Gig preview: Bloc Party at O2 Academy Leeds

Bloc Party
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The tumultuous relationship, and eventual break-up, of the original line-up of Bloc Party has been well documented.

Releasing their début album, Silent Alarm back in 2005, they soon found themselves in the UK top 5. Led by frontman and chief songwriter Kele Okereke and lead guitarist Russell Lissack, the next seven years saw three more top 10 albums from the indie four-piece.

Tensions within the group came to a climax in 2013 with the departure of bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong, culminating in an on-stage fight between Moakes and Okereke at a gig in Suffolk.

After a hiatus, Bloc Party return with two new members: 21 year old Louise Bartle on drums, and Justin Harris replacing Moakes. Now the band is back with a brand new album, Hymns, and are set to headline the NME Awards Tour at O2 Academy Leeds. Commenting on the state of the group when he joined, Harris says that they were “seemingly raring to go again”.

“The parting ways of some members had happened in 2013, and by the time Kele contacted me it was nearly 2014, and we quickly started working on demos and stuff. I think they were quite keen to be working on a new album.”

So excited in fact that Harris explains they had already started work on the record before enlisting the new members.

Hymns is an exploration of Kele Okereke’s interest in religious music, explaining the name of the album, and Harris says that their aim was very clear from the start. “They had worked on quite a few demos before they’d even approached me, so they sent me a handful of those so I knew what the vibe of the music was. The further we got down that road, Kele had a pretty clear vision of how they wanted the record to sound, so it was pretty clear cut as to what they wanted the feel of the record to be, which made it fairly easy to be able to play the parts they wanted. It wasn’t a start from scratch situation.”

Harris’ US duo, Menomena, with fellow American musician Danny Seim, appears to have no connection to the British band of which he is now a member. How did he come to end up being invited to join Bloc Party? “I keep wondering that myself,” he jokes. “I have a band in the US, we opened a handful of shows for them back in 2009, so that’s when we got to know them, mostly Kele; he’s been the one I’ve been in contact with over the years. He’d come and see us when we’d play in London and stuff like that. He emailed one day and said, ‘I don’t know if you know this or not, Gordon and Matt aren’t in the band any more and Russell and I are working on new material. We’ve always liked your bass playing and were wondering if you’re interested in helping us flush out some of these ideas’, and I said yeah. It just grew organically from there.”

Was Harris a Bloc Party fan before he was asked to join? “I hadn’t followed them too closely over the years, having been pretty preoccupied with my own band, but I’d heard all the records. I certainly remember when Silent Alarm came out in 2005, that was a pretty prominent album at the time – I had a lot of admiration for what they did, and certainly respected their music over the years.”

We are speaking just two days before Hymns is released. The band must be really excited at this stage to finally be putting their brand new, revamped sound out there. “Pretty excited – it’s been done since around August, so we’ve been sitting on it for a number of months while the press gets set up and everything. We’ve been playing a number of shows since August, but we haven’t really been playing a lot of new material, so I think everybody is pretty excited to be releasing the new stuff into the wild.”

The NME Awards Tour 2016 with Austin Texas comes to O2 Academy Leeds on Monday February 8. Also on the bill are Drenge, Rat Boy and Bugzy Malone. For details visit http://www.nme.com/tickets/venue/o2-academy-leeds

Paul Draper. Picture: Tom Sheehan

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