Graphic twists on a compelling tale – back in touch with The Wedding Present’s David Gedge

Present Receptive: TWP’s latest line-up, one year on yet with very few stage hours involved in recent times. From the left – founder member David Gedge, Melanie Howard, Jon Stewart, and Chris Hardwick (Photo: Jessica McMillan)

It’s been a long time in the planning, but late next week the first instalment of David Gedge’s long-awaited memoir-in-comic-book-form will be released by Scopitones Books.

Stories featured in 176-page, matt-laminated, hardback Go Out and Get ‘Em Boy! – Tales From The Wedding Present: Volume I were before only available to Tales From The Wedding Present comic book series readers. But this collected edition includes 40 pages of previously-unseen additional material and an introduction by renowned Edinburgh crime writer and Rebus creator Ian Rankin.

David, who co-founded indie legends The Wedding Present in 1985 and is the sole surviving member (his fellow personnel now at least numbering 25, past and present) wrote the book along with long-time musical associate and ex-Wedding Present bass player Terry de Castro, the stories illustrated by virtuoso artist Lee Thacker, the trio – with editing help from David’s partner Jessica McMillan – relating his life and adventures for almost 10 years.

With 19 comics published to date, Go Out and Get ‘Em Boy! is the first compilation of the stories in chronological order, beginning with David’s childhood in England and South Africa and continuing up to the inception of The Wedding Present.

On the way, we discover some of the romantic experiences that may have informed his writing, how he first met his hero – legendary BBC presenter John Peel – and the true story behind classic Wedding Present song ‘My Favourite Dress’.

And on Saturday November 7th, the day after publication, David is taking part in a launch event for the book at the Louder Than Words literary festival, fully online this year due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Speaking of which, my last live outing was at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall in mid-March, seeing King Creosote live-score the From Scotland With Love film documentary. I’ve certainly missed live music, let alone a band leader on the road for 35 years now and that in 2019 alone played more than 70 live shows across the UK and Ireland, mainland Europe and Asia (from Mongolia and Japan to China, Thailand and Vietnam).

“Well, this year we’ve … I was going to say fortunately, but that’s not really the right word … we did plan to have a quieter year. Really, since Going, Going … came out, and that’s four years ago now, we’ve been doing quite a lot of touring, places where we hadn’t played before like Australia, New Zealand and Asia. So we thought 2020 should be a quiet year … I just didn’t realise it would be this quiet!”

According to your website ‘concertography’, I see January 13th was the last TWP date, at Colchester Arts Centre, the last of four straight dates.

“Yeah, and we had around 10 concerts planned throughout the year, basically festivals and little warm-up gigs before, either cancelled or pushed back into next year. Apart from the (October 10th) live stream, our first proper concerts are next March, and now I’m kind of thinking, ‘Is that too soon?’ Our first ones were supposed to be in May and June, but they were moved to September.”

And how about the planned live stream?

“Yeah, kind of an experiment. There’s a studio in Brighton – more like a rehearsal room – who approached us about doing a series of live streams, like a small venue with nobody in it, basically. I’d be interested to see how this goes. It’s a whole new world.”

Seeing as you’re based in Brighton, I’m guessing this last year marks the longest you’ve really been cooped up there since you moved to Sussex.

“Yeah, but it’s a nice place to live, one of my favourite places, which is why I moved here. To be honest, because we’ve been away so much in the last few years, it’s kind of nice to have been here for a prolonged period, busy with a few admin things, for example our YouTube channel, which we started around 2014 then did nothing with, putting more relevant things on there, and other ideas that have been shelved because we’ve not been at home. And I’ve spent a lot of time writing, songs and also the book. I think I’ve spent more time on that book than an album!”

It’s a fantastic read, and I was trying my best – on first sight of a digital version – to stop myself reading it in one sitting, wanting to savour the experience for when I saw the physical version.  There’s so much detail in the illustrations, for instance seeing John Peel there in his studio, The Fall’s Dragnet LP in front of him.

“Yeah, I’m my own worst enemy in a way – and Lee, the artist – because I naively write these little stories and he draws them, then I go back and think, ‘Wait a minute – was Dragnet actually released by then?’ It gets kind of obsessive really. 

“We had one the other day where I’m in a phonebox, in the ‘70s, and Lee’s drawn one with push-buttons. Someone questioned if they existed in 1977, checking up and realising it should be a rotary-dial.  I tell you what, I’ve got more respect now for when you see period films and say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m sure that car didn’t exist then!’. It’s gone backwards and forwards between me and Terry, then back to Lee, and back to us to proof, looking at the comic when it came out, and so on. But I think now we’ve done this first one, we should be more prepared in the future, hopefully not falling at so many hurdles!”

Framed Present: David, with a photo of the band, the closest to a reunion amid the lockdown (Photo: Peter Koudstaal)

The roots of this book go back to the band’s own fanzine, Invasion of The Wedding Present, for which Lee did some work, this latest venture in development for around a decade now. The illustrated version of the story starts with David and partner Jessica talking with ex-bandmate Terry outside a restaurant in Los Angeles in 2008, setting the premise for what follows.

“Terry had this idea of doing my biography anyway, from the viewpoint I suppose of meeting me, joining the band, writing it from her perspective. She did quite a lot of work on that, but it never really picked up any momentum. It was always one of those projects that was never fulfilled. Then came this idea of doing a comic book version, we got in touch with Lee, and he was up for doing it.

“For the comic there were around three issues a year, but they were always kind of random stories, not in any chronological order. What we did here was gather all the early ones, fill in the gaps.”

Well, it looks so good. And whether you would call it a graphic novel or a comic, I wonder if that genre has always been a passion for you. For example, my own bought reading material – other than children’s novels and recycled Topper annuals from local jumble sales – probably went from Shoot! to Smash Hits then the NME and on to Q, Select, Vox, Mojo, and the like. How about you?

“I was always obsessed with the music press, which doesn’t really exist anymore, but I was always interested in comics too, from the Beano and the Dandy, moving on to the Eagle, Lion, whatever. Then I guess I discovered Marvel and DC comics from America, and I guess it was in the ‘90s – when I was probably too old for comics – and that era when graphic novels came out, aimed at people like me who loved comics as a kid. So I carried on really.”

My pal, Alan, a regular at many TWP shows I’ve seen down the years, had a love for 2000 AD which he shared with me at one stage, and I soon loved those too.

“Totally, yeah, that was a big moment. It was almost like punk, coming out around the same time. And in the same way punk revolutionised music, 2000 AD probably revolutionised comics, people like Alan Moore writing for it before going on to other things. I’ve always kinda been obsessed, and I’ve got loads of graphic novels. I got rid of all my comics though. I just felt I needed space.”

Talking of space, I saw online recently that Billy Bragg was part-way through a major cataloguing operation in his cellar in Dorset, someone suggesting when he was looking to shift various early treasured posters for a lofty price that surely he couldn’t be ‘hard up’, somehow missing the fact that live performance is where the money is these days. Artists have already lost more than six months of revenue from that source.

Coming Soon: On December 4th, Leeds’ Come Play With Me Records release Not From Where I’m Standing, a double-LP of 20 Bond film themes covered by current and former members of Cinerama and TWP, 100% of profits from its sale being donated to the Campaign Against Living Miserably [CALM] charity. For more details head here.

“Totally, yeah, and in a sense, it didn’t use to be quite so important. Everyone loved to play live, but I remember when we were on RCA, our major source of income was advances and so on from the label. We did make a profit on tour, but it wasn’t crucial. As long as we didn’t lose money, it was a way of supporting the album really. Now it’s completely the opposite, hoping to break even on the record, whereas live is where most musicians make their money now.

“This whole pandemic has hit really hard. I’ve had the same sort of thing when selling guitars on eBay and such like, people not able to understand why. First of all, I’ve got around 20, and there’s absolutely no need to have more than three. It’s about storage, and I’m just glad they go to homes of fans who appreciate them. I agree with Billy Bragg – that income is useful, and is gonna become even more useful the longer this goes on.”

As well as the live stream and the graphic novel, I understand there’s an imminent musical, Reception, based around your songs. How involved have you been with that?

“I’ve not really been involved that much at all apart from meeting the people a few times, them running ideas past me. I’m not a big aficionado of the musical world, to be honest, so I did need a bit of guiding. But it’s kind of in The Wedding Present oeuvre. We do odd things, going right back to The Ukrainians’ sessions, the Hit Parade venture, and this comic. It’s all stuff outside the realm of The Wedding Present as a band, and I’ve always been proud of that. When they came along and said they wanted to do this musical, it wasn’t the most obvious thing in my mind, however … I’d be interested to see what happens, and it may well be the latest string to our bow, or whatever.”

David added that so far that venture was at a crowd-funding stage, the writer at the synopsis stage when we talked. ‘But now he’s got the green light to go ahead and write it, start a research and development stage, get a cast together, and all that. It’s still a way off, possibly around 2022, which in the current situation is probably a good idea in the circumstances!”

I suppose you’ve always had that detail in your songs, the interpretation ambiguous enough to take it into this world.

“That was why he came to me, really. I think he first saw us in Derby in the ‘80s, he’s been a fan since, he’s also a theatre producer, director and writer, and always thought the lyrical aspect of The Wedding Present songs would lend itself perfectly to this kind of format. And people often say when they see the lyrics written down that it’s almost like a play or dialogue from a film.”

And it’s great to see that Ian Rankin’s written the foreword for the comic book.

“Yes, a lot of these people were fans at university age when the band started, and many have stayed with us, some of them becoming famous in their own right, for instance as writers or working for (BBC) 6 Music. There are quite a few professionals in our audience. We did a gig in Richmond, near London, a couple of years ago where someone collapsed, thankfully not too serious in the end. He fell to the floor, and suddenly there were four people form the audience saying, ‘I’m a doctor! I can deal with this.’ I guess that’s one of the benefits of sticking around for so long!”

Bass Instinct: Melanie Howard, with TWP since 2018, and recently working on a solo LP. Photo: Peter Koudstaal

I also note that the comic book is dedicated to comedian, writer, actor and TWP fan Sean Hughes, who died three years ago, aged just 51.

“Sean was another of those early fans, although I didn’t actually meet him until the early ‘90s, when we were playing Dublin. Again, he went on to be a good friend, and it was sad when he died.”

It’s not giving anything away to say this volume ends around the time of the re-pressing of debut single, ‘Go Out and Get ‘Em, Boy!’

“It was very difficult. As you can imagine, it’s a never-ending project, and I’m still writing stuff for the comic about things happening now. There were lots of stories about recording George Best, for instance, but this seems to be a good place to end this one. I think we actually increased it, writing more stories to fill the gaps. But this is a nice size and sets a precedent for the ones that follow.”

I also glanced ahead to find the story of how you first met John Peel, and I loved the story about you watching The Clash at the University of Leeds, pogoing against your will amid a sea of skinheads up front.

“Yeah, I suppose this volume is mostly the story leading up to the band itself and the influences that went into The Wedding Present, including seeing punk bands like The Clash.”

I note ‘Teenage Kicks’ by The Undertones gets a namecheck too, not least in your playlist at the back, and that fits in neatly with the Peel links.

“Yeah, I was kind of obsessed with Peel. I had a friend at school, around 1976 when I was more into Genesis, Yes, Rick Wakeman, and all that. This friend said, ‘Have you heard this guy on the radio, John Peel? He’s been playing tracks by this band called the Ramones, who I’d never heard of’. From that moment, I was like, ‘Whoah! This is a whole new world!’ I stayed with it from there, hardly missing a programme.”

Guitar Jon: Former Sleeper guitarist Jon Stewart, on board since late 2019, caught on film by Peter Koudstaal

It’s of great credit to the three of you that this book carries Peelie’s voice, in my mind.

“Well, I’m glad you said that. I wanted it to be there. He was definitely a guiding influence on me as a person as well as the band.”

So many times I’ve heard bands I love say that the sole ambition they had was to get played by Peel, and rarely more than that. As it was, you found a way beyond that first single being played on his show and that first live session for him, but lots didn’t, and were happy with that.

“Absolutely! I think I would have been happy with that as well. The be-all and end-all was to do a single he would play, and also do a Peel session. When we achieved those firsts, it was like, ‘OK, now what?’ Ha!”

“But after university I was on the dole for a couple of years while the band was forming, and that was all we thought about, really – making the band great and saving enough money to afford to make a record, get that to John Peel. That’s all we thought about really!”

There’s another section of the story I may have briefly sneaked ahead to, seeing you with a couple of your Mum’s suitcases full of that first single, taking the bus up to York.”

“Well, I’ve always been driven …”

You clearly were then … by the bus driver. Sorry, carry on, David.

“I’m not ambitious in the sense of wanting to make a million pounds, but when I have an objective, I’m driven to achieve that. And when it became apparent that taking those records (in a suitcase back to Yorkshire) was the cheapest way of doing it, I was on board for that. Two of us were on the dole (David and Keith Gregory, bass), Peter (Solowka, guitar) was a part-time teacher, and Shaun (Charman, drums) was a student. Between us we didn’t really have any money at all.”

Drum Major: Former my Life Story drummer Chris Hardwick, who also joined in late 2019, by Peter Koudstaal

David’s been based in Sussex around 17 years now, half of that time in Brighton, but the story proper starts with a cross-Pennine relationship between his parents, one based in Leeds, the other Manchester, both cities integral to the band’s Northern roots (he grew up in Middleton, Greater Manchester, and attended the University of Leeds, TWP playing their first dates in Leeds in 1985).

“I don’t think it’s just about the North so much as the regions in general. I’ve always met bands based in London and think you can become obsessed with that – living among all the labels, newspapers, agents, PR people, and so on. But I always think, ‘Yeah, but what about the songs?’ I think once you’re outside of all that, especially in the North or Scotland, even Bristol and places like that, you’re free of all that. People still want to get on and market themselves, but because they’re a bit more distant they’re not quite so on top of it. It gives people a bit more space to breathe and develop, really.”

Talking of space, at times the band have certainly been spaced out at times, so to speak, with members on the US West Coast, Finland, Germany, and so on.

“Strangely, yeah. Not particularly planned, mind. It was quite inconvenient at times. At one point we had me down here, Simon (Cleave, guitar 1996/7, 2004/6, 2009) in Germany, Kari (Paavola, drums 2004/5) was from Finland, and Terry was in America, and is still there now. It wasn’t impossible, but we had to coordinate things very carefully, even for rehearsals.”

In a sense, maybe that gave you a leg-up to these odd times.

“Well, now, strangely enough, all four members of the band live within walking distance, so it’s gone back to how it was in 1985, when we were living in adjacent streets! Again, I’ve not planned that, but people join the band for different reasons, and it’s often word of mouth or they come recommended by someone else.”

On the subject of long-distance travel, I’m guessing Jessica’s not been able to get back with you to Washington in recent times, and her roots.

“Yeah, her parents are over there, and I think we last went at the beginning of 2019, and normally try and go at least once a year. We had flights in summer, but had to cancel. But there you go – there are lots of people in far worse situations.”

Spanish Bonds: David Gedge takes the applause with The Wedding Present at Barcelona BAM Festival in 2019

Meanwhile, David’s parents live on the Lancashire coast in Fleetwood these days. Are they keeping well in these strange times?

“They are. They’re taking it very seriously, which is great. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to see them, but it’s good to have the technology these days, FaceTime them, and all that.”

While I saw you not so far from their base (and mine) in Blackpool last July, at the Waterloo Bar (reviewed here), I also caught you at the Boileroom in my hometown, Guildford in mid-November (with a review here), in what turned out to be the last gig – at least for a while – for Danielle (Wadey, guitar) and Charlie (Layton, drums), the pair about to go ‘on leave’ (David and Melanie Howard, bass, now joined by Jon Stewart, guitar, ex-Sleeper; and Chris Hardwick, drums, ex-My Life Story), their first child born soon after.

“Yeah, they did talk about returning this year, but we haven’t played any gigs anyway!”

In a sense, this was the third of a written trilogy – the book you co-edited with Richard Houghton, Sometimes These Words Just Don’t Have To Be Said, followed by 2019 Pomona publication, Sleevenotes, part of a series where key musicians choose favourite tracks from their back-catalogue, David providing telling insights into their creation, meaning and mood (with a review here). And now this, the comic book biography.

“Yeah, I think I’m writing more books than I’m writing new songs at the moment!”

Was that April 23rd milestone of turning 60 this year the nudge you needed to get this latest publication out there, finally?

“Not really. I think the graphic novel has been on the cards since the last big birthday, 10 years ago, really! And the age thing has never really affected me that much. I think that’s partly because I’m doing now what I was doing when I was 25.”

Live Presence: Danielle, David and Melanie up front, The Wedding Present, Copenhagen 2018 (Photo: Nicklas Rosén)

I get that, but this has been a year for re-evaluating what’s truly important in life – family, friends, and all that.

“Oh, totally. There’s been a lot of reflection. I’ve been really touched by the support from fans, as with the acoustic show we did from home on the 60th birthday, a fund-raiser for our crew. It raised a lot of money, and they were all very humbled by it. I was as well. It was tremendous how they all chipped in. And they continue to support me. I feel very honoured.

“I think Wedding Present fans are a bit different. There is some kind of relationship. It’s not just, ‘Here’s a product – buy it!’ and it’s not just a one-way thing. I’ve always felt that about concerts. It’s not just the band giving you some kind of art. It’s a kind of conversation, almost.”

True, and I think you always seem so approachable, there to talk to before and after a show, and so on. I’ve also noticed there’s a kind of community relationship, such as the fact that when I saw Vinny Peculiar support you at Blackpool last year – and he wasn’t really the most obvious fit – with a true camaraderie towards him from your audience, many of us who saw him support you soon delving deep into his back-catalogue (with Vinny aka Alan Wilkes featured on these pages here).

“Yes, and that’s typified when we do our At the Edge of the Sea festival (this year becoming an online At the Edge of the Sofa festival). There wasn’t a massive budget so we can’t pay big fees to artists, but the amount of times I’ve had people say, ‘I’ve just made 500 new fans here!’ And that’s because Wedding Present fans are very receptive.

“Vinny was an obvious one for that. I’d never heard of him, to be honest, but he was suggested by a Wedding Present fan who lives in LA, I checked him out, and felt he was the kind of act that would work. And he went down really well. He had the audience singing along with him, and there was a tear in my eye. It’s great to be the person who brought that together.”

I also love the fact that you used the word ‘receptive’ there, for a band who initially named their label Reception on account of their band name.

“Ha ha! Foresight!”

Second LP: The Wedding Present’s major-label debut Bizarro was re-issued on LP by Sony Legacy Records this month. Originally released by RCA in 1989, it’s been unavailable on vinyl for some time. For details, head here.

I see there’s a new Bizarro vinyl re-release, and last year we saw a vinyl re-release of the first single via Preston indie label Optic Nerve, one of the factors – along with new releases by BOB and The Wolfhounds – that inspired me to track down the founder of the label this year (with a link to that feature/interview here).

“Yeah, it’s a good label, they do a really nice package – it’s not just banging it out. With ours they did posters and postcards, coloured vinyl, and I think he sells a lot to Japan for collectors. A nice boutique label.”

You mentioned new songs. When do you think the next LP will come our way? It’s been four years since Going, Going … (with a review here) after all.

“Well, there a load of songs that have been written over the last few months. The problem is – because we’ve been social distancing, either the bands or their partners have been immuno-compromised, so we’ve not been in a room together (until the live stream) since January. We’ve done one by sending files back and forth, but it’s just too laborious. When you’re in a room – four people playing together – you play a song and realise a bit doesn’t work, change it, and it’s done in 30 seconds. Whereas doing it remotely, you re-record one version, then ‘what about this?’, and it’s impossible really. So I think we’re going to have to wait until we can do a proper socially-distanced rehearsal. Maybe for this live stream, we can look at that.

“So in answer to your question … I’ve no idea really!” 

Well, whenever it arrives, we’ll be there.

For this website’s Summer 2014 interview with David Gedge, conducted backstage at Hebden Bridge Trades Club, head here.

To pre-order the first instalment of David Gedge’s memoir-in-comic-book-form, released by Scopitones Books on Friday, November 6, try this link

Huts Entertainment: David Gedge, at the edge of the sea and set to publish his latest book (Photo: Jessica McMillan)

David Gedge will also be a guest for the Louder Than Words literary festival, this year online during Saturday, November 7th and Sunday, November 8th, with more details here

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Bea Kristi delivers her pandemic ‘Care’ package – back in touch with Beabadoobee

Bea Movie: Bea Kristi, aka Beabadoobee, has delivered her debut LP, Fake It Flowers, in the year of the lockdown

Last December I caught Beatrice Kristi Laus, aka Beabadoobee, live at Gorilla, Manchester, headlining a sold-out package tour of young artists recording for the Dirty Hit label (with the review here).

She was impressive to say the least, leading a three-piece band – then still a teenager, just about – and proving her worth in a dynamic performance, the culmination of a year in which she received along with Joy Crookes, a Brits’ Rising Star runners-up award (Celeste winning out).

Bea’s confessional bedroom pop/DIY aesthetic has been progressively going down a storm since 2017, this artiste certainly on top form now after a meteoric couple of years, with staggering amounts of Spotify streams for starters. And there was no doubting she was on her way that night near Oxford Road station. But then 2020 happened and … well, you know the rest.

After a 30-date US tour supporting Clairo and her first international headline sell-out in New York last year, there were early 2020 UK arena shows with big league label-mates The 1975, including two sell-outs at London’s O2 Arena. But by mid-March everything ground to a halt, and only now is she truly surfacing again … spreading the word about her debut album, released last weekend.

Despite everything, these are exciting times for Bea, born in the Philippines but moving to London as a three-year-old, Fake It Flowers garnering plenty of interest, lead single ‘Care’ setting the tone perfectly, premiered as ‘Hottest Record in the World’ by Annie Mac at BBC Radio 1 and since streamed more than three million times.

Then came follow-up ‘Sorry’, described by The Guardian as a ‘masterfully restrained expression of regret, eventually pushing sardonic 90s alt-rock into the sky-splitting territory’, and ‘Worth it’, just before the album release, carrying on an impressive catalogue of releases that started with her ‘Patched Up’, ‘Loveworm’ and ‘Space Cadet’ EPs.

I was only a couple of listens into Fake It Flowers when I made contact, but already recognised she’d truly delivered. It must be an exciting time, I put to her, having sat there – no doubt impatiently – waiting for this to drop on the world.

“It is exciting! It’s also really scary. This album has so much of me in it, so much of my life up until now. I didn’t know that this would become what it has, and I never thought anyone would care – I mean look at my artist name! So yeah, it’s exciting and a little terrifying!”

Flowers Girl: Beabadoobee, coming to a town near you next autumn, almost a year after the release of her debut LP

Last time we spoke, you told me that after the Dirty Hit package tour you were looking forward to just chilling with family and friends at Christmas. Who knew what was coming next, eh?

“Yeah, it’s been such a strange year and so much changed, none of our plans could really happen. But really, I’m not sure that I was ready to go away for a whole year touring. I’m sad I didn’t get to meet so many people and play those shows but also, I feel like this has given me the opportunity to really build this world around the album visually and also just see my boyfriend and my family.”

Re-watching the December footage from The Dome of ‘Are you Sure?’, there’s that similar feel I encountered seeing you and your label-mates the previous night at Gorilla. That label package tour must seem an age away now, in view of everything that’s happened since.

“Bro, it feels like a different world! I guess it kinda was. My band and I just spent loads of time rehearsing for something really cool that we’ve made, but it’s weird that we won’t then go and play shows. I usually do a little show around anything I put out with, like, free tickets or something, but not this time.”

If anything, what’s almost shocking now is the complete lack of social distancing in that footage. The dance floor’s a writhing but joyful mess. Those were the days – plenty of public mingling, band and audience alike on a collective high.

“I think losing that is the saddest thing, that togetherness and just jumping up and down with your friends and getting sweaty and, aaargh! I miss it. That tour was great, we could just dance to our best friends every night, party afterwards and meet people.”

I mentioned in my live review at the time a feeling of ‘enveloping love for all three acts, not least the collective spirit between the bands themselves who, when not on stage, were often spotted peering down from the room above, partying along with their label-mates’. Was that pretty much how it was each night?

“Yeah, that’s how the label feels generally, like everyone feels like a family. I know people just say that stuff, but it really does. Oscar Lang I’ve known since I started doing this, and even now Louis, my drummer’s girlfriend, is on the label too. It’s like a gang. All the people at the label and Matty too, everyone supports each other.”

Double Trouble: Bea Kristi, aka Beabadoobee, here to stay after an impressive three year build-up to her first album

Did you manage to get any US dates in before the lockdown? I have it in mind your last date was the Annie Mac presents shows in London in early March with Oscar Lang. Is that right? What happens with the dates you missed out on from Spring onwards – are they rescheduled?

“No! Not since the Clairo tour last year. We had so much fun stuff planned, like Coachella and a headline tour that was sold out. I’m bummed out but, seriously, when we do get over there it’s gonna be so good. Japan too. All these places!”

The first we really heard of the new record was the splendid ‘Care’ in July, setting us up neatly for what’s to follow, yeah?

“I think so, maybe! I guess it just felt like a statement, like something that summed it all up. And it’s kinda fun and angry and just feels like a real moment. It opens the album too, so it felt right.”

The record was recorded in South West London. When and where, how long were you in there, and how did that work in the (trying) circumstances?

“Honestly, most of the album was done before all this happened, like we were already planning everything visually! But yeah, we had to finish during lockdown, so I recorded ‘How Was Your Day?’ in my boyfriend’s garden. There’s literally a dog barking in the background, and it’s kinda dumb but feels like something Daniel Johnston would do. So, fuck it, ha ha!”

I get the impression from what you’ve said, there was an element of ‘word block’ on the songwriting front until you were out touring last year, then it all came relatively flowingly on your return home.

“Yeah, I think I just did so much living and growing up and made a load of mistakes when I was touring, and then it all just came spilling out. It’s definitely very honest, but I don’t really know what else to do with songs.”

Since you served up ‘Coffee’, so to speak (her first track, which gathered hundreds of thousands of streams in a matter of days through a fan-uploaded video, since taking on new life as a sample in Powfu’s TikTok and worldwide chart-dominating hit), it’s been increasingly mad for you, career-wise.

And 2019 was the biggest to date, with the mini-LPs and EPs, the Brits’ Rising Star nomination, the US tour with Clairo, and the sold-out label package tour. Then there were the dates with The 1975. This year we assumed you’d keep that candle burning at both ends, but it hasn’t turned out that way. In the long term, do you think that time to reflect and think on all you’ve achieved so far will work in your favour, creatively, and leave you less burned out?

“It’s been different, but it’s still been a lot. Like we have made five videos and a load of art, and I’ve even made new music that’s ready to go. I don’t think we slowed down, we just had to adapt a bit. But yeah, it’s been cool to be home more too.”

It seems an age away, but live dates are now rescheduled for September and October next year, virus willing, starting at the Ritz in Manchester. Is that something for you that will only be real the moment you step out on that stage?

“Yeah, I can’t wait, we haven’t played a single one of those songs yet. It’s going to be amazing; not touring kills me!”

It’s 14 dates this time, taking in the north and south of Ireland and ending in Glasgow. Do you ever get the feeling before you reach a venue, that people in these faraway towns can’t possibly know your material (but they clearly do)?

“Ha ha! Yes! It’s crazy that anyone would come out and I just appreciate it so much. Just having even one kid or one other girl feel excited or inspired and want to come and see us play makes it all worth it.”

The planned date at The Forum in Kentish Town – like the Tufnell Park show last December – promises to be another momentous homecoming. That must seem pretty unreal. I first visited in the late ‘80s in its Town & Country Club guise, seeing That Petrol Emotion, The Wedding Present and Pixies among others, then Ian Dury and the Blockheads in ‘91, Teenage Fanclub in ’93 (as The Forum by then) and most recently The Undertones in 2016. It’s a big venue. Is that one of those ‘I’ve truly arrived’ moments for you?

“I mean, I used to live in Camden so it’s really just down the road. It’s going to be crazy playing these bigger venues. I kind of like the tiny sweaty shows where everyone just has that crazy energy, crazy London, I call it crack-head energy, because everyone just goes nuts. But polka-ing big shows is cool too. The arena tour with The 1975 was pretty terrifying; on the first night there wasn’t time to soundcheck and I had a full-blown freak out, but then you get used to it. It’s just a different kind of playing. It’ll be amazing to do this, and it’s my show, the Fake it Flowers show.”

Moving Image: Beabadoobee, taking the public transport option on the road to success, and it’s served her well so far

The concentration’s clearly there, but you’re very smiley on stage when you allow yourself that, and rightly so. Is that you thanking your lucky stars most nights?

“Ha ha! Maybe. Or just thinking, whoah, this is crazy.”

Talking about the latest single, ‘Worth It’, you said it’s ‘simply about teenage infidelity and the mistakes one can make when they’re tempted to do things. It’s a bit of a confession song but also an understanding that it’s a part of life.’ But I also get the impression from the accompanying video that it might give us a clue to your lockdown – a touch of cabin fever involved, perhaps?

“It’s really just a song about mistakes that you can make when you’re young and working things out. My boyfriend and my best friend made the video, and it’s a weird situation because it’s almost too personal to do, but we also kind of get to tell the story through the art too.”

What’s kept you sane these past few months when you’ve been away from the studio (particularly the times you were stuck at home)? What did your personal lockdown involve?

“Being able to lock down with my boyfriend and still make things really helped. I was sick early on in the pandemic, so I had to self-isolate and it drove me nuts, but even then I just tried to be creative.”

Tracks like ‘Care’ were where you were heading when I caught you at Gorilla, fitting in neatly with your indie roots. But then there’s the more laidback, dreamy, ‘How Was Your Day?’. I described you last year as ‘personifying post-teen spirit and expertly straddling that line between grunge and indie-pop’. You’re clearly no one-trick pony – there’s at least two sides to Beabadoobee, right?

“It just feels like how I made music when I first started, and the video did too. Just stripped back and kind of innocent, I guess? I love that song.”

Talking of ‘How Was Your Day?’, where’s that rope-swing in the video? Doesn’t look like any part of London I know.

“That would be telling!”

Outdoor Life: Bea Kristi, ready to see the world again as soon as she safely can, and party with her band and fans.

Live, I’d say you give extra bite to the recorded versions of your songs, at the grungier end of the spectrum. My sole niggle was that your gorgeous vocal was sometimes lost in the mix beneath your guitar, but I get the impression that’s how you like it – hiding your light under a bushel, modesty incarnate. You’re very much part of a three-piece, rather than some ‘look at me’ rock idol.

“Haha! Maybe. I had just lost my voice too, we partied a bit on that tour! I love my band though, like it’s not a ‘band’ band, but they’re definitely my band, if that makes sense. They’re my best friends.”

If nothing else, the music we’ve heard these past few months has helped pull us all through. What records have you heard in 2020 that raised your spirits?

“I’ve really reconnected with the music I grew up around, like The Cranberries and Alanis Morrissette, and also music from the Philippines that my Mum played, like Itchyworms.”

This clueless clown car Government seem to think if the opportunity’s not there to make money from the arts industry, maybe us creatives could retrain, try something else. With that in mind, do you fancy a spell in a call centre, or have you got your eye on an even better ‘proper job’?

“God, that sucks. I hate it. Art is important, it saves people. I hate that they just don’t care at all. I hope people don’t stop making things. The world is weird right now.”

Finally, we’ve all had plenty of time to reflect this year, take a breather and think things through. Once we’re back to a semblance of normality, if there ever will be such a thing, what’s the first thing you fancy doing other than play live? What have you realised you’ve missed these past few months that maybe you weren’t consciously aware of until now?

“A huge album release party!”

Confessional Time: Bea Kristi, ready to head out on the road as soon as the coast is clear again, post-pandemic.

For a link to last December’s feature/interview with Beabadoobee, head here.

Beabadoobee has announced a run of headline shows in celebration of the release of her debut LP, the 14-date Fake It Flowers tour taking place across the UK and Ireland next autumn, calling at: Tuesday, September 7th – Manchester O2 Ritz; Thursday, September 9th – Leeds Beckett University; Friday, September 10th – Nottingham Rescue Rooms; Saturday, September 11th – Birmingham O2 Institute; Monday, September 13th – Cambridge Junction; Tuesday, September 14th – Leicester O2 Academy; Thursday, September 23rd – London O2 Kentish Town Forum; Friday, September 24th – Bristol SWX; Saturday, September 25th – Oxford O2 Academy; Tuesday, September 28th – Dublin Academy; Wednesday, September 29th – Belfast Oh Yeah Music Centre; Saturday, October 2nd – Newcastle University Students’ Union; Sunday, October 3rd – Edinburgh Liquid Room; Monday, October 4th – Glasgow SWG 3.

To order Fake It Flowers head here, and to buy tickets for the tour, try this link. You can also keep in touch with Bea via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter,  Spotify, YouTube, and Apple Music.

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The further adventures of Nohope Cowherd – celebrating the return of Bradford, with Ewan Butler and Ian Hodgson

Clash Roots: Stephen Street, Ian Hodgson and Ewan Butler, under the Westway, London (Photo: Fernando Martins)

They were always something of a conundrum to me. An indie outfit from Blackburn called Bradford, who at the time the North West of England showed the way with the late ‘80s Madchester scene, didn’t quite fit the baggy bill with their skinhead image.

What’s more, local press did something of a hatchet job after the band spoke in less than glossy terms about their down at heel hometown, at a time when Thatcherism had taken its toll on the area.

But you only have to go back and listen to debut LP, Shouting Quietly, to remind yourself what great songs they wrote. And while their adventures in rock’n’roll were somewhat short-lived, they’re back now, carrying on where they left off 29 years after splitting, new single ‘Like Water’ the first release from the Bright Hours album, due to land early next year.

Bradford’s 21st century re-imagining involves just two of the five-piece behind that debut LP, but Ian Hodgson (vocals) and Ewan Butler (guitar) are now joined by Stephen Street, the London producer responsible for Shouting Quietly as well as key Smiths, Blur, Cranberries, Morrissey, New Order, Babyshambles and Kaiser Chiefs LPs.

It was Stephen, off the back of a successful collaboration with newly-solo Morrissey, who signed the band to his fledgling Foundation label back then, praise following for their ‘intelligent and distinctive, finely crafted pop songs,’ as Sounds put it in May 1988That first LP wasrecorded over ‘three intense weeks of creative endeavour’, released in March 1990 to critical acclaim, international tours and shows following with Joe Strummer, The Sugarcubes and Morrissey himself, the former Smiths frontman covering their debut 45 ‘Skin Storm’ at the height of his fame.

Those factors should have been enough for commercial success. But then came the rise of the all-covering avalanche that became known as ‘Madchester’, Bradford’s brand of sharp English pop no longer the order of the day, the band without a label by 1991, ‘adrift again’ and soon going their separate ways.

Back they came in 2018 though, Thirty Years Of Shouting Quietly seeing the debut album lovingly remastered and re-released in a 30-song collection on Turntable Friend Records, re-appraised as a ‘lost English classic’, setting the cogs in motion for Ian and Ewan to record again, finding the original magic alive and well. Confident in a clutch of new songs that were identifiably Bradford by blueprint, they contacted their former producer, and it was game on.

As Stephen put it, “When I brought the original Foundation Label to an end in the ‘90s and Bradford disbanded, I often wondered what happened to the guys in the band, particularly Ian and Ewan, who I regarded as the mainstays. So, although a huge amount of time had passed, and it was a complete surprise to hear from them last year, it felt completely ‘right’ to get involved and help bring the idea of a new Bradford album to full fruition.”

Monochrome Set: Ewan, Ian and Stephen Street – a new-look Bradford, by the Thames, Chiswick (Photo: Fernando Martins)

With an album’s worth of material ready in waiting, Stephen’s studio expertise and resounding confidence in the tracks proved to be the catalyst bringing Bright Hours into focus. And as Ian put it, “To see Stephen’s familiar frame leaning over the control desk in quiet concentration once more after three decades was for Ewan and I nothing short of amazing.  Amazing too was to hear the results. The songs I’d written seemed to become almost immediately wider, brighter, deeper, shinier as soon as Ewan and Stephen bent their ears then began their alchemy with them. They’re like diamond dogs – they hear things I cannot hear in them.”


I caught up with Ian and Ewan at the latter’s home studio set-up, ‘in a place called Blackburn,’ according to the former. Ah, I’ve heard of that, I countered.

Ian: “Yeah, it be a place where there be monsters! It’s on the edge of the world. Don’t sail there.”

I’ll bear that in mind. And to save us from visiting in these socially-distanced times, I asked if they were planning on touring the new songs when it’s safe to do so … sometime this century.

Ian: “Oh, my word. We’ve not really configured that in, to be honest. I mean … you’ll know Stephen Street, of course … well, he lives in a place called London …”

I’ve heard of that as well.

Ian: “Yeah, and it be a long way away … so logistically it’s not that easy for us to rehearse. But we’ll wait to see what’s happening. If we start selling half a million copies of Bright Hours … And we want Elbow to have us as a support at Manchester Arena. Then we might get a band together.”

Did you two stay in touch after the band split?

Ewan: “We always maintained contact, and always been good friends. There have been times when I wasn’t living here and Ian’s been doing other stuff, but our paths would cross from time to time. In the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve seen more of each other, and always got on well, had that kind of vibe.”

New Arrival: The long-awaited new Bradford single, with cover artwork by Tony Bentley at The Bentley Studio

New Arrival: The long-awaited new Bradford single, with cover artwork from Tony Bentley at The Bentley Studio

What about former bandmates John Baulcombe (keyboards), Jos Murphy (bass), and Mark McVittie (drums) – were they out of the picture?

Ian: “We don’t talk about those three! We’re gonna draw a discreet veil over that. Ha!”

Ewan (realising that won’t sound quite so funny in the cold light of print): “There isn’t any animosity.”

Ian: (catching up) “No, there isn’t!”

Ewan: “It’s just that we kind of lost touch. They don’t live local to us anymore, and over the years they never really expressed any interest in doing any work with us.”

Well, thankfully, that Street fella knows his way around the odd instrument.

Ian: “Oh, my word, does he! He’s played some great parts on the album, and this is it, really. We were cracking along in the studio and sending stuff down to Stephen, who took everything to a new level, fixing and mixing, adding performances on certain songs with his bass. It’s been fantastic.”

It’s been quite a year for it. There was reformed late-‘70s/early ‘80s new wave outfit The Vapors, from my hometown of Guildford, Surrey, with a first album in 39 years. Then we had under-sung indie faves BOB with a remastered eventual release of what should have been an LP release in 1992. Both corking records. Now this, a second Bradford LP, three decades after the first. What kept you?

Ewan: “I left Blackburn after Bradford split up, which was about 1991, Ian started working with other bands and went off with different artists, doing different stuff. So it never really arose as a realistic kind of possibility of us working together until 2010-ish.”

Studio Tan: Ewan, Stephen and Ian get down to it at the Bunker Studio in Latimer Road. Photo: Fernando Martins

Ian: “I was offered a support slot for Glenn Tilbrook at Blackburn Museum, and at that stage said to Ewan, ‘Fancy doing a couple of songs for old time’s sake? So we started doing ‘Skin Storm’ again, stuff like that. That was the spark. A record company got in touch, did 30 Years of Shouting Quietly, and that got us into playing again and recording together. I shared it with Stephen (Street) on the off-chance, he loved it, thought it was great and got involved in a really deep way, became a band member. And here we are now.”

Was it unfinished business? Were the songs borne out of ideas that hung around over the years, or was it freshly put together?

Ian: “I live my life through song. I constantly write, not just to make records. I write a couple of songs a month maybe. They flow through me. I had a lot of music and it was quite a process – 30 years of bloody songs! I’m not joking, over 300 songs, and presented them to Ewan. Well … not all of them. And we came out with what we thought was a real strong set. Stephen sequenced it, and if you play your cards right, you’ll get a copy at some stage!”

Talking of your solo days, my pal Jim – a Blackburn lad who’s been to a hatful of gigs with me this past quarter-century since I moved up north – recalls you supporting former Bible frontman Boo Hewerdine in the unlikely rock’n’roll setting of Tockholes Village Hall. And I gather you borrowed Boo’s guitar to join him on a number.

Ian: “Yes, in fact, I saw Boo again at Darwen Library Theatre a year or so ago, supporting Chris Difford. It was a bit of a challenge really, that night. It was a bass guitar, and I didn’t even know the song. He was shouting out chord changes, and when somebody’s shouting ‘D’, it sounds really similar to ‘B’ or ‘E’! But I thought I did okay.”

Well, he didn’t tell me you disgraced yourself. He also told me that part-way through the evening he saw the curtains flap, and someone turned up with a Chinese takeaway. It’s clearly a long way in rock’n’roll from Montmartre with The Sugarcubes to Tockholes.

“Yeah, man. Actually, seeing as you mentioned The Vapors before, me and my missus saw them at Portmeirion on their reunion, doing the New Clear Days album. Absolutely fantastic! There’s a picture of me and (lead singer) Dave Fenton. I was a big fan.”

Clearly a man of great taste. And here’s another link to my past, fellow WriteWyattUK interviewee Jo Bartlett reminding me Bradford were one of the only bands to play her Buzz Club at Aldershot’s West End Centre twice. At the time I was writing my Captains Log fanzine, dispatching a couple of friends to do a review in my absence at the April ’89 date, as I was holidaying in Portugal. But I was there for your November return. Jo told me there were around 170 punters first time, but my diary suggests far fewer when you returned.

Morrisey's Favourite: Skin Storm, the debut single by Bradford, from a Chris Ball photograph

Morrisey’s Favourite: Skin Storm, the debut single by Bradford, its image from a Chris Ball photograph

Ewan: “I do remember those shows. Yeah, first time it was quite full, but second time it wasn’t as well attended, possibly down to the fact that the music scene was in flux at the time. We were slowly being edged out.”

There’s a kind of irony in that – when the record industry finally woke up and took an interest in the region, they were looking for a different kind of band.

Ewan: “Exactly!”

Ian: “When we first played the Buzz Club … we’ve got a poster, and The Stone Roses played five weeks before us …”

Indeed, they did. I was there.

“And it was £2.99 to see them. Then we played in April, and … drum-roll moment … it was £3.49 to see us. So we were 50p bigger than The Stone Roses at the beginning of 1989!”

I’ve seen that poster again recently, via Jo’s Indie through the Looking Glass website, with you billed as ‘Morrissey’s favourites’.

Ian: “That’s right, and it was a pivotal moment. Their album had just come out when we recorded Shouting Quietly in Wales that June, and I remember listening to their album, being kind of jealous – a bit snippy. When you look back, it’s cheeky, but there you go. It’s stood the test of time. And that became the big thing, but we weren’t dancey and weren’t groovy.”

You weren’t The Charlatans, were you … you didn’t quite fit that profile the A&R types felt they wanted.

Ian: “Correct. And that saw us off really.”

Where was the studio you recorded at in Wales?

“Loco, not far from a place called Cwrt Bleddyn, I think.”

The inflatable WriteWyattUK Ordnance Survey globe identifies that long-gone studio as not far from Newport, Chepstow and legendary Rockfield Studios. Was that recording process an enjoyable experience?

Second Out: The follow-up single, its cover shot on the Grane Road, Haslingden, Lancashire

Second Out: The follow-up single, its cover shot taken on the Grane Road, Haslingden, Lancashire

Ian: “An amazing experience! We were all off the dole, and all of a sudden proper professional musicians. It was a glorious summer and although it was only three intense weeks – recording, mixing, the whole shebang – Stephen worked like a Trojan. One of the highlights of my life really.”

There was clearly something in the air. That following month I met my better half in Turkey … and that’s why I’m in Lancashire now. And our first gig together? Seeing you at Aldershot Buzz Club that November. And we’ve now been together more than 30 years. I can’t put that all down to you, mind.

Ian: “Well, that’s a good story! I like that – get that in the article!”

The LP finally landed nine months later, I still have the vinyl, and it’s totally stood the test of time. Tracks like ‘Always Torn’ jump out, with a kind of Orange Juice feel.

Ian: “Interesting. Nobody’s ever said that before. I’m a huge fan of Orange Juice and Edwyn Collins. That kind of fey feel, and he’s very lyrical.”

Listening back, I hear something of Elvis Costello and the Attractions on various tracks. Not just because of Ian’s vocal delivery. And on second single, ‘Adrift Again’, which also really stands up now, there’s almost a feel of old East Anglian favourites, The Farmer’s Boys.

Ian: “My word. I don’t even know who they are … but I was going through a wordplay phase, and ‘To Have and To Hurt’ is a bit Costello-ish. So, well spotted – I was very influenced by Elvis Costello. I think he’s one of our best songwriters.”

It’s heart on the sleeve, heartfelt, and – talking of wordplay – opening track ‘Greed and Peasant Land’ is veritably drenched in it!

Ian: “it is! Yeah, it was a phase. We’ve moved on a bit!”

Don’t take this wrong, but there’s a lovely kind of naivety, if you don’t mind me saying. The lyrics were certainly impassioned, not least the opening verse, something of a statement of intent …

‘I dragged my butt across the town, past empty mills and sad fashion clowns; I walk this Land of Dope and Tory, that would be funny if it wasn’t so true’.

Good to see we’ve moved on in three decades, eh?

Ian: “Yeah, right mate! It’s probably just as relevant.”

Take Three: The third Bradford 45, shot on the Mersey estuary

Take Three: The third 45, shot on the Mersey estuary

Was that written about your hometown?

Ian: “Yeah, we were part of the Blackburn Escape Committee, I suppose. We had an interview in the NME with Sarah Champion. She was lovely, wrote for a Manchester magazine as well. We were very honest about our experiences in Blackburn and the local paper picked up on it, did a hit-piece on us. We got really vilified for that.”

Ewan: “We did. I had someone come up to me in a pub, threatening me. The repercussions were quite significant.”

Ian: “Yeah, I got death threat phone calls! Ha!”

It says on the inner sleeve, ‘Bradford, North of Manchester’. Got that compass fixed yet? And while you’ve probably been asked this 100 times, what was the thinking behind the name? That’s almost provocative in itself, taking the name of another mill-town on the other side of the Roses’ border. How did five lads from Blackburn become Bradford?

Ewan: “The name goes back long before I met Ian. I was working with another singer, when I was about 16, and it was very much a bedroom kind of low-key, ‘let’s make a band’ set-up. The name was something he proposed, and kind of stuck. As the band develoed, others joined, and the name was never really addressed as an issue. Then, before we knew it, Morrissey said what he said, and we were kind of stuck with it. To be honest, if a band’s successful, they take ownership of that name – it becomes something bigger than the connotations of what people might want to make of it.”

Ian: “I mean, who’d have thought a band called The Police would be big? Nobody really warms to that as a name, but it didn’t stop them guys. In this day and age though, I wish we picked something else – if you search ‘Bradford’ online, you come up with Bradford bands and their city council. But it was just a hard name … a bit strange-sounding.”

Ewan: “And it has a kind of working-class element to it, which tied in with where we were at.”

Ian: “It was short of any pretensions. There was no glamour.”

A group of lads (and fellow WriteWyattUK interviewees) from nearby Colne whose debut LP followed in 1991 claimed a name that may have fit better – Milltown Brothers.

Ian: “Yeah! Actually, my friend Paul, who has a studio in Lancaster, is working with them again. They’re recording new things as well.”

My Gang: The fourth Bradford 45, its cover image shot on Queen's Park Lake in their hometown of Blackburn

My Gang: The fourth Bradford 45, its cover image shot on Queen’s Park Lake in their hometown of Blackburn

Glad to hear it. Great band. There was something else that perhaps jarred in some quarters though – the skinhead thing. That probably confused a few people.

Ewan: “In what sense?”

Well, many of us understood the fashionable roots of skinhead culture and a love of Bluebeat, Motown, ‘60s ska, soul, and so on. But there was also the menacing, moronic right-wing mentality of some of those adopting that look.

Ewan: “Fortunately, we’d all grown up with exposure to excellent music, from punk to soul to 2 Tone, and were aware of that kind of music, so it was a development of that kind of vibe. It was never about right-wing, Skrewdriver-type connotations. It was very much related to soul.”

So were you reclaiming that look back from the fascists?

Ian: “Absolutely, and Ewan’s brother Kevin was a proper skinhead who worked with Martin Hewes from The Redskins, printing Socialist Workers Party magazines down in London. We’d go see The Redskins a lot. We loved them. It kind of came from that really.”

Ewan: “We always had that exposure to that kind of ska, early skinhead music, so it was a natural kind of thing … and it’s still a great look, I think.”

Ian: “It was more like a hard Mod thing. I was never impressed by the bonehead kind of MA1 (flight) jacket, shaved head, tattoos on the face, stupidly-long Doc Martens. Come on, man – that’s not cool, is it! I’d rather have loafers.”

Only one band pulls off the DM look, I reckon – WriteWyattUK pin-ups The Undertones.

Ian: “Undertones! Fantastic!”

Back to questionable right-wing sentiments though, and I have to ask about your old pal Morrissey. I imagine it was quite a rush initially to get that plug from him though, in turn offering a tour support.

Getting Flighty: The original Shouting Quietly sleeve image, featuring Horst Tappe's celebrated early '60s portrait of Noel Coward.

Getting Flighty: The original Shouting Quietly sleeve, featuring Horst Tappe’s early ’60s Noel Coward portrait

Ian: “Yes, we played Wolverhampton Civic Hall, his first solo gig, where we first met him, becoming friends. He’d come round my house quite a lot, send postcards, ring me on a fairly regular basis, and yeah … a really fantastic, highly intelligent icon.

“Recently, I think he’s fallen off the perch a little, perhaps, but in a way, he’s doing what he’s always done – for good or ill, speaking his mind, I suppose.”

We’ve had this again recently, John Lydon photographed backing Brexit and Trump. All a bit odd, and disappointing. But because it’s Lydon, you think, does he really believe this, or is it just situationism and provocation nonsense, making you question everything?

Ian: “Yeah, like is it an artist statement and being post-modernist ironic? Ha!”

And is ‘Radio Edna’ still broadcasting, as per the song on your debut LP?

“Yeah, that was a real lady at the top of my street in Mill Hill. She had a corner shop. Basically, nowt got past her, y’know!”

Did she know about the song?

“No! I didn’t want to tell her, really. Mum and Dad used to get their loaf from there – I didn’t want to sour relations!”

Neil Arthur, of Blancmange fame, from nearby Darwen, told me a lovely story about an old dear back home – after he’d been on Top of the Pops with ‘Living on the Ceiling’ – calling him out for singing about being ‘up the bloody tree’ on national TV, bringing him back down to earth with a  bang.

Ian: “Ha! Yeah, and Edna were a bit severe. She really was. She had tripe in the window and everything. Proper cornershop.”

Three’s Company: Ewan Butler, Ian Hodgson and Stephen Street – Bradford’s much-feared defensive formation, the trio shot beneath Hammersmith Bridge on a visit to the capital (Photo: Fernando Martins)

Were you all originally from Blackburn?

Ewan: “Yeah, all scattered about really.”

Ian: “I’m from Mill Hill, which has a bit of a reputation, I suppose. That’s why I wrote ‘Gang of One’ – I didn’t really fit in with a lot of what was going on, and some incredibly dodgy characters.”

Ewan: “Certainly me and Ian came from quite rough neighbourhoods.”

I hope the Lancashire Telegraph doesn’t go big on this, open up the old wounds. And what brought you together? Why did you gravitate towards each other?

Ewan: “It was definitely a shared love of music which brought us to meet each other – a Blackburn Musicians’ Collective meeting. At the time we had a different singer, but I clocked Ian straight away and when I heard him play … He was performing as a solo artist with guitar, and, ‘This guy’s got a lot of talent and can sing really well’. No disrespect to our previous singer, but he was someone who made an impression on me straight away, and I thought it would be great if we could get him in the band. So we kind of hankered after that. Musically as well, we had so much in common – we liked the same kind of bands. It felt natural.”

Ian: “I was volunteering for this community arts (venture) and did my own fanzine there, Just 4 Minutes. It ran to 11 issues and in the last one I interviewed Paul Weller, then with The Style Council, that interview ending up in a book called Mr Cool’s Dream. I was also the chair of that collective – not the chairman, it was the 1980s, all very PC.

“I got people to fill in a form to see what their musical influences were, and when Ewan rocked up with his compadres, first I noticed how fucking cool they looked! A lot of it at the time was middle-class lads, long-ish hair, a bit grungey, ‘aren’t we rebels’. But these guys drifted in and looked sharp. Then I looked at the forms they filled in – it was The Clash, Redskins, Motown … Oh, my God, it was like a dream! All the bands I liked, but they’re in that band and I’m over here on my own. So that’s where it began really.”

Waterside Reception: The five-piece Bradford, in their Foundation label days, with Ian H out front and Ewan on his left shoulder, the image shot on Queen’s Park Lake in the band’s hometown of Blackburn, Lancashire

Seeing as you mentioned The Clash, how about touring with Joe Strummer?

Ian: “Can I tell the story … about the underpants?”

Ewan: (side-stepping his bandmate’s question, but realising it won’t be long before ‘the tale is told’, as Morrissey would say) “Well, supporting Joe Strummer was the most amazing experience. The Clash were my No.1 band, so to be able to support Joe was an absolute dream come true. But it was more than just getting to play with him. We shared a dressing room, rocked up in the afternoon, spent time chatting to him, passing his Telecaster around …”

Ian: “It had the peeling ‘Ignore Alien Orders’ sticker on it, and was like some kind of Holy Grail. We all started picking it up, standing in front of the mirror. I’m left-handed and even I had a do! Then Joe walked in as we were messing around, and oh my God. We all kind of looked at him, and he just smiled, went over to a table and started skinning up. He made a joint like a sleeping bag. Unbelievable. Our bass player was so bombed off it, he couldn’t even soundcheck, he was so blown away! But Joe was doing them all night and managed a blinding performance.

“Also, I saw him get changed before I went on, and was deeply shocked to see he had purple Y-fronts. I mean, what underwear do you think Joe Strummer would wear?”

Joe was with his Latino Rockabilly War outfit at the time, touring the Earthquake Weather solo LP.

Ian: “We were trying to talk to him about the last days of The Clash, and he was really embarrassed about that final incarnation of the band.”

Ian’s now 56, with Ewan five years younger, but both saw The Clash play – Ian twice and Ewan half a dozen times, although both only saw the classic line-up once, on the 16 Tons tour at Blackburn in late January 1980, London Calling newly released.

Ewan: “The rest were on the Out of Control tour and a miners’ benefit. But yeah, just amazing.”

Ian: “I’ll tell you what, that gig at the King George’s Hall – flipping ‘eck! It’s hard to describe the intensity and power. What’s left of the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up just speaking about it! It was incredible, y’know.”

Remastered, Re-appraised: The cover image for the 2018 take on Bradford’s acclaimed Shouting Quietly album

You also supported The Sugarcubes. Did you get to properly meet Björk?

Ian: “Well, there’s another story! Paris, December 1988, playing Elysee Montmartre, where the Sacre Coeur is, but also Pigalle, the Soho of Paris, getting lots of come-ons from transvestite prostitutes. Anyone with a street urchin look … a bit of an eye-opener, to say the least. But we met Björk backstage, and Einar (Örn Benediktsson) from the band was a bit embarrassed, thinking, ‘Oh no, here’s some real skinheads, and I’m just pretending!’ So he was hanging back a bit, but I asked Björk for an autograph. We had a Sugarcubes poster we’d ripped off the wall. She gave me a kiss on the cheek, laughed, and drew a very rude picture on it, writing a word I’ve never tried to translate. A dick and balls and this word. I don’t know if she was calling me a nobhead!”

You may not have fitted in with the Madchester scene, but I hear you in the band Gene – another band with a Stephen Street link – on their debut LP, Olympian from 1995. So were you just jinxed – was it bad timing on your part, missing out on more fame?

Ewan: “The band that became Gene, Sp!n, were stablemates of us on Foundation. That said, I’ve seen Martin Rossiter – maybe responding to Stephen Street – kind of suggest he didn’t know of us.”

In a sense, you went out with a fizzle in the end.

Ian: “Absolutely. It was so disappointing. I remember cockily signing off the dole with a ‘You won’t be seeing me here again’ sort of thing, then three years later had to sign on again with the same effing guy I’d more or less thrown a pen at and said, ‘See you later, mate – you’ll see me on Top of the Pops’. I’m back, saying, ‘Yeah, it’s Mr Hodgson, and I’m available for work’. Absolutely crushing.”

Ewan: “It was sad. We were really ground down as individuals, starting to fall out with each other. At one stage we thought it was gonna work, it was all going to happen, then it seemed to fall apart. And with the collapse of Foundation, we didn’t have an outlet for our music, and the gigs we played seemed to be the worst venues. It really got to us, yet if we’d held out a couple more years … the Britpop thing was right up our street, we’d have fallen with ease into that genre.”

So the rebirth is on some level at least about carrying on where you left off?

Ian: “I suppose. It’s a strange thing, but there’s nothing contrived. It’s all happened organically. Even with Stephen getting involved, we didn’t have a business meeting about it. He was impressed with the material we were sending him. It just feels right, and we’re convinced if people get to hear this record and it gets the right exposure, they’ll really enjoy it.”

Hammersmith Valets: Ewan, Ian and Stephen, are all set to deliver the second Bradford album, three decades after their debut, here on a photo shoot in West London, caught beneath Hammersmith Bridge (Photo: Fernando Martins)

For a link to the Bradford’s ‘Like Water’ and how to get a copy, head here. And for the latest from Bradford, follow them via Facebook.

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Exploring transcendental meditation lockdown blues – talking More Than Time with Carl Hunter

At a time when concerns grow over the possibility of a further national lockdown in the battle against COVID-19, a newly-released short film documenting the streets of Liverpool as you’ve most likely never seen them before gives a timely reminder of a period we’re hoping won’t be repeated.

Carl Hunter’s More Than Time offers a powerful take on the international pandemic, featuring his home city but relevant to many others, fusing evocative images with a stirring soundtrack and spoken-word reflections, leaving a big impression on the viewer.

You may know Carl best as the bass player of Merseyside crossover indie dance  collective The Farm, whose nine top-40 hits included 1990 top-10s ‘Groovy Train’ and ‘All Together Now’, gold-certified 1991 LP Spartacus topping the charts a year later.

While occasionally on the circuit with his band, his working days mostly involve filmmaking and a senior media lecturing role at Edge Hill University, near Ormskirk, these days. And although the pandemic put paid to much of that this year, 55-year-old Carl remained busy.

More Than Time takes us back to when high streets were deserted and the world seemed a very different place, shops and eateries closed on a real-life set of what often resembled a post-apocalyptic movie; city centres thriving on hustle and bustle becoming ghost towns overnight.

And during that period, Carl ultimately saw a creative opportunity to document this unique moment, lockdown leading to what some saw as a ‘less than time’, yet he’d rather view, as per a description by close friend and occasional writing partner Frank Cottrell-Boyce as a transcendent ‘more than time’.

In the film, anonymous messages left on a telephone answer machine concerning loss and memory play over the top of Carl’s photographs and a soundtrack by Farm guitarist/tunesmith and TV/ documentary music scorer Steve Grimes. The result is an eight-minute symphony of image and sound from the streets of a deserted city,  describes by its architect as a ‘poetic response to the COVID pandemic’, where ‘memory populates streets of a once vibrant city, instead of its people’.

Produced by Martin McQuillan of Edge Hill University’s Institute for Creative Enterprise (ICE, a ‘hub for connecting ideas and students to cultural industries regionally, nationally and internationally’) and edited by ICE manager Roz Di Caprio (who also produces The Lonely Arts Club podcast), there’s also key input from sound designer Sam Auguste, who previously collaborated with Carl on Sometimes Always Never, among other film projects.

Reflection Time: Liverpool’s sign of the times, the Duke of Welly above, Summer 2020 (Photo copyright: Carl Hunter)

As Carl put it, “I was interested to explore strands of sound and image that draw on my experiences as a film director, musician, and academic researcher. It’s important that universities accommodate filmmakers. It’s also important that filmmakers who work in universities have something to say about lockdown.”

The ICE also co-produces films with Moscow’s Bazelevs Studios and Liverpool’s Hurricane Films, the latter’s CV including Sometimes Always Never and with Farm drummer turned writer Roy Boulter its co-director.

Carl was just back from an inspirational visit to an exhibition of the revered Don McCullin’s photography at Tate Liverpool when we spoke, promising to return as soon as possible.

“I decided to spend half an hour there, have a look, and it’s absolutely mind-blowing. I’ll go back tomorrow or the day after, spend a while longer. It’s very humbling. He photographed so much pain and suffering that now he does landscapes, which he sees as cleansing or meditation. If you’re in Liverpool, I’d highly recommend it.”

It’s definitely on my list, not least after a recent visit to the Walker Art Gallery across town to see the Linda McCartney photography exhibition. Did you get to see that?

“Yeah, anything Beatles-connected, I’m a bit of a geek for, but what was great about Linda, aside from that connection, was that she was an incredibly brilliant photographer in her own right, and the exhibition reflects that really well, proving she was a great photographer before she met Paul.

“I’m a huge fan of photography and take photos every day, and after the Linda McCartney exhibition I went home and having seen a lot of Polaroids there, dug my own out, out of curiosity. I’ve got loads and I’ve been going through them, and might do something with those someday, perhaps another book project inspired by those photographs with my friend, Frank (Cottrell-Boyce).”

Sounds good. In the spirit of the project that led to the pair of you co-writing 2011’s The Unforgotten Coat (having previously worked together on the splendid 2007 film Grow Your Own, the first time I became aware of Carl’s path beyond his bass guitar and sleeve design duties with The Farm)?

“Exactly! And a few years later, at some point another copy will arrive through the front door from the publisher, Walker, translated for a new edition. There’s been Japanese, Mongolian, French, German … about once a year in yet another language!”

Clear Message: The writing’s on the wall in a defining year, Liverpool, Summer 2020 (Photo copyright: Carl Hunter)

Has he managed to get back to his university lecturing role of late?

“Not a great deal, I’m back there at the moment and students arrive soon. But what happens when they arrive, who knows … one by one universities are deciding to go online, so maybe we will be, which is a shame. The whole point of teaching for me is the interaction between yourself and the students, where A can inspire B, and B can inspire A. It’s two-way traffic, so when it goes online … my heart sinks.

“I do feel for the students, but equally, safety is really important. I don’t know what the answer is. On the other hand, It seem that this Government don’t all want working class, poorer kids in university. They’d rather fatten further education and reduce higher education to a more elite group. That’s fucking dangerous and it’s got to be stopped!

“Everyone has the right to an education and to do a degree. But for some, a degree isn’t the answer. As a society we’ve introduced a value system which is wrong, that somehow if you’ve a BA you’re of more value than someone who’s done their HND or OND or BTEC. That’s nonsense. We need to move back to a time where the value’s the same.

“When I went to art school, it was Liverpool Polytechnic, and those polytechnics were brilliant. It kind of worries me now that this pandemic is playing partly into the hands of this Government, thinking maybe this is a good opportunity to look at universities and which we want to keep and support.

“That’s dangerous, and there’s this argument about the state and people who work in the arts. For me, capitalism and art are enemies. It’s okay if you’re Damien Hirst, securing millions for your work. Capitalism likes that, but art isn’t about making money. I’ve no issue with people making money out of art, but it’s about expression, feeling good, well-being, discovery, exploring things … Sometimes those things don’t have a financial value, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have any value. And there’s a great danger in culture, where we’re heading, where the only value in anything has to be monetary. I cannot agree with that at all.”

Carl’s helping lead the way in a more inspirational sense though, helping show the way through creativity, as seen with the More Than Time project. A lovely idea, and brilliantly pulled off.

“Thank you very much. It came about during lockdown. I’d drive into Liverpool occasionally, out of boredom really, and the city I grew up in and know like the back of my hand, I’d never seen it so empty. It was almost apocalyptic.

Empty streets: An eery Liverpool, locked down during the pandemic, Summer 2020 (Photo copyright: Carl Hunter)

“I thought I’d take photos, just out of curiosity, document this moment in time. Initially, I wanted to use Polaroids, but they’re incredibly expensive and the success rate’s about 50%. I’m also a fan of disposable cameras though, so I took shots on my phone with the idea of converting them so they look like disposable camera photos.

“Walking around Liverpool when it was empty, it felt like I was the only person on Earth. Almost like you’re in your own novel, and I imagined that if I’d taken a disposable camera with me then just left the camera somewhere for someone to find, and later someone found and developed the film, they’d have a whole set of prints of an empty Liverpool and begin to imagine what that was all about. Where were all the people?

“When I went back through these photos, I was thinking I’ve got to do something with these, but I don’t know what. Then I had this idea about setting up an answer machine, putting a call out to people in Liverpool to leave a message, say what they were missing about Liverpool. I ended up with loads of messages, using those as a kind of narrative. And sometimes I was completely lucky that I’d photographed the locations they mentioned.”

In a terrible year bridging the gap between dystopia and reality, it’s a great concept, and I recognised at least one voice, the afore-mentioned Frank Cottrell-Boyce contemplating missing mass at his church, while others talk about alternative places of worship – pubs, shops, libraries, theatres, markets, football grounds, and so on.

“Frank is always philosophical, and what he sees is one of the reasons I love him as a writer and a friend. He sees humanity and has a great talent in seeing good in humanity among the horror, defeat and bad times. And when Frank talks about how we’re living in a ‘more than time’, I thought, ‘That’s a great title!’.

As well as the photographs and messages, there’s also a compelling soundtrack, supplied by your good friend and bandmate, Steve Grimes.

“Steve’s a huge fan of Brian Eno, and we were chatting and he said Eno explored all this in the ‘70s. He had an idea, so after we edited the film, I sent it to Steve, who sent back this choral, Eno-esque soundtrack, which is brilliant.”

And you had backing from Edge Hill University’s Institute for Creative Enterprise (ICE).

“Yes, I do quite a lot of work with them, and as someone interested in photography, film, music, art and design, I tick a few of those boxes in the fabric of my days, so my relationship with ICE is quite strong and goes hand in glove – that’s where I gravitate towards, and they respond very quickly to ideas.

Booked Out: From Carl’s images of his home city in COVID lockdown, Summer 2020 (Photo copyright: Carl Hunter)

“When I mentioned this box of photographs and the idea of an answer machine and soundtrack, they said, ‘Do it! If you need money, we’ll help financially’. It cost virtually nothing to make, but sound design was very important and Sam (Auguste), who did that, also worked on Sometimes Always Never and two shorts I did before. Yes, poor Sam’s had the misfortune of being stuck with me in recording studios for months on end. I tip my hat to that man!

“Sound design was so important. We were developing this idea about how when photos have no people in them, you add this imagined idea of what the sounds were like. When you look at a silent photo, it’s silent, but if you then find that photograph after a film’s been processed, without realising it, you imagine the sound that was there.

“Photographs generate a whole emotive response. But your response would be a different response to the one I’m imagining, based on our own past, or whatever. So you’re kind of populating what’s essentially a silent film with the missing noise.”

I see from your social media posts there’s been another project of late, working on photographs concentrating on typography in the bricks found on the Merseyside coast where you walk every day.

“Yes, the coast is really important to me. I go walking a lot, taking photos, and started to notice something you don’t tend to associate with the beach – words. Words are what you use to describe how you feel about being on the beach – it’s hot, it’s fun, it’s windy, whatever. But it’s all audio. You don’t expect to see words on the beach.

“I became fascinated by seeing these words. But it’s not so much the words as the typography. The specific words themselves aren’t so important. It’s almost trainspotting, isn’t it?”

Not in an Irvine Welsh or Danny Boyle way though.

“Ha! No way. If only. But once I’ve a camera in my hand and go walking, I find it’s impossible not to be inspired by spotting something.”

Six Appeal: The Farm in a Sire Records publicity shot from 1994, with Carl Hunter far left (Photo: Mark McNulty)

It’s been 15 months since our last conversation, at which point I caught you at the airport, about to head to Canada to help publicise Sometimes Always Never alongside one of its stars, Tim McInnerney. A lot’s happened since, and my last gig was in March, one of just three I’ve seen This year, 2020’s live casualties including several shows for The Farm.

“We had a lot of festivals this summer and were out with Madness again, always a real joy for us – being old friends. Every gig disappeared, bas has been rescheduled for next summer, and weirdly we’ve got more next summer, as some two-day festivals have been booked for three days. Of course, that’s sheer optimism, but I hope so. I miss playing and days out in a bus watching a movie.”

Incidentally, has the time arrived for a proper biography of The Farm?

“We’ve never really been interested in doing one, and there’s that thing that you like to think if there was a bio, the world would be waiting for the day of release so they can go to Waterstone’s and buy it. But I think the reality is that the day arrives, you wander into Waterstone’s and there’s your biography hidden in a corner, people crowding around Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen’s latest interior design book in their thousands while you realise your current place in popular culture!”

A bit like ‘Call Me Dave’ Cameron, maybe, his memoir reduced from £25 to £3, I see. I take your point, but The Farm were far more important in a positive, creative sense. Besides, the band continues to this day, but none of you are trading on your past, having used the band as a springboard to several other creative careers, in music, film, art …. An inspirational tale of a group of unlikely scallies coming good, right?

“Mmm … an article, maybe, but I think a book would be probably 88 pages too far! Jayne Casey, a long-time friend of the band and someone I’ve the greatest respect for – one of the heroes of music, culture and art in Liverpool – said something to me years ago which summed up The Farm more than anything anyone else ever did. She was talking about how we went off and became novelists, screenwriters, filmmakers, composers, producers, lots of other things. She said basically you’re a working-class version of Blur, but nobody gives you credit for it. A very good description of us.”

I must say, Carl’s Merseyside accent confused me there, and I thought for a moment he meant a ‘working-class Blair’ … thinking ex-PM Tony (rather than celebrity dancer Lionel).

“It definitely wouldn’t be him!”

I take your point on the biography, but feel there’s at least room for a future documentary about The Farm.

“We should turn us into the smallest deck of Top Trumps. There’s only five in the pack though, so it’d be the shittest game of Top Trumps ever. ‘Peter Hooton – broadcaster, cultural correspondent, 7 … Carl Hunter – film director, 4 …’

Steps Taken: Not a soul around during the COVID-19 lockdown, Liverpool, 2020 (Photo copyright: Carl Hunter)

It could just work. I’ll get my marketing team on to that. We should add ice cream man to Peter’s description too, after his cameo in Sometimes Always Never. Incidentally, you could definitely have more than five cards. As well as Peter (vocals) and Carl (bass), the afore-mentioned Roy Boulter (drums) and Steve Grimes (guitar, keyboards, tunes) plus Keith Mullin (guitar), how about Ben Leach?

“He lives in France. Not seen him for years, but he’s always welcome to join us. We’ve never fallen out. There’s Shona (Carmen), our backing singer, too. She’s great.”

So that’s a Magnificent 7, at least, with several more having featured over the years with a band that initially formed in 1983, Suggs producing debut single, ‘Hearts and Minds’, the following year.

And going back to the question he asked contributors to the More Than Time project, what did Carl miss during the lockdown and over the course of 2020 that perhaps he hadn’t realised he would?

“I think what I missed most in a way was friendship. We all have lots of friends, if you’re lucky enough, so not being able to see your friends and family, that was problematic. But what I missed really was more to do with the worry. And my worry was about the future after this thing passes – and it hopefully will pass – and what’s left behind, the debris of the pandemic.

“Not the death and loss and sadness, although that’s obviously terrible. There’s another kind of debris left behind, and that’s unemployment and poverty. And in a way what I was missing was that I’m normally optimistic in general, and that optimism was beginning to be diluted. When that happens, self-doubt creeps in and that sense that what’s around the corner isn’t good.

“Look at the way we were starting to think about things a lot more. But as we head towards the exit signs – hopefully – that hasn’t happened. The Tories are still bastards, still making a ploy to get the NHS in their hands – some kind of trade deal or private ownership. I thought that wouldn’t happen. I thought if one good thing comes out of this, it’s the fact that these bastards wouldn’t get their hands on our NHS.”

Typography Fieldtrip: among Carl’s collection of images from his coastal walkabouts (Photo copyright: Carl Hunter)

True. We were all on our doorsteps, clapping medical staff and carers, thinking at last there was a general realisation regarding who was truly important in our society.

“Yeah, and that (thinking) shifted. Healthcare is the most important thing, yet I read the other day how Eton College was doing covid testing for pupils, whereas others (in the health service) can’t get those tests. That fucking sums it up, doesn’t it! If you go to a comprehensive in Bootle, fuck you – the staff and the kids! There’s this argument that class doesn’t exist anymore. But the only ones who don’t think it exists are the upper and middle classes.

“I don’t want to be pessimistic, but I began to feel more like that. In a way though, doing this film was a kind of medicine. My ideas and optimism were being challenged every day, so the film was kind of like a cleansing process that suggested maybe I was wrong after all.”

Well, creativity has the power to afford us all a little optimism, hope and sunshine, right? And we’ve gotta keep on pushing, as Curtis Mayfield would say.

“Yeah, we gotta keep on keeping on, as the Redskins sang. Now, there’s a song!”

Blazer Glory: Carl enjoys a pint at Irlam Live, Summer 2019, modelling the jacket Bruce Foxton wore as The Jam played Strange Town on Top of the Pops, bought for him by his bandmates at a charity auction, (Photo: Steve Grimes)

For this website’s July 2019 feature/interview with Carl Hunter, timed to celebrate the release of the superb Sometimes Always Never, head here.

And for a link to More Than Time, produced by Martin McQuillan and edited by Roz Di Caprio from Edge Hill University’s Institute for Creative Enterprise (ICE), head to https://youtu.be/T805_w4B2SA

 

Posted in Books Films, TV & Radio, Comedy & Theatre, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Staring at the Rude Boy, 40 years on – the Ray Gange interview

Screen Icon: Ray Gange, back in the day, publicising 1980's part-fictionalised rock documentary, Rude Boy. Photo copyright: Buzzy Enterprises Ltd.

Screen Icon: Ray Gange, back in the day, in a promo for 1980’s Rude Boy. Photo copyright: Buzzy Enterprises Ltd.

Four decades after its release, debate continues over the relative merits of Jack Hazan and David Mingay’s part-fictional rock documentary, Rude Boy. But script issues aside, there’s no doubting this 1980 film holds up as something of a cultural timepiece.

It still provides fascinating viewing for fans of punk rock icons The Clash – with a soundtrack that is often sublime – and anyone with an interest in that first wave of homegrown punk rock, youth culture and its relationship with politics in that period, the ’70s coming to a grinding halt and the UK about to be subjected to the Thatcher era.

And although the lines between fact and fiction are sketchy and somewhat regrettable, it certainly proved to be the making of its protagonist, then-unknown Clash fan Ray Gange.

Ray is now in his early 60s and living on the East Sussex Coast, his association with the film that made his name – his sole leading part – still occasionally opening doors, his love for its main focus undiminished.

Rude Boy follows Ray – his real name used in the movie – as he quits a job in a West End sex shop to become a roadie for this happening London four-piece. And while few could credibly class it as one of the greatest rock’n’roll films, that’s not to downplay its strengths.

By all accounts, the project was sprung on the band – in typical chaotic style – by Clash manager Bernie Rhodes, giving its independent filmmakers full access. But while you get the idea that the crew often made it up as they went along, seeing the band at such close quarters was enough for many, and the live footage is thrilling, the film also providing a valuable portrayal of Britain on its knees as the old decade ended, picking up on the social and political malaise of the time.

It certainly captures an atmosphere of racial tension in a period when the National Front were whipping up ill-feeling among disenfranchised, gullible white youth. The fact that Ray’s character seems to take right-wing arguments on board doesn’t help viewers empathise with him. You have sympathy at times, but he comes over as a naïve young South Londoner not understanding the band’s anti-racist stance.

That’s a long way from the real Ray though, a far cry from the character Hazan and Mingay loosely scripted. And while he gets a part-credit for the script, he says the filmmakers used that as a device to shield themselves from responsibility for some of the ad-libbed dialogue, seeing himself as a then-novice to filmmaking, able to be exploited by the filmmakers for his friendship with Joe Strummer, and not realising the lasting effect once committed to film.

His character certainly spends a lot of time drinking on set, those involved with the band – like road manager Johnny Green – letting it be known he was always more of a ‘ligger’ and hanger-on than a roadie. That said, a few of his scenes stand the test of time, not least those alongside Joe, notably a pub discussion about politics, then another as he dances under the influence while the Clash frontman gives piano renditions of self-penned blues number, ‘No Reason’ (‘Piano Song’), then Shirley and Lee’s ’Let the Good Times Roll’.

Old Friends: Mick Jones with Ray Gange, at a 2013 unveiling event celebrating Gary Loveridge's Ladbroke Grove mural of Joe Strummer (Photo copyright: Peter Stevens)

Old Friends: Mick Jones with Ray at 2013’s Joe Strummer mural unveiling. Photo copyright: Peter Stevens

Then there’s the footage from Victoria Park at 1978’s Rock Against Racism carnival, Ray – egged on by his director – grabbing the mic. and inciting the audience in a bid to further extend The Clash’s set as the Tom Robinson Band wait in the wings for their already-shortened headline slot.

While largely completed before The Clash recorded their landmark London Calling album, the film never saw the light of day until March 1980. Does it really seem like four decades since the premiere, Ray?

“Not really. Only when someone mentions it!”

Has Ray (who also wrote the foreword of Tony Beesley’s Ignore Alien Orders in 2019, with details found in this feature here), been in touch with the film’s producer and director lately?

“Probably not for about seven years.”

Now and again I see a bit of press about the film.

“Yeah, usually for The Guardian, The Independent or the BFI. For one of them it was quite a traumatic experience. I think Jack (Hazan) wishes he could forget all about it, but for David (Mingay) it was a labour of love and I think on some level at least it’s still in his affections.”

It no doubt raised their profiles in the film industry.

“Well, maybe … raised it and ended it at the same time.”

They were filming social history pieces before, I gather, such as Silver Jubilee footage, National Front marches, and so on.

“I guess they were filming what was going on politically in the country, then this seemingly political punk rock band appeared on the scene … although I’m guessing all this. When The Clash arrived on the scene, I’m thinking their ears pricked up and they felt, ‘We could do something with this’.”

They did seem more motivated to catch something of the spirit of the times in a more political sense. Let’s face it, many a filmmaker would instead have gone overboard on the sex, drugs and rock‘n’roll angles. That would have made for a very different film, and – let’s face it – there were plenty of chances to capture that.

“There were, but I think if they’d said that’s what they wanted to capture, the band would have been even less co-operative than they were.”

Do you think there was an element of Bernie Rhodes only agreeing to the filmmakers’ proposals to keep pace with his big rival, Malcolm McLaren, seeing as he was working on the Sex Pistols’ The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle?

“I don’t know how far that film had got by that stage, but I’d have thought Bernie would have definitely seized an opportunity to either keep pace with Malcolm or even get a step ahead.”

Tees Up: Ray Gange has a neat line in Rude Boy-related T-shirts, COVID-19 unfriendly face masks, and much more

There was clearly a creative rivalry there, between these two former business partners.

“Well yeah, Bernie having worked with Malcolm … or for him. According to Bernie and some other people, he was very instrumental in the Pistols, but Malcolm was getting all the credit.”

How did you find Bernie? Opinions seems mixed to say the least. He was certainly an abrasive character.

“He is, he’s very abrasive, and I’ve met loads of people since that have got lots of bad things to say about him. If the things they tell me are the truth, then I understand their point. But he was always okay with me, and I never saw him be ‘cunty’ with anyone else!”

That’s one way of putting it!

“Ha! In my view, I like Bernie. I like him a lot. But other people have got different experiences. The thing is … the truth is a moving dot on a line between points of view, you know.”

In a nutshell, how would you describe your thoughts on the film, all these years on? I know you’ve said before that Rude Boy – for all the negatives – at least allowed you to travel the world, for one thing.

“Yeah, it opened my mind, for sure. It’s a cliché, but it broadened my horizons. It certainly did. It gave me a ton of opportunities. I didn’t necessarily grasp them, but they were there.

“And I think it’s a great document, although it’s a little bit … I’m trying to think of a better word than haphazard …  chaotic in its assemblage, you know.”

 

Coffee Chaser: Ray Gange toasts legendary punk pal and fellow survivor Spizz with a cuppa from his local artisan roast supplier

It seems to have been made up as you went along in places.

“That was quite often the case. I’d get a call to say we were doing some shooting the next day. I’d get there and it’d be, ‘Okay, so what are we doing?’ It was all very vague. A lot of it was improvised.”

In a sense, it was a case of right place, right time though, for the filming unit. That was very much the end of an era, politically, socially, whatever. As the Ramones put it, ‘It’s the end, the end of the century; it’s the end, the end of the Seventies’.

“Well yeah, and last time I watched Rude Boy – I was DJ-ing somewhere in South London and they were projecting it on the wall – I saw it in snippets through the course of the evening. And at the beginning, The Clash are still very loose, still forming really. But by the time you get to the end, when they’re doing ‘Clampdown’ at Lewisham Odeon, it’s a completely different kettle of fish.

“I was standing at the bar and really saw the difference in the way they transformed throughout the film. If you’d tried to make the film at that point, it’s a completely different band in terms of what’s going on around them and where they’re at.”

In a sense, I guess that was part of the problem – it took so long to get it out there that The Clash had moved on again so much and wanted nothing to do with it, albeit partly because of perceptions of a negative message regarding racism.

“Yeah. We finished shooting at the end of ’78, and it didn’t come out until 1980, and when I watched it last, I didn’t remember the ending at all, of Maggie (Thatcher) going into Downing Street. I think they were holding on to see how that (General) Election played out.”

A flimsy script aside, the live footage is amazing. I love the Camden Music Machine clips, belting out ‘Complete Control’, ‘Safe European Home’ and ‘What’s My Name’, and others come close: ‘Police and Thieves’ at Barbarella’s, Birmingham; a slightly-slower ‘Garageland’ in rehearsal; ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’, ‘I’m So Bored With the USA’, ‘Janie Jones’ and ‘White Riot’ on a riotous night at Glasgow Apollo; ‘The Prisoner’ in Aberdeen; ‘Tommy Gun’ in Dunfermline; then the ‘I Fought the Law’ Lyceum finale.

“Yeah, even though you have conversations with people about the live element and they say, ‘Yeah, but they overdubbed a lot of the music,’ that’s kind of irrelevant because the film itself still captures the energy of not only them but of the time and what was going on around them.

“I don’t know if it’s unfortunate or not, but if you’ve seen the DVD extras’ interviews, in response to people saying the film is very haphazard, David (Mingay) says in English-speaking countries people found it very confusing, but in non-English-speaking places they’d not only have the dialogue in the subtitles put the lyrics of the songs as well. And when you’re reading it in a linear way, the bit of film before or after the song relates to it, so it makes more of a story.

“France and Italy loved it. For them it makes much more sense, and when I did a Q&A at a screening in France a couple of years ago the response was much more animated than when I’ve done them in the UK.”

At least on film, it seems you’re closest to Joe Strummer, of all the band and others involved.

“Well, that was how I got to know the band, from meeting Joe and becoming friends with him. And the only reason I agreed to be in the film was because Joe encouraged me to do it. Otherwise I’d have still been working in a record shop in the West End.”

Ah, there you go – rather than in a sex shop, as the film suggests?

“Yes! The porn shop was just across the street from the record shop, so I knew the guys who owned that. The name of the record shop was Harlequin, and they had 65 shops around London at that time. I think most of them were bought out by Our Price.”

When you made the film, you were around 18 or 19, yeah?

“Maybe even 20 by the end of it.”

When did you first become aware of The Clash? Had they been on your radar for a while?

“Yeah, I didn’t see them until sometime in early ’77, but I had friends in ‘76 saying, ‘You should go and see this band, The Clash’. Having said that, I was with a friend the other day and he was arguing that I’d seen The Clash at the Royal College of Art. I was saying no, but he maintains I was there … which is quite possible, but I don’t recall it. I remember my first time as early ’77, before the ‘White Riot’ tour. I think it was in Brighton.”

Ray’s roots were in Brixton, South London, as mentioned in the film itself, not least in the scene where he talks to (Clash guitarist) Mick Jones about how he can totally relate to the song, ‘Stay Free’. Speaking of which, on film it appears that there was animosity with Mick. I’m guessing that wasn’t really the case. You said you knew Joe, but were the rest of the band slightly standoff-ish?

“I never knew the others as closely as I knew Joe. The next one I spent more time with was Topper (Headon, drums), but there was never any problems. There’s that scene in the film where Mick ends up saying, ‘I’m watching you’, but when we were shooting that scene, as soon as they stopped shooting, we were just falling about laughing.”

I get that. Mick …how can I put it … seems rather camp-aggressive in that scene, trying to play the hard-man.

Artists United: Ray Gange with Clash legend Paul Simonon back in 2013 Photo copyright: Louisa Philips Kulukundis

“Well, that was the thing. A lot of it, in my memory … the two guys making the film and their crew were not working-class punk-rock people, so there was an element where we spent quite a lot of the time either taking the piss out of them directly, sometimes even when the cameras were rolling. Unfortunately, not understanding the way film works and the history of longevity, that’s not always in your favour, even though you think you’re being clever at the time. Once it’s on there, you can’t change it.”

And over the years, through various Clash-related reunions and side-events, it seems that you’ve got to know the rest of the band quite well.

“Yeah, I was just talking with Topper a couple of weeks ago.”

He seems to be in a good place now, his drug problems and more seemingly long behind him.

“He’s in a fantastic place, mate – a really good place. And a few years ago, someone (Gary Loveridge) put a Joe Strummer mural up on Portobello Road – unfortunately not there anymore – and someone posted pictures from the unveiling, so there’s lots of pictures of me and Mick having a laugh. There’s never been any problem with them. I wouldn’t say we’re close mates, but …”

Well, you’ve all got your own lives. And that was all a long time ago.

“Exactly. But Mick has family around where I am now, so he comes down here.”

At this point, I share a story with Ray about how Mick seems at his happiest – a mutual friend was telling me – blending in with the crowd watching his beloved Queens Park Rangers, rather than talking over and again about a certain band he was in during his formative years.

“Exactly. What are we now? It’s 2020, yet you go back to ‘76 when they formed. It’s ok doing something like this now and again, but for him it’s 44 years of people wanting to talk to you about the same thing. I can’t remember what the event was, but five or six years ago there was something at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, and some guy managed to follow Mick while he was standing near the bar, and he couldn’t get away from the guy without being rude. So he’s standing there having to go through this stuff with drunk people – God bless them – that he’s heard 1,000 times, standing there with a smile on his face, telling the guy what he wants to know. You wouldn’t want to be doing that every day of your life, would you?”

Very true. Meanwhile, this Christmas will mark the 18th anniversary of Joe Strummer’s death. I went into a lot of detail on Joe and his legacy in a feature in 2018 with Lucinda Mellor and Gordon McHarg (with a link here), and for so many of us – not just those who knew him personally, like yourself – he remains in our thoughts.

Covid Warlord: Ray Gange, ready to do battle with coronavirus, models one of his Clash-related face mask designs

“Yeah, he’s frozen in time, isn’t he? And those memories are very strong, and what with what’s going on politically … I mean, what would the 2020 version of ‘Clampdown’ be? What song would Joe write if he was still around?

“For me … he was six years older than me, and he was the first adult – when I was around 18 – that I was willing to listen to. You know that thing where people say if you met your 16-year old self, what would you tell them? Well, it wouldn’t matter because I wouldn’t have listened! I never listened to my parents or my bosses. If they were upset about something, I was like, ‘What’s your problem?’, But Joe was the first person that I would listen to what he had to say and respect what he had to say.”

A little of that comes over in the bar scene in Rude Boy, however staged it was. There’s certainly a dynamism about Joe on screen, a rock’n’roll and film star quality. As the NME commented on his performance at the time, ‘He has the riveting presence of James Dean or the young Brando. On stage, he is the quintessential rock martyr, frequently unable to control the forces he has summoned.’

“Yeah, for sure. Some people want to slag Joe off for the school he went to, but essentially Mick and Paul were from working-class council estate areas, and Joe was squatting – he wasn’t living in luxury.”

So what happened next for you, after filming Rude Boy? Was that when you first went to America?

“I went to Paris first, for about six months. The only reason I came back was because I had to do some overdubs for the film, after the makers got in touch. So I came back for that, then I was talking to a mate and we decided to go off to America, arrived in LA, got to Venice Beach, and thought, ‘This is a bit better than South London!’ and decided to stay for a while. We ended up there for four years, from the beginning of ‘79 till late ’82.”

I’m guessing there was an overlap there when The Clash were over there too, having first properly visited during the mixing of Give ‘Em Enough Rope, falling in love with the US, as heard on London Calling.

“I don’t know where they first went to in America, but their first LA gig was at Santa Monica Civic, and I was living in Venice at the time, five minutes down the road. That was great. I phoned the Rude Boy filmmakers to get a number. Caroline Coon was managing them at the time. She said just to come down, I took a couple of mates along, and that was great – hugs and beers all round.”

Punk Daze: Ray Gange at the Gaye Advert-curated Punk & Beyond Exhibition in 2011. Photo copyright: Steve Worrall, who runs the splendid Retro Man Blog website, which can be found at https://retroman65.blogspot.com/

Well, you had your reputation as a ligger to live up to, after all.

“That’s right – we need liggers! You see, following what we were saying before, that was an ad-lib joke on Mick’s part! And while I was there, every time they came to LA, I’d hang out with them. I remember a hotel party where Joe Ely was there as well, and I went up to San Francisco on the tour bus with the band and Kosmo (Vinyl). That was all cool, and there was always good relations.

“And when I came back to England, they were playing Brixton Academy, so I went, walked in the dressing room, and Mick went, “That explains why you weren’t at the Hollywood Palladium the other month!”

One issue I know you had with Rude Boy was that the filmmakers used your real name for the character you portrayed. It would have been so much easier for you if they’d given you a character name, like Rudie perhaps.

“Yeah, if they’d have given me a different name, it would have made my life much easier in the conversations I’ve had with people in the interim. But there you go. People watch it and take it as gospel what they see on the screen, even to the point where it’s like … I can’t tell you how many people will walk up to me who I’ve never met before and say, ‘Get this idiot off the fucking stage!’ I laugh, but sometimes I’m like, shall I spoil it for them and tell them that was directed at the cameraman, or should I just leave it with them the way they think it was? And it depends what mood I’m in!”

On that front, I’m sure I read somewhere that you’re totally apolitical. I even added that in a piece on you in my Clash biography. It was properly sourced, I should add. That’s clearly not the case though, as I fully realise now I’ve got to know you better. And while Ray in the film is a rather naïve right-wing apologist, that couldn’t be much further from the truth from where you are today and probably then too, yeah?

“Yeah, even going back to that on-screen conversation between me and Joe in the pub, a lot of people have an issue about that. And they’re even stretching what they’re seeing in front of them. But I try to say to people that what you have to remember is that we were given a couple of scribbled lines on a piece of paper and asked to have a conversation. All I could do – without Joe’s experience of life, or whatever – was figure it out, without any direction from them unfortunately, that me just sitting there agreeing with whatever he says will serve no purpose, so I had to kind of construct not necessarily an argument with him but another perspective to consider.”

And beyond your travels, you got into band management briefly, didn’t you? With the Folk Devils, the post-punk ‘80s outfit (recently reunited, to great effect) I recently featured on these pages (with a link here).

“Only with them. And that just came about because I was sharing a squat in Stockwell with the guitar player (Kris Jozajtis), so I got to know the rest of them and went to their gigs. At one gig, or maybe a rehearsal, they were moaning about not getting any decent gigs, so I said, ‘You need to get yourself a manager’. To which Ian (Lowery), the singer, looked at me and said, ‘You’ve got a big mouth, Ray, why don’t you do it?’ So I was like, ‘Okay’ and started managing them.

Purple Patch: Ray Gange with Buzzcocks legend and fellow WriteWyattUK interviewee Steve Diggle (https://writewyattuk.com/2019/12/11/remembering-pete-shelley-and-entering-a-new-buzzcocks-era-back-in-touch-with-steve-diggle/). Photo copyright: Ingunn Egset.

“They then started getting much better gigs and I said they needed to make a record. They said, ‘Well, we haven’t got a record deal’. But I said that half the records in my collection were made by people who didn’t have record deals, so let’s just do one.

“It was great. I didn’t know how to make a fucking record, but just looked at my old singles and you could see that information about where the cover was made, so you’d phone up and say I want to do a cover, what do I need? And they’d tell me, then you’d phone a recording studio, who’d tell you you needed to get the master-tape cut, and I remember Stiff Records mentioned a ‘Porky Prime Cut’, so I found out who Porky was, rang him up, took the tapes over to him, and Bob’s your uncle. Unfortunately, after two singles on Ganges Records, the whole thing started falling apart really, for the same reason a lot of other people’s things started falling apart in that era – economics and chemistry!”

Talking of chemistry, The Clash eluded to you on London Calling’s ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’, and this fella who’d been drinking brew for breakfast. So when did that all stop?

“Oh, my God, I guess that would have stopped when I went to America – you wouldn’t have got Special Brew out there. Whether or not I drank it when I come back, I don’t know. It’s been a few decades now.”

You’ve been teetotal a long while now.

“Yes, 30 years.”

Is that still hard for you?

“No, not really. In fact, I can’t even conceive of why I would bother to drink any alcohol or take any drugs anymore. It’s so long out of my consciousness. I would rather go and stick my fingers in a socket, really. Ha!”

Deck Hand: Ray Gange in DJ mode, not far from home in Hastings in 2017. Photo copyright: Luigia Minichiello

Well, don’t do that, either.

“I’m not planning on it!”

And are you a family man?

“I’ve got a 17-year-old son. I’ve never really lived with him or his mum, but I was at their house at the weekend.”

So it’s a good relationship.

“Yeah, I was telling someone the other day, about six years ago he was spending the weekend with me, he was on the computer and listening to ‘Death or Glory’ as I was walking past. I said, ‘Oh, do you like that song?’ He said, ‘Yeah’. I said, ‘They’re friends of mine, those guys’. And the moment I said that, he turned it off!”

Is he likely to follow your line?

“Erm … he’s into animation and film-editing. Whether or not he carries on with that, I don’t know.”

Meanwhile, despite the lack of opportunities over the last year during this pandemic to get out there and socialise, DJ, and so on, Ray remains busy, not least through his love of painting and pop-art, making T-shirts, and so on, something he threw himself into when he cut out the drugs and went back to school, initially studying sculpture at Chelsea School of Art at the beginning of the ’90s. And 40 years after he first appeared on the big screen, he’s even designing Clash Crew-theme face masks these days. Respect, Ray. 

For more information about the author’s biography of The Clash, incluing how to purchase a personalised copy, head here.

Pub Philosophy: Joe Strummer and Ray Gange on the set of Rude Boy. Photo copyright: Buzzy Enterprises Ltd.

The Joe Strummer Foundation aims to help create empowerment through music, giving opportunities to aspiring musicians and support to projects around the world. For more details about ongoing charity projects in Joe’s name, head to https://joestrummerfoundation.org/

 

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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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