Interview: The Dunwells - from Leeds to US hit show

Interview by Graham Chalmers
The Dunwells pictured at Pocklington Arts Centre. (Picture by Stuart Rhodes)The Dunwells pictured at Pocklington Arts Centre. (Picture by Stuart Rhodes)
The Dunwells pictured at Pocklington Arts Centre. (Picture by Stuart Rhodes)

If proof were needed that local band The Dunwells are the real deal, a quick look on YouTube at their rousing performance on the Jay Leno show provides it in spades, writes Graham Chalmers.

Playing on US TV for the first time in 2012 in front of an audience of millions, this checked-shirted four-piece, who hail mostly from Menston, rip through their own song Follow the Road like veterans, polite-looking but performing like a young version of rockers Led Zeppelin crossed with folkie Bert Jansch.

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A wise head on young shoulders, lead singer Joseph tells me: “It was a whirlwind 24 hours. We were on tour in Colorado at the time when we got a phone call asking if we’d come on the show. They flew us over to the studios in California, then flew us back straight afterwards.

“It was nerve-wracking to be on American TV but once we started playing, we settled down. We love performing. A show is a show.”

Although occasionally compared to Mumford & Sons (“we’ve not had a banjo on our records since our I Could Be a King single in 2011,” emphasises Joe), there’s a tougher core to their powerful tunes with their heartfelt sentiments and gorgeous four-part harmonies. It’s a steeliness that, perhaps, reflects the band’s Yorkshire roots.

The Dunwells’ rise has certainly been rapid since two brothers, Joe and David Dunwell, hooked up with two cousins, Johnny Lamb and Rob Clayton, back in 2009.

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Such was their obvious potential, this fledgling group was snapped up within two years in a joint deal with Playing in Traffic Records and Concord Music Group, the American label who work with the likes of Alison Krauss and Paul McCartney.

“I’ve never met Paul McCartney but I’d love to meet him at some point. We’ll probably be in and out of their offices next year with the new album, so you never know.”

In the meantime, there is a new EP to promote, Show Me Emotion which comes out on September 8, and a slew of UK dates, The Wardrobe in Leeds and Fibbers in York.

It’s been an amazing journey from St Mary’s High School in Menston and the small solo gigs Joe would play around the pubs of Leeds.

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And it’s produced at least one unexpected detour on the way.

“Jonny won’t be on our tour. He’s in America with his girlfriend and baby boy,” Joe says.

Not that there’s any chance of The Dunwells forgetting where they come from.

Joe’s own view of the city shows the poetic side of his nature that makes the band such a potent musical force.

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“I was driving through Leeds yesterday to drop someone off and you can almost sense the possibility that something amazing may happen at any time. Leeds is a special place and people there love their music.”

For anyone tempted to drag out the Mumford & Sons comparison of old, one listen to the new EP Show Me Emotion should put paid to that.

The sound is more British, less American, more ‘rock’ and less ‘rock n roll’.

“The EP gives a taste of what’s to come on the album. It’s still got that enthusiasm and passion we’ve always had. It’s all Dunwells. But it’s a different vibe.

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“We spent a lot more time focusing on the craft of the actual songs than on the first album, Blind Sighted Faith when we were rushed into the studio and had to finish it in three or four weeks. Me and Dave are very happy with the results. We’ve nailed it.”

Although not set for release until next year, it’s a positive sign that this young group from Yorkshire have been backed by such a major American label.

“They’ve picked up the next option and they’re mega engaged with us. It’s an exciting time for the band.”

The Dunwells play The Wardrobe in Leeds on Friday, September 5, Fibbers in York on Saturday, September 6.

The full version of this interview can be seen in the Weekend section in the printed version of the Harrogate Advertiser.