke Circus are renowned for throwback sound and energetic live performances which has gained the attention of publications like The Sunday Times. But for me, my first introduction to these guys is through the very aptly named debut ‘The Borderland’ where I get to find out what has got the big rags all a-fluster and make my own decision on whether the hype surrounding Hardwicke Circus is well-deserved or not…
The first thing that stands out about this album is that it has a delightfully retro and upbeat overall style that makes it a great accompaniment for the unusual sunny weather we’ve been having. It’s a bit like being thrown back into the 70s with a vibe that invokes the spirit of many of the greats, in particular there’s heavy influences from the E Street Band, Mick Jagger, The Doors and Tom Petty that mix together into this familiar-feeling stew of musical goodness. While the music may feel old and familiar, the lyrics remain modern and closely linked to current affairs with mentions of Lockdowns and Tyson Fury among other things. There’s liberal use of both synth and saxophone to really enrich the sound which helps to really bring home that retro feel and adds the upbeat nature of the majority of the tracks.
‘No Surrender’ was the first track that jumped out to me on my first play-through of ‘The Borderlands’. As soon as it started I thought I was listening to the great Tom Petty but was quickly reminded that I wasn’t when Jonny Foster’s distinctive Jagger-esque vocals dropped in. Regardless, the musical structure of this track feels very similar to ‘I Won’t Back Down’ with quiet verses accompanied by an emphatic and catchy chorus. Even though I listened through the album a good few times, it was always ‘No Surrender’ that I found myself coming back to and I think that this is the perfect song to pick if you want to try dipping your toes into Hardwicke Circus before taking the full plunge.
Overall ‘The Borderlands’ has been a great example of the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Hardwicke Circus skilfully brings together influences that’ll be familiar to fans across generations and combine them into a sound that’s as distinct as it is familiar. Certainly, something to attract fans of Bruce Springsteen, The Doors, The Rolling Stones and many more of those classic bands that still attract new fans to this day. The guitar work is clean and crisp and the rhythms are simple yet groovy but with plenty going on to entertain most discerning fans. ‘The Borderlands’ could well become one of your summer anthem albums, but the only way to find out for sure is to give it a go!
Hailing from the windswept hills of Carlisle Hardwicke Circus must be the UK’s hardest working band. Having clocked up over 700 shows (including support slots with luminaries such as Madness, Bob Dylan, Alabama 3, The Blockheads) the guys playfully bill themselves as “The greatest band you’ve never heard of” but that all seems set to change with the release of The Borderland, a 12 track album that’s sure to propel them into the nation’s consciousness.
A spark in the current gloom ‘Guiding Light’ is an atmospheric opener that’s laden with sumptuous keyboards and sets the tone for the rest of the album. With an unbridled confidence Hardwicke Circus paint their sound with vibrant splashes of colour and ‘Guiding Light’ is bold and brash in a Big Country/Simple Minds kind of way. Three band members provide backing vocals to supplement Jonny Fosters warm timbre; the harmonies are simply sublime and add a depth that demands a thousand voices sing along. Employing the maxim that less is more Andy Philips garnishes the song with his saxophone and, the most sorrowful of woodwind instruments, provides a counterpoint to the upbeat lyricism and that’s just one of many juxtapositions that echo throughout The Borderland.
Hardwicke Circus draw inspiration from a wide range of artists yet these influences are so diverse and jumbled that when reassembled by the Circus they becomes something wholly original. However, I’m picking up the edgier end of the ‘80s (think The Church, Hex) on the angular ‘Walking On Broken Glass’ and especially on ‘No Surrender’. The album’s fourth single ‘No Surrender’ is a slow builder that gently ululates and benefits from a sparse yet full production (those tension of opposites again) and in truth any of these 12 tracks could be culled as a single but there’s something refreshingly old school about The Borderland; it’s an album that ebbs and flows perfectly and will benefit a listen from start to finish rather than just dipping in and out for favoured tracks.
2020 saw 165 shows planned for Hardwick Circus but the band, not ones to let a global pandemic get in the way, instead holed up in a deserted cottage and spent a creative time (documented by the song ‘Lockdown’) writing tracks which would comprise The Borderland. It’s an album that’s constantly shapeshifting from the semi-acoustic ‘Carry The Torch’ to the confident swagger of ‘Nowhere Left To Run’ The Borderland takes many forms. Featuring some pretty nifty guitar work ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’ slithers like an electrocuted snake and is an earworm of the highest order that’ll crawl around your cranium for days. Lyrically astute ‘The Ballad Of The Gypsy King’ is a jaunty little number that’s a strange kind of sea shanty and is sure to go down a storm on their upcoming tour. With no signs of flagging ‘Let’s Make New Mistakes’ comes out swinging (like a punch drunk boxer) and is paired with the equally vivacious call-to-arms ‘A reason To Believe’.
‘The Debatable Land’ is a defiant closer that builds towards an epic conclusion; gradually adding layers of sound it’s played with military muster that encapsulates some of the band’s locality and is sure to revoke The Curse Of Carlisle (google it). The Borderland is a strong album that earmarks Hardwicke Circus as the true saviours of guitar based rock.
(The Midlands Rocks)