I can’t really think of a more Northern band name than Ginnel, and in a sense this emerging Lancashire four-piece offer – as per the dialect definition behind their handle – a passageway between the houses.
While they’re fairly new to the scene in their current guise, there’s plenty of history involved, the constituent members of this garage punk/psych outfit from the heart of the North West somewhat steeped in the local landscape. To expand on the analogy, you may never have taken this particular shortcut before, but it’s been there quite some time.
Lancashire writer and artist Rob St John evocatively tells us, “Ginnels are spaces in between: the paths and alleys that cut hidden channels through many towns in the north of England. Often following historical routes that pre-date urbanisation and are now squeezed by encroaching buildings, the dialect word for a ginnel varies across the north: snicket, gunnel, jinnel, twitchell, jitty, gitty, 10-foot, passage, shut.
“Ginnel and its variants are amongst a narrow set of dialect words which are still strong in daily life: a local knowledge of short-cuts and escape routes, yet to meet a linguistic dead-end. In many cases, ginnels represent a tangle of lines: blurred spaces between what is safe and what is dangerous; what is natural and what isn’t; what is conserved and what is left to fall into ruin. Snickets cut nicks in the fabric of the town: routes to sneak along, cobbled channels trodden down. Moss on stone on moss on stone.
“Brambles tangled in barbed wire. Holly bushes poking through the dull, mottled metal of turnpike fences. Ragwort, buddleia and Japanese knotweed the ambitious upstarts amongst all the spikes and sharp edges.”
But how do (see what I did there?) this particular Ginnel – comprising this week’s interview victim Mark Wareing (vocals, words, as previously featured on these pages, aka Marcus Parnell; gets confusing, don’t it?), Paul Lakin (guitars), Pete Brown (bass), and Scrub (drums, and despite the enigmatic name, not on the run from a daytime identity, honest) – sum up their approach to leading us somewhere new? They reckon they’re ‘treading in the footsteps of long-forgotten ghosts and taking compress readings along the way from the likes of Stack Waddy, The Modern Lovers, Blue Orchids and The Swell Maps’, eager to ‘bring old sounds to new ears’.
After support slots with The Lovely Eggs, Deja Vega and The Membranes, the band recently set up camp in 6dB studios, Salford with producer Simon ‘Ding’ Archer (The Fall, PJ Harvey, Pixies) to capture the band’s live energy and true sound. A debut single emerged, its A-side, ‘Blueprint’, mixed and mastered by James Aparicio (Spiritualized, Laibach, Depeche Mode), and backed with ‘S.M.XL’.
Set for release on The Sound Mirror Recording Company label on Friday, October 9th, it features some splendid artwork by former The Teardrop Explodes keyboard player/The Wild Swans vocalist Paul Simpson. It also comes with a full-colour inner sleeve, although time will be the essence whe nit comes to securing a copy, considering that there’s a limited-numbered run of 200.
With barely three weeks until the first single lands, I tracked down Mark, asking the thinking behind Ginnel. What has this outfit got that my interviewee and his bandmates couldn’t have done with any of the other bands him and his fellow members have been involved with?
“We’ve been kicking around together in one form or other for around 15 months, after working with Ajay Saggar, who’s based in Holland. We wanted something closer to home, making it easier to rehearse. And it’s also way cheaper for promoters to book us – ha!”
I should have explained that question better for those playing catch-up here. Remind us of some of the other acts you and your co-conspirators have been part of before now.
“The Dandelion Adventure, Big Red Bus, Evil Blizzard, Notnowkato, The Common Cold, Dreamland, Tree House Three, My Other Car’s a Motorbike, BG Fist ….”
That’s some pedigree, and I’ll let you do your own homework with a few of those. And more specifically, what was my interviewee’s route into this? He’s been involved with Preston and London’s indie scenes for many a year. What does it tell us on the concise version of Mark’s music CV?
“I really got sucked into watching bands live at the age of 13 after seeing The Jacksons. They blew me away with their stage show …”
I can’t just let that pass me by. I hadn’t expected that opening. Where was that?
“At the (Preston) Guild Hall, ’78-ish.”
A quick look online while we carried on suggested February 1979, on the Destiny world tour.
“That’ll be it. All must have happened real fast from there. I saw The Jam later that year, The Clash, and so on. Punk had already taken me by the hand, but me and my mates were too young to get in anywhere. But once I saw The Jacksons … the loudness and stage show … wow, I was hooked on live bands ….
“Ravi Shankar too. I’ve seen them real beauts, like The Jesus and Mary Chain on their Riot tour in Liverpool. Five minutes and it was over. That was like seeing The Jacksons all over again – the power and the art combined … beautiful.”
Soon enough, Mark was very much part of the indie scene, increasingly involved with bands he was watching.
“I watched The Membranes over 150 times and played on their John Peel session in 1984 or ‘85, then started my own band, the Dandelion Adventure, in ’86, involving another Peel session. And in ‘91 I took on working with Cornershop and slept under a grand piano during their session for Peel …”
I’m starting to see a pattern here.
“I went on to looking after Ideal and Ricky Spontane, and in the late ‘90s moved to London, working for Domino Records, doing press for the likes of Pavement, Royal Trux, and many others. And after moving back up north I did artwork for The Fall, used on album and single covers alike, then many years later started The Common Cold … and now Ginnel.”
I’m glad I asked for the concise version. But let’s not beat around the bush. None of us are getting any younger, yet you give the impression you’ve still got plenty to say and ideas to get across.
“It’s all Ajay’s fault! He got me writing again … pushing and pushing, although I always told everyone that a masterpiece is getting completed… somewhere in my head, and my best Is yet to come. Which is true, and the unrecorded new Ginnel songs are pretty full on.”
Is this new project about inspiration and showing the way forward to the next generation coming through, as much as anything? Is that the Ginnel mission statement?
“Happens every new generation … kids see the likes of Oasis, and bang! There’s 100 Oasis lookalike and soundalike bands. Or bang! There’s 100 Nirvana-type bands. The kids need to stop hopping on the bandwagon and look backwards on history and check out stuff from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and so on. There’s loads of stuff worth stealing from. We’ve picked up on stuff, added our own twist … and bingo!”
When it comes to influences worn on sleeves, there are hints – on the first listen to ‘Blueprint’ – of that love for The Fall. Perhaps that’s just part of your band’s DNA. I’m getting much more though. Who else is in the mix, do you reckon?
“We love The Fall, The Stooges, Wire, bits of the Bunnymen, Can, Sterolab, Loop, and even a bit of Northern Soul.”
I’ve not caught them live yet, but I’ve seen bits of Ginnel concert and studio footage shared online, including post-punk-esque thriller ‘Exhale’ and the part-jarring, slow-building and richly evocative ‘I Cuerden’, also both crafted at 6dB, either those crafted in the studio or played to audiences. Were those works in progress? Is there a debut LP taking shape?
“There’s loads going on, with another two singles after this one, and hopefully the album next summer … depending on this COVID thing.”
How was it working at 6dB studios, Salford with Simon Archer? How did that come about, and work from a creative point of view, not least with James Aparicio’s involvement too.
“John Robb (Louder Than War founder, and The Membranes’ singer/bass player) told us about Ding’s place. It’s super laidback, a great price, and he’s a really nice bloke and knows his stuff, which is really important when making and recording music.
“James, on the other hand, was brought on board by Scrub … he just asked, and James, after hearing us, wanted to do it. We were lucky.”
And it’s all out via The Sound Mirror Recording Company label.
“The label was set up so we could release our own records, although we’re already thinking about putting out other bands’ stuff. We’re going to be a bit like Apple, but without the cash!”
How did Paul Simpson end up designing the sleeve?
“I saw some of his art online around six months ago and fell in love with it straight away. Just such a great vision. I’ve always loved art that makes you think.
“It took a while to track him down, but again he loved what we were up to and agreed to do the artwork. I had no idea at the time he was from The Wild Swans and The Teardrop Explodes. The guy is rock’n’roll royalty!”
Was the lockdown a productive time for you and your bandmates, writing songs and working on Ginnel’s own blueprint?
“Not really, but it gave us time to sort out the label and get the vinyl pressed. We work best when together though, and our rehearsal space is tiny, so we couldn’t use it … still can’t. We still write but Zoom is not the way forward, let me tell you.”
I reckon Fat Larry’s Band would disagree, but you’re probably right. How do those songs come about then?
“The way we write is a musical idea first, then the lyrics are added …. and as the lyric writer I never stop. I’ve always got a notebook on the go. If I hear or see something, down it goes … I’ve got notebooks and scraps of paper going back over 30 years.”
When the time comes and the COVID-19 coast is clear, will there be live outings for the band?
“We’ve cancelled so many shows up and down the country since lockdown and are now so ready for the green light again.”
Live music is so important to us all, this enforced break only serving to make us realise that’s not to be taken for granted, right?
“We all really miss it. Each one of us saw live bands weekly … we are so gutted. But things will change, hopefully.”
You all work for a living. Does this project give you the chance to liberate yourself, in a sense? Are there weekly practises, and hired space to express yourself as a band? And if so, where?
“We rehearse in Preston. A secret location! And each rehearsal is like a mini-Shea Stadium show, even on those where we don’t move much, we’re still showing off!”
And do you class yourself as a band, an arts project, or a musicians’ collective maybe?
“Ginnel are a band … pure rock’n’roll – a proper thorn in the side kind of outfit.”
Debut Ginnel single, ‘Blueprint’, is out on October 9, available for pre-orders through Action Records, Church Street, Preston, limited to just 200 numbered vinyl copies. For the latest about Ginnel and future releases, you can track the band down via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, contact them via firstname.lastname@example.org, and check out their BandCamp page.
And for more about Rob St John, including his 2014/15 writings on the ginnel and his own musical interpreation of such things – incorporating the voice of Cyril Black – head here.