A passage to indie garage psych-punk rock’n’roll – introducing Ginnel

Cover Art: The debut Ginnel 7-inch single, with artwork by none other than The Teardrop Explodes/The Wild Swans' Paul Simpson

Cover Art: The debut Ginnel 7″ single, with artwork by none other than Teardrop Explodes/Wild Swans’ Paul Simpson

I can’t really think of a more Northern band name than Ginnel, and in a sense this emerging Lancashire four-piece offer – as per the dialect definition behind their handle – a passageway between the houses.

While they’re fairly new to the scene in their current guise, there’s plenty of history involved, the constituent members of this garage punk/psych outfit from the heart of the North West somewhat steeped in the local landscape. To expand on the analogy, you may never have taken this particular shortcut before, but it’s been there quite some time.

Lancashire writer and artist Rob St John evocatively tells us, “Ginnels are spaces in between: the paths and alleys that cut hidden channels through many towns in the north of England. Often following historical routes that pre-date urbanisation and are now squeezed by encroaching buildings, the dialect word for a ginnel varies across the north: snicket, gunnel, jinnel, twitchell, jitty, gitty, 10-foot, passage, shut.

“Ginnel and its variants are amongst a narrow set of dialect words which are still strong in daily life: a local knowledge of short-cuts and escape routes, yet to meet a linguistic dead-end. In many cases, ginnels represent a tangle of lines: blurred spaces between what is safe and what is dangerous; what is natural and what isn’t; what is conserved and what is left to fall into ruin. Snickets cut nicks in the fabric of the town: routes to sneak along, cobbled channels trodden down. Moss on stone on moss on stone.

“Brambles tangled in barbed wire. Holly bushes poking through the dull, mottled metal of turnpike fences. Ragwort, buddleia and Japanese knotweed the ambitious upstarts amongst all the spikes and sharp edges.”

But how do (see what I did there?) this particular Ginnel – comprising this week’s interview victim Mark Wareing (vocals, words, as previously featured on these pages, aka Marcus Parnell; gets confusing, don’t it?), Paul Lakin (guitars), Pete Brown (bass), and Scrub (drums, and despite the enigmatic name, not on the run from a daytime identity, honest) – sum up their approach to leading us somewhere new? They reckon they’re ‘treading in the footsteps of long-forgotten ghosts and taking compress readings along the way from the likes of Stack Waddy, The Modern Lovers, Blue Orchids and The Swell Maps’, eager to ‘bring old sounds to new ears’.

After support slots with The Lovely Eggs, Deja Vega and The Membranes, the band recently set up camp in 6dB studios, Salford with producer Simon ‘Ding’ Archer (The Fall, PJ Harvey, Pixies) to capture the band’s live energy and true sound. A debut single emerged, its A-side, ‘Blueprint’, mixed and mastered by James Aparicio (Spiritualized, Laibach, Depeche Mode), and backed with ‘S.M.XL’.

Set for release on The Sound Mirror Recording Company label on Friday, October 9th, it features some splendid artwork by former The Teardrop Explodes keyboard player/The Wild Swans vocalist Paul Simpson. It also comes with a full-colour inner sleeve, although time will be the essence whe nit comes to securing a copy, considering that there’s a limited-numbered run of 200.

Stood Up: Ginnel, ready for action. From left – Scrub, Pete Brown, Paul Lakin, Mark Wareing. Photo: John Middleham

With barely three weeks until the first single lands, I tracked down Mark, asking the thinking behind Ginnel. What has this outfit got that my interviewee and his bandmates couldn’t have done with any of the other bands him and his fellow members have been involved with?

“We’ve been kicking around together in one form or other for around 15 months, after working with Ajay Saggar, who’s based in Holland. We wanted something closer to home, making it easier to rehearse. And it’s also way cheaper for promoters to book us – ha!”

I should have explained that question better for those playing catch-up here. Remind us of some of the other acts you and your co-conspirators have been part of before now.

“The Dandelion Adventure, Big Red Bus, Evil Blizzard, Notnowkato, The Common Cold, Dreamland, Tree House Three, My Other Car’s a Motorbike, BG Fist ….”

That’s some pedigree, and I’ll let you do your own homework with a few of those. And more specifically, what was my interviewee’s route into this? He’s been involved with Preston and London’s indie scenes for many a year. What does it tell us on the concise version of Mark’s music CV?

“I really got sucked into watching bands live at the age of 13 after seeing The Jacksons. They blew me away with their stage show …”

I can’t just let that pass me by. I hadn’t expected that opening. Where was that?

“At the (Preston) Guild Hall, ’78-ish.”

A quick look online while we carried on suggested February 1979, on the Destiny world tour.

“That’ll be it. All must have happened real fast from there. I saw The Jam later that year, The Clash, and so on. Punk had already taken me by the hand, but me and my mates were too young to get in anywhere. But once I saw The Jacksons … the loudness and stage show … wow, I was hooked on live bands ….

“Ravi Shankar too. I’ve seen them real beauts, like The Jesus and Mary Chain on their Riot tour in Liverpool. Five minutes and it was over. That was like seeing The Jacksons all over again – the power and the art combined … beautiful.”

Soon enough, Mark was very much part of the indie scene, increasingly involved with bands he was watching.

“I watched The Membranes over 150 times and played on their John Peel session in 1984 or ‘85, then started my own band, the Dandelion Adventure, in ’86, involving another Peel session. And in ‘91 I took on working with Cornershop and slept under a grand piano during their session for Peel …”

I’m starting to see a pattern here.

“I went on to looking after Ideal and Ricky Spontane, and in the late ‘90s moved to London, working for Domino Records, doing press for the likes of Pavement, Royal Trux, and many others. And after moving back up north I did artwork for The Fall, used on album and single covers alike, then many years later started The Common Cold … and now Ginnel.”

I’m glad I asked for the concise version. But let’s not beat around the bush. None of us are getting any younger, yet you give the impression you’ve still got plenty to say and ideas to get across.

“It’s all Ajay’s fault! He got me writing again … pushing and pushing, although I always told everyone that a masterpiece is getting completed… somewhere in my head, and my best Is yet to come. Which is true, and the unrecorded new Ginnel songs are pretty full on.”

Inner Sleeve: Paul Simpson’s esteemed inner cover art for the limited-edition run debut Ginnel 7″ single, ‘Blueprint’.

Is this new project about inspiration and showing the way forward to the next generation coming through, as much as anything? Is that the Ginnel mission statement?

“Happens every new generation … kids see the likes of Oasis, and bang! There’s 100 Oasis lookalike and soundalike bands. Or bang! There’s 100 Nirvana-type bands. The kids need to stop hopping on the bandwagon and look backwards on history and check out stuff from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and so on. There’s loads of stuff worth stealing from. We’ve picked up on stuff, added our own twist … and bingo!”

When it comes to influences worn on sleeves, there are hints – on the first listen to ‘Blueprint’ – of that love for The Fall. Perhaps that’s just part of your band’s DNA. I’m getting much more though. Who else is in the mix, do you reckon?

“We love The Fall, The Stooges, Wire, bits of the Bunnymen, Can, Sterolab, Loop, and even a bit of Northern Soul.”

I’ve not caught them live yet, but I’ve seen bits of Ginnel concert and studio footage shared online, including post-punk-esque thriller  ‘Exhale’ and the part-jarring, slow-building and richly evocative ‘I Cuerden’, also both crafted at 6dB, either those crafted in the studio or played to audiences. Were those works in progress? Is there a debut LP taking shape?

“There’s loads going on, with another two singles after this one, and hopefully the album next summer … depending on this COVID thing.”

Last Time: Mark’s previous project’s release, from 2018

How was it working at 6dB studios, Salford with Simon Archer? How did that come about, and work from a creative point of view, not least with James Aparicio’s involvement too.

John Robb (Louder Than War founder, and The Membranes’ singer/bass player) told us about Ding’s place. It’s super laidback, a great price, and he’s a really nice bloke and knows his stuff, which is really important when making and recording music.

“James, on the other hand, was brought on board by Scrub … he just asked, and James, after hearing us, wanted to do it. We were lucky.”

And it’s all out via The Sound Mirror Recording Company label.

“The label was set up so we could release our own records, although we’re already thinking about putting out other bands’ stuff. We’re going to be a bit like Apple, but without the cash!”

How did Paul Simpson end up designing the sleeve?

“I saw some of his art online around six months ago and fell in love with it straight away. Just such a great vision. I’ve always loved art that makes you think.

“It took a while to track him down, but again he loved what we were up to and agreed to do the artwork. I had no idea at the time he was from The Wild Swans and The Teardrop Explodes. The guy is rock’n’roll royalty!”

Was the lockdown a productive time for you and your bandmates, writing songs and working on Ginnel’s own blueprint?

“Not really, but it gave us time to sort out the label and get the vinyl pressed. We work best when together though, and our rehearsal space is tiny, so we couldn’t use it … still can’t. We still write but Zoom is not the way forward, let me tell you.”

I reckon Fat Larry’s Band would disagree, but you’re probably right. How do those songs come about then?

Live Wires: Ginnel at Kanteena, Lancaster, February 2020, afore we ground to a viral halt. (Photo: Gary M Hough)

“The way we write is a musical idea first, then the lyrics are added …. and as the lyric writer I never stop. I’ve always got a notebook on the go. If I hear or see something, down it goes … I’ve got notebooks and scraps of paper going back over 30 years.”

When the time comes and the COVID-19 coast is clear, will there be live outings for the band?

“We’ve cancelled so many shows up and down the country since lockdown and are now so ready for the green light again.”

Live music is so important to us all, this enforced break only serving to make us realise that’s not to be taken for granted, right?

“We all really miss it. Each one of us saw live bands weekly … we are so gutted. But things will change, hopefully.”

You all work for a living. Does this project give you the chance to liberate yourself, in a sense? Are there weekly practises, and hired space to express yourself as a band? And if so, where?

“We rehearse in Preston. A secret location! And each rehearsal is like a mini-Shea Stadium show, even on those where we don’t move much, we’re still showing off!”

And do you class yourself as a band, an arts project, or a musicians’ collective maybe?

“Ginnel are a band … pure rock’n’roll – a proper thorn in the side kind of outfit.”

Monochrome Set: Ginnel. From the left – Paul Lakin, Mark Wareing, Pete Brown, Scrub. (Photo: John Middleham)

Debut Ginnel single, ‘Blueprint’, is out on October 9, available for pre-orders through Action Records, Church Street, Preston, limited to just 200 numbered vinyl copies. For the latest about Ginnel and future releases, you can track the band down via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, contact them via ginnelband@gmail.com, and check out their BandCamp page. 

And for more about Rob St John, including his 2014/15 writings on the ginnel and his own musical interpreation of such things – incorporating the voice of Cyril Black – head here.

 

 

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Forever, after and before – talking Folk Devils with Nick Clift

At a time when so many of us are suffering withdrawal symptoms from missing live music at our favourite venues, it’s odd to think back to a time when we more or less took for granted the fact that there were always a couple of bands we could find time to catch on the circuit every week.

I can’t see that happening in the future. When things are finally – safely – up and running again, I reckon many of us will make the most of just what’s on offer out there. And if I had a quid for every band I’ve missed out on down the years – in some cases while I’m inside the venue – I might even be troubling the taxman when it comes to declaring freelance earnings.

I often use the example of my brother and his mates having another pint in the White Horse ahead of a 1979 Buzzcocks apearance in my hometown venue, Guildford Civic Hall, realising all too soon they really should have nipped in a little earlier to catch support act Joy Division.

In more recent times, in Lancashire, my base for the last quarter-century, the sheer amount of acts Tuff Life Boogie organiser Rico la Rocca put on at John Peel tribute shows in Preston, often meant I’d be having a chinwag outside venues while some bands were giving their all. Among those I missed, with regret, were the Folk Devils at The Continental in December 2016. And when I now contemplate the fact that guitarist Nick Clift came all the way from New Jersey to honour that commitment, that seems somewhat rude.

As it was, not all was lost on that occasion, with someone good enough to film their set so I and many others could catch up on it later, on a night when headliners The Membranes, a stripped-down version of The Wolfhounds, and local lads gone awry Vukovar mesmerised the assembled. But my point remains.

Veterans of three sessions for legendary BBC Radio 1 broadcaster Peelie in 1984/85, this was Folk Devils’ first Lancashire show in more than 30 years and only their second gig back together. While initial singer/songwriter Ian Lowery died in 2001 (gone far too soon), fellow original members Kris Jozajtis (guitar) and Mark Whiteley (bass) in time decided to reform with the afore-mentioned Nick Clift (guitar) and John Hamilton (drums), who featured in a short-lived 1987 version of the band, the new-look band fronted by new singer (and old friend) Dave Hodgson.

Taking their name from Stanley Cohen’s academic text on social scapegoating, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, this ‘fearsome foursome’ formed in Ladbroke Grove, London in 1983,  County Durham native Ian (formerly of The Wall and Ski Patrol) initially joined by Mark, Kris and Alan Cole (drums), and soon blazing a trail across the UK independent music scene with their particular brand of post-punk energy.

Best known for acclaimed indie singles ‘Hank Turns Blue’, ‘Beautiful Monster’, those three Peel sessions, and live outings with the likes of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Fall, The Gun Club, and Screaming Blue Messiahs, they also toured extensively throughout Europe, the second incarnation of the band (1986-87) seeing Ian joined by Nick, John, Robert Mune (bass) and Saul Taylor (saxophone). During that spell, they released one 12″ EP of new material, ‘The Best Protection’, for Beggars Banquet imprint Situation 2, and an anthology collecting all their earlier material, Goodnight Irony.

As for the latest version of the band … well, they soon discovered they’d ‘created a well-oiled twin-guitar juggernaut brimming with the same restless, twisted blues that characterised the first and second iterations of the band’. And as I put it in my Continental show review, ‘They make for a mighty punkabilly five-piece – think Johnny Cash with the Bad Seeds and you’re not far off’.

I caught up with Nick last week at home in Jersey City, where he told me more about the band’s first new recordings since 1987’s “The Best Protection” EP, first mentioning that Conti appearance, and other gigs around then..

“We’ve now played 15 shows as Folk Devils 3.0, only made possible by once or twice-a-year reunions because of distance and career obligations. I work in music marketing, Kris is a schoolteacher, Mark a mental health professional, Dave a graphic designer, and John a transportation specialist. We’re all busy with our respective careers yet a few times a year when the stars align we forget our receding hairlines, bulging midriffs and doctors’ orders, and jump in a van and go on a music adventure.

“Preston was a great evening, and we’ve been impressed at how co-operative our touring partners have been. Back in the day other bands were snotty and competitive and would try to steal your gear. The good thing about maturing is you’re safer in the knowledge of what you do and who you are and more respectful of other musicians. Unless the support act is spilling a pint on your amp … in which case it’s on again!

“Since 2016 we’ve played in Glasgow, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton and North Wales, and obviously London is always special – it’s where most friends and family are. They usually turn it into a knees-up.”

And now we have brand new three-track ‘Forever’ EP coming our way, set to land on 10” vinyl and in digital format this Friday, September 18th via Preston-based indie label Optic Nerve Recordings, featuring two new compositions – the title track and ‘My Slum Soul’ – plus a new version of old live favourite ‘Ink Runs Dry’.

Good Nick: Folk Devils’ Nick Clift in live action, and having a blast with the reformed version of the post-punk outfit.

You say these new songs were inspired by the reaction to the band’s 2016 career retrospective Beautiful Monsters and the reaction at subsequent UK live shows with kindred spirits The Membranes, Inca Babies and The Cravats. Will there be more live shows when we’re all back up and running again?

“For sure, we’re itching to play, like everyone else is. We had shows lined up for 2020 which had to be indefinitely postponed, including a John Peel night in Brighton with The Wolfhounds. Hopefully there will be more in 2021 though … maybe even a festival slot or two, which we haven’t done yet.”

Dare I ask if there’s an LP coming too? Are these the first of many new songs to surface?

“There’s a lot of new material in embryonic form. Because of the way we work it’s not really possible to do it over the internet, better to knock it into shape when we all convene. If Kris, in Scotland, and I, in New Jersey, still lived in London, where the others reside, it would be a lot easier to write and record. But there’s an album brewing, and it promises to be a … beautiful monster.”

Mark Whiteley describes title track ‘Forever’ as a song about isolation, betrayal, anger at a lost love and a world of venal greed. That seems particularly apt right now. We could say the same regarding the sentiment of ‘My Slum Soul’, which Mark labels its ‘thematic twin … a kind of fever-dream apparition that may well find the core of its neurosis in the modern day political climate’. In fact, he adds, ‘Both songs wrestle with the erosion of trust, shattered lives, consumed and excreted by a world that’s forgotten its soul, a world that patently does not give a fuck’.

As for the re-recording of ‘Ink Runs Dry’, Kris Jozajtis added, ‘It’s a classic Folk Devils song with a brilliant lyric by Ian. So it’s an acknowledgment of the debt we owe him, a nod of respect to one of the great unsung talents of rock’n’roll. It always felt like a ‘BIG’ tune to us; yet despite there being two pretty decent radio session versions of it available, there’s always been a sense of unfinished business because ‘Ink’ had never received the full studio treatment the song deserved. I think the new, turbo-charged, twin-guitar version puts that right.”

The band clearly see themselves as relevant all these years on, I suggested to Nick. You clearly still feel you’ve got a lot to say, 30-plus years after initially folding.

“Many of the issues we faced in the ‘80s haven’t really been addressed or have only got worse. Folk Devils was never an overtly-political group. Ian Lowery wrote all the lyrics and his outlook was more from a personal artistic perspective than a polemical one,with  songs about tragedy, spite, guilt, sexual frustration, drugs, trashed hopes, and universal human themes.

“However, as we’ve inched into middle age and had families, it’s impossible not to be affected by environmental and political calamities, and we are living through one right now … on both side of The Atlantic!”

The new EP was recorded at the famous Konk Studios in North London, set up by The Kinks’ legendary frontman Ray Davies, with the songs mixed and co-produced by Grammy Award-winning engineer Rik Simpson. Was that a thrill in itself? And was there any sign of Ray?

“It’s a cool place to record, with lots of character. There’s a massive old-school reverb plate mounted on the wall as you load in, practically a museum piece from the ‘60s. Ray was there the day we recorded, doing business in the games rooms, but he gave us a friendly wave. Should have asked for a backing vocal! It was the first time we’d recorded using ProTools, so it was not as we remembered, but a great experience all round.”

How did you end up getting in touch with Ian Allcock at Optic Nerve? Was he a fan?

“I was looking for a label to release the recorded works collection I curated, we’d already paid for digital transfers and remastering and knew it was a great sounding set. Dave Callahan of The Wolfhounds tipped me off to Optic Nerve, who had released some of their catalogue.

“I contacted Ian, and he didn’t really even hesitate. He knew the band’s history and subsequently it was a very quick deal and very favourable to both parties. He’s a genuine music fan, especially of the British ‘80s scene.

Drum Major: John Hamilton came into the fold with Nick Clift for the band’s second incarnation and is back again now

“Our style is a bit more aggressive than a lot of his catalogue, but it’s a good fit nonetheless. He works tirelessly to promote the music, and his mail-order operation is excellent, which is critical in these times of shrinking distribution channels for physical products.”

I see you studied in Sunderland, but originally hail from the Midlands. And while you weren’t with Folk Devils from the start, you worked with Ian before in Ski Patrol.

“Sunderland Polytechnic, as it was in 1977, is the genesis of it all really. There was a great art school there and the punk explosion reverberated through art schools around the world.

“Ian Lowery was a local lad making a name for himself in a pub-rock band called The Prefabs. He fell in with the art school crowd and they formed punk band The Wall, who got their music released through Small Wonder, the revered London indie label and record shop that released Crass, Bauhaus, The Cravats, Patrik Fitzgerald, and others.

“They all relocated to London to take advantage of their new success, but after a time Ian fell out with his bandmates and was asked to leave. Since I and others from the Sunderland scene had also headed to the capital, we all ended up living in squats in Clapham and Brixton. That’s how Ski Patrol came together. It was time for him to move past the punk sound anyway, so it was fortuitous.”

What were you up to when the Folk Devils took shape? Is that right you worked for Rough Trade? I guess you were closely following Ian’s work, live and through John Peel?

“After Ski Patrol folded in 1982, I landed a job in sales and despatch in the Rough Trade warehouse, a fantastic and chaotic place to work, nestled in a side-street off Ladbroke Grove. Ian lived just up the road. I remember budding musicians loved to visit, it was like a sweet shop.

Mark Three: This may be the third coming of the Folk Devils, but bassist Mark Whiteley has been on board throughout

“Ian and I were a bit like brothers, we would fall out and not speak for months but then patch things up and get over it. Of all the things he had tried to do since his first foray into music, Folk Devils was the truest to his interests and ability, I thought.

“He loved Dylan, The Velvets, Stooges, MC5, The Fall, The Birthday Party, all those building blocks for a credible anti-establishment rock group. When they recorded ‘Hank Turns Blue’ I went to the session and thought they were capturing something primal and idiosyncratic.

“I suggested to their manager, Ray Gange (leading actor in The Clash-centred 1980 film, Rude Boy), that he come and talk to some people at Rough Trade I knew and get a distribution deal for his new label Ganges Records. That’s how the first single took off, with some support from John Peel of course!

“So Ian and I were always in each other’s orbit and I took a keen interest in helping him move the band forward. It was great hearing them on the radio, especially the Peel sessions, which got better each time. They did three in all, and the last one features the mighty ‘This Traitor Hand’, a favourite in our current set. That could have been their next single if they hadn’t split up in 1986.

“It was wonderfully produced by the BBC engineers and would have been worth releasing as it was. I worked closely with Beggars Group to get the BBC sessions released five years ago, and they’re available on all the streaming services now, for posterity … definitely worth a listen.”

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of Ian’s passing. Is he often in your thoughts?

“Of course. I think we all wonder what he would be doing now, and more so what he would make of our new version of Folk Devils. Apart from a few sarcastic asides, I think he’d be impressed by the new material.

“’My Slum Soul’ is based on one of his unused lyrics from 1983. His brother David has meticulously kept all Ian’s hand-written records (you can find examples at www.ianlowery.com) and emailed me these lyrics to a song called ‘Slip and Slide’, which I vaguely remembered.

“Our new singer Dave Hodgson and I took some liberties with them and turned it into the beginnings of this new magnum opus. The whole band knocked it into shape, and it sounds pretty immense, with all due credit to our mix engineer, Rik Simpson.”

Were there concerns it wasn’t right to resume without Ian? Or was this your way of paying a tribute to him?

“Not at all, his extended family was very supportive and all came to the first reunion gig. It was initially only going to be one show, a tribute to Ian and a way to launch the CD compilation, and given that I live in the USA and can’t just pop over whenever.

“But we all vowed to keep doing it after that gig, because it was clear we all wanted to keep playing those songs and revisiting that spirit. But we also resolved to not be a mere nostalgia act, and the promise of writing and recording new songs was always a motivating factor.”

You’ve got original members Kris and Mark, and yourself and John have been involved a long time. What was it about latest arrival Dave Hodgson that fit the bill as frontman?

“Dave is a full-on Geordie, a Jarrow lad. He’d known of Ian from our Sunderland days and formed a band called Parting Shots with Joe Hammond, the original guitarist of The Wall. I’ve known him since 1981, when he was a skinny youth with a sly grin!

Indoor Shades: Dave Hodgson, part of the original North East scene, and now out front with a reconvened Folk Devils

“Because of social media it became easier to catch up with people after years apart, so I just got his contact details and emailed him out of the blue when we were looking for a singer for the reunion gig. He was the natural choice for me, because he knew Ian’s style and knew some of the material.

“He was a bit shocked at first, hadn’t sung for years, but agreed to give it a go and powered his way through, learning the songs in a few months. And believe me, some of those lyrics take some getting used to.

“I’ve often referred to Ian, rightly or wrongly, as a gutter poet. His strength was his inventive use of metaphor and wordplay and a grimy view of existence, so you have to be on your game to get them all out seamlessly and with the right intent.”

Incidentally, Mark Whiteley complemented Nick’s thinking when writing about the band’s decision to reform. He wrote, “After a few decades apart we decided to do one gig to celebrate the release of our anthology. It went well, we enjoyed revisiting our old material and the addition of a second guitarist gave the whole thing a raw, visceral, well-crafted energy. Dave fitted in well, taking on a monumental task of filling Ian’s shoes and smashing it out the park.”

How long have you been US-based, and what took you there? Is the Definite Gaze label the day-job, and how much of your time is spent managing and playing with the Folk Devils?

“I’ve been in the New York area since 1991, I lived through the ugly collapse of the Rough Trade organisation, and was looking for a new adventure, and by chance had fallen into a relationship with a girl from New Jersey who had landed a job in New York and wanted us to be together there.

“It was a big decision, but one I don’t regret. That relationship didn’t last, but I’m now married with an adult son, living in Jersey City, across the Hudson river.

Original Member: Kris Jozajtis was out there with Folk Devils from the very start, and remains integral to the band

“I worked as a project manager for a very respected label in New York for 20 years and I’ve now experienced the music business from both sides of the pond, so like to think I bring that experience to how music is promoted in the modern era.

“I do consulting work for labels and musicians who work in my area of interest. That keeps me busy. Folk Devils work is about crazy bursts of energy for a few months, organising gigs and promotion, and then back into daily life.

“I think the band is very fortunate that each member brings his skill-set to the project. Dave is a very talented graphic designer who’s made three very interesting videos for the songs on the new EP.”

Meanwhile, Kris also elaborated on what the future might hold for Folk Devils, writing, ‘The songs will hopefully still speak to malcontents like ourselves, who are both fascinated and appalled by what we might encapsulate as ‘the human condition’. The dark humour and mordant wit that characterised Ian’s lyrics is still intact, I think, and despite the inevitable encroachments of age we haven’t really lost the dissatisfaction and anger that we tried to articulate in words and music back in the ‘80s. So we’re likely to continue making a mighty and righteous racket, both live and on record, as long as anyone cares to listen.”

But how does it work with regard to geographical dilemmas, getting the band together, I asked Nick. For one thing, you seem to have somehow been ahead of the curve when it comes to social distancing.

“I tend to think of Folk Devils is a diaspora of old friends. It’s hard to plan anything in advance, because ultimately decisions get made in the rehearsal room. We’d been social distancing for 27 years!

“Now the scenario is a little more sobering, people are getting impatient and letting their guard down. We’ll only reconvene when it makes sense for ourselves and our supporters. I don’t think anyone really took The Who at their word when they sang, ‘Hope I die before I get old’.”

Live Wires: The 21st century Folk Devils, still feeling they have plenty to say of relevance in 2020, and here ‘Forever’.

For details of the new Folk Devils EP and their Beautiful Monsters singles and demos (1984/86) compilation head to this Optic Nerve link. And to keep in touch with the band, you can follow them via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

 

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Searching for a love supreme – in conversation with Stone Foundation’s Neil Jones

It’s landing a fair few months later than planned, but Midlands-based soul collective Stone Foundation are finally set to release their latest studio album. And for these ears it’s possibly their best yet.

Is Love Enough? is now due out on Friday, October 2nd via 100 Percent Records, trailed by the singles ‘The Light in Us’ and ‘Changes’, and tracks like ‘Deeper Love’, with Paul Weller on lead vocals, one of five tracks The Jam and Style Council legend features on, the band recording at his Black Barn Studios base near Woking, Surrey for a third time.

Among the other guests are rising soul stars Durand Jones and Laville, Weller’s fellow Style Councillors Mick Talbot and Steve White, and actor Peter Capaldi, who provides a specially-recorded spoken-word coda outro with words by Vincent Van Gogh, for a band increasingly renowned for collaborative approaches.

Live-wise, after a series of online events this year – full streams of an Islington Assembly Hall show from 2018 and a Hamburg Mojo Club date from 2019, plus June’s Stone Foundation & Friends Festival – and an appearance at London’s Camden Unlocked, socially-distanced shows are going ahead close to the band’s home patch at Queen’s Hall, Nuneaton, this month then in December, with another Camden date, at the Jazz Cafe in October, just announced at time of going to press.

But with numbers limited, most fans will have to wait a little longer, delayed Dutch and German dates now pushed back to March 2021, followed by June’s Cambridge and Glasgow shows, a London festival in July, then a 21-date UK tour starting with LP launches at London’s legendary 100 Club next September, those two shows selling out in less than half an hour, the rest of the dates set for October.

Long before that though, you’ll finally get the chance to hear in full an album co-produced by founding members Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby, as was the case with 2018’s ‘Everybody Anyone’, continuing a fruitful collaboration with Paul Weller, who produced 2017’s Street Rituals. And as well as ‘Deeper Love’, Paul provides backing vocals on ‘Picture A Life’ and joins the band and plays guitar on ‘Af-Ri-Ka’, ‘Help Me’, and ‘Love’s Interlude (II)’.

Announcing the album, Neil Jones wrote, “This time around we wanted to sing songs about love, that beautiful emotion we see in every town or city we play in.  Not the trite, ‘boy falls for girl’ kind, this was the building bridges and breaking down borders kind and right now it seemed to us like we needed more of that L O V E than ever.”

Meanwhile, Neil Sheasby added, “We felt it was the right moment to move the big subjects such as hope, compassion, empathy and indeed love to the forefront of our writing. We wanted to attempt something ambitious.  It was a joy to create, one of the most productive periods for us, the ideas just flowed.”

‘Is Love Enough?’ sees a band building on their growing stature and 22 years together, pulled into the limelight a little further down the line when they supported The Specials on a 2011 arena tour. Along the way they’ve received national airplay from BBC 6 Music and Radio 2, and rave reviews from a huge range of publications. They’ve played Glastonbury and sold out headline shows at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire and Camden Electric Ballroom, and last year enjoyed successful supports opening for Paul Weller’s outdoor gigs and Mavis Staples’ summer tour, playing to 20,000 people.

That was followed by Autumn 2019’s 10-date headline UK tour, and I got to see them on form at Gorilla, Manchester on November 1st, the 22nd of my 29 live outings last year, nestled neatly between Richard Hawley in Liverpool and The Selecter in Guildford.

And how many shows have I seen in 2020, by comparison? Just three, with nothing since mid-March. So it was inevitable that we started with all that when I tracked Neil Jones down at home near Coventry on the last day of August, not long back from a holiday in Cornwall, ‘getting ready for these gigs we’re doing next month’. These shows have been a long time coming, I suggested.

“It’s unbelievable, innit?”

Not just delays of tour dates but also the new LP, Is Love Enough? And not just due to the pandemic and related issues like manufacturing dilemmas, but also – initially – so it didn’t clash with (the also-delayed) On Sunset, the latest winning Paul Weller record.

“I think it’s been moved about two or three times now because of everything that’s gone on. It’s a strange one because we’re already starting on the next batch of things, and it feels like it’s been going on a while. But now we’ve got a sort of goal, for the release and the coming gigs, and we’re back in the studio playing new stuff again. It’s quite a nice feeling, it feels like we’re back in that groove again.”

The band’s studio is in Atherstone, with Neil not so far away, telling me, ‘I’m north of Coventry now, in a little cottage that overlooks the canal, sort of in a more rural part’. But he spent much of the COVID-19 lockdown in St Ives, where he’s just returned from again.

“My mum and dad moved down there about five or six years ago. They’ve a lovely little place down there. It’s a nice free holiday!”

Live Enough: Neil Jones, left, and Neil Sheasby with Stone Foundation, with live shows coming (Photo: David Hunter)

The usual discussion followed about face masks, covidiots, tourists, spikes and R-rates, but we’ll spare you all that. Has lockdown been a good time creatively?

“It was great, mate. I put a lot of my time and focus on the online gigs we put on throughout the lockdown, from Mum and Dad’s place. That was the hub! I was speaking with Andy Codling (who runs the studio the band use in Atherstone, and directs their videos). He was helping me put all these things together. We had an online Stone Foundation and Friends Festival, which was amazing. I got to speak to lots of our old collaborators, getting acoustic tracks from Lynval Golding, Graham Parker, Paul Weller, Hamish Stewart …”

You’re living the dream, aren’t you?

“It was brilliant, mate, just great catching up with all these people, them putting something positive down for us, so we could get it online for people.”

What really shines through with the band is that you’ve grafted so hard and finally you’re getting the success you deserve. There are little moments that stand out, and one for me was when you give Graham Parker a high-five (or perhaps a low-five) in Paul Weller’s studio after duetting on your cover of ‘I’m Gonna Turn Your Playhouse Down’.

“Through the glass, yeah! That was social distancing before it came in, mate, with that screen between us! Oh, it’s great, getting to work with the people that inspired you … your heroes.”

Talking of Weller, many will already be familiar with ‘Deeper Love’, featuring the man himself. And there are several other PW contributions.

“Yeah, it becomes more and more difficult to try and keep Paul off our records than put him on them! He’s such an infectious character, and he’s been so good for us. I can’t speak more highly of Paul. His support and the inspiration he offers up is second to none. And just the fact that when he’s in the studio and hearing our stuff … on the last record in particular, there was no plan to have Paul involved. We’d tell him when our sessions were booked in or ask if we could book sessions in his studio. And as is his usual way he’d make sure he’d be down there for a day or two…

Seven Up: Stone Foundation, on their way back to a town near you, all being well, on the back of Is Love Enough?

“Then, before you know it, he’s kind of on your shoulder going, ‘I can hear a bit of piano on this’ or ‘Can I do a bit of guitar on this?’ And it’s ‘Yeah man, just crack on’. I think the clever touch with this record was getting Paul to sing something he wouldn’t normally be associated with. The amount of people who’ve heard that track and gone, ‘Is that Weller?’ It’s a very different thing for him. That’s really what appealed to me. He’s been fantastic, and all the little touches he adds … he’s got a really good musical ear.”

No doubting that. Do you still find yourself star-struck now and again?

“Yeah – ha! The maddest thing for me was the very first record we did with him, Street Rituals. It’s funny now because when I see him, he’s just Paul. I don’t look at him in the same kind of star-struck way. But I remember singing ‘Back in the Game’, where we did that vocal tape together – a similar set-up to how you see the video of me and Graham Parker. At that point I was thinking, ‘This is fucking mental!’.

”The thing with him, he’s very similar to us with his sense of humour, the things he likes and dislikes. It almost feels – although he’s a lot older than myself – like I grew up with him at school or something, it’s a really relaxed sort of environment.”

Talking of age, Neil Sheasby’s just a few days older than me, but you’re a little younger, right?

“I’m about eight or nine years younger – I’m a babbie really, mate! But it just kind of happened that me and Neil bumped into each other through our other bands, ended up playing of a couple of similar bills. He was coming to the end of something with his band and I was kind of in limbo a little. I was in a band with friends I grew up with. I think we both needed a change at that point, and it came along at the right time.”

I was slightly confused when Sheas (it’s easier to write that than Neil Sheasby every time) mentioned in his splendid Boys Dreaming Soul memoir another Neil Jones from roughly the same manor. I assumed he meant you, but couldn’t work out why he didn’t make anything of it …

“Oh no, there’s another three in Tamworth, mate!”

Well, checking you out on the Discogs site, I see you’re actually Neil Jones (14) on there.

“Yeah, probably. I can imagine. It’s a very common name, mate!”

Band Substance: Stone Foundation last November at Gorilla, Manchester, a night to remember (Photo: David Hunter)

Speaking of that website, the first thing on their list by Stone Foundation is 2001 EP, Inventing Ways to Fly. But the AllMusic site suggests a self-titled LP in 1994.

“I think the reason that comes up at the top is because that was the first output we actually registered through a label. Was that through What Records?”

Erm … Fairmount Gas Recording.

“Ah, but I think What Records helped put that out. I think the first recordings we did never got released – we did two nights at a theatre in Tamworth, Two Nights of Ideas. And to give you an idea of where we started, we had a string quartet and a two-piece horn section. We had these very grandiose ideas but as songwriters weren’t in the right place to execute them the way we do now.”

So the concept of Stone Foundation was there from the start.

“Yeah, absolutely. There’s elements of the band that feels like we’ve gone full circle, back to the place we love the most. We tried a bit of everything, but we’re definitely going more into a soul route now. At those early gigs I remember the band leaving the stage, and I’d do an acoustic version of ‘40,000 Headmen’ by Traffic with the quartet. It was a very ‘out there’ kind of concert!”

However many records down the line, I see the latest as perhaps the third in a trilogy that started with Street Rituals and carried on with Everybody, Anyone.

“Erm, yeah, I guess … but to me, on the two records prior to Street Rituals it felt like we were starting to find some kind of solid ground as regards to where we wanted to be – on  To Find the Spirit then A Life Unlimited. We were on that path then found a studio, and in someone like (Paul Weller’s engineer) Charles Rees there was someone we could work with really easily and we could get incredible results out of.

“You’ve got to remember we’re using the same studio Paul’s had No.1 records with. It’s a fantastic facility. If you ever came to our studio, with Andy Codling, who we do our demos with and who we recorded the records with prior to these, if people actually saw what we worked with, they’d be absolutely flabbergasted.

“I remember one time when an old guitarist wanted a bit of roach for a smoke and found a bit of cardboard by the mixing desk, pulled it out from one of the faders and the whole fucking desk went off! The card was there for a reason, to keep the contact in the fader. That was the kind of shit we had to work with on a day-to-day basis.

“So going from that, where I’d be recording vocals where I could only hear out of one headphone because they were cutting out, to recording at Paul’ place, it almost felt like this veil had been lifted from our eyes. And you weren’t trying to have a fight with one arm behind your back!”

I guess what I was leading up to saying there was that two listens in, I really think this might be your best album yet.

“Ah, thanks mate. I appreciate that. I mean, you said you think of this as a trilogy, but I don’t see it that way, I just see it as the next stepping-stone … to hopefully go one step better. Already we’re writing demos for the next thing and can already hear that has the potential to go on again. That’s the most important thing, that you just keep searching, aiming for the next height, the next peak.”

In places, I feel this record might have been made anytime between the late ‘60s and now. There’s no retro feel though. It’s contemporary, but – for example – a track like ‘Picture a Life’ would sit nicely on Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together. Then elsewhere, there’s a Style Council feel (admittedly, the fact that Paul Weller, Mick Talbot and Steve White all feature might be a factor there), but also perhaps a little Was (Not Was) for these ears. Hell, there’s even an introductory Stevie Wonder-type drum pattern on the title track.

“I think what’s happened from To Find the Spirit onwards, me and Neil kind of evolved into this idea that, if we wanted a certain sound and style of playing, we wouldn’t just keep it to the lads in the band. And the track you mention has Steve White on drums. Whitey’s playing on three or four tracks on this record, so that gives it a different flavour.

“Also, as a songwriter I’ve never been precious about, ‘Oh, I’ve got to sing that’. In my mind I hear a vocal as another instrument. If I’m thinking, ‘I can hear a girl singing this’, like when we got Bettye LaVette to sing ‘Seasons of Change’. You hear things in a different way and think, ‘Right, okay’. I guess that takes us to our love of Steely Dan and bands like that. We’ve always had that concept that we’ll get players in to suit the songs, to get the best.”

I hadn’t thought of Steely Dan, but they’re in there too.

“I don’t think we intentionally did it, we just ended up doing it. It’s quite funny nowadays, a lot of people seem to be doing it. But we were doing it years and years ago with To Find the Spirit – people like Carleen Anderson. It’s just something we gravitated towards, to get the best out of the songs.”

Yet while you’re evolving, nothing’s too smooth or over-polished.

“Absolutely. That’s kind of important. We’re sort of driven by the things we love in the past but also by things we hear nowadays. I don’t know whether you’d call our music a genre. We kind of do the soul thing, but because we’re British it’s not an American soul thing but a tip of the hat, a bit of a mix of stuff. But there’s so many great new jazz, funk and soul bands out there at the moment, that you hear these sounds and that sounds really fresh. And for this album we were thinking of aiming for something that sounds even fresher than the records we’d done before.”

From what I can gather, great an LP as On Sunset is, Paul Weller may already be working on his next record. And I get the feeling that drive he has is rubbing off on your band too.

“Absolutely, yeah, and by now we would have done a European tour, whereas we’re not gonna be touring this record here until next September. So it feels like someone’s put the reins on it all for a minute, but we’re always writing anyway.

“That’s the beauty of what me and Neil have, which other bands probably don’t – there’s two of us writing the songs. That sort of drives it forward. You hear that sort of thing about bands where there’s always gonna be someone at the helm of it all. But it doesn’t work like that with us – there’s always been the two of us to lean on each other. If the other one thinks something’s a bit shit, it usually is, so we leave it alone, move onto the next thing.”

I won’t go too deep into the chemistry of your songwriting relationship with Sheas, but is there that element of Lennon and McCartney sat opposite each other, testing out songs?

“Ha! Funnily enough, it started out that way. When I first went round Neil’s house he had an old-style dictaphone and we had a couple of notepads and sat across each other like Smith and Jones, staring at each other, trying to work on ideas. But it’s a new age now, isn’t it. And I think it’s helped us no end that we send each other little things on phones, like, ‘What about this?’

“Or when we’re up at our studio I present something more in a … not a standard way but, I can sit down with a guitar and go, ‘What about this?’ whereas Neil would do it a different way – he’d sing over something he’s heard or a beat, then I’d try and work out a chord structure, like with ‘Carry the News’. Then, because Neil’s a great bass player, he’d sit down with something like ‘Standing on the Top’, say, ‘I’ve got this’, and it develops from there.”

You realise I can’t now put the idea of Sheas and you as Smith and Jones out of my head? I can see Mel Smith in a Sheas-like titfer too.

“That’s it! Ha!”

Looking Up: Stone Foundation, keen to get the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic behind them and return to the live circuit

Then you have something like ‘This is Our Time’, with a rap involved. And it fits perfectly, not coming over as contrived.

“Definitely, and I shared this weekend a Spotify playlist on Facebook, full of all the stuff I was listening to as a kid. All hip-hop artists, essentially. Me and Neil have spoken about it in countless interviews where we sort of bonded over our love of hip-hop. His journey into music took a different route, working in record shops and stuff, while I had a real close friend growing up who got me into playing guitar. His dad had these incredible old soul and blues records, while my Dad was heavily into music and got me into Zeppelin, Steely Dan …

“But my best mate was also into the hip-hop thing with me, so we’d go into Birmingham, into Oasis, buy Public Enemy jackets, and big baseball boots. I even had a flattop at one point. I was massively into it, so to bring that kind of influence into a song was fantastic.”

That doesn’t necessarily work that often. Like I say, it’s not contrived.

“Absolutely. The guy we used, his stage name’s Mr Memory, and we’ve know Guy for years, he lives in Atherstone, he’s from Cornwall originally. He was in a group, the Dookie Squad, which consisted of two or three MCs and a DJ. He’s a brilliant rapper. The amount of times he’s come up the room and we’ve just played a bit of ‘The Message’ or ‘Rappers’ Delight’ or something like that for him.”

Were they his lyrics on the album?

“That was totally all his work. We just told him what the record was about, he’d heard some of the songs. That was recorded at (Galliano bass player) Ernie McKone’s studio in London. We had to find other places to finish the record because Paul was finishing On Sunset, having done the bulk at the Barn.”

How did you get (Andre) Laville and Durand Jones involved?

“Myself and Neil love some of the new music out there at the moment, so it was very important to us that we’d get people this time round that were a little more contemporary. In the past we’ve used some of the legends, some of our heroes, but … I just love Laville’s voice. I think it’s one of the best soul instruments out there. It really is.

“We recorded Laville at Ernie’s place. We did all the backing tracks, Mick Talbot had been up in the morning to put keys on, and we got Laville in. Now Ernie’s played bass for everybody, and when Lavelle started singing he turned and went, ‘Where the fuck did you get him from?’ I was like, ‘I know, he’s good in’t he!’. He just kinda took it somewhere even better!

Hands Up: Neil Jones leads the way with Stone Foundation, on another evening engagement (Photo: David Hunter)

“In my mind when I wrote the bulk of that song before Neil added his little touches, I had Luther Vandross in my head, that sort of Change stuff. I thought it needs to be like that. I could sing it but thought it needed extra special sauce on it! That’s why we got Andre on it.

“With Durand it was exactly the same. ‘Hold on to Love’ feel-wise came from us playing at the studio from a seed Neil had. We worked up the song without vocals and I took it back home. In my mind I was trying to sing a melody and lyric that made me think of Charles Bradley. I thought I could sing it but wanted what I could hear it in my head. That’s why we asked Durand. We’ve been friends for years on Facebook, had mutual friends in New York, so just got in touch and asked, and he said yeah!”

So he’s not part of your Jones family then?

“Ha! No, but we always call each other brother!”

You’ve featured in a similar way with double WriteWyattUK interviewee Dr Robert of Blow Monkeys fame with his Monks Road Social collaborative project. Like yourselves, he’s always moved with the times. Robert Howard is not one just to be labelled ‘80s, is he.

“Not at all, and I’ve felt really privileged to have been involved with so much of that. To be asked by Robert in the first place … I mean … I’ve been on the last three records, which has been fantastic. I love working with Robert. I go along and haven’t got the pressure. They seem to do things very similar to us in the sense they’ll try and get the bulk of the tracks done in X-amount of days then Robert will take it away and produce it, a bit like me and Neil do with the band. I guess the difference is that you know with us, it is a band – you know when you come to see us live, we do our thing …”

It seems a while now since I saw you at Gorilla in Manchester late last year, stealing a few words with Sheas while the rest of you loaded the van for the next show.

“Oh, he always finds an excuse! I remember on that tour, when Steve Pilgrim … who’d come with us every night … I do all the organising for the tours, almost taking on the part of tour manager, and Stevey would say each night as I’m in the back of the van trying to make sure everything goes away, ‘Where the fuck do you get your energy from?’ and I’d be like, ‘I don’t know, man – you’ve just got to get it done, in’t you’. It’s all part of the job!”

Audience Participation: Neil Jones, leading right from front and centre with Stone Foundation (Photo: David Hunter)

I love the interlude tracking on the new album, not least the foreign language pieces.

“Yeah, essentially that was an idea I thought would nicely tie the record together. Myself and Neil had written all these songs that weirdly had ‘love’ in the title and we’d never usually use that word very heavily. But they were all obviously centred around a certain connotation of love, more of a spiritual meaning of love really.

“And when all these songs started to kind of collate, we started playing about with little ideas. Ian (Arnold) played that wonderful piano intro piece, and we thought we could have these throughout the record. Get everyone from some of the countries we play. We’d have loved to have more, but just thought, let’s get them to talk about love in their language. I love the artistic sound of that.”

It’s almost … whisper it, a concept album in that respect … albeit more like Weller’s 22 Dreams.

“Yeah, I love that record!”

And the final link sees Peter Capaldi reading Vincent van Gogh. Fantastic!

“That was really lovely and came about through the Monks Road link, when I turned up to do a session at a studio just outside Granada in Spain. I walked in and Peter’s sat their talking with Robert (Howard). I was like, ‘How do you know him?’ Turns out that Robert, in the valley he lives in, his next-door neighbours are Peter Capaldi and Alexei Sayle. Quite a combination!”

Maybe you could have Alexei on the next Stone Foundation record.

“Yeah! Peter loves playing guitar, he’s a really lovely guy and we just got talking about music. I sat next to him at dinner, and before you know it, we’re out on this veranda twiddling away on acoustic. He came out, made a few comments and I went, ‘Grab a guitar’, We just sat there playing. I was showing him how to play ‘What’s Going On’ by Marvin Gaye. I showed him this special chord in my version and was like, ‘This’ll change your life, mate!’, just having a laugh. We had a really good bond. So when we got back, we got the Spanish, Japanese and German pieces, and I said to Sheas, ‘I’m just gonna ring Pete – if we’re gonna finish the record with a British voice, I can’t think of anyone better!’ And he said yes.”

Show Time: Stone Foundation, filling stages again sometime in the not so distant future (Photo: David Hunter)

Were they your choice of words?

“No, every single one of the words you hear on the record on the interludes, I asked those people to come up with what they wanted. You can’t put someone else’s concept of love into someone’s mouth, you’ve gotta let them express what they think. And Peter came up with a few. As an actor, he’s well versed in a lot of poetry and that. I can’t remember what the other ideas were, but the Vincent Van Gogh one stood out!”

I particularly like the last line, ‘What is done in love is well done’.

“It’s brilliant, isn’t it!”

While it’s all been delayed, in a sense your timing with this LP is perfect. Let’s face it, what the world needs now is love, sweet love.

“Absolutely, mate. I mean, let’s be honest, it feels at times like the world’s up in flames at the moment. I’ve had this conversation with Neil a few times and if it wasn’t so essential to the band I’d have probably come off social media a long time ago. It seems it’s becoming a poisonous place. We’ve been speaking about coronavirus and if I see another post of people being like, ‘Look at them! Look what they’re doing’, finger-pointing constantly … what is the point! You know what I mean? It doesn’t get you anywhere.

“Then you turn your attention to the Black Lives Matter movement and there’s people saying ‘All lives matter’ …  seriously? Can you not get into your head what people are talking about? That’s why I posted my playlist of hip-hop tracks. You’ve got songs on there like ‘Fight the Power’ then you go further back to the ‘60s with The Temptations talking about ‘Ball of Confusion’ and even further back to the jazz era where you’ve got ‘Strange Fruit’, things like that. And you’re thinking ‘Come on man, just fucking look at what these people have been singing throughout the period!’”

You mentioned What’s Going On, and when I first heard that in the mid-‘80s I could see we were already heading where America was back then. And it seems nothing much changes, both sides of the Atlantic.

“Absolutely! The only difference with some of the other countries is that it’s a lot more subtle. Because they haven’t got means to just turn around and shoot somebody, as we haven’t got arms in this country – thank fuck! Can you imagine what a mess the world would be in if everyone was fucking armed?

Arms Folded: Neil Sheasby and Neil Jones all set with their Stone Foundation bandmates (Photo: John Coles)

“But it’s a worrying time. A lady interviewed me a few days ago for Blues & Soul magazine and I said it almost feels like now, without sounding pretentious, we have to keep our heads down writing songs that will hopefully inspire some love in people. It almost feels like that’s become our duty now. In the way artists inspired me like Curtis Mayfield and Marvin would try to impart positivity and love into people. Rather that than the fucking hatred and bile spat out every single day.”

My final question was going to be, ‘Is Love Enough?’, but I guess you’ve already tackled that.

“Well, I think yeah, it is, of course it is. I’ve just read this incredible book by Rutger Bregman, Human Kind: A Hopeful History, a sociologist basically talking about the fact that as a human race the reason we evolved is because we were kind to one another. People say, ‘Oh well, it’s human nature, isn’t it – that’s what we do to each other’. Well, I disagree with that, I think we’re all capable of love.”

And we haven’t even got on to Brexit …

“That’s another thing – we haven’t even thought about that. Ha!”

It’s truly opened a scar for us all.

“Absolutely. Speaking to Scottish friends, I say, ‘Unfortunately, we all know it’s gonna happen eventually – Scotland will break away from us. But it’s not the people doing this, it’s those leading the people that are creating all these divisions, and they’re basically dragging us backward. It’s just horrible to watch.”

Problem there, is that if we lose Scotland I feel we’re possibly stuck with Tory rule forever.

“Yeah, but you know as well as I do that it always swings one way to the other. But this time right now is really quite unsettling and I think more than ever us good people –  and we’re all good people really – just need to show a bit more love to one another, and hopefully that will perpetuate that sort of feeling throughout the world. But fucking hell. If Trump wins …”

Unfortunately, I get the idea he won’t go quietly even if he is (hopefully) voted out.

“Of course he won’t! He’s had a taste of it now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did win that he’d find some way of changing the legislation so he could carry on being in charge forever.”

Stage Lights: Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby get down to it in live action with Stone Foundation (Photo: John Coles)

That was my fault. We were set to finish on a more positive note until I brought that up. Let’s try again. So, back to that title track – is that you singing in the lower register early on? It really suits you.

“It is, yeah. Thanks mate. I was more blown away on that track by Sulene’s vocal gymnastics at the end. We were absolutely crying with laughter at that. I mean that in a very positive way – whenever anything incredible like that happens our natural reaction is to laugh and ask, ‘What the fuck was that?’ I remember those Bette Davis kind of ad-libs she does. Just mental!

“All the female vocals on this record are Sulene Fleming, she’s on everything! She went out on tour with Mother Earth and Matt Deighton. That’s how I know her, and again the Monks Road Social thing. I believe she was doing stuff with Brand New Heavies and The Fantastics too.

“She’s fantastic. Her husband (Francis Hylton) plays bass with Bluey (Jean-Paul Maunick) out of Incognito. It’s all connections, isn’t it, and it’s nice that as the band progresses we’re working with different people all the time.”

That’s a more positive note to leave it on, so I’ll end it there. But we must continue this soon. Maybe we could chat while Sheas loads the gear outside a venue next time.

“Fucking hell, chance would be a fine thing!”

Foundation Meeting: The band on hand to see the reaction to their much-delayed new album, Is Love Enough?

For WriteWyattUK’s past feature/interviews with Stone Foundation’s Neil Sheasby, head here for the October 2019 feature, including more details about Sheas’ Boys Dreaming Soul memoir, and here for the April 2017 feature. 

To pre-order Stone Foundation’s Is Love Enough? and for details of forthcoming shows, head to the band’s website or seek out their social media links, via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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Heaven and The Moons in his sights – the Andy Crofts interview

With a fourth LP by his band The Moons out next month, his first photography book newly published, a successful online radio show, and a solo venture taking shape, it seems that Andy Crofts is going somewhere right now.

Yet, despite all that, it seems that this São Paulo-born, Northampton-raised, Worthing-based 43-year-old father of two and talented multi-instrumentalist occasionally has doubts about his abilities. But maybe that uncertainty and determination to prove himself is what drives him.

Besides, there are times when even Andy acknowledges he’s not doing so badly for himself. Take for instance, the moment he first got that debut publication in his hands, This Day in Music Books’ Paul, a collection of his photographs from world travels as part of Paul Weller’s band, complete with the author’s hand-written observations.

“I’d seen bits but hadn’t had the final thing. When it arrived, I filmed myself opening it, and it’s going down really well. It was beautiful. I was just really proud, to be honest. I’ve done a few things in my life now, mainly music-related, but tend to be one of these people who with everything I do, I never feel like it’s proper. That’s not putting myself down. But I always feel if I do something, it’s not as good as someone else. But when I got my book, I thought, you know what, I think I’ve actually done it! I’ve actually made a book and it looks great.”

It does look great. Although I have to admit doubts about the title at first. I was thinking something more in keeping with the subject matter. When I got to oversee an advance copy, the gorgeous ‘Village’ had just been released, ahead of true contender for album of the year On Sunset, and that line ‘Heaven in my Sights’ jumped out at me. It seemed to tie in perfectly. That said, I could also see where you were coming from.

“I was thinking of all these names, and originally it was going to be a little more avant-garde and maybe include less pictures of Paul. I was originally going to call it A Lucid Dream. But I felt that was too abstract. At the end of the day, it’s a Paul Weller book and I kind of wanted to downplay it in an odd way by simply call it Paul, I thought there was more innocence to it. I didn’t want anything to do with ‘The Modfather’ and all that. Any labels end up a bit tacky, don’t they. But I felt I didn’t even need to write Weller on the cover. Anyone who wants it will know it’s him.”

To my mind, it’s essentially about travel as well as the joy of live music, so how have these last few months been for you, unable to do all these things?

Photo Finish: The cover of Andy Croft’s first photography book

“Well, as you know, that’s what we do, year in year out, touring the world and all those kinds of things. But this quarantine thing has messed everything up and we’re all at a bit of a loose end. We’re all excited, hoping everything will be back to normal next year, but it’s been a bit rubbish in the sense that we just love playing wide. You get a buzz playing live, off the audience and off each other.

“But on the other side, I’ve pushed myself – I’ve got this book finished, very quickly; I’ve put out some music of my own and for someone else on my label; and I’ve kept busy.”

A wise ploy, not least during a period when it seemed that the world and his wife were all intent on giving us wall to wall online gigs from home. There are only so many hours in the day to catch all those, however much of a fan you are of those featured.

“Yeah, even I’m aware of that. I’ve got one more little acoustic thing, I think, but I knew it would all get stale eventually. It was fun at the beginning – yeah, we can all entertain from home. But on the other side of what you’re saying, before the lockdown I was going through quite a few, not bad things, but in my brain I was over-analysing and punishing myself a bit, so in some ways the lockdown thing helped fix me a bit. I was going down a bit of a destructive path. But I got my head together and I’ve done more in 2020 than I have in years.”

Has it been a creative time, songwriting-wise too?

“Kind of. The main thing with me is literally having the moment – I’ve got two little girls, so it’s a bloody nightmare to pick up my guitar or play the piano. Every time I go to do it, I’ve got to go and do something else. The good thing about me is that I’m constantly dripping melodies into my head, 24/7, so if I get a little window I can just pick up a guitar and more than likely something will come out. The start of a song maybe. I’ve written a few bits, and one demo I’ve actually put as a bonus track on The Moons’ new album. A nice fun little thing just to keep it fresh.”

In a sense, I don’t think we’ve had a summer, but one of the few public positives in a way for me has been On Sunset, the latest Paul Weller LP. How can a bloke who’s been bringing out great records since 1977’s In the City still be on top of his game. And let’s face it, he is on top of his game right now, yeah?

“I think the best way I can describe it is that he’s not settling for the past. Most people of his age and his history with bands and stuff settle on something they’ve done previously and milk it to death. All they’ll do is basically a greatest hits tour. I don’t think Paul sees that as an option. He plays some of those songs, because they’re great and we put them in the set, but in general he sees himself as completely contemporary and he wants to keep creating. He’s still striving to write that best song.”

You’ve been part of Paul’s band since the 22 Dreams tour in 2008, with your first recorded contributions on 2010’s Wake Up the Nation, shifting over from keyboards to take over bass guitar duties from Andy Lewis. Those who know him well, talk of a different Weller, but I was brought up on those more acerbic responses to the music press back in the day. He was seemingly more of a gruff character in those days. More to the point, there’s the sheer weight of quality product to his name, from The Jam and The Style Council through to his solo years. Did you find it a little imposing auditioning for him a dozen years ago?

“He was pretty free with me really. I have to play the parts of the song, but he’s never been strict with me unless it’s a specific part of a song. For instance, you wouldn’t not play the riff on ‘Daytripper’ by The Beatles, would you? In general though, he let me do my thing as long as it was based around the style.

“When I first joined, I went down for a little jam with him, just me and him. I thought it was going to be a band. It was really chilled, but I was like shitting myself. I sat down at the Hammond organ and he stood up and played his Epiphone Casino, his famous ‘60s one. He said, ‘Let’s just play a bit of ‘All Along the Watchtower’, like the Hendrix version.’

“We did a bit of that and a bit of ‘The Changing Man’. I was pretty nervous and my hands were sweating. my fingers slipping off the notes. But after that I said, ‘Let’s have a cup of tea. sit down and chill out for a bit. I’m being stupid here!’

“I went home, rang him later, said I was really sorry, telling him I was pretty nervous and my fingers were slipping all over the place. And he just said, ‘Don’t be silly, the gig’s yours, mate.’ I said I can’t play Chopin or Mozart style, I play Beatle piano, for the song. And he said, ‘That’s exactly what I want. I don’t want someone to play all over my songs. Little is more.’

“So I was nervous at the beginning, but never freaked out by him. He’s always been very welcoming. What you read about The Jam days, I think he was mainly abrupt because people were dickheads to him.”

Are you working with him again yet? Have you been back to Black Barn Studios lately?

“Yeah, I went back a couple of weeks ago, to do a little rehearsing and a few recording bits. And it was nice to hang out with the band. We were there for a week. It was really nice just to be together again. We miss each other.”

I had a conversation with Paul’s recent songwriting partner Erland Cooper earlier this summer where he suggested he’d already moved on, excited about the next record, when On Sunset hadn’t even been released – already keen to move on again. That seems to be the measure of the man.

“Yeah, well. I can’t say too much, but he ain’t messing around … put it that way!”

I’ve also got to know Paul’s multi-talented string arranger Hannah Peel, a long-time friend and collaborator of Erland’s, not least through their work with The Good, The Bad and The Queen’s Simon Tong in The Magnetic North. It’s lovely to see her get a bit of kudos right now too.

“Oh, she really is an amazing girl. I’m really impressed with her. She’s so talented, a beautiful girl, inside and out, and so musically intelligent. And I think she’s done wonders for Paul’s music.”

He clearly sees that as well.

“Oh yeah, I think when he finds something he likes, he sticks with it for a while. She’s been fantastic and that’s been a really nice thing, and she’s done some amazing work for On Sunset.”

Agreed, not least on closing track, ‘Rockets’. At the same time, there’s always been a kind of transient nature to Paul’s work – since The Jam days there’s been plenty of drifting in and out of the band, and I guess he likes it that way. You can’t take any of this for granted, can you.

“No, at the end of the day he’s a solo musician, a solo artist, and without making it grim, he doesn’t need us. He can do it all himself if he wants. But the beautiful thing is that he wants other people, like us, to bounce off.

“He likes not having that predictable nature of himself – he wants someone to upset the apple cart a little. He’s had loads of different musicians with him over the years and I’m lucky enough to have done it for 12 years now – one of the longest going. And I’m honoured.”

Speaking of long service. Steve Cradock’s been there since 1992, alongside his duties elsewhere with Ocean Colour Scene, past WriteWyattUK interviewee PP Arnold, The Specials, and so on.

“Well, he’s been involved for 20-odd years, he’s Paul’s right-hand man really, and he’s another wonderful, colourful soul, and such a kind-hearted, genius musician.”

So how did it come to you getting that audition in the first place?

“We supported Paul with my old band, The On Offs, our power-pop punk kind of thing. He really loved it and we swapped numbers, and I sent him very early home demos of The Moons (Andy’s ‘Lunar sessions’, recorded in Northampton). He got back, told us, ‘I really like this song, and if you want to use my studio …’.

“I didn’t for some reason, and nothing happened for a while, other than the odd text to each other – probably me pissed, saying, ‘You’re amazing!’ and stuff like that. I think I did offer my services as a bass player or musician, saying, ‘If you want a change, let me know’. Always when I was drunk! Then once upon a time I got a phone call saying, ‘We’re looking for a keyboard player. Do you think you can do it?’ And that was it really.”

You seem to have that same work ethic as Paul, judging by the book, a solo record, your work with Paul, the radio show, and a new Moons LP on the way. Then there’s the video work and photography. You’re not averse to trying something different out.

“I like to try everything, and there’s one thing I am confident about – my music. I know I can write a half-decent song. Whether it’s commercial or good for radio … I know I can write a good song. The second thing I’m confident about is my eye. I trust my eye and feel very tuned in to art, photography, poetry …

“I live my whole life based around that world. Even the weather affects me. If it’s a rainy day there’s nothing I love more than sitting by the window. I can write songs there, lyrics, poetry, whatever. I get inspired by all of that and it makes me constantly create. Taking photos, writing music, filming – like that Paul Weller documentary.”

The latter was One, a Weller tour documentary, with Andy also behind the promo videos for ‘These City Streets’ and ‘She Moves with the Fayre’. Meanwhile, it’s been six years since Mindwaves, the last LP from The Moons, where his bandmates also include Paul Weller’s drummer Ben Gordelier and From The Jam’s keyboard player Tom Van Heel. But now we have a follow-up on its way, Pocket Melodies set for release in late October.

“Yeah, it’s a long time, innit! I’ve been going through a lot of ups and downs in my thoughts. People don’t need to know this, but they kind of do. I ask myself, ‘Am I any good anymore? We were never successful with The Moons. We were a very underground band. Do people even want to hear it?’ That sort of thing.

“But I did a few acoustic gigs on my own to try and build some confidence back, and it worked. I realised I could cut it on my own, and from doing that it gave me the strength back for The Moons, and we recorded the album at Abbey Road, studio two – The Beatles’ room, The Zombies, all that. It was magical – we did the whole album in a day, live, with a few finishing touches done back at Paul’s studio.

“We cut about 14 songs on the day – 12 for the album, plus a B-side and a bonus track for the CD. After that I just thought, ‘How could I have been so silly? I just slapped myself. Even if I don’t make another album, I’ve just enjoyed making this one. It’s a real colourful album, sweet and poppy, and I’m not going to lie – it’s heart on my sleeve ‘60s influenced pop songs. I’m not trying to be dark or abstract. It’s straight up, natural songs.”

Was there something special in those walls at Abbey Road, do you think?

“I’d already written the songs, but there’s a magic in the room, 100%. Just the history I guess, but there’s something in there that made us play better.”

You’re juggling family life too (with his beloved Tara and daughters Luna, six, and Gigi, two). That must keep your feet on the ground, just in case the thought of going to work with the likes of Paul Weller, Mick Talbot, Steve Cradock, P.P Arnold and so on should affect you.

“Oh, God, totally. It’s obviously the best thing in the world, but I’m not going to lie – it’s hard as well, from a selfish musician point of view. The days when I just used to sit and put a tape recorder on, press record and keep recording, sat there all day with my cassettes, dreaming on a rainy day then listening back and hearing these ideas I never realised I had. Now I can’t do that, but there are all these wonderful things too, and that’s life, and it happens to everyone.”.

Talking of family, can I just ask about your Brazilian roots? Are you still in touch with anyone there? Do you think Brazil plays a part in that sense of what you’re about and the music vibe itself?

Lunar Exploration: The Moons’ frontman Andy Crofts takes some time out to reflect on his stellar career so far

“That’s interesting. No one’s ever asked me that before. I’ll briefly go over this, and it has to start with my Mum, who was a dancer in the ‘60s. A ballet dancer at first, she ended up dancing at the Royal Palladium in London, dancing with all the stars. Then in the early ‘70s there was a job opportunity that would have been massive back then, to go and dance in Brazil in a circus, Tiffany, in Sao Paolo. It was massive.

“She went over, met all these girls from all over the world who became her best friends, and my Dad was a bit of a celebrity in this circus – Circo Tihany – and even starring in a Brazilian film. She met him, and before you know it, I popped out! But for whatever reason, she came back a year later with me, and I was raised in Northampton.

“I can’t remember anything of that, but I was born in this circus world, surrounded by moneys, elephants, all that, and I actually have some footage. I was born with the surname Goncalves, but I was never happy with that and always felt that I didn’t have any connection to that family. They were all Crofts. So years later, I started calling myself by my Mum’s maiden name, an old Northamptonshire name. I just wanted to feel more a part of the family that raised me.

“We didn’t see my father again, and I thought he was dead, and I wrote a song which is on the new Moons album, called ‘Where Are You Now?’ But years later we found out he was alive, with all my half-brothers and half-sisters on Facebook. I found them and often speak to them. They can’t speak English, and nor could my father.

“I think he wanted to talk to me on the phone, but I was scared to open this hole that had been there my whole life. Was it gonna mess me up? My Mum’s still around, and she would talk to him every Sunday, but he came down ill and died a couple of years ago, so that kind of put an end to that.

“I never knew him, but I know he knew about me, and apparently he was proud. I must admit I felt very upset when he died. Some of my blood had died. It’s a long story and so hard to describe, but it’s how I imagine it would be having an identical twin and never being with them, and then they died. It’s that kind of feeling.

“So, in a nutshell, Brazil is nothing to do with me, but I’m fascinated by Brazil and would love to go out there and explore. We were very poor, and there’s pictures of me sitting with chickens and dust.”

Belief Systen: Andy Crofts, slowly waking up to all he’s achieved in recent years, between band and solo work

Finally, at the risk of sounding like Eamonn Andrews or Michael Aspel on This is Your Life, first there was The On Offs, with those Weller supports in 2006, then you joined the band in 2008, touring the brilliant 22 Dreams album. We also have The Moons too, and it’s a decade this year since debut LP, Life on Earth, and also playing on Weller’s Wake up the Nation. You’re in your early 40s now, and you’ve achieved so much. There’s the band work, the guest roles, the solo stuff, the photography, the videos. Is there a specific dream from here, or are you already living that life you always wanted?

“Well, you saying it like that makes me realise how much I’ve done. I always felt I hadn’t done enough. So in that case, I want to do so much more. I think I’d like to do another photography book, and I’ve been given a free ticket to do that whenever I want. So that’s cool. I’m going to do a solo album. I’ve got all the demos, and that’ll be next – after The Moons album.”

There’s already been a solo venture, but that was a covers LP through your Boogaloo radio show, yeah?

“Exactly. I did a cover every week and compiled an album. That was just fun, never to be taken seriously. “I also did a single called ‘Forevermore’ with my friend Christophe (Vaillant), of Le SuperHomard in France, and that went down really well.

“All I want to do in the future is create, in whatever form, whether I get a load of large canvasses and paint and do an exhibition, or a photography exhibition, or just make music. Whatever it is, I’ll constantly be doing something. And I can’t get enough – it’s oozing out of me!”

Selfie Belief: Andy Crofts with the boss, having been with Paul Weller’s band for 12 years now (Photo: Andy Crofts)

To pre-order The Moons’ Pocket Melodies, set for release on October 23rd, head to www.themoons.co.uk/. You can also keep in touch with Andy via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For more about Andy’s book, Paul, try this This Day in Music Books link.

There’s also another great interview with Andy here from friend of WriteWyattUK, Richard Bowes, not least detailing his covers album. 

 

 

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Ready for re-entry and re-animation – talking Everything Everything with Jeremy Pritchard

Uniform Re-Animation: Everything Everything, 2020 style. From the left - Alex Robertshaw, Jeremy Pritchard, Jonathan Higgs, Mike Spearman.

Uniform Re-Animation: Everything Everything – Alex Robertshaw, Jeremy Pritchard, Jonathan Higgs, Mike Spearman.

With the release of their delayed  fifth LP, Re-Animator, now barely a week away, art-rock four-piece Everything Everything are crackin gon with plans for a tie-in UK and Irish headline tour next Spring … pandemic restrictions willing.

But there’s no doubting that co-founder Jeremy Pritchard would rather be out on the road right now, the novelty of the last few locked-down months wearing somewhat film.

Hampshire-born, Kent-raised Jeremy, who met Everything Everything frontman Jonathan Higgs while studying music at Salford University, the start of a major adventure that would have far-reaching consequences for a band twice shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize and having received five Ivor Novello Awards nominations so far. But has it been frustrating lately, having to wait so long to get the new LP out?

“A bit. The frustration comes from not being able to play any gigs, feeling the music resonate in that environment. That’s the way I best understand what the music means to people. And that’s been taken away from us, as it has everybody.

“We’re doing what we can in the virtual realm and digital world instead, but it’s not the same. It was kind of exciting at the beginning, because it forced us to be ingenious and resourceful and think differently about how to make videos, do pictures, and so on.

“Even for the album artwork, where we were taking photographs of ourselves in our gardens, sending them to Jon to put into some 3D modelling software, generating artwork and videos in that way. And that’s cool. It forced us to think differently – always a good thing for any art form. But we’ve run out of patience and options now, and would like to just get together, play music.”

I realise it’s all a guessing game at present, but – even though your dates have been knocked back to next Spring – it’s still not guaranteed to work right if there are those huge gaps at venues between punters, right?

“It’s a completely unknown landscape, which is a bit daunting. We’re hoping we can do those gigs with some semblance of normality, the way we’ve been used to, but who knows.”

My social media timelines of late seem full of live shows from artistes’ bedrooms, back rooms, kitchens, whatever. It’s difficult to see everyone you want to. There aren’t enough hours in the day. Has it been a similar tale for yourself?

“Yes, you can get lost in the noise and then your audience becomes blasé, with this sort of swollen area of the culture, everybody trying to do the same thing. We’ve done a few livestream performances, there are more on the way, and we’re planning one other for around the time of the album release.”

Regarding the new LP release date, Jeremy (bass, keyboards, backing vocals) reckons that at least gives him and his bandmates – fellow 2007 co-founders Jonathan (lead vocals, keyboards, rhythm guitar) and Michael Spearman (drums, backing vocals), plus Alex Robertshaw (lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals since 2009) – time to work on something exciting to mark the occasion.

“Yeah, we’ll try and do what we can. We’re looking into that now, trying to do something that’s a bit more out of the ordinary to tie in with the release. But again, our options are limited really.”

Are you back rehearsing together? And are you all fairly close, geographically?

“We’re quite scattered around the country, with me and Jon in Manchester, Mike in London and Alex in Shrewsbury. We’re used to being itinerant in this way! For the last four months we haven’t really been able to do anything collectively. But this week we’re getting back to rehearsing … with two metres between ourselves, trying to unpick the new songs.”

You mentioned videos, and I enjoyed the one for latest single ‘Violent Sun’. In a sense, you seem to have gone almost full circle from your debut single, ‘Suffragette Suffragette’ – from white lab coats to red boiler suits.

“Yeah! It’s so often where we default to, the boiler suit. We’ve done it a few times. It’s quite an easy way to become uniform. We’ve always admired that kind of utilitarian ‘I’m going to work, I’m doing a job’ thing. There’s also a link to Kraftwerk, DEVO and bands that took what they were wearing almost out of the equation – making it uniform across the band. I’ve always liked that.”

Great examples, and those boiler suits also make me think of The Clash, early on, in the auto repair workshop next to their rehearsal space, having their overalls spray-painted and hammered.

“Oh, totally, yeah.  Combat Rock era too. They’re definitely a band to look up to, aesthetically. That’s something that appeals to us as well. If you can wrap the whole thing up, present your own aesthetic niche, as well as the music, there’s the videos, artwork, what you wear … the whole thing.”

That video, like those for the previous three singles released ahead of the LP, was directed by Jonathan, all four band members shooting their contributions in their respective backyards. Mike shot his scenes in London, Jeremy’s seen running around Old Trafford, Alex – originally from Guernsey – did his in Shrewsbury, and the director in rural Northumberland, from where he hails.

The railway tracks you see are in Hadrian’s Wall country, with the wrecked aircraft on the fringes of a nearby RAF station, suggesting something of an ‘echo’, as Jeremy put it, in the fact that the plane like the charred instruments the band are playing is heavily fire-damaged.

There’s good reason for that, those damaged instruments retrieved from a fire that occurred in their studio lockup, deciding to use them one last time before scrapping them, fitting in nicely with the message behind ’Violent Sun’, about desperately holding on to the moment before it passes forever. So where was the lock-up where you had the fire?

“It’s part of a big Victorian mill, where we still rehearse. We’ve two different rooms, one on the ground floor as a lock-up, and one on the second floor, where we do most of our playing and actual work. There was an electrical fire and we lost quite a lot of gear. It was really shocking and happened on the day the lockdown was announced, about two hours before that came in. I was there dealing with the fire brigade, everyone trying to social-distance in a smouldering wreck.

“But it could have been far worse. Nobody was hurt and we could have lost gear that was more integral. A lot of what we lost was of sentimental value, but none of it meant we couldn’t play a gig tomorrow.”

That was in Ancoats, with Jeremy based quite close, in Old Trafford. And I guess, in view of his South-East roots, that’s as good a place as anywhere to add a bit of band history, Jeremy’s original three bandmates all hailing from Northumberland, introduced by fellow Salford student Jonathan to Mike and the original Alex (Niven), the three of them attending the same Hexham high school.

Soon, Jeremy and Jonathan agreed to form a band once their degree was complete, originally putting together Salford-based trio Modern Bison, releasing an album in 2006. And then came the re-think, the new band taking their name from the first two words of the opening track on Radiohead’s Kid A album, their first performances in the autumn of 2007, describing their sound as ’initially more punky, with more guitars and no synths at all … but the plan was always to expand the sound when we had the scope and could afford the gear!”

The first single arrived in December 2008, Alex Robertshaw taking over guitar duties from his namesake the year before the first LP landed, the band on the BBC Sound of 2010 longlist and then signing to the UK arm of Geffen Records, their first four singles included on Summer 2010’s acclaimed, Mercury Prize-shortlisted, top-20 debut LP, Man Alive.

Their 2013 follow-up, Arc, made No.5 in the UK, including sole top-40 hit ‘Cough’ and more critical acclaim, the band receiving an Ivor Novello Award nomination for next single ‘Kemosabe’, also UK Single of the Year at The Music Producers Guild Awards.

Third LP Get to Heaven followed in 2015, after a year off from touring, like the other albums certified silver, this time reaching No.7 in the UK, with A Fever Dream next in 2017, also debuting at No.5 and bringing a second Mercury Prize nomination, later crowned 2019’s Album of the Year at the Music Producers Guild Awards.

So now we’re up to album five, and it’s fair to say Everything Everything have never been a band easy to categorise. And they like it that way. Read descriptions of their music and you get words like eclectic, intricate, dynamic, complex; the cleverly-constructed songs and detailed lyrics distinctively sung in falsetto by frontman Jonathan Higgs.

Jeremy has said the intention is ‘to avoid cliche, or the cliches expected of white men with guitars from Manchester’. He talks of a ‘highly stylised and deracinated’ sound, saying ‘there are no genres I can think of that we haven’t learnt something from. We all share a huge number of basic passions like Radiohead, but all come from different areas of popular music: jazz and funk, modern US R’n’B, prog and krautrock, post-rock, punk, hardcore. We all love good honest pop. We’re a rock band.”

I’d maybe add electronica to all that, but first impressions suggested a band who, while too young to grow up with them, soon caught up with musically clever, tight outfits on the edge of punk like The Police and the more quirky XTC.

“Yeah, just on the edge of the post-punk thing. Definitely. I think some of that comes from a playful sense of musicianship. We really admire the linear nature of loads of punk or post-punk bands, but we’re all musos and music college kids and can’t hide that! There’s definitely a shared sensibility there. A lot of that music, certainly in the case of XTC, and personally for me – although the others  listened to The Police – I’d never really exposed myself to that until after people started comparing us. But I went back, listened and really enjoyed a lot of what I heard. It’s interesting – we never really listened to those bands but seemed to channel something similar. That’s the nature of the zeitgeist, I suppose.

Former WriteWyattUK interviewees Alt-J also spring to mind. And whisper it, there’s also a sense of Gabriel-era Genesis in there.

“Oh yeah, and we talked about ‘Sledgehammer’ and the solo albums a lot with regards to one song on this new record.”

At time of going to press, I’ve only heard aan dvance copy of the LP a couple of times, and definitely hear that influence in there, as well as Radiohead, not least on impressive opening number ‘Lost Powers’ and track three ‘It Was a Monstering’. Early days, but it all sounds pretty great to me. I didn’t know so much when I tackled Jeremy though. Is this album, I asked, where the band are at right now? Or have they moved on again in the circumstances, with the delay?

“Yeah, it is still where we’re at. We are starting to think about where next, but it’s still … for the time being we’re still trying to do the record justice by getting it out there, and only just learning how to play it live, having recorded the songs.

“It’s about getting our stamina back up, and God willing, if we manage to play these shows, it’ll be where we’re at for the next 18 months. We are starting to think about what comes next, but only those first tentative steps.”

Are you already writing new songs?

“A little. Alex has a couple of bits and bobs floating around, but we’re taking it easy on that front for the time being. “

So what made this lad from Portsmouth, Hampshire, choose Salford University all those years ago, in the process changing the course of his life?

“I sort of ended up here almost by default. I grew up in Kent, moving there around two, growing up in Tunbridge Wells. I went through the UCAS process but didn’t really want to go to university. I just wanted to play in bands, keep doing what I was doing. After a year of that, I realised all my bandmates were going.

“I applied to Salford because a friend was coming here, and the course had quite a high-performance aspect, compared to others in other places. And within the first few weeks, I was introduced to Jonathan, he gave me a CD with around 12 demos on it, and I was immediately struck by the quality of the songwriting and the ambitiousness. That was it really. And that was 17 years ago.”

Initially you were the only member of the band who didn’t attend the same high school in Northumberland. Did you ever feel left out?

“A little, but I’d been at university with Jon, and the others hadn’t and we quite quickly grew out of that part of our life, and stopped playing exclusively to people we’d been at school with. We moved beyond that, and I suppose as a band you become less of a localised concern, wherever you’re from, wherever you operate, you become more of a national and eventually an international operation.”

What if anything did you learn from being out on the road with big league performers like Snow Patrol and Muse in 2012, after the success of your first LP?

“I think it taught us two things – how to perform to a big audience, but also that we weren’t one of those bands. We always enjoyed playing those big arena gigs, but in order to command those audiences you’re making a different music really and we have different priorities.

“I think we realised quite quickly that wasn’t what we were about. It’s an enormous privilege if we can play those gigs, albeit at support level and playing big festival slots, but we’re doing it on our terms, because we play the music we’ve made, and that’s always been about exciting ourselves and our audience and never about commanding big numbers.

“You enter a different realm, and that’s fine. A lot of bands have totally done that on their own terms. Foals are one of them. They’ve done it through sheer tenacity and hard work, not compromising the music. Radiohead did the same, and Blur. But they’re relatively few and far between, about one a generation really – to be a stadium band but still be a true artistic enterprise.”

You’ve played some iconic venues before now, not least Alexandra Palace. And on this tour, there’s the Roundhouse on the list. Are those big moments for you, playing those kind of places?

“They are big moments, especially as the live stuff is what I consider the part of the business I enjoy most. That’s what I grew up with, I was always looking at the back of music magazines to see who was playing where, and these places have a certain gravitas and significance.”

Jeremy’s first live show, he tells me, was Michael Jackson at Wembley Stadium on his Dangerous tour in the summer of 1992, when he was around eight.

“That was amazing. I couldn’t believe how loud it was. I remember being impressed by that, and kind of thought all gigs were like that. I didn’t go again until I was around 14 or 15, to my local venue, The Forum in Tunbridge Wells, going down to see any band that were playing. I always felt I had something to learn, it didn’t really matter who it was. I got into the habit of doing that every weekend, then every day after school, going virtually every night at one stage.”

Banned Substance: Everything, Everything are back with a new LP this month, and itching to get on the road again.

Was there a specific band you saw and thought, ‘This is what I want to do with my life’?

“I saw Coldplay there in ‘99, and enjoyed that, but it was significant because of how big they became. I’d already decided it was what I wanted, before I started going to gigs. I was so into Blur in particular, when I was 12 or 13. They were a really big band at that time – real pop stars with Smash Hits covers. I think of that and how unusual that now seems, a bit like The Smiths in that they were also a cult act but also really big, pin-ups but completely an art enterprise. And I found the sense of camaraderie and fun and feeling of being in a gang really appealing.”

Are Everything Everything a gang in that sense?

“We definitely started out as such, and I think every band does in their late teens or early 20s. You start out with almost a hive mind – one entity, thinking the same stuff because you’re growing up with the same stuff. You’re yet to diversify.

“Then you find yourself in your mid-30s, with marriages and kids, people buying houses, realising you’re grown-ups. This record in a way is a reflection of that. The title is not insignificant in as much as the first four albums feel as if they are a conversation amongst themselves, but now we’re able to turn that page, begin a new chapter, and we’ve looked to other areas of life to inspire us. What Jon’s talking about is much more open, human and compassionate in many ways.”

We need a bit of that right now.

“Absolutely, and he’s thinking about births, deaths, marriages, and the natural world. And as it happened, although we’d finished the record in January and February and went to the next process, then the lockdown happened and people started re-communing with nature, and we found a new resonance to these songs that we hadn’t really anticipated.”

Do you think the fact that while the figures were still impressive, and it was another top-five LP for you, the fact that A Fever Dream sold less units helped you take that fresh approach, think it through another way?

“Possibly. But I’m not conscious of what we did or didn’t sell on that record. I think it was a success in as much as live it definitely felt like that album worked, and we toured well on that album. But I think it was maybe our first experience of plateauing.

“For the first three albums it had all been a step-up, then on A Fever Dream we realised maybe we were slightly out of step, as a guitar band in 2017. But then we got a Mercury nomination, which kind of helped build confidence. But I think anybody’s selling numbers are going to be down these days, and we’ll find that out quite soon.

“Also, the mainstream had moved on, something you have to be sanguine about. That’s the nature of these things. That’s sort of how it should be. We’re not meant to be in charge anymore.”

Time’s finally marching on, and we’re inching closer to that delayed LP release. What have you got planned in the meantime? Playing again together, primarily, I guess?

“We are. I’m heading in this afternoon, and planning this event for the album release, which with all these restrictions we’re living under at the moment, it’s going to be different to anything we’ve done before.”

Just from the quality of the singles that pre-empted the LP, you see the range within. From potential alternative dancehall smash, ‘Arch Enemy’ through to that driving rhythm beneath the super-catchy ‘Violent Luck’, then the more laidback, but ethereal ‘Planets and ‘In Birdsong’, on an LP you talk of being ‘buoyed by weighty concepts and a streamlined sonic approach’.

“I think so, and there’s even more colour and diversity on the record itself. In that respect, if I was to compare it to anything else we’ve done before I would say it’s most like our debut. It’s really disparate but also has a regained sense of regained innocence about it somehow.

“When we were making Man Alive, you don’t know you’re making an album when you’re making your debut. You’re just writing songs and want to play gigs with friends. Which is why they have this amazing quicksilver quality to them. You can’t necessarily recapture that.

“But I think we’ve managed to do something on this album. And you can’t help but be reflective when all these things suddenly reflect back at you!”

Live Wires: Everything Everything - set to be back on the road again next Spring, belatedly promoting their fifth LP

Live Wires: Everything Everything – set to be back on the road again next Spring, belatedly promoting their fifth LP

Everything Everything 2021 UK dates: March 19th – Nottingham Rock City, March 20th – Birmingham O2 Academy, March 22nd – Norwich UEA, March 23rd – Liverpool O2 Academy, March 25th – Manchester Academy, March 26th – Glasgow SWG3 – Galvanizers, March 27th – Newcastle O2 Academy, March 29th – Leeds O2 Academy, March 30th – Bristol O2 Academy; April 1st – London Roundhouse, April 3rd – Brighton Dome, April 5th – Dublin Olympia Theatre.

All four singles are available as instant downloads for pre-orders of the LP from the band’s official website here. Album bundles include signed albums and prints, plus exclusive merch designs. You can also keep  up to the date with the band via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Stop … Start – celebrating the further return of BOB with Richard Blackborow

They say good things come to those who wait, but 28 years is pushing it, surely.

At the end of September, late ‘80s/early ‘90s indie force and WriteWyattUK favourites BOB are finally releasing You Can Stop That For A Start, their long-playing follow-up to 1991’s Leave the Straight Life Behind.

The … erm … old new album, initially written and recorded in 1992, is accompanied by a selection of demo recordings from 1988/1994 on a 28-track release issued by Optic Nerve Recordings, arguably capturing the band at their peak.

Available in various formats, the songs were recently mixed by Simon Armstrong (vocals, guitar) and Richard Blackborow (vocals, guitar, keyboard), packaged in artwork conceived by the band, accompanied by period images and new sleeve notes.

Why the mega-delay? Well, in short, BOB were victims of the demise of Rough Trade’s distribution arm back in the day, limiting sales of their first LP and forcing them to tour for an extended period to recoup costs.

Disillusionment followed with the business side of the music industry, and despite having produced a large body of unreleased work, they disbanded early in 1995, with BritPop at its peak.

But by the time Richard moved away from the band’s old North London manor in 2002 for a fresh start in the West Country, he was determined to at least properly archive hundreds of demos the band recorded in their decade together, and one thing led to another.

Plastered Cast: Simon, Dean, Richard and recent arrival Stephen, Paris ’90, on the lead-up to the debut BOB album

The first fruits of that were seen in February 2014, cracking first LP, Leave the Straight Life Behind, re-released by indie label 3 Loop Music in a 2CD expanded edition featuring the remastered album plus a bonus CD of extra tracks – among them BBC sessions, three for legendary broadcaster John Peel.

Then in 2015 came follow-up collection The Singles and EPs, released by 3 Loop Music as a 2CD compilation of remastered tracks, featuring their Swag Sack collection and further Sombrero and House of Teeth releases.

On the back of those and renewed interest, they put on a week-long farewell tour last November, starting at Birmingham’s The Flapper then Hull’s New Adelphi before I caught them across the Pennines from my Lancashire base at Leeds’ Wharf Chambers (with my review here), then fittingly to Stowmarket’s John Peel Centre for Creative Arts before a London send-off at the 100 Club and a finale overseas at Hamburg’s Astra Stube.

Those dates featured a 21st century version of the outfit – Simon, Richard and fellow long-server (and previous WriteWyattUK interviewee) Dean Leggett (drums) joined by Arthur Tapp (bass), the band also releasing a limited-edition 30th anniversary 7” of indie hit, ‘Convenience’ on Optic Nerve, reaching No.18 on the UK vinyl chart this time. And now comes this follow-up LP.

You Can Stop That For A Start was initially recorded over five days, ‘as the hectic touring schedule that had kept us financially viable began to tail off’. As they put it, “What funds we could glean from occasional publishing deals were spent on studio time, in the hope of creating work that would eventually attract more substantial financial investment. As this never materialised, the songs have largely remained unheard since. But the hundreds of hours of stage time our many tours had given us by that point left us in peak form, and this clearly comes across on the recordings.

“Discovering more recently the multi-track tapes were beginning to deteriorate, we arranged for them to be baked and transferred to the digital realm, allowing for a slow process of giving the songs the final mix that studio time never allowed for, taking care to remain faithful to the original intention but leaving them sounding better than ever.”

To celebrate the release, I tracked down Richard to his clifftop base near Sennen in the Far West of Cornwall, home to him, his partner and their two young children. My love for that part of the world set us off talking about his surrounds and nearby St Ives, where my family’s links go back more than a century, inevitable talk of the pandemic, lockdowns and staycations following, not least bang in the middle of holiday season.

Heads Above: Richard, Stephen, Dean and Simon reflect on what’s about to happen next in 1993, with the end nigh.

“I’m slightly overwhelmed by the amount of people who arrived recently. We were expecting torrents, and it didn’t actually kick in at first, but after that the floodgates have totally opened. In St Ives you’d think nothing had happened – they’re 10 abreast on the tiny cobbled streets, no one wearing masks, all jostling each other. It’s slightly horrifying. I’m staying well away.”

Richard works at the Belgrave art gallery in the resort, a modern/contemporary art specialist, the initial lockdown allowing him and partner Sarah an unexpected bonus of plenty of time with their children, Flora and Felix.

“They’re only two and six, but it’s amazing how much they’ve blossomed, being in each other’s company all this time, rather than one being at school and the other with a child-minder. My two-year-old’s language has improved massively. There have been fortunate upsides. We know how lucky we are to live where we do, and more or less spent the first six weeks of lockdown on the beach.”

I know that area well, and I’m jealous. Idyllic … on a good day.

“It’s extreme. You wouldn’t want to be here when there’s horizontal rain piling in off the Atlantic. It can be pretty hideous, but it’s so extreme I don’t mind, especially after London, when it was grey, unremittingly dull, and life was more of a grind.”

Of his move west, Richard told me, “I was about 35 and had been thinking about getting out of London. After the band finished I went to university, deciding my brain needed to be energised, doing a degree in philosophy. I was doing a job in a pub and deli to pay my way through college. I stayed on at the deli, working with really nice people and having the chance to eat good food and fine wine.

“That was in Highbury, serving people like Boris Johnson, a regular customer. If I knew then what I know now … But there was also Paul Whitehouse and many more, and it was a nice spot. I did that for a while, but was just earning to pay rent. Then I met a girl down here to do a painting course. I came to visit, and didn’t leave really. And while that relationship didn’t last, the relationship with Cornwall did.”

I clearly missed a bit of that, Richard rightly bitter that one of his ex-regular customers would end up shafting the country, big time.

He’s not the first member of BOB to have that relationship with Cornwall, London-based bandmate Dean originally from around Redruth.

“I didn’t really discover Cornwall until I met Dean. A couple of years before, I had a girlfriend from Devon, and her favourite beach was down here, Porthcurno, quite close to where I am now. I had a two-week holiday with her, came down in a Morris Minor, then met Dean, and was down a couple of times with him. That sowed the seed, and when I was thinking of leaving London, it was always going to be Bristol if I was to stay in a city, or Cornwall.”

While Richard met his beloved, Sarah, in Cornwall, they both hail from Enfield, attending the same school – four years apart – the pair in a band for around six months before they realised. Meanwhile, Richard met BOB co-founder Simon Armstrong at that same school.

“There were six houses in our school year, those houses split into groups of three, so I only really saw him around the corridors, but we had a field centre for day-trips in Wales and though I don’t think we talked, we kind of acknowledged each other. When I passed him in a corridor we saluted each other, partly because he had the nickname, Sergeant. It was only as we approached fifth form that I heard he was a guitar player, playing with a friend.

“I also had a friend I was making music with, and by the end of the fifth form we’d made a demo with this friend, playing it on a tape player in the sixth-form common room, quite proud of it. We sent a message to Simon and his mate to come and listen, they liked it, and we got together to form a four-piece band for those sixth-form years, playing the school, church halls and parties, around half a dozen to eight gigs.”

That first outfit were Monday After All, which he acknowledges ‘wasn’t the best name in the world’. After sixth form, all bar Simon applied for university, deferring places for a year, ‘spending that year to try and ‘make it’. We didn’t, but played venues like the Rock Garden and the Sir George Robey. That was in 1984.’

That takes me back to my own visits to the Robey, Finsbury Park, in 1985/86, for That Petrol Emotion in their early days. And Richard told me he was there too for fellow Peel favourites like cult London-Irish outfit Microdisney and Birmingham’s Terry & Gerry, with BOB by then honing their own line-up.

“It became clear that me and Simon were clearly much more into it than the other two, and come the end of that year those two got their college places and went. Simon wrote most of the material at the time, and I was the drummer in the original school band, but always interested in writing songs, singing from the drum stool, a la Philip Collins … but I wasn’t very good at either!

“Towards the end of that year, I said, ‘I’ve written some songs, but they’re a bit flowery. I was primarily, aesthetically informed by punk rock, but had an older brother who was much more into a more muso scene, my songs kind of complicated in a Microdisney and Prefab Sprout kind of way, while Simon’s were more direct – more Billy Bragg, I guess.

“I suggested we got together to write songs, thinking his simplicity with words and my chords might make an interesting combination.”

You’ve always tended towards that perfect blend – either with you backing on his songs or vice versa, the harmonies sounding very natural. Was that there from the start?

“We were very lucky my brother had a little eight-track studio in his attic in Banwell, a village around 10 miles outside Bristol. A rural cottage, much more than I could have afforded. He had a good job. Simon wrote songs, I wrote songs, then we went down together to see what would happen, coming away from that first few days with seven or eight songs recorded together, the spark immediately ignited.

“I added keyboard to his songs, he added harmonies to mine, and vice versa, a proper collaboration, chucking in the odd line or idea, the seed totally sown in that period from around 1985 onwards.”

It was 1988 before I caught up with BOB, with two shows five months apart at Windsor’s Community Arts Centre, initially impressed by hearing them on John Peel’s influential BBC Radio 1 show. By then, Dean Leggett had joined, previously with Jim Bob Morrison and Les Carter in pre-Carter USM outfit Jamie Wednesday.

“I poached him from The Siddeleys. A very smart move – we had a perfectly adequate drummer, but when I met Dean socially, we just clicked, and felt he’d be really good for the band.”

The Siddeleys? There’s a Peel favourite I’d forgotten about. I reckon I saw them somewhere, but my gig-list doesn’t confirm that. Anyway, by the time I saw BOB again in March ‘89, also in Windsor but this time at splendid River Thames venue The Old Trout, I was … erm, hooked.

So, is Richard a believer in fate? I mean, becoming mates with Simon after that earlier saluting malarkey, then the initial Banwell link with the West Country and later passion for Cornwall, getting to know Dean and in time heading about as far west as you could, give or take America. It was meant to happen, wasn’t it?

“That’s right, it seems that way. And we set this precedent of – every time we had a bunch of songs – we’d go down to Banwell and record them. That’s what we did right until the last year of the band. That’s why I had this archive of 250-plus recordings – around 200 definitely, around 150 unique songs, covers or things we did twice, sometimes just a drum machine demo with me and Simon, then again with the band. But the extent to which we (initially) collaborated on songs peaked in around 1985. After that, it was entirely separate songs. But we always collaborated at the demo stage.”

It seems pertinent he earlier mentioned his Highbury days, seeing as that’s where I interviewed BOB for my Captains Log fanzine on May 1989, for a fifth edition that never quite reached the presses … despite carrying interviews with BOB, The Beautiful South (an exclusive when it happened) and The Chesterfields, among others. The gig in question was at The Garage, Highbury Corner, then known as the T&C2, supports that night including Hugh Whitaker’s post-Housemartins outfit, The Penny Candles.

Discussion followed around other BOB gigs I experienced, recalling how good I felt they were by the time of December 1989’s Old Trout, return, my favourite show, 30 years give or less a fortnight before their 100 Club UK farewell, including a stonking version of The Beatles’ ‘Rain’.

“We really enjoyed playing that. Personally, I don’t think we nailed it on the record, but did a good version live. But when we were rehearsing for that last tour, it didn’t even cross our minds to do that … although a few people afterwards said we should have.”

Myself included. There was one more BOB gig for me between December ’89 and November ’19, at Reading’s After Dark Club in July ‘91, by which time Jem Morris had left and Stephen ‘Harry’ Hersom, previously with Andy Strickland’s post-Loft outfit The Caretaker Race, had taken over on bass.

“Was that quite a small venue? And really hot?”

Sounds about right. It was a bit rough, and you came on well after midnight (the gory details are in my previous Dean Leggett interview).

“If it’s the same one, I remember a set of scales in the changing room. I weighed myself, then we went on, and I’ve never sweated so much in my life. I got back off and I’d lost about half a stone! That’s my only memory of Reading.”

Funnily enough, I recall Wharf Chambers being a hot night too, although it was late November. Must just be that small venue feel. What’s more, it’s something we’re unlikely to experience for some time in any COVID-19 world. You were out there at the right time.

“You’re right. We sneaked in, really. And thanks, I appreciate your support over the years!”

I enjoyed the ’88 appearances, but it was in 1989 I really felt you hit a new level. You were so good. Maybe I just didn’t get it before …

“No, I think that’s probably about right. We did enough touring in 1989 to become tight as players, but I’ve a few bits of live footage, recently unearthed, and I’m struck by how surly I am! I think I was just jaded by that point.”

Funny you should say that. I wrote in my Leeds review that the difference between you in late 2019 and back in late 1989, was, ‘Where I seem to recall back then they were more about indie cool and occasional surliness on stage, the passage of time has swept aside any perceived pretence’.

“Yeah – you’re absolutely right. We didn’t start like that. We were very friendly and chatty on stage. I think by 1991 we’d stopped being nice, after the album came out. At least I stopped being nice! Touring became less fun, more of a grind. Because of the Rough Trade thing, we were basically forced to tour. We did a UK tour, we did Europe, a tour of Germany, and would normally have stopped at that point, but came back again, did another UK tour then went back to Europe, which was stupid. But we had to do it – we had to earn money to pay back the money borrowed to do the record. That’s what killed the band really. In hindsight, we weren’t doing it for the right reasons.”

That said, I really must unearth the 1989 interview that never made it out there. There’s plenty of humour there … and precious little surliness.

“Yeah, the humour just became darker, from years of grinding it out in the Transit van. It’s just that we wanted to take that next step to better venues and being taken a bit more seriously. But we just got stuck on this plateau, going around the same venues. “

If that had happened, and you’d become huge, I’d have wished you well but would have made sure I let people know I was at the earlier gigs and you were much better then.

“Ha. Sure. That’s allowed!”

Two listens into the ‘lost’ (or ‘refound’) LP, I get the impression this was anything but a band running out of ideas or coming to the end of their time together. You were on top form. I feel aggrieved on your behalf. It’s sad, in a sense, that this never saw the light of day, initially. It deserved so much more.

“Yeah, I agree. We felt a bit like that when we heard it again. It was recorded around the autumn of 1992, a year after the first album. We didn’t have a deal, but had a publishing company interested in working with us, who gave us a small amount of money to go and record what we thought were possible singles, then knock out demos.

“Those recordings were just left on the shelf. For years I wanted to put the BOB archives in order. When I first moved here in 2002 I vowed to set up a studio and mix it all, not for any other reason than to get it all out of my system, put it to bed so I could move on, musically. So if I got run over by a bus, people would know what we did. But that never quite happened, and I had to find a job, never quite getting around to doing it.”

I think he means arranging an archive there, rather than being hit by a bus> Same applies, mind.

“A few years passed before I realised the tapes we recorded on, stored in a barn in Cornwall, were deteriorating fast. I told the rest of the band I needed to do this now, we got some money between us to do that, turning them to digital (format) three or four years ago.

“Then, when Flora was around three, with a little more time, I started mixing the material, Simon and I between us doing a solid year of mixing. Over that year we probably did 100 songs. Then Felix was born, I stopped again for another year or two, and then last year we had another push, managed around 50 more songs.

“We had two over-riding principles – that we were going to listen to everything before we decided what to release, and also that we wouldn’t change anything and wouldn’t be tempted to overdub or replace anything.”

The Beatles lasted around a decade, as you did too, but I reckon on the strength of this album, there were at least a couple more great records to follow, possibly more.

“Yeah, we didn’t realise at the time, but back then we’d reached the end of our tether with it all and stopped. Then BritPop happened, something at the time neither me nor Simon liked. It instinctively annoyed me. it was too laddish. I was more interested in the trip-hop thing going on around then. Retrospectively, I reckon if we’d stuck it out a little longer, we’d have been in a prime position to be part of that.”

Again, I kind of felt aggrieved on your part that you didn’t make it, while others who came through at venues like The Old Trout soon after became mega-successful.

“Well, anyway, we didn’t, and it’s kind of okay – it doesn’t bother any of us. We all went off and did other things. And it’s been nice – coming back to it now. In a way, it’s better to come back to it, when it doesn’t matter anymore.

“And having done around 150 of our eight-track demos, we started to realise now was the time to start putting things out if we were going to do it. I realised then what we hadn’t done was mix the stuff we recorded in those two studios at the time, so mixed those last year, and immediately thought that batch of songs would potentially have been an album.

“Of those, ’Say You’re Alone’, ‘Telepathy’ and ‘Queen of Sheba’ were the ones we recorded in the studio in Bristol as potential singles. The rest were recorded in Harlow, basically live, halfway through a tour, and we did the whole lot in two days, recording all the backing tracks live then overdubbing the vocals.

“We then walked away with a cassette, a rough mix done in around an hour. That’s what they would have hawked around if that had happened. But now we’ve taken a bit more time about it, spending probably half a day on each mix rather than doing them all in two hours.”

A good point to get on to the album, starting with opening track, ‘Telepathy’, which starts with the lines, ‘They say that deprivation is good for the soul; Well, I’m keeping an open mind, I’m keeping my mouth shut.’ Looking up a dictionary definition of deprivation, I got ‘an act or instance of withholding or taking something away from someone or something’. That’s quite apt considering the major delay in hearing this record, isn’t it?

“Ha! Pretty much, yeah. I hadn’t thought of that, but it had the right vibe, that song.”

Definitely, and it carries that vibe you had the last couple of times I saw you live before the split. I could say something similar about track two, ‘Say You’re Alone’, a track so much about where I was at in 1992, musically. And ‘Now’, which carries the air of later Monkees or a ‘60s US West Coast feel.

“Definitely. Simon and I almost saturated ourselves in ‘60s British pop and West Coast American pop. If the name began with B – The Beatles, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Beach Boys … – we were total nutters for it.”

Jumping ahead to final track, ‘Don’t Kid’, there’s a similar feel there – it’s a thing of beauty, and I hear something of where Damian O’Neill was at in places on his recent solo album. And funnily enough, seeing as you mentioned Microdisney earlier, Sean O’Hagan plays on that LP. So maybe there’s something in that.

“Well, Simon was a big High Llamas fan as well, around that time.”

That song goes somewhere else in the last couple of minutes, more Peter Green type late-‘60s blues territory maybe.

“It does, doesn’t it! There was always that about Simon. In all the demo sessions we did in Banwell, we generally did seven or eight each time, and you could guarantee four or five would be pretty solid, right in the BOB ballpark – three-minute songs with harmonies and stuff – while one would be a cover, sometimes just to get warmed up, and the others would tend to be quite unorthodox.

“We’d push ourselves to do something different, with some real esoteric numbers, like ‘Sink’ (on The Singles and EPs double-CD set) and ‘The Belly’ (on Leave the Straight Life Behind). They weren’t standard BOB songs. There were also songs like ‘Bloodline’ that we did at Banwell and for a Peel session, which weren’t very BOB, but we did just to ring the changes, maybe.”

I embraced all that, and on ‘That’s What Tomorrow Brings’, seeing as you mentioned a ‘60s obsession, there’s some nice Beatles-like bass, but also a Pixies feel perhaps.

“Well, all those things were going in, definitely.”

It’s difficult to get into the mindset of what was current when you recorded these songs, but this was a record ahead of the curve. ‘Round’ could pass for an Oasis song, two years before Definitely Maybe. There’s also Wedding Present-like Seamonsters-era bass there.

“Simon certainly liked the pre-grunge US feel of J. Mascis and Dinosaur Jr. at the time, and Teenage Fanclub.”

Speaking of which. ‘Plastic’ for me is perhaps where I hoped Haircut 100 might have headed next, with Simon’s voice Nick Heyward-esque but the band playing with Teenage Fanclub-like urgency.

“I think he’d quite like that as a reference!”

Then there’s that huge heavy riff thundering through ‘Sundown’. I may have upset Dean when I told him it’s a good job I’d been growing my hair over the lockdown when I first heard that headbanger. He seemed offended, telling me, ‘If Liam Gallagher put that track out today, people would say he was a genius. A very clever idea by Simon – one riff, six minutes’. Another BOB curveball?

“It is. It’s great. I don’t know where that came from. He tended to play me a song, I’d listen then chuck in what I thought might add to it, and vice versa. But when he first played me that … Christ, okay! Let’s do it.”

Time was against me now, so I didn’t go into the rest of the songs, but suggested ‘Queen of Sheba’ was another great indie pop song. Too good for the charts, but the band kind of got there anyway, 38 years later. And in a sense, it’s more early BOB than late.

“I agree, and I think ’So You’re Alone’ has a bit of that as well. When we were thinking about what might make a single – and we were never really great judges – there would always be those sort of songs. And ‘Telepathy’ is not a million miles from ‘Convenience’ in terms of length, brightness, all that.”

When we spoke, i hadn’t had chance to hear the second CD, but told Richard I kind of hoped there’d be a version of ‘Another Crow’ on the main album, as on the remastered, expanded first album package. Not least as they alluded to that track with the farewell tour publicity.

“We did. Yeah, and it was actually called ‘Tour Song’ at first. We did a version with just me, Simon and a drum machine, then did it again with the band. We chose some of our favourites to go on the companion CD this time, but there’s a lot more in the archive, and my feeling is that there’s one more double-CD set to come. Then that will be it.

“What we realised when we went back was that there was very little to be embarrassed about. Almost everything could be heard, having lost that self-consciousness about it. And if it doesn’t happen on a record, when I finally get my act together, I’ll make a website and people can listen to all that there.”

I’m guessing when it comes to writing credits, like Lennon-McCartney it’s broadly a case of working out who’s singing the song as to who wrote it.

Studio Tan: BOB in 1992. But they’ had to wait another 28 years before the second album got its rightful release.

“That’s basically it. We used to say whoever played tambourine on it wrote it, but actually whoever sung it, wrote it!”

So what’s next? Were those definitely farewell live dates last year? Or is this more of a Sinatra thing, with another final tour to follow?

“I don’t think so. That was it. I slightly regret making the announcement, not least as I fell arse over tit on the first night …”

You were struggling with your back at Leeds, for sure.

“My God, I was in agony. The show in London was amazing – it was choc-a and a lovely crowd. You couldn’t have asked for more. But I was dosed up to the max on huge painkillers and diazepam. I was flying. From that point of view, I’d like the chance to do it again. I was fluffy in the head. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it wasn’t the 10 days it could have been. I was in a stupid amount of pain, and people flew from America to see that gig.”

As it is, within a few months, the UK would be in lockdown. If you’d planned it all for this year, you’d have missed out.

“That’s true. Yeah, it was great, London was a real high, and we should leave it at that. However, John Hartley is writing a book about the band, and we had weekly Zoom chats with him during lockdown. That was fun, and he came down to the rehearsal rooms when we were preparing for the tour last year. So when that book comes out, we may get together, do a launch, and that might allow us to do something acoustic, a few songs in the context of a Q&A perhaps … if we could sneak that in without breaking the rules!”

Last Time: BOB ’91. Richard Blackborow sits it out with his bandmates in the year of Leave the Straight Life Behind.

‘You Can Stop That For A Start’ by BOB is available to pre-order as a vinyl LP, download or double-CD via this link, with the release date set for September 29th on the Optic Nerve label. And to keep in touch with the band via social media, you can follow these Facebook and Twitter links, follow Richard’s BOB account on Instagram, and head to the BOB/House of Teeth web link.

 

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Northside rendezvous: Dave Hemingway, post-Housemartins, Beautiful South and The South, introduces the Sunbirds

Garage Land: Marc Parnell, Dave Hemingway, Phil Barton, Laura Wilcockson, aka Sunbirds, new to the world in 2020

Beautiful South founder member Dave Hemingway is back, his new outfit, Sunbirds, set to release debut album Cool To Be Kind at the end of October, via independent label Nectar Records.

Since stepping back from the live scene with spin-off outfit The South in late 2016, Dave – aka Hammy, who turns 60 next month – has been busy with guitarist/songwriter and ex-bandmate Phil Barton, the pair joining forces with vocalist/violinist Laura Wilcockson and ‘session drummer to the stars’ Marc Parnell, signalling a fresh direction, as is apparent from preview spins of their debut release.

Produced by Teo Miller, the band see Cool To Be Kind as ‘open-hearted and painfully honest’, and I’d concur, getting the impression that the former Housemartins drummer – having taken over from old classmate Hugh Whitaker in the ‘fourth best band in Hull’ in 1987, quitting a job as a purchase ledger clerk for a car dealership, having received a tip-off from former Newpolitans bandmate Dave Rotheray, who would join his namesake in his next band  – who stepped up to the mic. and has remained out front ever since, has found his mojo again, with the help of his fellow Sunbirds.

Cool To Be Kind is the result of a few transitional years for both Dave and Phil, the new songs covering contemporary themes as well as age-old matters of the heart and soul, ‘all viewed through the bottom of a recently drained pint glass’. As Phil put it, ‘There’s no exact science here. We’re just enjoying ourselves and expressing whatever we want, whether it’s about love, greed, social isolation or Gary Lineker’s crisp adverts’.

In a bid to at least suggest professionalism, I always prepare questions ahead of interviews, even though the order I get through them really depends on how that conversation’s going. And in this case, it was soon apparent that my last question should actually be my first.

My loose plan was to talk through a few subjects then go song by song through Cool To Be Kind. But seeing as East Riding-born and raised Dave has been Cheshire-based for around a decade, I instead asked about the significance of the final track, the contemplative but somewhat raw ‘Stars Still Shine’.

I’d just played the album for a fourth time, that song one of around half a dozen really resonating, its honest, cut to the chase approach – delivered in the manner of Del Amitri’s Justin Currie for these ears – seemingly indicative of where Hammy was in his life right now.

“I ran away from my life, found a place where I can hide;

I may live here, but I don’t wanna die here; anywhere is better, better than this place;

Stars still shine here, so I’ll bide my time here; but anywhere is better than this place.”

Mojo Returned: The debut album from Dave Hemingway and Phil Barton's new project Sunbirds is set to land in late October

Mojo Returned: The debut LP from Dave Hemingway and Phil Barton’s Sunbirds is set to land in late October

Was this a pretty much autobiographical glimpse into his 2020 world?

“I must admit of all the tracks that’s the one that resonates the most with me. I’ve been through a bit in that respect. That’s the one that represents me the way I am at the moment. It is raw, and I’d much rather one of the more cheery songs on the album be the one I felt more in tune with, but for now, unfortunately, that’s the one.”

I should really have started in more positive territory, seeing as the LP starts with the more upbeat ‘Meet Me on the Northside’. It’s another winner. Is that your love letter to those Hull roots?

“That’s exactly right, an homage to the Hull I grew up in the ‘60s and early ‘70s when the fishing industry was mighty but very cruel at the same time, its trawlermen going through hell at the time.”

Is that something Dave – the son of a lorry driver and local club comic and a well-known Hull barmaid – appreciates more now, away from his home city for a long time?

“Absolutely. I went back and we did a video for that song, back to Hessle Road, where I grew up and used to live. It was very poignant really. It’s changed a lot through the years, but a lot of the same things are still there. Hopefully some things will never change. My old house has been knocked down, but a lot of the same spots are still there that I mention in the song.”

Hammy’s home was on Subway Street, the main road in and out of the fish dock, now given over to industrial units, leading from Hessle Road down the half-mile to the Humber estuary. In a way, is this his take on Paul Weller’s Stanley Road?

“In that sense, yeah, and I’m quite pleased we’ve made a song paying tribute to Hull as it was. It’s a great city now, but it’s gone off at a different tangent. When I was growing up it was different type of Hull, but very strong in its own way.”

First Footing: The Housemartins’ second LP, from 1987, which also marked Dave Hemingway’s recording debut

Hammy initially lived in Leeds when he left his home city, before his Crewe move. And six years ago when I first chatted to him there (with that interview here), it was fairly early days for the post-Paul Heaton incarnation of The Beautiful South. A lot of water’s flown down the Humber and various other water sources since, I suggested, including the River Weaver and Shropshire Union Canal in his case. Did he just feel the time was right to move on when he left?

“Yeah, I think the main subject of discussion that we didn’t agree with was that I wanted the band to move on, do new songs and be a band in its own right as opposed to playing Beautiful South songs.

“I totally understand why people want to hear those songs, but for me it became too much of a tribute band, which I wouldn’t have minded so much if we’d tried both things – new songs as well.

“They didn’t agree with me on that, so I decided to step out for a while, wait for the right band to come along and the right people to work with. And now, these are our own songs and people will know we won’t be playing any previous ones.”

While The South carry on regardless, so to speak, I guess this is a similar break with the past to the time I first saw you live, when The Housemartins first re-emerged as The Beautiful South in 1989 (as recounted in our .

“Yeah, it’s a proper break, with a new band and new songs. It makes it tough of course and I fully understand people come to gigs – when hopefully there are gigs again – and want to hear songs they know, but I’m hoping we can get the new songs out there soon enough so people can come and have  a listen and hopefully then enjoy the new stuff.”

I get that. The South are a great live band (as per this 2014 review) – I love Alison Wheeler‘s voice, Gaz Birtles‘ horn section, and ….

“Yeah, and they’re still going strong, of course …”

I was impressed with 2012’s Sweet Refrains LP, some great songs on there suggesting you were becoming a band in your own right, two of the best written by Phil. When you said you were waiting for the right band to come along, had you realised a key member of that band was already in your midst?

Fresh Start: The first album from The Beautiful South signalled a new direction in 1989

Fresh Start: The first album from The Beautiful South signalled a new direction for Heaton and co. in 1989

“I’d always appreciated Phil’s songs, and feel a lot of the songs on this album could well have been on a South album, if more people had wanted to go that way. But the door was pretty much stamped shut on that, so with that in mind I felt okay, we’ll take these songs to other people.”

At this point I asked Hammy to tell me more about his and Phil’s bandmates: Laura, whose CV suggests a classical, orchestral and folk background; and Marc, who was mixing with mainstream music royalty from an early age.

“Laura played in a band, Steel Threads, that supported The South. That’s how we met, and she used to do a lot of busking with her violin, around Mansfield and Chesterfield way.

“And Marc … I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember, but his dad was Jack Parnell, who led his own orchestra back in the 60s.”

I am indeed, Jack having directed the pit orchestra for Sunday Night at the Palladium, and after being voted best drummer in the Melody Maker poll for seven years in succession in the ‘40s and ‘50s, going on to compose many television themes, including The Golden Shot and Family Fortunes.

He was also a regular judge on ATV talent show New Faces and musical director for The Benny Hill Show and The Muppet Show (although we really know that was Nigel, right?).

What’s more,  in the ‘70s, Jack co-founded The Best of British Jazz with the likes of Kenny Baker, and in the ‘90s – by then based in East Anglia – was with the Mike Capocci Trio and led the London Big Band, including some of Britain’s leading jazz musicians.

Incidentally, Marc’s brothers and sisters include Ric Parnell, who played drummer Mick Shrimpton in This is Spinal Tap.  But that’s clearly another story.

“He (Marc) tells us all these stories of meeting people like Buddy Rich, all those people his Dad used to knock around with. Yes, he tells a few interesting stories.

“At the moment, there’s just the four of us, but we’re looking to play live …”

Career Re-Boot: 2012’s Sweet Refrains marked the recording debut of post-Paul Heaton outfit The South

Am I right in thinking you always found that hard – the touring and live performances?

“I must admit, it’s not my favourite thing to do in music. I love recording, producing, making songs, and that. I’ll make no bones about it. It is nerve-racking for me. But I realise it has to be done, so let’s make it the best we can when we do come around to doing gigs.

“And hopefully it’ll be sooner rather than later, although the way things are going, it’s not looking great.”

I guess this period of enforced show postponements at least gives you a chance to get the songs out there and raise your profile that way.

“Yeah, that’s one good thing. The album’s not officially out until the end of October, but before we hope to get two or three songs out there, and when it comes to gigs, we’ll be looking to get a bass player and keyboard player on board.”

Geographically, it can’t be so easy. I know there are plenty of examples of bands with members fairly far-flung these days, such as Teenage Fanclub and The Wedding Present, but …

“Well, at least we’re all in the same country! That’s something.”

And in your case, it’s you in Cheshire, Laura in South Yorkshire, Phil and Marc in North London?

“That’s it, and when it comes to rehearsing, we’ll go down to London, as Phil’s got a little set-up where we can rehearse. That’s for the future, but now we just need to get the songs out there.”

The Mainstay: Dave Hemingway’s main co-writer Phil Barton – “He’s the one we revolve around in terms of writing.”

Song-wise, is it mainly co-writes between yourself and Phil?

“He’s been writing with a few people actually, and there are a couple of songs purely down to him. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but he’s been the mainstay for the songs, involved on all but one, I think. He’s the one we revolve around in terms of writing.”

And how did it go with Teo Miller (responsible for Daisy Chainsaw’s splendid ‘Love Your Money’ and subsequent work with The Pretenders, Placebo and Robert Plant)? He’s captured something, for sure.

“I think he’s done a really good job. I’m very happy with it. We were working under very difficult circumstances, with it all self-financed. We don’t have a record company, just a distribution deal. So it was all very pressurised. It’s not like it used to be, back in the day, with videos, big budgets, stuff like that. It was hard, but good.”

I say this time and again, but bands like yours are doing it now for all the right reasons – because you love the creative process of being musicians and writing songs. It’s not about chart positions and the trappings of wealth.

“Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one of the main aspects I like about all this is coming out with new songs, recording them, putting them out there and seeing what people think.

“If I’m honest, I’m not expecting the hits The Beautiful South had. That would be unrealistic. We’re not a young band. Having said that, I think we can still deliver good songs.”

On the strength of this album, I totally agree. We talked about the first and last tracks, and now I’ll look between, starting with ‘Hatred Lies in the Ruins of Love’, for me somewhere between Danny Wilson type radio chirpiness and the darker lyrics of your old band.

“It is one of those where if you didn’t hear the lyrics, you’d think it was a jolly song. But it’s not at all – it’s pretty heartbreaking. And that’s something I’ve been involved with in the past – devastating lyrics.”

Different Avenue: Laura Wilcockson, vocal and violin duties – “I keep telling her she should have that confidence.”

I guess something’s rubbed off over the years. I could say the same about ‘Longcuts’, another great Hammy and Laura duet, kind of The Beautiful South meets Dr Hook. A must for the radio waves, I’d say. In fact, people might assume that’s a Heaton composition, with its wordplay, hook and songcraft.

“High praise indeed. We all know Paul’s a brilliant songwriter, so I’ll settle for that. It wasn’t a Heaton song, by the way!”

I guess you knew this question would come, but there have been words back and forth between Paul and you, most through the press. Have you spoken to him of late or anyone from those days?

“No, and I don’t give word back and forth. I just keep my own counsel. I don’t do that sort of thing.”

There are some South-esque songs in there, but also several departures from that tried and tested formula. ‘Holiday Monday’ seems to be a song of many parts, part-Monkees, part-Mamas and Papas, part-Tom Petty. A bit US West Coast, perhaps.

“Yeah, it is, but again those lyrics are more council estate, ha! There’s a bit of new wave in there as well. That’s one of my faves on the album and might make a single at one point. Who knows.”

For me, ‘Gene Kelly’ would certainly make for a great single, its ‘let tomorrow look after itself’  sunshine on a rainy day philosophy putting Spring in your step and gettinmg better with every listen.

“Yeah, it’s basic, but it’s fun. And that’s a fun song melodiously and lyrically – a happy lyric and a happy tune.”

New Start: Dave Hemingway – “No big jackets, hats, or anything like that. I think it’s time to man up at last … maybe!”

You must have woken up in a good mood that day. Meanwhile, ‘The Black Sea’ is darker but somewhat epic. I couldn’t have seen that on the setlist at a South show.

“That again, for me, is a song about depression, and how that can drag you under. Mental health is mentioned a lot in various forms at the moment, in sport and other walks of life.”

Is that something that resonates deeply with yourself?

“Me personally? I’ve definitely had my moments. I can totally relate to it. And my son’s currently working in mental health, which I’m really chuffed about, doing something worthwhile. Yes, I’ve had episodes in that department. it’s not something that’s alien to me.”

Then there’s out and out four-minute pop like ‘When I’m Gone’. Those harmonies, that melody … You‘ve sung memorable duets in the past with Briana Corrigan, Jacqui Abbott and Alison Wheeler, and here again with Laura. It sounds great.

“Yeah, I think Laura’s not very confident about her vocals as she should be. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with very talented female singers. She’s different to them, but that doesn’t mean she’s anything less. We sound good together, and that’s a different avenue to go down. I keep telling her she should have that confidence.”

We used to say something similar about you.

“Ha. Well, I’m still not that confident! I’m good at giving advice … just not taking it.”

Beat Master: Marc Parnell “tells us stories of meeting people like Buddy Rich … his Dad used to knock around with.”

This may be a bit close to the bone, but I’d see you in that big overcoat on stage, however warm the conditions, and think there’s a guy trying to hide.

“That’s totally right. That’s exactly what I was doing. I can’t do that anymore. Nah, I’ll be more apparent this time. No big jackets, hats, or anything like that. I think it’s time to man up at last … maybe!”

Sticking with ‘When I’m Gone’, Phil goes to town with his guitar on that track.

“Yeah, Phil’s a really good guitarist, and now and again there’s certainly room to rock out. If you want to have a bit of a guitar hero moment – why not!”

‘Please Yourself’ seems to show your ‘70s roots and arguably carries traces of Nick Lowe – and maybe there’s a nod to Basher in the album title, its title close to his second-biggest solo hit – meets Prefab Sprout’s Paddy McAloon. I can imagine that coming from a transistor radio back on a long-forgotten sunny, summer’s day.

“Yeah, it is a bit like that, going back to your schooldays, and perhaps not worrying what people think you should do, maybe just trust yourself a bit more.”

Has it taken you a long time to come around to that way of thinking – building that confidence?

“Well, yeah. Sometimes you want to please people, don’t you, rather than make them mad at you. But ultimately, you’ve got to look after yourself, as long as you’re not hurting anyone or doing anything bad.”

Southern Comfort: The original line-up of The South, with Gaz Birtles, Dave Hemingway and Alison Wheeler out front

That seems to be a big issue with you. Surely it would be an easier option to keep on out there on that kind of Lost ’90s circuit in a way, playing the old hits and that alone.

“That was The South, basically. I could have continued with that, and be talking about all that with you now, but I just feel I’ve done enough of that.

“If I was going to get my energy and my mojo back, I had to do something where new songs were involved, take a different approach, working with different people and freshening things up.

“Hopefully I can now continue to do that. After this album, once we’ve finally got this one out there and can play it in front of people.”

Going full circle, back to that final track, ‘Stars Still Shine’, I was going to mention how that and track 10, ‘Big Moneymaker’, are among those with more of a country feel, albeit in the latter case more alt-country in the manner of Emmylou Harris or maybe Alison Krauss with Robert Plant.

“It has got that sort of feel to it. But again, the lyrics are more appropriate for these times. As a band we’ve got so many tastes in music, and that comes across in different songs on this album.

“But we’re always going to have aspects of past incarnations of bands we’ve been in, as it’s still my vocals and these are still songs that tend towards pop.”

And that’s something to celebrate, in the manner of the chorus of ‘Gene Kelly’, where Hammy tells us:

“I don’t mind, I really don’t mind; let it rain, let it rain on this godforsaken town;

I don’t mind, I really don’t mind; tonight for one night only, I’m Gene Kelly dancing in the rain.”

Lining Up: Sunbirds – Marc Parnell, Laura Wilcockson, Dave Hemingway, Phil Barton, set to release their debut LP

For details of how to pre-order the Sunbirds’ debut album, Cool To Be Kind, head to the band’s website at https://sunbirds.co.uk/store/. You can also keep in touch on social media via https://www.facebook.com/sunbirds.co.uk/ https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/sunbirdsband/ and https://twitter.com/SunbirdsMusic

 

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Furs come, Furs serve – celebrating Made of Rain and 40-plus years of beautiful chaos with The Psychedelic Furs’ Tim Butler

Still Believe: The Psychedelic Furs, 2020 style, eager to tour their first LP in three decades (Photo: Mathew Reeves)

Almost three decades after their previous release, The Psychedelic Furs are back on the shelves, it would seem, latest LP Made of Rain’s release date initially put back three months by the global pandemic. But what’s three months after 29 years? Besides, the best things in life are worth waiting for, right?

There was definitely a sense of frustration at not being able to share their latest set of songs until now when I got back in touch with Furs bass player and co-founder Tim Butler. But I guess a lot’s happened since we last spoke in September 2019 (with a link to that feature/interview here), ahead of this highly-influential post-punk outfit’s most recent tour of the country that made them, let alone since that 1991 studio release, World Outside, a rather splendid long player that – as with its cracking 1989 predecessor Book Of Days – was by their own admission too much of a gear change for the wider audience to comprehend – the band eager to distance themselves further from the synth-heavy commercial outfit they briefly became, accordingly losing too much of the fickle part of their audience and the support of the corporate suits behind their label.

While London was their home patch when the band formed in the late ’70s, with much of their early story based around the capital, Tim’s been in America since they reached their commercial peak in 1983, these days long settled in Liberty, Kentucky, with partner Robyn and his step-children, his brother Richard, the Furs’ vocalist and main songwriter, 800 miles across country in New York.

When I called Tim, now 61 (although you’d bever know it from his demeanour over the phone or from the photos the band have shared with us), I’d heard just four tracks from Made of Rain, their new Cooking Vinyl release. But it was a winner on the strength of those songs alone, the band sounding as fresh today as back in the early ‘80s, and still seeking out new territory rather than trying to rewrite the hit singles that made them: like 1981’s ’Pretty in Pink’, which partly inspired John Hughes’ movie of the same name five years later; 1982’s ‘Love My Way’, which featured in 2017 Oscar-winning film Call Me By Your Name; and 1984’s ‘The Ghost in You’, which recently featured in US TV sci-fi success, Stranger Things.

Since then, I’ve got to know the full 12 songs on offer fairly well, and can confirm that my initial presumptions were right. It’s a cracking listen and worthy of their name, proof that if you have the dedication, determination, youthful vigour and creative flair, you can produce a great record this far into your career.

That said, despite the fact that they continue to plough new territory, one of those songs, the single ‘Don’t Believe’, could only be the Furs, even before Richard’s distinctive husky voice comes in. If you haven’t already, you can track down the new LP after you’ve read this, and the band remain hopeful they’ll be back with us soon-ish, with live dates lined up, pushed back to next year, opening at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall (April 27th, with a special, intimate Q&A for Banquet Records at St John’s Church in  Kingston upon Thames the previous day, with special resonance for Richard and Tim Butler, born in nearby Teddington) and including visits to my patch at Liverpool Academy (May 2nd) and Manchester Academy 2 (May 3rd).

The new LP was produced by the band with St Louis, Missouri-based Richard Fortus, who worked with namesake Richard Butler in his between-Furs spells band Love Spit Love from 1992 until they reconvened in 2000, becoming part of the live band for the next two years before joining Guns N’ Roses. Meanwhile, mixing duties were handled by Tim Palmer (David Bowie, U2, Robert Plant), and the result is a joy, in that grand style to which we’ve become accustomed.

They’ve also shared a new video, for ‘Come All Ye Faithful’ – of which Richard said, “It’s a bit about looking for redemption in faith and riches, questioning if either are of any true value and whether redemption is ultimately necessary at all” – the fourth song to be released from Made Of Rain, after ‘No-One’, ‘Don’t Believe’ and ‘You’ll Be Mine’, their first official music video in nearly 30 years, shot in black and white and directed by Imogen Harrison.

A bit of background first to get some of you up to speed, the Furs releasing their first seven studio albums between 1980 and 1991, their spirited eponymous debut – 40 years old in March, yet still so fresh – followed by Talk Talk Talk (1981), Forever Now (1982), Mirror Moves (1984), Midnight To Midnight (1987), and the afore-mentioned, frankly over-looked Book Of Days (1989) and World Outside (1991).

And while this is the first LP since those days, there have been plenty of several live outings over the last two decades, more recently completing a North American tour in 2019 and playing acclaimed shows at The Hollywood Bowl, All Points East, Hyde Park, Benicàssim and a celebrated run of UK shows, including headlining the prestigious Meltdown at the Royal Festival Hall at Robert Smith of The Cure’s request.

Shortly after I last spoke to Tim, there was a sold-out tour of the UK and Europe, supported by recent WriteWyattUK interviewee Wendy James, culminating in a triumphant show at the Roundhouse in Camden, London. And the last few years have seen the band’s legend growing, with more than 150 million streams of their songs worldwide.

Their influence since arriving on the post-punk landscape four decades ago has certainly resonated with a lot of acts that followed, from The Strokes and The Killers to REM, and Foo Fighters. And even Bob Dylan has sung their praises. As Richard put it, I don’t often recognise it in their music, (but) it’s gratifying of course, as it is that there’s still an interested and enthusiastic audience for us. That’s an honour.”

In addition to Richard and Tim, the current six-piece line-up features Mars Williams on saxophone (1983/89, and since 2005), Rich Good on guitar (since 2009), Amanda Kramer on keyboards (since 2002), and Paul Garisto on drums (1986/88, and since 2009). And it was clear within a minute or so of getting through to Tim that he felt frustrated by the fact that they were having to wait to share the new songs around their old stomping ground, clearly getting COVID-19 lockdown stir-crazy in Liberty.

“It’s getting very, very boring. We’re going crazy here. I want to go out and play, especially as the album’s coming out. It’s frustrating.”

Is that just you and your good lady?

“And my stepson and daughter.”

Ah, a bit of family bonding then?

“Yeah … like it or not!”

Six Appeal: The Psychedelic Furs, back into the light once the pandemic is behind us all (Photo: Mathew Reeves)

Seeing as Richard lives across the States from you, surely you should be used to long-distance communication by now.

“Oh yeah, and my other brother used to live in San Francisco, so we’re spread out.”

I hadn’t realised he’d followed your lead and moved to America.

“Yeah, after a few years. He got a job at Apple Computers in the Silicon Valley … a real job!”

Whereas you’ve managed to avoid one of those so far, of course.

“Ha! So far so good!”

I’m loving the new songs. And while there’s a very different feel between ‘Come All Ye Faithful’, ‘No One’, ‘You’ll be Mine’ and ‘Don’t Believe’, the latter I have to say is classic Furs from the opening bars, even before Richard’s voice comes in.

“Err, yeah, I think so. Some of it’s more classic, but I think the sound of the whole thing was influenced over the long hiatus we had by the music around us, so of course it’s going to seep into what you write, and I think it’s very current but still very much Furs.”

I agree, and those first four releases from the LP suggest that wide range. Are those tracks fairly indicative of the LP as a whole?

“Yeah, I think everyone will be very pleasantly surprised and we’re very, very happy with it. It’s a typical Furs album in that it goes from all-out rockers to ballads and back again. That keeps you interested. If an album’s all ‘balls to the wall’ or all laidback, you tend to lose interest. But hopefully this will keep people interested from beginning to end.”

I have to ask, was ‘Cigarette’ considered for this LP? I was watching your 2001 unplugged version recently, and love that. Seems odd to say this seeing as they came after you, but there’s something of an REM quality there. It’s as much Michael Stipe as it your brother.

“Yeah, that (song) was never seriously considered, never brought up. Not to say it won’t – maybe down the line a bit, but we came up with so many new songs in the six or seven months leading up to when we recorded. We did record ‘Wrong Train’, but a very different version to when we’d do it live. It had an overhaul.”

When the LP’s finally out, it will be six months after you premiered the first single from it. Was there frustration at having to wait so long to share it with us, or was it a case of, ‘what’s another few months to wait after all these years?’

“Ha! It was very frustrating, because we were so happy and excited to get it out and be able to tour with new material. So when the whole pandemic came down we were chomping at the bit to get out there and play to people. That’s what makes it all worthwhile. You can live in a studio, but until you get out and play the songs face to face with your audience, you can’t really gauge the success or failure of a song or album.”

Where did you record the LP, and when was that?

“We recorded it in two 12-day sessions in St Louis. One was late last year after our tour with James, then in January this year, and I think it took Tim Palmer three or four weeks to mix it. And once we had the songs, it all came together really quickly.”

Richard Fortus was with the band at the controls, I see. And he’s from St Louis, isn’t he?

“Yeah, and that’s one of the reasons we went there. He’s worked at that studio we used, Sawhorse Studios, a nice cosy set-up, with no pressure, and of course, Richard’s an old friend of the band, right back to when his band, Pale Divine, supported us on our last tour for the World Outside album in 1992. And being a fan of our work, he could give us pointers on what he thought were the highpoints of the Furs and which areas to sort of steer away from.”

It’s obviously a good working relationship judging by what I’ve heard so far.

“Yes, very relaxed, without all those days getting to know the producer and figuring all that out. We were pretty much sympatico from when we walked into the studio.”

This March just gone marked the 40th anniversary of the eponymous debut album. Does that seem possible? I was listening to that today in celebration of speaking to you, and hooked again from the moment that keyboard and picked guitar gives way to Tim’s driving bass and Vince Ely’s propelling drums on opening six-minute epic, ‘India’, the ball well and truly rolling for The Psychedelic Furs’ career in music by the time we’ve fired through to ‘Sister Europe’ and ‘Imitation of Christ’. It’s weathered well, I’d say. It still sounds great.

“Well, that’s the thing, maybe with the exception of one album in the ‘80s which is definitely stuck in that decade …”

Mmm … might that be Midnight to Midnight, per chance, I wondered, aloud … But he chose to ignore that and carry on.

“If it was released today it wouldn’t be looked on as old-fashioned sounding … But it does seems crazy that it was 40 years ago. Time flies! I’d have never thought when I was recording that, that 40 years later I’d still be making my living from being a musician. You don’t when you first form a band. The most you could hope for is to get a couple of gigs a week or a month, so to survive 40 years in this business is a feat in itself.”

Do you think back on the making that first album – largely with Steve Lillywhite at Mickie Most’s RAK Studios – as an enjoyable experience?

“Yeah, I remember we recorded that in a really short time too. Steve (Lillywhite) had been to see us live a couple of times and just wanted us to get the essence of a live show. We went in there and everybody set up in the studio, did two or three takes, and of course we’d been playing those songs for so many shows that we were pretty tight. It came together really quickly. And I think it still does have that freshness.”

Oh, it does, definitely. It seems an album of two parts within, including the debut single, the tremendous ‘We Love You’ – made with Howard Thompson at Basing Street Studios – and further more overtly punk-influenced tracks like the hypnotic ‘Pulse’ and the closing ‘Flowers’, in a Bowie meets John Lydon style, but also giving us clues to the band you became, tracks like ‘Sister Europe’ and ‘Imitation of Christ’ telling us loud and clear where you might be headed and that you were here to stay.

“Err, yeah, I think originally when we got together none of us could really play very well, so we’d all pile in if someone came up with a chord sequence, trying to make ourselves heard and stick out in a sort of ‘look at me’ way. It became that wall of melody, or ‘beautiful chaos’ as someone dubbed it.

“But with later songs like ‘Imitation of Christ’ and ‘Sister Europe’ I think Steve gave us more direction and took us more away from the punk area. With ‘Sister Europe’, Richard used to sing it with more of an attitude and some aggression. But Steve said, ‘Why don’t you imagine it’s late at night and tone it down a little bit – not croon it, but sing it more laidback’. And he did, and it gained a lot.”

Absolutely, and you hear that difference in Richard’s voice between those tracks, let alone the rest of you in the band.

“Yeah, I think he (Richard) realised he had more of a range in the vocal areas than he initially thought. And over the years that got better and better and better. I think he’s one of the best, most distinctive vocalists of the last 40 years.”

Agreed, and the new songs suggest you’re still on the money now. But I’ll ask that question about whether you imagined you’d still be doing this – 40 years after that first single – a different way. I think this new LP proves you were moving in the right direction after all back in ’89 and beyond, not content to just live by those big hits. But when you made World Outside in 1991, was there a feeling it might be your last record, the Furs story looking like it might be over after barely a decade? Might you have blown it at that point by collectively walking away from the band?

“Erm, I think we screwed around with the audience so much going from the really commercial Midnight to Midnight, clawing our way back to that original sound and maybe gain our original audience back with Book of Days. And we were pretty anti- promoting it, which didn’t help. So, by the time World Outside came out people thought we’d dropped off the face of the earth. That was us shooting ourselves in the foot. After that I think we were tired of being the Psychedelic Furs, doing ‘album, tour, album, tour …’ So, we took a break … a long break! But we came back revitalised and didn’t realise how much we’d enjoy playing those songs now.”

Does it surprise you in a sense that the first spell of the band lasted 15 years, while this incarnation now has 20 years behind it … and that you’re as fresh now as you’ve ever been?

“Lots of times, people say about the ‘original Furs’. But the original Furs were only together for two albums, whereas this version … I think Rich Good has only been with us since 2008, but he’s been with us longer than the original Furs were going! It’s strange.”

The live band is so important to what you’re about, and you’ve played some iconic venues down the years, in London alone from close to your old patch in Camden at the Electric Ballroom and Music Machine back in the day to the Roundhouse last October, and from the Royal Festival Hall not so long ago to the Royal Albert Hall next April, all being well. That’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?

“I know. That’s amazing. I always remember growing up, watching Cream’s farewell concert from the Royal Albert Hall, thinking, ‘Wow! Look at the size of that place! Those guys are huge!’ Little did I know that so many years later I’d be playing that very same place. And who knows, someone might take their kid along to this show and they might be as knocked out by us as I was watching that Cream show.”

What do you think your parents – the brothers lost their father around a dozen years ago, and their mother recently – might have made of the Butler brothers playing such iconic venues?

“My mother died about two months ago, and it’s sad because last year – she was 92 – she was planning to travel down with a friend of hers from Cumbria, where she retired to, and when we postponed it and rescheduled she was thinking about coming down to the one next year. But she unfortunately passed away.

“From the early days they were really proud of us though. Of course, in the early days there was talk of us getting proper jobs, and how we couldn’t rely on this music, but Richard and I have stuck at it, while Simon dropped out and went to university. He was in the original band and co-wrote ‘Imitation of Christ’ and ‘India’. Yeah, they were always proud of us. When they had friends over they would bring out their scrapbook.”

Quite right too. And soon after our interview I got to hear the new LP in full for the first time, not just those initial four released tracks shining out but several others too, opening number ‘The Boy Who Invented Rock & Roll’ doing what ‘India’ did by way of introduction four decades earlier, and plenty more highlights following.

I say this from a place of love, but at times I feel Richard’s vocals are a little too clean on a couple of tracks, his rough edges seemingly held back, as if the band are still chasing that crossover pop market. I wouldn’t begrudge them more hits, of course, but he sounds better where he’s allowed to use a wider range on songs like ‘Wrong Train’. He gets away with it though with those sublime cords, big songs like ‘This’ll Never Be Like Voice’ working well, and the band never over-cooking it. There’s an ’80s vibe here and there maybe, but it’s always about more than mere nostalgia, any criticism just a side-note to the band, the songcraft definitely there across these 12 tracks.

My highlight of highlights? Maybe it’s the closing section on side one’s slow-burning finale ‘Ash Wednesday’, a track that’s grand in that classic Furs style but also summons up the spirit of Talk Talk or perhaps even The Blue Nile in their ‘Tinseltown in the Rain’ era (perhaps it’s just a precipitation thing). And the harmonies are sublime between Richard and …. well, I’m not sure who. Perhaps it’s Amanda. The credits don’t tell us. Either way, that vocal blend takes the song to another level, as is the case on The Smiths-like ‘Hide the Medicine’, a song that gets better with every play, both of those tracks no doubt given extra power in a live setting.

What’s more, the tracks I heard first were still holding their staying power a fair few listens down the line, losing none of their original edge, with ‘No-One’ a great example of that. I’d say ‘You’ll Be Mine’ even carries a new age folk edge – with Richard’s voice up to the task, of course – coupled with that epic Furs feel.

There’s something else I couldn’t quite place at first, thinking of a few bands that made their name in the ’90s and beyond that you hear on closing two numbers, ‘Turn Your Back On Me’ and ‘Stars’, like Embrace, Keane and Elbow at their best. But maybe I wasn’t quite looking back far enough, for on the penultimate track there’s also a Peter Gabriel quality, and on the latter the verse suggests Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks theme, while there’s even a (whisper it) Genesis-like prog feel, Paul Garisto invoking something of a Phil Collins vibe on those tubs before Rich Good’s beautifully-weighted guitar histrionics take over. There, I said it.

In short, as a full-on listening experience, it’s not what you’d always expect. Far from it. And fair play to them for such deviation and experimentation. It’s sweet in places, brooding in others, atmospheric throughout, and all in all well worth the long wait. Let’s just hope it gets the attention that was somehow not afforded Book of Days and World Outside, way back then.

And finally, Tim, you told me last time that Forever Now was your favourite album. There was barely two and a half years between the debut, Talk Talk Talk, and then that. Will the release of this LP inspire more of the same – might we have two more albums turned around fairly quick on the back of this one?

“Yeah … we’re definitely not going to take another 30 years! Ha! We’re already writing and kicking around ideas. We’ve got the fever for recording again!”

Rain Over: The Psychedelic Furs, heading back to the UK in 2021, COVID-19 virus willing (Photo: Matthew Reeves)

Made Of Rain is available on CD, double-gatefold vinyl and in digital format via Cooking Vinyl, with further exclusive formats and autographed options available via the band’s Official Store.

Full 2021 UK dates (with Jah Wobble & The Invaders of the Heart supporting in London and past WriteWyattUK interviewee Pauline Murray & The Invisible Girls on all the other dates): April 27th – London Royal Albert Hall, April 28th – Nottingham  Rock City, April 29th – Bristol O2 Academy, May 1st – Glasgow Barrowland, May 2nd – Liverpool Academy, May 3rd – Manchester Academy 2, May 5th – Cambridge Junction. for more details head to the band ‘s website . you can also keep in touch via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

 

 

 

 

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Film and Faction Romance – in conversation with Virginia Heath and Grant Keir

On Location: Mark Dorris sets up a car mount grip with Virginia Heath on the set of Lift Share in the Outer Hebrides

Four months ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Scottish singer/songwriter Kenny Anderson and his band, collectively King Creosote, live-score 2014’s celebrated archive film From Scotland With Love, by New Zealand-born director/screenwriter Virginia Heath.

That Bridgewater Hall show in Manchester proved to be not only the last night of a major tour reprising the group’s role soundtracking an award-winning BAFTA Scotland nominated feature-length documentary, but also my last live show for 19 weeks and counting, the UK-wide lockdown swiftly following.

As it turned out, social distancing of sorts was in place, only around a third of the audience showing up at a time of mixed messages from on high, the film’s universal themes of love, loss, resistance, migration, work and play down the years all the more poignant in the circumstances.

It was a night when I found myself so involved in the moving images unfolding on the big screen that occasionally I’d glance down and remember that there was a band performing, and a cracking one too, much of the credit for that going to Virginia and her editing team for a project originally commissioned by the BBC and Creative Scotland to mark Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Now it seems apt to look at that from another angle, tracking and tracing Virginia and the film’s producer Grant Keir down to their Edinburgh office, asking two-thirds of the creators of the Faction North film and TV production company how their lockdown’s panned out, not least at a time when UK-wide restrictions have ruled out so much work in the film industry.

Virginia and Grant established the firm in 1998 alongside London-based producer Peter Day, the trio still going strong two decades on, writing, directing and producing drama, documentary, TV and cross-platform production for the international and UK domestic markets.

And while my interviewees play it down that they’re an item, it’s worth noting that their daughter Stella has followed their lead, co-writing last year’s film short Lift Share – funded by Creative Scotland, BFI and Scottish Film Talent Network, starring Ana Ularu and Mark Rowley, with its world premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival, and last year’s best drama short award-winner at Copenhagen Film Festival – with her mother, having graduated from the National Film and Television School last year and already with film editing awards under her belt.

Interior Shot: Producer Grant Keir on the Outer Hebridean film set of Lift Share with co-leading actor Mark Rowley

Virginia and Grant engineered a coffee break to talk to me, at first explaining to me how the company seems to be based both in Edinburgh and Sheffield, Faction North’s first base and where Virginia is a professor of film at Hallam University, a research professor for the art, design and media research centre who also teaches on the MA filmmaking course, and Grant mentoring and teaching producing, pitching and business skills.

While Virginia’s originally from Havelock North on New Zealand’s North Island, Grant grew up in Essex but hails from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with Scottish heritage. In fact, I kind of assumed he was Scottish at first. Maybe it’s the name. Actually, I mistakenly first referred to him online as Keir Grant, which at least appeals to his socialist leanings. In fact, when I mentioned this again when we spoke, he said, “I’ll take that. I’m happy with that!”.

They were based in Sheffield when they helped set up their company, living near Endcliffe Park, which was in the news last year following a BBC campaign supporting octogenarian Tony Foulds’ lifelong efforts to honour the crew of USAAF B-17 Flying Fortress, Mi Amigo after witnessing the plane crash there as a young lad in 1944.

Home for Virginia and Grant is now north of the border though. But how long have they known each other? The first shared credit I see is for 1997’s Songs from the Golden City documentary, following the story of The Manhattan Brothers, jazz superstars who earned millions for the South African recording company, but never saw a penny in royalties during the dark days of apartheid. Did Virginia and Grant know each other before?

Grant: “Yeah, we’re married actually, but professionally don’t make a song and dance about that. We like to have our own independent existence.”

Many of their films carry strong political and social messages, and in 2009 Virginia – whose impressive CV for drama and documentary films also includes a 2002 Berlin International Film Festival award for best short, Relativity – was commissioned by the UK Human Trafficking Centre to create a film to highlight the issue, interviewing exploited girls and women, and frontline agency workers, going on to make the film My Dangerous Loverboy. A related website and social media channels later increased engagement, the overall project winning a cross-media award from the National Board of Canada and seeing her nominated for a Royal Television Society award, the film extensively used in schools and youth centres, and with frontline agency workers across the UK.

Before that, Virginia directed a number of films for Bandung Productions, who had an international art slot for Channel 4, including three episodes of the Rear Window documentary series (1992/93), Britain’s fourth terrestrial TV channel providing her with her UK television breakthrough. In fact, that channel took a lot of chances in their early years. Is that kind of opportunity still out there?

Summer Still: Jamie Sives and Ana Ularu in Anca Damian’s A Very Unsettled Summer (2013), produced by Grant Keir

Grant, also credited for producing ‘A Very Unsettled Summer’ with award-winning writer/director Anca Damian, and a former Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival board member, said: “It’s a very different beast these days.”

Virginia: “That was extraordinary. Those were very different times, of course. I think it went out on Tuesday evenings at nine, and always got good reviews in the broadsheets, Radio Times, and so on.”

Grant: “The tabloids also liked to cover the Rear Window series, because there were often programmes about black people and black culture, and the Daily Mail and Daily Express used to love ranting and raving about them!”

Virginia: “But we also had a really loyal following and good solid audience that tuned in every week. Of course though, audience viewing habits just aren’t like that anymore.

I suppose there’s a real proliferation of product through additional channels these days, so fewer people see the same alternative shows and documentaries.

Grant: “That’s true, but I think television is still a really important benchmark, sets standards and sets viewing figures too. Talk to any of the social influencers, people marking their careers on Twitter and TikTok and all that – if you offer any of them a slot on television, they’ll bite your hand off. It still sets a kind of social, political media agenda. That for me is what’s so disturbing about all the major channels in the UK evacuating the schedules of serious documentary content. We wouldn’t get to make those films Virginia made back in the day for Bandung and Rear Window. You couldn’t make them now.”

Faction Debut: Songs from the Golden City in 1997 was the first film for the Faction North company

Faction Debut: Songs from the Golden City in 1997 was the first of many film projects for the Faction North company

In a sense it was easier then, with just three channels in my early years then four from the ‘80s.

Grant: “That’s another world now. But the real problem with the proliferation of channels and massive variety of options for people to view things in my opinion – and I don’t mind people watching whatever they want, as long as it’s legal – is that broadcasters then go chasing these fragmented small audiences in the hope they can deliver the ‘eyeballs’ to the advertisers and secure the biggest audiences possible. That’s why you see the rise of factual entertainment, which is blocking out serious documentary filmmaking which actually has something to say. And I mean, what really does Love Island Australia really tell us about anything? That’s my question.”

Virginia: “The Bandung arts slot was incredible. For example, I made a film about a Turkish painter after the Berlin Wall came down, a really interesting time to look at that from an insider’s and outsider’s point of view. This guy’s studio overlooked the wall and his paintings included images from East Germany in them. They were about questions of identity and immigrant populations. A fascinating guy and a fascinating subject. And that was enough. When we contacted him, he couldn’t believe someone from England had seen his work and wanted to make a film about him.

“I also made a film about the first Black South African oil painter, an exile in Paris, and it was a really interesting way of looking at South Africa through an extraordinary painter. Tariq Ali was the commissioning editor and it was almost like he, with his huge cultural and political knowledge, scanned the horizon and picked really fascinating subjects to shine a light on.”

Ever consider follow-up documentaries with those subjects? They would make for similarly fascinating viewing.

Virginia: “Well, you’d never get the funding to do that now.”

Grant: “Gerard Sekoto, that first Black African portrait painter and fine artist, back in the days of apartheid just couldn’t have been an artist. It just wasn’t allowed at a professional level. He’s now dead, unfortunately (he died in Paris in 1993, aged 79), but maybe we could find out about the Turkish subject of the Berlin Wall documentary.

Production Role: Grant Keir – Essex and Tyneside roots, Scottish heritage

“But you’d have to put the usual jigsaw of finance together to make a film. That’s what I do as a producer. That is a long and difficult dance, and increasingly difficult. Even though there’s public money around – and funds like the BFI and Screen Scotland have money – they all have very particular editorial requirements. Match-aligning all the different bits of money around what they need and what they’re looking for is really difficult. You’ve got to have a lot of perseverance.

“Actually, you need enough financial stability to be able to do that long haul to put all the money together. This is where people like us – we’ve been around and at this for more than 30 years – have a network and understand how these things can be done, but if you’re starting out now as a young filmmaker, I think it’s impossible.

“One of the biggest revelations for me in my career was when I realised – I’d be at all these different film festivals and markets and see people putting films together and talking about how they’d done it, and sat there and couldn’t work out how they’d survived for five years while they did all the development. Then I heard a couple of people talking in a bar and realised they were independently wealthy people. They had trust funds behind them or just came from rich families. That’s what allowed them to survive. What that means is that people making films are coming from very particular social strata.”

True enough. I see enough of that in writing and journalism. In most cases, it seems that the writer in the household is not the main wage earner. And you need money behind you to pursue those writing dreams.

Grant: “And of course, it has real impact in the sense that in so many news outlets now the journalists are not journalists, they’re simply rewriting corporate communications rather than journalistic, interrogative, questioning writing.”

So how’s lockdown been for you two? There’s been a lot of talk about theatres being unable to open and people who think that’s not really a problem because they can watch Netflix instead, not joining up the dots and realising where those actors and creatives involved come from, how those films and productions are written and made in the first place, and the importance of the individuals behind the film and television industry.

Grant: “People very rarely understand where the film comes from, which is also why people seem to think it’s okay to steal content and watch things on illegal sites. They will understand if you walk into a shop and steal a t-shirt – that’s theft – but if you watch a film on an illegal website they’ll just think that’s being clever.”

Virginia: “Stealing music as well. Anything that’s reducable to zeroes and ones ….”

Faction North do have new features in advanced development right now though. I saw mention of a couple of psychological thriller feature films you have in advanced development,  and talk of a drama series.

My Direction: Virginia Heath, a long way from Havelock North, New Zealand

Virginia: “At the moment I’m working on a feature documentary. That’s in development and we were due to go back to film in New York in May. We’re not sure when we’re going to be able to go back now, but you can do quite a lot online, and I have researchers I’m working with in the States, so we’re carrying on, pushing forward. The feature films take a lot of time and strategising to get from scripts to screen, and there are still things we’re working on, but again because of the COVID-19 situation we have to rethink.”

Grant: “In the business you’d call those small independent feature films – in the two to five million pound or dollar bracket. The difficulty with them – and this is relatively recent with the rise of Netflix, Amazon, and all that – is that they tie up casts on these long-running drama series, so for an independent film like the ones we make, you have to have a cast to get the film finance – well-known actors. But they get tied up on these series, so it’s really difficult to get the cast to commit. And if you can’t get the cast to commit, you can’t close the finance and can’t make the films.

“Some people have talked about how ironically the COVID-19 thing has disrupted production so much that there might now be opportunities for smaller films, as actors won’t want to be tied up for months on end on something that might not actually go into production, or could be scuppered at any point. So there might be a market for limited appearances – from five to 10 weeks on a film rather than eight months. But we’re yet to see if that’s true.”

It’s been around four years since Virginia’s had the chance to return to her native New Zealand, when From Scotland with Love was part of the New Zealand Film Festival, with successful screenings up and down the country.

Virginia: “It’s almost like having a mini-release of the film around the country and was fantastically successful, with such a big ex-Scottish population, or people of Scottish heritage, there who were very enthusiastic about the film. As a result, we had an idea of doing a From New Zealand With Love, but maybe the first involved a fortunate coalescing of material, having access to some amazing archive, all concentrated in one place. That really helped us put the film together. It was a relatively simple process of accessing the material. But what we’ve realised is that in other places it’s not so simple, and sometimes the archives don’t even own the material they have.”

From Scotland with Love provided my introduction to your work, and it’s a film I’ve re-watched several times. In fact, I recently stumbled across some of the archive material within, seeing the wonderful 1948 Edinburgh-based documentary Waverley Steps again.

Virginia: “That was a gold mine, finding that film. It’s not the greatest film ever, but it’s quite beautifully shot, and I really wanted this theme of love and various love stories and liaisons running through our film.”

Since then I’ve also caught up with last year’s Three Chords and the Truth and loved that too. It’s hard to explain the pull of this short film, but it certainly works. In short, Virginia and her team follow several inspirational home-based manufacturers and fellow enthusiasts extolling the joy of cigar box guitars, these three-stringed instruments lovingly crafted from recycled and upcycled materials by true craftsmen with a twin love of great music, leading to unique (an over-used word, but in this case spot on) designs. The history of the cigar box instrument was borne out of the blues and out of necessity in an era when for many this was the only way to get hold of a guitar. But while its genesis was US-led, this is very much about men in sheds in modern, post-industrial Britain taking that legacy forward.

Cigar Man: John Farr, aka Hollowbelly, gives us Three Chords and the Truth for the short film of the same name

I guess a great documentary – like any great film – needs central characters you believe in and care about, and you get that from Three Chords and the Truth’s Nig Richards, Chickenbone John, Robyn Greig-Brown, Hollowbelly and Dennis Duffy, their stories and inspirational approaches drawing me into the story. And there’s something of the punk DIY ethos that resonates too, their cottage industry, anti-corporate, pro-recycling approach inspirational, the finished products providing an evocative sound that musicians and audiences alike will appreciate.

Virginia: “I basically got to that story through my colleague at Sheffield Hallam, Paul Atkinson, who’s part of the same research centre. He’d written an article, Hairy Guys in Sheds, and was telling me about it in the pub one day, and I thought that would be a really nice subject for a film. That kind of DIY ethos and anti-corporate spirit, making instruments from found materials. I just found it really inspiring.”

My own poor DIY skills suggest any efforts I made would be pathetic, but the sheer passion of those involved really brought the subject alive. And there wasn’t just one stand-out talker – the way those involved talk about the subject help tell the story so well. In fact, that documentary led to a follow-up, Faction North commissioned by the BBC to make a half-hour version, renamed Cigar Box Blues – The Makers of a Revolution, including extra material and footage from a guitar-making workshop.

Virginia: “One of my female colleagues from the university came along to that and managed to produce a great little guitar in a day. There was also a young boy there with his Mum, and Chickenbone John is an extraordinary teacher and just inspired people to make things.

Another film Grant was involved with, at least on the fringes of, also appealed to this music lover, not least considering my ‘70s introduction to pop and rock in the glam years, receiving an associate production credit for Liam Firmager’s splendid 2019 Suzi Q documentary from Screen Australia and Film Victoria, telling the amazing story of Suzi Quatro, its narrative supplemented by revealing interviews with Suzi and her family, plus the likes of Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, Alice Cooper, Debbie Harry, Henry Winkler, Joan Jett, K.T. Tunstall, Mike Chapman, Tim Rice, and WriteWyattUK interviewees Don Powell (Slade), Andy Scott (Sweet) and Wendy James (Transvision Vamp).

Grant: “I’m credited as an associate producer on that film as I was trying to raise money for the film in the UK in the early stages. I was very graciously given that credit by the producers. In the end the film was sold to Sky Television and released in cinemas in the UK on a limited release, and Suzi very generously gave us time and supported that with personal appearances and Q&As.

“She’s amazing, and an extraordinary artist. She’s been in the industry for many, many decades, yet didn’t crash and burn, didn’t drink it all away, maintaining a privacy about her life but also remaining available for her fans. And as some of the artists in the film say, young women going into the music industry now should study Suzi Quatro, because she shows you how you can have a long career and not become a casualty and not be exploited.

“Not everyone loves her music, and you can argue about how innovative or not she was, but she was one of the first women to lead a rock band. That in itself is really interesting. The other interesting thing from a British perspective is that she was a star in the UK at a time when she wasn’t a star in America.

“I think people forget the rock industry in America arguably never really had a glam phase. We had Bowie, we had T-Rex, we had Slade, we had Sweet, all big bands in the UK, Europe and sometimes Japan, and they all tried to go to America and make it. But I would argue that America was resistant to a more feminine or more fluid gender image, other than Bowie – the one artist who did actually have a career in America. But what they wanted in America was not ‘Star Man’ and David putting his arm around Mick Ronson. They wanted ‘Let’s Dance’. And even though Bowie was big there, how many people actually understood the depth of his work? The thing with Suzi was that she did eventually have a career in America – not as a rock star though, but a television star on Happy Days.”

There’s plenty of Suzi’s determination and spirit in Virginia too, as I’m sure must be the case for every female director that’s broken through in what until now has been very much a male-led industry. And as she puts it herself, her work is all about investigating ‘questions of female sexuality, identity, empowerment of marginalised voices, and the conflict between different cultural perceptions’.

I ran out of time to find out more about her Kiwi roots this time, but know she studied film at London’s St Martin’s School of Art in the mid-‘80s, albeit a decade too late for the Sex Pistols’ debut gig there and three years before Jarvis Cocker studied Fine Art and Film (although perhaps she met the girl from Greece who had a thirst for knowledge, studied sculpture and wanted to sleep with common people – I’ll have to ask her next time).

But there was just about time to ask both Virginia and Grant what films they saw that inspired them to do what they do.

Virginia: “That’s a really hard question. I fell in love with cinema when I was a kid, because my father absolutely loved cinema. He’d take us to see whatever film that was going at the Saturday pictures in the small town where I grew up. We saw war films, love stories, we saw God knows what.”

It sounds like a Cinema Paradiso type upbringing.

Virginia: “I would say one of the films that always sticks in my mind and made me absolutely love cinema was (Bernardo) Bertolucci’s The Conformist (Il Conformista), an extraordinary combination of being quite political but with this really powerful, slightly leftfield love story – that combination of politics and love and sex is the kind of film I really admire. I love all sorts of cinema, but I think that film for me really sums up what cinema can do.

“It’s an Italian film, subtitled, and it’s never going to be a huge mainstream film, but it’s a real example of a film that can look at politics and look at our lives in a really profound way, but it’s also extremely sensual and entertaining, and the acting, the cinematography and the production design all kind of work together to create an absolutely immersive, extraordinary experience. I was probably in my late teens when I first saw that.”

Grant: “The film I would reference that made me want to be a producer was Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle for Algiers, just in the media again recently as Ennio Morricone did the soundtrack. Everyone remembers him for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and rightly so, but for me that film is a perfect combination of cinema as political consciousness, history telling and inspiring people to fight for their rights.

“And I think that’s what cinema is there for – to reflect the world back at us but also inspire us to make a better world.”

For more about the work of Faction North, head to the company’s website via this link, and keep in touch via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Ferry Share: Virginia Heath, centre, with Mark Rowley and Ularu off to the Outer Hebrides to film the Lift Share short

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The rise and rise of Fontaines D.C. – in conversation with Conor Deegan III

Dune Pride: Fontaines D.C. From left – Conor Deegan III, Conor Curley, Grian Chatten, Tom Coll, Carlos O’Connell

Technical issues ensured I was 10 minutes late getting hold of Fontaines D.C. bass player Conor Deegan III, aka Deego. But if he was rattled by that – with another appointment lined up 20 minutes later across Dublin City, the band base that provides their initial suffix, so to speak – he wasn’t letting on.

Then again, there is that key line on the title track of their new LP, A Hero’s Death, telling us, ‘Never let a clock tell you what you got time for; It only goes around, goes around, goes around’.

However, there’s an air of professionalism about this band, also featuring Grian Chatten (vocals), Carlos O’Connell (guitar), Conor Curley (guitar), and Tom Coll (drums). Hard living maybe, but friendly with it, and definitely focused. I saw it when they played a short set at Preston’s Blitz nightclub when mighty debut album Dogrel came out last summer – going on to earn a Mercury Prize nomination and BBC 6 Music’s Album of the Year status – and it’s still very much part of their make-up.

A bit of background first, with Grian born this side of the Irish Sea (just … in Barrow-in-Furness) but growing up in a Dublin seaside town, while Deego and Tom hail from Castlebar in County Mayo (Deego’s been known to wear Mayo GAA tops during live performances), fellow Conor is from County Monaghan, and Carlos grew up in Madrid. But they met in Dublin, attending the British & Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMM), bonding over a love of poetry, their name taken from Al Martino’s singer/movie star character Johnny Fontane in The Godfather, Vito Corleone’s godson; the Dublin City initials added to differentiate from an LA outfit.

Self-releasing their first single in May 2017, ‘Liberty Belle’, in tribute to the Liberties, the Dublin neighbourhood where band members lived, that acclaimed debut LP – like this one, on Partisan Records –  followed within two years, its title in homage to doggerel, a form of working-class Irish poetry that’s eased itself into the English language over time since the 17th century.

With introductory excuses behind me, I asked Deego how he and his bandmates – who were set to perform at the 50th anniversary of Glastonbury Festival, perhaps the highest profile casualty of so many this summer – had fared during the lockdown.

“It was actually really nice, weirdly enough. Me and Carlos went to Mayo in the west of Ireland, quarantined there with some friends in a cottage by the sea.”

Those who saw the band’s cracking promo video for new LP title track ‘A Hero’s Death’ on the BBC’s Later with Jools will be familiar with that location, its lyrics described by Grian as ‘a list of rules for the self’. Funnily enough, I was going to ask Deego whose dresser that was behind him in their socially-distanced promo film.

“That was our friend’s Granny’s house, while she was living with their parents.”

And where did frontman Grian record his part? Where’s that headland?

“That was in rural Dublin. He’s from a seaside town in Dublin, so it was probably there.”

Such a great way to announce a return, this scribe hooked from the first listen, its repeated ‘Life ain’t always empty’ mantra over an ever-building, stunning track mesmerising. And while I’d only had a couple of plays of the new record – out on July 31st, its title inspired by the line, ‘Everybody’s looking for a hero’s death’ in The Hostage by Irish playwright Brendan Behan, and the album art featuring the statue of mythological Irish warrior Cuchulainn that stands in Dublin as a commemoration of the Easter Rising – when I spoke to Deego, I could already tell it was a grower, very different but equally sharp, not so immediate as Dogrel.

That said, three of the first tracks to resonate were apparently among the oldest – the title track plus ‘I Was Not Born – its Wedding Present-like guitar (around the time of Bizarro, and perhaps ‘Bewitched’ in particular for these ears) towards the end jumping out at me – and the similarly-urgent ‘Televised Mind’. In fact, all three remain just as powerful a few more lsitens down the line.

“Yeah, ‘A Hero’s Death’ was written when we listened back to Dogrel first, so that was probably written in October 2018, with ‘I Was Not Born’ around the same time, and ‘Televised Mind’ maybe a little later.”

Yet there’s even a different feel from those tracks to those on the first record, and that to me suggests constant evolution. They wouldn’t necessarily have fitted in any earlier.

“Yeah, maybe. I think we just kind of had sounds we wanted to explore and mess around with, certain songs like ‘Living in America’.”

Now there’s a case in point, one suggesting that earlier experimentation I hinted at. It could almost be The Jesus and Mary Chain in places. Anyway, carry on, Deego.

“But then, like you say, there are certain songs which are a development of what we were doing on the first album, like ‘A Lucid Dream’. I think that’s kind of like ‘Too Real’ in a way.”

I’m loving the LP more and more with every listen, from opening track, ‘I Don’t Belong’ right through to reflective closing number, ‘No’,  the introductory number coming with its own neat promo video, directed by Deego. And there’s much to wallow in throughout the record, tracks like ‘I Don’t Belong’ carrying the air of the early feel of WriteWyattUK favourites The Wolfhounds. And there are those surprising moments, like on the reflective ‘Oh Such a Spring’, all seemingly some way away from the live tour de force we heard last time around.

Fontaines Five: Conor Deegan III, Carlos O’Connell, Conor Curley, Grian Chatten, Tom Coll (Photos: Richard Dumas)

In fact, I can’t better the part of the official press release with the album suggesting Grian – and the band in turn – is ‘sounding like someone riddled with angst yet resolved to protect their own freedom at all costs’ on the opening track. It adds, ‘If not a retreat, it almost sounds like a defensive rebuke of ‘Big’ — Fontaines’ last album opener, the one that rushed out the gates hungry to consume the whole world while proclaiming ‘My childhood was small; But I’m gonna be big!’. The fact that Fontaines D.C.’s new album A Hero’s Death begins with ‘I Don’t Belong’ is hard to take as anything but a pointed inversion, the music moodier and the lyrics more searching. Though the tone is noticeably different, the introduction is no less intentional: This is not the same Fontaines D.C.’ And as Carlos adds, “When we wrote this album it was a reaction to the success of Dogrel. We started to feel very detached from who we were when we wrote Dogrel.”

It’s now 15 months since my first live sighting of Fontaines D.C., arranged through Preston’s premier independent record shop and occasional label Action Records. And there was definitely something there that made me think this band were going places. I’m not always right, but there was real presence on stage, and true chemistry between them all. They knew their way around each other and had clearly gelled well together. They made it seem effortless yet raw.

“Yeah, we actually worked our arses off rehearsing in the summer of 2018 when we were set to go in to record the album, having never done that before. We were really nervous, and we couldn’t believe we’d managed to fool them into giving us a record deal, that kind of mentality. But we also knew, ‘Now we must do the work’, thinking, ‘Oh shit! We need to record these songs’. So we got them really tight. I learned so many things about songs, like the chord progressions that were going on, bar counts, all these sort of things.”

Last year, apparently they toured 50 locations throughout Ireland, Europe, and North America, including dates with Shame and Idles. They also played nine sets at SXSW in Houston, Texas over five days, selling out venues.

I recall coming up after the show at Blitz with my youngest daughter to get the LP signed, I told Deego, just one of many in that awkward situation where you’re trying too hard to say something interesting. And it can’t be easy, being sat there making small talk back.

“It’s actually something you don’t ever get used to. To do it right you need to be present, otherwise you’re kind of there with glazed eyes – some kind of dickhead, not respecting the fact that people have come to see you and want to talk to you. You have to engage with all those people in a genuine way, knackering as that is.”

They were nothing less than courteous though, to a man, yet looked so tired. And that was only the beginning of that UK leg of a first headline tour.

“Yeah, we were coming off the back of two to three years’ solid drinking in Dublin as well, so we were kind of weakened from the get-go.”

I think that’s what he said, although I initially googled ‘Gecko’ to see if it was a Dublin beer. I did find a Honduran craft beer, so maybe he was namechecking that. Perhaps the manufacturers could send me a case so I could so some further research.

On a similar subject, Grian felt the band found themselves growing not only distant from one another, but distant from themselves, saying, “We experienced full journeys where we didn’t speak to each other. It wasn’t because we didn’t love each other anymore. Our souls were kicking back against walls that were closing in. We had no space for ourselves. Our souls had nowhere to live, nowhere to lie.”

Has this lockdown, I asked Deego, given the band an unexpected chance to reflect on a mad couple of years, and put things in perspective?

“Yeah, sure. I think we’ve all got a lot more appreciation for our jobs. And they’re good jobs, y’know. It’s easy to get swept up in the stress of it and not see the bigger picture.”

With all the praise for the first album from fans and critics alike, it would have been easy to be swept up by the hype. It must be difficult to ensure you’re not affected. But I guess this enforced break has helped. Besides, many bands in that situation have gone on to disappear up their own backsides.

“Yeah, I think the way we were all raised means I don’t think any of us are super-capable of getting massive egos. But there’s still hope – we could still turn into dickheads!”

How would you compare this LP to Dogrel, which I guess was your take on that vital first album, like The Clash or The Jam’s In the City or The Undertones maybe (incidentally, Undertones Mk.II frontman Paul McLoone, a presenter on Dublin’s Today FM, has long since championed the band)? That first record featured an immediate set of songs you’d lived with a little longer, and was perhaps more of you in a raw sense. Whereas this one seems more experimental or crafted.

“Yeah, we’ve come a long way, and touring makes you a little more introverted in a way. We were listening to a lot of mellow songs, kind of de-stressing in the van, and that kind of impacted on our style of writing.”

There’s mention in your press release of ‘60s influences like The Beach Boys, Suicide, Leonard Cohen and Lee Hazlewood coming through, and that comes over in particular on the penultimate song, the delightfully-dreamy ‘Sunny’, not least with its Brian Wilson qualities, a lovely bit of wonky and twangy guitar, some gorgeous harmonies, and subtle strings.

“That was actually the song we were going to try and build the album around, try and go in that direction. But we also wanted to write authentically and genuinely, and the other songs we ended up writing sounded nothing like that, so …”

A few artists have inevitably seen their records put back these past few months, and that can lead to frustration if you’re enthused about new material you’ve written since. Was that the case with you? Was this a good time for songwriting for the band?

“Yeah, definitely. We’re in writing again now, in the rehearsal room, seeing what comes out.”

And were there songs held back from this latest LP?

“There were tracks we cut off the album, but I think we were just trimming the fat. We did the same with Dogrel.”

You clearly work well with Dan Carey, who produced both this LP and your debut at his studio in Streatham, south London.

“Oh yeah, he’s a great dude. He’s a really great producer.”

By this stage, it sounds like Deego is setting a house alarm and is starting to walk across town, the sound of traffic cutting in here and there. I’m nearly done though.

When you went into the studio, were the songs pretty much fully formed? Or was it work in progress?

“For the first album the songs were more or less fully formed, but for the second we’d recorded in LA already and had got a little confused over the identity. They kind of needed re-orientating. They were essentially the same but just needed a new haircut … or like a scarf or something.”

Speaking of which, have you still got the bleached hair we see in the afore-mentioned band promo version of ‘A Hero’s Death’?

“I do actually. The roots are coming out a little bit, but I might re-dye it.”

It’s a good look. And in conclusion, this new record doesn’t suggest you’re a band out to try and give us Dogrel Pt. II, as great an album as that was, compromising your own development for the sake of a couple of hit records.

“No, I don’t think so … unless we wrote a double album or something like that.”

Well, there’s something to look forward to. Maybe a Dublin Calling, seeing as I mentioned The Clash earlier. And now you seem to be getting closer to touring again, are you looking forward to that?

“Yeah, very much so. It’ll be good to be back out on the road.”

There are some big venues this time too.

“There are. We played Brixton Academy last time, so I think that kind of warmed us up for all of them apart from the Ally Pally (Alexandra Palace, South London). That’ll be a massive show.”

It’s all happened so fast for them, or at least that’s how it seems to me. I wrote after your Blitz show in Preston, ‘They’ve a hard slog ahead if they’re to carry on unaffected by all the hype, but they’re up to that judging by the recorded product and relentless itinerary so far. And whether this is the start of something ‘Big’ or just a brief aligning of the stars is irrelevant.’ Now I can see – just from a couple of listens to the new record – they’ve well and truly moved beyond that stage. They’re definitely here to stay.

When you set out on this journey at music college in Dublin, did you have a clear vision of where you should be headed, and if so, have those expectations and goals changed by the year?

“I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I think our expectations have become more specific, because we’ve got a clear image of how the music industry works and how our path has gone on, but when we were young we were very ambitious and always had this idea of being a massive band. That’s just the way you dream. You don’t dream of playing in small rooms, do you?”

True … although I’ll always prefer those more intimate settings.

“Oh, I do love playing those places. Don’t get me wrong. But when you’re young and starry-eyed … you dream big.”

Even if your childhoods were small. Well, as long as you stay out of the stadia, I’m happy with that … selfish as that may seem.

“Ah … is that too far? How big is a stadium?”

That’s a good question … I guess I’m talking tens of thousands, capacity-wise. Getting on for U2 type fame. I’d still rather see you do a week of dates at a smaller venue.

“Ah … well, you better avoid the Ally Pally then.”

I guess I could make an exception for such an iconic venue. And I couldn’t be more pleased for you, really. I’m just glad it’s going so well for you.

“Ah, cheers – thanks a lot!”

Liberties Takers: Fontaines D.C. are hoping to be back over in the UK come next May, all being well, COVID-19-wise.

After a scheduled appearance at France’s Levitation Festival in October, four dates in Australia in December, and – moving into 2021 – 18 European dates between La Riviera in Madrid on March 10th and L’Olympia in Paris on April 1st, Fontaines D.C.’s next 15 UK dates start with two shows at Manchester Academy on May 7th and 8th and finish at London’s Alexandra Palace on May 27th. For full details (including more about how to pre-order the new LP) head over to fontainesdc.com. You can also find tour tickets via metropolismusic.com, seetickets.com and ticketmaster.co.uk.

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