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The Hoosiers head to Cambridge’s Big Weekend

Having formed in 2003, The Hoosiers mainstays Irwin Sparkes, the singer/guitarist, and drummer Al Sharland have been doing their thing for nearly 20 years. They will be headlining the main stage at Big Weekend this Saturday (July 2).

The Hoosiers
The Hoosiers

Listening to some Hoosiers songs ahead of our interview, I realised I knew more of them than I thought. “I think there’s definitely a connect thing where the songs are probably more famous than the band name,” says Al, speaking from the garden of his home in Hertford. We’ve definitely experienced that, in that it’s catchy pop music that gets played a lot.”

Al notes that he and his bandmate write “pretty much” all the songs themselves. “It’s always been me and/or Irwin – usually separately but we’ve started writing a bit more together now,” he explains, “which has been interesting. Sometimes you run out of ideas and collaboration is the best way forward.”

So the two must be closer than they’ve ever been? “We’ve known each other since we were 15, 16, so that’s 25 years now. We’ve had some ups and downs but we’ve always been pretty tight when it comes to playing music and wanting the same things – the drive to play music for a living has always been a shared love.

“We’re really close now and it’s probably as good as it’s been for a long time. We’ve been through so much together.”

The Hoosiers released their first studio album, The Trick to Life, in 2007 and plan to put out their as-yet-untitled fifth soon. “I think recording this last album was probably the most fun I’ve had writing,” reveals Al. “It was just quick and we made decisions quickly and we recorded quicker than we have before, and it felt really, really good.

“But also having been writing for so long now, I think we knew what we wanted more than we ever have – and that makes the whole journey a little bit easier, when you know where you’re heading.”

Al says that “quite a bit” of the new record was written remotely during lockdown. “We would demo it individually and then I would send something over to Irwin and go, ‘Here’s a bassline, what do you think?’ and he would send something back with a melody over the top of it, which was a brass line, and then I’d go, ‘Oh, I love that’ and then we’d write some lyrics together over Zoom.

[Read more: What’s on for Cambridge’s Big Weekend 2022 - including Heather Small, S Club and The Hoosiers]

“So there was a lot of that – and he’s moved down to Brighton so we’re a bit further away from each other now anyway, so that [writing remotely] might continue regardless. With modern technology it’s a nice way to work.”

He elaborates: “I never really like writing in the room together because I feel there’s a pressure to write something now and I don’t work particularly well under that pressure. I like to take something, think about it, reflect, go for a walk with my headphones on and listen to it and let it happen a bit more naturally.”

Al and Irwin initially put the band together while they were at nearby schools in Berkshire, through a mutual friend, and then, in a rather surprising turn of events, they both found themselves living and studying in the US, at the University of Indianapolis.

“We ended up taking a year out and then we went to America on a scholarship,” recalls Al, “which was meant to be to keep the band going but football and life in America took over a bit so we didn’t get a lot done there.

“They’ve not got an amazing music scene in Indiana so we came back to London and made a concerted effort to push the band.”

Yes, you read the above right – football. The young Al and Irwin both got football [soccer] scholarships to the university, so they must have been pretty good players?

“Yeah, we could play a bit when we were young,” says Al, “but there was a certain amount of... put it this way, they didn’t come and watch us, they took CVs and watched a few videos so it was quite easy to... I don’t want to say blag, but it was easier than you’d think.

“I think they could have done more due diligence on us because they could have got better players... When we got there we both struggled a little bit with fitness and injuries, to be honest, and the standard over there is very, very good – it was a bit of an eye-opener.”

Running from this Friday (July 1) to Sunday (July 3) on Parker’s Piece, the Big Weekend – one of the city’s best-loved free outdoor events – offers activities, attractions, a bar, food stalls, fireworks and music from well-known acts, as well as local talent.

Headlining the main stage on the Friday is former M People singer Heather Small, while on the Sunday, 90s hitmaker Apache Indian will take centre stage. The Hoosiers will be performing on the Saturday (July 2).

For more information, visit cambridgelive.org.uk/city-events/big-weekend. For more on The Hoosiers, go to thehoosiers.com.

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