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Interview: Reverend & The Makers

The usually chipper Jon McClure is struggling a bit today. You see, with a new album comes another string of house parties for him to perform at; and with the pre-orders streaming in from the Rev Army for latest album, Mirrors, he’s had his work cut out for him. It also turns out that last night’s do in Blackpool was an unsurprisingly lively affair. ‘Yeah, the neighbours came around to complain last night. They weren’t happy one bit. I just snuck off while they were having a big barney in the middle of the road,’ he chuckles, drawing on a cigarette while kicking back on a sofa at Reverend HQ, their band practice room situated above John Street.

So: it was 100 miles to Blackpool last night, then off to Altrincham following our interview to turn up at the doorstep of another excitable fan who’d screenshotted their album pre-order, winning a night they would remember for a long time as recompense. Because, whatever you think of Jon McClure, there’s one thing that cannot be disputed: he appreciates his fans. Every last one of ‘em. ‘Of course I fucking do,’ he responds to this fairly obvious comment. ‘It’s not as though you’ll go up to Rishton [a small town near Blackburn] and get smashed in the face, covered in blood, then carry on unless you really meant it. It’s so easy to build a strong relationship with your band’s fans – just be arsed to make the effort. It’s that simple.’

The music certainly helps with that, too. Their previous four albums have all charted in the UK top 20, and the band’s strong live presence is something that is now acknowledged even by their harshest critics. Though criticism hasn’t been any further from the agenda over the last couple of months as the music from Mirrors has slowly dripped out, with tracks such as ‘Black Widow’ causing Noel Gallagher to – and I quote – shit in his fez; or the infectiously catchy ‘Makin’ Babies’ showcasing the band at their most sing-alongable in yonks. Throw in a few more pre-release teases in the form of ‘Stuck On You’, the video for which shot on location in Jamaica and filmed by acclaimed director Roger Sargent, plus an insight into the mellower side of McClure’s writing with ‘The Beach And The Sea’ and people are starting get excited about this one. A lot of people, in fact.

A quick smoke and a hangover-curing cheesy panini later, Jon is fully revived, and the Reverend steps onto his pulpit to address the Sheffield flock once more.

So, Mirrors, how long has it been in the pipeline?
Ah, since around the time Laura [McClure] told me she was pregnant, so about eighteen months at least. It was literally just a case of coming down to the studio to record a track, then that lead into another, then another; and we just thought, ‘Shall we crack on with this?’

There was no initial plan to make an album?
Nah, but the songs just started to merge into each other. They just started flowing really well. And I don’t want to use the ‘c word’, but…

‘Concept album’ has been banded around quite a bit.
It has been banded around a bit. However, I’m pretty wary of using the term ‘concept album’ because I don’t want people thinking that I’ve turned into Rick Wakeman, wearing a cape and shit.

So the tracks all flow into each other, no stops?
It doesn’t stop once between the fourteen tracks. Thirty-five minutes of music, pal.

When you look back on your previous four albums, can you recall exactly where you were at for each one? Starting with The State Of Things
Yep, just me and my mates in Sheff, in Alan Smyth’s little box, making tunes about random shit, and generally seeing where things went.

French Kiss In The Chaos?
Me losing my marbles, taking too many drugs and talking about politics a bit too much. But, still, I love that record. Love it. Also that was the period when me and Laura started getting together, so it’s probably my favourite album – apart from Mirrors, of course.

That album was probably your most political to date. And you’ve always been a very political person. Though it seemed like you shifted away from that with your subsequent albums; but with British politics more intriguing and divisive than it has been for a while, do you not feel compelled to re-enter that arena with your music?
The thing is, if you bleat on about your politics with each record, you quickly get boring. I think the earlier tracks from French Kiss are still relevant today. There’s a track called ‘Manifesto/People Shapers’ which has the lyrics: ‘If you control all the news channels, then all your views travels faster than we can combat’. Now, what do you think’s going to happen – well, is already happening – to Jeremy Corbyn? He’s getting panned by the Murdoch Empire. There’s still plenty of relevance there. What I’ll also say is that I don’t want to be Billy Bragg – as much as I admire Billy – but does Billy Bragg ever get fed up of it and just want to go home and have a wank?

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Ok, back to the albums. Next up: @Reverend_Makers
That was me cheering up and stopping being such a miserable sod. I stopped taking daft drugs and was happy with my missus. I got back into raving a bit and started pushing the boundaries of the band’s sound. After the break, things had almost ground to halt, we almost ceased to exist, but we got Joe [Carnall] and Ryan [Jenkinson] in and the gigs started becoming like parties. People started really enjoying our live shows and we were having fun again.

And finally, Thirty Two?
Good, maybe a bit patchy in places – I kind of got stuck into repeating the previous album which I’d never done before. I guess there was an element of coming to terms with a couple things – like my age or the fact that it was ok that we weren’t bigger than Coldplay. In honesty, it’s probably my least favourite, so we’ve moved on to doing something a bit different with this one.

There’s a buzz surrounding Mirrors that doesn’t feel like the usual manufactured pre-launch hype; some of the pre-release tunes have been getting new people interested – many of which who wouldn’t typically buy a Reverend record.
Yeah, I’ve just let the music do most of the talking with this one – that’s all it’s needed. See, what normally happens with our albums is me and Ed write a load of tunes, then go and record it somewhere, then I’ll go around telling everyone how it’s the best thing since Revolver – and most people will think I’m talking shit. But there’s been no hyperbole from me with this one.

Let’s go through some of the tracks. ‘Black Widow’ is the riffiest I’ve heard you guys for a long time, with an intro that’s almost Sympathy for the Devil-esque. After toying with the electronic side of things on previous records, is it nice to go back to some old school rock sounds? 
It’s just a badass riff from Ed – a big, fat, dirty Eddie Cosens riff. In terms of electronic styles, I think someone in their mid-30s going on about raving and making ravey music can get a bit boring. I wanted to make something a bit more real, a bit more authentic. Like, some musicians don’t make their best stuff until they’re older; it’s a myth that you’ll write your best stuff in your early days. The other thing is: this album’s not so much about my ego – Ed sings four songs, Joe sings two and Laura sings one. It gives the record plenty of light and shade.

Speaking of light and shade, contradicting the rough and readiness of ‘Black Widow’ you have the light-hearted ‘Makin’ Babies’, one of the catchiest tunes on the album.
Yeah, it’s a proper singalong track. It’s probably the most literal song I’ve ever written – simply me just me saying to our lass, ‘Everyone else is having kids. Are we gonna have one or what?’ She actually told me she was pregnant on the day we started recording the demo for the song – mad, innit?

So what’s on the Rev’s baby-making playlist?
Oh, there’s gotta be a bit of Barry White on it. My dad told me when he was battered once that I was conceived to Barry White, in the end terrace on Walkey Street. That said, I don’t really have a baby-making playlist; I imagine it’d be reyt awkward if halfway through I went, ‘Eh, love, have you heard the drum-fill on this?’

How would you recommend people should listen to this album? What sort of setting would suit?
Whatever suits them. I’d say: Have a drink, have a lie-down, close your eyes, whack it on reight loud and just listen to it. Simple as that.

So how involved are you with the Sheffield music scene nowadays?
To be honest, it’s not like I’m going to gigs every week but I’ll always show love to Sheff bands and offer help and advice if they ask for it. People have got to work together if they want a thriving music scene. I mean just look at the last few times Sheffield has been good: the ‘80s with Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, ABC was all mates working together; then the noughties with ourselves, Monkeys, Milburn, Bromheads, Harrisons, Little Man Tate, etc. – again people supported each other. Same even goes for the ‘90s with Pulp and The Longpigs.

After four albums and over a decade of making music, do you still get a sense of nerves before an album drops?
Fuck yeah. That stuff never leaves you. But of course you worry – this is my baby, we’ve put so much into it. I’m not going to lie, I still live in permanent fear that I’m going to have to get a proper job one day. Like, this one is going well at moment so I’m thinking, ‘Ooh, that’s given me another two years before I have to go back to working at Norwich Union.’ But luckily we’re pretty good at what we do, and we pick up a few more followers with each album. Put it this way: if you said to me at 17, a little Jon McClure who was on one, that’d I’d have four top 20 albums, worked with and met the people I have and be able to make a living out of being creative and sharing music, I would have snapped your fucking hand off, mate. I love it.

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Mirrors is released on October 9 OUT NOW and is available to pre-order DOWNLOAD from iTunes, PledgeMusic, Amazon and HMV. Reverend and the Makers play Sheffield’s 02 Academy on November 14.  

 Words: Joseph Food @JosephFood




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