Embrace keep their next gig under wraps

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Brighouse band Embrace are staging their second Secret Festival. They spoke to Duncan Seaman ahead of the September event.

Die hard fans of West Yorkshire band Embrace will long be familiar with the quintet’s fondness for playing secret gigs in unusual places.

Last year the Come Back To What You Know hit makers, from Brighouse, took the concept a step further and staged their first Secret Festival where ticket holders were only told the venue – Knebworth Park in Hertfordshire – three days before the event.

The line-up – which featured The Magic Numbers, Dave McCabe from The Zutons and Ben Ottewell of Gomez – remained an even more closely guarded secret until the weekend itself.

It proved such a success, winning a prize for the Best New Festival at the 2014 Festival Awards, that the band have decided to organise another – this time closer to home.

While tight-lipped about the exact choice of venue, Embrace’s lead singer Danny McNamara says the event, which will take place from September 5-6, will be “30 minutes from the centre of Leeds”.

The original idea to cloak some of their concerts in secrecy began more than a decade ago when the band – whose back catalogue includes three UK Number One albums – were booked to headline one of the stages at Glastonbury festival.

“In the contract they had an exclusivity thing which meant that we couldn’t do any gigs around that time,” McNamara recalls.

“We wanted to play so we just thought we’d do these secret gigs.

“That was about 15 years ago now and since then I think we’ve done 23 secret gigs in all sorts of places. We did one where we broke into the Big Brother house, we staged a break-in with bolt cutters and all that.

“We’ve done one in a forest, we did a big inside one in a boxing ring, we did one in complete darkness in the basement of a factory.

“The festival idea came up because a lot of people who were coming wanted to bring their families along to one of these events and most of the places that we were playing were either too dangerous or not really suitable for children – and so the Secret Festival was born last year.”

Winning the award for Best New Festival was a welcome bonus – “It was really cool and really unexpected,” says the 44-year-old vocalist – but this time the band, whose ranks include his brother Richard on guitar, Mike Heaton on drums, Mickey Dale on keyboards and Steve Firth on bass, are determined to surpass themselves.

The basic formula might be the same – “We keep the location secret, we keep the line-up secret, we keep all the surprises we’ve got for the day a complete secret as well so that even when [people] get there they’ve still got no inkling of who’s actually going to be playing until they walk on stage” – but, McNamara says: “We’ve maybe, if anything, even improved on the bill this year.”

The element of mystery has been one that the band’s fans have been happy to embrace. “Last year the fans brought tributes to the different secret gigs that we’ve done in the past,” says McNamara. “There was an area where we had about a dozen different tributes stages, each a tribute to a previous secret gig.”

The artists like it too because “no one knows that they’re playing, they’re not allowed to tell anybody about – usually the internet gives all those secrets away but our fans have been really good about keeping a secret, if anything it’s intensified the surprise”.

“In this day and age where everyone likes to have everything nailed down and know exactly what they’re doing it’s kind of nice to have a bit more romance and surprise and adventure thrown in there,” McNamara reckons.

Some acts who were unable to play at this year’s festival have expressed an interest in performing next year “if we do another one”, says McNamara.

“There’s quite a lot of people still to come. Hopefully this will be able to run and run.”

Having released their first album in eight years in 2014, the band are also steadily working away at a follow-up.

McNamara admits in the age of downloading and streaming “you don’t sell anywhere near the amount that you used to before the internet came along” but he says that the reception from the fans to new material is intensified “because you get their reaction of Facebook and on Twitter and on the various forums – YouTube and stuff – so when you do something that they like, you really find out and when you do something that they don’t like you really find out in a way that you were never able to before”.

Fortunately the response to their self-titled disc was “overwhelmingly positive from everybody who’s heard it – generally people think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done or they think it’s as good as our first album”.

“For a band who’s been away for seven or eight years to come back and still be doing its best material and not trading on past glories it’s really important to us and I guess that’s why we spent so long getting it right,” he says.

Embrace are “about half way done” on their next album. “We’ve got some fantastic songs,” McNamara says. “Two or three that are really big radio songs, so I’m really excited about that.

“We’re just enjoying it at the moment. We’re not really putting a deadline on it, we just want to make sure that the album’s right then when it is we’ll bring it out.”

Embrace’s Secret Festival runs from September 5 to 6; camping is available from 4pm the day before. For tickets and further details visit www.eventjoy.com/e/the-secret-festival-2015