Misplaced Words with the girl who plays the tambourine* – talking Jetstream Pony with Beth Arzy

In late August, one of the highlights of Preston Pop Fest at The Continental in Preston, Lancashire, was a Sunday evening set from Jetstream Pony, an indie pop post-punk four-piece perfectly fusing US West Coast ‘60s sensibilities with homegrown UK South Coast flavour.

Somehow, it was the first time I’d seen the band’s co-founder, Shaun Charman – these days writing songs and supplying guitar and backing vocals – play since he was drumming for The Wedding Present, leaving David Gedge’s indie legends after a three-year stint in 1988, returning to his native Sussex.

In fact, the timing of his departure from a band at that stage proudly carrying its ‘Middleton Bramley Gateshead Hassocks’ logo (the latter marking his neck of the woods) on its Reception Records label, reminds me that my previous sighting of Shaun was on the night the Great Storm hit the South-East in mid-October ’87, this not-quite-20 fan heading back to Guildford after a night watching an in-form Wedding Present and The Brilliant Corners at the University of London’s Union venue.  

Much of that period in between for Shaun involved service with Brighton’s The Pop Guns, and on this occasion Jetstream Pony’s drummer was Tony Bryant, ‘on loan’ from that same band as German sticks-man Hannes Müller was unable to travel due to ongoing Brexit and Covid complications.

Meanwhile, the cosmopolitan vibe was aided by NYC-born, Brighton-based bass player Kerry Boettcher, who previously featured with Shaun in Turbocat (who recorded for John Peel in November 1998) and South London-based Californian lead singer/occasional tambourine shaker Beth Arzy, my interviewee on this occasion, also known for Trembling Blue Stars and The Luxembourg Signal.

By day, Beth is an executive assistant at BMG Records in London, where her pre-Christmas schedule has apparently involved ‘all kinds of craziness’ with deadlines and so forth. Didn’t stop me muscling in to set up an interview during her lunch break, mind.

I was hoping to chat to Beth anyway, but pulled it forward after another interviewee’s Christmas dates were pulled at the last minute due to a positive Covid-19 case in her band. And while we set aside 15 minutes, I managed to keep her on the line a while longer, dear readers, her boss frantically messaging by the end, apparently.

It made perfect sense anyway, Jetstream Pony having just put out a new mini-LP, Misplaced Words, for our delectation, something I was keen to hear – and was subsequently impressed by – after their charming set at the Conti 15 weeks earlier.

“That was fun. It was also the first time I ever got to see The Jazz Butcher … and the last time, so I’m always going to remember that.”

Indeed. A sad moment, the cherished singer-songwriter, Pat Fish, having passed away aged 64 in early October, his Continental and Ferret dates that weekend proving to be his last.

“But it was really nice, even though most of the people I know got Covid that weekend! I managed not to though, walking around with a mask on.”

But what came first for Beth? Was it Jetstream Pony – who describe themselves as ‘schrammelig post-punk and indie-pop’, that perfect German word translated as ‘raw, rough, unrefined’ – or her other on-going outfit, The Luxembourg Signal? The opening word of this following exchange suggests a complicated explanation is forthcoming, and that turns out to be the case.

“Right … so I was in Trembling Blue Stars, with Bobby Wratten from The Field Mice, for a very long time … 10 years … then Bobby decided he didn’t want to play live anymore and was kind of winding down the band, but we turned it into a project called Lightning in the Twilight Hour. The same players, basically – Michael Hiscock and … that’s really weird, a message from Anne Mari {Davies} just popped up on my screen as I was gonna say her name too. But that freed me to go do something else.

“I was, you know, humming and harring about what to do, then somebody in a really great band called The Fireworks, who I really liked and was a fan of and got to see a couple of times, said, ‘We’ll let you in on a little secret. Our lead singer, Emma, is leaving, would you like to do it?’. That’s never a good idea, it’s never going to be as good as the original person. But I have ‘fomo’ {fear of missing out} so had to say yes. I didn’t want someone else to do it! Like a dog with a bone when somebody else comes near, and they’re like, ‘No!’.

“I did it, but it didn’t work because she was such a great part of the band. But it was fun for a little while. The songs are great. Matthew, the main songwriter, just wrote the best pop songs! It suited me to a tee, kind of C86, Glasgow-like fuzzy type. And Shaun was the drummer for The Fireworks, so that’s how that happened – he wrote a couple of the songs, and I really liked them.”

Does that mean The Fireworks mutated into Jetstream Pony?

“No, because Matthew is The Fireworks, you know, like if it’s Mark E. Smith and your granny on bongos, it was still The Fall, that’s how it is with Matthew and The Fireworks. That’s his baby. They were his songs, except for, you know, a couple here and there that’d be knocking around and I’d like, and that would be Shaun. He said, ‘If you like that, do you want to hear some more of my demos?’. I was like, ‘Shit, yeah, dude!’

“I listened to a tape and he said, ‘Fancy having a go, singing?’, I said yeah, and it just clicked from the first demo. Then he roped in Kerry {Boettcher}, who was in a band called Turbocat {with Shaun}. They even got to do a Peel session. And it just kind of came together.”

It certainly did. You’ve got a kind of C86 indie / Shop Assistants meets West Coast US sound …

“Where Malibu meets The Wedding Present!”

That’s a neat way of putting it. And what’s not to love about that? But how did this California girl wash up on these shores? Music? Travel? A career? All of those?

“No, I had a long-distance relationship for many years, and he didn’t want to come to the US, so I ended up moving over here. It didn’t work out, unfortunately, but …”

Well, it kind of did, because you’re here working and making music.

“Well, I’ve been here 22 years, so have to go way in the past to remember!”

I’m guessing you were a bit of an Anglophile, music-wise.

“Absolutely!”

And it seems that there’s a strong European link with Jetstream Pony, with Hannes from Augsburg, Bavaria, on drums, and the band signed to German label Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten (KUS), as well as Shelflife in the US and Spinout Nuggets in the UK.

“Yes, but I thought you were gonna talk about The Luxembourg Signal there, which is my band in LA as well. But that’s just like friends and family. I was in a band called Aberdeen with two of the guys in The Luxembourg Signal, then two people in a band called Super 31, and we’re just one big band of merry idiots! So I’ve kind of split my heart between Jetstream Pony and The Luxembourg Signal.

“As far as Hannes goes, I poached him from one of my favourite German bands, our labelmates on Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten, The BV’s, and I fell in love with that band. It’s funny, because Ronnie from KUS said, ‘I think you’ll really like this band on my label’. People say that, and you go, ‘Yeah, okay,’ but I listened to them, and it’s like every ingredient of every band I ever loved! I can’t remember how we poached Hannes, but yeah, we grab him whenever we can. He’s just perfect.”

What I also enjoyed about Jetstream Pony live was the between-songs easy humour and banter, not least the ribbing of each other. However, in Croydon-based Beth’s mind, Shaun’s allegiance to his beloved Brighton and Hove Albion FC has had consequences, not least regarding Beth turning up in one of their promo videos at Mayfield Stadium, Thornton Heath, the home of her adopted club, Combined Counties League Premier Division South outfit AFC Croydon Athletic.

“They’ve said, ‘Oh, you guys should come and play in the clubhouse. But I’m like, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea, because Shaun is a Brighton season ticketholder and lifer, and my club’s basically comprised of Crystal Palace fans … Palace fans and Brighton fans, it’s not good – it gets kind of ugly!”

As for Hannes, he has a full-time job back in Germany, hence Beth’s insistence that ‘we’re very lucky to be able to use Tony {Bryant} from The Pop Guns,’ as was the case in Preston.

“It’s like a No.60 bus – you either have no drummers and you’re completely in the shit, or you have too many great drummers, and Tony fits in amazingly – he’s such a great drummer.”

Incidentally, Tony Bryant is also credited for recording and mixing the new mini-LP, at Sunny Studio in Hove. Is Shaun trying to avoid the drums these days?

“Well, he’s our main songwriter and plays guitar, and it’s kind of about the guitar sound for Jetstream Pony.”

Fair enough. He did a mighty apprenticeship behind the kit, after all.

“He still plays on some of the recordings and the demos though. He’s still got the drums set up in his room.”

As for your UK record label, Spinout Nuggets, that’s ostensibly Lee Grimshaw, isn’t it?

“It is. He does everything, is such a great supporter and he’s been so helpful. You know, he’s gotten us gigs and done amazing promotion. He’s like an A&R person, a marketing person, the owner … he does everything!”

He must do a hell of a lot of driving from his North Cornish base too.

“Yeah, he’s been our tour manager, our driver, a jack of all trades. His main hat is a headcoat, but he’s got lots of other hats he wears as well.”

I was confused by that, but gather that’s another name for the deerstalker, Kentish outfit Thee Headcoats apparently part of the reason for that alternative name. Someone will let me know, I reckon.

When we spoke, there was just one more live show for the band this year, at the Hope and Ruin in Brighton, supporting Big Boss Man on Friday, December 17th at the Spinout Nuggets/Suit Yourself Christmas party. But in light of this week’s Dexys Midnight Runners tribute Plan B from our clown car Government (that’s me taking issue with the Conservative Cheese and Wine Christmas Party rather than the somewhat inevitable restrictions, I should add), that’s now been put back a year to Saturday, December 17th 2022. Anyway, we spoke a little about the main act.

“Have you heard Big Boss Man before? You need to check them out. They’re so … they’re more on the Mod side of things, so Shaun’s kind of scared. Normally, when we play with The Pop Guns, you know what you’re gonna get, and that crowd’s a dead cert. And when we opened for The Primitives, I didn’t have to worry, ‘Are they going to hate us?’, because it’s kind of like playing to the converted. But we’re going out of our depths a little with Big Boss Man.

“That caters for my more Mod, more psychy, groovy Hammond side. I’ve seen them a few times, at Brighton weekenders and stuff the Mods go to and wear their 50-something-year-old bodies out at! They’re just amazing, proper musicians just absolutely giving it their all. They’re so much fun. If anybody goes to see them, and doesn’t end up loving them, there’s something wrong.”

Are there plenty more dates in the diary? Is there a mini-tour lined up to go with the mini-LP?

“No, we still have to catch up with everything that’s been rescheduled because of Covid. We’re in Portugal in March, then if all goes to plan we’re in Lewes on March 12 with The Monochrome Set, who we’ve played with a couple of times before. Hannes is coming over for that, and later in March we’re in Madrid. Then in April, we’re doing a couple of gigs – one in Bristol and one in London at The Lexington.”

I’ve only made it there once, to see The Everlasting Yeah – four-fifths of That Petrol Emotion in early 2016. A good venue as I recall.

“Was that with Steve Mack?”

No, he’s the one-fifth not involved, these days firmly across the water and beyond, back home in Seattle.

“Ah, yeah, he’s like a techie/computer guy now.”

There is his band, Stag, though. I like what I’ve heard from them.

“Ah, I love Steve, and saw him with the Petrols a few times back in LA, which was great.”

And because we mentioned Shaun’s Wedding Present past, you’ve played David Gedge’s annual At the Edge of the Sea Festival in Brighton, haven’t you?

“We have. It was a really nice crowd and the other bands we played with were great. We played in the smaller room, essentially the bar, and I was three sheets to the wind. When it came to do a Softies cover, which we’d played loads of times before and I knew the song, I’d had so much gin and tonic that it sounded in my head like I didn’t know the song!

“It just didn’t click, and we started it about three or four times. My friend was in front of me, mouthing the words to the song, and I was so drunk I was laughing, like, ‘I don’t know what y’all are playing – I’ve never heard this song before!’. And David Gedge was standing in front of me, going like, ‘What are you doing?’. I was so out of it.

“Then we did some dates with them the Christmas before lockdown, essentially went on tour with them, and David was like, ‘Right, now you’re not gonna drink as much as you did last time, are you?’, and I was like, ‘No, David, I promise. I’ll be so professional’. It was actually Lee {Grimshaw} who made sure I was dead sober on stage.”

I learned in recent months we have a shared love of The Monkees. How did you get involved in that Spinout Nuggets split-single you did in late summer (joining Mary Wyer and Julian Knowles of the band Even As We Speak under the name Tapioca Tundra – that name borrowed from a classic Mike Nesmith track, with your scribe adding a sad postscript to that a few days later after news of Nez’s farewell – for a cover of ‘Sometime In The Morning’)?

“Oh God, I love The Monkees, they were my first favourite band ever.”

Was that like a comfort thing, reconnecting you with home and your childhood?

“Yeah, it’s my comfort blanket. It’s everything. My cousins were like my sisters, they gave me their hand-me-down records when I was little. So I thought they were children’s records. I had my little Dansette, and when I was like three years old, I started listening to The Monkees. It was probably the first lyrics other than ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ type stuff that I knew.

“We were meant to play with Even as we Speak at The Lexington during lockdown, and it got cancelled. So I was talking to Mary {Wyer} and it just came up one day, because we were going to do that cover. She was also a big fan, and we were talking about our favourite Monkees song. We’re like, ‘Oh, that’s mine, too!’ and ‘Who’s your favourite?’. We really bonded over many things, one of them a love of The Monkees.

“She said, ‘It sucks that we can’t do the gig, but we can still do the song’. I was like, ‘I can’t do anything, I can’t play anything, what can we do?’. So we roped in Julian {Knowles} from Even as we Speak, and he created this amazing, beautiful composition of everything that needed to be there. Then Mary and I dropped in our bits and Tony from The Pop Guns made a video for us.

“Then Lee from Spinout Nuggets … I was hinting one day, ‘Holy fuck, this song – it’s really nice, d’you want to hear it?’ and he was like, ‘Oh, I’d love to release that!’. And it just so happens that Sounds Incarcerated, who are Alan {Crockford} – from The Prisoners – together with Viv {Bonsels}, both from The Galileo 7, had been doing lockdown songs as well, and did a version of ‘The Porpoise Song’. So I said, ‘I’ve an idea for the other side! It’s not really like an A and B-side, it’s a joint effort. So that happened, then Micky Dolenz retweeted it on Twitter!”.

Incidentally, follow this link to grab yourself a copy. Highly recommended. Where were you when you first heard The Monkees? Where did that childhood unfold?

“Well, this is going back to what you said about the West Coast. I kind of bounced between LA and Florida. My family were like vagabonds, just kept going back and forth. My grandmother moved to Florida, then the rest of the family moved there. Then my aunt would move back to California, and everyone moved back. So I was kind of bounced between Fort Myers, Florida and LA, and sometimes Palm Springs, which is only two hours away from LA.”

Meanwhile, it seems that bandmate Kerry had the East of the States covered?

“Yeah, she’s East and I’m West!”

Americans lost in Europe?

“Exactly. She’s married to a very lovely Englishman called Peter. And Shaun just said, ‘Oh, I’ve an idea for bassist, and you guys are a lot alike. I think you’ll like her’. And when you look at her, it kind of looks like a diet ad – before and after! I’m the before, and we have similar hair and a fringe. People come up to me and go, ‘Kerry!’ or up to her and go, ‘Beth!’.

“But when you know us, we’re so different. Like, she’s just evil – she’s impish and cheeky, and does really horrible things! She’ll say anything, and just does not give a shit! She’s got no filter, whereas I’m a bit more reserved, y’know? It’s a funny dynamic, because like, sometimes I’ll say, like, ‘Oh, that curry didn’t agree with me. I had the shits all night,’ and we’ll get on stage and Kerry will go like, ‘Hi, everybody, Beth had the shits all night!’ Basically, you don’t tell her secrets. You don’t tell her anything!”

You’re painting an all too vivid picture of a cartoon band here. Perhaps we should get Hanna-Barbera on board, make that happen.

“We’re totally a cartoon band! Yeah, we’re like the Banana Splits, basically.”

And what are you doing for Christmas? Anything big?

“No!”

Just getting through it?

“Exactly. Just going to catch up on records I’ve bought recently and books that are stacking up by the bed that I haven’t read. Taking walks and playing with the cats.”

Jetstream Pony’s new six-track mini-LP, Misplaced Words, with its artwork as per the previous full-length LP by Carol Seatory @atelierbricolageis, is available on pale blue 12″ vinyl or CD via the Spinout shop, Bandcamp, all good record shops, and via digital streaming platforms.

  • With a nod to WriteWyattUK favourites The Chesterfields‘ ‘Ask Johnny Dee’ for this feature/interview’s title, of course.

About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.