But West on Colfax prefer to wear their influences on their sleeves, the group name instead distilling some of the spirit of Jack Kerouac’s life On the Road; more Colfax Avenue than Cold Bath Street, more Denver than Darwen, more Colorado than Beatles.
Besides, their chosen moniker seems more apt for these rising exponents of Americana, their debut LP Barfly Flew By set for release this summer, barely two years after a public debut at Penwortham Live.
You can see for yourselves how far they’ve come later this month, when they top the bill at an alt-country night at The Continental on South Meadow Lane, Preston, championing ‘tales of love, life and hard-lived lives’ delivered ‘with hope’.
Bass player and lyricist Scott is based near Clitheroe – rehearsals seeing him head South West on A59, I guess – in a band fronted by the ‘road-worn voice’ of Alan Hay (vocals and guitar) and completed by Pete Barnes (guitar) and Mike Lambert (drums).
Scott, a graphic designer for the NHS by day, saw past indie success with ‘Madchester’ seven-piece Paris Angels, their 1990 indie single ‘Perfume’ an NME single of the week that still gets occasional national and international radio airplay.
And prior to that Ashton-under-Lyne outfit, he featured in an early line-up of Oldham’s big time-bound Inspiral Carpets. I found little trace of that online, but past WriteWyattUK interviewee Stephen Holt confirmed, ‘We had about 13 bassists in total over the years, and Scott was about No.11 I think.”
Stephen also sent me part of a ‘Those Heady Days in Madchester’ chart for Pete Frame’s wondrous Rock Family Trees that further revealed a brief spell in St Jack for Scott, where bandmates included fellow bass-playing namesake Scott McLeod, of The Ya Yas and briefly Oasis fame.
It’s not so easy to get Scott C drawn on all that, but of his Paris Angels days, he told me, ‘Richard Branson sold Virgin to EMI just as we were finishing our second album, so he could fund his airline. And soon after EMI got rid of us, Public Image Ltd, Definition of Sound …”
That’s not where his music’s at right now though, his current group brought together by a mutual appreciation of Americana, starting out as covers band The Low Highway then taking on a fresh approach, Scott first introduced to the singer by original drummer Adrian Hawtin, from Penwortham.
“When I started at the hospital in Preston, I was talking to Adrian about music, and we got on to a love of Wilco, Richmond Fontaine, and all that. Next thing, he asked if I played, telling me he wanted to start a covers band. We did that for a bit, then someone mentioned it’d be good to do a few of our own songs.
“I was happy just playing other people’s music, as it’s often a nightmare trying to push your own stuff. But Alan said, ‘I’ve got quite a few melodies, but find it hard to write lyrics, asking if I had any. I said, ‘Not at the moment, but leave it with me.’
“The day after I sent him lyrics for the first song we did together, ‘The Line’, which is going to appear on the album. And he kind of unleashed something in me, and we’ve written about 50 songs, of which we’re keeping about 30. So we’ve got the first three albums covered really!”
The first two singles are certainly winners for these ears, debut ‘Choke Hold’ set to be followed – and available at their February 29 showcase at the Conti – by ‘Misty Morning Blue’, its sleeve featuring a photograph by Loose Records’ Gill Landry, previously with Old Crow Medicine Show. And as I pointed out to him, I’m hearing a little Teenage Fanclub in both tracks.
“Well, them, Big Star and The Byrds – who influenced both bands of course – are a big influence on us.”
“I suppose it’s down to your perception of country. Cowboy boots, hillbillies … but I’d say bands like Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and even REM to an extent have been ploughing more of a guitar sound. And there’s bands like Green on Red …”
Ah, yes, that whole LA ‘Paisley Underground’ thing that made an impression in the mid-‘80s.
“Yeah, and over the last 15 or so years I think it’s started to grow a lot in this country too. We use the term Americana because it’s a handy clothes-peg to hang different sets of music on the same line. If you were to put band T-shirts on that line, you could have all kinds – from Waylon Jennings to The Byrds, Wilco, Gram Parsons, Courtney Marie Andrews … And there are so many great UK bands.”
Scott, who also featured with Chelsea-based indie outfit The Shave in the ‘90s and back in Manchester hosted radio shows on 96.2 The Revolution, praised Manchester radio presenter Mog for his Manchester-based 9-11am Saturday show on 96.9 allfm (Standing in the Shadows of Lev, described as ‘two hours of abject misery’, featuring alt-country, soul, Motown and ‘pale skinny boys with guitars, plus the big 6 bonanza’, past guests including Paul Heaton and John Bramwell, with an internet link via https://allfm.org/), helping spread the word about various alt-country acts, calling him ‘an underground legend who’s had all sorts on his show that have gone on to do good things’.
That’s just one of the radio shows that has featured West on Colfax so far, the first single playlisted not only in the UK but also in Germany, Norway, and a few US, Canadian and Australian stations. Meanwhile, Scott also talked about a thriving Americana social media scene.
While the band name is in homage to the street name-checked by Kerouac, it’s also a nod to another major influence, Portland, Oregon retro country soul outfit The Delines, whose 2014 debut LP was Colfax, and included a track called ‘Colfax Avenue’. But all that aside, there’s clearly a North West England influence at play with West on Colfax.
“We’re based in Preston, with a lock-up rehearsal space in the centre, and we recorded our album there too. Our drummer’s from Wales but lives just down the road, Alan’s from Blackpool, and Pete, our guitarist, lives in Westhoughton, so Preston’s kind of central for all of us really.
“Alan’s spent 25-plus years in Blackpool, but is originally from just outside Glasgow, and has that kind of Teenage Fanclub, Byrds and Big Star stuff in his veins. It’s what he grew up with.
“He shares that same love of music, we just got on, and there’s something authentic about him – the way he delivers the songs, you know he’s lived it.”
I have to ask though, is it obligatory to have a beard in this band?
“No … but it does help. They come and go. Mine went before Christmas, so did Alan’s, but we decided, ‘We don’t like the look of this’.”
Are you victims of geography? Should you really be out in Denver? Or do you carry plenty of Lancastrian flavour too?
“I think we’re products of our environment. I grew up in Manchester, of which Factory Records legend Tony Wilson was quoted as saying the kids of Manchester have the best record collections. There was a university of music through growing up there, and there’s a lot of kinship with Liverpool in that way too, with those shared influences.”
“We’ve got about three tracks to finish, then there’s some mixing and mastering to do, and it’ll be available to download and stream. There will also be CDs available and we’ll look at pressing a few copies on vinyl, to sell at gigs with those CDs.”
That’s the other thing. Scott has set up his own label, Greenhorse Records (I was going to try and explain how he came up with that name, related to his colour blindness, but it’s probably best if he tells you), initially as a vehicle for West on Colfax.
“Ideally, I’d love to get funding to run a proper label. There’s so much talent out there in the North West playing Americana, and that’s something we’re also hoping to do through this night at the Continental. And at the end of the year I want to put out a compilation featuring all the bands that have played our Americana night and some I’m hoping to get along there.”
‘Choke Hold’, the first single from West on Colfax’s debut LP Barfly Flew By, is available to download via this link, and to stream through all major sites.
West on Colfax play a Leap Day Americana Special Showcase at The Continental in Preston, Lancashire, on Saturday, February 29th (8pm), also featuring WriteWyattUK favourites The Amber List, plus Manchester’s Cornelius Crane. Entry is £3 on the door. And that’s followed by the band’s Friday, March 6th date at The Lion’s Den, Manchester, joined by Dead Captain in a Jezebel Music promotion.