Catchin’ Up With… Fitzwallace

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Fitzwallace first came to my attention during their support slot for The Shires and Ward Thomas at Leeds Brudenell Social club in November 2014. Their sound fitted right in with the mood of the night and their musicianship and sound really caught my eye (or ear). It has to be said it’s no easy thing playing the role of support band. As someone who attends a lot of shows I know full well that sometimes they’re just the inconvenient part before we get what we really paid for – Fitzwallace didn’t sound like this at all. They sounded on a par with the nights headliners. They impressed me enough to get a mention in my review of the show and I left not only wanting to hear more from them but thrilled that my hometown of Leeds was hosting acts like this on the music scene.

After the gig I got in touch with the band who have been kind enough to have a chat with me about everything from the current state of country in the UK to their own ambitions.

Tell me about the guys in the band…

Fitzwallace is a five piece country folk pop band composed of 5 members, Flo Taylor on vocals, Joe Martin singing and playing rhythm guitar, Harry Vernon on bass, Will Sensicle on lead guitar and Henry Broomfield on drums.

Where are each of you from originally?

Joe: We’re from all over the England. Henry is from Bath, Harry from Manchester, Will is from Brighton, Flo is from Norfolk and I’m from Preston.

Where and when did you meet?

Joe: We all met at Leeds College of Music where we’re studying. We formed in the October of 2013. Will our guitarist is new to the band, he’s studying jazz but is very passionate about country music.

What’s the story behind the name ‘Fitzwallace’?

Joe: Will has taken the place of our previous guitarist, Calum Juniper. It was Calum that suggested the name Fitzwallace as he’s a fan of the show The Westwing, his favourite character in the show is Admiral Fitzwallace. The name is short, easy to remember so we went with it.

Taking into account the sound of the band who are your biggest influences?

Joe: I’d say that Fleetwood Mac is a big influence on our sound, especially influencing the pop side of what we do. But everyone from the Civil Wars, to Mumford and Sons, from James Taylor to the Eagles.

As listeners who are your favourite bands/musicians?

Joe: I really like Americana music and American folk like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, James Taylor and have recently started listening to the Milk Carton Kids who I think are fantastic! I know Flo’s a big fan of Eva Cassidy and likes the Civil Wars too.

Harry: Henry and I are really into our folk music. I listen to Kate Rusby and Gilmore & Roberts and Emily Barker and I love the folk influence in Ben Howard’s songs. I also really love the country el-ements of some of Jack White’s solo material. Will likes the Zac Brown Band, Jake Owen and Nickel Creek.

Joe: So we’ve got quite a wide range of music to draw influences from!

When and where was your first show together?

Joe: Our first show was at a cool little bar called The New Conservatory. A lot of bands at the college make their debut appearance there and no one had really heard about us or knew what to ex-pect. But the reaction we got was unlike any other I’ve had for a first gig. We’d been practicing since October and our gig was in the February, we were so happy to have such a fantastic reaction.

You recently played the ‘YeeHaw’ festival, how would you describe that experience?

Joe: Well, apart from the traveling, we had a blast. What should’ve taken us three hours took eight….. I did get lost on the way for a short while, but there was a huge traffic jam on the M6. Good job we set off a day in advance! I remember it being scorching hot and we had all the windows rolled down creeping along the motorway at a snail’s pace. But it was well worth it.

Harry: It was by far the biggest stage we’d played and the people we met there were lovely. It made us realise what a tight-nit community the country scene is in the UK and a lot of the people performing already knew each other after playing at the pop up stages at the Country to Country festival earlier that year.

Joe: It was so nice to share the stage with American country artists such as M Callahan, Chase Allen and Raihanna Estrada. At the time Ward Thomas and The Shires were getting a lot of AirPlay on Radio 2 so it was great to meet the people I’d been listening to for the past few months..

How did the opportunity come about?

Joe: I never used to rate Twitter but I’ve soon found that it is by far the most powerful and effective networking platform. As most people do on Twitter, we get suggestions to follow other people. And it was suggested that we follow Yeehaw UK. After a few days we got a direct message asking if we wanted to play the festival. Unfortunately Flo couldn’t make the festival as she was on holiday at the time but we did it as a four piece and it still worked well with Calum taking Flo’s harmony.

Did you get a chance to see any of the other acts on the day? Who impressed you most?

Joe: We were blown away by Ward Thomas. They’ve got such energy and great songs. I thought the Shires harmonies were flawless and Raintown’s energy was infectious. All the acts throughout the day were fantastic but if I had to choose one I’d say Ward Thomas stole the show for me.

Harry: I’d say that Ward Thomas and their amazing band stole the show for me.

Country music seems to be on the rise in the UK with bands like The Shires and Raintown leading the way, do you see this as a style of music that could become mainstream?

Harry: There are definitely a lot of factors driving the rising popularity of Country in the UK, so it’s feasible. Joe: It seems that some of the Country music coming out of Nashville at the moment is very accessible to a wider, mainstream audience as it’s very pop influenced. Alongside this, the TV series ‘Nashville’ has been well received on this side of the pond, so that’s certainly contributed.

Harry: Especially in terms of younger audiences, who might go on to share their new found love of country with their friends. Acts like The Shires and Ward Thomas have a Country sound but make their songs personal and relatable to a UK audience so we think they’ll go on to become even more popular. Then there are some listeners who are exploring more Folk-influenced music off the back of the whole indie/nu-folk thing that artists, such as Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling, made popular. I could see how someone who likes the foot-stomping, bluegrass elements of Mumford could get into certain areas of country music.

It seems that many of the major American acts are becoming more receptive to coming over play shows, especially after the success of the Country 2 Country festival in London, do you see this as an opportunity to open more doors for the British acts?

Joe: I’d say so. Country to Country has only been going for a couple of years and it’s already proven to be extremely popular, which means that there is a demand for country in the UK.  However, I don’t think people are aware of some of the homegrown talent that’s on their doorstep.

Harry: Playing on a pop up stage at C2C or supporting a US act over here is a great opportunity for a UK artist to reach a new audience and I guess being able to see their favourite Country artist play live could be inspiring for someone who’s starting to write and perform Country.

As students of Leeds College of Music are you finding the city’s famous music scene to be alive and well?

Joe: Definitely. Every night of the week you can find live music in dozens of places around Leeds. We found it pretty difficult to break into the scene initially, or ‘get your foot in the door’, as it were, because there are so many great bands and songwriters. Like anything, though, you get recom-mendations from people that have seen you before or one gig leads to another.

Harry: There’s always stuff going on and I’ve been amazed by the quality of some of the shows I’ve seen. The Music College’s students are really supportive of each other’s work and we all play in at least a couple of bands. I love Leeds but I would be nice to play in other places more often!

Joe: We’re hoping next year to venture out of Leeds and try and gig around Manchester, Sheffield, York, Hull and other surrounding cities.

Country music is obviously an inherently traditional American sound. Are you aware of this when writing? If so how have you managed to create a genuine sounding feel to your own music?

Joe: The accent you sing with is very important to get right; you can’t over do it. A lot of people sing in an American accent because it’s such a big influence and we listen to a lot of American music but keeping it subtle is key. We’ve found our happy medium in blending country, folk and pop.

Harry: The parameters of country are pretty blurry nowadays. I sometimes feel like it’s the accent of the singer which really pins a song down as Country, which can present some difficulties for UK Country singers. Songs like ‘Dear River’ by Emily Barker (who doesn’t have a country-sounding voice) and the Red Clay Halo sound really Country to me but aren’t ever described as Country.

Are there many other country acts in Leeds or do you feel like you’re blazing a trail somewhat?

Joe: We’ve not come across that many. You can see a few acts that have country influence. For instance, Bruno Merz has a great band and writes wonderful pop tunes with a hint of country influ-ence. Likewise Laura Oakes is very much country pop and used to study in Leeds. I recently saw her play at a local bar. Fantastic singer songwriter. However, I’d say we’re one of the few around.

Six Shooter Country was at your show supporting The Shires and Ward Thomas at Leeds Brudenell Social Club, this must be one of the best opportunities to play in front of a local, country music appreciating crowd?

Joe: When we got asked to support The Shires and Ward Thomas at the Brudenell we jumped at the opportunity. It’s one of the most renowned venues in Leeds and being able to play for people that are there for that kind of music makes it such a joy. The crowd were up for a good night and we got a great response, the atmosphere was electric with the place being packed. We were playing for 30 minutes, but it felt more like 30 seconds which must have meant we were having fun.

Harry: It was inspiring to see such support for Country music at a Leeds venue! The audience were really attentive, even though they’d definitely never heard of us before and weren’t there to see us, which was great.

Have you found much of a buzz since the show?

Joe: We had a lot of really lovely comments come in on social media and some people have paid to download our EP and Single too which is great because you can get if for free.

Blue sky thinking; what are your hopes for the future?

Joe: We’re trying to organise a festival run for next summer and record either an album or another EP to release before we do it. We’ve applied for the Country to Country pop up stages and also Liverpool Sound City festival. So fingers crossed!

Harry: It’d be really cool to support some US acts when they’re passing through.

Have you got many shows lined up in the next 12 months?

Joe: I think we’re done for this year because we’re all going home for Christmas but in the new year we’re planning to gig in Manchester, York and Saltaire. Dates are still to be confirmed so keep an eye on the website.

Do you have any plans to release music in the near future?

Harry: I think we’re just going to try and record all of our songs and then decide what we want to put out as our next release.

Joe: Whatever it is, we planning to release something in the spring and hopefully another single at the start of summer. Where is the best place to listen to your music currently?Joe: You can download or EP and Single for free on bandcamp or if you’d like to support the band, you can purchase our music on iTunes. For upcoming gigs and news, you can find it on our web-site www.fitzwallace.co.uk

Fitzwallace are definitely a band to keep a watchful eye on. Their range of influences makes them easily accessible to fans across many genres and their live show is one not to be missed. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we will see them on a pop up stage at next years Country 2 Country. Thanks again for the chat guys and good luck!

Keep an eye out for my review of their EP ‘Treading Water’ which is coming soon…

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