Preston collective The Common Cold (featuring former members of The Dandelion Adventure, Cornershop and Pram) released their debut album Shut Up! Yo Liberals! last week, to an ecstatic reception both on this site and across the web.
An exhilarating mix of classic Northwest influences (The Fall, Happy Mondays, The Smiths), psychedelia and Krautrock, topped off with often baffling cut-up lyrics, Shut Up! is both an old-school, Peel-friendly indie album and a highly contemporary look at the fucked-up state of the modern world, addressing digital surveillance, techno-paranoia and the rise of Trump amongst other topics. Via the medium of email (something singer Mark Wareing is none too fond of), I found out more about this wonderful, wonderful record…
Firstly, congratulations on the album – it’s already my Album of the Year and I very much doubt anything will top it. First question, please explain the title, which, like many of the lyrics, is highly cryptic…
AJAY: Thank you for the kind words. There was a huge amount of work put into this record and we are really proud of it.
The title of the album comes from a poem by Samuel Bamford, a Lancashire handloom weaver by trade, who also happened to be a prolific writer, penning many pamphlets, leaflets and letters as well as being a poet and newspaper correspondent. The title is taken from a poem of his in which he barracks the liberals who attack the ruling Tories of the time stating that they hadn’t had it so good, and if it wasn’t for the ruling classes, Britain (and the rest of the empire) would be up the swanny. If we look at the state of play today, it’s almost as if history is repeating itself. But now the issue at heart is of Britain distancing itself even further from its European neighbours and assuming that they can carry on without the rights and privileges presented as being part of the (European) union. Samuel Bamford’s words were designed as an attack on the libertarians of the time, but we used it as a statement to reflect the state of affairs now, as opposed to it being an attack on anyone.
Ajay & Mark, you were in Peel faves Dandelion Adventure over 30 years ago. What was the inspiration for you to reunite after so long? Is the album a one-off or are there more to come?
AJAY: It’s not a reunion. This is a new project. The idea to play together again came about when we were invited to do something for a John Peel night in Preston two years ago. We did a one-off show, which consisted of me writing 3 bits of music, rehearsing it with a band and Mark one afternoon, and playing in the evening. It was such a big success that we were invited again the year after. Again we approached it the same way and it was hugely enjoyable. I then suggested to Mark that I could write an album’s worth of music if he’d put words to it. He agreed, and I started the whole project from there onwards. We are taking it one step at a time before deciding what the future holds. But it’s been a hugely enjoyable trip so far.
In terms of influences, I’m hearing Happy Mondays, The Fall, New FADs, King of the Slums…have I missed anything? What else were you listening to that informed the sound of the album?
AJAY: I think the Fall reference is fair as that group has been a mainstay in the lives of all the band members, and their influence will always remain (whether we like it or not). It’s nice to have the names of the other groups you mentioned also in there (from your perspective obviously) but they are not things I would think of immediately….even though I really like those bands (and saw them play many times). There’s a pretty psychedelic edge to the whole sound and a very kraut-influenced approach to the way the beat is held down and to the repetitive nature of the music. Bands/musicians like Can, The Monks, Steve Reich, The Smiths, Neu!, Trad Gras Och Stenar all spring to mind….amongst many others.
What about current music, what new bands excite you at the moment?
AJAY: We listen to so much music both past and present….but since you asked about the current music scene: Duds, Steve Gunn, Bardo Pond, Shabaka Hutchings, Still House Plants, Map 71, Richard Chamberlain, Crazy Doberman, Solo Organ, Tune-Yards, Open Field, Grouper, Gary Wrong Group, Sauna Youth, etc etc etc.
Whilst some of the songs are lyrically very focused, some are completely random & surreal. For example, ‘Napoleon’s Index Finger‘, which seems to take in Withnail & I, La Rochelle, Ringo Starr, Stalin, Laura Ashley and various other unrelated references. Did you take a cut-up approach to the lyrics or is there some hidden meaning in there?
MARK: Yeah I’ve always enjoyed messing about with lyrics and I enjoy listening to people’s interpretation of my words. I also love William Burroughs’ cut-ups and Richard Brautigan’s stories…but its important that the songs and words take the listener somewhere else…every song is a code.
‘London Look‘ makes me laugh out loud every time I hear it, particularly the Exorcist line which is pure genius. Is it a defiant anti-fashion statement or a critique of our style-obsessed culture, or a bit of both?
MARK: A bit of both – I have a love/hate affair with fashion, but as I’ve got older I don’t give two hoots. Everyone always wants to look good even if that means looking stupid. This year’s new look is cycling clips and fishing flies on your ha, and I’m already wearing both…thanks Vogue!
I was also very happy to hear a song about the film Billy Liar, the wonderful ‘Pretty Julie‘. Possibly the first musical reference to the film since The Smiths’ ‘Frankly Mr Shankly‘. It’s almost like you’re on the platform with Tom Courtenay’s character pleading with him to get on the train. What is it about the film that resonated with you to write a song about it?
MARK: I love all these old black and white films set up north, they make you cry and make you laugh. When I got offered a job in London a friend kept saying “Get on the train, don’t do a Billy Liar!” In my case it was Julie who stayed on the platform…
There seems to be a bit of techno fear/paranoia on the album – ‘Stop the Traffic‘ I interpret as being about the way we’re overloaded by social media, email, mobile phones etc, whilst ‘Tapped‘ addresses digital surveillance & spying…
MARK: I hate tech I hate tech I hate tech etc etc…answers on a postcard any day!
Ajay you’ve spent a lot of time working on live production for My Bloody Valentine. Firstly, I’m amazed you can still hear anything, and secondly, what have you taken from the experience of working with them?
I was their front of house sound engineer. I’ve known them as friends for over 30 years and so it was natural that i take control of the sound board at Kevin’s request. I’d done sound for a bunch of “loud” bands like Dinosaur Jr, Mogwai, GYBE etc and so it was not unusual to work with another loud band. I have tinnitus, but that’s an occupational hazard all musicians face in general. It was an interesting experience as Kevin works in his own world on many different levels and trying to equate the real world to his reality could be a bit awkward at times. But what I took from the whole experience is follow your heart despite whatever curveballs are thrown at you and follow your belief in what you do.
Finally, I live in Bangkok. I know it’s a long shot but do you have any plans to tour Asia? I can think of at least 3 people here who would come if that helps.
If 3 people can subsidise a whole band to come over to Bangkok to play a bunch of shows, then we are in!
Right, I’m off to Kickstarter! Thanks to Ajay & Mark for answering my questions and to Sean at Mutante PR for arranging the interview.