English Teacher

United Kingdom Indie Rock
United Kingdom

On the epic centrepiece to English Teacher’s debut album, Lily Fontaine laments that not
everybody gets to go to space. “You’re too busy here,” she points out. “How could you fit it in?” The
Leeds four-piece certainly have had a hectic couple of years, with a burgeoning fanbase watching
and listening to them refine their sound in real time, and now, at the end of it, their sprawling,
stirring first full-length caps an hugely impressive rise for the group.
The seeds of the band were sown in 2018, when Fontaine met the rest of the members at the
Leeds Conservatoire, where they were all students. Lewis Whiting plays guitar, Nicholas Eden is
on bass, and Douglas Frost drums; Fontaine, meanwhile, sings, alternates between guitar and
piano, and pairs the group’s consistently adventurous compositions with lyrics at one aching and
abstract, scored through with northern wit. Their roots are a key part of their identity, with Fontaine
singing in a soft Lancashire accent that gives away her upbringing in Colne; later, Leeds would
help to nurture the band’s ambitions through the kind of regional platforms (Music Leeds, BBC
Introducing) that Fontaine has been an outspoken proponent of.
An early iteration of the band was Frank, a dream-pop outfit named as a nod to Jon Ronson’s
pseudo-biopic of Frank Sidebottom; some of that sound still lingers, but now as only one shade on
a vivid, technicolour palette. Those familiar with English Teacher’s EP will have heard them trying
on different hats already; taking their cues from the likes of Black Country, New Road and black
midi as they experimented with off-kilter time signatures on Polyawkward, and, before that, began
the work of tastefully collecting nineties rock references with R&B. Over time, they figured out what
fit and what didn’t. They elegantly sidestepped potential pigeonholing with the Brixton Windmill
scene by moving away from the sound of those bands, whilst carrying with them some of their
anarchic spirit.
Accordingly, This Could Be Texas is the sound of a band inhabiting a sonic identity all their own.
The record both begins and ends with references to some of those nineties touchpoints – melodic,
college rock-worthy guitars on opener ‘Albatross’, and a huge, arena-worthy climax to the anthemic
‘Albert Road’. In between, though, there is room for everything from the subtle, experimental
landscape changes of ‘Not Everybody Gets to Go to Space’ to the more grounded, intimate likes of
‘Broken Biscuits’ and ‘Nearly Daffodils’. The pace is forever shifting as they move smoothly through
the gears; rave-reviewed single ‘The World’s Biggest Paving Slab’, which the group brought to life
on Later…with Jools Holland late last year, has a very different feel to something like the soaring
balladry of ‘You Blister My Paint’, but both have a similar sort of searing energy in common.
Those songs also help demonstrate the many different sides of Fontaine as a versatile, nuanced
lyricist. On This Could Be Texas’ third single, ‘Mastermind Specialism’, she laments her perennial
inability to make life decisions, and tries on a number of different hypothetical hats: “Tinker, tailor,
soldier, sailor, singer, porn star, writer, thief.” And, in a broader sense, that’s something she does
across the record; she’s spoken in interviews about wanting to be a writer first and a musician
second, and you can tell.
There’s stinging, incisive sociopolitical critique (‘R&B’, in particular, deals wit her experiences as a
woman of colour in an overwhelmingly white industry), and there’s kitchen sink drama, too, on
‘Broken Biscuits’ and ‘I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying’. Sometimes, she’s writing about mental health
issues with exposed-nerve rawness; others, she’s penning paeans to the natural beauty of the
Pennines she grew up surrounded by, on a song called ‘Sideboob’.
As they gear up for a massive 2024, English Teacher are currently going through the traditional
rites of passage, with their first sell-out UK tour, debut national television appearances and first
sold-out shows in the US already behind them. Their gradual rise culminates with This Could Be
Texas, a debut record carried off with such rare flair and verve the it’s difficult to see how it won’t
send them into the stratosphere. Perhaps they will get to go to space, after all.