Remember Adele’s first multi-million selling LPs, 19 and 21? Well, Jon McClure has just recorded 32, confirming not just his current age but also a sense of pride at his band’s comparative longevity in a fickle industry.
It’s about more than that, not least his band Reverend and the Makers’ intention to stay afloat amid major music business sea changes.
And as Jon points out: “When Adele gets to 32 she’s got nowhere to go, has she! She’ll have to either go with 31 or 33.”
That sums him up quite nicely really, this likeable Sheffield-based singer-songwriter far too honest and down to earth to get uptight about it all for too long.
Besides, he quickly adds about the album title: “Actually, it’s also my Dad’s lucky number on the Lottery. He has it every bloody week … but it never comes in.”
Jon started out as part of the Steel City movement that cast Arctic Monkeys into the national limelight.
And although taking a very different path from Monkeys main-man Alex Turner since, the Makers are doing very well for themselves, and wouldn’t change a thing about their own journey.
Initial success with The State of Things in 2007 and singles like Heavyweight Champion of the World led to headline-grabbing guest slots with Oasis, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Noel Gallagher’s Flying Birds.
Impressive sales continued for A French Kiss in the Chaos (2009) and @reverend_makers (2012). Despite a few ups and downs, the band’s fan-base remains as strong as Jon’s continued resolve to make great music.
And if the single The Only One is anything to go by, the band has another winner on their hands, as Jon confirms.
“Oh yes, it’s smashing. We’re not hiding us light under a bushel! It’s pretty slamming, if I’m honest. It’s all good, man.
“We seem to have had a renaissance of late. It’s been very pleasant to experience, having not been played on the radio or mentioned by the mainstream media for such a long time.
“It gives you a freedom to do music you actually like, rather than trying to make cheesy stuff to fit in with what’s supposed to be in fashion.”
It’s the band’s fourth album, and Jon suggests that’s his response to the London-based music industry for previously shunning the Makers.
“Yeah, because we’re still around and doing really well. We’re like a cross between classic Sheffield electro like Cabaret Voltaire, Heaven 17 and The Human League, with the witty lyricism thing Jarvis (Cocker, Pulp) and Alex (Turner, Arctic Monkeys) do so well.
“But people hear us and label us a Manchester-sounding band, which is a bit lazy for my liking. There’s a big world out there once you get outside the M25.
“The other thing is that Laura (McClure, Jon’s wife and fellow bandmate) plays four instruments and is from London, but we still get labelled a lad band, which is a bit weird. So it’s just good to confound what they think.
“I don’t think three people in a marketing meeting in London should decide to end someone’s career. And the social media thing has been a big part of stopping that.”
2005 seemed like the music industry was looking for the next Arctic Monkeys, but Jon’s band clearly wanted to steer clear of that typecasting, despite the postcode.
I think of The Charlatans in that respect, arguably signed because the A&R men were looking for another Stone Roses. Yet in time they proved their worth. Was that the case with Reverend and the Makers to an extent?
“Yes, and if you look at Tim Burgess now he’s gone on to have a wonderfully diverse career. I loved the Stone Roses, don’t get me wrong, but in a lot of ways the Charlatans superceded that.
“If you’d offered Tim that career at the start, he’d have snapped your hand off. And they’re still playing big gigs to lots of people. He still makes interesting records and I’d like to emulate that and think I’m well on the way.
“Besides, I’ve been in this business going on for 10 years, and I’m still doing alright.”
So have the Makers and the Monkeys got much in common these days?
“We’ve taken very divergent paths. They’re influenced by American rock music and things like Queens of the Stone Age, which has never really held any sway with me. It’s not something I dig. I’m more inclined towards British music.
“One of the fellas from The Specials tweeted and said ‘I want to come and watch you in Coventry’, and last year I was going round singing Clash songs with Mick Jones. I’m a lot more in deference to them sort of bands.
“When it comes to rocking out, the Brits do it a lot better. I guess that’s not really in fashion, but I think it’s timelessly brilliant music.”
Famously, you supported Oasis on their final tour. So – I have to ask this – what were Liam and Noel like to be around?
“I don’t know Liam so well, but I had a weird moment with him where he got me in the corner and asked ‘what’s your favourite kind of peas?’ I replied, ‘err … garden’. He said ‘Don’t you like mushy?’ and I was like ‘No, I like garden, they’re better’, and he said ‘You’re alright, you’. Basically, if I’d changed my opinion to fit in with him he would have thought I was a wanker!
“I know Noel a lot better and he was the one who asked us to support Oasis, and subsequently his High Flying Birds. He’s just a wonderful human being, that fella, and living proof that you don’t have to be a wanker if you’re a successful rock star.”
I believe you’re a big John Cooper Clarke fan too, and maybe you can see that in your lyrical style of writing sometimes.
“Absolutely, and it’s funny with John Cooper Clarke because he couldn’t get arrested 10 years ago. We did a poem together and then I started playing gigs with him, and then everyone decided he was this forgotten national treasure, and made this documentary about him.
“There were all the people saying how much they loved him, and I didn’t even get asked. But we love Johnny Clarke, although he’s a lot more celebrated now than he was a few years ago.
I mention how I loved his early albums with a backing band, and suggest that perhaps he could do some gigs with Jon’s band.
“Yeah, but he hates his own recordings, and hates Martin Hannett’s production, And I’m inclined to agree. I like his poetry, and although I think Martin’s a genius, I thought the Johnny Clarke stuff was too austere and industrial. I prefer him more like a stand-up, delivering it.”
The production duties on 32 are from the acclaimed James Welsh and Youth, the latter’s past successes including work with everyone from Crowded House on their splendid Together Alone album through to The Verve’s Urban Hymns.
I mention Crowded House because I remember hearing how he liked to take Neil Finn and his band out of their comfort zone – something that worked a treat in that case.
“He’s amazing, Youth. He’s a total hippie and had me painting and this, that and the other. But you only have to look at Urban Hymns to see what he can do.
“Even as a songwriter, he’s written about four number ones, and he’s in a band with Paul McCartney (The Fireman).
“When I met Paul McCartney (another artist involved in the Hillsborough Justice Collective benefit project), I was in awe and thought ‘what have I got in common with him apart from the fact that we both play guitar and come from up north?’. But then I thought, ‘oh yeah’ and said ‘I know Youth’. And he were like ‘oh yeah, we like him!’
“Jimmy (Welsh) is a very current deep house producer and gets all those electronic sounds spot on, but Youth’s the one who brings what we do and what Jimmy does and galvanises it into something that’s 3D.”
The album’s called 32, but you’re in a business where teenagers like Jake Bugg, John Lennon McCullagh and The Strypes are breathing down your neck. Ever think you might be getting too old for this game?
Jon laughs. “No, I think I’m alright. I’m a big collaborator with Richard Hawley (another leading light from his home city). He’s 48 but going from strength to strength, getting more popular with every album.
“That’s the whole point of calling the album 32. As long as you’re not trying to be a 21-year-old, it’s ok.
“Actually, I think John Lennon McCullagh’s quite something. Unlike a lot of his contemporaries, he writes his own stuff, whereas some of these kids giving it big about being troubadours have people writing songs for them, which I find a little bit fraudulent. Yes, Lennon McCullagh is awesome.
“There’s also band on our tour, Liberty Ship. They’re 18 and say they grew up listening to our music – so I’m settling into being a veteran quite comfortably.
“People in the generation of musicians above have always shown a lot of love for us. We supported Ian Brown, The Verve, Noel Gallagher and Oasis, and people like Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers bigged us up.
“In the same spirit, it’s important for me to duplicate that to a younger generation. There is a lot of rubbish music around, man.
“You’ve got to represent the good music. I can live my entire life without hearing another David Guetta.”
“It suits me down to the ground. A lot of bands of my generation have died out because they can’t adapt to the new realities in the industry. It’s a new dawn, people aren’t buying records or concert tickets, and you’ve got to keep interesting as well as produce good music.”
Part of that approach was seen in their recent ‘house gig’ tour, staying at the homes of 32 competition winners while spreading the word about the new album.
“It’s been amazing. People under-estimate word of mouth. If I play a gig in Preston and everyone goes and tells their mates, that’s more powerful than a recommendation from Nick Grimshaw, who’s just played a One Direction mix.
“It’s been very eventful. We’ve had smashed windows, riot vans, all sorts.
“In Stoke I played in a flat to a geezer and his girlfriend, and asked flippantly, ‘Are you married?’ He said no, so I said ‘well, I’ll have to play your wedding if you do’, totally joking.
“Next thing, he gets down on one knee and proposes. And she accepted!”
The band have also been known to play for fans for free in venue car parks, and I’ve always loved the way some acts are more fan-friendly.
I give him the example of David Gedge at Cinerama and Wedding Present gigs, having often shuffled my way out at the end only to find him already working behind the t-shirt stall.
“Yeah! Why have mystique in the days of social media, when everyone knows everything about everyone anyway?
“During the resurgence of guitar bands, there were bands that sold millions but couldn’t sell one nowadays, but I feel like we’re able to carry on through being able to tap into people’s hearts a bit … and hopefully through not being an arsehole.”
Another Reverend and the Makers idea – staying at fans’ houses while on the road – takes old hacks like me back to the days of The Housemartins.
“Well, I’m a big fan of Paul Heaton. He’s a wonderful fella. I met him through doing the Hillsborough Justice Collective single, when we got that No.1.
“I met him on the day we did the recording and he asked to have a photograph of me with him, which I thought was so self-deprecating, him being an absolute legend!
“He does similar things now, like biking between gigs, which is wonderful. The reason I like him is that he’s never been fashionable, yet he’s been really successful at writing music that is loved by the working classes.
“There are other bands like Madness and people like that, who also manage to tap into what ordinary people like. That’s why those people’s music will live on forever.”
And what can we expect from you on this tour?
“You can expect to go away very sweaty, you can expect a sing-along in the car park after, and to thoroughly enjoy yourself and hopefully have your faith in live music restored.”
You seem very grounded in a lot of respects. Is that a Northern quality? Did Sheffield make you what you are?
“Definitely. I still live there and I’m very much informed by what happens there. That’s why we can still make good music, because we’ve not allowed ourselves to be distracted by rubbish.
“Sheffield’s such a creative place and I’m able to travel the world while still returning home. I can take on new influences but still keep a grounded perspective on it.
“The other thing is I hang around with my brother, who runs a pub, and my cousin, who’s a binman, and play them my music. And their opinion is very valid.
“A lot of others want to please the trend-setters, but by virtue of the fact it is a trend, it will pass. I like to do my own thing, and like to think it’s working.”
You said at one point you’d quit, and didn’t gig for the next two years. What changed?
“I stopped trying to please Radio One and the NME, when it quickly dawned on me I could have a career and they would be an irrelevance to that.
“The moment I stopped worrying about what they thought, I started doing well again. There’s a freedom that lies in not trying to appease people.”
What do you listen to on the road between gigs, or when you’re cosied up at home with Laura?
“I’ve been listening to a lot of Kwaito, which is a South African type of music, almost like deep house but with African rhythms and course rude-boy gangsters chatting over it. It’s absolutely wonderful.
“A wonderful example is Fingerprints by Professor. I’d love it to blow up in this country, but I doubt it will.
“Then there’s the band from Sheffield I mentioned before, Liberty Ship. And there’s a lot of good music out there which doesn’t necessarily get heard because it doesn’t show up on all these demographic surveys.”
So (with Laura not too far away as we speak), is it wrong to marry a band member?
“It’s certainly not wrong to marry a band member. I would advise it. It’s wonderful. It’s a beautiful thing actually.
“Actually, this band’s like a family, because my best friend’s the guitarist, Ed (Cosens). It’s like Bob and the Wailers really!”
“We went to Jamaica and met Rita Marley, and I was saying ‘I’m in a band with Laura, and we’re just like you and Bob!’ And she was like (dismissive), ‘yeah, alright dickhead.”
Jon’s also known for his Lies project – a series of short films based on his stories and poems. So what does the future hold for the Reverend? A film-maker? A novelist? A screen-writer? A man of the cloth? Or the front man of a band?
“Novelist! I’m writing a novel, and I’m very excited about this. I won’t give away the concept, because it’s so good that if I was to give it away … well, I’m keeping it close to my chest. But I’m a third of the way through and it’s going really well.
“So look out for Jon McClure, novelist, in the near future.”
Is it music-related?
“It’s nothing to do with music. I did a history degree and it’s history–based, but fiction. I feel like it’s not far off, but I could just do with a month in a warm climate to finish it off.”
For more details about the new album and tour, head here.
This is a revised version of a feature penned for the Lancashire Evening Post, with a link to the the original article here.
And for a Reverend and the Makers’ live review from Preston’s 53 Degrees, head here.