LOCAL INTERVIEW: Dennis | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Pit pop is probably not a genre you’ve heard of before. Dubbed as such by a local newspaper, the label has stuck for 8-piece folk-rockers Dennis, whose songs feature heavy brass elements and lyrics referencing the working class towns where they grew up.

“We got sick of playing rock and pop music and trying to be cool,” explains guitarist David Smith, one of four founding members who had tried their hand at other projects before this. “We all come from pit villages around Hetton and Houghton, and I’m from Sherburn in Durham. We were all brought up with the culture of seeing bands march past so we thought, right, we’re going to do what we know.”

They duly enlisted four pals from the local brass band: “Most of us are in it already. I play trombone. Stuart, the drummer and Hannah, the keyboard player, they play tenor horn. We’ve all been mates since primary school. Everybody’s confident performing because we’ve been standing up doing solos in brass bands for years and years.” One track led to a whole EP, 2012’s Colliery Welfare, and two releases later, it’s their trademark sound.

New EP, The Caroline, takes things further, with songs featuring a higher brass quotient than ever before. Tracks Lifeline and Move Too Soon continue in the vein of the upbeat melodies which have gained them recognition, while All This Time takes a slower tempo and more ballad-esque approach, with tenor horn player Hannah providing secondary vocals for the first time. They’re a multi-talented bunch, and they’re not afraid to switch things round a bit.

In keeping with their colliery town influences, the release takes its name from a shaft at Elmore, County Durham, the scene of a historic pit disaster in the 1880s. There is however a double meaning: “There was a pub in Hetton renowned for live music called The Caroline,” explains David. “It shut down many years ago and it’s now a butchers. But it was the hub of the village; it was right in the centre and had live bands every weekend.”

The name is symbolic of a culture Dennis are eager to resurrect. They’ve played Live Theatre in Newcastle and the Sage, but nothing beats playing on home turf in local working men’s clubs and jubilee halls. “We always have a raffle and a meat draw and a tombola and a cake stall. It’s all about keeping those pastimes alive. You get young ‘uns coming along winning a big chunk of meat for their Sunday’s dinner!”

Thirty years on from the miners’ strikes, the group wants to celebrate the comparatively rude health the region enjoys today. “A lot of people say the closure ripped the heart and soul out of the villages. Really though, we’ve always held our own, and that’s what we want to get across.”

Pit pop is beginning to spread. Only recently Dennis pitched their Durham Big Meeting banner in London, entertaining enthusiastic, if slightly bemused people ‘doon south’. “They don’t quite get it, which I love!” says David. “You turn up in the middle of Camden, put this pit banner up, and all these people are like ‘What on earth’s this about?’ Then we get the trumpets on stage, our trombones, our euphoniums, and they really get into it. It’s upbeat pop music at the heart of it, but with a North East colliery town vibe.”

Dennis release The Caroline via Sapien Records on Monday 1st December. The band play Arts Centre, Washington on Friday 28th November.

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