“Soul is at the heart of what we’re doing, but we’re going after an aggressive soul,” says Chris Hague over a coffee and under the big screen in Soho’s Bar Italia. “I get the buzz from songwriting. We’re sticklers for good songs and that’s what we focus on. Good songs have good structure, so anything from The Beatles through to Ray Charles, through to Anderson Paak and Tame Impala is my bag.”
Chris (guitar, piano, background vocals) is one half of the Sheffield duo, Hague & White, with Joel White on lead vocals, Hammond organ, Wurlitzer and Rhodes, and with the upcoming release of their debut 11-track album, ‘The Eleventh Hour’, they’re two musicians whose efforts now dovetail after many years of honing their crafts. Produced by Chris and David Glover (with co-production from Joel) and mastered at Abbey Road Studios, the album involves a variety of styles and moods from soul, jazz and funk to psych and garage.
“Me and Joel have known each other since we were 19 years old,” says Chris. “Years later, after returning to Sheffield after I’d been working in London for a long time, we decided it was about time we did some stuff together.”
Doing ‘some stuff’ being the small matter of writing and recording an entire album of new music. “Our musical influences have informed our sound and what we’re writing,” adds Joel, “but we haven’t gone for a particular sound. We’re not smoothing the soul out. We want to keep an edge and a character to it. I’m a massive 1960s music fan, but it’s more for me about how the music makes me feel, rather than sticking with something that is retro.
“We began recording with Dee Boyle, who was the drummer with The Longpigs and who had worked with Richard Hawley, but sadly he passed away about 18 months ago.”
The tracks ‘Face’, ‘Stranger To Your Love’, ‘What Ya Gonna Do’ and ‘Nothing’s Gonna Last Forever’ saw drum duty assumed by the late Boyle, and the duo were without a drummer until Steve White, the internationally acclaimed drummer and percussionist (The Style Council, Paul Weller, Jon Lord, The Who, The Family Silver) entered the frame. Or, rather, walked in through the studio door.
Says Steve: “I was looking to get back into the studio after Christmas  because I was so bored of the winter blues. It was a lovely coming together of musical minds when we all met at Tesla Studios. The weather was horrendous, so we just shut the door and played. We were able to be experimental. Over two or three sessions in the studio we managed to record a real body of work. It was clear to me that we were very much on the same musical wavelength. ‘The Eleventh Hour’ is a really strong album with the heartfelt influence of classic soul and a hint of psychedelia, but it’s not a retro fest; it’s a beautifully recorded and played body of work that is very much a record for now. What really appealed to me was that they’re great songs and not part of that overt retro thing. When we were talking about certain beats for the record, we all initially talked about hip hop beats, trying to make the sound quite dirty, which to me is wholly modern, while still being able to hear the classic references. So we haven’t tried to get some Sixties dust on it.”
“On the first day in the studio, Steve only wanted some water and a cup of tea,” adds Chris, “so yeah, his rider is unreal… But seriously, it’s been an absolute dream for us having him aboard.
“The album has three styles to it: there’s an epic soundtrack feel, as well as instant soul and then there’s more quirky, psychedelia-tinged aspects. Steve has been fantastic to work with and has been one of our hero drummers from years ago. He came in initially as a session player, but now he’s just one of the gang. We know what he can do and how he can fit effortlessly into the musicality of a project. All three of us are sponges for new music, and so I feel we’ve produced something original, and with character.”
Joel is the cousin of the bard of Sheffield, Richard Hawley, and he and Chris between them have worked with artists including Pulp, Moloko and Finlay Quaye. The collective pedigree is self evident.
“Only songwriting and my insatiable appetite for it is what keeps me interested in music,” says Chris. “We’re already down the track with the second album. And we’re never short of ideas. It’s the lethargy within the [music] industry that’s the problem; the laziness within the industry towards new music is, for me, mindnumbing.”
But with BBC Radio having taken note of the album, and with DJs Janice Long and Gary Crowley all now giving it an airing, things are moving. Plans to play the album live are also in the works, “keeping it as tight as possible, initially“, says Chris, “and if we keep it as a small unit, it keeps the edge as well“.
Clearly, what is necessary in these politically cliff-edged, cash-strapped days is a cooperative attitude when it comes to creative projects such as ‘The Eleventh Hour’. The album arrives at a time when the cultural mainstream continues to shut out new voices in favour of the dependable annual corporate dividend, the sustainability of which is predicated upon, firstly, the continued blanding of tastes for a public that has come to rely on products tasting of not very much; and, secondly, a relentless championing of musical dinosaurs only able to rehash themselves for a twilight payday. Looking towards the openness of international markets, therefore, might well be the way forward for artists attempting to tackle the shut out by a music industry that now resembles a swaybacked, blinkered dray horse, staggering to its predestined doom.
As Steve says, “insularity right now, in this country, isn’t the way forward, and to recognise that we’re living in a cultural, social, political dark age is important because it’s the only way we’re going to see the light. It’s a very bleak time. And music industry-wise, the old business model is barely surviving. Streaming has taken the legs out from under the industry, so it’s very difficult for a young band to get a deal. Artists at the top like Ed Sheeran and Adele are doing very well, and good luck to them, but now there is no middle ground. As a country, we don’t support our skills in the creative arts, and that’s a crying shame. But young artists will find a way. They always have.”
The single ‘Just Be True’ is out on 18 October & the album ‘The Eleventh Hour’ (available on CD, LP, digital download and streaming) is released on 11 January 2019 on Monks Road Records