Jon McClure on Tramlines: “It’s just everybody in a field, together, being as one.”
Something of a recurring annual highlight during Tramlines weekend will see Sheff favourites Reverend and the Makers take to the stage, a real hometown affair that never fails to raise pulses in front of an audience who by and large have been familiar with their output since debut album The State of Things in 2007.
Fundamentally, frontman Jon McClure remains the straight-talking, larger-than-life Yorkshireman that first arrived on the scene with tales of broken Britain, ill-fated shags and nosey milkmen. But, as he told Mollie Bland last month, whether it’s stepping away from Twitter timelines or appreciating the opportunity to step out in front of local crowd of fans, there have been many lessons learnt along the way…
You go back right to the beginning with Tramlines, playing the first festival back in 2009 and practically every year since. Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with it?
Yeah, we headlined the first one, and it’s a friend of mine that helped start the festival, James O’Hara, who was in my class at school. We’re very proud of him because he helped to create something really good and really wonderful for the city. I’m old enough to remember when we didn’t have Tramlines in the summer, and it was a bit boring, you’d just get two weeks away with your mum and dad if you were lucky. There was nothing like this, so it’s been a very welcome addition to the city. I feel very honoured that we’re still around and part of the festival. I mean, that last year was unbelievable. We had about 30,000 people watching us and I’m told that it’s going to be even more this year. It’s just getting bigger and bigger and we’re excited about it.
How do you think the move to Hillsborough Park changed the festival?
I think it’s changed for the better really, not least because you’ve got everything on one site. Unlike before when it was such-and-such on Dev Green or such-and-such on Ponderosa or whatever at Leadmill; it was just a nightmare to get around everything. You can do that with real ease now. It’s just a lot more functional isn’t it? And obviously I’m from that end of town.
On that note, as a big Sheffield Wednesday fan, it must be nice having the festival over in Hillsborough…
Well it’s less about the football really. If you look at who’s come from Sheffield and who’s gone on to have success in music and stuff, a lot of them are from that end of town – more north Sheffield. It’s weird. I think that’s where a lot of the real soul of Sheffield is, people sound like they’re from Sheffield around there. Anyway, listen: it’s not about that, it’s about having a space that’s able to accommodate all those people, and able to entertain the entire city. It’s less about being Wednesday or United, from this side of town or that side, and more about it just being a great communal space in Hillsborough where everyone can be together and enjoy themselves. We should focus less on the divisions, shouldn’t we? And more on the fact that Sheffield comes together once a year and has a big fat party. I don’t care if you’re white or black, pink or green, it doesn’t matter, man. It’s just everybody in a field together being as one. There’s something quite beautiful about that.
You’re on the main stage again this year. What does this mean to you?
We’re the Sheffield band with the highest billing at the festival, so it’s a big moment for us and our fans. It’d good that the festival represents the music of the city as well; I think it’s important that it has that connection. I take that responsibility very seriously, to really embody that connection with the people and the city. Maybe responsibility is the wrong word, because it’s obviously a massive honour and a privilege to be playing.
And the other thing is, my kids are coming. My little lad is only four. He was there last year dancing away with his little headphones on. He’s got this tent, right, and a plastic keyboard and drum set in our house. He sets it up with his little microphone, when you ask him what he’s doing he says “I’m building a Tramlines, daddy!” It’s special and it means a lot, it really does.
You have just released a Reverend and the Makers Best Of album…
Well, we were going to call is ‘Greatest Hits’, but given the fact that we’ve only had one hit it would be really silly to call it that. However, we’re that kind of band aren’t we? To the average dude we’ve only had one hit but to our fans it’s different. Without being big-headed, we’ve had six top 20 albums, so that’s a lot of music. We just wanted to put the best of that into one album.
And there will be a couple of new ones on there too. Can you tell us a bit more about those?
We have a new single called ‘Elastic Fantastic’. It’s a song that we did with our mate Richie, who was our first drummer when we did The State of Things. He and I were very close. He’s not in the band anymore; we kind of lost him along the way. But we kept the friendship and I love him dearly. It’s nice to be making music with old friends again, and it’s a great tune.
The other new track is called ‘Te Quiero Pero’, which is a bit of a Spanglish one. It’s me and my wife singing in a bit of English and Spanish. It’s like my own little Tarantino number.
How is your Spanish, rev?
Pardon, no hablo Espanol. No, I’m terrible. I’m all over the shop. It’s proper Benidorm Spanish, mine. But it’s a great tune. The hardest thing really is choosing what to leave off the record, because we have had to leave some things off the album. The other thing is, the thing that nobody ever tells you about music, you know when you’re listening to Bowie or Prince? Unless you’re some super-fan, what you’re listening to really is their greatest hits. Nobody ever says – “Oh I’m really enjoying Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy.” You’re listening to the greatest hits and you love it. That’s what I hope this album will be. We have all sorts of different people that are fans of our band, so hopefully it’ll be one of those CDs that the whole family can get into.
You have recently taken a break from social media after often being a very vocal presence.
I am very up and down with regards to my mental health, and quite frankly social media is not a good place for people who suffer with their mental health. So I have been advised by my loved ones and my manager to not be on it anymore. I think it’s the right thing to do, because I can smell the roses and enjoy time with my family and my children without having this negative shouty thing in the background. I think social media is doing something to human nature and to the human experience which we’re not quite aware of. If you think about the way that we experience a gig now, as an anticipated memory, holding a phone and waiting for them to come on. Then thinking about putting it on Facebook afterwards. It’s changing the way we interact with each other. There are people on there [social media] that I bet if I met them in real life, I would love and we would get on like a house on fire. Yet, you see people on there, and you go at each other like hammer and tong. It’s just a shouty void of bullshit. It’s definitely not conducive to being a creative person; I’m trying to write a novel and develop certain creative projects and I don’t need the distraction. Let’s be honest, I’ve probably made myself seem like a bit of a dick on there. It’s a bit like cocaine, social media, it brings out the worst in people.
You have a P.O box that people can write to. Are you still replying to fan mail?
Morrissey used to do it before he turned into a wanker. I think it’s quite a wonderful idea, very old-fashioned and English. So I thought I’d have a go at it, as a nice way of conversing with my fans if nothing else. It’s more of an investment of your time sending a letter to someone. I think any fucker can tap a tweet out.
So what does the rest of the year hold for you?
We have our tour this year and I hope everybody is going to come and have a party with us. Because, being honest, we don’t know what the future holds. We aren’t sure what we’ll do after this album, it’s still a bit up in the air. I just feel honoured that we’ve done this for 13/14 years now. We’re still going strong and our gigs are great. Certainly one more time, people should come and have a party with us. We’ll see what the future holds after that.
Catch Reverend and the Makers at Tramlines on Nulty’s Main Stage on July 20.