Over the last few years, the Hull-based band Circus Envy have been quietly building a reputation as one of the best-kept secrets in British folk with a string of live appearances and independent releases. The group are now aiming to launch themselves onto the national stage with their new album SECRETS, which contains a series of mysteries for the listener to solve. “There is something beneath the surface on every track,” explains guitarist, bouzouki and mandolin player, Mike Richmond. “Some of the secrets are probably a bit obvious and some will only be known to the band themselves. Some are so well hidden, the band don’t know them!”
The new album builds on the success of last year’s EP A NEW DAWN, which was released to great critical acclaim and features Circus Envy’s trademark mix of three-part vocal harmonies and folk-rock sounds. “It’s the record that we’ve been wanting to make for some years now,” adds Mike. “Things have really come together in terms of our musical ability and our influences. We’ve been able to make something, which is true to our vision. “We’ve got two or three very capable singers in the band,” says Mike, laughing. “You don’t see many folk rock bands doing harmonies. It’s something that outside of the folk world is not really the done thing. “We’ve tried to do something different with the harmonies and flesh out the songs. We wanted to get that 70s laidback Fleetwood Mac feel, so its nice and chilled.”
Although Circus Envy, who took their name from a song by the American group REM, played their first gig back in 2007, band members Mike Richmond, James Paddison (bass, keyboards, vocals) and Andy Clark (guitars, flute) all went to school together. “Initially, Mike and James started putting something together and ended up doing a covers band,” says Andy. “Then we went into a band called Still Life.”
When that band folded, they recruited Mick Harding on drums and Circus Envy was born, but it was not until they recruited lead singer, Leigh Hirst, that the final piece of the jigsaw fell into place. “I was trying to find a band in Hull, which suited my voice,” explains Leigh. “I was turned away at the door by plenty of acts, which were all extremely indie.”
But after seeing Circus Envy perform one night, he got chatting with the other members. “We had a conversation and a pint,” he says. “The rest is history.”
One of the highlights on the new album is the stunning song “The Burning Sky,” which was inspired by the bombing of their native Hull during World War Two. “Hull was one of the most bombed cities in England during the Second World War,” says Mike. “It was described in the papers at the time as a north east seaside town, to avoid letting the Germans know the damage they had done. At the time, Hull was one of the biggest ports in Europe, if not the world, and it was targeted by the Germans quite badly.” Clearly proud of their local roots, the band also took part in last year’s Symphony For Yorkshire, which was composed by Benjamin Till. “We were very flattered to be involved in the third movement,” says Leigh. “Benjamin said he was looking to write a movement around us. We got on really well with him.”
Last year, several band members took part in a sponsored 10k run in aid of the Jane Tomlinson Appeal, which was set up by the late Jane Tomlinson to raise money for children’s and cancer charities.
Between them and their fans, they managed to raise more than £300 for the appeal.
James says that they have been compared with other local groups, such as the Beautiful South and the Housemartins, but the band are clearly hoping to surf the waves of the current revival in British folk music. “Folk music is something that has never really gone away,” says Mike. “It filters in and out of the mass consciousness. It’s coming back a bit now. There are a lot of bands, who are not really folk, but are folk-ish like Mumford and Sons and Ellie Goulding. But it does seem to be undergoing a bit of a revival. It’s about the aural tradition, with songs passed down from generation to generation.”
The band have also been very keen to use the Internet and social media websites to help build and develop their following around the four corners of Britain. “We’ve always been into using the Internet as a marketing tool,” says Mike. “A well done Facebook page, mailing list and constant communication with the fans can pay dividends. “It’s two-way conversation,” he adds. “The fans can speak to us and you can have a real rapport with them. They can suggest where we should play and vice versa.” And despite careful questioning, the band remain quiet about the exact nature of the new album’s secrets…
“If you listen to DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, once someone says it’s all about madness, it does make sense. There’s something in each song, which with a bit of repeated listening will make benefit the listener.” Jamie Hailstone.