Skip to main content
A Magazine for

The Middlewood Sessions

The Middlewood Sessions

Middlewood Sessions are quite possibly the best band from Sheffield that you've never heard of. Despite strong early successes with well-supported singles on Gilles Peterson's Brownswood Recordings and Wah Wah 45s, they haven't released anything since early 2008. Their last performance in Sheffield was at the tail end of that year and they haven't played anywhere since early 2009. Since then, the band has been sequestered away in the studio, any requests for information met with a polite "we're working on it". For those that have stayed the course, this is one of the longest awaited debuts in recent memory. It may have taken them five years, but this record - epic, intense, deep, groovy and soulful - is very good indeed.

The project began in 2006 with the collaboration of jazz pianist Mark Slater and bassist Alex Beauchamp. They envisaged a cinematic approach to jazz with heavyweight horns and an orchestral string section. The band has grown exponentially from its original two members. By my count, 27 different musicians played 14 different instruments on the album. The initial goal of creating something cinematic and orchestral has been met resoundingly, leading to the most obvious comparison with The Cinematic Orchestra. Their influence - namely soaring strings and deep, jazzy basslines - can be heard somewhere in just about every track on this album, and it's a winning, if not entirely original formula. However, Slater and Beauchamp haven't stopped at this, and at times this record is (whisper it) just a bit better. Their success stems from looking both forwards and backwards - from the punchy brass of Freddie Hubbard and other Blue Note artists, to the creative dance floor beats of the likes of Diplo, Bonobo and 4hero.

Their sound is not completely unique but it is fresh. The songs are long, but creative use of instrumentation and clever structuring mean they never get boring. They are elaborate and complex, but still incredibly catchy - so, so catchy. I've had this promo for a couple of weeks, and just like a thrilling book, I just can't turn this music off: it's brilliantly addictive and highly recommended.

It's worth pointing out that this is an album for Sheffield to be proud of too. It is flawlessly performed and produced, but has all been done locally. It was recorded at Yellow Arch, mixed in a home studio and the musicians all live and work in the city. We all know this is an amazing city for music. This record is proof that we have the session players and recording facilities to compete with anywhere.