“It feels very different, even though there are only two more tracks on this than anything we’ve done before!” So said Dan Fielding of the always lovely Dancing Years, just a couple of days before the launch of their brand new EP at the Brudenell Social Club. “I think there’s an anticipation that comes with them (EPs), that it’s a new band and there might be a debut album around the corner for you to get stuck into, which makes them really exciting.” And if you’ve followed Dancing Years through this or any of their previous incarnations, you’ll know exactly what excited feels like.
“We didn’t want to release another song for new fans,” Dan continued. “Or the ones who’ve been waiting three years for an EP, but something that showed more of the new things we’d been coming up with and the songs they might have heard us playing live.” And given the rate and scope in which their tours have increased in that period, supporting the likes of George Ezra and Boy & Bear. It’s not surprising that the way the band write would have changed. “Touring a lot more is, I think, what’s given us a kind of momentum which we wanted to add to with something bigger than just a single.” And boy, did they ever.
First though, to the gig. You know the drill by now: a packed Brudenell, hometown boys done good, and a brand new bar to prop up. Well, the last of those might be a new addition to one of Leeds’ favourite gig venues® but it’s never a bad thing to see the Social Club in rude health. As always with a Dancing Years gig, there were moments where you could hear a pin drop. There are some bands that play there who are able to find a new height of volume you thought impossible in a room you know so well, but the boys in Dancing Years manage the polar opposite of that. Silence is not even the word. Mixing old and not-so-old favourites with their handful of new songs, they create an atmosphere unlike any other.
A lot of this is down to singer David Henshaw and his singular ability to hold a crowd in the palm of his hand, his vocal ranging from barely-a-whisper to almost-a-shout in the space of a line or two. But it’s not a one man show at all. Dancing Years have always had the ability to showcase each member, with a sweeping violin line in one song, and a piano-lead break in another. There’s also something gentle about the way they’re able to slide from delicate to borderline-destructive, following David from whisper to shout.
The old songs work, they still keep working, but what of the new EP? Well, first of all, it’s noticeably different. And as well as playing live and evolving naturally, the boys got some expert advice. “When we’d decided we wanted to work with Colin (Elliot), we sent him some demos over and he invited us to Yellow Arch for some pre-production. We played through the tracks and he gave us really honest feedback, talking us through where he thought they were at – whether he thought weren’t quite finished but would work really well together on the EP, or they were good but wouldn’t work, or even if he just wasn’t into them.” And, of course, taking inspiration from elsewhere. “While all that was going on we were listening to work he’d done before, and similar artists to that kind of thing to make sure we had ideas about the production to throw around while we were recording, but we ended up leaving most of that to him in the end.”
Title track and lead single Learn To Kiss has more of a driving relentlessness than we’ve heard from the band before. But there’s the familiarity of repeated lines ‘Won’t you show me what I’m missing, won’t you show me how to kiss…’, a hallmark of Dancing Years over the years. Valentine feels more familiar, Neon Lights pleads with every fibre of its being, and April stops you in your tracks. Little pieces of piano following the vocal lines, and a heartbreaking violin-lead outro that almost dissolves into silence.
They’re different, but they’re very much Dancing Years. We must admit to a quizzical look or two upon first hearing Learn To Kiss. There seemed to be something we couldn’t quite get a hold of. But now, boy, do we feel stupid. The four tracks run from one to another beautifully. And not by chance.
“Once we’d gone through the pre-production we’d narrowed that down to four, so we were quite confident it was going to feel cohesive in terms of the lyrical themes and the way we wanted them to sound. I think that made everyone feel like we were all on the same page and working in the same direction, and in the end it felt like a much more efficient process than it is deciding how you want a solitary song recorded as a single to turn out.” Something that absolutely shows in the finished EP. Once you’ve listened through to it once as a whole, each song then shines in its own way. It genuinely seems like they’ve written four songs for any emotion you could be felling.
Onwards and upwards? We’d certainly like to think so. The last three years have been pretty good to Dancing Years; the chance to tour and write is all any band should crave after all, right? The last thing we asked was about fitting life and jobs around the ‘fame’ of being in a well-respected band. Dan replied with a bit of a chuckle that “I don’t know if there’s any degree of fame that’s affected things like that much yet. But it is a strange kind of lifestyle, we’re working fairly mundane jobs when we’re writing or recording back in Leeds, and only really taking time off to tour.” Not that it sounds like too bad a life, though? “Then if a tour doesn’t come in for a while it’s easy to become quite self-deprecating, so it can be slightly challenging mentally, you start to wonder if you’re a full-time bar-man who’s in a band rather than a full-time musician, that kind of thing. But I think it just takes one good gig no matter who it’s with, or one person you’ve never met saying something nice about a song to lift you back up again.”
And, to be fair to them, they’ve been doing that to us for the best part of half a decade. Saying something, and lifting us back up again. Let us know when that debut album is on its way, chaps.