Search “Hudson Taylor busking” on YouTube, and you’ll be whisked back several years to watch Irish teens Harry and Alfie Hudson-Taylor sing songs like “Battles” and “Chasing Rubies” on the street while people pass them despite their best efforts—including playing guitar while balancing on makeshift pedestals.
“We tried to get people involved as much as possible,” Harry says of the brothers’ busking antics in Dublin. “I also picked up the ability to be quite acrobatic and used to jump on bins, poles and bollards in the middle of playing songs. I was quite circus-like in that. I don’t do that now, but there was definitely an element of ‘Oh, what the hell?’ There was something to watch, some attention-grabbing.”
Hudson Taylor finds it much easier to grab attention these days. Consider the boisterous singalongs that greet those same songs—now hits—on the live half of the folk-pop duo’s Sept. 21 release Bear Creek to Dame Street, recorded in March at Dublin’s sold-out Olympia Theatre.
Harry, 26, and Alfie, 24, aim to capture a sliver of that reception in the U.S., where their band opens for fellow countryman Hozier at House of Blues on Oct. 1 and headlines a show at City Winery’s tiny Haymarket Lounge the night before.
“When you go to a new territory, you’re always starting from scratch and it’s a really nice and humbling experience,” Harry says. “The last thing we played was the largest festival in Ireland and when we come to the States in a couple of weeks, it’ll be a total change. We have to change our hat [for] a whole crowd of people who haven’t heard us before.”
Except for people who’ve heard the siblings’ melodic tunes of earnest conviction on their 2015 debut album Singing for Strangers or their March EP Feel It Again—or saw them open for English singer (and Alfie’s girlfriend) Gabrielle Aplin at the Middle East in February. The brothers pin fresh hopes on Bear Creek to Dame Street, named after a Seattle studio where they recorded half of its songs with producer Ryan Hadlock (the Lumineers, Vance Joy) and the address of the Olympia.
The duo alludes to family and friends in song, but Harry says, “It’s nice to leave it open to interpretation.” He studied music in high school while Alfie took to it more spontaneously after years of Irish dancing. “I was good with words growing up,” Alfie says, “so I wanted to put that to music.” And from the start, Alfie adds, he was “singing pretty much the whole song with Harry in close harmony.”
Perhaps surprisingly, they didn’t sing together from an early age. Apart from placing family birthday calls in harmony with their sister (who joins the U.S. tour on backup vocals), the brothers didn’t seriously sing as a duo until their mid-teens. The impetus was a family vacation in Italy. Harry had brought a guitar, and German tourists asked them to sing. “The next night, they told a couple of friends about us and we learned a few more songs,” Alfie says. “Every night, we played for a few more people, and at the end of the trip, we played for the whole campsite.”
The tourists also urged them to post tunes on YouTube, which led to busking. “At one point, it was our bread and butter,” Alfie says. “Our mum lost her job and said, ‘Hey guys, you’re playing music. You’re doing it on YouTube. Why don’t you do it on Grafton Street in Dublin and make a bit of money?’ So we went out and made about 60 euro in an hour, and that was huge money for us at the time.”
Now highly successful in the U.K., the siblings dismiss the ego and escalation that have marred brother duos from the Everlys to Oasis’ Gallaghers—despite their own differences in personality. “It’s not Hudson Taylor without the both of us,” Alfie says. “If we’re both strong individuals, we’ll be strong as Hudson Taylor.”
Hudson Taylor plays City Winery’s Haymarket Lounge on Sept. 30 and opens for Hozier at House of Blues on Oct. 1.
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