This is the most nervous I've been in a church since my first communion," admits Nick Hemming, shaky but among friends for the Leisure Society's last, sold-out gig of the year, in the beautiful Soho chapel where John Wesley once preached and William Blake prayed. For once, the venue isn't an affectation, fitting their English chamber-country, with strings, flute and, tonight, a choir.
Hemming, skinny, floppy-haired and somewhat louche, in the manner of one of his heroes, the Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon, has a right to look occasionally stunned. This unknown 36-year-old was thrown into a media whirl while holding down a warehouse job, when "The Last of the Melting Snow" was nominated for this year's Ivor Novello award. That song was written alone with a vodka bottle one New Year's Eve, after hope of an eight-year romance's rekindling was dashed. The only link he kept to success were two old band-mates from back in Burton-upon-Trent, Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows, a couple of whose films he scored. One song, he notes, is "about how things sometimes take 15 years longer than you wanted them to".
"Wait all year for the parting shot," go that pivotal song's words, in what could be a waltz. But the keyboard chimes of musical partner Christian Hardy avert melancholy. The rockabilly twang and crash of "Save It for Someone Who Cares" could be revenge on the girl that got away. But the ecstatic suburban ennui of "A Short Weekend Begins with Longing", and the way he slurred 1990s clubbing memoir "We Were Wasted" summons Nick Drake's English backwoods, is more typical. There is decorous drive in the music, and a sensibility of genuine satisfaction in small things.
The modesty at the Leisure Society's heart is summed up by brand new song "I Shall Forever Remain an Amateur". Inspired by "the award I didn't win", and Hemming's warehouse farewell party as he finally grasped a musical career, the same day others were laid off, it wonders what he has done to deserve this. Its poetic detail, noting the blankness revealed when "the backs of firesides have been washed clean", and the hairpin tempo and texture turns this band then negotiate as they cover the Beatles' "Something", give two clues. They are cheered to the church echo, and entirely grateful.