Stuff I've written. All my opinions are my own, not those of any current or former employers.
Interview for Sheffield’s Sandman Magazine.
So here’s Sandman, sitting in a quaint Victorian garden, unhassled by the ravages of time, sipping fresh ginger beer and daintily nibbling cucumber sandwiches with Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation.
The Reverend sits at the head of the group, cherub-like, flanked by his servant Tiffin the Tea Boy, and the delectable Missy Tassles. Thee SPC’s other founder, The Baron, is, perhaps thankfully due to his military reputation and penchant for pointy Kaiser headwear, missing from the picnic.
Ok, so they’re not really real Victorians, believe it or not, but this comedically quaint record label has been putting out gloriously hued and very collectable seven inch records. The Reverend can also be found in not very godly-named Motherfuckers, and the Baron and Tiffin bear a passing resemblance to certain members of Chuck.
“Me and The Baron formed the label to put records out by our two bands, we thought the best way of doing it, rather than hawking demos round some trendy London labels, is start your own. So we saved all our pocket money in our Victorian style piggy banks and put out records. And then thought, there’s other bands in Sheffield, I wish we could put more records out, and started to put more records out. At which point we needed someone to help with artwork, that would be Missy, and someone to send the stuff out and make the tea. That would be Tiffin.”
“I initially started doing it as favours,” explains Missy, “and when it started to become more favours and more time consuming then all of a sudden it was three weeks doing the artwork for Box of Odd. Then it was like, hang on a minute, this is a lot of favours. I may as well get a lot more involved in this.”
“The thing is none of us get anything out of it,” sighs The Reverend. “Why the hell do we do it?” Luckily Tiffin’s on hand to explain, between pouring our beverages.
“We love the music,” he says, “and we love the art of it as well. I love the fact we’ve got these beautiful artefacts. I think it’s very important in this download digital age that we’re still making physical, tangible products, it’s not just ‘download SPC stuff from some boring website’”.
“It’s a whole package,” says Missy. “It’s not just the songs, it’s not just the artwork, it’s the fact that everything about it’s nice, and you want to own it, and you can tell where it’s come from too.”
“The music’s really good as well, but it’s not just the music,” says The Reverend. “There’s something else about it. They’re just beautiful artefacts, and you want to lick them all over.”
And beautiful artefacts they are, extra thick slabs of pure Czech vinyl, coloured thematically with the songs and slipped into simple but attractive SPC sleeves.
The first release was the impressively non-chart-friendly ‘I’m a Fucker’ by the Motherfuckers, a slice of sleazy garage rock that sounded like the depths of the Nevada desert on Hallowe’en.
“‘I’m a Fucker’ by the Motherfuckers,” reflects The Reverend, modestly, “the best goddamn record ever made by anyone in the history of the whole Victorian music scene.”
“I like the way it’s only one-sided,” says Tiffin.
“Yeah,” says Missy. “Great value for money…”
“It was supposed to be the only thing that was going to be released,” says The Reverend. “We knew no-one would touch it, and we decided to release one song which was the most offensive song in the whole world, and send it off to the Daily Mail. Press ten copies, send it off to the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and they’d have a big ‘must we throw this filth at our kids’ furore and get the band famous off the back of it. And then we got greedy and made 500 copies, most of which are languishing under my dining room table.”
Following on from that was Chuck’s turn, with the classic arm-waving anthem ‘No Not Ah’, probably the least obvious, but most inspired, choice of a single ever. A sparse series of ‘aaahs’ followed by frantic surf guitar, it’s inspired its own dance in Sheffield’s indie clubs. The band have even been spotted dancing to it themselves, the cheeky scamps.
“It took us ages to decide which ones to put out,” says Tiffin, “me and Mitch and Peter thought ‘No Not Ah’ would make a great single, and The Reverend and The Baron, who were putting the money up, thought it wouldn’t at all. And we’ve proved them wrong.”
“I’m convinced by the 459 copies under my dining room table,” mocks The Reverend. “Chuck’s picking up now though. Chuck’s a slow burner. I can’t wait for the release of ‘Un Na A Gay’ [the next Chuck single] because there’s a big gap under my dining room table. I filled it with Long Blondes ones but they all sold.”
Which brings us to the next SPC release, their biggest seller by far, ‘New Idols / Long Blonde’ by Sheffield dandy popsters Long Blondes.
“They do that really clever thing of going to London and promoting their own stuff,” says Tiffin. “They’ve done all the hard work. Well, I’ve done the hard work as in folding up hundreds of bits of paper to send them through the post.”
“They’re one of these trendy haircut bands, but with shit haircuts,” guffaws The Reverend.
Maybe the sales had something to do with the fact the label sneakily inserted a collector card of a different band member in each copy…
“The idea was it was supposed to take the piss out of the two-covers-on-this-week’s-NME-so-people-will-buy-two-covers,” says The Reverend. “Some people have bought all five, and that wasn’t the idea!”
“One guy bought two at the gig, and he asked me for the other three,” says Tiffin. “He should have said ‘can I have the cards’, cos I’d probably have sent them him!”
Hot on the Long Blondes’ heels was Champion Kickboxer’s excellent ‘Like Him+Him+Her+Me’, an understated tune hard to categorise or make comparisons with. Imagine Pavement singing in a library and you’re slightly on your way.
“I’ve not found anyone who doesn’t like it,” says The Reverend. “It’s just people don’t get it. They either get it or they don’t get it. They never say, ‘oh I really don’t like it’. They just go, ‘uhhhhhr what’s going on?!!!’. Champion Kickboxer will be big, it will just take a while for humankind to catch up with their strange ways.”
Somewhere inbetween these releases came Thee SPC’s compilation album ‘Box of Odd’, a gloriously packaged CD featuring Chuck, Mofos, Texas Pete, Beachbuggy, Special Agents and GG Action.
“The good thing is because it’s CD the boxes don’t crush as easily when stacked up underneath your dining room table,” says The Reverend, “which is good because there’s more of them. It’s a good thing.”
“The people we got on, we really thought they’d be playing loads of gigs and selling loads of albums,” sighs Tiffin, “and Texas Pete stopped gigging, Special Agents stopped gigging, Beachbuggy stopped gigging and GG Action stopped gigging. The curse of the Box Of Odd!”
“But it also pushed the SPC as something that does really nice packaging,” says The Reverend, “and it really pushed the artwork. It’s not just a CDR done on your laptop with a cover that flops around. It’s really nice.”
“And it’s got the mythology of Thee SPC and all the stupid stories about the island,” says Missy, referring to the inlay’s fictional (we hope) accounts of the Reverend, Baron and Tiffin’s escapades on a fictional (again we hope) island where they live.
“Yeah cos we really do want to be Victorians and send children up chimneys and stuff like that,” says The Reverend, seemingly without irony. So where did this Victorian thang come from?
“First I heard of it was when I was asked to do a logo and make it look a ‘bit Victorian’,” explains Missy. “And it kind of all stemmed from there.”
“It all started from us messing about with different names for the label,” says The Reverend.
“What other names did we have?,” says Tiffin.
“Junction 33,” says The Reverend. “Which I still really like! It sounds a bit street!”
“That’s rubbish!,” says Tiffin, nearly spilling his ornamental urn.
“I nicked the name off a record shop in Leeds called Ye Olde Phonographic Emporium,” says the Reverend, back on subject. “It’s Brilliant. So we thought we’d make it all Victorian, and CDs are things we don’t really understand yet.”
“It’s very English too,” says Tiffin. “I really like that.”
“It’d date a lot more if you tried to be modern,” says Missy.
“I’m feeling we could become Georgian,” muses Tiffin.
So what’s the music policy of the label? Although all releases have been roughly in the indie guitar ballpark, and ‘Box of Odd’ was decidedly garage punk, there’s no common thread that links them all, especially with future releases.
“I always think we’re quite pop…,” says Tiffin. The Reverend doesn’t quite agree. “I’ve not heard our milkman walking round whistling ‘I’m A Fucker’…”
“But it’s not all prog,” says Tiffin. “It’s not picked because it’s obtuse and obscure.”
“It’s a hell of a lot easier to say what we don’t do than what we do,” says The Reverend.
“We’ve all got really wide tastes in music,” says Missy. “We all like 60’s garage, we all like modern electronica, shouty guitar bands, to 1930’s jazz and all sorts. So I think mostly what we like mostly, and what sounds a bit different. There’s so many four blokes with guitar bands everywhere, it’s great to point out ones that are unique and have something about them and then if something unusual comes along that may be worth looking at too.”
“You get a lot of bands coming up to us saying they’re into funky, Chilli Peppers rock, and you just know that’s not what we’re going to be into,” says The Reverend. “But as for what we are into… I mean Champion Kickboxer? What the hell do Champion Kickboxer sound like?”
Although all Thee SPC releases have been Sheffield-based to date, the label’s founders are keen to look outside the city for talent. In fact the third ever release was supposed to be from London’s The Hotwires, but they split before it got made (and to this day there is no record labelled SPC003).
But one future SPC release goes even further than that. On the label’s schedule is Charles E Cullen, an American that Missy’s discovered and is eager to introduce to the world. Thee SPC will be releasing a compilation album of the best of his US recordings.
“I found this mad bloke who’s absolutely lovely,” she explains. “He’s from West Virginia and I found him via work, because I work in community music, and he’s got a community access cable show, a bit like Wayne’s World, called Chicken Shack. As well as that he makes horribly offensive b-movies, like John Waters. He sent me a CD and I thought how have I not heard this before? This is amazing! This is like King Missile crossed with Johnny Cash. One of the songs is, ‘I got my best friend’s brother pregnant at a wedding reception in Texas’. Genius! Another’s called ‘I have a rare poultry disease’. And he looks like Iggy Pop.”
But do not fear, they haven’t forgotten what the ‘S’ stands for. The next single releases are the aforementioned ‘Um Na A Gay’ by Chuck, a rousing Cossack-style Russian folk surf song, and a new single by Sheffield’s Smokers Die Younger. They’re also in talks to produce a CD of Sheffield acts from over the decades in support of the Sheffield WaveAid Tsunami appeal.
“I think to support the local scene you have to broaden your horizons,” explains Missy. “You need to create an environment where bands have somewhere they can move into.”
“The best thing is our name says Sheffield is it,” says Tiffin. “I think when we got the ‘Box of Odd’ in that Culture paper [it got a glowing review in the Sunday Times supplement] it was the only mention of Sheffield. That’s kinda cool – we got Sheffield in the paper.”
“We have to get away from this self congratulatory dome-like bubble that local scenes tend to get into, and look outside it and not just go ‘aren’t we great’,” says Missy. “Yes we are, but we need to show other people.”
And so Sandman eats the last of his fruit scone and bids Thee SPC fellows good day. An eccentric bunch they are but there is one thing you must admit. They do make exceedingly good records.