In May of 2003, I met William Jones, the frontman with the legendary British indiepop group Friends, at a coffeeshop at Gothenburg's central station, where we spoke about his band's career from when they first formed in 1986, and also about his label, Summerhouse. This conversation has since then been available to read here in the Pennyblackmusic Magazine, and since a lot of people have read it, we thought it would be a good idea to check up with Mr Jones once again, and ask him a little about the brand new Friends album, 'Late Night Early Morning' and the European tour that might happen this Fall...

PB : Tell me a little about this new album and its recording and songwriting

WJ : The recording fitted into our usual pattern of rehearsing for several months then going up to Hull to spend two weeks at the Fairview Studio there with John Spence recording and mixing. We’ve never taken more than two weeks in the studio, and in fact our first two albums ('Let's Get Away From It All', which came out in 1988, and 'Roads Leading Everywhere', which came out in 1989-Ed) were done in a single week. There’s plenty of other places to record an album, but we like working with John and that’s where he usually works.

The songwriting had been going on since the last album ‘Beautiful You’ came out in 2002 and even during it. There’s a constant flow of songs and after eight albums it doesn’t look like stopping.

There were some great moments in the recording sessions. We had two songs with a string quartet (plus another two which we’ve kept for later), and hearing the arrangements played for the first time was a wonderful experience. And we had a new backing singer, as Katherine Dow Blyton, our usual singer, is an actress on TV and couldn’t get the time off. Melanie Harrold is someone whose music I’ve loved for years, since the early 80's when I saw her supporting the Strawbs. She spent a day with us in the studio, and came up with so much great stuff, which added a lot to the songs and gave us a lot of options when it came to mixing.

I often think of recording as taking snapshots of the songs, and then you can’t wait to see how they’ve come out when you get them printed or look at them on screen. With this album it was a great thrill hearing the songs in their finished form and I’m very proud of them.

PB : If you compare ‘Late Night Early Morning’ to ‘Beautiful You’, what do you think are the main differences?

WJ : ‘Beautiful You’ was a very bright-sounding album, very upbeat in mood. ‘Late Night Early Morning’ is a bit more reflective, although there are certainly some very positive, optimistic songs on it. I think ‘Beautiful You’ was a different sound for us, especially after the long lay-off we had after releasing ‘Folk Songs’ (the band's sixth album, which was released in 1995-Ed), and I think is also our best-performed and best-produced album. I think the new one is in the same mould as ‘Beautiful You’ in terms of overall sound, and up to the same standard. It also has a bit more weirdness about it. The final song ‘Slow Dissolve’ is very unusual, and we recorded the background sounds of voices in a local swimming pool as we wanted that particular echoey sound you get there.

PB : What is the subject matter of the new album?

WJ : There isn’t any particular theme, but there are a lot of references to place, and places, particularly places that are important to us, and which help define our lives and our personal history. The title is a line from one of the songs, and is also a reference to that particular feeling when everyone except yourself is asleep and it’s a very weird time of the day or night when you’re entirely alone with your thoughts and feelings. And I think some of the songs on the album are about that feeling where everything is quiet and is concentrated into that particular time of day.

PB : What is your favourite song from the new album?

My favourite song is ‘Streetscene’. There are several reasons for this. One is that the string quartet arrangement we use there I think is perfect for the song, and the double bass and percussion really underpin it in a very subtle way.

It’s one of the songs I’m most pleased with lyrically as well. It talks about the past from the point of view of the places that mean something in the life of the person in the song, and is a kind of travelogue of London places and some others, some from my own life, others that I’ve made up or "borrowed". At the same time there is a narrative woven into it, so it’s not just a list of towns and street names. It tells the story of someone who rises up and then has a big crash, again told through the kind of places this person lives and the rooms they sleep in.

I’m also very fond of ‘Someotherwhere’. Again the story is very simple – someone walks out one day and just keeps on walking. Then they come back, maybe some years later. You don’t know where they’ve been or what has happened, except that there’s been some kind of breakdown and they’ve come back mended, having been in some strange place. I think it has a very existential feel to it. The guitar solo by Richard Buckton is amazing, as good as anything by Larry Carlton on Steely Dan’s ‘The Royal Scam’ which is my measure of great guitar-playing!

PB : Who is Jojo in ‘Go Jojo Go’?

WJ : Jojo is a fictional character. In the song she’s someone who is big in maybe the fashion industry, like a designer, who has risen very fast very young from ‘street’ level. Then it all goes bad, and after a collapse she comes back again from failure to make it again. Although she comes across as a bit dodgy, the song is sympathetic to her. The slow middle section of the song is all the words of encouragement that Jojo needs to try again.

PB : What is the meaning of the cover?

WJ : The cover is different from any others we have done. They have always been either straight photos or montages or constructions. This was the first time we’ve set up a shot as a scene and photographed it. We did it in a mews street in Chelsea very early one morning at dawn. The person in the photo is walking home just at the time the sun is coming up. You don’t know where he’s been, what he’s done or how he is feeling. It’s quite moody and atmospheric, and has a slight resonance with films like ‘Blow Up’ from the 60's. It is also very evocative of London, and I suppose has the most connection with the song ‘Streetscene’ which, if anything, is the title track of the album, although there are a few other references in the songs to late nights and early mornings. On one level it’s just a straightforward photo of someone walking down a street, but it has a sense of weariness, sadness and mystery to it which I like.

PB : Will you be doing any touring for this album? If so, who will be in the band?

I hope so. It depends if we can get a series of dates in the UK or abroad that will make it worthwhile. We spent a lot of time in our early years playing crap venues to small audiences. People talk about it being good experience, and being a way of defining your sound, but I think it can be very damaging too. Now, after all these years, if we play live, it has to be right. We’re trying to put together some dates in the autumn and New Year. The band will be pretty much the same as in the recordings, with drummer Martin Parker, bassist Edwin Pearson and myself, but Richard, our guitarist, has just become a father and doesn’t want to go out touring, and Jon Kirby, our keyboard player, has work commitments, and can’t get away for one-off gigs a long way from home. So we’ll probably be working with a different guitarist and keyboard player when we play live. I hope it happens – I’m looking forward to it a lot.

PB : You recently reissues the early Friends singles through Summerhouse. How did those reissues go? Do you have any more plans for such reissues?

WJ : They have gone well. The first single ‘It’s Getting Louder’ (1986-Ed) had sold out as a 7” and you couldn’t get it any longer. People still want it, so it made sense to make it available as a CD single. We wanted to keep the integrity of the original record, so the artwork is the same, it’s still just two songs but at a cheaper price than a standard CD single, and there aren’t any filler tracks or notes about the record as you often get with re-issues. So it’s the same thing as before, only on CD.

‘Far And Away’ (1987) is still available on vinyl, but most people want to buy on CD these days, apart from dance records and occasional trends to return to vinyl. So now it’s available in both media. Again, it’s the same package as the original 12” single.

The only further reissues are the first album ‘Let’s Get Away From It All’, but that’s not really a reissue, it’s just been unavailable on CD for a while, as Vinyl Japan licensed it and put it out on vinyl again about three years ago. We wanted to wait a while until those had sold before it came back on CD. It should be back on CD again in the autumn.

PB : What does the future look like for Friends now?

WJ : Same as ever. We will keep writing and recording and hope that people are still listening. We’d like to return to playing live much more, partly because we miss it, and partly because it’s so difficult to promote your music to a wider audience, and this is the most direct way to do it – if we can get venues to play and draw an audience!

We have another two albums already written. The next one will probably be very very acoustic and minimal, like ‘Folk Songs’ but even more! After that we’ll do another one with the full band. We’ve also re-recorded ‘You’ll Never See That Summertime Again’, our most popular song, and that will be out as a CD single next year. That’s simply because we think it has a chance of getting some radio play and reviews, and will introduce us to a new audience. It’s exactly the same arrangement of the song as on ‘Roads Leading Everywhere’, but better performed and produced. There may be one other new song on the CD, possibly an acoustic version of an existing song. If people are happy with the version they have, then they won’t need to buy it! But we hope that millions of new people will like it!

PB : Thank you
















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