How Leeds band The Dunwells have raised the spirits of the nation as a million tune in to live lockdown shows

Leeds band The Dunwells have been lifting the spirits of the nation through lockdown. They chart their career so far with Abbey Maclure.

Saturday, 3rd July 2021, 4:45 pm

The Dunwells have enjoyed Stateside success and sold-out European tours, but it's their virtual gigs during the pandemic that have shaped their career.

After performing daily shows during lockdown, Joe and Dave Dunwell have released their uplifting new single, Summertime, to celebrate the world reopening.

The pandemic has taken the brothers back to the organic sound of their early years in the indie-folk band, which they formed in 2008 after a promoter threw them together on stage.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Dave (left) and Joe Dunwell have been raising the spirits of the nation with their live shows during lockdowns
Dave (left) and Joe Dunwell have been raising the spirits of the nation with their live shows during lockdowns

Born into a musical family in Stanningley, Joe and Dave first picked up their guitars as children - with a little help from their dad.

“We like to say our dad is the world’s greatest bedroom guitarist," Dave, 36, told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

“He never pushed us to play, but there was always a guitar in the corner of every room. If we picked it up, he was always there to help us."

Joe, 33, added: “We got the ability to play music from our dad, but the confidence to stand on stage from our mum.”

The Dunwells have recorded 28 songs during the pandemic which will be released later this year

Dave began performing at open-mic nights in Leeds when he was a teenager and, a few years later, Joe followed in his footsteps.

“Very quickly, Joe started playing in the same venues and one night a promoter put us together," Dave said.

"We took the opportunity and we’ve never looked back.”

After recording and writing music together, Joe and Dave recruited their friends and local musicians and started performing as The Dunwells in 2009.

To celebrate the release of their new single Summertime, The Dunwells performed pop-up shows across Leeds city centre

It was their first EP, Elizabeth, that kick-started their careers - taking them from Leeds to London, then London to Tennessee.

Dave said: “We loved making music in Leeds and we played all over the city, from the Cockpit to the Wardrobe, to open mic nights at Carpe Diem.

“We really had to pluck the courage up to head down to London to make music."

“Being from Stanningley, I always thought going into Leeds was such a big journey," Joe joked.

"We’d pack our bags as if we were going for a week away."

The band became close friends with a promoter at London pub The Bedford, who invited them to perform at the Folk Alliance International 2011 in Memphis, Tennessee.

There was a £6,000 fee including flights, but making the journey propelled the band to Stateside success.

“There were five of us in the band and we all stayed in one hotel room," Dave added.

"We played six shows and it was all industry-showcased. We came away with a record deal, a management deal and a publishing deal.”

The Dunwells stayed in the US for around five years, but they didn't lose their Leeds fanbase. After releasing their hit single I Could Be A King, which charted in the US, they flew back to the UK to perform at The Wardrobe.

Joe said: “We thought we might half fill it, but it completely sold out. I’m proud of the support we’ve had in Leeds, Leeds roots for its own people.

"It's like watching Kalvin Phillips in the Euros now, you can just feel the energy and support.”

The Dunwells have gone on to perform live on US television, huge shows at amphitheatres in Colorado and at Leeds First Direct Arena.

Just before the pandemic, they played with Tom Jones and then Scouting For Girls in sold-out tours.

“We feel really lucky to have done all those things, but we still talk like we’re a new band," Joe added.

"There’s so much more to come.”

It would have been understandable if the pandemic halted the band's momentum, but it's had the opposite effect.

The band have played 242 hour-long live shows to their fans over lockdowns, which have now reached more than a million streams.

They've also recorded 28 new songs which will be released later this year.

Joe added: “It took a while to adjust, but we’re so grateful for our core fanbase - they rooted behind us.

“We've become better musicians, better songwriters and better friends. We’ve written more songs than we ever have before.

“We’ve built a community that has solidified who we are as a band and we’ve got a lot out of it.”

Getting back to live music

Dave and Joe have loved connecting with their fans through virtual gigs, but they're excited to get live feedback on the catalogue of new songs they're set to release this summer.

With many festivals cancelled for a second year, the band have organised their own event at The Staveley Arms in Ripon on August 21.

They will regroup with drummer Adam Taylor and Rob Clayton on bass to headline Summertime Fest, supported by local artists.

“We want to pack in as many shows as possible," Joe said.

"This period has made us more entrepreneurial - we thought, 'if festival line-ups are sold out, then we’ll make our own festival'.

"Everyone has had a tough time, but we can’t wait to stand on stage and just have fun. I think people want that more than ever.”

The Dunwells on their summer anthem

The Dunwells have released their new single Summertime, one of 28 songs the band recorded over the pandemic.

The cheery anthem celebrates life returning to normal and showcases what the band does best - strong vocals, powerful melodies and heartfelt lyrics.

It's already reached more than 10,000 streams on Spotify and has been included in the platform's playlist for alternative music, The Listening Post.

“The next bunch of songs are full of optimism and joy, I'm so excited to release them," Joe said.

Dave added: "Because we’ve learnt covers for the live shows, we've been influenced more by the music of our early days and our parents’ music, like Cat Stevens.

"We wanted to approach music organically, getting great-sounding acoustic guitars and drums and keeping it nice and simple.

"We want to make sure the message of the song cuts through."

To celebrate the release, Joe and Dave performed a series of pop-up gigs across Leeds city centre and Ripon last month.

“We were just trying to blow out the cobwebs," Joe added.

"It was ironic as the day we released Summertime, we were playing in Leeds and it chucked it down. We should have put the word British in front!"