Sleevenotes by David Gedge (Pomona, 2019) – a review

This is the first example I’ve seen of Pomona’s Sleevenotes series – where musicians choose favourite tracks from their back-catalogue and provide insight into their creation, meaning and mood – and on this evidence it’s a simple concept that works well.

David Gedge is a fine choice for the fourth book in the series, the founder and sole, erm … ever-Present of his band having enjoyed a 35-years-and-counting recording career, neatly bridging that gap between cult indie status and mainstream crossover success (18 UK top-40 singles count for something), John Peel’s championing of an outfit the author has been known to introduce live as ‘semi-legendary’ in more recent times leading to so many of us getting on board early on.

I wasn’t convinced this would work. Friend of this website Richard Houghton’s splendid This Day in Music Books 2017 Gedge co-write, Sometimes These Words Don’t Have To Be Said, finished a job started in 1990 by Pomona main-man Mark Hodkinson in Thank Yer Very Glad. Furthermore, with talk of a one-volume version of David’s long-running comic-book alternative life story to come and a ‘songography’ project involving the author for the https://gedgesongs.wordpress.com already out there, there’s reason to think that’s all in the past (there, I’ve said it now at last).

Besides, I got the impression that the words of the opening line of ‘My Favourite Dress’ used in the official biography’s title summed up the author’s thinking regarding any such history project. I also feared that the artist Peelie lovingly referred to as ‘the Boy Gedge’ might over-explain the songs we love given the chance (less is more, and all that). But it works, not least because it’s short, sharp and succinct, an A5 format running to just over 100 pages preventing any over-writing.

So although I thought I knew all I needed to, he fills in a few gaps and inspires the reader to return to the songs themselves, hearing them again with new-found insight. And while concentrating on just 15 tracks – I’ll not dwell on the specifics, but we start with thrilling 1985 debut 7”, ‘Go Out and Get ‘Em, Boy!’ and thread on through to the sublime indie pop of 2016’s ‘Rachel’ – a full timeline is established, including the seven-year gap in which offshoot project Cinerama took centre-stage.

If you’re a fan, you’ll fly through the pages at speed, as if you’ve been invited up on stage to join the band’s heady six-string assault, the tales told around each choice giving a one-take outline of this mighty sonic journey we’ve been on since the band set out from Leeds in the mid-‘80s. Yes, the afore-mentioned Houghton/Gedge title offered a tidy production and works perfectly, but this complements it nicely. Think of it as a Steve Albini-engineered alternative, raw and urgent.

Along the way we see glimpses of the obsession of TWP’s driven sole survivor down the years. And I was inspired to not only go back to the songs chosen, but to check out more mentioned in despatches. There’s enough trainspotter-level info to appeal to the more obsessive, not least a few recording secrets and explanations as to how they got that guitar sound on ‘’What is it Now, Missus?’ (not actually a Wedding Present title, but you had to think about it, right?), but there’s plenty for the rest of us to enjoy too.

Gedge also talks about his move towards more conversational styles of songwriting and various experimentations (‘A lot of my early writing was of the ‘Send me a flower, I’m going to die’ school of lyricism’, he admits), and analyses those leaps between small to large record labels and then self-releases over the years. There’s talk of the thrill of getting that first Peel play and how that led to so many bookings, and lovely little tales like how David once unwittingly offered an off-the-wagon George Best a drink at the debut LP publicity shoot, and how time and again he appears not to fully get what makes a hit (thankfully he always has a band to steer him in the right direction).

What else? There’s more about 1992’s successful 12-single Hit Parade campaign – Keith Gregory’s idea initially, just before his departure – and David’s thoughts on the differing approaches of the many producers employed over the years, plus talk of a bizarre London rooftop experience with The Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie between recording sessions, and a splendid yarn about the day David asked Steve Albini if he could possibly use his Chicago studio’s Mellotron during the recording of El Rey.

And did you realise that Take Fountain started life as a fourth Cinerama album? In fact, Cinerama – which the author now as good as admits was a solo career in all but name – features a fair bit across these pages, Gedge suggesting promoters were far happier when TWP returned, feeling they’d do better when it came to shifting tickets. But that side-project has survived, not least through guest slots for the annual At the Edge of the Sea festival in David’s adopted home city, Brighton.

I mentioned staff turnover within his bands, and Gedge says, ‘Some people stay for 12 years and some people stay for 12 months. I think people possibly suppress their personality a bit in order to fit in with the band at first, but then, over time, it will start to niggle them’. Yet it appears that there are still plenty of takers out there to fill those gaps, among them Labour Party luminary, Mayor of Greater Manchester and TWP obsessive Andy Burnham.

Also, the author stresses how the Weddoes are more of a proper band than they’re given credit for. Despite so many musicians passing through over the years fuelling notions that David may be an ogre to work with, you get the impression his scariest quality is an over-reaching passion for his projects.

Tellingly, he adds, ‘I encourage people in the band to put forward ideas and songs, because even if I don’t think it works, others might. Also, of course, there’s always the chance that I will grow to like it eventually. I’ll go away, sleep on it, and then possibly change my mind. Things like that can move the group forwards so I’m always open for band members to stamp their identity on our sound. That’s why The Wedding Present have made this series of records that each have their own personality; it’s because there have usually been different people playing on each one. I generally feel like I’ve been in about half a dozen bands. I have always said that the sound of The Wedding Present is the combined sound of the four people who are in the group at any given time’.

Content-wise, we’re taken up to his most recent winning LP, Going, Going … and the accompanying shows which led to a memorable 2017 Cadogan Hall live show, Cinerama supporting and the headliners complemented by flute, brass, strings, a 20-piece choir, and David’s partner Jessica’s films projected onto a huge screen. And where do we go from there? We’re yet to find out two years on, but judging by my most recent TWP date at Blackpool’s Waterloo Bar in July (reviewed here), the band remain as fresh and relevant today as ever.

In short, I’m thinking that no discerning Wedding Present fan would be without Gedge’s Sleevenotes, although – knowing the author as we do – there will probably be an extended, repackaged 30-song version in time for the band’s 40th anniversary. And we’d be up for that too, of course, even if the purists will come back to this slim volume and argue the case for its superiority.

Live Presents: David Gedge. left, leading from the front with The Wedding Present, with Charles Layton on drums, at Blackpool’s Waterloo Bar in late July, 2019 (Photo copyright: Richard Houghton)

David Gedge’s Sleevenotes, following those from Bob Stanley of St Etienne, Mark Lanegan (ex-Screaming Trees) and Joe Thompson (DIY behemoths, Hey Colossus), is available for £8 (plus p&p) from Pomona via this link

And for an interview with David Gedge for this website from September 2014, head here

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From The In Crowd and onwards – talking Boys Dreaming Soul and Stone Foundation with Neil Sheasby

Stoned Love: Stone Foundation are back out on the road later this month in support of the Everybody, Anyone LP. Pictured, from the left – Rob Newton, Phil Ford, Ian Arnold, Neil Sheasby, Neil Jones (Photo: Jordan Curtis Hughes)

After successive UK top-30 albums, it’s fair to say Midlands soul collective Stone Foundation are on a high, the success of 2017’s Street Rituals followed by last year’s Everybody, Anyone, another long player recorded at Paul Weller’s Black Barn Studios in Ripley, Surrey.

Look at the latest album credits and you’ll find mention of contributions from not only Weller but also The Average White Band’s Hamish Stuart, The Blow Monkeys’ Dr Robert, and The Style Council’s Mick Talbot and Steve White. And since then, they’ve enticed Graham Parker back into the studio.

But while recent Stone Foundation highlights include supports with their esteemed studio host, various headline shows at prestigious venues and storming sets at renowned festivals, I wouldn’t advise you suggest to co-founding bass player Neil Sheasby that he might be enjoying success for the first time.

Neil’s receiving plenty of rightful acclaim at present for his first published music memoir, Boys Dreaming Soul, and within its pages you get many evocative descriptions detailing past associations with revered acts. But it’s not so much name-dropping as subtle tips of one of his many stylish titfers towards a career that’s seen him living a life he always dreamed of.

Sheas, as he’s known to many (apparently Weller calls him ‘Brother Sheas), turned 52 this week, and was set to return to band rehearsals when I called him at home in Atherstone, Warwickshire. The Everybody, Anyone UK tour starts at the end of this month, and he’s raring to go.

“Even though it was only the summer when we were busy, it feels like forever, so it’ll be nice to get back into that, man.”

We’ll get on to that later, but first I’ll talk some more about his book, the story of his life in music, part one, and a personal affair at that.

I intended to just start reading it, then arrange an interview, but once I’d got going I powered on through before tackling its author. For one thing I wanted to know as much as I could about some of the key characters involved before asking more, not least the late Paul Hanlon, aka Hammy, his musical sidekick for so long.

Sheas’ Sidekick: Paul Hanlon, aka Hammy, outside Tiffany’s in Coventry in 1980, aged 13 (Photo: Tony Tye)

As he puts it in the book, ‘He was the archetypal Boy About Town, the local Face. Even at a tender age, he had swagger and confidence, but never arrogance. He was burning with character, and people loved him.’ He seemed a real character, I suggested. And I guess it’s not a plot-spoiler to talk about him in the past tense.

“It’s funny, because most people buying it locally already know that part, and know Hammy’s gone. But I had to think in a context where the majority of people aren’t going to know our relationship, so I didn’t want to give it away. And that was a delicate balance when I was thinking of doing it.

“I didn’t even know I wanted to put that all in there really. It was because of his kids. They were around nine and 11 when he died, I was a godfather to the pair of them, and see them quite a bit. They’re adults now and started asking me lots of questions about their Dad, so I thought, y’know, I probably need to put this out there. I didn’t care if it sold five copies or 500, I wanted to do it for them.

“And it turned into something else. a love letter to my fans, my family, where I grew up, Mum and Dad, the relationship with Hammy, and more than anything my relationship with music probably. That’s what comes over.”

I agree, and in that situation some would be tempted to turn such a key figure who’s no longer with us into something of a saint. But you’re very honest and open, not trying to sugar-coat your close relationship with Hammy.

“I hope not. It was done over a good period of years. I started probably about six years ago, left it, and didn’t really know whether I was writing a book or not. I was just writing, but then we started making Street Rituals a few years later and when I’m writing tunes, I’m concentrating on that – I can’t do two things at once. But then I found six or seven chapters on the computer, thinking, ‘Fucking hell, I should pick this up again, this is pretty good!’ I’d not read it for a few years. So I picked the thread up again and started to see I might have a book there, but didn’t want it to be an indulgence. I could tell story after story after story, but what really is a story and what’s an indulgence is what people can relate to and connect to. That’s a fine line to get right. And it seems to have gone down well.”

It certainly has. Did you already know the publisher, Days Like Tomorrow Books’ Tony Beesley?

“Kind of. He asked me to write for his Mojo Talking book, and I kind of enjoy all that.”

It’s apparent to me that you’re a proper writer. Lots of people writing similar books haven’t got that skill. They’ll write with passion and the odd sharp turn of phrase, and I’m all for that, but there’s more here. I see that in your social media posts too.

“Well … thank you. I don’t really think about it. I just write rubbish and people seem to like it! It started with social media, reconnecting with old mates, sharing indulgences about what I’d found in the loft or wherever, noticing people would start to engage with it, even if it’s just talking about albums I think are shit!

“I like it when you’re having a conversation from which you can learn something. Most people I’m interested in will probably turn me on to something – a book, a film, a new record. That’s the positivity of it all really.”

Last time I talked to Neil was in April 2017, with Stone Foundation’s Street Rituals not long out. It was around then that I became aware of his social media presence, realising he’s just 11 days older than me, an added bonus for me with Boys Dreaming Soul – knowing exactly where I was in my life at key points in his tale, comparing respective life experiences.

One such moment that made an impression was realising how young he was when he lost his father, making me realise what a bonus it was to have my own Dad around until I was 45. I suspect I may well have gone off the rails if I’d lost my father at 21, like him. I briefly mention this, but he swiftly steers me towards a more positive aspect, the fact that we grew up at such an exciting time.

“You could also argue that kids who grew up with Brit Pop had a similar experience, but it was just so exciting to be our age and be impressionable going into your teenage years, surrounded by this melting pot of youth culture – whether you were a punk, skinhead, mod, rocker, whatever. It’s almost like if you weren’t into something you were a kind of outcast. It was all encompassing.”

For Neil that tribalism became more defined on hearing The Jam’s third LP. As he puts it in the book, ‘In the City I loved, but All Mod Cons upped the stakes. It changed everything. I spent the next couple of months reading, researching, devouring, investigating and immersing myself in all things mod … punk had burnt out, a whole new movement was about to explode, and The Jam were lighting the fuse.’

And through that came a knock-on interest in ska, Tamla Motown, Eddie Floyd, Mose Allison, The Creation, the 100 Club, Richard Barnes’ Mods book (‘becoming my bible’), and more. He writes, ’By the time I was 14 I’d read Robert Tressell, Colin MacInnes and George Orwell. I’d seen Curtis Mayfield and Georgie Fame. Paul Weller and Richard Barnes probably showed me more than most of my secondary school teachers could ever dream of.’

At this point we mentioned our parallel childhoods, me in Surrey and Neil in Warwickshire. And while key influences like The Jam, The Stranglers, The Vapors, The Members and Graham Parker were not far off my doorstep, Neil had his own major influences near his neck of the woods.

“Absolutely, going the other way to Coventry, that’s where 2 Tone unfolded, and was the nearest city to us. And in Birmingham – the other way – we had Dexy’s Midnight Runners, The Beat, UB40 … We were surrounded by it. At that age, around 12 or 13, I was going to matinee gigs, but then Dexy’s just seemed different. It seemed to stand out. When I first heard Searching for the Young Soul Rebels I felt, ‘This isn’t what the other stuff is, this is something else’. I was being informed, and you dig deeper into the lyrics and stuff, realising he’s talking about Irish poets, some sense of national pride, all that.”

Incidentally, Neil’s first show was a matinee gig, and what a gig, Madness at Leicester’s De Montford Hall, with admission £1, Sheas up on the balcony taking it all in. He writes, ‘Even though it was billed as an under-16s matinee, it was still mayhem, with lads throwing themselves off the balcony and being caught by the throng below, a hall full of skins, rude boys and mods all united by the music, which in itself was just exhilarating. It was like Cup Final day, but better, a real event. I was left in no doubt. This was the life for me. I was hooked.’

And as it was with me, people like Kevin Rowland, Joe Strummer and Paul Weller inspired you to read around your subject, discovering all the music, books and films they mentioned in interviews.

“Yeah, Kevin Rowland didn’t really do many interviews, because he had that great idea of just doing essays in the music press – and all that attracted me as well – but when Paul did an interview he was informative and he’d talk about whatever he was reading or listening to, like Curtis Mayfield, and namechecking the Five Stairsteps or something, so I’d be checking all that out. We didn’t have the internet, so you had to go and find the records, which was hard to do, but again all that was really exciting and I felt that was a real rite of passage.”

Dance Stance: Sheas, right, with the Dexy’s-inspired band he formed with Hammy, centre, on the Battlefield Line at Shackerstone, Leicestershire. Phil Ford is next to his bass-playing Stone Foundation comrade (Photo: Neil Sheasby)

There’s another Dexy’s link, as you might expect from a lad who spent much of his formative years sipping tea as one of ‘The Teams That Meet in Caffs’, when baritone sax player Paul Speare, who played on Too Rye Ay, moved to a village three miles from Sheas and Hammy, who by then had renamed their band Dance Stance in honour of Rowland’s influential outfit. They tracked him down too, persuading him to produce their debut single. And all these years on ‘Snaker’ occasionally plays with Stone Foundation, also writing the foreword for Boys Dreaming Soul.

Where you find a love of Dexy’s and The Jam you’re also likely to link in the Northern Soul revival scene, and Sheas and Hammy were part of that ‘third wave’ at a young age, visiting nearby Hinckley, Leicestershire, for the first of many visits to events there, initially lured in by news that Curtis Mayfield was appearing.

As he puts it in the book, ‘We’re buzzing! This is the real deal. A Northern Soul all-nighter and on our doorstep! Then reality hits. This is 1982, Hammy’s barely 15, I’m 14, we’re still at school, and we’re planning on fucking off to Hinckley with grown blokes we only loosely knew, to a dance that doesn’t begin until midnight and doesn’t finish until 8am on Sunday. This is going to take some planning.’

They succeeded though, with many more trips following, seeing the likes of guest acts Major Lance, Martha Reeves, Edwin Starr, and Eddie Holman.

As I told him, I didn’t find myself at an all-nighter – at the 100 Club in Oxford Street – until I was 19, an interest in Northern Soul somewhat inevitable in light of my love of Motown and Stax. But even then I only appreciated what I experienced in retrospect, finding that whole scene too cliquey.

“Yeah, it was like people-watching in a way, at first, thinking, ‘Christ! What is this!’ It was this whole new underground kingdom where people are just dancing and no alcohol. You didn’t realise these people were speeding their tits off or whatever when you’re 13! But I got into these places and can’t believe nobody stopped us and said, ‘Sorry lads, you’re too young’.  We got in all sorts of places, another benefit of growing up when we did.”

There’s a nice description of the time his band was playing a local bar and the afore-mentioned Edwin Starr joined them on stage, to their amazement, for a medley of ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ segued with ‘Respect’.

“There are all these bizarre things that the book’s littered with and the fact that me and Hammy never seemed to go out and just have a normal night. Something would always happen. We’d done some charity gig in a wine bar, a low-key affair, and they were going to present a cheque as we’d raised a certain amount, so we turned up to do an hour’s set, and Edwin was there to present the cheque to the nurses it was raised for. And that night he looked at us, thought, ‘Crikey, this is some band’, and on the spur of the moment asked, ‘Would you know anything I know?’ then got up and sang with us.”

Festival Fare: Best buddies Hammy and Sheas take it easy in Tamworth, back in the day (Photo: Neil Sheasby)

When Neil describes the moment where Edwin comes in with his first line, you’re with him in that bar, sharing a moment of elation and jubilation at being in this everyday establishment with a bona fide soul legend.

“Yeah! The walls were shuddering. It was amazing!”

I’d forgotten until I looked back at our last interview how we mentioned Graham Parker last time. But since then he’s been back in Paul’s studio with you, guesting on your cover of ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’ (best known for Ann Peebles’ fantastic version and Paul Young’s later hit but commendably covered by GP himself in 1978).

“Graham emailed me yesterday, funnily enough.”

I had a mate who always raved about GP, and over time he made an impression on me too, getting to see him for the first time on the Mona Lisa’s Sister tour in Kentish Town in late ‘88. He crossed several genres, seen as a new wave artist at first, alongside Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, but the soul was always there, not far below the surface.

“Definitely. He had the Dylan thing, he had the soul thing going on, coming from loads of good angles. At the end of the day it’s just good songs really. People are very quick to bag artists, but really it’s about good songs and good delivery with people like Graham Parker and Joe Jackson.”

Conversely, reading the NME as a teenager they told me how good LPs like Astral Weeks were, but I didn’t get it straight away – not comprehending that Van Morrison was a soul singer. It took me a while to hear more, go back and truly get him.

“Well, I did, because my first entrance to Van was the It’s Too Late to Stop Now live album (1974), so I had to go back to Astral Weeks and think, ’Ah, ok, that’s what he was before’. That was a real Eureka moment, and down to the guy who worked in the record shop with me. He said, ‘You like soul, do you like this sort of soul?’ He gave me this tape, just a typed-out cassette, telling me, ‘Take that home with you’. He gave me that and Heat Treatment by Graham Parker, and a Little Feat record, and with the Van thing I got it straight away. It was soul but coming from a different place, and connected to the Dexy’s thing.”

Keep It: Dexy's first LP provided a major turning point for Neil Sheasby

Keep It: Dexy’s debut LP, Sheas’ turning point

I should mention there that after a brief spell on a BTEC diploma in business studies, Neil started working full time in a record shop, initially on the YTS at £25 a week. And it was the perfect job for a fella who’s always had his ears open to great music.

While we were born the same month, were both brought up in solid working-class environments – Neil’s Dad, who later managed his early bands, was in quarrying while his Mum made tights and stockings –  and loved our football (in his case a passion for Leeds United and non-league outfit Atherstone Town, as well as regular trips as a kid with his Dad to see Coventry City), where we differed was perhaps how we were introduced to music. It was through being the youngest of five children (the oldest with 11 years on me) that I was subjected to everything from rock’n’roll and The Beatles to glam and pop, whereas Sheas was an only child …

“Yeah, me and my imagination, and me and Elvis films! I had an imaginary friend called Simon, yeah! I think I found it all out for myself.”

But that led to him spending time socialising with his parents while they were unwinding at weekends at child-friendly working men’s and social club, experiencing a world of live bands and mirrored disco balls, an early opportunity for his love of people-watching, ‘seeing how they dressed and danced and smoked’.

“It was the fascination that when the working week was done, they’d want to go out to the local working men’s clubs. It was as much about that as The Jam and Dexy’s. Way before, it was local bands at the working men’s clubs, playing the hits of the day, whether it be Edison Lighthouse, The Kinks, whatever.

“Funnily enough, I was in town the other day and someone shouted me in one of the cafes. They had a band called The Adders, named after the football team across the way (Neil’s beloved Atherstone Town). They had this residency there every week and at The Angel, and we were reminiscing about that. I said, ‘D’you know what, lads, you were one of my key first influences’. That made me think, ‘That’s what I want to do! I wanna play in a band!’

“We’d ride our bikes around town on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, hear bands rehearsing, just like in ‘That’s Entertainment’ (‘An amateur band rehearsing in a nearby yard’). There were loads of punk bands, there was Spirit of Water, a hippie band using the arts centre, and we’d be outside, eavesdropping, thinking, ‘This is great!’ That fascinated us.”

There’s another difference between us maybe. I still have my left-handed bass guitar, but never got much further than playing in my mate’s garage. I never had the confidence to get out and perform live. I know now I should have, but get the impression that thriving scene inspired Neil to try his luck.

“I’m not sure I did, but I had people around me who said, ‘Come on, what’s the worst that can happen?’ People like Hammy, who was fearless, although he ended up just singing. But what you say about brothers and sisters playing their music, I was really lucky to be surrounded by older kids and kids my own age into music and would inspire you locally, like the guy I bought my initial records off.

“I also had older cousins, but it was like the Northern Soul thing – that came about because me and Hammy were having cups of tea in a local café at the swimming baths, with two lads working there who were into all that. Then with The Jam there was an older kid who’d drive and they took me under their wing because they knew I was into the mod thing – ‘Tell his Mum and Dad he’ll be alright with us’. I was really lucky in that respect, these pockets of people really encouraging us.

Start Point: The Jam's Sound Affects, a major inlfuence on Neil Sheasby

Start Point: The Jam’s Sound Affects, a huge influence

“And nobody laughed when we started at the youth clubs and could barely play – I’ve found VHS footage which I must get transferred and get online, and it’s amazing. We were 14 and 15, with loads of girls and lads from school coming to watch us, and you can see there’s something there. It’s really exciting to look back. That’s all you need. We had one review in a local paper, and it said we were great, so it was like, ‘Fucking hell! We’ll carry on then!’

“You get those stepping stones, all the way through. I’ve just found out some diaries and I’m looking through the early Stone Foundation thing where I’m thinking, ‘What the fuck am I still doing this for?’ Really despondent, really down, but then something happened, some little spark …”

There’s clearly a part two coming of these memoirs.

“There will be, yeah. Initially, I thought I was going to tell the Stone Foundation story, but now I’m looking at it thinking that’s still ongoing, although there will be a part of that in the next book, the time where we were really struggling and didn’t really know where we were going.”

There’s more to the story of course, but I won’t go any further here other than mentioning how that love of The Jam led to a love of The Style Council, and the band continued to regenerate. In his Dance Stance days there were overseas shows and even appearances on the god-awful Bob Monkhouse-fronted Op Knocks. And there’s the sex and drugs experimentation as well as the rock’n’roll, of course. Let’s just say his Kid Creole story and later episode involving playing air congas to Youssou N’Dour will stay with you a long time.

But I’ll break off there and move on to current Stone Foundation developments, asking a fella who reckons that 40 years ago he was regularly in ’Weller World’ as a kid at school, daydreaming in class, when he last got down to Paul’s studio.

“We’ve done the bulk of the album actually, and I’m back next week, then we have a week in December when we should finish it and get on to mixing. I think the album’s going to be out around April or May next year.”

Is Paul involved again?

“He’s on a couple of things. He features on one track and plays on a few, just bits and bob – guitar, piano … yeah, he can never help himself! He always pops his head in and ends up involved. It’s a nice relationship.”

Foundation Inspiration: Paul Weller has Stone Foundation back in his studio, recording their new LP

It remains something of a dream for Neil, getting to work alongside his childhood inspiration. In our last interview, he told me how nervous they were first working with Paul, but revealed how he quickly put them at ease, making them all a cuppa. That’s not the Weller I’d have expected from his press a couple of decades ago.

“I don’t think it’s the Paul Weller that Paul Weller would have expected 20 years ago either! I think we met him at the right time. A lot of it is to do with his sobriety now, and he seems to be in a much, much better place than he was. We have a nice relationship, we keep in touch, and we’re privileged that he seems interested in what we’re up to all the time.”

Well, let’s face it. If he didn’t want you in there, he wouldn’t re-book you.

“No, we’d be long gone! I don’t know, it just seems to work. He’s just a music fan, like us, and seems to like us.”

I’m guessing the ‘Playhouse’ single was something of a stop-gap between the last LP and the next.

“It was. We were touring and thought we could put something out to coincide with that.”

It’s great, and I love the accompanying promo video when Neil Jones and Graham Parker exchange high fives towards the end of the take.

And there is another link with the stories recounted in Boys Dreaming Soul linking your early bands with the current set-up, through your ‘brother in rhythm’, long-serving drummer, Phil Ford. He’s been around a long time, hasn’t he?

“He’s like shit on my shoes! For about 40 years. We were in middle school together. I’ve known him since he was about five or six, and at 12 he started drumming.”

Introducing Phil in the book, Neil writes, ‘Thirteen years old, he could barely see over the top of the kit, but when he played, it was just magical.’ And there’s a nice story about how he joined, which I won’t go into, following a rehearsal at Phil’s house, The In Crowd’s first gig soon arranged at a school in Coventry guitarist Nick Thomas attended. And all these years on, it’s fairly obvious that Sheas and Phil work well together.

Looking Up: Stone Foundation, all set to head on tour again in November. From left – Neil Sheasby, Anthony Gaylard, Dave Boraston, Ian Arnold, Steve Trigg, Rob Newton, Neil Jones, Phil Ford (Photo: John Coles Photography)

“Yeah, he’s been in every band we’ve been through – The In Crowd, Dance Stance, Rare Future, Mandrake Root. When I finished, he stopped drumming, then I started a new band, wanting it to be completely new, and by then he’d packed it in. We had maybe three or four years as Stone Foundation trying to find our feet, using different drummers. But he came to see us play one of the last nights at Ronnie Scott’s, Birmingham and came up after and said, ‘Fucking hell, Sheas, that was incredible. I’ve got to play again – I’ve got to get my kit out!’

“I said, ‘Mate, if you get that kit out, I tell you now, I’ll sack the drummer tonight!’ Not the nicest thing to do, but I loved Phil and we had that relationship – personal and musical – for decades. So he came back and that was it, he’s been drumming for Stone Foundation ever since.”

Finally, I get the impression that this book and the planned follow-up is a celebration of every band you were in that didn’t quite make the big time.

“Ha! It could be seen that way, yeah.”

Of course, the reader knows success did follow, but …

“Well, I don’t know … we got asked a question really early doors, on one of the first breaks we had with Stone Foundation – going on the Janice Long (radio) show, doing a session one night, and she asked, ‘Everything seems to be going really well, why do you think success has always eluded you?’ I had to think about that, and said, ‘Well, whose yardstick are we measuring success on?’ Because I always felt I had been successful.’

“I mean, touring with Gil Scott Heron and Roy Ayers – I never thought I’d see a day when that would happen. If it all stopped then, I’d have thought, ‘This is fucking great!’ So for me I always thought it was a success. It’s just that it wasn’t in the glare of the public eye.”

Fair point. I’ll take that back and try it another way. This whole story is more about inspiration and living that life you always wanted to and were always switched on to achieving. I guess I’m really talking about what is perceived as commercial success … although even that can be disputed. I guess you still have to work your arses off to make ends meet.

Bass Instinct: Neil Sheasby in contemplative mode, live with Stone Foundation (Photo: Ashley Greb Photography)

“Yeah, it’s a real struggle, definitely, a real balancing act. But our story is more, I think, about … even with Paul getting involved and John Bradbury taking us on tour with The Specials when he did … we weren’t hip, we weren’t young, we weren’t trendy or whatever, something they could easily have attached their credibility to. They took a punt on us because they liked the music, liked the band and what we were all about. That’s really the story, I think. And people look at us and think, ‘Fucking fair play to them!’

And long may it continue.

“Hope so, yeah!”

Maybe the difference now is that if someone asked what you did for a living, you could hand over the vinyl or CD/DVD packages for the last two LPs and say, ‘There you go, look at those – read the credits’.

“Well, yeah. But I always look to the next thing, thinking, ‘I could have done that better’. You still think, ‘Well, I’ve not written the one yet’. You keep chasing your tail with that. But I think that’s what keeps driving you forward really, mate. And I just enjoy it. I enjoy creating, I really do.”

For this website’s April 2017 interview with Neil Sheasby, head here.

Early Days: The In Crowd, Atherstone Town FC, 1983. From left – Neil Sheasby, Phil Ford, Paul ‘Hammy’ Hanlon.

Stone Foundation’s Everybody, Anyone UK tour starts on November 1st at Gorilla, Manchester, then the following night at Liverpool Arts Club, with the full dates here. And to order Neil Sheasby’s Boys Dreaming Soul, (Days Like Tomorrow Books, £12.99) try here

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Four decades of Daylight with The Selecter – back in touch with Pauline Black

Frontline Warrior: Pauline Black, out there again with the band with whom she made her name (Photo: Dean Chalkley)

Celebrated 2 Tone legends The Selecter, up there at the forefront of the late ‘70s UK ska revival, are going down a storm in Europe right now, their 40th anniversary tour drawing closer to home.

Led by Pauline Black and fellow co-founder Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson, the entourage this time includes another 2 Tone leading light, Rhoda Dakar, of The Bodysnatchers and The Special AKA fame, their tour covering seven countries before 20 UK and Irish dates. And Pauline, in Vienna when I called, is loving it.

“It’s been great. We’ve been to Mexico and America, and we’re in Europe at the moment, and can’t wait to get back to the UK. We’ve honed the set really well and it’s just going to be amazing – 40 years is a long time, but it still feels really fresh.”

Always a crucial figure in that late-’70s movement, Pauline is also a respected style icon, broadcaster, writer, anti-racism and anti-sexism campaigner, and actress. But right now her focus is all about the band with whom she made her name.

Witness The Selecter live and you’ll see that the passion that fuelled their shows during the original 2 Tone era remains. What’s more, they’re writing some of their best songs, long after breakthrough hits ‘Three Minute Hero’, ‘Too Much Pressure’ and ‘On My Radio’.

Their 2017 LP, Daylight, proved that, a state-of-the-nation address covering themes Pauline has witnessed first-hand and mulled over during her more recent travels, the band having lost none of their original edge and adamant that a multi-racial, multi-cultural scene started in Coventry by Specials founder Jerry Dammers is as relevant today as it was in 1979.

It’s been two years since our last interview, when Daylight had just come out. And it remains oh so topical. I loved it then and listening again the morning we spoke, I found it just as fresh and arguably even more relevant with the way politics has gone since.

“Absolutely, and sometimes all the things being said on it were not necessarily being said at the time, but you could see it was all coming, like the homelessness. It kind of missed its slot. It would have been better coming out two years later.”

There’s a good example in the track, ‘Taking Back Control’, perhaps even more pertinent now so much of what Brexit was really about is more out in the open. But despite the song’s ‘make a false promise and then you run away’ line, it seems that those they were putting the spotlight then – not least the man who would become PM – slid right back in again.

“Exactly, yeah.”

And yet despite the issues raised, these are songs of empowerment, as was often the case with The Selecter. Amid all the doom and gloom, there’s always a positive message.

“I suppose so. Despondency and doom and gloom at what’s going on isn’t the thing. And I’m certainly not despondent or gloomy about it. I think there are plenty of people organising something completely different – they don’t want their NHS sold off, for example. There are all kinds of things we are going to not benefit from, and a lot of people are waking up to that now. And that was the whole point of Daylight, to shine some daylight on all this, looking at all that in its entirety.”

I get that, but don’t always share that optimism. I’m surrounded on social media by lots of people thinking similarly to me, so I’m in a bubble of my own making at times. And there are others in another bubble, thinking all this – not least Brexit – might somehow be a good idea, however extreme the consequences. And that’s frightening.

“This is it. That’s what social media does. It re-enforces your own bubble, whatever bubble you’re living in, and you don’t always see the thorny problem outside that. But that’s the good thing about The Selecter – it tours internationally, it goes everywhere and going to America and getting the perspective now, having seen the rise of Mr Trump, now seeing what it’s like under his presidency, following that and seeing how Britain is following suit, which is quite scary. But then you come to Europe, and we did a show the other day in Milan, where everybody was on message, seeing what you’re saying and what you’re doing.”

Proud Past: Pauline Black with Coventry’s The Selecter, back in the day, On My Radio and into our collective hearts.

Another line that jumped out at me from that LP the morning I called was that challenge to ‘Make sure you use your voice’.

“Yes, and I do think that’s beginning to filter through from what I can see. It’s always good to come to another country and see through their eyes and from their perspective and what they can see.  What gets reported at home isn’t necessarily what’s reported elsewhere. But it’s amazing in America how many people know about Brexit – the B-word has travelled!”

Last time The Selecter played Manchester’s Ritz – the nearest date to my North West patch on this tour – was with The Beat. But in March we lost Pauline’s good friend Roger Charlery, better known as Ranking Roger, aged just 56.

“Yes, and if things had gone as planned and tragedy hadn’t intervened, we could have again, celebrating our 40 years of knowing each other and being together, and knowing each other over that period. But we have our own tribute to pay, and we hope the audience sings along with us.

“It just wakes you up to how life is a gift really, it’s given to us and should be respected in that way.”

Pauline and Roger first met back in 1979 on The Specials and 2 Tone founder Jerry Dammers’ doorstep in her home city, Coventry.

“He was just a young boy. I think he was 15, and we were both just standing there, looking at each other, thinking ‘Wow, this is Jerry Dammers’ house!’, completely not knowing what this was going to be the start of. And the first time I saw Roger on the stage … whatever the X-factor was, he had it. He was such a wonderful person to be around and out on the road with and performing with, for sure.”

Roger's Finale: The final Beat album featuring Ranking Roger, from earlier this year

Roger’s Finale: The final Beat LP for Pauline’s good friend Ranking Roger, released earlier this year

I’m guessing you’re at least thankful now for those final opportunities you had to tour together, in America and elsewhere.

“Oh gosh, yeah. That was a big thing. I think what it taught us was that you don’t know what the future holds, so if you are able to be out on the road and in full health to tour on that scale, that’s absolutely great. Enjoy it.”

I saw Neville Staple and his band at the same Manchester venue supporting The Undertones back in May, with both the former Specials star and the headliners celebrating their own 40th anniversaries. There was a great vibe too, and having a legendary punk band on the bill with a legendary 2 Tone performer really seemed to work. But I guess those two worlds always did gel, from Don Letts playing reggae at the Roxy in 1977 through to The Specials supporting The Clash, with The Selecter a key part of that whole movement.

What I didn’t know at the time I interviewed Neville though was that he was visiting Roger daily in hospital at that stage, this scribe largely unaware of his illness and just how close they were. Neville sounded a little downcast early on, although trying to put a brave face on things, but I put that down – understandably – to him grieving for the 21-year-old grandson he lost a few months before.

“I’m not sure that I knew anything about that either.”

Again though, Neville has that positive spirit and philosophy of making the most out of everything. It seems to have been something a few of you who came out of that 2 Tone ska revival movement have in common, and the punk movement that preceded that, inspiring so many of you to get out there for yourselves.

“I think the whole punk ethic was that you could make music. If you know three chords, and can put bass, drums, keyboards and guitar together, you can get out there and do it. I think it was that ‘doing it’ aspect that made it a level playing field for everybody. You could get out there and be taken on your merits … or not. That was always exciting, and I think 2 Tone very much fell into that post-punk thing. It certainly brought in the whole idea of what The Clash were doing, mixing rock and reggae and all those things. We just went back a bit earlier and mixed it up with ska, a much more upbeat music … and much more danceable.”

Remind me where you fitted into all that. Were you travelling down from Coventry to the Roxy and clubs like that in 1977, or were you too young?

“It wasn’t a question of being too young, I had a job – ha! I worked for the NHS. Some of us had to work. None of this hanging around the Roxy! I was into music at that time, but Coventry-centric in that way, although we were aware of all that.”

There was certainly something stirring in the Midlands and thereabouts, and for me – whether it was bands from Birmingham like The Beat, Steel Pulse and UB40, those of you from Coventry, or wherever – it was almost interchangeable among those groups. It was a whole movement.

Looking Up: The Specials’ first LP back cover image by Chalkie Davies, who talks about that classic shot here)

“Erm, I wouldn’t say it was interchangeable, I think all the bands were very well defined in what they were and occupied areas of that spectrum … monochrome, as it were. You’ve got to remember The Selecter had six black members and one white member. That made us very different right from the beginning. The Specials had two black members and five white. That in those days made a huge difference, in how you were perceived and also in what your relationship to the original music was too.”

I touched on this in our last interview, but on that occasion it involved an email Q&A, as you were travelling across America at the time (The Selecter were touring with US punk bands Rancid and The Dropkick Murphys, and were set to return there again in 2018 with Ranking Roger, but illness prevented him from accompanying them, with Rhoda Dakar stepping up instead). So I’ll ask again, did your ever dream in the early days that you’d still be out there all these years on, sharing stages with Gaps?

“I never dreamed. I mean, look what happened to the last guy who had a dream. I never dream. I hope, and hope is good enough and has got us through 40 years. And I hope we see our 50th anniversary. I’m not sure about that, but certainly the next 10 years will be … ha! Gaps is looking at me at the moment, as if to say, ‘Of course we’ll make our 50th’!”

Touching on this version of The Selecter (at one stage fellow co-founder Neol Davies was performing elsewhere with his own version of the band, but they broke up in 2010) I get the impression that your bandmate and Daylight‘s producer Neil Pyzer-Skeete is integral to this line-up.

“Absolutely. As far as I’m concerned the recording Selecter is very much myself, Gaps and Neil, who produces and takes our ideas and fashions them into wonderful pieces of music. And that’s music that hangs together and says something, having a message even after all these years, very much in keeping with 2 Tone.”

I used the word interchangeable, and that wasn’t quite right, but there was clearly a strong camaraderie with other bands over the years from the 2 Tone stable. And this time you have Rhoda Dakar appearing with you, initially with The Bodysnatchers and later The Special AKA.

“Rhoda Dakar is somebody who everybody who was in The Selecter at the beginning had a great deal of respect for, and we had a great deal of respect for The Bodysnatchers. They later became The Belle Stars and we kind of lost track, as it were, but we were there at the early gigs – myself, Jerry Dammers, and Gaps – and it was fairly obvious that Rhoda Dakar was a really great performer, delivering a great message in her songs. And she went on to do great things with The Special AKA as well.

“And in your 40th year, you’ve got to try and celebrate everything. it’s quite male-centric a lot of the time. If you go to a Specials gig it’s very much that the ladies who are there are the girlfriends dragged along so the men can dance along and lose all the money out of their pockets, because their jeans are too tight now. I feel The Selecter audience is a little more select. We still get ladies coming along, but in their own right, because they like the music!

The Bodysnatchers: Rhoda Dakar’s breakthrough band, several of whom went on to form The Belle Stars.

“So it was a natural fit that Rhoda would come along with us, and she’s DJ-ing and comes on and performs with us in our encore. Also, we have a young lady called Emily Capell coming along, supporting us, doing an acoustic set. And the closer we get to London – because that’s where she lives – she’ll be with her band as well. And that just shows, generationally I feel, how it works and is very much in keeping with the feeling of the time – there’s a lot of women around, but not a lot of women on stage, yet the two planks of 2 Tone were always anti-racism and anti-sexist. I see a lot of the anti-racism but I don’t see a lot of anti-sexism, so we’re here for balance!”

I must admit that until recently Emily Capell wasn’t even on my radar.

“Ah, she’s great!”

Yes, and now I see that link back to The Clash and more (she says her influences range from Dolly Parton to The Clash, and has previously supported Rhoda Dakar and former Specials guitarist Roddy ‘Radiation’ Byers, with her newly-released debut LP called Combat Frock, with more details here). Bearing in mind what we were saying earlier, perhaps things are coming full circle.

“Yes, absolutely, and I just feel it’s difficult for young women to be heard these days if they’ve got something original to say. It’s difficult for all bands to be heard, but especially for women. You can put yourself all over social media but if you put a record out and don’t have marketing and money behind it, it’s very difficult. So if we can give a platform to a young woman who wants to come and sing with us, then great. And 2 Tone was always anti-racist, anti-sexist.”

I was going to ask you about recent wide-reaching publicity about the #MeToo campaign, but feel I don’t really need to. Everything you’ve ever achieved has been based around crying out against all of that, using those platforms wisely. You’re hardly someone suddenly coming to terms with that. You’ve been socially aware and outspoken on such issues since the start.

“I just feel women should have a stake. It‘s like anything – people have to fight to be heard. It’s never given to you … ever … and women have to fight doubly hard. To my mind, during those 40 years, that was always what 2 Tone stood for. Or certainly that’s what 2 Tone should have stood for, even if certain members of 2 Tone didn’t think like that at the time. But Rhoda and I were here to inform them!”

I best wrap up soon, but not without asking if the Queen of Ska has got a new book on the go?

“Ah, that would be telling, wouldn’t it! There’s always one there.”

It’s finding the gaps in the diary sometimes, I guess. And last time you told me The Selecter was a full-time career as things stood.

“It is, and has been, and I didn’t realise how much of a full-time thing it would become. As you get older, you really don’t know how your health is going to go, so you make shorter-term plans. But now we’re making slightly longer-term plans! We will see. I’m never bored, put it that way!”

Dynamic Duo: The Selecter’s Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson, off to a venue near you (Photo: Dean Chalkley)

For this website’s 2017 feature/interview with Pauline Black, head here. You can also catch up via the following links to feature/interviews with The Beat’s Dave Wakeling, from April 2018, and former members of The Specials, Neville Staple, from March 2019, and Roddy ‘Radiation’ Byers, from January 2018.

The Selecter 40TH anniversary UK/Irish dates, with DJ and guest appearances from Rhoda Dakar and support from Emily Capell: October 17th – Nottingham Rock City; October 18th – Leeds Stylus; October 19th – Glasgow QMU; October 20th – Newcastle Boiler Shop; October 22nd – Northampton Roadmender; October 23rd – Cardiff Tramshed; October 24th – Bristol Academy; October 25th – Manchester Ritz; October 26th – Birmingham Institute; November 1st –  Belfast The Limelight; November 2nd – Dublin Academy; November 14th – Guildford G Live; November 15th – Bury St Edmunds The Apex; November 16th – Margate Hall by the Sea; November 17th – Lincoln Engine Shed; November 19th – Cheltenham Town Hall; November 20th – Falmouth Princess Pavilion; November 21st – Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion; November 22nd – Bournemouth Academy; November 23rd – London Shepherd’s Bush Empire. For full details head to www.theselecter.net 

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The Icicle Works – Clitheroe, The Grand

Works Outing: Ian McNabb, getting low down and dirty around the UK, including this Clitheroe stop-off

I’ll start with a confession. When Ian McNabb mentioned in our recent interview that those coming along to his forthcoming shows were in for something approaching a three-hour dose of rock’n’roll, I wondered if he might be outstaying their welcome.

I thought I was more about incendiary Jesus and Mary Chain type blink-and-you-miss-it, mesmerise-then-scarper performances, where you have grounds for a refund but still come out on a high, knowing you’ve witnessed something special.

I’ve read plenty about Springsteen gigs that go on for what appear to be days on end, crowds loving it, but that’s not me, right? In the same way I love three-minute pop that doesn’t hang around, I prefer short-sharp live sets leaving us craving more.

But while McNabb’s Icicle Works performances will have you worrying if you’re going to miss that last bus or train home, it’s worth it, believe me. Even if he seldom provides employment for support acts looking to get their faces known.

When it came to The Grand, it would take some organisation to arrange public transport anyway, this punter opting instead for the trusty family Volvo (don’t judge me) for a 40-plus-mile round-trip. And I just about had time to start on my solitary pint before the band clambered on stage at 7.45 for a 90-minute opening set, part one of a spellbinding 22-song salvo spanning 35 years.

That number’s nothing extraordinary on paper, but when you scheme in how much is packed into each number, that often defies nature, not least with three of the band closing in on their 60s.

I loved The Icicle Works, the beauty of ‘Birds Fly (Whisper To a Scream)’, ‘Love Is a Wonderful Colour’ and ‘Hollow Horse’ dragging me in as a teen. I guess there’s nostalgia too, recalling times and places through key tracks. And many more great moments would follow, whatever mode of transport McNabb was driving. Take for example 1990’s ‘Motorcycle Rider’, occasional kick-starts taking us in new directions.

But here’s a second confession. The original production on some of those Works LPs occasionally turned great songs into something a little dated. I could still feel the quality and admire the width, but sometimes those recordings didn’t do them favours.

However, as the years progressed, Ian got over that, in style, a number of solo albums incorporating a far beefier sound that suited him so well, and if you’ve seen them live you’ll know for sure how much of a sonic punch they pack, absolutely owning those songs.

In that same interview, Ian labelled his more recent band project, Cold Shoulder, a rougher version of the Works, but that only told half the story. Fact is that the Works too are a far more rough and ready yet sharper version of the original band. Days alongside leading lights from Crazy Horse and the like have clearly paid off. All these years on, he’s at the top of his game, with his band shit-hot.

That was pretty much apparent from the moment they kicked off with 1985 second LP stormer ‘When It All Comes Down’ (good enough to finish most sets, let alone start one) and followed that with the Cope-esque pop perfection of ‘Evangeline’ from the third long player, the clock yet to strike eight and the place already jumping, with guitars searing and a devoted following singing along.

Their on-stage passion is infectious, Ian funny and charming between songs, the full-grown beard and baker boy cap suggesting to those who haven’t seen him in a while that he’s trying to avoid a local he borrowed money from in 1988.

At Boots’ side we have fellow guitar supremo Chris Kearney, part of the Cold Shoulder set-up, and Roy Corkill on bass, previously involved from 1988/90 and again since the 2006 reformation, as is the case with the unmistakeable Richard Naiff (with whom Ian guested with the latter-day Waterboys), his long hair flying as he bobs up, down and around behind two banks of keyboards as if powered by Lord alone knows what, having the time of his life, the sounds produced sublime at times.

And then there’s Nick Kilroe, owning those drums. I expected the Keith Moon-like splendour of Dodgy’s Mathew Priest, but was mightily impressed by this second Cold Shoulder loanee, who clearly knows his way around a kit, with support on the fringes by Tim Devine, for the most part keeping his head down.

On they cracked, 1985’s ‘Seven Horses’ leading to the reflective ‘Little Girl Lost’ from three years later, Kilroe at its epicentre. And then there was ‘86’s Scott Walker-esque ‘Who Do You Want For Your Love?’, your scribe in no doubt he was in the presence of an artist who still has a great voice 30-plus years down the line. Arguably, it’s even better, plenty of living reflected in that deep timbre.

On we went with the proggy ‘Rapids’ and slow-building ‘Starry Blue-Eyed Wonder’, the main-man telling us – punters still turning up, clearly not getting the memo – ‘It gets better, la!’ as if we needed convincing. Meanwhile, ‘Up in the North of England’ was as powerful as I hoped, Ian adding ‘Fuck the Tories’ at the end in case we’d missed the underlying theme. Well said.

We went further back for the self-titled debut LP’s ‘A Factory in the Desert’, giving rise to the following year’s Teardrop Explodes-like ‘Out of Season’, then another personal highlight, 1990’s beautiful ‘Melanie Still Hurts’, our guest revealing how he changed the names to protect the once-innocent when writing it, but reckoning he’d met all those girls since. The scamp.

And then came two brooding first album choices to end part one, ‘In the Cauldron of Love’ and ‘Nirvana’, the bandleader almost apologetic in explaining how this ageing collective needed more wees these days. He wasn’t fooling anyone though. They have more dash and bollocks than 90 per cent of today’s feted rock and pop acts.

They soon reassembled, the glorious Rust Never Sleeps-like guitar assault of Permanent Damage’s ‘What She Did to My Mind’ dragging us back from the bar, and ‘85’s similarly-robust ‘Perambulator’ leaving the Grand clientele gasping, the old ‘uns on guitar, bass and keys still going strong, no medical attention required.

It was largely solo year territory from there, Head Like a Rock’s majestic country rock-tinged powerhouse (maybe that should be powerhorse) ‘This Time is Forever’ followed by a mighty left turn, Merseybeast’s glorious ‘You Stone My Soul’ – part-Edwyn Collins, part-Sly Stone – having me daydreaming about the Rev. Al Green joining them up there. As a wise man said, ‘Be careful what you dream of, it may come up and surprise you.’ Well, wouldn’t that be something.

There were concerns about the venue’s curfew, but somehow they still fitted in ‘Clarabella (Come to the Window)’ – think Neil Diamond writing for the Faces – barely two years old but truly at home among these classic songs of yesteryear. And then there was a raucous return to 1994 for the celebratory ‘70s rock of ‘You Must Be Prepared to Dream’, another hour having sped by.

The clock almost run down, out went the 1983 singles. But did we feel cheated? Not a bit. How could we? Instead we got ‘86’s wondrous ‘Understanding Jane’, me realising I hadn’t told my better half I’d even arrived on this dark, wet night in rural Lancashire, potential recriminations on the cards.

A grunge-driven ‘Our Future In Space’, from the latest Cold Shoulder LP, saw the lines between McNabb’s band projects blur and the floor reverberate, an intergalactic juggernaut (more a space station, I guess) of a song followed by the 35-year-old ‘Hollow Horse’, the decades melting away, the audience drained but Ian and co. reliant on wild horses to drag them away … possibly. What a night. Come back soon, fellas.

For this website’s most recent feature/interview with Ian McNabb, including a link back to our October 2015 chat, head here.

Remaining Icicle Works dates: Southampton Engine Rooms (Saturday, October 12th), Cottingham Civic Hall (Friday October 18th), Norwich Arts Centre (Saturday, October 19th), Derby Flowerpot (Friday, October 25th), Douglas (Isle Of Man) Villa Marina (Saturday, October 26th), Bristol Thekla (Friday November 1st), Birmingham O2 Academy 2 (Saturday, November 9th), Leeds Brudenell (Friday, November 15th).

Cold Shoulder date: Liverpool Arts Club (Saturday, December 7th).

Spatial Future: Ian McNabb, still a force to be reckoned with, approaching his fourth decade on the road

For more details and all the latest from Ian McNabb and his side-projects, seek out his Facebook and Twitter pages and visit his website.

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Richard Hawley – Mountford Hall, Liverpool Guild of Students

For five months now, Richard Hawley’s Further has provided a fitting soundtrack to my travels north, south, east and west, the amount of personal playbacks fast approaching those previously afforded the artist’s landmark Coles Corner, Lady’s Bridge and Truelove’s Gutter LPs, getting me from A to B and the sea in style.

That’s included regular trips over t’ tops to his beloved Sheffield, but I’ve found our Richard – now two decades into an amazing solo career – sounds just as good in Cornish, Lancashire and Surrey settings, those beautifully-crafted songs proving universal.

The man himself suggested at Mountford Hall on Tuesday night that he feels he can say more about his true feelings in cities like Liverpool, Manchester and his own South Yorkshire birthplace, that after his withering dismissal of the ‘wrecking ball’ PM in charge of our political destiny right now (quickly changing that description to something more choice and even more apt, clearly warming to his theme).

He’s possibly right about reactions elsewhere, but if you’re reading this, Richard, feel free to say it wherever you go. You’ll be surprised how well that’s received by audiences everywhere.

Dynamic Duo: Unfortunately I didn’t get to Liverpool early enough to catch Southend troubadour Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, here with Richard at Manchester’s Albert Hall, but check him out via http://www.getcapewearcapefly.com/

Don’t get the wrong impression. Down to earth he definitely is, and genuinely affable, yet I get the impression he’d rather let his songs speak for themselves, nervous at asking much more than how we’re doing and if we’re enjoying ourselves at first, the responses to both questions on this occasion 100 per cent positive of course.

I’d like to think most of those who shelled out for tickets already had his eighth long player, and on the night we were treated to 10 of its 11 great tracks, leaving room for just eight oldies, the earliest being the title/lead track of 2005’s Coles Corner, gloriously received and forever timeless.

From the next record we had perhaps my highlight of so many on the night, his hope that ‘Tonight the Streets Are Ours’ might one day become a reality (bearing in mind his earlier political outburst) truly stirring, the sheer optimism of that number seeing tears well up for this audience member.

‘Open Up Your Door’ from 2009 had a similar effect, another classic slice of Hawley given a full band treatment and going down a storm, a feeling of communal love sweeping the floor. They don’t write songs like that anymore, right? Well, actually Richard does.

He started the night as he opens Further, with a tone-setting raucous double, the thunderous ‘Off My Mind’ and rollocking glam stomper ‘Alone’ paving the way for the title track, the inherent harmonies and musicianship apparent from the word go. Meanwhile, next choice ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’ was the first to cause the hairs on the back of the neck to stir, the backdrop of Steel City high-rises a telling touch.

On that front, my eldest daughter, studying in Sheffield, has the better of me, having seen the musical which takes its name from that 2012 title track, so I’ll use this space to appeal to its inspiration, writer Chris Bush and his theatrical collaborators to bring that on the road too.

At the mid-point of his 12-date UK tour, this was quality fare in a city which famously appreciates sonic creativity and has a proven track record for warming to artists giving it their all. And as gifted songwriters who truly know their music history, Hawley and his band were a perfect fit.

Later we got two more cuts from Standing at the Sky’s Edge, Shez Sheridan (guitar) and his cohorts getting down and dirty on a mighty wade through old blues to The Stooges and beyond on the epic ‘Down in the Woods’, before the dreamy, slow-building ‘Don’t Stare at the Sun’.

Actually, I’ve … erm, a notion that a future Hawley ‘best of’ might be called Sun, Stars, Oceans and Open Doors. Every great songwriter has themes they return to again and again, and for our Richard those are themes that clearly resonate.

There were technical gremlins as he switched to acoustic guitar early on, deferentially suggesting it wouldn’t really matter if we couldn’t hear his strumming before launching head on into 2007’s high-tempo ‘I’m Looking For Someone to Find Me’, then back to the new LP for a typically evocative modern masterpiece in ‘Emilina Says’.

While so many tracks stand out on Further – and tonight the Smiths-esque ‘Doors’, equally exquisitely-reflective ‘Midnight Train’ plus a laidback rocking ‘Galley Girl’ (a reinvented sea shanty I’d like to hear Fisherman’s Friends tackle) also impressed, with just the deeply-personal ‘My Little Treasures’ omitted – I’ll put my neck on the line and say ‘Time Is’ could be my favourite song of 2019, Clive Mellor playing a blinder on harmonica, not for the first time that evening.

I should mention more about Richard’s bandmates, but what do you want to hear? I could mention that Colin Elliot’s violin bass looked the part in this Merseyside setting for starters. But like Richard himself, his fellow musicians don’t go out of their way to get noticed. They’re just there, dependable, perfect accompaniment for a top-notch singer and talented tunesmith and musician who’s probably still a little embarrassed it’s just his name on the records’ front covers.

I’m pretty sure they were enjoying themselves more and more as the night progressed though, and not just because of their leader’s occasional pronouncements and thumbs-ups to us, his stance, denims and greased-back hair evoking classic rock’n’roll cool.

We were taken to the sun again for rousing showstopper, ‘Is There a Pill’, a veritable mountain of a song that unfortunately arrived three decades too late for the Big O. And on returning there was one more delve into the grooves of Further, the poignant ‘Not Lonely’ pre-empting a gorgeous send-off, familiar tinkling announcing 2010 EP interlude ‘There’s a Storm a Comin’’, with chills throughout and hearts truly tugged, these North Country treasures leaving us on a high.

Looking Further: Richard Hawley, still in his songwriting prime and at a venue near you (Photo: Chris Saunders)

Remaining UK dates, with support from Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly (most are sold out, check for details): Friday, October 11th – Sheffield Octagon; Monday, October 14th – Newcastle Northumbria Institute; Tuesday, October 15th – Glasgow Barrowland; Thursday, October 17th – London Roundhouse; Friday, October 18th – Brighton Dome. Visit Richard Hawley’s official website for more information, and check out his Facebook page 

 

 

 

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Turning up the Voltage – the Jeffrey Lewis interview

Three’s Company: Jeffrey Lewis and the Voltage, namely Brent Cole, left, and Mem Pahl, right (Photo: Nic Chapman)

I’m guessing cult US indie singer-songwriter and comic book artist Jeffrey Lewis is back home in New York right now, after a recent run of UK dates with his band, The Voltage.

And again, he picked up plenty of new friends, having received jaw-dropping praise from major news and music outlets before now, along with awed testimonials from big names on both the underground and overground scenes.

Listen to his new record Bad Wiring in a few weeks and you’ll see why, a 43-year-old now some 18 years into his recording career clearly on a creative high. And while waiting for that November 1st release you can always catch up with his tremendous Modern Lovers-like lead single ‘LPs’ and trawl back through an impressive back-catalogue.

As those who put his records out succinctly put it, ‘In all of indie-rock there is no force like Jeffrey Lewis. Although mostly recognised for his lyrical skills as well as his illustration and comic book skills, the secret weapon in Lewis’s arsenal has been his slow evolution from DIY folkie in the late 90s to barn-burning indie-rock live sensation.’ Is The Voltage frontman guilty as charged on that front?

“Well, it’s certainly true that over the years we kind of went through this evolution of turning into a band from just being kind of me in a bedroom with a tape recorder, with my brother Jack playing bass. It was the two of us for a while, we started making up songs and by 1997, playing little places in New York.

“By around 2002 we started playing with a drummer, starting to go on tour, learning the ins and outs of what it meant to play shows on stage and make recordings. It was a very slow, weird learning process that we sort of accidentally found ourselves engaging in until at this point we were like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re a band, here we are on tour, and we know how to talk to a venue, do a soundcheck and ask for ‘more keyboard in the right stage monitor’ and professional sounding stuff.

“I guess that just slowly happened, but then with all these bands we love, like Yo La Tengo, The Velvet Underground and all that kind of noisy full-on sound like The Fall, and Stereolab … for a long time I felt there was this disconnect between the fact that we’d be getting press that would consider us a solo, acoustic singer-songwriter thing, then we’d show up and play this loud, full-on rock’n’roll stuff with distortion pedals and everything.

“And still to this day I show up at a venue and they’re surprised that the guitars will be going through an amplifier, or that there’s a microphone for the guitar, or we have a DI box, and so on.”

Is that all down to the Lightning in your name (apparently, his parents actually named him Lightning Jeffrey Lewis, on account of adverse weather conditions when he was born, or as he put it, ‘the result of being born on the Lower East Side in the 1970s to hippie parents’)?

“Yes, but we were always a bit noisier than advertised, I guess. The quiet stuff is an important part of what we do also, but that dynamic and ability to just throw in all the things we love into this project has always been part of it.”

He calls The Voltage his new band, but the musicians are the same he had in previous incarnation Los Bolts, namely bassist, Mem Pahl and drummer, Brent Cole (also of the Moldy Peaches), that pair having toured the world with for the past four years.

As for that more recent name change, as he puts it, ‘Everybody knows most good bands have a ‘v’ in their name – the Velvets, Nirvana, Pavement, Vaselines, Violent Femmes, Camper Van Beethoven, Modern Lovers, and so on’.

In fact, before Los Bolts it was The Rain, seemingly also in reference to the Lightning in his name.

Triple Voltage: Jeffrey Lewis and arm-wrestling bandmates Brent Cole and Mem Pahl (Photo: Bristol Mather)

The new LP was recorded and produced in Nashville by Roger Moutenot, also responsible for producing several influential Yo La Tengo albums, and who also worked on Lou Reed’s Magic and Loss and Sleater Kinney’s Hot Rock, more than enough to convince Jeffrey he was the right man to capture these 12 great new songs in the studio.

“As an experience of working with a producer, it was a dream come true. I obviously worship a number of records Roger had produced in the past, so I specifically sought him out. The fact that he’s in Nashville was just accidental. We would have travelled to record with him anywhere. But now when people hear we made our album in Nashville, everybody’s like, oh, I guess this is your country album.”

It’s a great record, I can reveal, with plenty of memorable moments and clever twists and turns, and above all gifted songwriting. As the line from opening track ‘Exactly What Nobody Wanted’ puts it, ‘So awesome, just awesome’.

And from the cracking punk riff driving ‘Except for the Fact That It Isn’t’ to Jeffrey’s breathless alternative state of the nation address on ‘My Girlfriend Doesn’t Worry’ right through to pensive, poignant closer ‘Not Supposed To Be Wise’, I’m hooked. What’s more, songs like ‘Depression! Despair!’ have Lou Reed writ large on them, echoes of his ‘New York’ album heard on the latter.

I’m only a few listens in, but the fruits of their labours suggest the band and their producer had a winning working relationship.

“Oh yeah, that was fantastic. I would definitely record with Roger Moutenot again. He was such a great person to work with and it really seemed that he got the atmosphere andthat was some of the sound I’ve been going for many years, a sound he cooked up initially in the ’90s with Yo La Tengo. Yeah, it just seemed a natural fit.”

Jeffrey continues to get lots of great press, and is ‘slowly but surely on a trajectory to immortal cult status’ according to Line of Best Fit, ‘dazzling’ according to Mojo, ‘Weird? Very… but also downright inspiring’ in Rolling Stone’s view, and was seen by the NME as ‘The Big Apple’s best-kept secret…. Genius-gone-ignored… mind-blowing.’ What’s more, former Pulp frontman and BBC 6 Music presenter Jarvis Cocker reckons Jeffrey is ‘the best lyricist working in the US today’. High praise indeed.

He recently undertook an 11-day, 11-date UK tour including Oslo in London, two shows in Scotland and a Welsh finale at Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor Bach. When we caught up he was just set to leave Lancashire for the long trek up to Scotland. How was The Ferret in Preston that previous night?

“It was great. And a good crowd. It’s been quite a while since I was there, and not since it was the Mad Ferret, going back – off-hand – to maybe 2011. It’s been a long time.”

So long it’s no longer mad?

“Right. Yes. It’s straightened itself out.”

Lewis Carols: US treasure Jeffrey Lewis supplying a little six-string sonic therapy for us (Kelley Clayton)

There seems to be a lot of love for you on this side of the Atlantic.

“Well, I guess, I mean people are coming to shows, so that’s good.”

The UK became in a sense a second home for you, the first country to put out a CD by you, for instance.

“Yeah, we really got just a fantastic leg-up and head-start over here, first of all with Rough Trade putting out my stuff, even though it was just home-recorded cassettes. It’s amazing that Geoff Travis took a chance on it and put it out, and we were able to do a Peel Session in 2002 – that was also a tremendous big start in England.

“And one of my first gigs in London, a very tiny show in November 2001, Ben Ayres from Cornershop just happened to be in the audience, even though there were only about 30 people in there, and invited me to go on tour in England opening for Cornershop. That was also just tremendous. So within a very short time, just a few months, somehow I just had all this exposure, and was really off and running quite quickly.”

And the UK’s always been in your musical DNA, I’m thinking, with all those cool indie bands and so much more you appreciate coming from this side of the Atlantic.

“Yeah, definitely. I was always a fan of Cornershop, for example, and stuff that Rough Trade had done. “

Jeffrey had a long drive up to Glasgow that day, but I put it to him that he was used to all this by now, surely.

“Yeah, and it’s also such a beautiful drive, the journey up to Scotland.”

Lightning Reactions: Jeffrey Lewis, hoping to see us next summer (Photo: Sonya Kolowrat)

Beyond that he had several more UK dates, then it was on to Italy before returning home. Can he take inspiration on the road while he’s out there, writing songs between shows? Or is that something that happens when he’s home and reflecting on it all?

“There’s usually just too much other stuff to do. Songwriting doesn’t usually happen on tour, and then it’s usually on to organising the next tour. There’s a USA tour in November, so I need to make all the posters and mail all the posters out for that and sort out where we’re staying each night on that tour. And with the new album, Bad Wiring, coming out on November 1st, there’s quite a bit to do with that. It’s sort of juggling three, four or five full-time careers, basically.”

How very indie D-I-Y, and that’s even without mentioning his other career, other than to say that we should also keep an eye out for other interesting Jeffrey Lewis projects, such as his new giant-size comic book issue, Fuff#12, and first book Revelations in the Wink of an Eye: My Insane Musings on Watchmen, from Conspiracies to Stupidities. 

I was only on my first listen of the new LP when I spoke to Jeffrey, but already loving what I was hearing. It’s difficult to keep track with various formats involved, so what number recording would he class this one as?

“Well, I’ve got seven albums on Rough Trade and this will be the first on Moshi Moshi, but I’ve also got a few others, various self-releases, and a couple of projects on Don Giovanni Records, so it sort of depends what counts. I guess I’d say I have seven official albums and this will be number eight.”

With this recent UK visit a pre-release tour, any idea when he might return for those who missed out this time?

“Well, we usually come to England at least once or twice a year, so I’m thinking maybe next summer, depending on whether there’s a festival situation or something. Maybe that could be a good time to come back.”

This tour was with The Voltage, previously knoqwn as Los Bolts – was it just you, Brent and Mem?

“Yeah, although actually at the moment we have my brother Jack, who’s been in my band quite a long time in my early years, and once in a while we get him to join us again. So we’ve got him jumping in as a special guest band member, just for these UK dates. He wasn’t with us in Germany last week. Usually we’re a three-piece, but once in a while Jack joins us.”

Electric Performer: Jeffrey Lewis hanging out, without his Voltage, as heard on Bad Wiring (Photo: Sonya Kolowrat)

On the sublime ‘LPs’ from this new album, you talk about some of your key influences, and you also paid tribute recently to cult lo-fi underground US singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston (who died barely a week earlier), clearly a major inspiration on all you’ve gone on to do.

“Yeah, absolutely, going back to when my brother Jack and I first heard his stuff in 1995, with the album he put out on Atlantic Records. That was my first exposure to him, and we became completely devoted fans. We weren’t really making songs prior to that, and then it just inspired our entire approach and us making recordings in the late ‘90s. Yeah, without Daniel Johnston’s influence and all his cassettes … I think I have pretty much all of them, and  that’s really how I got started.

“I even lived in Austin, Texas briefly, on a sort of Daniel Johnston pilgrimage back in 2000, and while I was there I was able to get my hands on quite a number of his tapes I hadn’t been able to find in New York City prior to that. I also did a number of gigs with him over the years, the first in New York in 1999, and later also in Texas, Manchester and London. He was also such a great guiding light for how strong and true a song was possible to be.”

Was he encouraging of your work too?

“Well, he was quite introverted. It’s not like he would reach out and give encouragement to somebody who just did his thing and was very … he wasn’t a person you could have a normal conversation with. He was very much in his own head, and wouldn’t really engage in that way.”

I mentioned the track ‘LPs’, the first track aired from the new album. Call it an obsession or perhaps even a disease, but so many of us relate to that musical journey you embarked upon, finding our way through the record racks, so to speak. And in your music there’s so much within that we can identify, from Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers (there’s even a subtle nod on ‘LPs’ in the way he phrases ‘Radio in the first line, and the Voltage’s echoed harmonies) back to the Velvet Underground …

“All band names with a V!”

Well, exactly. I love that, and reckon I hear Violent Femmes in your work in places.

“Yeah, Silver Jews, Pavement … I don’t know why these bands have Vs in their name but at a certain point I noticed a proper band seems to need a V.”

Indeed, and Silver Jews are another band receiving plenty of interest of late, with the all too early departure of founder David Berman in August. at the age of 52. I was also going to mention past WriteWyattUK interviewees They Might Be Giants there, not least from their more new wave-like early days, but they don’t quite fit Jeffrey’s flying V remit. But no matter. He’s still got plenty of influences to fire at me …

“Television, Richard Hell and the Voidoids … the list goes on and on!”

Crown Joules: Jeffrey Lewis and the Voltage bandmates Brent Cole, left, and Mem Pahl, right (Photo: Nic Chapman)

Jeffrey Lewis’ new LP, Bad Wiring is out via Moshi Moshi on November 1st. For more details and all the latest from Jeffrey, try his Facebook page and website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reverend and the Makers – Action Records, Preston

Queue Action: The congregation, including this reviewer, await the Reverend and a Maker (Photo: Action Records)

Half past six it said on the advert, so there I was – unfashionably early – going twice round the block to find a space, sheepishly passing a long queue outside the shop.

Having checked parking restrictions several times, convinced Preston’s traffic wardens were hovering menacingly nearby, I made my way down Derby Street to join the punters, a few minutes spare.

That next 20 minutes or so seemed to take forever, a nearby bar having hit happily pissed up hour, echoing karaoke seeping into my brain. Or was it in my head? Nobody else seemed to pick up on at least two murders of dreadful Bruce Channel song, ‘Hey Baby’. A favourite at Preston North End, I seem to recall (please tell me it no longer is), the words in the chorus mutated into more or less one slurred word then an ‘oof’ and ‘aah’. Painful.

A week before, Jon McClure told me he hoped to get along early to flick through the racks at this iconic Church Road store, having missed out last time he called. Was he already in there? No, voices carrying from the front end of the queue suggesting excitement or relief, Jon and Makers’ guitarist Ed Cosens soon walking nonchalantly along from the direction of Fishergate, guitar cases in hand, The Reverend’s new moustache leading to collective double-takes. Was that really him? Course it was.

Not long after we were in, this punter taking the left aisle, tempted to leaf through some vinyl. But it seemed rude, Jon and Ed already strumming, even that early jam impressing, the acoustic pair with a couple of runs through ‘Son of a Gun’ by The La’s. I always felt they had good taste.

Action Stations: Ed and Jon from Reverend and the Makers with host, Gordon Gibson (Photo: Action Records)

This was the last of four intimate acoustic record store sessions and the only one outside Yorkshire, the 27-track Best Of album – double-CD or double-LP – launched five days before on their home patch at Bear Tree Records, Sheffield. And this time, a 35-minute set ensued, Jon telling us, “I feel I’m engaged in an exercise to ascertain how many people we can fit into a small record shop.”

Prompted by flattery from a woman close up, Jon introduced his ‘tache, suggesting she liked it far more than his better half, bandmate Laura, who he reckons looked at it with disdain. And having mentioned the record, suggesting it made sense to ‘get y’sen a copy’, we were off.

We helped them get going with a communal singalong on ‘Open Your Window’, one of the tracks that ensured the success and continuing appeal of their 2007 debut LP, The State of Things, our ‘we’ll be together in the Springtime’ hardly the singing ‘like your life depends on it’ he requested, but fairly together in the circumstances.

It was all going well, even if we couldn’t bounce along like a regular Makers gig, ‘in case we knock a Forrest Gump VHS on your head’ or ‘be injured in the critical case of a Fall boxset coming down on us’. Jon liked the imagery of that, suggesting ‘what a way to die’, adding, ‘If that does ‘appen to anyone and you’re killed by a Fall boxset, I’ll ‘appily deliver a glowing eulogy at your funeral’. Touching.

A more mellow ‘No Soap (In a Dirty War) from 2009’s A French Kiss in the Chaos was next, the quality coming through in this near-raw form, the lyrics all the more stark on a number that could only have been penned by a band with genuine, burning frustrations to voice, and achingly personal in this setting, delivered at close quarters in front of less than 100 people.

In fact, Jon told us how now and again he’ll forget a line, admitting feeling a little flustered when he spotted a girl near the back who knew his words better than he did, adding, “I could feel mi’sen about to fuck ‘em up!”

Reading Matter: Ed Cosens and Jon McClure review your reviewer’s Clash biography at Action Records

A gruesome tale followed about an ex-girlfriend and a poo sample before Jon and Ed gave us ‘Sex With the Ex’, so to speak, the show being live-streamed and The Reverend letting on how his Mum, holidaying in Spain, would be watching, uneasy about him telling that previous tale.

A rant about Thom Yorke refusing to play first crossover hit ‘Creep’ live with Radiohead preceded their crack at breakthrough single ‘Heavyweight Champion of the World’, discussion following between Jon and Ed over whether to try another bash at ‘Hidden Persuaders’ from the second LP, the Rev suggesting it was ‘shit‘ in this format last time. Well, it was great on this occasion.

A talkative young lad halfway back was getting restless, Jon mocking a telling off before namechecking him, announcing, ‘When you’re older, you might be able to play as badly as me’. But a poignant solo rendition of ‘Long, Long Time’ proved his stage and songcraft is not in question.

Ed re-joined for a more upbeat ‘Bandits’, the lads back to the first LP, with laughter part-way in when Jon’s right-hand man stepped across to take lead vocals, a shared microphone causing hassle, Jon a fair bit taller and Ed struggling to stretch and hit those notes, doing commendably, his bandmate in hysterics. And where Laura would have chipped in with her lines, Jon covered, telling us mid-song, ‘Obviously, my wife’s not here, so you’re going to have to put up with me doing an impression, in my own inimitable way’.

Then came ‘What Goes Around’ from 2012’s ‘@Reverend_Makers’, the duo’s harmonies impressive in a perfect finale, the next half-hour seeing the pair carry on their community service, signing records and sharing more stories. There’s one I’m tempted to retell, but I best not. Next time you see the Rev though, ask about the couple with the shared Best Of at Chesterfield’s Tallbird session.

And if you haven’t yet, ‘get y’sen a copy’ of The Best of Reverend and the Makers. Highly recommended. I look forward to an Unplugged follow-up.

Happy Shoppers: Jon and Ed of Reverend and the Makers live at Action Records, Preston (Photo: Action Records)

With thanks to Gordon Gibson, Action Records’ next event taking place at the nearby Blitz nightclub with The Sherlocks on Tuesday, October 8th. For more details head to the store’s Facebook page or pop in and splash out on more great music than you planned to.

If you missed this site’s interview with Jon McClure last week, including links to a previous feature/interview and live review, head here. Meanwhile, Reverend and the Makers’ Best Of tour starts on Thursday, October 3rd at Nottingham Rock City. For more details head to their Facebook page or www.reverendmakers.com.

Finally, it is still possible to follow Jon McClure’s example and get your hands on a copy of This Day in Music’s Guide to The Clash by Malcolm Wyatt, with details here.

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What the Butlers saw – the welcome return of the Psychedelic Furs

Stage Presence: The Psychedelic Furs are all set for their latest UK return this October. Photo: Maggie Butler

It’s been 36 years since The Psychedelic Furs relocated to America, but you wouldn’t know it, listening to bass player and founder member Tim Butler.

Tim, the younger brother of lead singer Richard in a post-punk outfit best known for hits such as ‘Pretty in Pink’, ‘Love My Way’, ‘Heaven’ and ‘The Ghost in You’, still has a strong London accent, despite all those years away. And how’s life right now?

“I can’t complain, although it’s brutally hot out here.”

Ah, wel, we just happen to be having a bit of late summer sun too, I replied, keen to compete and let him know what he’s missing out on.

“So are we. It’s supposed to get to 103, so that’s some late summer heat as well.”

Okay, you win, Tim. Is home still Kentucky?

“Yeah, I’ve been here 11 years now.”

But you’ve been based in the States a lot longer.

“Oh yeah, Richard and I moved over to America in 1983. So I’ve lived over here longer than I lived in England.”

Do you get back to your old haunts when you visit?

“We don’t really have time. It’s normally a pretty tight schedule.”

Front Man: Tim’s older brother, Richard Butler, who first floated the idea of them forming a band (Photo: Mike Pfeiffer).

If you could find that little bit of down-time, would it be a case of heading back to your native Middlesex?

“I think it would probably be down the pub we used to go to on afternoons when we were first in the band and unemployed, when we both lived in Muswell Hill.”

Ah, on The Kinks’ old North London patch.

“Yeah, yeah, the Muswell Hillbillies, yep!”

Incidentally, despite those London roots, Tim told me his folks – he’s one of three lads – were originally from Bolton-by-Bowland, near Clitheroe, Lancashire, and Ripon in Yorkshire’s West Riding, Yorkshire, so has a fair amount of Northern England pedigree.

Richard had an art school background. Was it a similar story with his little brother?

“Actually, I’d just left school after O-levels and CSEs, and pretty much immediately he said, ‘Do you wanna form a band?’ Like millions of people before, I said, ’I can’t play’. He asked what I wanted to play. I fancied drums but couldn’t afford a kit, yet wanted to be at the bottom end – either bass or drums. So I got a bass, learned to play it, and within around six months we were playing our first shows.”

Do those early appearances (they started performing in early 1977) remain clear in the memory?

“Yeah, we did one at the old Roxy club. Richard read about Iggy Pop taking a vacuum cleaner on stage with The Stooges, so we tried that there … but it just sounded like bass feedback, so we stopped that pretty quickly. Ha ha!”

If I recall right, the Roxy wasn’t running that long in the scheme of things.

“No, and I think we were playing there at the tail end of it. That was probably ‘77/’78.”

Did you happen to see The Clash open that iconic punk venue on New Year’s Day, 1977?

“No, but I saw The Clash play the 100 Club with the Sex Pistols, which was what really made us talk about getting a band together. That was with Keith Levene playing with The Clash, and there was Siouxsie and the Banshees playing, with Sid Vicious playing drums and Marco Pirroni playing guitar, and of course the Pistols had Glen Matlock with them.

“That was a transformative gig for us, with the Pistols a kick up the arse to the music business and the whole prog rock, denim-clad sort of music scene. Sort of like Nirvana were in America in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

“I think there needs to be another kick up the arse now. For a while I thought it was going to be The Killers, but they didn’t turn out like I thought. A great band, but I think the mainstream pop chart is still a bit stagnant. It all sounds the same. There’s nothing that stands out. It could all be the same person.”

On this UK tour you get to finish at The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, another treasured venue with a punk past. Is that old ground for you?

“Sort of. It’s great. Last time we were here we ended up playing (The Cure’s) Robert Smith’s Meltdown Festival – getting to play the Royal Festival Hall, which was a great call to be asked by him to do it. But anywhere in London is sort of like home territory.

“We started there and played the Electric Ballroom and the Music Machine (both Camden, not far from The Roundhouse), where I remember playing when they had the original stage up in the air, this huge jukebox underneath the stage. I’m talking way back now!”

That sell-out Royal Festival Hall date was one of a handful of successful UK summer shows for the band in 2018, The Psychedelic Furs now returning – for a third year in succession – for a nine-date tour starting next Tuesday, October 1st, at the O2 Ritz in Manchester, just across the road from Oxford Road station.

The Psychedelic Furs’ story properly started with the brothers rehearsing in their front room some 42 years ago, until their Mum threw them out for being too loud, their first self-titled debut LP following in early 1980. I wasn’t even a teenager until later that year, and admittedly it took me a while to catch up, brought up to speed by night-time BBC Radio 1.

I certainly knew a lot more about them by the time the success of John Hughes’ 1986 US high school rom-com movie Pretty in Pink led to a re-release of the 1981 single (from second album, Talk Talk Talk) that inspired its title. But it was really 1988’s All of This and Nothing compilation that proved to be my Furs gateway LP, and it remains a favourite, along with the single that came out that year, ‘All That Money Wants’.

What’s more, I was fairly surprised to learn that following year they were still a going concern, writing great songs, when I shelled out on vinyl for the somehow less celebrated Book of Days, the sixth of seven studio albums so far. And now even that’s 30 years ago.

Book of Days was sort of a weird album for us. We’d done the whole Midnight to Midnight thing (1987) and got completely disillusioned with the way we were going, chasing the successful American market, veering away from our original goals. Trying to fit in with what was going around.

“So we made a severe right turn, and went back to not using any synthesisers. It was all natural instruments. We didn’t really want to do any videos, although we did one. But that sort of disillusioned fans and they drifted off. And when we came out with World Outside (1991), I think people were just ‘nnnhh’.

“That’s when we decided to take a break. We didn’t realise it was going to be so long! Richard and I did Love Spit love (their offshoot band), then I became an engineer at Electric Lady Studios in New York for two years. And then we got a surprise call from our agent, asking, ‘Do you want to do this tour with The B-52’s and The Go-Go’s? You only have to do 40 minutes’. And we said, ‘Hey, why not! See if the chemistry’s still there’.”

And it clearly was.

“Yeah, and it was fun being the Furs again. We’d grown tired of the whole music business – tour, have a little rest, write, record … that old treadmill.”

Is it a different motivation these days, with the pressure off, playing for all the right reasons?

“Yeah, we’re about to release a new album after all these years, and we’ve done it all on our own terms, with no pressure and no, ‘Why don’t you write another ’Pretty in Pink’ or another ‘Love My Way’?’ We wanted to be as good as our best work from the ’80s … and I think it is, but we’ll wait and see what other people think.”

A friend who caught you live a couple of years ago told me he was pleasantly surprised you still had it as a live band, having feared that wouldn’t be the case all these years on.

“Yeah, I hear that, and see it in reviews, the fact that we don’t phone it in. A lot of bands that get back together and are touring from the ’70s or the ‘80s sort of phone it in, but we go out there and put everything into it. And it shows in the way the audience reacts, and come back to us so we get more into it. It makes for a better experience, and there’s nothing better. We come off stage and say to each other, ‘Shit! That was a really great show!’”

I’m guessing you’re attracting younger fans too. Does it surprise you looking out at the audience sometimes?

“Yeah. That’s great too. Recently, ‘The Ghost In You’ was used in Stranger Things on Netflix, and the film Call Me By Your Name (2017), used ’Love My Way’ quite a lot.”

Well, so many of those tracks are timeless.

“Yeah, and that’s the whole thing. Except for that album, Midnight to Midnight, I think our whole catalogue could come out now and not be out of place on alternative radio.”

Like so many great bands that came though from that era, you weren’t content to stand still, that old punk approach still in there somewhere, remaining keen to move into new directions.

“Yeah, if some bands find that hit sound they’ll stick with it, playing it until people are bored with them. But we’d get bored. You have to keep getting better, striving to get better from album to album to keep it exciting.”

I always felt you packed a big sound. Was that intentional from the start? How important were the likes of first LP producers Steve Lillywhite and Factory production supremo Martin Hannett, and later Todd Rundgren when you relocated to America?

“We always had that. Our sound came from the fact that in the original Furs, nobody really knew how to play their instruments or how to write songs. Someone would come up with a riff and everyone would pile on, try and make themselves heard and stick out.

“It became like a wall of melody. Somebody – I don’t know if it was Richard or a review – described it as ‘beautiful chaos’. By the time we got to my favourite album, Forever Now, we’d got the art of songwriting down better, but still maintained a certain sort of anger and strange way of writing songs – not the normal way.

“I think that came from that early spell – everyone battling to be heard, people changing half-way through a verse, changing their guitar line or whatever, or maybe a chorus or vocal coming in halfway through a verse and continuing. All these strange structures.”

You mentioned Forever Now, and I understand that was the first Furs LP your other half heard. I guess she (Robyn) must have been equally impressed.

“You mean my wife? Yeah, yeah. She’s been a fan since that album, when I think she was 14 or 15. We’d both been married twice before but finally talked to each other on MySpace. You remember that? Ha ha! Yeah, I guess that was a pivotal album for her.”

And is there another generation of Butlers coming through, waiting to set the music world alight?

“Erm, I’ve got two stepchildren – one 21, the other 26 – but they haven’t shown any ambition to get into the music business. Richard’s daughter’s been interning for a record company in England though, so I guess into more of the business side.”

Richard’s based in upper New York state, while Tim’s in Liberty, Kentucky, around 800 miles away. How do they rehearse and send songs to each other?

“Ah, it’s the age of the computer, using a program where you can write something and record it, then send it via the internet.”

And that works for you, I guess.

“Yeah, and what’s cool about this band is that we actually have two other people putting song ideas in – Paul Garisto and Rich Good. They’ve sent ideas and have songs on the album. So it’s a collaborative effort as opposed to either Richard and I writing the songs or Richard and John (Ashton, guitar, par tof the set-up from 1979 onwards, and again when they first reformed).”

Ever think back in 1977 you might still be doing all this at the age of 60, still being discovered by new generations of fans?

“No. It’s great knowing you’ve actually done something that’s changed – however small – alternative music and people’s lives. You never think that when you start up. You think, ‘Let’s go out and play, get drunk, pick up some chicks …’ You don’t think past your next gig.

“To still be doing it after all these years, I think it shows we’ve written songs that are lasting and still tap a nerve when someone new hears them. And we’re very proud of our legacy.”

Bass Instinct: Tim Butler hogs the camera, with brother Richard on the right, in live action with The Psychedelic Furs

Support for The Psychedelic Furs’ nine-date UK tour tour comes from the Wendy James Band, led by the singer of late-‘80s/early ‘90s indie success Transvision Vamp, best known for ‘I Want Your Love’ and ‘Baby I Don’t Care’, Elvis Costello having produced and written her 1993 solo LP Now Ain’t the Time for Your Tears, before she stepped away from the music industry. Wendy returned in 2011 with second solo album I Came Here to Blow Minds, followed in 2016 by The Price of the Ticket, with another LP following soon. For more details about her, head here.

October tour dates: Tuesday 1st – O2 Ritz, Manchester; Thursday 3rd- Pyramids Centre, Portsmouth; Friday 4th – Dome, Brighton; Saturday 5th – O2 Institute, Birmingham; Monday 7th – Stylus, Leeds; Tuesday 8th – O2 Academy, Glasgow; Wednesday 9th – O2 Academy, Newcastle; Friday 11th – Rock City, Nottingham; Saturday 12th – Roundhouse, London. For ticket details try www.aegpresents.co.uk.

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The Best of Times with the Right Reverend – back in touch with Jon McClure

Reverend and the Makers’ frontman Jon McClure was enjoying a little home time in South Yorkshire ahead of his band’s latest UK jaunt when I called. And Sheffield is clearly still at the epicentre of his universe, a dozen years after breakthrough indie No.1 single, ‘Heavyweight Champion of the World’, and subsequent top-five debut LP, The State of Things.

“I’m just having a bit of dad and lad time with my youngest son. His Mum’s gone to the shops. It’s Batman and Superman vs the Giant Squid, having a play with his figures. He’s loving it.”

I suspect Jon – joined in the band by wife Laura, Ed Cosens, Joe Carnall, and Ryan Jenkinson – is loving it too, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that in-house battle ends up as a Reverend and the Makers album title one day.

Jon and Laura’s youngest, Reggie, is two, ‘‘loving life, angling all his figures up’, his four-year-old brother having just started school, but their folks will be off again soon, with nine UK headline dates just three weeks away when we spoke.

“I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be good. Tickets are selling really well, with a few places already sold out. Everyone’s buzzing.”

There’s clearly still plenty of love out there for Reverend and the Makers.

“It’s weird really. We had a real lull during the middle period of the band, when nobody seemed to care anymore. But the last few years have been better than ever in lots of ways.”

They cross the Roses’ border to play Manchester Academy on Saturday, October 19th, and prior to that come even closer to my patch, visiting Action Records, Preston, on Wednesday, September 25th for a 6.30pm in-store acoustic set publicising their Best of Reverend and the Makers album.

With six top-20 albums and five top-five indie chart singles ‘under us belts’, sharing bills with the likes of fellow Sheffield success story Arctic Monkeys, Oasis, The Courteeners and The Libertines along the way, the latest platter is out via Cooking Vinyl on Friday, September 20th, a double-vinyl, double-CD and digital download release spanning the band’s career and including singles and fans’ favourites alike, 27 songs over two discs split into ‘Uppers’ and ‘Downers’ and including new songs ‘Elastic Fantastic’, featuring Rich Westley from The Moonlandingz and described by Jon as ‘a fantasy about killing Donald Trump with a bow & arrow’, and ‘Te Quiero Pero’.

But it’s not like they’re dependent on past success, 2017’s Death Of A King, their sixth studio album, having charted higher than the previous four, debuting in the UK album chart at No.11.

“Yeah, I think that’s testament to how good we’ve been live. We never used to be. We were rubbish.”

You really think so?

“I think so, yeah. The last two years we’ve got dead good live, that combined with making interesting records it’s gone from strength to strength. I feel very blessed, and we had a great festival season. The entire festival turned out to see us at Tramlines, and Kendal, and Y Not. We had some of the best crowds of the weekend. That was really kind of flattering, y’know.”

My sources tell me Cotton Clouds was buzzing for you too.

“That was wonderful. We had a great time, and they tweeted that was the best set they had. So what else can you do? The usual frustrations remain about the industry at large, but we just do us own thing. It’s wonderful, it’s a party when you come and see us.”

No doubt those festival sets are largely ‘best of’s, which tees you up nicely for this tour and the new release. But why now?

“Just because we’ve had six albums out, and I think a lot of people might have been early fans who missed the later stuff, or later fans who missed the early stuff. This is just our way of connecting the dots, really, with a CD of bangers and a CD of ballads. What we’re moving on to next is a bit mad, so I kind of wanted to draw a line under this period.”

Last time we spoke was in 2014 for the Thirty Two album, signifying your age at the time (and one of his Dad’s lucky Lottery numbers apparently), so maybe this one should be Thirty Eight, and by virtue of mathematics alone twice as strong as Adele’s 2008 debut.

“Ha ha! Do you know what though, the only album I made that I really don’t like is Thirty Two. It was the last of me being kind of young, getting a bit older, trying to figure out how I fitted into what’s trendy on the radio. I’m almost second-guessing myself on that album. Ever since I’ve been doing what I want, and the next album involves artificial intelligence, partnering up with the University of Sheffield to do some crazy machine neural network stuff.

“Lots of people write less good versions of their first album forever, or until they stop doing it, but I feel more powerful than ever in lots of ways, with a better angle on who I am as an artist. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend quite a lot of time with Damon Albarn. I look at him and a few other people, and think you can get better as you get older if you don’t try to be 21, accepting where you are and what lane you’re in, pushing at the boundaries.

“I feel really positive and in lots of ways I’m completely divorced from the rest of the music industry. And I’m alright with that. I live in Sheffield, my fans are there, and I’m a bit old school, me, starting to put artistry before everything else, and it’s gone dead well. When I tried to fit into the music game, it went really badly. If I’ve got any advice to young ‘uns it’s just to do what you want, do what you think is good.”

I always felt you were old beyond your years in the influences you cite, many of  which are artists I admire, from Bob Marley to The Clash, Madness, The Specials …

“I’ve been very lucky. Mick Jones asked me to come and sing, and I’m just trying to learn from my heroes, and when I think about what my heroes would be doing now, they’d be doing stuff like the AI thing and they’d definitely be having a say about politics.

“Imagine in a few years, people will be saying, ‘You were living through one of the most tumultuous periods of British politics’. I’m not going to name names, but there will be so many whose music said nothing about it. Almost as if you lived in some strange vacuum. A lot of these artists are cowards. They‘re careerists. And anybody who’s silent in this day and age needs to ask themselves why. If you don’t know anything about it and don’t have an opinion, that’s fine. But if you’re silent because you fear what impact you’re going to have on your career, you’re just a coward in my mind … and you would be in the mind of Joe Strummer, I’m certain of it.

“I think people are scared to push the ball forward, whether that’s in a political way or in an art-experimental way. And let’s be honest, the music industry is a strange place.”

Bearing that in mind, the locations you’ve chosen for LP launch dates (in-store record store shows at Sheffield Bear Tree on Friday, September 20th, Huddersfield Vinyl Tap on Saturday, September 22nd, and Chesterfield Tallbird Records on Monday, September 23rd, before heading over to Lancashire) are in the sort of towns and cities Boris Johnson is visiting right now in his ill-advised bid to gain hearts and minds and push on with his masterplan, telling us austerity’s on its way out, he’s spending gazillions of money on us, and it’s all going rather swimmingly, old chap.

“He’s actually near Sheffield as we speak, in a satellite town, Stocksbridge, more or less founded on the steel industry, where the best thing to happen to it in my lifetime was this shopping centre, which was funded by £40m of EU money. So what are you going to do? Remain silent and become some massive rock star, or stick your next on the line, stand for something and be a midtable rock star? Give me midtable, any day!”

Conversation followed about my daughter studying at the University of Sheffield, the history department where Jon studied for his degree. I also reminded him that last time around he told me he was a third of the way through writing a historical fiction novel.

“I’ve been trying to do that for some time. Sometimes it can take me as long as it takes to play a song as write one, in my back garden maybe, and it’ll come out like ‘bang’. But I look at other disciplines and at authors sometimes and see an absolute genius – the amount of investment of brain power, time and energy is incomparable to music. What we do is instantaneous. I’m still trying to get there with my novel.”

Is it odd that you chose Sheffield for your degree. Did you already have it in mind that you’d be travelling the UK and the wider world through music instead?

“In some ways I wonder if I should have had that other city experience. I lived in Leeds for a bit. I did wonder if I’d denied myself something, but then I think, ‘Y’know what – not really’. I’m glad I stayed in Sheffield. It’s a fine uni and it allowed me to keep part of that Sheffield scene that developed. If I had moved away I’d have never been that guy. It happened during that last year at uni really.

“For everything there’s a reason, and I think it were good that I stayed here. We’re the home of British electronica, we’ve had some amazing music over the years, and continue to. I don’t think we really get the credit we deserve, in the way Manchester and Liverpool have.”

That music’s part of the city landscape for me, not least The Human League, Heaven 17 and ABC, then Pulp, right through to Richard Hawley, whose LPs have been a constant in my car these past few years.

“Richard’s amazing, and like a big brother to me. When he’s on the radio he always says lovely things about me, and when he comes around our house he imparts his wisdom and that. Sheffield’s full of them people. Richard Kirk’s up the road, who started Cabaret Voltaire, Phil Oakey lives up the road from me, Nick Banks from Pulp lives up the top of the road. We’re just immersed in this wonderful music scene. It’s not one of those where everyone goes and lives in London. With the exception of the Arctic Monkeys and Joe Cocker, everyone who’s really done it still lives here. (Fellow ex-WriteWyattUK interviewee) Martyn Ware lived in London for a while, but is now back here.”

Steel Relevant: Fellow Sheffield outfit Sophie and the Giants, duly praised by the Reverend

Paul Carrack’s not far away either, is he.

“No, and I think Jarvis (Cocker) lives nearby again now. And even on a local level there’s lots of exciting things happening. There’s a band called Sophie and the Giants who have just signed a big record deal and are doing very well.

“I’ll give you another example regarding the diversity of Sheffield’s music scene. There’s this metal band, Bring Me the Horizon, who I’d never even heard of until they were playing Wembley Arena. This is a band from Sheffield, and this lad’s got a clothing firm from which he makes millions more than he does from his band. They’ve got a bar and a studio and all this stuff. And that’s just the indie heavy metal scene in Sheffield. It’s wonderful. It’s not like we’re trading on past glories. And because it’s not fancy and it’s not trendy, it allows us to operate slightly out of the spotlight.”

That came over in a BBC documentary and my 2014 interview with Paul Carrack.  The fact that if he were to step out of line he felt he’d be gently reminded of his South Yorkshire roots – that element of not getting above your station.

“Yeah, absolutely, and I think there’s a musical freedom in Sheffield. My music’s nothing like Richard (Hawley)’s, his music’s nothing like The Human League, they’re nothing like the Arctic Monkeys, whose music is nothing like Bring Me the Horizon. But for some reason we all co-exist and do these interesting, cult things, and I think that’s wonderful. I feel very lucky to live here.

“There is that ‘when are you moving to London’ thing, but I’d sooner move to Rio. I can travel the world and come back to Sheffield, especially in the digital age, man. It’s not like London’s paved with gold. If anything, it’s a cultural vacuum. It sucks people’s creativity out of them. The grime scene is wonderful, and what they do is cool, but I can’t think of a great band to come from London in a long, long time. And there’s more than five million people there. There’s half a million in Sheffield.”

First time I stayed over in Sheffield, I made a pilgrimage to the (rather underwhelming) site of the Black Swan, scene of The Clash’s first gig on July 4th, 1976, supporting the Sex Pistols. I guess you were there regularly in its later incarnation as The Boardwalk.

“I worked on the bar, and got a job there for Alex (Turner, Arctic Monkeys), Ed (Cozens, his bandmate) and all these Sheffield bands. And we were very fortunate in that time to see Arthur Lee play with Love, John Cooper Clarke, The Fall … There’s obviously also that legacy with the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and all that. Sheffield’s just that place, man. In lots of ways we lag behind, but in other ways we’re very kind of futuristic. It’s a musical city. You turn on a tap and a song comes out. There are certain places like that. Jamaica’s like that. In the great scheme of things the population’s tiny, same as Cuba, but everybody’s got a song to sing and a story to tell. And Sheffield’s like that. I’ll go and see my auntie and she’ll give me a subject of a song. She’s 80, she’ll be nattering on and say something, and I’ll say, ‘That’s a tune!’ It’s in the water.”

Acoustic Outing: Ed Cosens and Jon McClure at Action Records in Preston in 2017

When I saw you at Preston’s 53 Degrees you finished your set then memorably popped outside to do two more songs, the latter a cover of Dandy Livingstone’s rocksteady classic ‘A Message to You, Rudy.”

“That’s it.”

I guess that was just another night for you though.

“Yeah, but the selection of ‘Rudy’ was deliberate, having famously been covered by The Specials. I always try and place myself in a musical lineage that means something. I’ve come to know Horace (Panter) and we collaborated on a lyric book I did.”

At that point, parental duties are required with Reggie, with Jon losing track of where we were up to, coming back a little distracted at first.

“The obvious thing now is just balancing being a musician with being a Dad. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy. It’s hard, but you get another set of perspectives, and an honest lyric writer will try and reflect where you are at that time in life. And I think your fans grow with you.

“The weird thing with the last few years is that loads of young ‘uns have got into it, like at those festivals. We’re becoming that band anyone can like. It’s like Madness a few years ago – they’ve never been trendy, but they’ve got loads of great songs, and anyone can get into them. I’m not comparing myself to them – they’ve had loads of No.1s – but when you stick around a while it’s like anyone’s allowed to like it now. We’re not trendy, and haven’t been since when we first came out. But you see people watching, having a proper rave-up, and that’s wonderful. And long may it continue, mate.”

Finally, I see you’re playing just up the road from me at Action Records, Preston (having previously appeared there for most recent studio album, 2017’s Death Of A King, in another in-store acoustic show …

“Ooh, I love it there!”

What’s the set-up this time – is it just you and Ed on acoustic guitars again?

“Most probably. I really do like that record shop. It’s a wonderful place. I follow them on Twitter and see all the cool things they do. And that vinyl revival thing is wonderful for places like that. We’re looking forward to being back in Preston. I always think towns like Preston are the lifeblood of this country, proper places where people appreciate the music in the way equivalent towns in maybe the South of England don’t perhaps.

“I might turn up a bit early so I can get dusty fingers for half an hour, have a root through old records there. We turned up late last time. There were loads of people already there.”

Best Practise: Jon McClure, aka The Reverend, meets his Makers

For the previous WriteWyattUK feature/interview with Jon McClure, from early 2014, head here. And for this website’s verdict on the band’s subsequent appearance at Preston’s 53 Degrees, try here

Reverend and the Makers dates: Thursday, October 3rd – Nottingham Rock City; Friday, October 4th – Portsmouth The Wedgewood Rooms; Wednesday, October 9th – London Electric Ballroom; Friday October 11th –  Birmingham O2 Institute 2; Saturday October 12th – Norwich Epic Studios; Thursday October 17th –  Glasgow St Luke’s; Friday October 18th – Newcastle-upon-Tyne University Students Union,  Saturday October 19th – Manchester Academy; Friday October 25th – Sheffield O2 Academy; Saturday December 7th – Leeds First Direct Arena (supporting Shed Seven). For more details, visit www.reverendmakers.com. You can also buy the album via this link  

Entry to Action Records’ in-store acoustic show is via wristband in exchange for pre-orders of The Best of Reverend and The Makers, from the Church Street store or through this link

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Next Train From Yeovil – The Return of The Chesterfields

Earlier Incarnation: Davey Goldsworthy, Dom Manns, Simon and Mark Barber’s 1988 manifestation of  the band

Thirty-five years after taking their first tentative steps into the world of independent pop fame, The Chesterfields are back for a string of UK dates this September.

Founder member Simon Barber (bass, vocals) will be joined on the road by Andy Strickland (lead guitar, also known for his work with The Loft and The Caretaker Race), who briefly featured with the band in 1987, and more recent additions Helen Stickland (guitar, vocals) and Rob Parry (drums), the quartet celebrating an alternative scene success that led to a string of indie hit albums and singles, including iconic debut LP, Kettle.

The latest tour comes two years after their last UK jaunt, and in classic DIY independent style the West Country comrades and Isle of Wight-based Andy are all pitching in, with further friends from the original scene doing their bit to make it happen, as Simon – like Helen based in Sherborne, Dorset – explained.

“Yeah, we get on! This was the line-up we got together for the C86 reunion shows, and might even have lasted longer the original line-up now. I wouldn’t do it if Andy wasn’t involved. We get on so well. He makes us The Chesterfields really – he has the jangle and the edge. I went to the Isle of Wight to sort things out a couple of weeks ago with him, and we get on like a house on fire.

“I’ve also rehearsed locally with Helen, and that’s great, while Rob’s nearby in Yeovil. He’s so can-do. He’s booked the van and organised accommodation, and he’s going to drive. Without him I don’t think I could contemplate it. There’s so much to organise.”

It all sounds proper DIY indie, old style.

“Yeah, it’s just like it was, but back then we had managers, and pretty good ones who looked after lots of stuff. And looking back at my diaries, it’s incredible how busy we were. We were out playing gigs all the time. I don’t know how we held down jobs.”

Simon co-founded the band with fellow frontman Dave Goldsworthy in Yeovil in 1984, initially with drummer Dominic Manns, various personnel changes following, the band signing to Bristol’s Subway Organisation (also home to the Soup Dragons, Shop Assistants, Razorcuts, Flatmates, Rosehips and Rodney Allen, the latter having a spell with The Chesterfields in 1987, and also guesting on the forthcoming tour), emerging alongside fellow West Country indie luminaries The Blue Aeroplanes (for whom Rodney went on to feature) and The Brilliant Corners.

Post Kettle: The Chesterfields in 1987. From the left – Rodney, Simon, Dom, Davey (Photo: The Chesterfields)

A volley of memorable 7″ singles followed, including ‘Sweet Revenge’, ‘Completely & Utterly’ and ‘Ask Johnny Dee’, that first album – with its distinctive yellow and pink cover – only denied a UK indie chart No.1 by Sonic Youth’s ‘Sister’. What’s more, each release was co-designed by Simon and his then-girlfriend Amanda Wallwork under the guise of The Terrible Hildas, the band’s co-founder and graphic artist in later years setting up successful West Country monthly arts magazine Evolver, while Amanda became an established artist in her own right.

The Chesterfields came to prominence as part of a happening UK underground scene that turned its back on over-produced chart music in favour of back-to-basics pop, a plethora of bands, small record labels, gig nights and fanzines emerging, groups such as The June Brides, Primal Scream and The Wedding Present helping spearhead the movement.

Along the way, they were endorsed in particular by Janice Long on BBC Radio 1, as well as several fanzine writers and club promoters on a thriving DIY scene, including Johnny Dee, who later wrote for the NME after being immortalised in a Chesterfields hit, and just happens to be lined up for a DJ slot at London’s iconic 100 Club on this latest tour.

Kettle was followed swiftly by singles compilation Westward Ho! then 1988’s Crocodile Tears on their own Household label, by which time Simon’s brother Mark Barber had joined, the siblings briefly co-fronting the band before a split in 1989.

The band also appeared on national Saturday morning television, played several prestigious festivals, and toured the UK and Europe non-stop before calling it a day, with Andy’s previous spell including their biggest gig at 1987’s Glastonbury Festival (something this punter somehow missed, despite being there).

A later line-up again included Davey, with 1994 LP Flood following via the Vinyl Japan label, the band also getting to tour Japan with the Television Personalities. However, by the time the band were the subject of Cherry Red Records’ best of retrospective Electric Guitars in their Hearts in 2005, it was long since over, with Davey the victim of a fatal hit-and-run accident in Oxfordshire two years earlier.

In fact, Simon – who additionally fronts the band Design, also featuring bandmates Helen and Rob – resisted all offers to use The Chesterfields’ name until persuaded by New York City’s PopFest to perform in 2016, describing that memorable show at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn in our previous interview as ‘fantastic … to be up there singing Davey’s songs and my songs with friends, in a place I never thought I’d go to with the band, the audience seeming to know all the songs.”

And the resultant response and revived interest ensured they remain a going concern, Simon more than happy for Helen – who runs a West Country flower farm and a bookstore between band outings – to share the limelight out front these days, telling me last time around, “I found my other perfect side-kick in Helen, after Davey, with whom I had that sweet’n’sour Lennon-McCartney thing. I don’t have to be a front-man, even when they’re my songs and I’m singing lead.”

Wessex Wonders: Being asked Johnny Dee’s whereabouts at Preston Continental, 2017 (Photo: Julie Wright)

As it turns out, the band are also set to record a new LP, due out next year. But first there’s a week of dates, starting next Monday (September 16th) in South Wales, featuring a number of special guests, including Rodney Allen, Dai-Nichi, The Proctors, St James Infirmary, The Suncharms, and The Waltones, plus guest DJs, among them not only Johnny Dee, but also Rocker from The Flatmates.

“We’ve managed to persuade The Waltones out of retirement for the London gig, and we’ve got The Suncharms playing in Manchester – I don’t think they’ve played since last time we played with them a couple of years ago, and apparently they’ve never played Manchester before, despite the fact that Richard (Farnell, bass) from the band runs Vinyl Exchange there.

“They’ve made a couple of records since, on interesting American labels too, including Slumberland, a very cool indie label. Richard turned up when Design played songs by The Chesterfields for the C86 gig in London, introducing himself and saying how he saw us at a small club in Sheffield. Apparently, they decided to stay for the encore and missed the last bus home, with a long walk home as a result.

“What I’ve been trying to do is get people on the ground I’ve known a long time, such as Stephen Joyce in Newcastle who ran the Woosh label, who also put gigs on and put out flexis, and I’ve put a couple of his bands on down this way before. He was up for coming along to DJ and suggested another band that would bring people along from that era. Then Adrian Gent popped up, a house DJ who was an indie kid. He’s coming to DJ in Manchester.”

Talking of DJs, you have a certain fella called Johnny Dee involved.

“Yeah, he’s doing the London gig and possibly one in the West Country too. Adrian Gibson who runs AGMP was another Indie kid who used to come into London from Kent to see the Chesterfields, and he’s organised a few more, namely Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham.  And we have a gig every night for seven nights.”

And the guests include another former Chesterfields bandmate, Rodney Allen.

“Yeah, for a while he wasn’t doing anything and was resistant to do so, other than sets of covers at Pilton Working Men’s Club, but last year he supported Australian band The Church at the Fleece and Firkin in Bristol, coming back out of retirement, putting his toe back into the water. He loved that and was well up for the 100 Club, especially when he also heard The Waltones were doing it. He’s also been guesting with The Blue Aeroplanes again.”

Another West country indie favourite, of course.

“Yes. I remember a Bristol Bierkeller gig we did (back then) with The Brilliant Corners and The Blue Aeroplanes. That was a real highlight. They were amazing. And it’s all still pretty chaotic with them today!”

Incidentally, Simon also dropped hints – albeit under intense questioning from yours truly – that he might be able to persuade not just Rodney to guest with the band during their set, but also his brother Mark. We shall see.

And above all else, despite Simon’s initial and somewhat understandable reluctance, I guess this is a nice way of paying tribute to Chesterfields co-founder Davey’s memory.

“It’s 35 years since Davey and I put the band together; his lyrics, I think, are amazing; and I’m just so happy to be out there singing his songs and hopefully doing them justice. And if I didn’t think that was the case, I wouldn’t do it.”

Chesterfields dates, September 2019: Le Pub, Newport, (Monday, September 16th); The Cluny, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Tuesday, September 17th); Night & Day Café, Manchester (Wednesday, September 18th); Hare & Hounds, Birmingham (Thursday, September 19th); 100 Club, London (Friday, September 20th); Electric Palace, Bridport (Saturday, September 21st); and The Louisiana, Bristol (Sunday, September 22nd). For ticket information and more details, including the full list of support acts and guests, visit the band’s Facebook page.  

Duelling Guitars: Andy Strickland and almost-namesake Helen Stickland get stuck in with The Chesterfields

For this website’s February 2017 feature/interview with Simon Barber, talking about The Chesterfields and much more, head here. And for the WriteWyattUK verdict on The Orchids, The Chesterfields and The Suncharms playing together at Preston Continental soon after, head here.

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