The Leisure Society and Ivor Novello: An overnight non-sensation

Experience of Nick Hemming suggests the profile that follows an award or nomination isn't all that great for giving a new act a head start on long slog to the top

Six months ago, a warehouseman got the break of his life. That, at least, is the way Nick Hemming's nomination for an Ivor Novello songwriting award was reported in the newspapers. Hemming had no publishing deal; his band, the Leisure Society, were unsigned; and now his gorgeously delicate folk-pop song The Last of the Melting Snow was surely poised to catapult him to fame and success.

"It was already going surprisingly well, actually," says Hemming now, when asked if the award nomination did change his life. "We'd had support from a few DJs – Mark Radcliffe, Marc Riley and Guy Garvey on 6Music. And we were doing our first tour when we heard about the nomination."

Ah, but the Leisure Society are now signed – and The Sleeper, the album that featured Melting Snow, has been rereleased on Full Time Hobby, the band's new home. So don't the Leisure Society owe that to Ivor Novello? "I'd known the guys at Full Time Hobby for a few years, from session work I'd done," Hemming says. "We were really cynical about the music industry, but Nigel Adams at Full Time Hobby was just such a nice guy that we just went with him." While the Leisure Society didn't actually sign on the dotted line until after the Novello nomination, the process had been underway before then.

So, if the band didn't gain a label, they must at least have gained a bigger audience thanks to the nomination and the attendant publicity. Actually, Hemming says, no. "The biggest thing [for raising their profile] was we got Single of the Week from Mark Radcliffe and got radio support. The first tour sold out because of that."

In fact, Hemmings says, the best thing that happened to him as a result of the nomination was that he got a publishing deal, "which meant I could give up the day job. Usually the money from that would come in one advance, but I've had it paid monthly in little bits, which has meant I don't have to work for two years." If he'd had it one lump, he says, he'd probably have spent it.

In September, the south London rapper Speech Debelle was the one whose career was predicted to explode off the back of a music award. She won the Barclaycard Mercury prize, collected a large cheque – and duly found that the public were still staying away from her gigs, still not buying her album, and still not making her a star.

The combined experience of Hemming and Debelle suggests that the profile that follows an award or a nomination isn't all that great for giving a new act a head start on the long slog to the top, as the Lancashire band Shakeys Brother – apparently nominated for a Grammy award – may be about to learn. Hemming discovered that in reality nothing boosts your audience quite like them actually getting the chance to hear your music on the radio: the power of a panel of judges to change people's listening habits remains limited, at best.

So what next for the Leisure Society? A visit to Europe, now The Sleeper is being issued outside the UK for the first time, and a trip to the studio to start recording its follow-up – after two years of playing the same songs, the band are desperate to roll out some new material. And Hemming promises that when the next album emerges, the Leisure Society will "tour and promote it properly", in a bid to ensure that all seven members can finally make a full-time living from music. They are also in the market for film soundtracks, because "that's one of the few ways to make a living in the music industry".

Still, it's got to be better than working in a warehouse, eh? "I kind of miss the manual labour side of it," Hemming says. "There's something about going   to work and leaving your brain to do other things ..."

• The Sleeper, with bonus EP, is out now on Full Time Hobby. The Leisure Society play Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, on 22 November, then tour


Michael Hann

The GuardianTramp

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