The Leisure Society were strangely absent from various lists of forthcoming stars of 2009 – which means either that they were the victims of an outrageous slight, or that the acts chosen ahead of them must be amazingly good.
So, with 50 weeks of the year still to go, perhaps the Brighton ensemble's blend of wistfulness, poise, and radiant beauty could still be nominated as a sound that will enrapture audiences in the coming months. The Mercury Prize people quickly picked up on Laura Marling, who was beginning to make waves exactly this time last year, and The Leisure Society surely have the potential to create a similar stir.
The difference with The Leisure Society is that they are already quite experienced. Their driving forces are Nick Hemming, vocals and guitar, and Christian Hardy, vocals and piano, who are in their early thirties and late twenties respectively and have been building the band up for a while. They comprise no fewer than nine members – instruments include double bass, violin, cello, flute, mandolin, glockenspiel, drums, and maracas – and the entire assemblage of people and kit barely fits on to the tiny Bush Hall stage.
Hemming's most significant work to date is as a contributor of scores to Shane Meadows movies, both men having been in the same band when they were embarking on their careers in Burton-upon-Trent. But with The Leisure Society's forthcoming debut album – The Sleeper, due out in March – wider recognition beckons.
Their first single, "The Last of the Melting Snow", was listeners' overwhelming choice for record of the week on the Radcliffe and Maconie show on Radio 2 a few weeks ago. A combination of simple piano chords, sublime vocal harmonies, and wintry romanticism gave it a timeless quality, and it's a shame it never got a look-in as a Christmas hit. But what is striking in live performance is the strength and extent of their other material. At times the spirit of Nick Drake hovers over proceedings, at others that of Leonard Cohen.
Tall, pale and bony and dressed in a blue pin-striped suit, Hemming seems to have stepped straight out of a 1930s poetry salon, an anti-hero in the Jarvis Cocker mould. Hardy is the jokier of the two. "It really smells of fear," he says of the backstage area. I'd say the only thing The Leisure Society have to fear is fear itself.