One of 2023’s finest albums is headed to Manchester’s Band on the Wall in February as part of a tour from the genius musical combination that is HiFi Sean and David McAlmont.
Happy Endings, their critically acclaimed, soulful, pop, Bollywood, dance-influenced collection of tremendously infectious songs, was, for many, the soundtrack of the year, ending up on numerous ‘Best of’ lists as 2023 came to a close.
McAlmont is no stranger to successful partnerships. He’s one half of McAlmont and Butler, the duo who brought us the 100 per cent bona fide 1995 classic Yes among other great tunes. With composer Michael Nyman, he created the sublime, topically influenced The Glare. And if you haven’t heard his work with Saul Freeman as Thieves, or with Guy Davis as Fingersnap, sort that out right now. There’s a reason he’s known for having one of the finest voices in the UK.
Meanwhile, Sean Dickson found enormous success with indie favourites The Soup Dragons only to reinvent himself as a club DJ and producer extraordinaire under the guise of HiFi Sean. Legendary are the performers he has collaborated with, monumental is the number of dance floors he has filled. Many of his past experiences and influences come together on Happy Endings so, in advance of the live set at Band on the Wall, Northern Soul’s Rob Martin sat the pair down for a wee chat.
NS: You’ve been friends for years. Reaction to the album has been incredible so why did it take so long for you to make one together?
David McAlmont: It’s a good question, because we were Facebook friends for a while before we did anything together. I had no idea who Sean was when we first made friends in the days where I accepted every friendship request without discretion.
I did wonder why this guy was constantly posting about Soup Dragons until one day he offered himself as a special guest on a show that I was pitching to the hive mind. I was thunderstruck. I’d first seen Sean on the Channel 4 Chart Show in 1987, but I was mystified by the music – just back from Guyana, first time I’d heard of an indie chart as well. Then Sean reinvented himself shortly thereafter as Mr I’m Free, so the Facebook guy was yet another reinvention. Then he invited me to be a guest. I liked his sound. I was massively impressed and challenged by the Ft roster, and secretly hoped that he would want to do something a bit more concrete.
Sean Dickson: Well, to be honest, the first time I actually met David in the flesh was the day he sang on Like Josephine Baker on my Ft album. That was an album I curated working with an insane cast of artists that, even to this day, I cannot believe actually did happen, from Yoko Ono, Fred Schneider, Bootsy Collins, Alan Vega, Crystal Waters and, of course, David. We met in Brixton and had a pretty shit studio session as the young engineer was such a massive knob that day.
But we got together the next day and ended up becoming mates and talking music endlessly like two excited teenagers in their first band. A conversation about Prince and his production techniques sparked off and led to another song being written and recorded and from there the seed to the Happy Ending album was planted and flourished.
At this point I would like to name drop – Prince actually sang a song I wrote. I mean, hello, you need to drop that in right?
NS: The tour is just three dates. Why is Manchester one of them? What is it that you enjoy about the city?
SD: It is our first tour but, believe me, this is just the start as we love playing live. Manchester has always been and always will be a hub of creativity and freedom. For my old band The Soup Dragons it was always the highlight of many tours that we did back then and, as a DJ, I have had some of the best sets, especially with my family at HomoElectric and HomoBloc.
DM: The other locations are no brainers, I guess: hometown shows. I can’t speak for Sean, but Glasgow and Manchester in subjective and career reception terms have always been really good to me. Outside of London, they are my most visited cities, and the friends I have in both towns are testament too. Also, if I consider leaving London, Manchester, Glasgow and Bristol top the list.
I think it’s good to have London-centricity compromised by getting out of the smoke to be reminded that London isn’t everything. I love the FOMO spirit in Manchester and the indifference of the natives to my city. I’m always impressed and humbled by how much of a rival Manchester is. I remember the Manchester International Festival before last, which coincided with Pride and Sparkle, and that was the affirmation that there was more to Manchester than I imagined.
NS: I believe the set features new songs that aren’t from the album. So, is there a plan to release a follow-up?
DM: Absolutely. It’s a great fit. Being a lyricist and vocalist only, I always say that I need to work with a visionary. Luckily for me, Sean is a hardworking, prolific one. I’m delighted to be in a situation that means I won’t release material and disappear for years at a time as per usual.
SD: I literally just finished mastering the next album at 2am this morning in Berlin. What the perfect and apt city to park the albums closing chapter within. It is not ‘Happy Ending’ but it is US, even more so. I do not want to give too much away too soon but it is an incredible sonic rush. Like being on a fairground ride. I am kind of getting sick of hearing my husband singing songs around the house the last week or so since he heard it.] But obviously there is something going down there right ?
NS: Name your top things to do or places to go in Manchester.
SD: Easily go to HomoElectric, the bestest night out for clubbing in the city. Electric Chair, Luke Una Queer collective party of like-minded midnight souls liberating and celebrating. I have played many of the parties and it is, and feels like, my Northern family. I adore that night. The Refuge is always a great space to hang out in and chill as the food and drink there is sublime. Northern Quarter for shopping is deadly for me as I always buy way too much shizzle that I really do not need but want. Manchester for a Glaswegian just always feels like a home from home.
DM: Two of my best friends on earth live in Manchester. Life would be very different without this couple. And I’m an art fanatic, so I don’t like visiting Manchester without checking in with The Whitworth to see what the latest is. I recently did a project called Permissible Beauty which used 17th century portraiture as a springboard to creating contemporary Black and Queer portraiture. When The Whitworth invited us to screen the outcome, I was over the moon. I’m also a bit of a Gothic architecture anorak, so I’m very likely to pop into the cathedral and town hall. And I’m quite partial to The Eagle and its punters.
Main image by Arber
HiFi Sean and David McAlmont play Band on the Wall in Manchester on February 9, 2024. For more information, click here.