Shed Seven: Live Albums & Lockdown's Silver Linings
With the three-year anniversary of comeback album Instant Pleasures and the imminent release of live collection Another Night, Another Town, York's Shed Seven have plenty to celebrate right now. But, even for evergreen frontman Rick Witter, life in lockdown has had its challenges. Barney caught up with Rick to talk live albums, lockdown's silver linings and... Petrol Propelled Pomegranates?!
TM: Let’s get the obvious question out of the way: how does lockdown 2.0 find you?!
"Well, there’s not much to report in that respect apart from being locked down; I’m just trapped in like everyone else! Obviously, I can’t do any work as such so I’m just making sure that the children do their schoolwork and I'm trying to be productive but it’s difficult because usually when Shed Seven write songs I’m with Paul or Joe. We sit and collate ideas and then bring them home - maybe the way forward is Zoom songwriting!
Funnily enough, tour-wise, this year would be the down year for us. Ordinarily, we tour in December every other year, we’re quite canny in that respect. We leave it a year, which works for us and leaves the fans wanting more. The year we’re not doing a big tour, we’d do the festivals. So in a roundabout way in 2020 we've missed out on playing in a lot of fields which is a bit of a shame.
We’re being told we can do most of the festivals that we should have done this year next year and 2021 will also be the year that we would do the big December tour, so fingers crossed, 2021 will be a bumper year for fans to come and see us play."
TM: It’s good to know that anything that’s been cancelled this year will effectively go ahead next year. Have you missed being on stage this year?
"Touring is a funny old thing. We did an intense tour last December - 27 dates or so - in quite a short space of time, so the plan always was that January to May was going to be a bit of downtime. When the first lockdown hit it didn’t make much difference to me in the sense that I would have probably just been kicking stones around my house anyway. It was only on the day when we should have been playing at the Neighbourhood Festival that it suddenly hit me: 'hold on a minute, we should be there, doing that!' And that’s happened a lot during the summer. We were supposed to play twelve festivals this year so it does get to the point where because you can’t do it, it makes you want to do it even more. But then you realise that's life at the minute, our hands are tied. and the world is just a crazy old place.
Obviously, I’m missing going out there and playing. On the positive, next year, whatever band you are, regardless of who you are, there is the fact that people will be able to meet up and stand in a field arm in arm together and sing their hearts out to their favourite songs. It goes beyond the band. People will absolutely love life getting back to normal so much that the festivals next summer should be absolutely electric. I believe if we do end up doing a Shedcember next December, then it will be the best one yet. "
TM: Speaking of people getting together in fields, Damon Albarn recently said that live music is a good 'prescription' for coronavirus. Do you hope that with the release of Another Night, Another Town, a live album can go some way to compensate for the true experience people are missing in 2020?
"Well, we had been recording various gigs that we were doing pre-lockdown and they were sat doing nothing. We’re a good live band, we got the mix to a standard where they sounded great and we took a lot of time over the artwork to make sure that it’s special. This is the next best thing to what you can't have.
Put your wellies on in your house, put your stereo on loud, look at your wall, pretend it's a stage and get a bit drunk - but please don’t get too much mud on your carpet. "
TM: Congratulations are in order! Three years ago you released Instant Pleasures (BMG 2017) Do you look back on that album as one that kickstarted the resurgence of popularity you guys have enjoyed over the last few years?
"I think it’s helped. I don’t think it’s the be-all and end-all because we were cruising along anyway. We’re very fortunate: we’ve got a good strong fanbase who just love coming out to see us play music. We reformed to start doing big Christmas tours in 2007. We’d go out and play the hits every other year and people would come and sing along with every word; they'd go away enjoying the experience but over that period of time a lot them were asking will we ever do anything new?
And then we accidentally started writing some new ideas. There was no discussion, there was no 'right let's have a meeting and sit down and decide where we’re going next'. I believe we were just rehearsing for a gig and Paul came up with a guitar riff for a particular song off the album and then, next thing, I’m on my hands and knees scribbling lyrics and melodies out on the floor. It was very satisfying when we did end up coming up with 17 or 18 songs that we thought worthy of being on an album. "
TM: It certainly felt like the fans were ready.
"Obviously, for our fans, it’s a great thing because it's new music. But I believe a lot of our fans were a bit concerned after so long if we would still have it in us to write good songs.
I think there were a lot of very nervous Shed Seven fans out there before they heard it!
I don’t think we would release anything unless we thought it was worth it. Why desecrate a back catalogue of good music by just releasing any old rubbish? And yeah, it’s crazy that it is three years old now. Where’s that gone? "
TM: It’s interesting that you refer to what your fans are thinking because you guys are plugged into their mindset. You’ve thrown yourself into the fan engagement side of things online. Has connecting with fans on the internet been a positive experience for you over the last decade?
"Yeah - I think a lot of people see us as a band of the people anyway. I have my own personal Twitter account and if somebody Tweets me asking 'what did you think when you wrote that B-side?' and I’ve taken the time to read it, I’m not going to ignore it. It’s just normal, I’m not reinventing the wheel in any way there.
It’s an instant thing which is exactly why we called the record Instant Pleasures because it all relates to this current technological age where if you want something, you press a button and you’ve got it. "
TM: I think that’s exactly what it works: because it’s organic. You do the social media side of the band better than bands half your age.
"Well yeah, I think it’s just in our nature - it’s just a polite way of reacting to something.
If there are bits and bobs of Shed Seven footage out there that are just collecting dust on a shelf then why not share it? The Rolling Stones have just re-released Goat’s Head Soup from the 70s and discovered some great songs that were just sat on a shelf collecting dust.
The question is, how can you have a song with Jimmy Page playing guitar on it that wasn’t on the album sat on a shelf collecting dust?!? "
TM: A lot of the content that you do share with the fans has been produced, hands-on, by you guys. Similarly, you have been front and centre with the production of Another Night, Another Town.
"With Shedcember it’s always special and we put in every effort to put on the best show we can wherever we might be. If we’re playing in Blackburn on a Monday night we put as much effort into that as playing in London on a Saturday night. We spent a long time through lockdown listening to performances from various gigs; we had to listen to about twenty different versions of ’She Left Me On Friday’ to find the best one. We might get fixated with little mistakes that may have been made, so it was very time consuming but we weren’t doing anything else!
This might not have happened if we were in normal life. So I guess the silver lining is that we used lockdown wisely the first time around and, fingers crossed, in four weeks this lockdown that we’re in now might be lifted, then we’ll get this new vaccine they’re going on about and then our first booked gig is May 2021. With any luck, we’ll all be back out there doing it. "
TM: Who were the bands that originally made you want to be 'out there doing it'? The live performance that made you say ‘this is what I want to do with my life?'
"I guess there are two. At about 11 or 12 years old I always had an interest in the performing, looking good and singing side of things. I an archetypal Singing Into The Bedroom Mirror With A Hairbrush type of youth.
Me, Paul and Tom were all in the same year at the same school. I remember one assembly when we were all about 11 a bunch of 6th Formers put on a little four-song show. I don’t know why that happened because it was quite a stiff school. They were probably about 17 and they were called Petrol Propelled Pomegranate, I think they did a cover version of Dire Strait's 'Sultans of Swing'. Even at that early age the power of it - they were only young kids themselves - but the power of it and the fact that they were actually playing musical instruments to a good capability, it sounded great, a 'wow, I’d like to do that!' moment. So that pricked my ears up and I don’t think it was long after that that me and Paul decided that we were in a band together.
Because of that me and Paul were in a lot of school bands, Tom was in them as well. We formed Shed Seven just after we left school because of The Stone Roses. When their debut album came out it was a game-changer; it was like 'right, let’s stop mucking about now, let’s think about what we’re writing and let’s try and become more than what we are because they are really cool'. I remember going to see The Stone Roses at Alexandra Palace in 1989; I was still only 16 and living in York and it was one of those where you had to buy the concert and coach tickets all in one. It was a very long coach trip down there, a very long coach trip back after and, to be honest, the actual gig wasn’t brilliant. The sound wasn’t great in there; it was very echoey and the band probably know themselves that their performances can be touch and go but that didn't matter. It was more than that.
It was the atmosphere. It was just the community of music fans getting together and being somewhere everyone wanted to be. It was a brilliant gig. "
TM: Which comes full circle because Another Night, Another Town features you paying tribute to The Stone Roses with a cover of ‘I Am The Resurrection’ from your Castlefield Bowl show.
"Yeah, it was a brave move in Manchester!"
TM: The footage is just incredible. The crowd react. Was it the best live show of your career? How does it measure up?
"It was one of those gigs where everything just seems to come together. It doesn’t usually happen like that. It was just the simple fact that it was in June during the World Cup but that particular Friday night was in between semi-finals so there was no football on. The sun was blazing all day; everyone was just in a great mood; it just all came together.
But being in the middle of it it’s all a bit of a whirlwind and the pressure’s on, so it was just straight down the line for us. In fact, it took probably a couple of weeks to actually realise that we’d done it and it’s so pleasing to see that a lot of the people who came remember it as one of their favourite gigs. At that point, that was our biggest headline open-air gig but since then we've played the Leeds Arena.
It just so happens that the gigs we’re doing now are up there with the biggest gigs of our entire career and we’re 30 years old now as a band - we up the ante that bit older we get, so god knows how good we’re gonna be when we’re 80."
TM: On a more downbeat note, right now there is no live music. You guys have put your money where your mouth is by selling a fundraising t-shirt for your live crew - can you let us know a little bit about that?
"Again, it’s common sense really isn’t it? It's not just our crew, it's crews all over the world for bands, it's catering companies, even the bar staff, everybody involved in gigs have no work right now. I don’t think a lot of people realise just what work goes on behind the scenes. They're not just our crew, they’re our friends that have been working with us for a long time so we just thought that this is a nice way of just giving a little bit back, as right now, they can't do anything.
We’ve put these crew t-shirts on sale, with a #letthemusicplay hashtag on the back, and all proceeds from what we earn will go directly to our crew. It’s just our way of saying 'thank you for everything that you do' and we don’t want you to feel like you can’t buy any Coco Pops over the Christmas holidays."
TM: Last question: what’s your personal favourite live album?
"There’s so many. But I have to say The Who: Live At Leeds. Funnily enough, I’ve just recently finished John Entwistle's book and it does mention that record in there quite a lot - it was kind of a seminal live album wasn’t it? They were on fire at the time and had just come back from America. Inter-band in-fighting and all that just gives certain performances the edge."
TM: Yes, it feels like the rhythm section is like rolling an egg, it speeds up and slows down at times - it almost cracks but it always stays together.
"And that’s what's so exciting about live music, isn’t it? When you and a band can go out there, like that, and somehow, in the end, you manage to keep it on track. "
Another Night, Another Town is available to order now on the Official Shed Seven Store.