Back in t’day: Sheffield bands remembered
Exposed’s erudite music hound Mark Perkins talks a stroll down memory lane and picks out some of his favourite Sheff bands of yesteryear…
There’s always been a strong case for Sheffield being the music capital of the UK; in fact, it is something which I’ve argued for in these very pages on more than one occasion. And to compliment all the success of the Arctic Monkeys, The Human League and Def Leppard, or the critical acclaim of Cabaret Voltaire and the Comsat Angels, there have been countless bands who are no longer around, but who have contributed in their own way to making the Sheffield music scene one of the country’s most vibrant and varied. They may no longer be making the tunes, but these are some of the acts who floated my musical boat back in the day.
If ever there was a band who came along just a little too late, this was the one for me. Proof, if it were needed, that popular acclaim doesn’t pay the bills. After five years of making some of Sheffield’s most original music, they went their separate ways in 2014. Vocally and musically, they had no equal. Gina Walters and Nick Cox led the band upfront on vocals, but everyone contributed equally to their infectious music. They were so popular in Japan a promoter even paid them to fly over and play some gigs, but the music scene was changing. Their album launch at the Harley will forever be one of the best nights I’ve had in the Steel City, but making a living from music was becoming almost impossible. They had no major record label behind them, so a band that many agreed had the potential to be a major success, played one last triumphal gig at the Queen’s Road Social Club in December 2014, and then went their separate ways.
They were a live band I kept hearing about, but seemed to keep missing, so when I finally got around to seeing them the
anticipation was immense. I needn’t have worried. They blew the roof off the O2. Armed only with guitar and drums, the two-piece played heavy, loud rock, inspired by a sort Mississippi delta blues-meets-Death Rock vibe. They finally released an album in 2013, but by then had agreed to call it a day. What went wrong led to much speculation at the time, and the subsequent passing of drummer Alexis Gotts, who tragically took his own life, only makes it harder to listen to their music now.
The Lovers were a French duo, Fred de Fred and Marion Benoist, so plainly in love with each other it was both beautiful, and at times, almost intrusive to see them perform. They were totally at odds with any other local band, but somehow fitted in perfectly to the diverse music coming out of Sheffield in the late 90s as we went into the noughties. Their musical collaboration started with working at FON studios, writing with Jarvis Cocker, and for a time being part of the I Monster touring band. Their own live shows and music can best be described as a sort of burlesque/electronica concoction, and they were always as entertaining visually as they were musically. They left the Sheffield scene, moved back to France, and as far as I know, have not performed as The Lovers since.
Around the time of the ‘Yorkshire New Wave’, when the Arctic Monkeys were the talk of this and every other town, several bands seemed set to surf along in their wake. My favourite by far was Harrisons. The gig they played at the Leadmill in support of the release of their only album was incredible, but proved to be their last. The cheeky brand of Hillsborough pop that they made will forever be summed up for me with the video for their single ‘Blue Note’. It’s a shot-for-shot remake of the famous football scene in Kes, complete with singer Jubby in goal as Billy Casper. Cheeky and irreverent fun, just like every Harrisons gig I ever went to.
Monkey Swallows The Universe
The redoubtable Nat Johnson has been around the Sheffield music scene for a good few years, solo at times, collaborating with other musicians at others, but her earliest music success came with the group she formed with Kevin Gori, after they met at Sheffield Uni. Somewhat randomly, they took their name from an episode of the cult Japanese TV show Monkey, and soon began to have local then national success. After two albums though, it was over, and Nat wanted to move on. She remained involved in the local music scene, formed another band, The Figureheads, was involved with the Women of Steel project and even led a rediscovery of the delightful music of Conny Converse at a recent Sensoria event.
Slow Club ended their career on a high, by headlining the Leadmill after playing Glastonbury; but for me the band I miss is the one I saw in their early days when they were just a simple duo, consisting of Rebecca Taylor and Charlie Watson. I never once set out specifically to see them, but for a while they were the ‘go-to’ support act for larger touring bands. I’d be at the Harley or the Leadmill to see some more famous band, and Slow Club would come on to support them. They never failed to entertain, and more than anything, this seemed to stem from them clearly having so much fun on stage. Their show would often end with Rebecca playing impromptu percussion on the legs of a stool or some such craziness. There’s a marvellous, bittersweet documentary, Our Most Brilliant Friends, filmed on what they knew was their final tour. If you want an insight into how and why talented bands split up, this is for you. The onstage magic is captured brilliantly, but you get the idea that, by that point, performing on stage was the only time they spent together on the whole tour.
So there we are. Gone but not forgotten. Live music is on a tragic hiatus at the moment, and there will sadly be an increasing number of musicians forced to stop performing, but let’s look back a salute those who enriched our lives for a while at least. It will be back in our much-loved venues soon, and I’ll hopefully see you down at the front!