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Rutland teenage musician joins Hardwicke Circus after Instagram demo and earns Madness support gig

A self-taught young musician has made a storybook break into the pop big time after playing to a crowd of thousands supporting Madness.

College student Freddie Lea, from South Luffenham, is juggling education with rock’n’roll after an out-of-the-blue invitation late in April to join up-and-coming band Hardwicke Circus.

Freddie, who plays piano and keyboards, went to see the Carlisle-based pop/rock band 18 months ago while visiting family for Christmas in the Cumbrian town.

Freddie Lea had just four piano lessons and is largely self taught
Freddie Lea had just four piano lessons and is largely self taught

And then, in April, came an unexpected twist.

“Ever since then I kept listening to them, I put a few covers on Instagram and they sent me a message on my 17th birthday saying ‘we’ve seen your stuff, would you be able to come join us as we’ve just lost our keyboard player?’,” he said.

“Of course I said I’d love to! It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, to play live and be in a band. And on my 17th birthday as well - it was like a two-in-one.”

Freddie with his new bandmates
Freddie with his new bandmates

Many musicians have to ply their trade in spit and sawdust pubs and clubs with various gigging bands before graduating to big venues. Most never get there at all.

However, incredibly, this is Freddie’s first experience of being in a band.

“The first time I met them was in Liverpool for rehearsals and I was quite nervous,” he recalled.

Freddie performs at the Plymouth Summer Sessions festival with Cumbrian band Hardwicke Circus
Freddie performs at the Plymouth Summer Sessions festival with Cumbrian band Hardwicke Circus

“But they are a lovely group of people, very genuine and exactly like they are on stage. They’re not big rock stars, they are down-to-earth and very chilled.”

He was still getting to grips with all of the band’s songs when he joined them on stage for the first time at a warm-up gig in a pub in Keswick.

Fewer musicians still can say their second gig was in front of four-figure crowds, but two weeks later, Freddie found himself playing to thousands at Plymouth Summer Sessions festival with his new band as support to legendary 1980s ska group, Madness.

Freddie on the big screen at Plymouth Summer Session
Freddie on the big screen at Plymouth Summer Session

“It was quite a big stage jump, but it was a great experience,” he said.

“I’m still a bit shocked by it all.”

Many more festivals and gigs have been lined up as support to the ska band’s UK tour this summer.

There is also the adventure of a trip to Italy to play a festival on July 7 and a two-week tour of South Africa in November.

Freddie is hoping to persuade his bandmates to line up a show in Stamford, but before then there’s also the band’s third studio album to record.

“It’s such a mad thing to do at such a young age,” he said.

“I never thought I’d be supporting Madness. And to meet these people as well is a privilege.”

Freddie had a short-lived go at piano lessons in his early years at secondary school, but took it up seriously when he began studies at The Hammond performing arts college, in Chester, where he is studying for a diploma in musical theatre.

“My music teacher is like a Jools Holland music teacher,” he said.

“I saw him playing piano one day and it inspired me a lot. The way he’s so positive about it made me want to learn.

“I never had any formal training and I just worked on it myself. There are loads of artists who do that, though.”

Freddie had a moment in the spotlight last year when he was the youngest finalist in the UK Casio Sessions singer-songwriter competition.

So how far would he like music to take him?

“I’d love to do this as a career, to perform and be in a band - and there’s no plan B!

“I’m not one to be a genius at maths or English so music is where it’s at.”

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