Battling on amid the pandemic – Chorley Theatre’s inspirational survival story

Empire Building: Chorley Theatre, with its dedicated volunteers determined it will pull through (Photo: Ian Robinson)

“This was meant to be a big year for us. It marked the 110th anniversary of our building, plus 60 years since CADOS took control, 35 years of Chorley Youth Theatre, and 30 years since the Chorley Film Society started.

“It was all coming together, and we were set to celebrate by opening a second room to increase our capacity. But then … yeah, it’s all gone out of the window really.”

Chorley Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society (CADOS) chairman Ian Robinson is laughing, but you feel his pain. All celebratory and expansion plans postponed, uncertainty in the air. You still get the feeling and a strong belief that Chorley Theatre is here to stay though.

If you’re reading this wondering why I’m concentrating on a specific market town hub in my adopted county of Lancashire, well … let’s face it, it’s a situation so many of those working in or supporting the arts across the UK have gone through in recent months, a tale of frustration involving a community-run theatre which just happens to not be so far from my doorstep, illustrating pretty much perfectly the on-going national struggle to keep cherished venues alive amid this dreaded coronavirus pandemic and the protective restrictions that followed in its wake.

That said, even if you know the venue you may have taken your eye off the ball lately and are just spotting now that this theatre no long carries its middle name, ‘Little’. What was the thinking there, Ian?

“Part of it is that I don’t think we should define ourselves by our size. We’re the only theatre in Chorley, and now the Guild Hall (in nearby Preston) has closed one of the only venues of our type in the whole area. Also, historically, Chorley Little Theatre was the name of the venue CADOS performed in before we moved here. And with the Film Society now absorbed into the apparatus of the general theatre, it felt like it was the time to change, not least with the extension coming on.”

The extension? The theatre now runs to ‘the whole block’ at its base in Dole Lane, Chorley, including the premises of a former restaurant which stood between the venue and the (also now gone) offices of the Chorley Guardian newspaper, where this ex-journalist worked as a reporter from 1996/2006.

Live Laughs: Dan Nightingale in action at a between-lockdowns Manford’s Comedy Club night (Photo: Ian Robinson)

So now Chorley Theatre has two performance spaces, and when it eventually re-opens it will have a capacity across two rooms of 450. An exciting new era awaits, yes, but tradition remains important, and you’ll see from the photos that the impressive venue exterior still carries the Empire name, having initially opened in September 1910 as the Empire Picture House (I read elsewhere it was originally the Empire Electric Theatre, but apparently not), the town’s second electric cinema and first purpose-built flicks. In fact, a little scouting around online (not least via impressive US website Cinema Treasures) suggests this Lancashire market town alone has lost eight cinemas of various forms over the years, the first – the Hippodrome – on nearby Gillibrand Street built and opened in 1909, converted into a supermarket by the late-‘60s, that also now gone, its land reduced to car parking space opposite one of Chorley Theatre’s two ticket outlets, the Ebb & Flo bookshop.

As for the cinemas that followed the Empire in the centre of town, there was the Plaza from 1937 and fellow art deco picture house the Odeon, which opened the following year and continued to show films until 1971, soon after becoming a bingo  hall, the cost of removing asbestos recently deemed too high to save the structure, demolition imminent. As for the Plaza, which still holds affection for many around my age, that lasted until 1986, becoming a gym then converted with the rest of the building into flats and shops before being pulled down in 2012. But the Empire remains, and Ian reckons, “We’re one of the oldest surviving purpose-built cinemas in the UK … if not the world.”

Nothing’s taken for granted though, and in recent months venues across the country have had to prove their worth above others to survive. Are the Chorley Theatre team in contact with similar organisations going through those same dilemmas?

“We’re part of the community cinemas group, Cinema For all, and the British Film Institute’s Film Hub North, all part of a network, with regular events where we meet up … not for a while though! This year, the community cinemas conference was online, rather than us heading over to Sheffield and having a party. We missed out on that this year.”

In a sense, I guess you’re all in the same boat right now … struggling to stay afloat.

“We are. It’s all very tricky. But before we reopened in September, we visited the Dukes (in Lancaster), looking at what they’ve done, as we have with Southport’s Bijou Cinema. Yes, there’s been lots of sharing resources and ideas, and it’s helped a lot – you realise you’re not alone.”

And where are you at right now with regard to pandemic funding?

“We’ve done okay. It’s been frustrating going straight back into lockdown, but we managed to get funding over the summer through the ACE (Arts Council England) cultural recovery fund, part of £1.5bn the Government announced. We got £51,000 from that.

“That’s helped a lot and will keep us going, meaning the second lockdown hasn’t been quite as hard-hitting. We also got £9,000 from the BFI Film Vault, so the ACE funding will help us pay the bills and the BFI finding will help us pay for the films we put on, in turn helping us put more films on and generating more interest in the community. I need also acknowledge all those who very kindly donated via our GoFundMe campaign. That really helped. 

“But right now, we don’t know if we’re even going to be open over Christmas. That makes a difference as to how you plan, and planning is the most frustrating part of it all.”

Curtain Call: Ian Robinson facing the public at Chorley Theatre in January 2016 (Photo copyright: Chorley Guardian)

I spoke to Ian just before the latest Government announcement regarding the end of the second lockdown and return to the tier system, which turned out to be another tale of frustration for Chorley Theatre, with the entire county placed in tier three, much to his team’s frustration.

It was only on Saturday, October 31st that the venue held its first live event since the initial lockdown, a Manford’s Comedy Club bill (named on account of support from Salford-born comic, actor and presenter Jason Manford) topped by Dan Nightingale. The following night the theatre was advertising live music from The Swing Commanders ‘with socially-distanced seating, seat-service drinks and snacks, extra toilet capacity and enhanced cleaning’. But as it turned out, the theatre ‘went dark’ again soon after.

“Yes, we had Carl Hutchinson planned for November 7th, bringing him forward four days, but it was so frustrating, having spent thousands of pounds making the place Covid-secure. That’s not money we’re going to be able to get back. We’ve knocked a wall through, put barriers up, spent so much on sanitiser, we feel we’re really safe and audiences were starting to come back.

“We also had (National Theatre live screening) Fleabag, which did pretty well, then 90-odd for the comedy club event, and again for Carl. Word was getting out, people saying how safe they felt.

“If we’re in tier three from here the word is that indoor venues aren’t going to open again … even though we feel we’re safer than many other places, with social distancing, table service for drinks, loads of toilets, track and trace, one-way systems … yet it seems like we’re being punished.

“It’s great that we got money from the Arts Council, but I don’t like that we had to compete against other theatres for that. We’re all in this together. The constant chopping and changing makes it hard, and it wasn’t just theatres going for that money – there were museums, art galleries and so on.

“I am very grateful for that funding – it’s taken a lot of pressure off. But there was a lot of form filling too.”

Stage Fright: Behind the scenes at the theatre, 2020 pandemic style, Chorley, Lancashire (Photo: Ian Robinson)

Among the casualties this year was the annual panto, The Snow Queen postponed for a year as ‘am-drams’ can’t rehearse, the venue unable to afford to book a professional alternative ‘in case we have to cancel again’.

The hope when I spoke to Ian was that the venue would come out of lockdown into tier two, so they could re-open and show films over Christmas. But despite the subsequent tier three announcement, the venue is cracking on with online events, for instance those with comedians Mark Thomas and Bridget Christie, and its own ‘Virtual CADOS’ event. However, a National Theatre Live event on the run-up to Christmas, for a stage production of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, was regrettably cancelled.

In an announcement on the theatre’s Facebook page on November 26th, we learned, “With the news that Lancashire has been placed in tier three coming out of lockdown, it sadly looks like we’ll have to cancel our December shows, so we’ll be in touch with ticket-holders in due course. Then we’ll have to see what happens in a few weeks. Merry Christmas!”. Get the feeling they wrote a few frustrated drafts of that message before deciding on that particular wording?

But back to my conversation with Ian, getting on to a number of prestigious dates already in the diary for 2021, including confirmed (as much as anything can be confirmed right now) visits from high-profile comics such as Mark Watson, Jenny Eclair, Rob Newman, local lad (and recent Britain’s Got Talent finalist) Steve Royle, the afore-mentioned Jason Manford, Clinton Baptiste, Ed Byrne, and Bridget Christie.

And this from a theatre which has made many good friends down the years, not least the likes of comics Richard Herring, Angela Barnes, and John Bishop, with appearances in recent years too from locally-based Dave Spikey and fellow former WriteWyattUK interviewees Johnny VegasLucy Beaumont, Mark Steel, Phill Jupitus, Justin Moorhouse, Chorley’s own Phil Cool, plus Jo Caulfield, Mike Harding, and recently-departed Bobby Ball, a regular visitor – off-stage and on.

“Jason Manford’s show’s been moved a few times – it’s been in the diary more than two years, while Gary Delaney will be coming back next year, and there are a few more pencilled in. Things are still up in the air, and next year will be a mad scramble, trying to put on new and delayed shows. And we’re just going to have to hope audiences will come back. That’s still a big worry.”

Burning Bright: The lights still burn at Chorley Theatre, with a happier, healthier 2021 in sight (Photo: Ian Robinson)

I get the impression you remain cautiously optimistic though.

“I am. We’ve been tested this year. You just have to get on with your job and hope the Government sorts their bit out. They haven’t really done that though, and they’re on the back-foot all the time. That frustration’s there for most businesses too. A lot of shops bought Christmas stock, then they were back in lockdown.

“But we’ll be running socially-distanced seating until Easter, and hopefully after then we’ll be back to full houses. Promoters have been very patient with us too. They don’t want us to go bust. They still want places to bring comedians in the future.”

The main theatre holds 230, but currently holds around 95 due to restrictions (dependent on the size of groups booking together). And while the new space is as yet unfinished, with work abandoned last Easter, in time that will hold 100 seated and 150 standing, the space configured according to each event – for live bands, talks, comedy, and plays performed in the round.

And just to stress, there are no permanent staff at this voluntary-run community hub that Ian first got involved with as a 14-year-old in 1989.

“That’s another thing. Those volunteers are our friends, and we’re a community yet we’ve not been able to see each other this year. Normally we’d do a play together, have a drink after, and all that’s been missing. You just hope they’re going to come back when we re-open.

“When we opened again in September, it was nice to see people back, to catch up with volunteers and our audiences, many telling us it was good to get back to some kind of normality. And really It’s about the fun aspect, meeting people, and all that. It shouldn’t have to be about form-filling.”

Community Hub: Chorley Theatre is ready to catch up on its celebrations as 2021 draws closer (Photo: Ian Robinson)

For a January 2016 feature/interview with Ian Robinson, putting the spotlight on Chorley Little Theatre, as it was then known, head here.

And I should stress that in light of the latest COVID-19 restrictions, it makes sense to check out the Chorley Theatre website for all the latest information about forthcoming events, via this link

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On the right track for sound and vision – in conversation with Saunder Jurriaans

It’s likely you’ve already heard some of Saunder Jurriaans’ music. Over the past decade, not only has he released records with groups Tarantula, Tarantula A.D. and Priestbird, but he’s also one half of an award-winning duo with Danny Bensi, creating soundtracks.  

Together they’ve created music for more than 100 film and TV series, including Ozark – recently Emmy-nominated for their work on series three – and The OA, and from American Gods, Barry, Chef’s Table and Boy Erased to acclaimed arthouse films such as Martha Marcy May Marlene, Enemy, The One I Love, The Fits and HBO series The Outsider. 

But lately Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter and composer Saunder has stepped into uncharted territory with ‘vulnerable, affecting and musically inventive’ debut solo LP Beasts, released in September on Decca. And it seems that even while Hollywood kept him busy, he never lost his love for straightforward songwriting. 

“Soon as we started scoring, I started accumulating songs. With my creative life consumed by writing film scores, I found catharsis in writing songs – music that wasn’t necessarily dictated by someone else’s story or structure. It was something I needed … and still need.”

Opening track ‘All Just Talkin’’ is a great example, Saunder setting heartfelt words to music that shifts and pulls you in surprising directions. 

“It goes into this weird, psychedelic world. I was thinking a lot about The Beatles, and unexpected ways of breaking out of song structure. I like the cinematic aspect of songs like ‘A Day in the Life’, where you go into this kind of chaos. It felt right.”

And lyrically, that song sets the tone for the deeply personal themes explored throughout.

“These songs were written after a difficult number of years dealing with depression. They were written when I was coming out of that period, but they’re about how this darker side of me has stayed with me, and about trying to reconcile how to live with that person.”

DIY Dilemma: Saunder Jurriaans has plenty of work to do on his new abode between film commissions, it would seem

Another standout, ‘Easy Now’ is one of the most personal songs, first written and performed live during a four-month period when Saunder and his Argentinian wife, artist Patricia Iglesias, were living in Buenos Aires. 

“That song very much dealt with our relationship at that time, which was on the rocks for a few years. My wife and I would sing it on stage together. It’s about us, but has since evolved to be about much more.”

And it was Patricia who created the abstract artworks which inspired the name Beasts

“They were paintings of these strange creatures and animals. I love them so much and wanted to use them for the album artwork. When I started to think about what to name the record, Beasts worked so well. These songs are creatures that came out of my imagination after lurking in my life for so many years. They’re elusive and fantastical, and in some ways terrifying.”

It’s a singular, personal record, one wholly his own. And it certainly carries an apt title.

“Putting out music this intimate is scary. It’s a beast. The whole album is a beast and each song is a beast.”

Saunder, born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1977, is the child of Dutch immigrants who bounced around the United States before settling in Seattle, Washington.

After moving to Providence, RI to study at the Rhode Island School of Design, he instead dropped out to play in a band. Around then he also met Danny Bensi, and they quickly became collaborators.

Live Presence: Saunder Jurriaans in live action back in 2013 in Brooklyn, NYC, with Danny Bensi over his left shoulder

Moving to New York in 2000, along with drummer Gregory Rogove they formed ‘proggy, chamber-rock trio’ Tarantula, later renamed Tarantula A.D., and then Priestbird, touring with a suitably-eclectic mix of bands.

Those included avante-jazz-funk outfit Medeski Martin & Wood, freak folk singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart, psychedelic duo Cocorosie, and heavy metal rockers, The Sword. What’s more, in Europe, they opened for Pearl Jam.

The first film Saunder and Danny composed the score for was 2010 drama Two Gates Of Sleep, with director Alistair Banks Griffin a friend from Saunder’s RI studies.

Their new way of working came naturally to the pair, critical acclaim following and leading to the pair scoring 2011 thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene, their career soon snowballing.

But this year, mid-pandemic, there was a chance to finally complete Saunder’s behind the scenes solo project. Strange times, eh?

“Yes, a very odd year! Patricia and I moved from New York to Los Angeles exactly a year ago, so we feel pretty fortunate to be in a place we can spend a lot of time outside. I’d just finished building out the garage into a studio when the pandemic hit, so was quite lucky in that respect.”

Are soundtrack commissions still coming your way? Alternatively, is a follow-up solo LP taking shape?

“Yes – both! Danny and I have stayed quite busy through this year, even though many projects got cancelled or put on hold. The world might seem to be stopped, but people still need their TV and film. Maybe more than ever now. I’ve a bunch of solo songs and music in the works, and would like to release another album in 2021 for sure.”

How would you say this year of the virus has affected you, professionally and personally? Has it changed the way you work? Might you have been out on the road touring this album with a band now? And if so, will that happen in the near future instead?

“It’s hard to say – I’ve talked a lot about this with people and can’t decide whether the whole thing has been a blessing or a curse. I guess a little of both. On one hand, to be in one place, with no holiday travels, visiting friends, limited social activities, it’s been amazing for consistency in my work. At the same time, I periodically feel ‘pandemic fatigue’ that can be creatively crippling.

“I really wish I could have done some shows around the release. I tried to keep up with the ‘live’ videos and streaming stuff that’s going on, but it’s not my favourite. I would love to put together a band and play this stuff. That would be a blast. I hope it can still happen somehow … if not this album, it will be the next!”

Beasts is an album that’s slowly but surely got under my skin these past couple of months. An alternative soundtrack for these strange times, maybe, full of reflection on the past but also a beacon of hope for a better future. Is that how you see it?

“Yes, what a perfect and wonderful observation! Not sure I need to say more – I think that’s ideally how I’d want people to feel about it.” 

Is this perhaps the record you’re most proud of, the closest to the real you, or at least the most personal so far? You’ve used the word catharsis. Was there genuine freedom in writing for yourself rather than looking to express someone else’s vision, as must often be the case in soundtrack work?

“It’s definitely the most personal, and perhaps I’m the most proud of it in that I somehow squeezed it by my very vocal ‘inner critic’ and overcame some deep resistance!

“For me it’s been cathartic or therapeutic in so many ways to just write music without having to answer to anyone else, or please anyone else, besides myself of course … which can be admittedly more difficult at times.

Yellow Fever: Saunder Jurriaans tests out his projected sun and moon tattoos, to a backdrop of Patricia’s artwork

“I love writing music for film, but it’s much like illustration in that I’m always telling someone else’s story. I need to be able to tell my own story, I guess.”

I feel I should apologise if I’ve gone too far with the following questions. I guess that’s the problem when you share your work with the world – a hundred of us might come up with a hundred different interpretations. We tend to bring our own baggage to the party. Are you easy with that?

“I absolutely love hearing other people’s interpretations of my music.”

Well, you hit the ground running with opening track, ‘All Just Talkin’’. For me there’s the feel of a lost Lee Hazlewood number at first, to a point where I half expect Nancy Sinatra to come in. But just before the minute and a half mark, you’re off somewhere else. What’s more, it happens again at the three-minute mark.

And that seems to be your modus operandi, taking us on paths we don’t expect, sharing a mighty ride. Is that part of the thrill? It’s a brave thing to do, not least on an opening song of a debut LP. Those who hear it and listen properly will love it, but I get the impression you’re not seeking a Billboard top-10 here.

“Ha ha! No, definitely not looking for the Billboard top-10! I guess I have a sort of musical attention deficit disorder – I get a huge thrill out of unexpected changes and musical juxtaposition.

“I’m obsessed with creating unlikely combinations – both instrumentally and compositionally – but also trying to make them work and not sound like Frank Zappa at his most insane … even though I do like Frank.

“I guess my process while writing a song is a modulating, changing experience – it’s not always all coming out at once. Each layer I add informs the next. I don’t usually start with a concept of the whole track, so these unexpected changes usually occur quite naturally according to how I may be feeling while writing the song.

“Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t – I do a lot of muting and deleting!”

Band Substance: In Tarantula AD days around 2004, off to record Book Of Sand (Photo: Saunder Jurriaans)

That opening track, like many on this fine album, might have turned up on a film soundtrack anywhere between the late–‘60s and … well, in 10 years’ time. Is this you paying tribute to some of those influences that have come your way since you were first spellbound by music?

“For sure – that stuff is in my blood and bones – also the ‘80s and ‘90s. I grew up listening to classic hard rock, prog, psych, heavy metal and later was living smack in the middle of the 90’s grunge explosion, as I grew up in Seattle.

“I don’t ever want to feel like I’m trying to recreate those sounds or songs though, even though the influence is there naturally.”

‘A Different Shade of the Same’ is another that catches me out. I’m still trying to put my finger on what’s there, from The Beatles and Love through to Fleet Foxes and The Magic Numbers. Maybe even a future direction for someone like Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner. And there’s that big sound, socking it to us, as Otis Redding might have said. 

“This song was really inspired by one of my favourite tunes – Elliott Smith’s ‘Everything Means Nothing To Me’. I love the structure of that song – it feels like what he’s saying … not sure how to explain that any other way!”

I realise your roots were elsewhere (and later), and much of this LP was written before you even moved to LA, but ‘Easy Now’ has a late-‘60s Californian feel for me, with elements of everyone from Simon and Garfunkel to The Lovin’ Spoonful, Mamas and Papas and even something of a late Monkees vibe. Was that – albeit retrospectively discovered – a defining era for you as a songwriter?

“Man, I used to love The Monkees’ TV show so much when I was a kid! Kind of forgot about that! I’m not sure what the influence was stylistically for ‘Easy Now’ – I remember for a while I was going back and forth between wanting to write more ‘acoustic’ music and then suddenly I’d hate it and electrify everything.

“A lot of the songs on Beasts are casualties of this little psychological war, including ‘Easy Now’! It could feel like a fireside folk tune or be a more anthemic rock song like it turned out.”

I understand how that song came about, but in a sense it’s become something beyond that now you’ve shared it with the world. Maybe there’s a wider message there amid these odd times, digging deep and discovering what really matters – as America seems to have done recently, getting rid of its orange despot – and looking forward and outward rather than getting hung up on building walls and the like.

“Yes – originally the song reflected a very personal experience for me, but now it’s taken on a whole new meaning. I guess it could be a call to re-centre and try find some balance and common goal. Although I don’t think this rupture in our society is only in the US – it seems to be a global trend unfortunately.

“‘Easy Now” definitely has a glimmer of hope and I think I do too – but it’s hard to imagine how we’re going to put things back together without some major self-reflection on the part of every one of us.”

There’s another mighty change of pace on ‘Ghost Walk’, kicking in at the two-and-a-half minute mark this time. And for me there’s a kind of early-‘70s glam feel. I could hear later-day Bowie tackle this, partly taking us into uncharted territory but also harking back to his work with and influence on the likes of Mott the Hoople. And like the latter, you’ve unleashed a big sound there.

“I am and have always been a huge fan of long epic, dramatic, proggy, rock songs! Ghost Walk was written a bit later in the scheme of the record and my recording chops were much better, I felt more confident going for it. I played every instrument myself on that one … it was a real exercise in overdubs!”

There are perfectly wistful moments too, like ‘All the King’s Men’. Was that something that came into your head one day and you had to get it down and out there?

“Occasionally I’ll spit out an entire song and record in a matter of hours. I could have started to go crazy layering stuff on the piano/vocal take, but I restrained myself – which wasn’t easy – and just let it be!”

‘Last Man Standing’ is another song that takes its time to build and draw you in … then wham! Is that something you’re aware of doing, or set out to do? And while I’m at it, ‘Brittle Bones’ is another lovely, evocative … interlude, I guess, but another integral part of all this. Maybe this LP could have as easily been named Beauty and Beasts.

“I’ve written a ton of instrumental guitar music over the years and always struggle with what to do with it. I don’t use much guitar in films. I love albums with instrumental interludes, especially flashy guitar ones!

“Eddie Van Halen’s ‘Eruption’ comes to mind, as well as Jimmy Page’s ‘Black Mountain Side’. I am – before everything else – a guitar player. Sometimes I fight it and pretend I’m something else, but I always come back to her!

“And ‘Brittle Bones’ was a sort of etude I wrote while studying classical guitar. I was very influenced – and still am – by Haitian guitarist and composer Frantz Casseus.”

‘I’m Afraid (I’m a Fake)’ takes us on another major journey, and I hear a little late Beatles, guitar-wise. And while I’m not normally swayed by drum solos, there’s something suitably manic at the climax which brings a smile to the face. It’s kind of like Phil Collins in a padded cell for a while. Was this you fighting off Beasts?

“This was the last song written that went on Beasts. I didn’t even mean for it to be on the record, It was meant for the next one perhaps, but I just loved it so much, and I felt the record needed a real rock guitar solo, dammit!

“It’s very much about the whole struggle of releasing the album. It’s another one I played all the instruments and layered everything myself. I had so much fun making this song and it remains one of my favourites …

“And I’m a huge George Harrison fan. I love his weird tinny, in-your-face guitar solos. He was definitely an influence on this tune!”

After that, we perhaps needed ‘The Three of Me’. It’s other-worldly but reminds me in a sense of Neil Finn’s more recent work with son Liam. And as with him, the melodies are never far away – as is the case even among this LP’s more discordant moments – albeit again with little clue as to where we’re going before we take that next fork.

“I don’t know Neil Finn, but will check him out!”

Double Act: Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans have created a mighty soundtrack portfolio (Photo: ATC Management

Ooh, I bet you are when you check him out. And then we’re away on ‘Miles To Go’, a suitably-atmospheric climax, that big sound at its heart … although – as with all the strongest songs – I get the impression it’d be just as effective stripped down to just you and an acoustic guitar as it would if it was given the major production treatment in the hands of the afore-mentioned Simon and Garfunkel or even Nilsson perhaps.

“’Miles To Go’ is probably my favourite song on the record. It started as a sort of cowboy, campfire song and turned into the soundscapey distorted metal wash of doom!

“This is the type of juxtaposition I was talking about before that’s so exciting to me – melding to disparate worlds into something that feels cohesive and new.

“At one point, years after I originally wrote the song, I added the heavy metal chunking guitars at the end, which really satisfied a deep, deep part of me!”

Overall, is this something you see as completely different to your scoring work, or is it perhaps a soundtrack to a film that’s not yet been made?

“I don’t really know … so much of what I’ve learned and discovered scoring films has gone into this music, but my work scoring films has also been informed by all the roots these songs come from. I think it’s going to be an ongoing exploration!”

Finally, what’s next for you? And what’s the first thing you and your beloved will do when the virus is behind us and we can get back to somewhere approaching where we were at before the veil came down?

“I’ve just released a podcast. It’s called Giant Steps and is about running and the creative process … don’t ask me how, but I’ve become a pretty serious runner over the last years and increasingly interested in the great things it does for my mind.

“The show consists of interviews with various artists, directors, designers, musicians etc … who are avid runners. I’m working with my dear friend and brilliant film editor, Matt Hannam.

“Each episode is meticulously sound designed and scored for a sort of immersive interview experience. So that is currently taking up a good chunk of my time.

“When this pandemic ends, I really hope to get some live shows going though. I’m itching to play music with people again! For Patricia and I, we will immediately go and visit our families, with hers in Buenos Aires and mine up in Washington State. We miss them terribly.”

Saun Screen: Saunder Jurriaans is ready to break out and play live again soon, post Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns

To track down a copy of Saunder Jurriaans’ Beasts, follow this link. And you can follow Saunder’s progress via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Come a long way – talking Heavenly Recordings with Robin Turner

When Robin Turner came to the phone, I half expected mayhem around him, having recently read his evocative recollections of mad days in the mid-‘90s working in the Heavenly Recordings office in Soho, one of many vivid descriptions in his introduction to newly-published, celebratory tome…Believe in Magic. Heavenly Recordings, The First Thirty Years telling us, ‘On any given day, you might answer the door to Throb from Primal Scream, who’d be in need of a ‘Berwick stop’ between Covent Garden and Oxford Circus, or Paolo Hewitt and Paul Weller, who’d end up heading a football round the office for half an hour. If that sounds like a brag, imagine trying to get actual work done under those circumstances.’

Robert ‘Throb’ Young checked out six years ago, aged just 49. As for Paolo and Paul … well, they’re not there with you now, are they?

“No! Those were what we called the good old days. Now it’s just two small kids shouting at me all the time.”

Robin’s children are 10 and seven and he’s based in Bristol these days, his label days long behind him. Well, kind of. He still does press for bands he loves with strong links to those days, notably The Chemical Brothers and Underworld. And as he points out, you never really leave Heavenly.

“It was kind of crazy. Work got done, but I often wondered why others I knew who worked in similar offices were getting offered jobs, but we never were. I think we were only suited to working for that company! I don’t think we could have coped anywhere else.”

…Believe in Magic, from Orion Publishing imprint White Rabbit, was put together by Robin with the help of filmmaker, photographer and graphic designer Paul Kelly, who led early Heavenly signing East Village.

Heavenly Father: Jeff Barrett, the driving force behind Heavenly Recordings since 1990, still in his element at the label

I told the author I also particularly liked his description of the label’s old Soho office back in the day, ‘above Ronnie Scott’s and opposite Bar Italia on Frith Street … sat on a wonky trans-time ley line that connected the 2i’s, the Astoria, the YMCA and the End. As much as it was a working environment, it was also a makeshift disco and an egalitarian meeting place – think a Quaker meeting house with religion replaced by Raw Power, Bummed and an armful of Strictly Rhythm 12-inches.’ He certainly paints a great picture.

“Well, thank you. But it was so true, that’s the problem – it’s not even a stretch of the imagination!”  

In time, they’d move premises, but are now back at the heart of things after a few years out of Soho on Portobello Road, currently ‘three floors up on Old Compton Street, halfway between the old sites on Wardour Street and Frith Street’. But a home isn’t just about addresses, label founder Jeff Barrett revealing, ‘Heavenly was already a state of mind. Seemed like the right time to make it something really special. We were all deeply immersed in music that we loved. None of us could believe our fucking luck, really.’

…Believe in Magic is seen as a chronicle not only of the spell between this fiercely independent label’s first album release, Saint Etienne’s debut Foxbase Alpha (HVNLP1) and Working Men’s Club’s self-titled 2020 debut(HVNLP179), the bookends which hold in place a further 28 key releases that arguably got the label to where it is today, but also of Heavenly haircuts, nights down the pub, pencil-eraser-carvings, cheese toasties, acid houses, Sunday Socials and lost Weekenders, all just as much a part of this amazing story. 

And as Jeff Barrett put it, ‘If there’s a continuous theme that runs through all this, it’s that everything comes down to conversations with people about music. It might seem like it all starts with someone on one side of the counter selling you something, or someone writing excitedly in a magazine telling you about a band you need to hear, but I don’t think I’ve ever really seen things as one-way transactions.

‘It’s more an ongoing dialogue, one that never really stops and helps build up this growing soundtrack to our lives, something that’s passed from one person to another. That’s really the ever-present thread. That’s why we still believe in magic.’

Three decades have passed since initial Heavenly release, Sly and Lovechild’s ‘The World According To …’ (HVN1), touched by the hands of a certain Andrew Weatherall, with various line-up changes, ups, downs and a good few office clean-ups since. Yet Heavenly ‘continue not to believe their fucking luck … still being here, keepin’ on keepin’ on’ doing what they love for our listening pleasure.

In the words of long-time associate and BBC radio veteran Annie Nightingale, who put together a compilation for the label, ‘Heavenly has always lived up to its name. Celestial tunes with the sublime sure guidance of Jeff Barrett. A beacon of integrity.’ Meanwhile, Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh’s tells us, ‘Heavenly is more than a record label, it’s the absolute nectar of all that’s brilliant in the culture of these island. I love the shit out of them and everything they stand for.’  

Nicky Wire, whose trailblazing band Manic Street Preachers issued two singles on Heavenly before joining major label Columbia, writes in the book’s foreword, ‘Right from the start, Heavenly seemed to have a real sense of itself and its mission’. He adds, ‘Stylistically, it may have looked chaotic and disconnected to the outside world, but that was the point’.

You only have to look at the early roster to see the diverse range involved – from Saint Etienne to the Manics, Camden’s Flowered Up to Manchester’s Doves, and Norfolk-born folktronica pioneer Beth Orton to Ealing double-sibling quartet The Magic Numbers, the last band signed in the pre-digital era. This was never about identikit acts. Similarly, in more recent times, we’ve had Ian Dury’s son Baxter Dury, Australian dance-pop act Confidence Man, Cornish-Welsh solo artist Gwenno, Dutch indie darlings Pip Blom, Halifax’s The Orielles, and Wirral four-piece Hooton Tennis Club.

In a nutshell, …Believe in Magic is a celebration of all that and much more, a fully illustrated history of sorts of one of the most colourful independent UK record labels; one ‘responsible for creating satellite communities of fans around the country and at all the major festivals’.

The story of Jeff Barrett alone is worthy of the attention alone, this pioneering maverick setting up the label in 1990 with the acid house revolution in full swing, after several years working at or at least alongside Factory and Creation, soon fostering interest from the likes of music writer Jon Savage, ‘part of the Heavenly extended family since the start’, not only curating a compilation on the label but also providing the book’s introduction.

It’s fair to say the early releases set the tone and tempo, from that initial recording by perhaps the most revered acid house DJ of all to singles from the similarly afore-mentioned St Etienne and Manic Street Preachers.

And Heavenly was always different to other labels; more a ‘club’ with a defiant spirit of inclusiveness, as reflected in the way they set up The Heavenly Social in 1994, alongside the Hacienda perhaps the most famous club in recent British history, The Chemical Brothers for one making their name there.

With nearly 200 LP releases in three decades, Heavenly has consistently produced some of the most exciting music across various genres – dance, acid house, singer-songwriter, psych-garage – and Robin’s celebratory work collects rare photographs, ephemera and artwork as well as those 30 great tales, mostly told in the form of oral history by artists like the Manics’ James Dean Bradfield, Flowered Up, Beth Orton, Doves and pioneering DJ Don Letts, the latter having put together a Heavenly compilation celebrating his days providing a soundtrack for London’s legendary Roxy club from December ’76 to April ’77. And together they capture the presiding personality of the label, its bands and those associated with its success.

But enough ambling, let’s get back to Robin, getting him on the subject of Jeff Barrett’s back-story, from Nottingham roots to Plymouth, Bristol and beyond, including many anecdotal nuggets, at one early stage quitting a promising career at HMV to run a market stall nearby. And then there was the night he put on The Jesus and Mary Chain at Ziggy’s in Plymouth, having stoked a media storm about the band’s riotous reputation first, that happening soon selling out, Chain manager, Creation label guru and past WriteWyattUK interviewee Alan McGee so impressed that he offered him a job there and then, Jeff becoming Creation’s first employee. It’s been an amazing journey, hasn’t it?

“It’s the kind of thing you can’t really imagine happening now – a working-class kid having a load of lucky breaks, albeit breaks he’d created. He worked hard, but it’s hard to think that could happen again now in the music industry.”

Similarly, for this label to still not just be around but remain as fresh and driven three decades on is really something, not least considering the many changes in the industry since 1990. And Heavenly still boasts such an array of acts.

“Yeah, it’s 30 years without compromising and being this disparate, extended family, but a family all the same. I mean, I’m still part of it, even though I’ve not worked there for 10 years. Like The Godfather … dragging me back in. And it’s got that identity that makes it work. And you’re right, if you think of comparable labels, there’s Creation, its last records around 2000, and Factory, where it was all over by the early ‘90s. Heavenly’s managed to out-last lots of similar institutions. Not many get that far, and Rough Trade has had lots of different iterations over the years.”

So how did Robin – whose publicity clients these days also include Steven Wilson – get involved?

“Through interviewing Saint Etienne for a fanzine that never actually happened! We became friends, I came to Heavenly to do PR, and that’s what I’ve gone back to doing since.”

What struck me going through the book was how many Heavenly records I own where I either forgot they were on the label or never realised they were, such as Beth Orton’s Trailer Park (HVNLP17).

“Yes, there’s always that interconnectivity between them all, but someone like Beth … she was so different at the time. No one else was making folk music with a kind of electronic twist to it. These days you have festivals like the Green Man (featuring acts) doing what she did. Then you listen to (BBC) 6 Music and you’ve got someone like Laura Marling, but it was totally its own thing back then.

“After Beth, things tightened up a bit, partly because (new overseers like) BMG/EMI didn’t want us to sign lots of acts. In the Noughties, there was a lot less output. But now, Jeff’s properly independent and they’re putting out records all the time, from The Orielles to Working Men’s Club.

“They just put out a single by Sinead O’Connor, produced by David Holmes. They’re absolutely firing, whereas when I was there and we were linked to major labels, quite often that was more of a speed-limiter. You couldn’t really put your foot down, and you’d end up with lots of arguments.”

Yet some of the greatest opportunities come from taking such chances. In Jeff’s case, you could argue that his whole career was built on that maverick spirit – him seemingly over-ordering copies of The Smith’s ‘Hand in Glove’ at an HMV branch in Devon and soon selling out. That got him his first real break, ending up with links to Bristol’s Revolver Distribution, one of many defining contacts.

That said, Robin doesn’t try to dress all this up into one big success story. There are stories of decisions that didn’t go quite so well. He’s not over-glamourised.

“Yeah, we’ve done some stupid things! We weren’t always sensible. If I had infinite time with this book … but we didn’t want to get bogged down in talking about distribution deals and all that. The mechanics of the music industry are very boring for people outside all that.

“And thankfully there are enough great stories here to take this approach – there’s the Manics, there’s Doves, there’s Mark Lanegan, who of all people had a Sunday Times’ bestselling book this year (his memoir Sing Backwards and Weep)!

“Then there’s Saint Etienne, who drew me to the label in the first place. I was living in Newport, South Wales, heard Flowered Up and Saint Etienne, and a light went on, thinking, ‘This is my music!’

“The thing with Flowered Up … they had such potential. An amazing live band, but they were chaos. Mad, druggy fools. And in the book, it’s all pretty explicit. But for me the only record that’s really brilliant is ‘Weekender’.”

Well, I learned a lot, not least that modern-day Australian dance-pop wonders Confidence Man weren’t even a live unit until Heavenly persuaded them, having seen what this Brisbane four-piece could do in the studio on wondrous debut single, ‘Boyfriend’. 

“Ah … such a brilliant band! I remember hearing that single the first time, thinking, ‘What the hell is this!’”

Agreed. But at the same time, it brought smiles to faces.

“Completely! I’ve seen them a few times and my kids are obsessed with them, first seeing them at a festival a couple of years ago when they were eight and five. It’s definitely a bit too racy for kids … but, you know – sod it!

“And when you think about it – another totally bonkers thing (for the label), yet when you speak to them they are completely part of this mad family, and a really solid, good pop band.”

There’s the great story of Heavenly taking on Gwenno too, Jeff – who has Cornish roots and links of his own – having that initial chat about what’s next, the artist letting on that she’d decided her next LP – after one entirely in Welsh – would be entirely in the Cornish language. And he went along with that, releasing Le Kov (HVNLP145). An inspired move.

“I know! Such a brilliant thing, and more power to the label for supporting artistic decisions like that. A lot of people would have looked at that, seeing she’d made a Welsh language record and thinking that she could then capitalise on that, or make something in English – having been in The Pipettes before.

“But no, she decided to do something in Cornish, and both Jeff and Gwen herself were of the opinion that if you can put yourself in a position where you can make an artistic statement, you might not be in that position again so you have to do it when you’ve got that kind of acceleration behind you. In five years you might be kicking your heels, thinking, ‘No one’s asked’!

“I think that was one of the strongest statements they could have made as a label. And it really paid off.”

Talking of risk-taking, however huge they became, taking on the Manic Street Preachers was a huge gamble initially, wasn’t it?

“Yes! Completely. We know them now as such a huge British act, somewhere between BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music. But – and I worked with them, I’m a huge fan, and love them to bits – back in the day, when I was still living in Wales and they were about to sign to Heavenly …well, Welsh music at that point was The Alarm, disregarded in all respects as a joke, and I just wanted to get out, as there was no scene apart from US hardcore.

“And here was a label where the first few records were a Sly & Lovechild record remixed by Andrew Weatherall, Saint Etienne’s ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’, Flowered Up’s ‘Weekender’ single (HVN16) … You could look at that and think this is an acid house label, or at least operating in that world.

“So signing the Manics – a four-piece punk band from Wales, with both of those things working against them – was a proper risk. But then you hear ‘Motown Junk’ (HVN8), and if you saw them live around then, you could totally see it. The energy and excitement there is absolute. You couldn’t fault it.

“And what that did, signing the Manics – and it was only ever going to be for a couple of singles to pivot them on to a major label, as agreed by all sides – the label set the template for the next 30 years. They could sign anything from that point.

“In fact, the next signing was The Rockingbirds, a country band from Camden!”

Ah, yes, HVNLP2 bringing me on to my next point. Edwyn Collins was perhaps the first artist I realised was on the label. Perhaps I just read his LP sleeves closer. And, almost bringing things full circle, his was one of the most recent live shows I’ve seen, a September 2019 appearance at Gorilla in Manchester (with a live review here) – seemingly an age ago now with the subsequent arrival of the pandemic and all that.  And his band that night included long-time collaborators Sean Read and Andy Hackett, Rockingbirds from the start.

“Yes, and speaking to Edwyn and his wife Grace for this book, I realised just how much of that record – 2007’s Home Again (HVNLP182) – and the support for it was part of a rehabilitation from his stroke. I was still working for Heavenly at that point, and that gig he did at Dingwalls … the first time he’d been on stage since, one hell of an evening. A real emotional rollercoaster. You were almost in tears when he walked on, yet the next thing … they were just going for it!”

Tremendous, and Grace and Edwyn are such a great double-act when you talk to them, aren’t they?

“Ah, Grace is phenomenal. They both are, but the way she finishes his sentences … it’s like a telepathic link at times. I adore them.”

It’s not just about the acts that have featured on the label either. For example, there can’t be too many labels that have their own hairdresser, surely.

“Ha! Basically, everything within – the 30 things in the book –was deemed relevant as long as it had a catalogue number. That included clubs we’ve run, like the Sunday Social (HVN44), Paul Cannell’s toasted cheese sandwich artwork (HVN13), and Heavenly hairdresser, Christopher Camm (HVN200).

“I describe Chris as Heavenly’s spirit animal. He’s cut everyone’s hair since … forever, and a vast amount of ideas have gone through his chair which he’s had to listen to, many of which would have been absolutely crap, but some of which will have been completely brilliant.”

Incidentally, there was even a catalogue number for the 25th birthday party at Hebden Bridge’s Trades Club in West Yorkshire in January 2015 (HVN300), its chief promoter Mal Campbell telling the tale in the book. And if you don’t know the story of Primal Scream singer Bobby Gillespie’s discarded toasted cheese sandwich, left at the home of artist Paul Cannell (who created the Heavenly logo as well as so much iconic Primal Scream sleeve art) and in time getting framed and securing its own, there’s another great reason to grab the book. And those are just a few of the off-the-wall tales within.

A more recent Heavenly act I love are Amsterdam indie pop four-piece Pip Blom, who released debut LP Boat on the label last year. It’s a shame they don’t get a chapter of their own, for there’s another great story, singer Pip and brother Tender’s Dad being Erwin Blom, frontman of John Peel favourites and session veterans Eton Crop. But I guess Robin couldn’t pick everyone, and others will maybe feel their favourites should have got a look-in.

“My daughter’s called Pip, and I’ve taken her along to see them … but wow, I didn’t know that. I love those family links in music. But with the later years’ bands, I wanted to put the onus on Jeff, and he didn’t want to direct me. He’s one of my oldest, best friends, and didn’t want to tell me what to do.”

Robin started at Heavenly in January 1994, which was when I moved from the South-East to Lancashire. My London days ended just as his truly kicked in, kind of making me wonder whether his role – with a twist of fate – could have been mine, heading from my own fanzine writing days to joining the Heavenly stable and covering all these great acts.

That said, I was fairly burned out around then with regard to the music scene, to a point that I couldn’t get too excited by the time the Brit Pop thing happened, having seen lots of great bands who deserved success not getting those breaks I felt they deserved.

“I probably remember those early days best, but at that point it was quite a dormant label, with very few releases. That is interesting. Brit Pop was this thing that wiped out everything else, but you’re right, there were lots of great scenes before that. The kind of Oasis-centric Brit Pop story I find pretty uninteresting. There was so much more to it than that.

“I preferred the electronic side, so I was working with Underworld and The Chemical Brothers out of the Heavenly office, and there was drum and bass kicking off. Noel Gallagher was on Chemical Brothers and Goldie records. It was all very interconnected. But read the history now, and it’s basically … Oasis play Knebworth, and so on!”

Yep, and I could name so many bands from that previous era who deserved more, not least personal favourites like BOB and before them That Petrol Emotion.

“Ah, That Petrol Emotion! Andy Weatherall’s Boys’ Own mix of ‘Abandon’ is one of my favourite records of all time! Jeff was managing Andy at that point, so again … all part of the big inter-connected family.”

Robin’s book is dedicated to both Andrew Weatherall and Pete Lusty, the Australian label boss whose managed bands included Heavenly outfit The Vines (who also get a chapter in the book), both gone far too young, lost in February and March 2020 respectively.

As Jeff put it in his closing piece, ‘Andrew’s name and fingerprint runs all the way through this story. He mixed our very first release, remixed our second, and it’s fair to say that his recent remixes for The Orielles, audiobooks and Confidence Man are up there with his best. His DJ sets soundtracked more of our nights than we can remember, from the first Heavenly party at the Camden Underworld to half a dozen successive summers in Cornwall as resident DJ on the Caught by the River stage we booked for the Port Eliot Festival.’

And both Andrew and Pete were fondly remembered by Robin as we wrapped up our chat.

“I’ve still got a text message from Andy, trying to arrange an interview which never happened. He was one of the last people I was due to speak to for this book. Much like Chris (Camm), he’s somebody who was very important to the label and was always there, even though he was never a signed artist.

“He was managed out of the office for ages, and DJ’d for us, from these weird little nights at The Social onwards, and was such a brilliant, lovely chap. He passed away just as we were getting to the finishing stages of the book. As did Pete, another friend of ours, and another brilliant bloke.”

…Believe in Magic is available as a £30 hardback, or £35 limited-run exclusive special editions with either a 7” Saint Etienne single (HVN550STE – ‘Spring’ b/w ‘Spring (instrumental)’, the A-side taken from Foxbase Alpha and available for the first time as a single, the flip side previously unreleased) or a Working Men’s Club track (HVN550WMC – ‘Angel (part 1)’ b/w ‘Angel (part 2)’, as heard in WMC’s live sets and here in a studio version produced by Ross Orton, split over both sides of a 7”). Special editions also include a fold-out map by Herb Lester of Heavenly’s London hotspots, with more detail here

Work Experience: Robin Turner attempting to tick the ‘no publicity’ box in the Heavenly office, all those years ago

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Independents’ Day – fighting the lockdown from behind closed doors at Action Records and Vinyl Exchange

Corner Shop: Vinyl Exchange, Oldham Street, Manchester. But the shutters are down for now (Photo: Vinyl Exchange)

As the UK returned late last week to ‘non-essential’ retail limbo – aka Lockdown 2 – amid the on-going coronavirus pandemic, I felt it was high time I caught up with two treasured independent North West record shops among many more nationwide forced back behind closed doors.

But fear not. Action Records in Preston and Vinyl Exchange in Manchester are here to stay, determined to weather the storm, albeit in online-only format right now in line with the latest restrictions.

Adaptation appears to be key in these testing times, and Gordon Gibson at Action Records and Richard Farnell at Vinyl Exchange are no strangers to having to think differently in order for their long-established, cherished independent stores to survive.

Let’s start with Gordon, who set up his first record stall in Blackpool in 1979, and who’s hardly had the 40th anniversary celebrations he might have envisaged when we looked forward to that occasion in a feature during the summer of 2018 (with a link here).

“Well, no! We’re just hoping we can get to 41 now!”

First there was the lockdown in mid-March, the adopted Lancastrian with Stranraer roots forced to shut his doors until mid-June. And now it’s happening all over again, trading in store ending at the close of play on Wednesday, November 4th, the shop closed for the foreseeable future.

But while there’s no clear end-date to the latest national lockdown, Gordon’s determined to battle on behind the scenes, the level of community support last time suggesting he has reason to remain optimistic for the shop’s future.

Early last week, Action Records announced, “In line with Government guidelines, we will have to be closed from Thursday until further notice. We will be operating a click and collect service, either by using our website or phone. Mail order will continue as normal. We look forward to seeing you soon!”

Two’s Company: Gordon Gibson with the legendary John Peel at a Fi-Lo Radio session, 2000 (Photo: Action Records)

It was a typical understated but resolute approach from Gordon – who first picked up the keys for his Preston shop in the early ‘80s – and nothing you wouldn’t expect in such trying circumstances, mid-pandemic.

“In the first lockdown, we did alright. There was a lot of support around. And the weather was good. It was a kind of different atmosphere then. We managed to get through, but I think it might be bit tougher this month, going up to Christmas. I don’t see it being so easy, and the online thing …people tend to get fed up with that. They want to get out and buy stuff.

“I don’t know how it’s gonna go … but as long as we take enough to cover the bills …. I don’t want to lay anybody off. We just want to get through it.”

As well as himself, Gordon has three staff, his son helping out behind the scenes too.

“I just don’t want to go down that route, getting involved with furloughing. And even that’s different this time to the original scheme. We managed to get through last time without doing any of that, and let’s just hope they’ll let us open at the beginning of December. If they keep shops shut going up to Christmas, so many businesses will be knackered.”

You mentioned the level of community support you had last time from a loyal customer base, for the three-month lockdown. I guess all you can hope is that they’re there for you again this time around.

“Yeah, hopefully. Although there were a lot of extra factors involved last time, and we did a lot better on mail order. This time we’re going to have to rely mainly on the regular type of customers.”

Of course, there would be an outcry if Action Records – the subject of 2015 short documentary, ‘Chased by Nuns’, and a business that’s also served as an occasional record label, revered in indie circles through releases from the likes of The Boo Radleys, Fi-Lo Radio, local stars Big Red Bus, Dandelion Adventure, The Common Cold, and most recently Ginnel, plus the late Mark E. Smith and his legendary band The Fall – was no longer on Preston’s main thoroughfare.

Queue Action: The congregation awaitibng the arrival of Reverend and the Makers in 2019 (Photo: Action Records)

But this inspirational character, now in his mid-60s, has witnessed enough closures around town in recent times to keep a level head.

“Oh yeah, you just see empty shops when you walk through town. And I see a lot of cafes and worry that this is going to kill a lot of them off. We’ve got away with it so far, but this (lockdown) is going to be crucial for them.”

I’m guessing you get a similar vibe talking to fellow independent traders you have links with in neighbouring towns and cities.

“Well, yeah, everyone’s in the same boat. At least we’ve been open as much as we can. A lot of record shops around the country have never re-opened … just doing mail order. They haven’t opened their doors (since last time). But we had to – we’re a record shop and want to meet people!”

I’m guessing you’ve had to either cancel or at least postpone a few music-related events you were planning on hosting.

“We’ve still got a lot of ongoing gigs, like those with The Cribs and Seagulls … all still in the pipeline. We just have to confirm the dates. They’re all still going to happen in (nearby nightclub) Blitz.”

I get the impression it’ll only really be the Amazon-type mail order firms wringing their hands at the prospect of another period of online-only trade in your sector.

“They will be, but I’m also worried about the supermarkets. There were mentions of that in Wales (for their earlier circuit-breaker lockdown), when people asked – rightly so – ‘Why should they be allowed to sell clothes? Why should they be allowed to sell anything that’s not food or deemed an essential item?’”

Vinyl Score: A happy punter behind the mask after a long queuing experience for #RSD2020 (Photo: Action Records)

I guess there’s a knock-on effect, even if it’s just someone buying a Lewis Capaldi CD or a bestselling paperback on the way to the tills.

“Yeah, and why should they be allowed to sell that? Supermarkets have absolutely cleaned up. They may not be in the same market as me, but they’re in the same market as a lot of others. Even HMV has to close.”

If anything positive is coming out of this, it’s various independent book stores and other non-retail giants coming together as mail order concerns, to try and compete with bigger online businesses.

“Well, there is that. And there’s the Entertainment Retail Association, behind Record Store Day and all that (involving more than 200 independent record shops across the UK). We were meant to have this RSD (Record Store Day) Black Friday retail promotion for record stores coming up (November 27th), but that’s just before we’re meant to open … if we are allowed to then.”

And yet, customer loyalty is something that’s helped you get through before now.

“Yeah … we’re hoping. As long as we can pay the bills and all that … it’s just a case of getting through, hoping we’re not shut after the beginning of December. Christmas is maybe not what it used to be – for anyone these days – but it’s still a big piece of business.”

It’s a similar story at Vinyl Exchange, a shop lots of record lovers across the region will know well,  in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, set up in 1988 by Jo Bindley and Mark Jarrett, who worked at London’s Reckless Records and realised a similar business model could work elsewhere, relocating accordingly. They began in a smaller shop, mostly selling records from their own collection to get things going before expanding into the current premises on Oldham Street in 1991 as the business grew.

Richard Farnell, originally from Deepcar, near Stocksbridge, on the outskirts of Sheffield, started working there in 1995, having relocated from South Yorkshire, telling me he ‘was tired of living in grotty shared houses back in Sheffield’ and ‘wanted a change of scene’.

Charming Man: The Suncharms’ Richard Farnell rehearsing in a Bamford attic in 1990 (Photo: Richard Farnell)

“I’d had a Christmas job in Our Price over there, which expanded to about six months, then worked in a second-hand shop, Jack’s Records, one or two days a week. I also worked nights on the bar at The Leadmill. I was mostly focused on playing bass in a band and naively thought working in record shops would be something to do before getting famous!”

That band was indie favourites The Suncharms, who by 1993 – by his own admission – ‘had fizzled out’, Richard ‘doing a whole lot of nothing for a while’. But two years later he decided to send his ‘meagre CV’ to various record shops around the country, ending up with an interview at Vinyl Exchange, ‘no doubt helped by the fact that my brother was friends with one of the staff’.

“I’d been visiting Manchester since 1986 when my brother moved here to study, so it didn’t feel like too much of a scary move. I had two interviews – one to get to know me and another to gauge my music knowledge – and got offered the job. Within two weeks I’d moved over and found myself living in another grotty shared house, but now on the ‘wrong’ side of the Pennines!”

Having worked his way up to a supervisory then a management role, when the owners decided to sell the business, he joined forces with fellow manager, James, buying the business as a going concern, taking over in August 2008.

So, a dozen years on, how’s it going for this 51-year-old – married with two children and living in Sale, South Manchester – as we enter a second UK lockdown?

“Initially, the first lockdown was pretty positive. It gave us chance to catch our breath, and the website did really well in the first few weeks. However, towards the end it felt the novelty was wearing off, and it was less busy. We furloughed all but two of 11 of us. Our customers were really supportive, and you could recognise many regulars’ names appearing on online orders who we’d normally see in the shop.

“I hope we get the same level of support this time, but it does feel like this lockdown might be different. I’m concerned people might be less inclined to spend if worried about their jobs and income. But I guess we’ll see.”

Tree’s Company: Richard Farnell at home in Sale with a copy of Felt’s Penelope Tree (Photo: Richard Farnell)

Does it make it worse being on the run-up to Christmas?

“Potentially, as I suspect many people will be tightening their belts, but on the other hand there should hopefully be enough people wanting to treat themselves to records, CDs and DVDs to while away the hours of lockdown boredom. And I remain fairly positive that there are enough music lovers out there who want to support independent shops like ours.”

Is there a good community feel where you are? The Northern Quarter has a good reputation for its nightlife and general vibe, and I’ve enjoyed past visits to The Band on the Wall, and the Night and Day café a few doors from you, where I caught the reformed version of The Chesterfields last year, supported by a certain outfit also back recording and playing occasional shows, The Suncharms.

“Ha! Yeah, it’s a very vibrant area, but much of that’s based around the bars and cafes, which of course can’t properly function now. It’s nice that there are a few record shops within spitting distance of each other, and we know them all and feel we’re all mutually supportive of each other. And we’re a ticket outlet for a couple of local gig promoters like Hey! Manchester.”

Was there a feeling of solidarity regarding Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham’s recent stand for local businesses and battle with the Government? The last few weeks seem to have – cliché alert – put the region back on the map in a show of resilience and independent spirit.

“I think most local businesses were pleased with Mr Burnham’s stance. There is a proud tradition in Manchester of putting up some resistance when things get tough.”

True enough. And like Gordon over at Action Records in Preston, do you see it similarly with regard to the threat of online competition, supermarkets, and so on?

“I totally get where he’s coming from, and yes, there’s a lot of competition online. But supermarkets selling vinyl is possibly a passing trend, and they only really focus on a few current pop acts and reissues of the usual ‘heritage’ bands. If they start stocking second-hand copies of rare psych-folk albums or punk singles though, then I’ll be worried!

“I think our strength is that as well as the big-name artists from the past, we also focus on many different niche genres, and a lot of rarities and collectable one-off items.”

Action Stations: Gordon Gibson checks his rising stock at his Church Street HQ (Photo: Neil Cross / Lancashire Post)

For more details about Action Records’ online operation, head to their online  site or keep in touch via the shop’s Facebook page. For Vinyl Exchange info, head here and keep in touch via Facebook. And for details of other record shops involved with RSD Black Friday on November 27th, follow this link.

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Whole lotta Sweet’n’Sour shakin’ goin’ on – Baby Shakes talk transatlantic special relationships with The Undertones

Shakin’ Foundations: Baby Shakes, 2020 style. From NYC with plenty of glam-rock love (Photo: Alexander Thompson)

There was always a healthy relationship between the NYC and UK punk and new wave scenes, each movement inspiring the other, from the inspirational effect of the New York Dolls and Ramones on the Sex Pistols and The Clash onwards, back to Blondie and Talking Heads, and right through.

And it seems that this transatlantic influence continues, judging by the latest 45 from happening New York outfit Baby Shakes. But how did this young outfit end up recording with two members of Northern Irish legends The Undertones? Well, you’re about to find out.

Similarly, the Derry outfit always acknowledged their US influences, from the MC5 and Motown to the US psych and garage scene, and like Baby Shakes there was also a nod to the glam-rock era, both bands citing a love for treasured outfits like Slade, Sweet and T-Rex.

Baby Shakes, founded in 2005 by Mary Blount (lead vocals, guitar), Judy Lindsay (lead guitar, vocals) and Claudia Gonzalez (bass, vocals), and joined in 2015 by Ryan McHale (replacing original drummer Dave Rahn), covered The Undertones early doors, tackling 1979 single ‘Get Over You’ live, and their latest single includes their take on that great 45’s treasured B-side, drummer Billy Doherty’s ‘Really Really’ on the flip of a more recent happening number by Undertones guitarist Damian O’Neill, a glam-tinged twist on 2018 solo LP stormer, ‘Sweet’n’Sour’.

It was during the gap between lockdowns that the girls made their Atlantic crossing to Northern Ireland to record vocals and breathe added life into those two numbers, Billy (drums/percussion), Damian (guitar, bass, organ) and Billy’s nephew Stephen Mailey (guitar) initially putting down backing tracks at Small Town America Studio, Derry.

Considering themselves a rock’n’roll/punk band and touring fairly relentlessly since February 2005, taking in the US, UK and Ireland, mainland Europe, China and Japan, attracting new fans wherever they play, Baby Shakes already a few LPs and several singles behind them, and recently sold out London’s legendary 100 Club as part of a set of dates sadly cancelled due to the pandemic.

Boasting ‘catchy melodic vocals over dirty guitars and a killer rhythm section’, they say their influences range from Chuck Berry to the afore-mentioned Slade, having shared stages with Buzzcocks, The Boys, Iggy Pop, and The Barracudas, among others, en route, including The Undertones.

They formed out of a series of encounters at legendary venues such as CBGBs and the Mars Bar, bonding over a love for the Ramones and The Go-Go’s, The Nerves, early Bangles and Motown girl groups, and were soon carving out their own sound, ‘riffing on sizzling guitars and melodic tunes, wrapped up in a Brooklyn sheen’.

According to the indie label behind their new release, the latest Baby Shakes single is the first of two for Dimple Discs. But let’s cut to the chase and ask them direct. And while regular readers know I’m not one for Q&A style interviews, preferring to get to the heart of things with a phone call or one-to-one (or in this case one-to-four) scribbler-to-artiste meetings, I succumbed to COVID-19 last week and was left with severely low energy levels, so – dreading lots of  transcription, post-NYC phone call, might finish me off – I fired off some questions their way, hence the answers being attributed to ‘Baby Shakes’ rather than any one individual band member. So here goes, and they did a cracking job, as I kind of expected.

As I’ve pointed out in my intro, there’s always been that healthy reciprocal relationship between NYC punk and new wave and the UK scene. But how did you chance upon The Undertones’ back-catalogue? You’re way too young, surely. Who introduced you to Derry’s finest?

“We like to think music is timeless, and so are great bands! No one’s too young to appreciate Mozart or punk. In all honesty though, our taste in music is pretty much influenced by people from different generations; a grandfather who loved Elvis, parents and siblings who were into ‘80s new wave, uncles that loved The Beatles or Black Sabbath, and older ‘cool kids’ at school that made us DIY punk mix-tapes. Can’t remember exactly how we came across The Undertones, but it was probably at the point we discovered Sex Pistols and the Ramones, in our ‘tween years. Those two bands changed everything for us, we got hooked and went digging through the used rock bins at the local record shops for ‘77 punk, and pretty much got our history lesson from there.”

The UK scene took a nod from earlier disreputable acts like the MC5 too, and The Undertones often cite the importance of the late ‘60s US psych/garage scene, not least Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era compilation. Was that something you were aware of?

“Absolutely, we’re big fans of MC5 and the whole Detroit rock scene … especially Suzi Quatro and her first band the Pleasure Seekers! We know Damian is a big Stooges fan as well, and have that in common with him.

“As for US psych/garage, we like The Music Machine, The Seeds, Love, 13th Floor Elevators (R.I.P. Roky) The Merry-Go-Round (R.I.P. Emitt), ? and the Mysterians (we actually got to play with them once), the Sonics, and of course The Byrds, the album Pet Sounds (but all Beach Boys as well), and Flamin’ Groovies are like our Rolling Stones. We actually first discovered The Chocolate Watchband because of The Undertones’ version of ‘Let’s Talk About Girls’. Great band, and The Undertones do a fantastic cover.

“And here’s a fun fact – the Japanese sleeve for the new single was in homage to The Choir’s ‘It’s Cold Outside’ original Japanese 45. The artist, Von Sentimental, was inspired by this cover art and decided to put a modern punky twist on it.”

It’s not just about punk and new wave, early rock’n’roll and ‘60s Motown either. Like The Undertones, I see you have a penchant for glam-rock and treasured UK outfits like Slade, T-Rex and Sweet.

“Yep, we’re glam-rock fanatics! The plan was to do a record with that crunchy boot-stompin’ ‘70s glitter sound. Billy and Damian played the part of Chinn and Chapman! Think we made something together that would’ve been a great fit on RAK Records in the day.”

Still Shooting: Baby Shakes shoot the video for the new 45, a first with Undertones’ Billy Doherty and Damian O’Neill

How did you get to know each other in the band? Were you school or college friends, or edgy neighbours?

“Judy and Claudia met at a punk show at CBGB’s when they were teenagers. They both had studded jackets, pink/blue hair and collected UK ‘82 and ‘77 punk singles, so it made sense they’d become good friends. They used to jam out to Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers songs together in their living rooms. A friend of ours, the artist Avi Spivak, knew we were looking for bandmates, so when Mary moved to New York from Seattle, he introduced us at his DJ night. We all got along so well, and when we heard Mary sing, we knew it was the perfect style for the kind of music we all wanted to play. And she played guitar too! As for Ryan … we’ve had many drummers in the past, but he was definitely the missing puzzle piece. We met him through mutual friends when we needed a drummer for a show.”

What did the first set include? And were you already Baby Shakes by then?

“That first set included our rendition of ‘Get Over You’, along with a couple of our own original tracks we’d been working on for a few weeks before we booked our first gig. We also did a cover by the British all-girl band The Gymslips, The Boys, and would always jam out on a couple of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers tunes at practice, so sometimes those made it into our sets.”

How important was the NYC club scene for honing your skills – was that your apprenticeship of sorts?

“It was incredibly important, because the NYC punk/rock’n’roll scene is all about showing your chops. We needed to prove we could stand up there with everyone else and give it all we’ve got. If you’re just a cover band you automatically get dismissed, but being a DIY-band that writes your own music and plays well earns respect on the scene. Think we managed to surprise a few people that didn’t know what to expect from us, and to inspire some girls to start their own bands along the way, which is a pretty rewarding feeling for us.”

Tell us more about how you ended up meeting then getting to know The Undertones.

“The year we started Baby Shakes we recorded a cover of ‘Get Over You’ on our demo. It was the first cover we ever recorded and somehow the promoter of the show heard it and asked us to support them in Brooklyn. It was a dream come true. We were just starting to play out live, so we were nervous about playing in front of them. Judy recalls her fingers turning into spaghetti when she saw Damian O’Neill watch us during the soundcheck!

Turning Japanese: The alternative cover of the new 45

“But they were all such nice guys! They complimented us on the show, signed our records and took photos with us. We got to chatting backstage and it was such an inspiring experience for us, and to this day they’re still one of our biggest influences. We still cover their songs live and we paid homage to them on our second album, Starry Eyes. Our insert is a replica of the inner sleeve of Hypnotised and has photos of us meeting them. So, I guess you can say we really look up to them!”

Was getting to work with Billy and Damian a logical next career step, bearing in mind their influence on you? And what were your first impressions on meeting The Undertones when you toured together early on? 

“Since day one, the ‘Tones have been incredibly supportive and encouraging. They’re all super-sweet, really funny and very down to earth. Although we’ve been nervous about supporting them and recording together at first, we all get along so well, and it’s always been such a good time in their company. When we got to chatting, we realised we had a lot in common as far as taste in music and a similar sense of humour. We were literally in tears laughing at their jokes some nights in the studio and on the phone! Billy’s nephew Stephen is rad too, he played second guitar on the tracks and we had a blast with him out in Derry. It was just such a fun experience, like no other recording session we’ve ever had.”

You clearly knew their back-catalogue. But how about Damian’s solo record? And what did you think when you were offered the wonderful ‘Sweet’n’Sour’, a song you somehow made your own (as is the case with the wondrous ‘Really Really’)?

“Yes! We thought the songs were so catchy, and absolutely love them! Damian and Billy are brilliant songwriters and producers. This was our first time doing anything like this and we thought the tunes were a perfect fit for our band.

“When we heard the demos of the songs Damian wrote, we instantly loved them! They’re so catchy and fun, and we had the tunes stuck in our heads for days. He’s a brilliant songwriter. Damian and Stephen both did a great job at writing some catchy guitar licks to match it. We were honoured that they trusted us to put our own Baby Shakes spin on them vocally. The music matches our sound so well.

“And Billy’s tune ‘Really Really’ has always been one of our favourite Undertones songs, so it made sense as a cover since it was originally the B-side to ‘Get Over You’, the song we covered at the start of our band that initially linked us up and wound up bringing us all back together years later. It’s almost like things came full circle. We had fun reimaging this song as a modern take on a 60’s girl group tune, Billy being the Phil Spector-esque force behind it.”

It sounds like you were well looked after on your visit to Derry.

“They gave us the grand tour, which was amazing. Being able to see where it all started and getting a history lesson from our muses on the streets where it all began was incredible. We really nerded out, and of course people kept recognising them on the street. Everyone is so nice in Derry!”

“When Billy asked if we wanted to make a record together, of course we said, ‘YES!’ We were thrilled they’d want to work on music with us. It sounded unreal, but the next thing we knew we were on a plane to Derry to record vocals for four explosive tracks that Billy, Damian and Billy’s nephew Stephen played music for. They gave us that personal tour of Derry and we really got to understand how The Undertones grew up and what things were like when they were starting the band.

“It was such an incredible experience for us, we learned so much from them and it was really encouraging to have their guidance in the studio. We’ve never had a producer on any of our previously recorded material, so this was a new challenge, but they really pushed us and we had so much fun with them. We felt so comfortable being ourselves around them. They really got us, we were totally on the same page as far as the sound we wanted and it’s as though we had all known each other and had been working together for years. Overall, it was such a magical experience.”

How would you describe Baby Shakes 2020, as opposed to the initial 2005 version? What have you learned these past 15 years that you wished you’d known at the beginning?

“That anything you want to achieve takes a lot of persistence and hard work. Sometimes people call us lucky, but luck has nothing to do with it. From the day we started we’ve sacrificed a lot and worked really hard for many years just to be in a touring band. Also, you have to be thick-skinned and know how to take criticism and rejection well. Not everyone is going to agree with you or like what you’re doing, but that doesn’t matter as long as you’re passionate about your work and have fun in the process. We’ve gotten really good at working together and learning how to compromise with each other. It’s how we’ve been a band for so long. There are no egos, no laziness and we all do our part, so it’s been an amazingly fun journey as a band family.”

Was it a thrill to first get over here and play the UK?  

“We’ve been wanting to play the UK for so long, so we were thrilled when we first got offered shows there a few years ago. Playing a headline show at the legendary 100 Club in London was a dream come true! We had another gig booked there right before the lockdown, and we can’t wait to be able to go back as soon as it’s safe.”

It’s Billy on drums on this single, but Ryan’s still involved, right? And has social distancing and the pandemic disrupted your rehearsals?

“Oh yeah, Ryan is still stuck with us – ha ha! He hasn’t gotten rid of us yet! We all chat every day, but after the first two months of the pandemic we had to give up our rehearsal studio, unfortunately. We’re trying to get a rehearsal in soon at an hourly space, because they’ve just reopened recently, and we really miss playing together and seeing each other.”

First Footing: The debut LP, 2008’s The First One

These have clearly been testing times with Covid-19 and the orange bigot in charge amidst this crisis. Have there been day-jobs to help you get by?

“Well… it’s been difficult. Since New York is such an expensive city and we were used to having such a busy tour schedule, we were pretty much all working as much as we could, pre-pandemic. We worked overtime in between tours and took extra jobs to afford the rent, because we were taking off weeks at a time for touring every couple of months. During the pandemic some of us have been going to work full-time and the other half have been unemployed or under-employed. Some of our places of business have closed indefinitely and freelance work is skimpy. It’s kind of a huge mess and we’re really hoping things can progress, and we can start recovering … with better leadership by 2021. Besides our trip to Derry and recording the EP, this year has been a huge disappointment. But we’ve still got our chins held high, and we’re doing what we can. It’s so exciting to have a release in 2020, so at least there’s that!”

And while I’m on (bear in mind I asked these questions more than a week ago), have you all voted yet?

“Definitely! We all turned in our ballots early this year. The big day is coming up soon and we’re hoping for the best, it just has to be better!”

Quite right too, and I’m putting finishing touches to this interview the day after it was finally offically declared that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were on their way to the White House, for what promises to be a happy ending to what until now has been a frankly awful year. Meanwhile, from homegrown tours and UK and European jaunts to trips to South-East Asia, it’s been a hell of a blast since 2005 for Baby Shakes, hasn’t it?

“It’s been a dream come true, and we’re very fortunate to be rewarded for all our hard work! Can’t wait to continue travelling, playing and doing what we love again, one day soon!”

So what happens next? Are there plans for another ‘Babytones’ collaboration? And is there a new Baby Shakes LP on the horizon (even if touring it might not be so easy in the circumstances)?

“We’ve been writing some new tunes while we’ve been cooped up inside during the lockdown, and our goal is to have a new Baby Shakes LP written and hopefully recorded when we come out of this pandemic. We also have the second single of the EP that we recorded with the ‘Babytones’ on the way to be released by the lovely folks at Dimple Discs. And you can bet that it’s just as fantastic and catchy as the first one!”

So, there you have it … but I couldn’t just end it there. The following answers came via good friend of this website, Brian ‘No Relation’ O’Neill, on behalf of the Dimple Discs label, grilling Undertones legends Billy Doherty and Damian O’Neill on the BabyTones project, first asking what they make of their NYC buddies.

Billy: “What do I think of Baby Shakes? They are sensationally glam-tastic; my pop rockin’ chums who make you feel good all over.”

Classic Single: The Undertones’ Get Over You, c/w Really Really, a huge influence on Baby Shakes

Damian: “It’s obvious that Baby Shakes live can shake any joint to its very core. They have a pop sensibility and general enthusiasm that could win over the most hardened critics. But it wasn’t until working with them that we discovered a steely determination that they were gonna nail these songs, no matter what. They really worked hard to get it right, and their humour and enthusiasm made it one of the most fun sessions we’ve ever done.”

So how long has this transatlantic ‘special relationship’ and hands across the water affair been going on?

Billy: “I first met Baby Shakes when they supported The Undertones in 2005 at the Southpaw in Brooklyn, and was instantly drawn to them when they made their entrance at our soundcheck. After those initial awkward acquaintance protocol procedures, I was surprised how much we seemed to have in common, especially as it takes ages for me to get to know someone. I instinctively knew they were very special and refreshingly different.

“Actually, one of my all-time favourite memories was playing drums for them that night, when they covered ‘Get Over You’, which they played at a blistering speed … and boy, can they play! I watched their show and was captivated by their energy and genuine commitment. After the show we all met backstage and talked songs and bands, and especially how we all loved the glam-rock era. My administration was going by the second and I just couldn’t stop myself, so I popped the question, ‘Do you fancy making a record?’ ‘Yes!’ they shouted, jumping about in excitement and delight. What a precious moment that was. So we made plans to get a blockbusting tune for them, and thanks to young Damian O’Neill, he penned a golden nugget with ‘Sweet’n’Sour’. Damian, myself and Stephen Mailey, my nephew, recorded the backing tracks in Derry early in 2020. We then arranged to bring them over from New York to record the vocals.”

Damian: “We’ve been fans of the Baby Shakes ever since that Southpaw show. They then supported us again in New York at Le Poisson Rouge in May 2019. What made it extra special was Billy joining them on drums for ‘Get Over You’. Watching them nail the song together was the closest I’ve ever got to hearing what The Undertones would sound like from afar, only with youth and beauty added to the mix! In short, it was wonderful. This prompted Billy to suggest we explore a ‘Baby Tones’ collaboration that would incorporate our mutual musical influences, like ‘70’s glam and pop. We would provide the backing tracks and Baby Shakes the vocals.”

And what did you think of the new versions of your tunes?

Billy: “I really, really love the new Baby Shakes version of ‘Really Really’. Working with them, Damian and Stephen was such a tonic. It was so wonderful, enjoyable and refreshing to be intoxicated with everyone’s enthusiasm. Yes, for me it was truly magical, and I can’t wait to do it again.”

Damian: “I’d like to think ‘Sweet’n’Sour’ and ‘Really Really’ neatly merge Derry poptones with New York sassy attitude. There’s an infectious new freshness and enthusiasm oozing from the grooves.  The entire recording process was a total delight, and that’s obvious when you put the needle on the record for the first time. Billy and Stephen improve ‘Sweet’n’Sour’ by making it more immediate and snappy, especially in the chorus. Stephen’s guitar lifts the song to new heights, backed with Billy’s glam-a-lam floor-tom tribal beat. And not forgetting the girls’ wonderful vocals, which add a toughness that was missing from the original.

“A firm favourite among Undertones fans, ‘Really Really’ finally gets the pop stardust treatment it’s always deserved. It was as if Billy had written the song back in ‘78 with Baby Shakes in mind. Just a pity it’s taken 42 years to finally do it justice! And The Shangri-Las-esque talk over at the end of the song kills me every time I hear it, especially when the girls sing in the closing bars.”

Baby Love: New York City punk-rock’n’rollers Baby Shakes made it over to Derry in 2020 (Photo: Nathan Frohnhoefer)

‘Sweet‘n’Sour’/‘Really Really’ is available on limited-edition 7” vinyl and via various music streaming platforms as a digital download, with details from the Baby Shakes website or at And to keep a handle on Baby Shakes, you can follow the band via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, including links to the new single’s promo video.

For this site’s most recent interviews with Damian O’Neill (May 2019) and Billy Doherty (October 2016), follow the links. And if you’ve yet to track down Damian O’Neill and the Monotones’ 2018 LP, Refit, Revise, Reprise (with a WriteWyattUK review here), check out his official website and Facebook page. You can also see what else is on offer via Dimple Discs, their roster including fellow WriteWyattUK favourite Eileen Gogan, via Facebook and Instagram.

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Evoking the spirit of early Uriah Heep – a tribute to Ken Hensley

So many times I’ll put a record on and be transported back to specific times and places, that ability and chance to reflect involving many a genre, many a style of music, many an evocative memory. And while there was no real turning around for this Guildford lad once I moved from a diet of The Beatles, ELO, Queen, Slade and Wings towards punk, new wave and post-punk in my formative years, my appreciation of music occasionally drifted back into various unexpected areas.

A ‘60s and ‘70s soul fixation was coming, via Motown and Stax to Hi, Kent, and Philadelphia International. But old school hippie rock and psychedelia hovered in the background, and if I hear hairy-arse prog classics like Uriah Heep’s Look at Yourself and The Magician’s Birthday albums, I’m back to holiday, lunchtime and after-school visits to my friend Neil, aka Burger, in the attic of a four-storey house on The Mount, a stone’s throw (OK, a bloody long stone’s throw, I admit) from Lewis Carroll’s final resting place, for music I still equate with the mystical world the Rev. Dodgson inhabited during his own late 19th century visits to my hometown, the first a century before I was born.

With hindsight, I can’t imagine Uriah Heep ever took themselves too seriously, but they certainly played their mystical brand of heavy rock with straight faces, and within a couple of years of my late discovery of these innovative blues-driven, prototype metal-meets-prog Londoners, This Is Spinal Tap landed, and I couldn’t help but see a few similarities. And believe me, I did my homework in studies of the ‘Eep, my host always keen to put them on as we embarked upon another frame of pool in Burger’s attic (there’s a perfect title for a UH LP if ever there was one), matches I was more often than not soundly beaten in, despite occasional sly practises at The Queen Vic back in Shalford, run by fellow visitor James’ folks’ (where coincidentally, Neil served as landlord a few years later). Whatever time of day I dropped by, out came the vinyl, often initially with a groan from this teen, too cool – at least in my own head – for such heavy hippie fare. But those records made an impact, even if I never willingly admitted it back then.

Picture the scene. It’s 1983, I’m 15, it’s the Easter school holidays, and while principal songwriter Ken Hensley – who died this week after a short illness, aged 75 – had left the band three years earlier after 13 LPs, those classic early Uriah Heep records were still getting plenty of traction at No.52.

I’ll digress for a moment to a conversation around then with my old man, who swapped working as a Guildford-based loco fireman on the steam railways for the GPO in 1961, his following 30-plus years as a postie including a spell delivering to The Mount. Telling him one day I was off to a mate’s house there, he enquired, ‘What’s his name?’ and I guardedly replied, ‘Erm … Neil.’ A trademark gruff response followed. ‘Kneel down and …. (I’ll leave that bit out)? I meant, what’s his surname?’ The penny dropped. ‘Oh … Underwood,’ wondering what was coming next. He hesitated half a second, the old grey matter whirring, then announced, “D.J.,52.” And he never seemed to forget those details, even when dementia kicked in many moons later.

I loved growing up where I did, my home village a couple of miles out of town, a council house just a bankside path away from the idyllic River Tillingbourne, with woodland to explore either side of the stream. I saw it as the Beverly Hills of council estates compared to most in the area, and that wonderland over the back fence is a place I often return to in dreams – day and night – to re-live those ‘Tales from the Riverbank’ fellow Surrey lad Paul Weller wrote about, ‘where we ran when we were young’. As with my Woking neighbour, ‘True, it’s a dream mixed with nostalgia, but it’s a dream that I’ll always hang on to, that I’ll always run to.’ Yet despite that rural idyll, I also felt I was missing out when I considered that a few mates were so close to one another in town, with Neil barely a 10-minute walk from our secondary school, while for me that journey involved five-mile round-trip bike, bus or train rides.

Neil’s place was an open house back then, and a few of us were regular callers. Even the milkman would walk in, see what was needed by opening the fridge, replenishing it accordingly. ‘I think you might have a burglar,’ I said once, my ears straining, hearing an intruder downstairs. ‘Nah, that’ll be the milkman,’ my host replied, matter of fact, a grin on his face, ‘Checking what we need.’

Anyway, back in the attic, the needle was lowered on to the vinyl, another of Burger’s inherited LPs from his older sister, long since moved out, although her posters of local prog outfit Camel still adorned the wall. Neil’s white soul-boy brother was probably downstairs playing Level 42, his favourites cracking the top-30 earlier that year for the first time, Neil memorably telling us how his brother’s pals left the bar at Guildford Civic Hall in a conga when they played their biggest hit so far.

‘The Chinese way; Who knows what they know; The Chinese legend grows.’

Some days it was Led Zeppelin blasting out of the top window, and again it was initially under sufferance from my point of view, put off by the over-played ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and unmoved and distrusting of those mega drum solos like on ‘Moby Dick’. But I was soon seduced by old school heavy barnstormers like ‘Rock and Roll’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘The Lemon Song’. I was already a fan of much of 1979’s In Through the Out Door, lured in by Nicky Horne on Capital Radio, and tracks like 1975’s ‘Kashmir’, but here I grew to re-evaluate the band’s earlier dirty blues moments, getting past the unappealing hair and the rock posturing.

On this occasion though, we were back in the time machine to late 1971, listening to an album released within a few weeks of Neil and I’s fourth birthdays, frenetic title track ‘Look at Yourself’ setting the tone, the harmonies of melodic rocker Wanna Be Free’ up next, teeing up side one’s atmospheric climax, introduced by Hensley’s three-deck keyboard, Neil rocking back and forth on an imaginary tottering stool, figurative long hair blowing in the breeze. Then came Mick Box’s searing guitar, Burger providing facial expressions to match, and his take on Paul Newton’s lines, playing that pool cue as an imaginary bass. And there to our imaginary right was Iain Clark on drums, lead singer David Byron at his side, waiting for his moment to step forward, the look of the fox about him, not unlike Vivian Stanshall doing the sublime ‘The Canyons of Your Mind’ with The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, glancing skywards before setting the scene,

There I was on a July morning; looking for love; With the strength of a new day dawning, and the beautiful sun.’  

I only learned this week that Manfred Mann adds Moog synth on that track and ‘Tears in My Eyes’, the song that announces side two, another powerhouse slice of vinyl that takes us through – via the progtastic ‘Shadows of Grief’ and more reflective ‘What Should Be Done’ – to the dirty blues finale that is ‘Love Machine’. Hell, the album cover even featured a mirror so you could, erm … well, look at yourself, kids.

But it’s ‘July Morning’ that resonated most with me, and still does to this day, an epic on a par with that aforementioned Led Zeppelin IV  biggie and Deep Purple’s ‘Child in Time’, if maybe not so lauded in wider circles. They don’t write ’em like that anymore. To quote my Aussie friend Bruce Jenkins’ May 2015 Uriah Heep appreciation for his Vinyl Connection website (linked below), ‘Then comes ‘July Morning’, centrepiece of this album and a stage favourite for years and years. Hensley’s organ features with rich reedy chords and simple but effective melodic lines; the extended final section where the keyboards extemporise over a repetitive guitar riff is organ/synth heaven – the US version cover notes by Hensley reveal that the synthesiser is played by guest Manfred Mann.’

Well, we already knew that last part, didn’t we, readers (* winks to camera). As for the commercial success of that LP, it just about made the UK top-40, their first to do so, but reached the summit in Finland and made it to No.5 in Japan a year later, its title track reaching No.4 in the Swiss singles charts. Not sure what all that proves, but they were on their way, soon filling arenas, selling millions of LPs, sharing bills with Rush – the latest subject of a ‘fanthology’ from author friend of WriteWyattUK, Richard Houghton, Uriah Heep opening for the Canadian outfit on their first US tour – as well as Kiss, Three Dog Night, and even Rory Gallagher.

Of that third LP line-up, the big league closing in, founding members Newton and Clark – perhaps marginalised by that core of Hensley, Box and Byron – soon departed. Clark’s replacement Lee Kerslake arrived in time for 1972’s Demons and Wizards, and arguably made the biggest impact of the new personnel. He died just a couple of months ago, having gone on to work with Ozzy Osbourne in the early ‘80s. As for Byron, real name David Garrick, him of that distinctive operatic lead vocal, he died aged just 38 in 1985, while one of Paul Newton’s replacements, New Zealander Gary Thain, who initially shared bass duties with Mark Clarke, checked out at just 27 in 1975 after his own troubled series of events.

As it was, Byron, Box, Hensley and Kerslake remained at the band’s core until 1976’s High and Mighty, when the original vocalist was fired amid his on-going battle with the booze. Of the four personnel who played on the first three albums, there’s just Mick Box and Paul Newton left now, in their early 70s and quick to pass on respects to their old bandmate and Uriah Heep’s initial chief songwriter this week. And I too salute Kenneth William David Hensley (August 24th, 1945 – November 4th, 2020) here – paying tribute to a gifted multi-instrumentalist and composer with a passion for poetry and fantasy, who realised his ambition to make it in a band, recently reflecting on that period of his life with the classic line-up of Uriah Heep – talking to Eamon O’Neill at Eon Music – as something that ‘was all like a mad dream’.

At the sound of the first bird singing, I was leaving for home; With the storm and the night behind me, and the road of my own.”

Apparently, Ken  Hensley sketched out ‘July Morning’ on his guitar in the early hours while bored waiting for the headliners to finish so the two bands could leave on their shared tour bus, ‘in the North of England somewhere’. My friend Niall, who got to witness Uriah Heep a couple of times in their early ‘70s heyday at Guildford Civic, paid his own tribute yesterday and said Ken was ‘one of the good guys’. And he’s right. We only briefly travelled the same road, but I admired his musicality and sense of vision, this old school prog-rock innovator who encouraged those who followed his path to realise the power of dreams … mad or otherwise. Can’t say fairer than that. Rest in peace, Ken.

For an intimate, detailed interview with Ken Hensley by Eamon O’Neill from just a few weeks ago, celebrating the release of Uriah Heep’s career-spanning ’50 Years in Rock’ 23-CD boxset, follow this Eon Music website link

Furthermore, friend of this website Bruce Jenkins, based in Melbourne, Australia, has his own Yesterday’s Tomorrow appreciation of early Uriah Heep on his splendid Vinyl Connection website, with a link here

Posted in Books Films, TV & Radio, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Going viral, 2020 style …

This is a WriteWyattUK public service announcement … without guitars. Hereby follows a written intermission, after a testing fortnight on the home front in which this website’s sole scribe finally succumbed to the dreaded coronavirus. Normal service will be resumed as soon as I’m ever deemed (in my mind or anyone else’s) normal, or at least when energy levels are high enough again. Until then …

Masked Avenger: The author in Falmouth last month, and already awaiting his next fix of post-virus sunshine (Photo: Lottie Wyatt)

Mud-and-leaf-caked trainers fastened. Check. Lumberjacket on, raincoat zipped. Check. Potent mix of hotdog pieces and cheese in plastic cup. Check. Back door open. Check. Now where’s that dog?

Poor Millie. A week stuck in the house, just the back garden to look forward to when it comes to outdoor pursuits. A back garden increasingly resembling a Great War battlefield. Bucket-loads of rain and soggy wanderings taking their toll, the grass-free patches afforded us by taking on a rescued female Labrador-cross just before the first lockdown (our rescued Collie-cross, Tom … RIPee … would wee everywhere, but neatly around the edges, with no damage done– our girl’s alternative is somehow highly toxic) turning from dry earth to gloop.

I’m not complaining. We at least have the luxury of a spacious back garden. Thousands don’t. But it’s become mighty small since that positive test came in for my beloved. This morning, not for the first time, there was hope in those gorgeous eyes that the pre-amble might lead to a proper w-a-l-k. She followed me around a bit, sat beautifully, charged around me, edging closer to that front door. But soon enough she got the picture. If we were going anywhere, it wasn’t beyond the front door. Instead, it was back to Passchendaele, 1917 style. And before anyone picks me up on that, I’m not making light of an historic nightmare. Just think of it as descriptive.

I ventured over the back step towards the trenches (more WWI imagery, but I’ll stop there) and proffered a small chunk of cheese. Millie took it, I carried on. I turned back. No sign. She was gone. She’d sniffed the air, looked out, then darted back through the kitchen and on to my better half’s lap in the back room. I went back to the window, showed her the cup. Her response? The facial expression suggested, ‘You are joking, mate’. Playtime was over for now.

The previous night, a similar tale, but we at least got some exercise in. I threw hotdog on to an armchair, she jumped up and retrieved. I threw the next bit by the living room door. She charged through, click and collect style. I moved to the foot of the stairs, threw the sausage up towards Andrew the chicken (don’t ask) at the top by the stained-glass window. She clambered up and wolfed it down. You get the picture. We got two-thirds of the way down the cup before she’d had enough and burrowed back into the sofa. I needed a sit down and a wheeze by then.

There I guess is the other side of the coin. The joys of COVID-19. Yep, we’re not complaining. Worse things happen at Chelsea. We’re still here, we’re relatively fit, and we’re getting through. Two of us have tested positive, the third reckons she’s got it, but it didn’t show up on her test. My better half got there first, her day-job in a pre-school the likely cause. However amazing her and fellow staff are, sterilising every corner of their setting within an inch of its life, with a meticulously safe regime in place, they’re still dealing with under-fives and – in some cases – parents not quite on that same page. And they’ve been open so long this year, either fully or just for children of those deemed ‘essential’ workers. It was only a matter of time before complacency elsewhere – and I mean among parents and guardians, not staff – had an impact. Now there’s a few of us ‘extended families’ going through this. One positive test for a staff member was quickly followed by news of at least two children feeling poorly, the centre temporarily shut down. Maybe that trotted-out official national line about children not being super-spreaders wasn’t quite true after all.

Lazy Day: Our Millie, taking it easy, wondering when the next proper walk is coming her way (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

I’m not here to set myself up as either an expert or a martyr. I don’t know it all, and some people have got it far worse. But it’s shit, all the same. If you can avoid the coronavirus, please do. Not least as it’ll help keep the hospital wards clear. Those underfunded hospital wards run by committed but underpaid NHS staff. Yep, those care workers this Government was more than happy to stand outside and clap for, but determined not to give a payrise. Scum.

We’ll get through this though. Thankfully, we haven’t got the underlying health conditions that would make this all so much harder. I don’t want to alarm anyone here, but that first night I definitely knew I had this – before the positive, official conclusion – was hard. I was knackered, in bed by nine, but couldn’t sleep. My breathing was fast, and the more I thought about it and others I knew and liked who would struggle in similar circumstances, the worse it got. This was no cold. I struggled to regulate my breathing, and it took me a couple of hours before I finally got there. I eventually drifted off, for at least an hour. My biggest crime that night, after my beloved let Millie out for a wee in the early hours, was letting on to her that I’d been struggling earlier. I dozed back off while she remained awake, listening to my breathing, worried about a repeat episode. Well, they say you drop your guard now and again.

Thankfully that stage didn’t last long, touch wood, although there have been instances since, once when I hear my big sister was waiting at her local hospital to be admitted. Thankfully no COVID-19 there, but your mind still goes into overdrive. I’ve never encountered panic attacks or incidences of claustrophobia but guess there’s something in that. Mostly it’s been a story of fatigue for me, but also lack of appetite, alternate sweats and shivers, and …. did I mention I was tired? A sore throat too, but maybe that was down to my OTT swabbing technique, making sure I’d reached my tonsils at the testing centre last Sunday. At one point, I prodded slightly too far and there was a horrible retching sound. The poor lad manning the tent had a brief glance around the partition flap to make sure I was alright. I apologised a minute later, and he brushed it off, announcing, “I’ve heard far worse noises lately … and that’s just from my fellow staff.”.

And there’s the thing. From the car park attendants to the staff within, they were great. Hats off to South Ribble Borough Council in my case. If only this was all run at local Government level. But how about the track and trace people? Well, let’s be positive first. They were soon on to me, and every time I’ve had a phone call, they’ve been great. The right mix of info and concern. Also, a little humour and a few laughs. The fact that I was throwing in the odd one-liner might have helped break the ice. So fair play to all those manning the phones … in my experience. However, where it seems to go wrong several months down the line is in the actual machinations of the system. There seems to be bugger all joining of the dots, and it’s turned into something of a game at ours as to who’ll get the next call from them and who will then swap places and be the last to get released from self-isolation.

This Wednesday alone, my partner had two calls, one leading to tears of frustration from her as she tried to explain to the woman on the line that while she had in fact come into contact with someone with the virus (i.e. me), she already had it, and that’s why he’d caught it. And this on a day when she was knackered before she even picked up the phone and was really struggling to conjure up the will to go through it all over again. Our youngest also got a call, one which ended with a mighty groan, letting us know her own release date would be a day later than she’d been assured before, on account of my later positive status, meaning she’ll now miss her first day back at sixth-form college. And this in the most frustrating of years for an 18-year-old, already one of the many victims of the algorithm fiasco that put a dampener on her A-level results just a few months ago.

Meanwhile, I got another call, where I had to explain to someone I wasn’t just another sad sap who had been in contact with someone who’d got a positive test, but I too was positive, having found out for sure on my birthday, as made clear by the first line of the message, which confirmed my date of birth. Thanks Serco.

Yorkshire Landscape: The view from Bole Hill, Sheffield, during the author’s brief pre-tier three trans-Pennine trip (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

The most recent call I received was from an Australian operator. We were having a bit of a laugh, to be honest, and I got the impression this was as much fun as she’d had on the phone all day. Well, you’ve got to laugh. ‘Is there anything else I can help you with?’ she asked at the end of our conversation. Well, you can remove this incompetent Government if you like. ‘I’m afraid I haven’t got that power,’ she replied, with a hint of regret, I felt. The day before, I asked someone else, after the same question, if maybe they could go around Matt Hancock’s house and gaffer-tape it up to stop that arse of a health minister getting out. And on the call before that, I asked a girl with a lovely Irish lilt in her voice that made me feel better for at least a minute to be put on to their incompetent boss, Dido Harding, as I had a few questions for her. Well, it was worth a try. If you’re not feeling weary and frustrated before, you generally are by the time you’ve reached the track and trace call stage. Don’t get me wrong, Lots of genuine people are working hard within that framework, doing their best to provide a system that helps pulls people through some dark times. But never let it be forgotten that this Government handed over the reins to an untested organisation – their corporate pals – instead of bringing in experts in the field working with councils and healthcare professionals at local level. 

My better half was soon informed via her app that she’d be allowed out from the start of Friday (not as if her current energy levels suggested she’d be looking to celebrate in any illicit late-night bar in the area), but an email sent her way once they found out I was positive too suggested she’d be in until Sunday. Surely this far down the line, the company awarded this contract should have in place a system that can work out how to put all those individual bits of information together for the bigger picture. To be fair, they’re clearly making more calls now, as opposed to previous months, but neither of us felt any more assured or clued up after those conversations.

And note that I’m not calling this NHS Test and Trace. It’s a Serco-run system, arguably using the NHS as a good character reference, its £12bn budget seemingly blown, its instigators having failed to drive infection rates below critical levels, its Government sponsors and their allies having exerted ideological commitment to the private sector over over-riding concerns of the health of the nation. This is Boris Johnson’s mate’s company, its leader – Dido, the Queen of Carnage – having previously made a pig’s ear of her time as chief executive at TalkTalk and even more recently remembered alongside fellow Jockey Club board members allowing Cheltenham racing festival to happen earlier this year, 250,000 spectators there for what many deemed a super-spreader event while everything else seemed to be closing down, positive cases soon escalating.

I recognise it’s a difficult situation, but in our cases there are three of us living together, two of whom have officially tested positive at different times, the other convinced she’s had it, even though the results came up negative the day she was tested. The reason my test was only undertaken six days after my better half’s was because I honestly didn’t want to throw my youngest daughter under the bus. She’d put up with having to sit looking at our miserable faces quite long enough. In this shitstorm of a year – one that started with Johnson blundering into office, clambering from one crisis to the next ever since – she’s already put up with far too much, doing everything asked of her, in a year which – reaching her 18th birthday – should really have been about celebrating good grades, hard graft, and life itself.

The same goes for my eldest daughter, studying hard in Sheffield yet somehow truly robbed of her second year there. First, we were all locked down together, and it went fairly well in the circumstances. We made a point of weekly dinner theme parties and kept ourselves entertained through various inventive means. Character-building. But while it’s far easier for two 50-pluses to carry on down that route, it can’t be for two gifted young women at such key stage of their lives. They stayed in, they followed the increasingly confusing advice from atop, and eventually, when the chance arrived, our eldest returned across the Pennines to try and re-establish her independence. She’s been getting by ever since, somehow. It’s not always easy, making that small talk on the phone, but we get by where hugs would often work better.

As it was, eldest daughter was affected first. In a house of six conscientious students, half of them succumbed to the dreaded disease. Accordingly, they locked down, scrubbing away at the kitchen between separate visits, and generally doing commendably. Then after two weeks’ isolation, she heard that Greater Manchester, Merseyside and our own patch in Lancashire were going into so-called tier three level restrictions. You could hear the concern in her voice over the phone, and we decided there and then to do something about it. No specific time had been mentioned for the status changeover, so we planned a Saturday daytrip, meeting in the in-between Peak District. We could walk around Bakewell and properly catch up, try and do something a little more normal. Healthy perhaps. But then came news that tier three shenanigans would come into operation after midnight, first thing Saturday morning. Probably announced first via the Mail, and the telegraph. That seems to be how this elite Government works, with mere contempt for the workings of Parliament. Accordingly, my better half, who’d finished for half-term a week early, and I, jettisoned our immediate plans and instead headed over the Pennines to meet her at a park in Sheffield.

Lounging Around: Millie, keeping this writer as sane as he’ll ever get amid these twisted times (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

There were complications, a landslide at Snake Pass bringing a major diversion – ironically, us driving through the gorgeous Derbyshire countryside we originally planned as the location for our meeting – and it took us two and a half hours to get there. But we had fish and chips in the park, spent two and a half quality hours there, then headed home via the M62 this time, only to realise part of it was closed for repair works late that night. It took us – yes, you guessed it – another two and a half hours to get home. As it turned out, we’d planned something different that day. It was my mother-outlaw’s 75th birthday, and we were set to finally visit the pub (not having taken advantage of any Government-sponsored meal deal back in the summer) for the first time together in 2020. Instead, Grandma and youngest Granddaughter dog-sat in our absence. 

Matters moved on the following day, and on the political front, Andy Burnham dug his heels in for Greater Menchester where Tory-run Lancashire hadn’t. The Government and its hand-in-glove media tried to paint him as just another trouble-maker fighting his corner and trying to get more money for his patch. But he knew the desultory amount offered by way of a help package was nowhere near enough, something Johnson, Sunak and co. clearly realised in retrospect by upping the perecentage for the furlough system after all.

On the local front, we discovered that two children from my partner’s pre-school had been taken ill and were about to be tested. The following day my beloved realised she wasn’t feeling so well either. Maybe we were just knackered from our cross-Pennines round-trip. We felt awful for having possibly brought our eldest daughter into this. She was masked up throughout our visit, but the feeling remained. We felt guilty for having brought the girls’ grandmother to the house too. Thankfully neither have fallen ill since. Within a few days, several more staff from that setting, and their immediate family, had also succumbed.

So where are we at? Things escalated again this weekend of course, Johnson standing in front of his lectern for another display of public incompetence, alongside two leading scientists. Barely 10 days earlier the Tories had been tweeting about how Labour had been advocating another national lockdown, pouring scorn on their plans, saying that it would be ‘the height of absurdity’ to do what their own scientific advisers were calling for: introduce a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown immediately to stem what was already becoming a massive second wave. They dithered again, with disastrous results. Total incompetence.

I won’t go far into the mask thing here, but it’s about common courtesy if nothing else. The science may be a little mixed on this, but it’s not hurting me to put a proper bit of cloth over my nose and mouth when I’m back in the shops and treat shopkeepers, shop workers and fellow shoppers with a little respect. We owe them that for them still being there. It won’t be forever.

As it is, my app suggests I’ll be out tomorrow (Monday 2nd), by which time hopefully I’ve got the energy to at least take our Millie for a proper wander, building on whatever my better half has already managed. She manged to do a short walk yesterday, and hopefully will later today too. I’m certainly looking forward to walking the pavements of my adopted Lancashire town again. God knows, Millie needs it. But this is hardly freedom. Nothing much will change until we have a proper antidote. A cure. By then, God knows what a mess we’ll be in as a nation, not least as the chancers in charge are pressing on with their no-deal bullshit on the whole Brexit fiasco front. Don’t get me started on that. I’ve now got to try and add another paragraph so this ends on a more positive note …. the very word positive achieving a rather negative association amid this pandemic.

Rainy Day: The view from the front at WriteWyatt Towers during the author’s self-isolation (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

Despite what you might think, I remain optimistic (is that a better word?). Next week, I’m hoping America votes out its national clown and our own clown car of a Government will have to think again on what constitutes its planned UK-US trade deal. While we’re at it, I’d be happy to see Brexiteers finally get their wish for a day if it means we can refuse to allow Nigel Farage back into this country after his further Trump rally buffoonery over the Atlantic. I had my hopes up early in this pandemic that we’d come out of it so much better as human beings. I saw us on the doorsteps clapping for care workers and the NHS and thought, ‘Maybe people aren’t going to stand for being run by some toff elite anymore’.

A side-issue maybe, but the strength of feeling behind Marcus Rashford’s recent free school meals campaign also brought me a little hope. And yet Tory MPs were having none of it. It seemed that an official pat on the back for its architect was deemed quite enough. There are no simple answers there either, but a Government that presides over a nation where the one true successful growth area is in food banks needs seriously re-examine its policies. This council house kid remembers all too well the stigma of being in a separate queue for free meals in middle school days. It made me request – I didn’t enjoy those meals anyway – that my Mum made me sandwiches instead. There are times when you don’t want to stand out from the crowd. But Marcus has been there, and he gets it. Give him the support he needs to make that work.

Talking of which – and starting to wrap up now – I love my football but haven’t been to see my club play since mid-January. I also love live music yet haven’t seen a band play live since mid-March. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen my family in the South-East since early January. I was lucky enough to have a week with my girls in August in North Wales, and a couple of days around a university visit in Cornwall with my youngest fairly recently, but even then we put off visits to friends nearby. It didn’t seem right in these increasingly strange times to go house-calling. But with friends all over the UK and further afield, this year has sharpened my resolve to catch up with many of them when the coast is finally clear. And it will clear.

Thankfully I can still immerse myself in the immediate company of my better half, my daughters and a gorgeous four-legged creature that makes us all smile on a regular basis. Then there are all the others who’ve pitched in on the phone, by video link or knocked at the door – beyond the call of duty – with essential shopping this past fortnight. I’ve got my music, films, documentaries and TV series to further entertain me (all the more reason that those creative industries are properly subsidised too – something I’ll no doubt get back to when I’m next putting together a feature), and it’s fair to say this pandemic has properly reminded me what’s important in life.

So here’s to encouraging the scientists who can hopefully reach those breakthroughs that ensure we safely return to some form of normality again sometime soon. We can’t afford to just follow the science when it suits us. It’ll be too late for so many, but we’ve got to have hope. Here’s to a brighter future and people waking up to what’s truly important in life.  Keep on pushing, as Curtis Mayfield put it in his Impressions days. And while we’re talking Curtis, he perhaps put it best on his self-titled solo LP, released 50 years ago in September and still as pertinent today …

Move on up towards your destination, though you may find from time to time complications’.

Stay safe, my friends.

Autumn Sky: The view from the back at WriteWyatt Towers during the author’s self-isolation (Photo: Malcolm Wyatt)

Talking of going viral, at the end of October 2020 – when the author got his positive COVID-19 test result – this website’s viewing figures topped 11,000 for the first time ever during a calendar month. Yes, going viral in more ways that one. Perhaps it’s not quite as shite a year as I’ve imagined all the way along. That leaves us comfortably on target for another record-breaking 12 months, reading figure-wise – not as if I can do anything else other than cover our website costs with the proceeds of those annoying ads – and now means we’ve had 455,000 page views since we started, more than 400,000 of those in the last half-dozen years. So thanks one and all for reading … and reguarly returning. Much appreciated.

Posted in Books Films, TV & Radio, Comedy & Theatre, Football, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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 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.”

In fact, after going to press I was told by Lee Thacker that in a late edit, it was decided to dedicate this volume instead to the memory of John Peel. But Lee added, “A dedication to the late, great Sean Hughes will definitely be appearing in a future volume.”

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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