Joe Carnall on Milburn return
There aren’t many bands who didn’t sell too many records when they were together, but seem to have grown since they split up. It’s strange. We’ve seen 16-year-olds on shoulders at gigs and thought to ourselves, ‘you were 8 when we were last playing!’
Anybody who attended one of Milburn’s reunion gigs at Sheffield’s O2 Academy back in April would agree that they were, to put it mildly, pretty special dos. That said, not many would have guessed that a string of hometown shows would inspire one of the city’s best-loved guitar bands to record new material for the first time in almost a decade.
“I wrote the A-side to the new single, ‘Midnight Control’, about a week following those gigs,” Carnall tells Exposed while settling down on a drizzly afternoon in a Kelham Island café. “I guess it’s just about trying to get to grips with things afterwards. When you play gigs like that for four nights in a row, selling over 10,000 tickets, then go back to work on a Tuesday, it just totally scrambles your brain.”
The scrabble for tickets when the dates were announced, even when taking into account the fanatic support the band enjoys in their hometown, still managed to exceed expectation; so much so that the original plan of playing two nights quickly turned into four and still didn’t quite satiate demand. But there was a hint that something might be in the works when the foursome took to the stage for the encore at Carnall’s most recent Xmas gig. The annual shows have enjoyed huge success from humble beginnings at the Greystones five years ago, and suffice to say a few Christmasses were made as seminal track ‘What You Could Have Won’ was played by the original lineup for the the first time in almost a decade.
“To be honest, I didn’t know if everybody would be up for doing the encore – it was only the day before that we decided to do it. But we all went for it and the crowd went absolutely crackers. We’d been talking about possibly doing some shows before and that cemented it.”
And not only did that impromptu performance spark more hometown shows, but it would eventually lead to the band announcing eleven more gigs at various venues across the UK, many of which they last played together as teenagers. Band reunions by their nature are a risky business, but any notions that appeal outside of their Yorkshire heartlands may have dissipated were soon smashed when the London, Manchester, Glasgow and Stoke dates swiftly sold out and settled some initial nerves. In fact, he admits to still getting “freaked out” by the support they receive outside of Sheffield, and the two recent festival gigs – Y Not and Kendal Calling – were particularly promising indicators of widespread support for the reunion.
“Of course, we all live in Sheffield so kind of expect a decent reaction here. We had a feeling that Y Not would go well because it isn’t too far up the road, and it did turn out to be a crazy gig. But the next day we drove for three hours up to Kendal, which is a fair trek, and we had the same amount of people and it went just as well,” he says. “But the thing with playing festivals and new gigs is people want to hear new music…”
And new music, it seems, is just what people are going to get. Following a not-so-cryptic social media post showing Carnall stood outside Liverpool’s Parr Street Studios with Bill Ryder-Jones, buzz has started to generate amongst fans who for almost a decade now have only had two albums – Well Well Well (2006) and These Are The Facts (2007) – plus a handful of singles to revert to whenever they get the Milburn itch. Admitting that he wanted to give the fans “another taste of Milburn” he reveals that the band have recorded two tracks, ‘Midnight Control’ and ‘Forming of a Fate’, with The Coral guitarist as producer. “The first two Coral records were a massive deal for us. I love those albums and he’s my brother’s favourite guitarist. Tom [Rowley] also met him through working with the Monkeys, so there was a mutual acquaintance and it came together quite naturally. He became something of a fifth member and the three days we spent in the studio were great – it literally felt like a stag do.”
Scheduled for digital release this month, with a limited edition 7” also to come, he describes A-Side ‘Midnight Control’ as a “relaxed but confident track which melodically has a Strokes-style influence to it. It’s not too overproduced and Bill commented that there was an unintentional motowny sort of feel to it. That’s all I can think of really.” Carnall quickly admits a pet hate of categorising his music in interviews. “Perhaps I should do it more though, as it will give me a quick retort when interviewers inevitable bring up the Arctic Monkeys comparison,” he then jokes. Rubbing out my follow-up question about Alex Turner’s influence on the new material (that was a joke, ladies and gents), we move onto ‘Forming of a Fate’, which is likely to be more recognisable to fans of the band’s previous work. Written a few years ago with former Dead Sons frontman Tom Rowley, it promises something to appease the diehard Well Well Wellians out there. “It was a bit of a banker, that song, as we knew it would sound great in the studio and Milburn fans will absolutely love it because it’s a real stomper: big riffs, big chorus and great to play live.”
When questioned whether this current resurgence might lead to something bigger such as a third album, the answer is open-minded but ultimately non-committal. The ideas, he reiterates, are plentiful and the songs are always floating about, but it’s more of a case of ‘let’s wait and see’ as opposed to a mad rush into the studio. “I suppose, and I know this sounds pretentious, but it’s about how we feel. We’ll do the tour, release the single and reassess things. Naturally, if someone came along and offered us x amount to make a record, we’d probably just look at each other and think, ‘ah, go on then!’ But whatever happens, it will be a laugh and you back yourself to know that some good music will come from it. That’s the main thing.”
‘Midnight Control’ and ‘Forming of a Fate’ will be digitally released on September 16th. Head to www.facebook.com/MilburnMusic for more info.