"Meet the five-piece band who are not only turning heads with the confident glide in their stride; they're literally bulletproof" Paul Sexton (Sunday Times)
People only end up in Carlisle by accident. It’s on the boundary of England and Scotland, on the edge of the Lake District but not the countryside. The center of Carlisle is an iconic business, Stobart Logistics, whose sole purpose is to take things away from Carlisle via the city’s best known roundabout, Hardwicke Circus.
Another export making their way through the towns, villages and cities of the United Kingdom is Carlisle’s own Hardwicke Circus, a five-piece band winning praise from all quarters.
"Meet the five-piece band who are not only turning heads with the confident glide in their stride; they’re literally bulletproof,” wrote the Sunday Times.
“It’s unsurprising to hear [lead vocalist and guitarist Jonny] Foster talk in such glowing terms about Dylan, and not just because, well, he’s Bob Dylan. Perhaps more than many other young band these days, there is a deliberate low-fi, almost traditional rock’n’roll feel to the band’s music and aesthetic; The press has drawn comparisons between Foster and Mick Jagger, while others might look at the mops and leather jackets and immediately think of The Jam,” GQ magazine wrote about Hardwicke Circus
Hardwicke Circus was formed by brothers Jonny and Tom Foster, who had a passion for making music from an early age. They developed a reputation on their street for making a racket but they were not to be deterred. Throughout their school years, they surrounded themselves with the best musicians Carlisle, (which the brothers have been known to call a center of English drunkenness), had to offer, more than once poaching them from other school bands.
When their friends began the university treadmill, Hardwicke Circus jumped in a van, hit the road, and haven’t looked back. They earned their stripes in Hells Angels pubs, clubs, theatres and prisons, the long journeys making rebel rousing music with the music of Dylan, Springsteen, Philadelphia Soul, Motown, the Stray Cats and more “all fuel us to get our voices heard loud and clear wherever we land,” Foster said.
Their dynamic live shows and songwriting found a fan and a manager in renowned music veteran Dave Robinson, whose resume includes serving as road manager for Jimi Hendrix and as co-founder of Stiff Records.
Hundreds of gigs later in pubs and parties and other European countries, the band was ready for a big break, a gig at the 2020 SXSW. Then came the pandemic. So much for SXSW and the 165 gigs they had scheduled for after the festival.
Switching gears from a touring band to a recording one, Hardwicke Circus rented a farmhouse in Yorkshire where they wrote and recorded their debut album, The Borderland.
The first song on the album, “Guiding Light” is one of many anthemic rockers on the album,
With the new day comes a rising
Don’t waste a moment, cross the horizon
With the new day you’re standing next to me
Feel the fire, burning brighter
In the morning I’ll be rising
With the new day, you’re standing next to me
The Guiding Light
Their COVID-19 experience is reflected in their song, “Lockdown.”
Foster said he was bothered by “the high minded artistes refusing outright any reference to lockdown, quarantine, or isolation. I almost forgot you didn’t experience it. We’ve all lived through this period. It’s affected us all, and ‘Lockdown’ is our quasi serious take on it.”
The album takes a topical turn with “Hands Up Don’t Shoot,” based on the tragic death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old Black man fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.
“The BLM protests highlighted the racial inequality still running through the fabric of our societies,” Foster said. “Reading about the movement in 2020, it reminded me of the Michael Brown shooting in 2014. In them six years in between, can we say enough has been done to avoid these tragedies? I don’t have the solution, but it motivated me to tell his story in a song, to shed a light on the prejudices many people still face today.”
Blue murder on the street, a policeman shot him down
Kneed him in the neck, ten wise men stood around
Driving home from work to see his wife and kids
Until he got pulled over for the colour of his skin
The past stays present, Jesus died for our sins
Or did he?
They put a bullet in his head
Claiming self defence
The Borderland’s ballads include “Carry the Torch” and “My Sweet Love.”
For the album’s 12th and final song, “The Debatable Land,” the band reflects on its Carlisle roots. As Foster explained, “When Napoleon’s general Lallemaud went to scout out a safe haven in New Orleans after Waterloo he left straight away claiming ‘Here the devil is damned.’ And do we know that feeling?! After all, this is The Debatable Land, an anarchic no-man’s land between Scotland and England, too dangerous for either country to take control of. Its rich history of Border Reiver clans, family politics, farming, preservation and battle lives on in all of us Hardwickes. That ought to be celebrated; it’s our hometown, our neck of the woods, and it always draws us back to the border.”
We cross the fields in silence where darkness makes its keep
and souls are lost into a world of burning effigies
I long for the victory of your morning grace
‘less you’re prepared to break the law you’ll dig an early grave
you know you robbed the best of me, made me feel like a refugee
is love worth this poverty till the dawn?
the debatable land, the debatable land
it’s in our hands, the debatable land
Get Ready to Rock! said in its review of The Borderland, “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!”
In its review of the album, The Rebirth Of Cool wrote, “ … 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?
“… The Borderland is an assured debut album as you will hear in many a while, it’s also one that will surprise you almost at every turn.”
The band emerged from the pandemic and their Yorkshire farmhouse with series of gigs at 15 prisons throughout England in November 2021. Echoing Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison, Hardwicke Circus released the limited-edition At Her Majesty’s Pleasure, a 13-song album with highlights from their life-altering prison shows.
The Hardwickes, as they are called by fans, are back on the road as they prepare for release their sophomore album due April 2023. Each high-energy show brings them new converts to the cause, including a gig at Glastonbury, aided and abetted by Sir Paul McCartney.
Hardwicke Circus have supported Bob Dylan and Neil Young in Hyde Park, Madness, Alabama 3, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Bob Geldof’s Boomtown Rats and The Blockheads.
From Carlisle to coming to a town near you, The Hardwickes will be there. See them now so you can say you saw them when.