29th May 2024
19:00 - 23:00
£17.50 + BF
“Leeds’ music scene is the best in the world”, Lily Fontaine, English Teacher’s vocalist, guitarist, and synthesist declares without a blink of hesitation. Doug Frost, drummer, helpfully elaborates: “Even though it’s really small, there’s a huge jazz scene, there’s a huge classical scene, a big folk scene, a lot of techno. It’s got everything.” Lead Guitarist Lewis Whitling chips in too: “It’s so compact as well! There’s lots of music venues in a small space.”
“It’s a very incestuous scene,”, Lily, one-time moonlighter for fellow West Yorkshire band Eades concludes, “but that’s why it’s such a good place.”
Contemporaries at Leeds College of Music (now Leeds Conservatoire) who mingled at various house parties as students, English Teacher’s four working parts – completed by bassist Nicholas Eden – had each been tinkering on their own various projects before, at last, settling on each other’s talents. Lily, Doug and Nicholas were house-sharing when they invited Lewis for a front-room ‘rehearsal’, and began working on new material post-haste. ”Straight away when Lily asked me to come out and see what it was like, it clicked pretty quickly,” Lewis remembers.
The latest post-punk resurgence in the late 2010s – spearheaded by Shame and Fontaines D.C’s, among many others – informed this quartet’s musical impetus The music had to be biting, punkish and direct. It had to fire straight at the quick of the heart, not merely by force, but with a melodic sleight of hand, and an adroit songsmithery. “That’s one point which we all tend to come back to.”, Lewis explains, “To create something that’s interesting, but also a good, catchy song.” “You want people to be able to sing it back to you”, Lily confirms.
Independently releasing a slew of dream-popping singles during lockdown – debut “the World’s Biggest Paving Slab” remains a feature of their live set – it was upon their signing to Nice Swan Records (Pip Blom, Fur, Courting) where the wheels started picking up pace. A brooding brace of masterful singles in the Spring/Summer of 2021, “R & B” and “Wallace”, sowed the first seeds of interest among the country’s tastemakers.
The strangeness of the Pandemic meant theirs was a swift and unusual rise. How many other Leeds’ bands could say their first ever show was a filmed DIY Big Bank Holiday Weekender in Hackney Wick? “It was a weird first show, going straight to London”, Lewis recounts, “I remember us being in absolute silence in the taxi. It was a 20 minute taxi, we didn’t even breathe.” “I was gonna throw up”, says Lily, “someone pulled us for an interview for Sky News afterwards.”
Building on this early success, the group spent a week bunkered in Eastbourne with producer Theo Verney to track what would become their acclaimed debut EP Polyawkward. Lighter in mood than the singles preceding it, the 5 song set unloads a treasure trove of songwriting smarts, swirling instrumentals and gunpowder jams, each struck in a sequence of handsomely spun kitchen-sink yarns. There’s the puppeting ebb and flow of the eponymous opener; the waltzing “Mental Maths which purrs like a cut from Arctic Monkeys’ Humbug. EP lead single, “Good Grief” narrates a puckish covid satire starring twin leads “Track” and “Trace”, as they witness far too much pandemic chaos and far too little of each other’s bedrooms. Finally there’s the ‘hangxiety’ chronicles of “A55”, and the soul-burnishing, spoken word of “Yorkshire Tapas. In the live arena, the latter mutates into whirlwinding free-jazz theatre – like a Richard Curtis Rom-Com eloped with the Doors’ Horse Latitudes, and ended up in Harehills.
Throughout PolyAwkward, Lily Fontaines’ lyricism remains a focal point: “For me, It’s the part I enjoy”, she notes. “I love music, I did a degree in it! But I always wanted to be a writer, so [the songs] are a nice vessel for me to do creative writing”. Drawing from Orwell’s Dystopian fiction, the social commentaries of John Cooper Clark and Alex Turner, and the comic writing of Phoebe Waller Bridge and Rob Auton, her lyrics weave the personal with the political, the poignant with the pretty, the humorous with the heavy.
Gleaning spirited praise from across the indie press’ blogs and ‘zines, the EP’s launch dragged a whole host of noteworthy achievements in its wake. A 3rd place in Glastonbury Rising competition earning them a bucket list slot on the Worthy Farm billing. (“I Cried on stage!” Lily confesses) Support slots for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Parquet Courts and Yard Act accompanied appearances at Green Man Festival and sojourns to Europe.
And yet, despite these feats, English Teacher’s have their eyes cast firmly on the future. There are new songs to write (“somewhere between Adele, Jockstrap and Fontaines D.C is what we’re tryna do”) and more heady dreams to chase: “I really wanna do Jools Holland.” Lily beams,” Then my Mum will be proud.”