OK, so it’s time for the last instalment of this blog’s epic Raymond Gorman interview, in which The Everlasting Yeah guitarist, vocalist and co-writer talks about new album Anima Rising, the Wavewalkers era and full story since That Petrol Emotion’s initial split, TPE’s reunion, the joy of communal singing, and his Derry musical roots.
Oh, and if you’ve just walked into this room, you might first want to sneak back down the corridor and look at part one and part two. Right, that’s the housekeeping down, now fasten your seatbelts and we’ll be away again …
As I’ve mentioned before, it was only early days with The Everlasting Yeah’s debut album when I first interviewed Raymond, and I’ve still only heard a few minutes here and there. But so far … so good! There’s a little more about that at the foot of this piece, and I’ll start this final section of our three-part feature by putting to the man himself that I can imagine plenty of long drives ahead listening to Anima Rising.
As well as that good old-fashioned guitar rock and joyous waves of vocals, it seems perfect soundtrack material, even if they do stray over the three-minute pop mark now and again.
“Well, when we were first told the timing of the songs we were really shocked, because I thought it was about half that! But there’s no fat on there.
“We’re so self-critical, so if anything seems to be going on someone will say ‘Cut that bit out’ and there will be endless to-ings and fro’ings about it.
“There’s one song, The Grind, which was a jam that came out of something else. I kept playing and everybody kept following me, then I just started singing.
“We didn’t even think anything of it. In fact, the night we did it the first time we were in this horrible rehearsal room that we hated, and we weren’t in the best of moods.
“When we first listened back we couldn’t believe it. I remember thinking my guitar sounded shit at the time. It was a Tuesday night and we just wanted to get home.
“Yet it was just magical. I’ll put that version up eventually, so everyone can hear it. The more we played, we came up with this other section. It really flowed together so well and everyone was getting really excited.
“So getting back to your question ….”
(which out of interest I’d forgotten by that point!)
“… the reason why we never really had those longer songs with the Petrols was because there was more tension there.
“When you’re not thinking about stuff, that’s when you start pushing the boat out a bit more. And there’s no pressure this time to have a hit single.
“In fact, I think we’ll probably get something a bit more commercial because of that. And we don’t write difficult music.”
So who’s penning the new material?
“We all work on stuff and everybody’s going to get credited, but it’s mainly me and Ciaran. I had around 25 songs, and so did he, so between us we had loads of material.
“When we started this band Ciaran said we’ve got to start from scratch again, because some of those songs are quite old. He said it has to be about now.
“I was tearing my hair out about that, having thought we’d have this treasure trove and not have to worry about all that. But he was absolutely right. It was the right aesthetic.”
So there’s nothing surviving from the Petrols’ unrecorded catalogue?
“Correct. I have to say as well that I wrote my best-ever Petrols song after the band broke up, Radio Free Derry. I have a very rough demo of that on myspace. It’s very lo-fi, but you’ll get it.
“I’ve got all these songs. I might even have to put out a solo album. I don’t want them to lie around too long.”
“Well, first me and Ciaran worked a three-month contract for the dole office, some ridiculously mundane role supposed to take that long, but didn’t! The money was atrocious, but it was just something to do.
“I then ended up going to work for my best friend’s wife, who had a radio PR company, working on these snappy slogans. I was quite good at it but after six months in an office environment I found it quite poisonous. There was a lot of office politics.
“So in December ’94, Damian said ‘what about getting a band together?’ He said I should be writing again, and inspired me to start doing that.
“We started doing stuff with samples, and I found it very liberating. We did this spoken word thing, White Trash Saturday Night, with a Sun Ra sample. People either love it or hate it.
“That was ’95, and we also got Brendan back into the fold. He was at a bit of a loose end, travelling between France and here.
“I really wanted Ciaran involved, but he was adamant he wouldn’t. He was playing with this jazz band for a while.
“I think he took the split harder than anyone else – the fact that we were still doing great stuff but less and less people were interested.
“But the three of us got together and were using a drum machine, then a guy called Kevin Sharkey, also from Derry and a bit younger than us, joined us.”
Sharkey? Surely you’ll never get anywhere with a band with a guy called Sharkey involved. I didn’t bother putting this to Raymond though.
“The first Wavewalkers gig was in Paris, playing to 500 people, in this beautiful theatre, and I thought ‘this is it!’
“But it turned out that we only did six gigs. Nude Records were very interested, but then everything went ‘tits up’.
“I think the record company was having problems, and so was Damian, who was going through a divorce at the time. It was all so difficult.
“I was the only one actually working, for a few days a week for BT. The rest of the time I was in the band – all my spare time. I’d just got married, but had a very understanding wife.
“I got a bit burned out by it, and we weren’t really sure which direction to go. We were getting more dance-oriented. It wasn’t really us. I wanted to just record again.
“We did a single and it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t going to get everyone’s attention. We stalled on putting it out, then never did.
“We did that one gig in France then a couple here, supporting Arthur Lee and Love, but didn’t have our own sound man, and while on stage the sound was great our friends were saying it was shite. Maybe it was sabotage.
“We also played a couple of times in Ireland, which was good, but it was difficult communicating with Damian at the time. He was trying to get himself sorted.
“I just felt I was putting all this work in but nobody was taking it too seriously. Ciaran was saying ‘keep going’ – he thought it was great, and thought we were expecting too much too soon.”
Time marched on, and still it wasn’t properly coming together, by all accounts, and a further hiatus followed. And it appeared that it was Ciaran’s solo work that inspired the next incarnation of the band.
“When it all fell apart I didn’t really do anything for about a year and a half and hardly even picked up a guitar. I got really into football again, going to lots of (Manchester) United away games.
“At that point, Ciaran had started doing a few acoustic things, and one night I saw him play this place The Blue Posts, just off Oxford Street, and it was just fantastic.
“He played about 10 songs, and every one of them was great. It was another lightbulb moment for me!
“Ciaran really inspired me to write again. Just naturally, we gravitated to work together again, and we would go to these acoustic gigs.
“That’s okay when you’re 22, but when you’re working all day then come out, play songs and find people aren’t really listening, with everyone talking, it’s a bit disheartening.
“But we ended up doing a run of solo acoustic gigs at the Blue Posts, off Oxford St in London, playing solo and some songs together, including a Ramones medley.
“I’ve a nice recording actually, which again could see the light of day at some stage. It was very low-key but friends would come along and it was great fun.
“I was just happy to keep doing it, and the fact that it was every two weeks or so would force me to write so I always had new material.
“But it was just the same people coming all the time, and Ciaran started getting disillusioned. He wanted to move on to the next level, but we weren’t really sure how or what to do.”
That was around the year 2000, the same year that Raymond was involved with Damian O’Neill’s curious A Quiet Revolution experimental album. Anyway, on with the tale.
“The following year we got together for a gig to mark my 40th, in this pub in Brixton, and I asked if they’d back me on my new songs.
“We also got these other guys I knew to do some covers, and in the second half it was the four of us back together for the first time, doing a few of my new songs and a different version of Abandon, which is now out there on YouTube.
“That was great, and again I was fired up, thinking ‘we’re back!’ Don’t ask me why, but it all kind of fell apart again then, and we never really got it together.
“We talked about it every other six months or so, but it never happened. My daughter was born in 2002, Brendan had two girls, Damian had a child as well, so everyone had a family, and I was working as well.”
That wasn’t the end of the TPE tale though, in fact it was the point when a certain Seattle singer returned to the fore.
“Steve Mack came back on the scene in around 2006 or so and wanted us to reform for South by Southwest in Texas, but a couple of people stalled and said they’d think about it and the moment passed.
“Then everyone decided that they wanted to do it after all. Steve got excited, came over from America and we decided let’s see how it goes – do some gigs!
“We went over for South by South-West in 2008, and that was fantastic, playing this little liberal enclave in Austin, Texas in the middle of this redneck state.
“It was magical for me – just to get away and play again and see all these other bands.”
So that That Petrol Emotion reunion was largely driven by Steve?
“Definitely. The years before I wouldn’t really have been too interested, but that year I’d been thinking very fondly about the band again.
“As it was, if we’d reformed a few years before it might have been different, but by the time we did it was just like ‘oh God, here’s another band reforming’.
“Steve seemed to be up for it, but then his wife became pregnant and he didn’t really want to travel.
“It was understandable, but it was him that got everyone up for it in the first place!
“That’s why the rest of us kept going really, because we really enjoyed it, and all the reformation gigs were brilliant except for the last one, in New York.”
It appeared that that the New York episode finished off the band as a five-piece, as Raymond explained.
“The next day we were set to have a meeting about what we were going to do next, but Steve had just heard about the pregnancy. He had a champagne breakfast and was somewhat overly refreshed, shall we say.
“That same day I was reading a newspaper in Brooklyn and read that a girl I knew from back in London who moved out to be a DJ had been killed in an accident in Williamsburg. She was only in her early 30s.
“It was just one of those days, and I remember I’d never seen rain like it. The sky was completely black all day.
“I was disappointed with the way things ended, and just thought next time I won’t be listening quite so intently when there’s talk of any reunion.”
Raymond later recalled the final part of the between-bands jigsaw connecting the Petrols, Wavewalkers and The Everlasting Yeah. And again it seems like fate played a heavy part.
“In 2010, after Steve had departed, when the four of us were working on new material, Ciaran put his back out. He couldn’t play anything for another 10 months, which was again incredibly frustrating.”
It seems like for one reason or other perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be until now – be that down to fate or whatever you’d choose to call it.
“Absolutely, I think so, and I am very fatalistic. That’s why I think the time is right now.
“When we did our first gig at The Roundhouse we were a little apprehensive, as this was the first proper London show. We’d obviously done all the preparation, but I was very nervous, the most nervous I’d been for a very long time.
“Then we walked on stage and there was just such a great reception we got. It was so warm-hearted, and something really special.
“I’ll remember it until the day I die. It lifted us up, and immediately gave us confidence, even though people didn’t really know the songs.
“It was a fantastic feeling, you know, and we really want to keep that going. There was a great communal atmosphere as well.
“We always had a real rapport with our audience, but even more so now, and I think people can sing along more with these songs as well.”
So this time it’s just yourself, Ciaran, Damian and Brendan. What if someone did come along to add vocals at a later stage?
“If someone was to come in now, they’d have to be really great and we’d really have to like them. It’s the dynamic of the four of us. I kind of like it as it is.
“It’s a bit like with Bernard from New Order – he’s not a brilliant singer, but he’s got soul. It’s the same with us. You can pick holes but …
“Sometimes you hear your voice on tape and you’re not sure, but you just have to get used to that. It’s about personality.
“And the songs are really good and strong, so I don’t have to be a brilliant singer to pull it off.”
It’s about harmonies too, I venture. Going right through – from The Undertones to That Petrol Emotion and now again with The Everlasting Yeah, those complementary voices have always shone.
“Yeah, we’ve got that harmony thing, for sure! And on a couple of slow songs I’ve got a rehearsal tape of our singing, and I have to say, it’s absolutely beautiful.”
Dare I add – here he goes again, I can hear you say – that it was a similar story with Eleven, with the booming baritone of US front-man David Drumgold backed by those characteristic harmonies from Mickey Bradley and Damian O’Neill.
“Well, those backing vocals were important in The Undertones and they were important in the Petrols, and are perhaps even more important now everyone’s chipping in!
“It’s just kind of … I don’t know, a choirboy thing perhaps. Old punk choirboys, you know!”
I can feel Raymond going off subject again, but (not least as a former chorister myself) it’s all part of the story …
“Me and Damian were in the choir at school, and were both in the orchestra as well. We played clarinet, but I hardly remember it. It was only for about a year. If you put one in my hand now, I wouldn’t have a clue.
“This was all part of our musical training all the same. I was classically trained originally as well, playing piano. But my teacher was epileptic and fell over me one day when I was playing. I thought he was dead. I ran away and wouldn’t go back.
“My parents gave me such a hard time when I left the piano. I remember asking for a guitar about a year later and getting told ‘no’ for that very reason.
“Damian was lucky – when he wanted to play, John helped pay for his first axe!”
Again, Raymond veers wildly off at that point, and we tackle Irish heritage, Neil and Tim Finn and much more before we’re on to how he finally got his guitar.
“I don’t remember much music before 1970, when I was nine, although I do remember The Beatles and being confused by them having two singers.
“But we didn’t get a record player until 1972, and it was mostly me who bought all the records.
“My mum used to do the Kay’s catalogue and that’s how I got my first guitar and amplifier. It was a hundred quid for this really crap electric guitar.
“I had a paper round, but it was 100 weeks at £1 a week for a six watt amp and this horrible guitar called a Satellite.
“Actually, it wasn’t that bad, but I play it now and wonder how I ever learned to play.”
Thankfully he did though, and to great effect, not just through his playing and song-writing but also the inspirational air he seems to add to the proceedings, one that has helped those gifted musicians around him produce the goods over the years.
Having heard a bit more of the background story I now feel I understand more about That Petrol Emotion from start to finish. And now I’m equally fired up about their natural successors, The Everlasting Yeah.
Take for instance the snippets I’ve heard, starting with The Grind, with those glorious harmonies and raunchy guitars, Ramones-esque rocker All Around the World, and the Beach Boys meets Super Furry Animals wistful splendour of Everything is Beautiful.
Then there’s truly super-catchy part-contagious band anthem A Little Bit of Uh-Huh …, the Stones-like New Beat on Shakin’ Street – something Bobby Gillespie will be pissed off isn’t in his own set – and fellow (to appropriate a fitting Undertones phrase) rocking humdinger Takin’ That Damn Train, plus the guitar and falsetto funk of Whatever Happened To …
To find out more about The Everlasting Yeah and the PledgeMusic campaign, click right here. And who knows, maybe you’ll feel the need to make a pledge there and then to help ensure the release of Anima Rising.
* With big thanks over these three instalments to Raymond Gorman, and also to those whose photos I borrowed, not least Kate Greaves, Lucia Hrda, Simon Bradley and Dave Walsh.