This time last year, Swansea Sound were reflecting on a happening few months, this indie-pop supergroup of sorts, founded remotely mid-lockdown, not even having met in person until their late August 2021 debut at Lancashire’s Preston Pop Fest, yet soon proving as fast-paced as some of their punk-influenced numbers.
They saw out that year with acclaimed if not over-honestly titled debut LP, Live at the Rum Puncheon, with more dates lined up before spring, those buying the album also receiving a vinyl and digital-release alternative Christmas single, the limited edition 7” version selling out very quickly.
And now they’re not far off a follow-up long player, while the tracks on the festive single – ‘Happy Christmas to Me’ and ‘Merry Christmas Darlings’ – are newly out in CD format, a three-track EP led by a fresh composition called ‘Music Lover’. What’s more, those buying via Bandcamp have the option of the included Christmas card being signed by the band, or left blank so they can write their own festive messages to loved ones.
The band has (rather complicated, if I’m honest) links to indie darlings The Pooh Sticks, Tallulah Gosh and Heavenly, with vocalists Hue Williams and Amelia Fletcher joined by guitarist/bass player Rob Pursey and drummer Ian Button, the latter three also key these days to The Catenary Wires, another band I first caught (at that point featuring just husband and wife Rob and Amelia) treading the boards at the same venue that hosted Preston Pop Fest, supporting The Wedding Present at The Continental in the summer of 2017, Amelia well known to fans of the latter for her winning contributions to a fair few of their seminal late ‘80s tracks.
For Swansea Sound’s first live shows, they were joined by Kent-based guitarist Robert Rotifer, seeing as Rob played guitar and bass on the first recordings, and even he can’t manage both on stage. And it’s Bob Collins adding guitar on ‘Music Lover’, this anti-corporate outfit’s ‘punkpop tribute to Daniel Ek’, releasing the song ‘as a festive gesture’ on Ek’s Spotify digital music platform among other streaming services, ’so he receives most of the financial benefit.’
For those that missed it first time around, ‘Happy Christmas to Me’, described elsewhere as ‘the Christmas song the Buzzcocks would have written’, sees the band’s yuletide feelings to Ek also dedicated to Twitter boss Elon Musk, Facebook/Meta co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Amazon chief Jeff Bezos. Meanwhile, ‘Merry Christmas Darlings’ is their glam-rock cover of a song by Cheap Trick, its closing party sequence seeing ‘the four billionaires reunited, jovially exchanging corporate mission statements with each other.’ Have you spotted a theme yet, readers?
So how did Rob, speaking to me from his Kent base, think 2022 went for the band. What were his highlights?
“It’s mainly consisted of writing and recording songs for our second album, which will come out next year. We did finally play Swansea though! And Newport and Cardiff.”
Yes, I should point out at this point to the uninitiated that Hue has links to that part of South Wales – the Vale of Glam, as he likes to put it – and they took their name from Swansea’s lost radio station after it was re-branded by new corporate owners, even using its abandoned logo, what they see as part of their ‘wider protest about the culturally stultifying effect of corporatisation’.
As for ‘Music Lover’, well, that’s another breath of fresh air, in typical Buzzcocksy-Wiresque style … with the kind of anti-corporate sentiments we expect from Swansea Sound. Go on then, the floor is yours, Rob. Have you got a problem with Spotify?
“Yes, we have a problem with Spotify. Not with the technology – there’s nothing wrong with digital music. The problem is with its ownership and control. It’s not just Spotify who have perfected a ‘trickle down’ corporate model on the back of digital technology.
“If you’re a cab driver you may have a similar feeling about Uber. If you’re a retail worker you’ll maybe feel the same about Amazon. If the CWU don’t get their way the same thing could happen to Royal Mail. It would be naff to make songs about that – we aren’t cab drivers and we aren’t postal workers – but Spotify is something we can talk about, because it affects us directly. Not all our new songs are going to be on that theme – I realise it can get a bit dull banging on about the same thing too often. But it needs to be said.
“Another group recently claimed it was only ‘old bands’ like us who complain about Spotify. And that ‘the kids’ like using it, which somehow means it’s all fine. It’s worth noting that the group in question are even older than us. But I don’t buy that, it’s a geriatric argument. It’s like saying ‘stop moaning about the water companies, a bit of sewage never did us any harm.’”
And yet you’re releasing the single on that self-same platform. Isn’t that like flicking vees to Elon Musk on Twitter and Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook? Or buying a toaster from Amazon and leaving a rude note for Jeff Bezos?
“Yes, this time I thought it would be good to have a song that’s directly about Spotify on Spotify. We obviously didn’t make the decision for the money. You’re right, all gestures are compromised these days – the single is advertised on Facebook, and on Twitter. That’s the problem with digital oligarchy. You can’t operate outside it.”
Like all good Christmas singles, this has been (at least two-thirds of it) out before. How many of those original 7”s are out there now? And will Record Collector coo about the price of them in years to come?
“The two Christmas songs came out a year ago on a Snowflakes 7” single. They sold out quite quickly. So it seemed fair enough to put the songs out again. Also, I’ve this theory that if you release a Christmas song often enough it become a ‘classic’. So maybe we’ll put ‘Happy Christmas to Me’ out again next year, and the year after that, until people accept it’s as essential as ‘White Christmas’.”
No arguing with that twisted logic, and we dearly need more of this agit-punk stuff. What have Swansea Sound heard around them in 2022 which appeals, music-wise? Are there enough bands out there carrying the Spirit of ’76 and all that?
“The most recent thing I bought was a CD by punk band C.O.G. It’s pretty good, like Killing Joke … not the daft, Gothic, later version … and they have this great idea – the CD itself is free, but you pay for it by doing a random act of kindness. I like that, it’s anarchistic and humane at the same time.”
What have those cross-border cousins of yours, The Catenary Wires, been up to in 2022? Can we expect a new record from them – after the excellent Birling Gap – as well next year?
It’s been a bit quiet on that front. There are some more tunes, but the deal with The Catenary Wires is that me and Amelia are supposed to write the songs together, and we’ve not had much time to do that. Also, it’s a lot more challenging to record Catenary Wires songs because we rely on other musicians – for example, Fay Hallam on keyboards – who are more talented than us, so it’s logistically harder. With Swansea Sound, it’s easy, I write all the songs, we record them at home, and it doesn’t require so much, er… finesse.”
There seems to have been a bit of burrowing into your indie pop past too, celebrating your Heavenly days. Tell me more.
“That’s probably the other reason The Catenary Wires have been quiet. It takes ages to restore the artwork for the albums, all of which we are re-releasing, and Amelia has been doing most of that. We’ve also decided to play a couple of Heavenly shows next year, and we’ve started rehearsing for those. It’s not too onerous for me, the basslines aren’t hard to work out, but Amelia’s got loads of lyrics to remember. And she has to work out how to play guitar again, not having done it for two decades.”
Apart from turning the amps up and letting rip with Swansea Sound, what else grips your attention in a festive way, music-wise? You seem to carry the spirit of The Greedies on these tracks. What Christmas records do you need to put the needle on to get in the festive spirit?
“If I’m honest, I really like old-fashioned Christmas carols best. Old tunes. My favourite modern Christmas recording is ‘Silent Night’ by The Only Ones.”
What was the first Christmas single that grabbed your attention, when was that, and where were you at the time?
“I’m pretty sure it would have been seeing Slade on Top of the Pops when I was a little kid. That is a great song, and I think that for a lot of people of our generation it’s now old enough – and has been repeated often enough – to have achieved ‘carol’ status. It’s a perfectly designed vehicle for nostalgia.”
What was the first Christmas you recall as working band members? When and where were your first festive dates, and was there a raucous after-party? It’s time the tales were told.
“I am sure The Five Year Plan would have done some kind of Christmas gig in Bristol when I was really young, but I guess my most vivid memory is of the Sarah Records Christmas Party, where Heavenly played. Hair-grips were tossed to one side, spectacles were dropped and trodden on, cardigans and anoraks were ripped. It was wild.”
I bet. And what should we do with Elon, Jeff and co. this Christmas? Is there a rocket with their name on it? And where should we set the coordinates for?
“I think they’d actually really like to be on a rocket together. So I’d put them in the Antarctic with bicycles and invite them to cycle back to freedom. If they survived, they would only be allowed to resume their lonely greedy lives if they agreed to sign forms that guaranteed paying income tax at 98%. They’d still be way richer than all of us. Actually, make it 99%.”
What’s the ratio so far with regard to requests from buyers of the CD EP package with a Swansea Sound Christmas card thrown in? Has anyone specifically requested you don’t sign it, so they can send them to friends and relatives instead?
“Yes, we’ve had a few like that, but most people seem to want the signed version. Bad news for us.”
Are there still copies of Live at the Rum Puncheon at the back of the Swansea Sound HQ garage?
“Yes, there are. Please buy them! We realise now that the album title may have been an error. A lot of people think, quite reasonably, that it’s a live LP. Actually, it was recorded to a very high standard on our laptop and Hue’s iPhone.”
Will there be a Swansea Sound Christmas party this year? Any live dates, or is it just about bawdy dinner parties?
“We’re all meeting next Friday for a Christmas party and signing ceremony. I will make a festive meal. And then we will do what we have promised, sign the Christmas cards, get them in the post.”
And once the tinsel has been put away, will work commence on finishing that new Swansea Sound record? And will there be an inevitable tour to go with it?
“We really hope to get the new songs mixed over the Christmas period. There’s more than enough for an album. A tour, I don’t know about that, but we’ve just agreed to play Birmingham and Sheffield next March. That’s nearly a tour, isn’t it? And we will definitely be playing in Wales again.”