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Honeyfeet A Northern Musical Powerhouse

Honeyfeet’s steps along the musical road have been more marathon than sprint. That Orange Whip, due for release on 30 March, is only the Manchester-based band’s second album in around a decade since forming and arrives five years on from 2013’s debut LP, It’s A Good Job I Love You, suggests there’s no urgency to commit their rousing crescendos to record. All the while, audiences have grown organically by virtue of live shows that make a habit of entertaining all within earshot.

The band’s line-up has evolved over that time, but theirs is an infinitely steadier ship than revolving doors like The Fall or Brian Jonestown Massacre. Indeed, benefitting from patience, their personnel can now be considered a local supergroup, fusing the dexterity of musicians whose individual CVs stand up in their own right. Last year, London-based jazz, funk and soul label Wah Wah 45s took note and duly signed the band.

Ahead of the release of Orange Whip and a tour that will include their largest hometown show to date – at Gorilla on 27 April – Ellis Davies (guitar) and Biff Roxby (trombone) from the band tackled our teasers.

You’ve been around for a few years now as Honeyfeet. What are your first and most vivid memories as a band?

[Ellis]: It probably goes back to when Ríoghnach [Connolly, singer] and myself had a flat which was a big open plan thing, and we started being able to invite musicians around to have a play. We must have had understanding neighbours – I remember the room just being full of people playing on their instruments, until six or seven in the morning. That was when we as a band started to be more than an idea.

With a changing line-up over the years and for different gigs, has the band developed the way you expected?

[Ellis] That’s a hard one to answer. If you had asked us when we started out what we were going to do with the band, I think would have said we would have been a very acoustic folk or blues band. Luckily, one of the things about all of the people who have been in Honeyfeet was that it was just about writing and playing anything that sounded good to us. Without the constraints, it means we haven’t had to stick to any one style. I’d say that the type of gigs we started playing did mean we had to go ‘electric’, but I think that’s worked out okay so far. It means we’ve been able to incorporate a bit of everything in there.

[Biff] Though I’ve not been in the band since its inception, I’ve seen a fair few line-up changes and played in various different formats of the band. I don’t think I ever had an expectation of how it would develop – that sort of thing can send you mad trying to predict. Better to just let it happen.

How much time can you put into your various offshoot bands these days? Has the mothership taken over? How does it all knit together?

[Ellis] It’s as much of a balancing act as ever. Particularly, it’s tricky with Ríoghnach’s commitments with The Breath, who are signed to Real World, and Afro Celt Sound System, who have a big following and big tours and such. Within Honeyfeet, there are so many other projects: bands such as Shyfinger, Sling, Rik Warren’s solo work, Phill’s PG13. Also, Biff and John both run their own studios and Lorien is a sought-after sound engineer. It works out because I think the variety is really healthy so people aren’t constantly thinking about one thing and one thing only. The boring answer to how it works out is probably just having a really well-organised calendar.

[Biff] Ellis is the prince of admin and Lorien is the duke of logistics. They manage to keep the whole ship sailing despite everyone being mega busy with Honeyfeet offshoots and their own projects.

Who else stands out for you among Manchester’s music makers at the moment?

[Ellis] We’re very lucky in Manchester that there’s so much going on. You feel as though you’re bound to be missing out on as much really good music as you’re listening to. We’ve got a lot of love for Henge. They’re such an incredible live band. Plume and Shunya both stand out in the way they bring electronics and live instrumentation together – both totally different, but really fresh.

[Biff] Henge, Shunya, Age of Glass, Hunrosa, Levelz, Agbeko, Sangy.

What has it been like working with Wah Wah 45s? Have you picked anything up from their roster of artists?

[Ellis] Wah Wah 45s have been great with us so far, they’ve been a joy to work with. They have been really helpful in terms of letting us have the record be what it is, and also to have their knowledge and input of the wider industry has been invaluable. They’ve got a really great roster – we had the privilege of playing with Dele Sosimi, and The Soothsayers at their EP launch a few months back. Just great to watch them up close – every last one was an exceptional musician. Ríoghnach had worked with a few of them in a band called Yes King a few years ago, but this was a very different vibe. Dele Sosimi was amazing – his album on Wah Wah 45s is worth a listen. Of course, Manchester’s own Gideon Conn – who has consistently been fantastic for years – is on Wah Wah 45s too, so we’re happy to see them recognising what’s going on up north.

How does Orange Whip move on from It’s A Good Job I Love You?

[Ellis] When we asked Paddy Steer to mix It’s A Good Job I Love You, we were doing it as we wanted some his magic to make us sound less like us! That may seem a little bizarre, but we had been playing those songs for a while, and felt like it needed some outside input. What Paddy did was to give the whole album a much more produced sound, deliberately stripping out instruments and playing with it sonically. We love what he did with it, and how it came to sound much more atmospheric.

When we came to record Orange Whip, we consciously thought, “Right, we’ve done it that way – let’s make this sound more like how we play live.” I think we’ve struck a good balance. It definitely sounds more like a band playing in a room, but with some really nice production touches. The song ‘Meet Me On The Corner’ sounds like much more of a pop single than anything else we’ve done, but still sounds as though it’s us.

What do you have lined up for 2018 in terms of live shows?

[Ellis] We’re working on booking a tour through April and May. Bristol’s Trinity Centre on 5 May will be great. We’re combining our launch with a fundraiser for Misfits , who enable people with learning difficulties to be creative, have fun and reach their potential through participation and performance. That’s going to be a wonderful gig. One of the other picks will definitely be Total Refreshment Centre, London on 5 April. Gus, who plays sax with us, lives in London now and he’s got a wonderful community around him at TRC. Finally, the big one is Gorilla in Manchester on 27 April. Playing Gorilla is one we’re really looking forward to. It’s going to be our biggest gig in Manchester to date, so we’re excited and a bit nervous in equal measure. You should come if you can, so we’re not just playing to the bar staff.

Learn more

The next single, ‘Whatever You Do’, will be released on 2 March, followed by the album, Orange Whip, 30 March – both via Wah Wah 45s.

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