Ever wonder what John & Matt tweet about in the wee hours? Wonder no more…
Ever wonder what John & Matt tweet about in the wee hours? Wonder no more…
[The following text is a piece written by Michael McGeachin, and features on our website, www.thejohnmacleodband.com]
In the back room of a pub sit four people – members of the most exciting band to come out of Staffordshire. They are The John MacLeod Band.
The John MacLeod Band is a supergroup of sorts, coming from various established sources in the local music scene. Comprising two members of The Nanateas (bassist Paul Hancock and drummer Angela Lazenby) and one of Dead Radio Society (keyboardist/accordionist Matt Tyrer), along with John, the titular guitarist and solo acoustic stalwart, they have been separately plying their musical wares around the area for several years. Tonight, at this undisclosed location in Newcastle-under-Lyme, they have allowed unprecedented access into their inner workings, ready to discuss such topics as caravans, Reggae Reggae Sauce and Swindon in 1995.
Angela - “Next time we go into the studio, we need to make up some anecdotes…”
Perhaps. Thankfully, the genesis of the band is sufficiently interesting, pulled together as they were more by accident than by design. Paul – then a member of the band Nemo – encountered John first, first at open mic nights in the area back in 2001, then a few years later, when he had been booked to support them.
“It was at a really great venue in Stafford,” says John, tongue pressed firmly into cheek. It wasn’t until later, though, that they hit it off. Paul introduced John to local radio station Moorlands FM, who invited him to perform at their studio. “I’d been playing solo acoustic for a few years”, continues John, “and it had started to lose its shine. My enthusiasm got a shot of adrenaline after that interview.”
The added pedantry there came from Matt, a doctor (hence the pointed correction) and the next of the band to encounter John. “We’d both been playing the Rigger’s acoustic night, and we met there,” says John.
“He played the Decemberists, and we had a chat about batteries” adds Matt.
Gripping stuff, no doubt. Angela’s addition to the group came in a more roundabout way, as she was introduced to John’s work by Paul, at this point her bandmate in The Nanateas.
“He gave me a CD of John’s to have a listen, and then it was only a couple of weeks later that he was putting it out on Facebook that he wanted a band. I mentioned it in rehearsal [with The Nanateas] that he was after a drummer and a bass player. Paul got in touch with him…”
“…so we organised a try-out,” finishes John. And so the group spent their first moments together, running through some of John’s earlier works.
“We just gelled,” says John, though Angela remembers it slightly differently.
“I was really scared because I’ve always been in a band with my brother [fellow Nanatea Andy] and he was my comfort zone and I’d never been away from him in another band. I was texting Paul from across the room saying how scared I was.”
Still, the band came together and swiftly began to organise rehearsals, wherein they learned John’s back catalogue and began fleshing them out into a more fulsome sound. This was very much a group task, with no one person taking the lead – not even the man who wrote them in the first place.
John – “I brought the songs into the studio, but they have been arranged by everybody. I’ve not necessarily told anybody how to do it – everybody has just done what they’ve done and it’s ended up working really, really well. So I think all the songs are ours now.”
This communal attitude towards song arrangement certainly surfaced as the songs started to come together, and the four members started to bring their own disparate tastes to bear on the material. John cites bands such as Gemma Hayes, Crowded House, Bright Eyes and Queens Of The Stone Age as primary influences, whilst Paul and Angela bring The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel to the table, though Angela also owns up to “going through a cheesy 80s period.” Matt opts for REM, though he also admits that his influences are changing constantly, largely depending on what he is listening to at the time.
“I listened to Thom Yorke’s ‘Eraser’ album and immediately started on an electronic project. I did one track and immediately realised it was a bad idea. I also recently went to a hip hop festival, and the next song I wrote spontaneously generated a rap. It’s not always a good thing.”
Fortunately, none of The John MacLeod Band’s material to date has featured squonky electronica or a rap breakdown, though their recorded material to date – forming the forthcoming album ‘Unexpected Sunshine’ – has taken some interesting turns, be they the complex drum patterns of ‘The World Tonight’ or the baroque organ sounds of ‘This Rod I Have Made For My Back’. All the more impressive when considering that at least two members of the band claim to not be naturals at their instruments.
“I’m not really a bassist,” claims Paul, modestly. “Sometimes I forget I’m even in a band.” Angela too never intended to be a drummer, saying that she “fell into it” after going to study music at Burslem College.
“I was always musical as a kid,” she says. “I went to college and was going to do singing and some keyboardy stuff, but they didn’t have any drummers that year. They said ‘have a go on this drum kit and just keep the rhythm’, and I thought ‘ooh, I quite like this!’ Within three weeks of doing that, they made me do a gig.”
Which brings us on nicely to the band’s first live outing proper. Though they have plenty of shows under their belts with other groups or solo projects, their debut performance at Burslem’s Bad Edit as The John MacLeod Band was still a nerve-wracking experience.
“I cried before that gig,” says Angela, who suffered most with the pressures of their inaugural performance, though their first time playing at The Sugarmill in Hanley is the one that caused John the most anxiety (not to mention excitement). It has all been worth it, though.
“The interesting thing is that playing live feeds what you do in the studio, but in the same way that what you do in the studio feeds into what you do live,” says John. “You can conjure something up in the studio, and you end up taking ideas from that into a gig. Equally, you can play something on stage where you think ‘I must remember to do that when we record this…’”
This theory bears out most obviously in a show at the Old Brown Jug that immediately followed a full weekend of recording. “It was the most driven show that I think we’ve ever played,” says John, though he admits that the band – and himself specifically – have become more focussed with each performance.
With several gigs now under their collective belt, and recording on ‘Unexpected Sunshine’ almost complete, things are really coming together for the band. Add to this their recent signing with Neon Tiger Productions, following on from an appearance on Six Towns Radio, and things are really starting to look bright.
So where next? Their first ever record is nearly complete, and planning is already coming together for their next album – a rockier affair than their debut, featuring certain songs that simply didn’t fit on this record, such as live favourites ‘I’ve Still Got Your Blood On My Curtains’ and ’Dirty Badger’ – which is seeing an extension of the collaborative efforts with various band members writing parts for each other and words coming from sources other than John’s ever-present lyric book.
Things are certainly looking up for the band, and their future certainly looks to be interesting. Let’s hope that the same can be said for their studio anecdotes…
Michael McGeachin, Sunday 22nd September - follow him on Twitter at @crawtonleek!
JM: Our official website is now online! Plenty to goggle at, including a piece written by Michael McGeachin, who manfully endured an evening at a pub with us in order to assist his writing. More content will appear as we near album completion…
Our Birthday Podcast is uploaded and ready for you to download - for FREE! Get your hands on some chatter, some music, and one or two extras!
OK, I’ve not really said anything about this for a week because of a general air of anxiety and not being 100% in my head what was happening, but having spoken to Ed yesterday I’m going to because I’m more confident about it now, and also because straight after talking to Ed about it I had to tell…
This is so lovely and exciting!Source: mums-the-nerd
This time last year, I was a bit nervous. For the first time in a very long time, I was about to gather some folks together and attempt to play music with them. I knew it was time to do it, I had done three years of solo acoustic troubadoring which is all very well if you are well-disposed to doing everything alone, but I’m not. Mostly.
I like my own space as much as the next man, and it’s quite satisfying to write a song, sing it, and go “Yeah - I did that,” but there’s only so long until the novelty wears off. The train journeys with you, two acoustic guitars, a stand and two satchels are only worth doing once. Not the three times I did them.
And aside from anything else, how is one chap on his own supposed to find the time to do decent recordings of his songs that can live up to what’s in his imagination?
And while we’re about it, how is a lone fellow to get the attention of a crowd when he’s playing in support of a band at very busy venue?
These things were rolling around my head after a glut of solo acoustic shows, all of which were fun, but also leaving me with a need for more. I wasn’t living the musician’s dream, I was half-living it. I wanted to make NOISE, I wanted to prove what sounds I was capable of making when allowed to work with a bunch of musicians, I wanted to plough my musical furrow and give a nod to the artists who had inspired me to stick at it and not give up.
I wanted, essentially, to not be alone in this. I needed the friendship and support that can only come from good people who wanted to do this with me.
At which point Matt, Angela & Paul enter the frame. This summer we’ve been working very hard at making our debut record, “Unexpected Sunshine”. We started it in February, and then had intensive recording periods throughout March, April, June, July, August and September. Not one second of our recording time has been squandered, and we’re excited and proud of what we’ve made so far. We really can’t wait to share it with you, either.
There have been laughs and pure joy while making it, such as the really hot July afternoon that saw Matt consume four or five ice lollies and start chucking tubular bells, baroque organ and steel drums across the songs with gay abandon, which promptly caused him to run into the other room, giggling hysterically.
There have been curious emotional eddies tugging at us, too. All too well I remember the sessions that ended abruptly owing to time running out, right after a vocal take of one of the more stirring songs on the record, and not being able to shake off the melancholy that accompanied it. And sometimes we’re all trying to reach an end goal and slightly misinterpreting each other, whereupon the mix of noise, heat & creative endeavour means that everyone is on the verge of popping, and a collective silence drops in order to stop that happening.
And it goes without saying that the friendship we’ve forged since last October means we aren’t going to lose our tempers with each other anyway. My bandmates have been there for me when I’ve had bouts of lowness and forlornitude (no idea if that’s a word, but I like it), and I like to think I keep their spirits going when they’re flagging, too. We’re a good band, because we take care of each other, we care about us, and we put the music ahead of ourselves.
In the middle of this, we have signed up with Neon Tiger Productions (who, as a result, are now our management), we have played shows to full houses, half-empty rooms, and three people. We have played to a beer tent full of dancing people, and also a beer tent with some people in it, three of whom slouched off when Matt joked that I was chatting them up (I only asked them if they were relaxed around the boundaries).
We have worked hard to make songs that scared us become not only an immense amount of fun, but different, challenging and exciting for listeners. What were simple pieces have suddenly taken wing and soared above us, leaving some truly beautiful four-part harmonies in their wake, and as we’ve played more, we have just started to write and generate material together. I think we have become in tune with each other, musically, which means that it won’t just be my lyric book from which new songs emerge, and the songs I do write, I bear my bandmates in mind and think of things that they will have as much fun playing, and will suit their styles.
This is the first year with Paul Hancock, Angela Lazenby and Matt Tyrer. I can’t wait to see what the second one brings!
MORNING ACCIDENT NEWS: I fell over on Basford Bank when running across the road for the bus. It was barely-moving traffic, I wasn’t in any danger and I’m ok, just scraped my hands & knees. I’ve also elbowed myself in the rib, which is a bit sore, and bent my favourite ring out of shape. All in all, a GREAT DAY.