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The Leisure Foundation "A product of the 1980s post-punk Sheffield boom"

Like so many Sheffield bands in the early 80s, The Leisure Foundation nearly 'made it big'. Thanks to a new local label focussed on never-released material, their music is finally seeing the light of day.

Leisure Foundation Janet Red

Janet Chan, lead singer of The Leisure Foundation.

1982. Sheffield is the musical capital of the world. “We were taking over. None of us had any musical talent. But we knew what a good pop song was.”

Pete Hill is a photographer, going to every gig to take photos of bands. Every Thursday, he goes through the music magazines to see if his shots are included. At the same time, Pete and his mate Steve play a game: create the perfect pop band. But what is the perfect pop band? "You can’t explain it, you just got to feel it. It has to capture a moment. It has to be music people can dance to, people can fall in love to, people can break up to. It has to grab you."

Pete decides to go from imagining the perfect pop band to creating the real thing. Borrowing some musical friends from other bands, he forms the Leisure Foundation.

"I wrote the lyrics and then my main conspirators, Dave Clayton and Jeb, wrote the music and put it all together. The idea was to have a slightly oriental sound. Maybe we were in advance of K-pop."

Between 1982 and 1983 the Leisure Foundation went through various lineup changes and recorded a number of demos, some of which got them very close to landing a record deal.

Leisure Foundation Pulse Studios2

The Leisure Foundation at Pulse Studios in Hathersage, where they recorded 'Lies', 'Heart of the City' and 'Hiroshima'.

"One record company called up very excited, saying, 'We’ve just played your demo tape and think there is a number one hit on it.' But they wanted a band that could play live. We were just musicians from other bands.

"Another label wanted to release 'Heart of the City'. They wanted to get hold of the master tapes so they could remix it. But we hadn’t kept the master tapes. People didn’t at that time."

Eventually keyboard player and co-writer Dave Clayton left to form a new band, Person To Person. Clayton would go on to work with George Michael and Simply Red.

"He was a musical genius. When we lost Dave, the momentum had gone."

And so for 40 years the Leisure Foundation's demos remained in Pete’s house, never to be released.

That is until lockdown, when local video archivist and music enthusiast Alex Wilson was searching for never-released or rarely-released music. Whilst researching Yorkshire music from the 1970s and 1980s he came across a description of The Leisure Foundation: "intelligent, high-quality music."

"A few Googles later and I found the track 'Lies' on Youtube," says Alex.

"We’d recorded a music video at Fanny’s nightclub," Pete remembers. "It was 10pm and the doors were opening. We pleaded to be allowed one more take. All the dancers were coming in. They are all cheering at the end of the video.

"I’d recently uploaded the videos onto Facebook with a caption, 'Haha look at me from forty years ago,' and thought nothing of it."

But Alex liked what he heard. He emailed Pete about releasing the tracks. Pete checked in with the rest of the band – and it was on. The tapes were digitised at Fairview Studios in East Yorkshire and mastered by Dean Honer in Sheffield.

Why did Alex think it was important to release these songs?

"The Leisure Foundation is a product of the 1980s post-punk Sheffield boom. It’s a moment where synth-funk, dub and disco influences were bubbling away. And that's cool.

"That period was very much a boy's club. So I was intrigued to see a women front-centre, especially someone like Janet from a Sheffield/East Asian heritage.

"And with the strong aesthetic that the band had for their press shots, it was a no brainer to help bring this band into being in 2023."

Were the songs worth a 40-year wait? Absolutely. 'Lies' is a suave piece of 80s pop. In a parallel universe you can imagine the chorus – “Lies! I’ve had enough of your lies!” – being shouted on dancefloors at 2am. 'Heart of the City' is reminiscent of Duran Duran’s 'Wild Boys'. The record company were right; it could have been a smash hit.

You hear tales of bands that could have made it all the time, but with The Leisure Foundation you can see why they came so close. It’s great that these songs are finally getting a release; it’s just a shame we’ve had to wait so long.

Learn more

The Leisure Foundation's self-titled eight-track compilation is out now via Memory Dance.

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