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High Hazels on the ascendency as they wrap up tour in Camden

Sheffield foursome radiate retro cool, ready for great things.

High Hazels 1High Hazels, Dingwalls, Camden, April 14

From Alex Turner’s quiff to Phil Oakley’s androgyny and Jarvis’ charity shop chic, Sheffield’s great alternative bands have always shared a nod to the glorious history of rock iconography. With their vintage semi-hollow Gretsch and Guild guitars and dandyish mop-tops, that city’s latest pretenders High Hazels appear on stage and screen with the acutance of a lost family Kodachrome. Their videos for ‘Winter Song’ and ‘Hearts Are Breaking’ radiate the retro, though it’s with a very modern sensibility that this band come to our attention fully formed – both image wise and, thankfully, with the songs to back it up.

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Here, on their last night as tour support for fellow steel city rockers The Crooks (who I won’t review here) High Hazels have a short opportunity to show London their song craft. And despite only having only one single and their latest 4-song EP ‘In the Half Light’ to mine from, there’s every reason to think their melodic gifts will reach a much wider audience given time. Show opener ‘Summer Rain’ may well just be my single of the year so far, with James Leesley’s mournful croon delicately placed over a jangly wall of sound, while the explosive chorus lifts us in to throws of insecurity over the imagined infidelity of a loved one. If there’s comparisons to make, High Hazels offer hints of a sombre The Coral with a Smithsian intensity. Certainly, guitarist Scott Howes possesses a Johnny Marr-like quality for bold clean intricate riffing, while his fondness for his Bisbgy resembles Bernard Butler’s work with Suede in all its trembling emotional intensity. Rhythm section, brothers Paul and Anthony Barlow on bass and drums, stay tight and disciplined while on stage all four often resemble the muso perfectionism of New York’s Grizzly Bear (no bad thing). Compared to the headliners, High Hazels’ may have push a little harder to the work the crowd, though the Crookettes at the front seem suitably charmed by slower epics such as ‘French Rue’ and closer (and new song) ‘Valencia’. Meanwhile the older critics (Steve Lamacq was there) may well have a seen it all before but perhaps rarely with such genuine craft and talent on display. High Hazels are currently working on their debut album and if it keeps to the quality of what they’ve released so far, we could see the emergence of a very special band indeed.
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High Hazels’ drummer Anthony Barlow on touring, recording and ‘80s family videos…
Subba-Cultcha: This is the last night of your tour with The Crooks. How’s it been? Anthony: “Great. We’ve been on tour for two weeks and it’s the end unfortunately. I just want to do it forever now! It’s quite addictive. We’ve never done a string of dates together like this before. We’ve been getting a lot tighter too – by the fourth or fifth night we felt like a different band. Everything gets better when you are doing it all of the time.”
How many songs do you have now? “We write a lot of songs, and then some don’t make it because we are quite disciplined. Of the songs that we have kept since we started it is probably around 14 or 15.”
And now it’s on to recording the album? “We’ve got three weeks to finish off writing the album, and then we’ll record it for six weeks with our producer Matt Peel in Leeds. He’s a massive fan of echo with a big reverb chamber and with real space echo on tape, and it’s a sound we love.”
Who would you say are your biggest influences? “We take comparisons quite lightly, but yes we’ve had The Smiths and The Coral and we are massive fans of both of those bands so I don’t mind people saying that we sound like them. Collectively we are more inspired by older music, especially ‘60s music and people like Rodriguez and John Lennon.”

Who writes the songs? Is it a democratic process? “We have quite a weird process of writing. The lyrics are usually from James or Paul, but the actually melodies and structure are normally written by myself or James, which is quite unusual as I’m a drummer. We try not to rush songs too much and let them develop naturally, and everyone has input.”
When is the album due? “The plan is for September. We wanted to release the EP [In The Half Light], which has some of our older songs on it and we want it all to be quite close together. Before we released the single [Hearts Are Breaking] and didn’t do anything for a while, so the idea this time is to get the album out soon.”
Will any of the songs from the EP appear on the album? “Possibly ‘Summer Rain’ or ‘Hearts Are Breaking’. It’s about quality control. We’re hoping all new songs will be on there, but if not we have those two songs to fall back on, which we all love. Ultimately, you want your debut album to be a collection of your best songs.
What’s your ambition for the band? “We realise how hard it is to make any money from music these days, so if we could get to a stage where we could quit our jobs and make money from doing this full time it would be a dream come true. Obviously, we’d like to be as big as possible.”
Your videos are fantastic. Who did you work with on those? “They were recorded by Ryan, Scott’s brother, and on a budget. The video for ‘Hearts Are Breaking’ was made from family footage from a party in 1985. We set up in a pub in Sheffield called
Shakespeare, and tried to make it as old and ‘80s looking as possible and the end result looks like we are playing at the party.”

Where does the name High Hazels come from? “It’s a park in Sheffield. We all grew up in Handsworth and the park was about half a mile away from there. When we were first looking for a band name, we wanted it to be quite subtle. Even people from Sheffield probably don’t know that suburb. Me, Scott and James were in school together, and Paul’s my brother, so it’s quite a close-knitted family.”
And how did you get signed to Heist Or Hit Records? “We practiced a long time before even getting a gig, for almost two years. We didn’t want to get a bunch of songs and then get better in front of people, but we wanted to get to a good standard before we played. We didn’t want to play unsigned nights every week and people get bored of us so just on the off chance I sent a demo to people and Lauren Laverne said she liked it and Steve Lamacq played it a few times on his Radio 6 Music show. That’s was before we’d even had a gig!”