The Irish sibling duo proves that a tough work ethic and a knack for Simon and Garfunkel-like folk-pop melodies will reap dividends, writes Guy Little.
Hudson Taylor has spent the last five years honing an infectious brand of folk-pop – and, in doing so, has gone from busking the streets of their native Dublin to playing huge festivals across the UK and abroad. The brothers, Alfie and Harry (Hudson Taylor is their surname) have become favourites on the live scene for their energetic shows, impeccable harmonies, and growing songwriting prowess with delicately picked guitar lines and anthemic choruses. Prior to being signed, they released their first EP Battles in 2012, followed by Cinematic Lifestyle in the same year, and then Osea in October 2013. Initially operating under the moniker “Harry & Alfie”, they seemed more like a cheeky twosome from a Famous Five tale and, much like Blyton’s books, it’s hard not to fall in love with their charm.
With an album packed full of beguiling vocal harmonies and swirling acoustic-laden riffs, the boys have graduated from “Harry & Alfie” into a surging songwriting tour de force with harmonies you’d only expect from folks with Simon and Garfunkel as surnames. After a load of initial buzz about Hudson Taylor, Alfie and Harry relocated to London, signed to Polydor and set their skills to making a debut album: Singing For Strangers.
The resplendent, hook-laden opener ‘Just A Thought’ is ‘whoa-oh’ heavy, foot tapping pop – a style they’ve seemingly mastered on this debut. There’s an enchanting looseness to Singing For Strangers – it’s organic and rootsy, rather than glossy and over-produced. There’s a cool yet clever air of assured delivery that’s evident through all 12 tracks. Along with their knack for hooks and harmonies, they’ve nailed the “lost love” and “longing” themes so pertinent for constant radio airplay. ‘Chasing Rubies’, ‘Butterflies’, and ‘Night Before The Morning After’ have a rustic allure, and it almost doesn’t matter what they’re singing about because as soon as the harmonies hit you’re wondering whether Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are all back in the same room. ‘World Without You’ shows off Alfie’s impressive falsetto vocal range and brings the instrumentation to the fore – guitar and mandolin overlaid perfectly, setting the backdrop for a rousing folky ballad of epic Mumford proportions. ‘Wildfires’ follows, sticking with the soaring vocal lines, complete with a brotherly call-and-response. These are two standout tracks that wouldn’t be out of place on a, er, pyramid shaped stage.
‘Battles’ sees the brothers poised for a menacing attack singing, “He will find no where left to hide, I’ll dig a hole and throw you in it, only time will tell if we’re all just cynics on the run.” A brooding up-tempo call to arms, it’s one of the most lyrically interestingly tracks. “I will lift her love and I’ll break your spirit,” they echo as the song ends.
‘For The Last Time’ and ‘Off The Hook’ close the album. You can imagine the former being sung afterhours in a backstreet bar in Dublin on a grotty old upright piano with a Guinness atop and a group of intoxicated patrons swaying loyally around it. But that’s what it’s all about – they could have their number one album, and they’d still be out on the streets (or in the pubs, in this case) busking to their fans. These two tracks break the album’s mould, and although they wouldn’t make the radio playlist ahead of the other readymade hits on the record, they show the mature side of Hudson Taylor.
Alfie and Harry have that sought after flair to write not just lyrically engaging tunes, but ones full of charismatic guitar lines and awing harmonies, all neatly wrapped in a festival-ready package. They have the pop sensibilities that could catapult them into the commercial stratosphere – and few can resent Hudson Taylor for the success they’re reaping.
Q&A: Hudson Taylor talk songwriting
Harry and Alfie spent the majority of 2014 putting the finishing touches to Singing For Strangers, produced by long-term collaborator Iain Archer (Snow Patrol) with the help of Mike Einziger (Incubus) and Danton Supple (Coldplay, Feeder, Starsailor, Morrissey) in London, LA, and Eastbourne.
‘We’re always sitting down together, jamming with guitars,’ Harry says of the brothers’ songwriting. ‘Nine times out of 10, an idea will pop up out of it and become something we can work with. Alfie will start scatting, just throwing out odd words and phrases and, almost instinctively, I will start harmonising with him. When the harmonies make us feel little tingles up the back of the necks, we know we are on to something. There is an intuition between us as brothers.’
‘We found it quite hard to capture what we do on record; to get the feel and the atmosphere of how we want to sound. The best recordings we have done have been the ones we did of ourselves when we were at home, but that’s probably because it’s familiar, and we feel comfortable and relaxed,’ says Harry.
‘We find it can feel artificial working in a studio,’ Alfie adds. ‘If things are cut up too much, we lose that feeling of excitement and spontaneity that we always want to have. One of the best people we have worked with is Iain Archer, who produced Jake Bugg’s first album. He’s Irish, so we felt an empathy with him as a person that helped us a lot when we worked with him.’
Hudson Taylor’s Singing For Strangers is out now.