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Tompaulin - Interview

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 26 / 9 / 2002

Tompaulin - Interview


Tompaulin's new single was produced by former Jesus and Mary Chain stars, Jim Reid and Ben Lurie. Anthony Strutt chats to frontman Jamie Holman and guitarist Tap about its recording, side project Mick Travis and their eventual second album

First formed in Blackburn in Lancashire in 1999, Tompaulin, over the course of the last three years, have become one of the most popular independent groups in Britain, regularly topping its indie charts. The band consists of Jamie Holman on vocals and guitar : Stacey McKenna also on vocals ; Lee Davies on piano : Simon 'Tap' Trought on guitar ; Katie Grocott on bass ; Amos Memom on drums and Ciaron Melia, who, while he no longer plays an instrument with the group, along with Holman, writes the songs and lyrics. Tompaulin released their first single, 'The Ballad of the Boot Boys', a 7", on Action Records in late 1999. Limited to 1000 copies, it sold out in its initial pressing within a week. In the time since then, the band has released it debut album, 'The Town and the City' (Ugly Man, 2001) and a spate of other singles which include 'Slender' (Earworm, 2000) ; 'Car Crash EP (Action, 2000), 'It's a Girl's World (Track and Field, 2001) and 'My Life at the Movies' (Ugly Man, 2001). 'Slender' and 'It's a Girl's World" were also given vinyl releases only, while all the other recordings have appeared on both 7" and CD. The group's sixth and latest single, 'Give Me a Riot in the Summer time', which again has appeared on both CD and vinyl. came out in August and was produced by ex-Jesus and Mary Chain and current Freeheat members, Jim Reid and Ben Lurie. Several of the members of Tompaulin also play in another occasional group, Mick Travis, which is currently fronted by Blackburn country singer, Garfield Griffin, and which put out its debut single, 'Yvonne', on 7" in July. I met with Tompaulin at their first gig in London in nine months in September, and spoke to Jamie and Tap about the recording of 'Give Me a Riot...', the 'Yvonne' 7" and also their plans for an eventual second album PB : First of all, I want to cover some new ground. I first saw the band around the time of the second single, 'Slender'. Prior to that there was the 'Ballad of the Boot Boys/Wedding Song' 7". How did the band come together ? JH : When we recorded 'Ballad' and 'Slender', Katie wasn't in the band and Lee, who plays keyboards, also played bass. Amos joined on the day we recorded 'Ballad' at the studio. Before that it was just Lee, Stacey and me who started the band with Ciaron, but by the time we did 'Ballad' Tap had also joined and Ciaron had left the band as a player. He didn't want to play with the group anymore, but wanted to stay writing. Katie joined the band after 'Slender'. PB : And now we come forward to now. How well did the album 'The Town and the City' do critically and sales wise compared to the singles. I believe all the singles have sold out now. Yeah ? JH : The singles sold really well. Action Records keep on pressing the singles, bless' em, and selling them, but that's okay. The last count I had for 'Slender'was about eighteen months ago and it had then sold about 4000, but you can still buy it now. 'Ballad' was meant to be about a 1000 and I know a 1000 sold out in the first week, but you can still get that now and that's three years on. 'The Town and the City' was weird because it's flawed, massively flawed. PB : In what way ? JH : Production. We spent a lot of time on the singles, but I don't think we spent a lot of time on the album, although we spent a lot more money. It did sell really well though also. It did okay critically too, not as well as the singles, but it did okay. PB : I have to say I really like all the songs on the new 'Riot' EP and especially 'The Saddest of Things'. JH : 'The Saddest of Things' was the first song we ever wrote. PB : Both the other songs on 'Riot' were produced by Jim Reid and Ben Lurie. In the past a lot of your songs were about violence and sex, but, because of the vocal delivery, I don't think many people actually got it. JH : No, they didn't. PB : Do you think people actually listen to the words ? JH : No, I wish they did because I used to go out with this girl and I really liked the Mary Chain and she really liked Primal Scream and she used to say at the time that Primal Scream were really sweet and I always thought that the Mary Chain were really sweet and nice and quite vulnerable. Primal Scream were the darkest band imaginable, but sounded really sweet. I don't underestimate people who buy records. I underestimate people who review records and who keep comparing us to Belle and Sebestian. For 'Ballad' I can understand it because of the timing and the equipment we had. We used acoustic guitars a lot more then, and then you get to 'Slender' and I don't get it all. 'Slender' is really explicit as a song and 'Car Crash' is really explicit. 'Them Vs Us'(the second track on 'Slender'-Ed) is really explicit, but we sound really sweet. I thought at the time we were some sort of Dexys/Mary Chain/Primal Scream hybrid. No one else did though. PB : Do you think that with the new sound on 'Riot' people may realise that there is a much darker side to Tompaulin than they first realised ? JH : It's weird. It's always been dark ,like you said. Justine Frischmann (of Elastica) reviewed 'Slender' and it was probably one of the best reviews we have ever had. She said "Oh, it's a bit smacky. It's a bit like Spiritualized and it's really Velvetsy." And I was really happy with that. 'Riot', however, was reviewed in the NME as sounding like the Beautiful South. They couldn't have looked at who had produced it. I can't believe they even listened to the song as the second half is just layers of feedback. I think journalists will always keep on saying what they have always said about us. I can't believe in a country that's dominated by the NME and the adult press which the kids don't read. We always get good reviews in 'The Guardian', but no kids read that. PB : Do you think that your description of 'Riot' as being "Nancy and Lee on smack" was the perfection description of it ? To me it was. JH : I didn't call it that. Jim Reid called it that and I think that's the perfect blue print. PB : Do you think that you and Stacey feel more confident in your vocal delivery ? JH : Yeah, because when we formed the band, no one I knew had formed a band as a career move. None of us had been to music school. We couldn't originally play any instruments. We tried to do those things though. You have lofty ambitions with the records that you love. You want to achieve something. You don't want to be a run of the mill indie band. I have said from the beginning that I want us to be on 'Top of the Pops' and the only thing that holds us back is confidence. Like anything though you keep on doing it and you get better. You get better at writing songs. You get a better guitar player. Stacey has become a great vocalist and you do the best that you can. All the bands that I have ever loved don't do that rock 'n' roll thing. You go and see them and they're shit or they're good, but there's always something. They're just not Travis. PB : How was your working relationship with Jim and Ben ? JH : The working relationship was great. It was good. PB : What did they bring to your music and what did they bring out in it ? JH : Experience with recording guitars ! What you ultimately want as a producer is someone who has never made a bad record. We made a list of people who had never made a bad record and ended up with a short list. You, of course, want someone who is still making records. 'Retox' was just out and that was a more important a reason to us than any Mary Chain release really for wanting to work with them. When we talked about it though, me and Tap, because we talked about getting them, we also listened to 'Stoned and Dethroned, their great guitar record a lot. It was just that really. They brought their name to it as well though, no doubt about it. PB : Did the working relationship live up to your expections. Were you a bit wary ? JH : We were a bit worried because we are Mary Chain fans and you worry because of that and you worry because of your own fans. We were worried because of their track record of excellence, 21 great pop singles, whereas we haven't got 21 pop singles, so we were wary but for me personally it was the best experience of recording a record. PB : When you first knew you were going to record with them, did you pick out songs that you thought they could give you justice too ? JH : No, we demoed the two most recent songs. That is the absolute truth, two songs that were ready for recording, and we sent them to them, and then we recorded some more with them after that. In fact the demos they got, by the time we got to the studio to record the second time, we had written a new song so we did that, which they hadn't even heard, so we didn't go Mary Chain sympathetic. We just did what we did. PB : There has been a serious gap between 'The Town and the City' which was your last release, and it has also been about 9 months since your last London show. Why the the big gap ? JH : We have got a new label. PB : Which is ? JH : Track and Field. PB : You also played Glastonbury for the first time this summer. How was that ? JH : Glastonbury was fucking ace. It was the first thing we have done which is like what big bands do. We had backstage passes. We got a shower and a hot meal. We went on, had a great sound engineer, played to a lot of people and the best thing was people were shouting out for songs. I think it was a turning point. We had recorded with Jim and Ben and we just had become a band again after a spell apart. I am sure that all bands go through the same ,and we came out fighting. Stacey played the best gig I think she has ever done. She was made for the big stage. PB : The cover of 'The Town and the City' was really original, a yuppie in designer wear sitting on a rubbish tip texting. JH : You will have to talk to Tap about that because he does the artwork. Tap commissions it all. PB : (To Simon Trought) With the first album you had such a unique cover. ST : Yeah ! PB : How are you going to follow that ? ST : I don't know. The girl who takes all the record photos is a girl I have known for a long time, and that's from her portfolio of work. She shows them in galleries and she always has a body of work on the go and when we are going to release something, she lets me come down and chose a picture. It's just something that fits somehow. PB : Jamie, you gave me a demo tape called 'In the Black' before the interview. Is that the new album title or just the working title ? JH : It's the working title, 'In the Black/Back in Black'. There is a Mary Chain song called 'In the Black, and we took it from that. We have been working on loads of new stuff. We could of remade 'The Town and the City' and we could of remade 'Slender', but we didn't want to do that. I really don't know yet how fully we will sound in twelve months. The band's songs are very diverse though. I think we are the most ambitious unsigned band in the country. We always have been. We have never signed a a contract. We have paid for everything. We are the band that phoned up Jim Reid and said "Come and produce it". No, we haven't got any money, but we have got the songs and we were the only new band on the new band stage at Glastonbury. This not a time to be fiercely independent. This is not a time to change for a small independent label who don't have much money. This is not a good time to say we have been listening to Hip Hop and drum loops. We can't help it though. I don't think we will ever get signed. We have really good management and a really good press officer and that's the closest we have ever got. PB : Do you think that the new sound will alienate Tompaulin fans who wish you had stayed in your first 7" mode ? JH : We don't want to keep the fans who wished we had stayed in our first 7" mode. We don't understand that. They can stay with the first 7". That's fine.You don't stay with bands though because they are brands. It's not coca cola. You stay with bands because they make great records. You go to see bands because they're great, shit, crap, whatever. That's how you experience music. Bands have the right to make bad records and you don't have to buy that record if you don't like it. It's not a brand. I hate the idea. We are really poor. I think it's laughable that some people are going to say "I'm not going to see Tompaulin because they don't use acoustic guitars anymore". I broke mine. I can't afford another one. PB : I really like the new demos, but, to be honest, I wasn't expecting that. I was expecting it to have feedback, but not that... JH : What did you expect it to be ? A Mary Chain blue print ? PB : I expected it to be Mary Chainy, but it wasn't. JH : I don't think it is. That would be easy. It would be really insulting to say to someone like Jim Reid "Okay, we are going to rape your corpse." You take elements of that, but it's based on things that are already there. You have an understanding when you say to Jim Reid "Beach Boys/Shangri Las" and he says "That is there" and then you go from there. I think that the relationship that the new songs have with the old ones is not things like like feedback, because there's feedback on 'It's a Girl's World'. There's feedback on the album, but people chose to ignore it and it was there on 'Ballad of the Bootboys'. What happens is you become a better musician and that doesn't mean you play more chords. You just get more used to writing songs together. I enjoy it much more now. PB : Right, now on to Mick Travis. Who are Mick Travis ? Are the names on the record real names ? JH : Yeah, the names are as on the record. Tap wrote the music. Garfield Grieve, who sings on it, wrote the melody and the words. I don't play on the A side, but I do on the B side. Stacey wasn't even there on the day when we recorded it. PB : So Mick Travis isn't a real person a la Tompaulin ? JH : It's a character from the 'If Trilogy' of fims ('If', 'O Lucky Man' and 'Britannia Hospital, all directed by Lindsey Anderson). It's used by different members of Tompaulin for different things. Me and Ciaron both write under it, which is confusing. We have recorded under it and will probably record under it again. PB : Is there an album's worth of material yet ? ST : Probably an EP's worth. PB : Why did you put it out on Fortuna Pop and not Track and Field ? ST : It made Sean Price (who runs Fortuna Pop-Ed) really happy. He's in love with that song. He would of of shot us if we had said "No". PB : Does he realise it sounds like Lee Hazlewood ? ST : Yeah ! I think that's why he wanted it, to be honest. I don't think Track and Field wanted it. Sean heard it first. He heard a demo. PB : Who writes the songs for the single ? Was it you and Garfield ? ST : Yeah ! He had the songs worked out in his head, all the melody based on his knowledge of country music. It was already written, but he can't play anything. JH : So Tap goes that's an E and that's a G. Before we recorded 'Yvonne', we sat down in my house and watched 'Johnny Cash Live at St Vincent'. Garth's a total showman though. You would of noticed tonight we stopped and he carried on. PB : Thanks for your time. JH : You're welcome.

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Interview (2002)
Tompaulin - Interview
Seven piece group Tompaulin combine breezy melodies and boy-girl harmonies with downbeat lyrics about their native Blackburn.Members Jamie Holman and Ciaron Melia, talk about their debut album, and recent Pennyblack bestseller 'The Town and the City.'


Into The Black (2005)
Long awaited, but excellent second studio album from Blackburn five piece Tompaulin, which features appearances from the he Jesus and Mary Chain's Jim Reid and Ben Lurie
Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt (2004)
Give Me A Riot In The Summer Time (2002)
Slender (2001)

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