Hudson Taylor Hit Belfast and Derry
Dublin-based busking brothers take their talents to the next level after signing with Polydor and raking up millions of YouTube hits. 'This is where all the hard work begins'
They’re young, good-looking and have just released their debut album on a major record label. You could say they're living the dream.
Singer-songwriting brothers Harry and Alfie Taylor Hudson have come a long way from busking on the streets of Dublin, where they began honing their craft in their early teens. Their band, Hudson Taylor, has supported the Rolling Stones in London's Hyde Park and is in demand at the big pop, folk and rock festivals at home and abroad. Not bad for a couple of lads barely in their 20s.
The band's story began to unfold on a beach eight years ago. 'We went away on a family holiday to Italy and I brought my guitar with me,' recalls dark-haired Harry, his blonde brother busy with press on another phone. 'We ended up jamming on the beach.'
That first session involved just an acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies, but after a few nights the brothers had made an impression on the friends they had made there. 'People said, "Why don’t you put it up on YouTube?" That’s kind of where it started.'
In the next few years, the duo released several EPs of folksy pop, the singles of which have racked up several million hits on the popular video file-sharing website. It was perhaps only a matter of time before a major label stepped in.
That label was Polydor, and the first fruit of their collaboration is Singing for Strangers, an infectious collection of harmonically radiant acoustic tunes whose inspiration, perhaps surprisingly in musicians so young, comes from the music of a different era entirely. Hudson Taylor cite the Everly Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell as formative influences.
'We’ve always been into singer-songwriter, guitar stuff,' explains Harry. 'We listened to all the folk music from the 1960s and 1970s when we were growing up. It was an era of lovely harmonies.' As a result, Singing for Strangers is an album infused with lush vocals, a little in the vein of the iconic folk-rock troubadours Crosby, Stills and Nash.
In an era of manufactured pop bands, Hudson Taylor is a self-made success story, involving a lot of hard graft, a little bit of luck and a wealth of obvious talent. Harry is quick to acknowledge, however, that their success thus far has only been possible thanks to the generosity and support of friends.
'There was a lot of asking people for favours. Friends helped out a lot, whether it was taking photos for artwork, or designing things, even recording. We owe so much to all the people who helped us before we got signed, the ones who got us the recognition.'
In spite of the glamour of being with Polydor, the brothers have their feet firmly planted on the ground. 'It’s not like, oh great, we’ve made it. This is kind of where all the hard works begins.'
Being signed to a major label, with all its PR clout and superior resources, has obvious advantages, but it also poses a challenge for Harry and Alfie after years of going it alone. 'It’s hard to make sure everyone’s on the same page, vision-wise,' admits Harry. 'It’s hard enough sometimes to get Alfie and me on the same page,' he laughs.
The siblings, now based in Dublin, can count the likes of Madonna, Eminem, Eric Clapton and Lady Gaga as stablemates on the prestigious Polydor label, not to mention Northern Ireland’s very own Snow Patrol. The production values on Singing for Strangers are, therefore, first rate.
Northern Ireland's Iain Archer, former Snow Patrol member and currently singer with alt-Americana outfit Tired Pony, co-produced the album, along with Grammy winner Mike Einziger. Hudson Taylor had previously established a rapport with Archer.
'The first time we met Iain was to do some collaborative writing,' recalls Harry. 'He has had a lot of success in recent years, both song-writing and producing. It’s so nice to work with people like Iain who have that extra experience, because when we were starting out we didn’t know anything about anything.'
That experience has stood the brothers in good stead. The songs on Singing for Strangers were sculpted in time-honoured singer-songwriter fashion. 'Most of our songs come from a jam, from sitting in a room and writing down whatever’s on your mind. Then we figure out what it’s about.'
For the most part, the songs are autobiographical in nature. 'It’s all about me and Alfie’s experience in the last years, all the anxieties about being young, moving to a big city, not having enough money to pay for any real food, you know, just getting by. There are songs about girlfriends, songs about falling out with friends, about people back home, about family.'
Of course, their home country provides inspiration for many of the lyrics on the album. 'Our last single, ’World Without You’, is a love song, but it’s more about losing touch with friends back home.'
Then there’s ‘Don’t Tell Me’, which comes close in spirit to the protest anthems of Crosby, Stills and Nash:
Stand up to the people who hate.
Stand up if you’re feeling afraid.
Stand up if you’re feeling alone.
Don’t tell me that I can’t be who I am.
'It’s about the Irish referendum on gay marriage [which takes place on Friday, May 22],' Harry reveals. 'The song is about not judging people.'
The majority of the songs on Singing for Strangers are upbeat, sunny and anthemic, even when dealing with subjects such as difficult as the pain of love or, as in the case of ‘Weapons’, the effects of depression.
'We wrote that song for a friend of ours who was going through depression and he wasn’t opening up to us. He was getting pissed and angry and not really communicating with anyone. It’s a song to reach out to a person who’s going through a hard time.'
In spite of the tremendous YouTube viewing figures for Hudson Taylor’s videos, and the superior production values of their debut album, the boys see themselves remaining very much a live act.
'Oh man, we are totally a live band,' enthuses Harry. 'Whenever anybody asks me about our music, I say, "Come and see us live to really see what we’re about".'
No two Hudson Taylor concerts, assures Harry, are ever quite the same. 'Every gig is completely different, and it depends on so many things. The room, the people in the room, the day of the week, how many pints people have had, what time you go on, whether it’s at a festival or in a tiny little theatre. There are a huge variety of things that make a gig good, or sometimes bad,' he laughs.
With more Irish dates scheduled for the end of May 2015 – including one in Belfast's Ulster Hall on May 28 and another in Derry's Nerve Centre on May 29 – and plenty of summer festivals lined up too, it's a busy time ahead for the band.
Beyond that, Harry and Alfie share the same ambitions. 'We want to continue writing. In terms of the next venture, we want to be more musical, to have more musical ambition.'
Though Harry and Alfie have all but left their busking days behind them, it’s the buskers in them that largely define their craft. 'You know, busking is almost a way of life as much as it is a way of making money,' Harry observes. 'Busking in itself just suggests spontaneity, and we love everything about it. We love going with the flow.'
The flow has taken Hudson Taylor from a beach in Italy and busking the Dublin streets for small change to Glastonbury, Benicassim and Carnegie Hall. It’s taken their sweet harmonies and heart-on-the-sleeve acoustic anthems to sold-out theatres and major label exposure. And it feels like Harry and Alfie’s story is only just beginning.