Nick Hemming (AKA The Leisure Society) was either very astute or having a Mystic Meg moment when he named his debut album The Sleeper, as its success has followed the textbook trajectory of sleeper hit. Barely noticed on its initial release, this pop flecked folk album has trundled quietly along and gathered enough moss to merit this reissue with a bonus disc. Now, with an Ivor Novello nod for micro-anthem ‘A Matter of Time’, heavy MTV rotation for the single ‘Save It for Someone Who Cares’, and a head-scratching 3/10 review in the NME, The Sleeper will hopefully reach the audience it deserves, because it is certainly one of the finest albums this year, and worthy of type of attention heaped Stateside on your Bonny ‘Prince’ Ivers and Grizzly Foxes.
Like the American bands mentioned above, Hemming has crafted a folk album which borrows heavily on folk/pop tradition yet he has imbued it with a resolutely English flavour. It’s more Paul McCartney than Brian Wilson, more Fairport Convention than The Band, yet, because of the quality of the songs, it is never once derivative. Moreover, in a feat which is a huge rehabilitative move for the instrument, Hemming has managed to smuggle the flute into at least two songs on this record. As Sir Paul McCartney knows, this is no mean feat.
One reason, perhaps, for The Sleeper‘s slow-burning success is the lack of filler on the record. There are songs here which are every bit the equal of the previously mentioned singles. ‘The last of the melting snow’s’ lamenting lyrics are carried by a heartbroken and pretty melodic swing from verse to chorus, and album opener ‘Give yourself a fighting chance’ will have Badly Drawn Boy fans jumping for joy at its breathlessly easy home-spun refrain, not to mention Hemming’s oh-these-are-just-things-I-found-in-the-shed use of maracas, washboards, and the banjo. A final word on a great album: if you are a movie fan and experience an aha! moment listening to The Sleeper, it is because Hemmings wrote the incidental music for the Shane Meadows movies Dead Man’s Shoes and A Room For Romeo Brass. In fact Meadows and actor Paddy Considine used to be in The Leisure Society. Good things obviously come in threes.