published: 27 /
Recently reformed Sheffield indie rockers Little Man Tate are due to play their first gigs in eleven years in September. Ahead of the two sold out hometown shows, lead singer Jon Windle chats candidly to Denzil Watson about the group’s split and reformation.
It’s been hard times under COVID-19. With all gigs cancelled for the foreseeable future, it’s been pretty much bad news all round. But now it’s time for some good news!
After a multitude of fan rumours swirling round the internet, Sheffield’s Little Man Tate announced back in March that they will return to play a one-off reunion concert in their hometown on Friday 18th September. Due to phenomenal demand, one show very quickly became two. It will be their first gigs in eleven years since they split back in October 2009, after an eventful and dazzling four-year career back.
Initially signing to V2, the indie rock band went on to release two albums, score no less than five Top 40 hits and establish something of a reputation with their hedonistic live shows. The reformation includes the full original line-up of singer/guitarist Jon Windle, guitarist Edward ‘Maz’ Marriott, bassist Ben Surtees and drummer Dan Fields.
Pennyblackmusic’s Denzil Watson spoke to the band’s likeable and down-to-earth frontman, Jon Windle.
PB: It’s been a while Jon. How are you?
Jon Windle: I’m good thank you. I’m in a really good place. The lockdown is a bit of a nightmare, but we’ll come out of it.
PB: There’s still a lot of love out there for Little Man Tate isn’t there?
JW: Honestly, we didn’t realise that people were still that bothered. When you walk round town in Sheffield people go “It’s Jon out of Little Man Tate” and you just think it’s people being nice, but we didn’t realise there was this much love for us still. In the past I was really dead against getting the band back together, but I was then, like, “Hang on, we could we be big again”. A bit like Crème Brûlée! (nearly men band from ‘The League of Gentlemen’ – Ed ).
PB: Friday 18th of September’s show sold out and there’s only a few tickets left for Saturday. Were you taken back by the scale of interest to see the band again?
JW: We didn’t know that they’d got a second date on hold. The pre-sale sold out in minutes and the agent who had all the stats said the pre-orders had gone so well they wanted to put another date on then put them both on general sale at the same time. The Friday night sold out in 3 minutes. Four-and-a-half thousand tickets in three minutes.
PBM: It’s quite fitting that you are playing the two nights at the O2 isn’t it, given that’s where you signed off back in October 2009?
JW: Yes. It’s perfect. You forget what it’s all about sometimes. We got lost in ourselves with it all. And those last two gigs were so good. So, with the opportunity to do that again all those mad feelings come back. We’re so excited.
PB: A lot of the Sheffield bands from the mid-Noughties either kept going or, in a few cases, have reformed. Did you hang out/identify with any of your peers back then?
JW: Yes. There was a lot made up about us not getting on with the other Sheffield bands that got to that next level. Me and Jon McClure from Reverend and the Makers are friends. We’ve done some charity stuff together. As you get older and you have kids, you realise what’s important. Jon’s always supported everything that we’ve done, music-wise. They’ll be coming to the shows in September and on the guest list, and we’ll have a drink and a good time. We’ve all grown up and it’s great to see everyone still being successful.
PB: It’s good for Sheffield isn’t it?
JW: To produce the bands it’s produced is massive. The Human League, ABC, Pulp, Longpigs, Milburn, Reverend and the Makers, Arctic Monkeys, Long Blondes, Harrisons. And they are the ones that got the press. Then you go back to all the other bands that were around. It was just a brilliant music scene and it still is.
PB: As a band, you achieved a lot in a short space of time. You released two albums, had five Top 40 hits to your name and big fan base that made your live shows always an event. At the time, it seemed a shock decision to split the band. Do you regret splitting up back then?
JW: That’s a great question. Do I regret it? You know what, I regret so many things from around that time. I regret saying the silly things that we said in the press. I regret writing some of songs we wrote. And getting deep into thinking we could change music by being clever. All that it’s about is that if were making people happy and we can make people laugh and make people cry. If we can make people enjoy music. And that’s all that matters. So, do I regret us splitting up then? No, because I wasn’t in a good place. If I am being honest, I think I owe Ben, Maz and Dan an apology because I didn’t wanna do it anymore and I brought it down from the middle. I was the catalyst of breaking Little Man Tate up.
Now we’re in this situation where we are back together, I’ve apologised to them all and they accepted my apology and we’re going to have a right good crack. Back then I wasn’t in a good place in those days, before I got married and had children. I let them all down by not wanting to do it anymore. I was selfish in it all. It wasn’t intentional. It was just that mentally, I was struggling, and I didn’t want to do it anymore. We should have done it a better way. So, it’s a difficult question. So, do I regret it? No, because if we’d not split then I don’t know where we’d all of been mentally and what would have happened. That said, we did split up and I ended up getting married and having two beautiful children, sorting my head out and focusing on being a good dad. But I regret not working hard and helping the band to achieve what we potentially, could have achieved.
PB: After Little Man Tate you went on to a solo career, releasing two solo albums in 2010 and 2012, didn’t you?
JW: Yeah, I don’t know why I did that really, if I’m honest. If you listen to the first of the two albums you can hear that it wasn’t very good. The second solo album, ‘Sober Minds’, could have been what the third Little Man Tate album could have been. ‘My Name’s Frankie’ and ‘Winter’s Love Affair’ on the first album were songs that I’d got written ready for the next Little Man Tate album and the rest of the second solo album would have been in the mix. They were only in the most basic form. But I look back on it and I don’t know why I did the solo thing. I didn’t really enjoy it. The reasons why I was doing it weren’t the right reasons. I’d of much rather have done a third Little Man Tate album, but hindsight’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? But I wasn’t happy. I’d been writing songs for record labels. It’s like the track on the second Little Man Tate album, ‘London Skies, London Eyes’. I was thinking “What am I doing writing this? We’re all Sheffield-based in the North.” And I was thinking maybe this will make us bigger in the South. So, all of a sudden, you’re not writing songs like when you started out. We were writing songs so they were relatable to people then all of a sudden we’re writing songs because the record label says “We need something that’s going to grab the South” because we were not selling records in the South.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good tune but it wasn’t what Little Man Tate was about, hence why it was never in the live shows. I listen back to that second album and five or six songs on there, and I know Maz is the same, I think “That wasn’t Little Man Tate”. Some of the songs like ‘Back of the Pub Quiz’ and ‘She Looked Like Audrey Hepburn’, they were the sort of songs we were writing in that Little Man Tate style, but then the label stepped in and told us to “Try not to think too close to home boys” and all of a sudden you find yourself writing songs to order. Then we got a slightly bitter and we started writing some bitter songs and trying to be too deep, which is not what we were about. We were about playing and just enjoying ourselves. I like the second album, but there were songs on it that weren’t what we were about.
PB: After your solo career came to an end you went into band management. Did you literally put your guitar down and stop writing songs after that?
JW: Yup. I have not literally written a song since 2012 when I wrote the second album. I put the guitar down and didn’t touch it. I fell out of love with it completely because if we weren’t going to be what we wanted to be, I don’t want to do it at all. I sold it all. I’ve got to buy my guitar back, my cream Telecaster. It’s cost me £300 more than what I sold it for. I’m yet to get it back as I agreed the deal since we have been in lockdown. I’ve still got my acoustic, but I didn’t touch that either. The first time I’ve picked up a guitar apart, from just having a laugh with family and friends when someone says, “Go on our Jon, play us a song”, to do something serious with it was January this year.
PB: In the intervening years did you keep in-touch with the other members, Dan, Maz and Ben?
JW: Well, yes. Maz is my best pal. We’ve been best pals since we were nine years old. Maz’s wife is helping us out with all the recent social media stuff. What’s lovely about it all is that it has become a real family thing. It’s not V2 or Skint telling us what we are doing. It’s much more what it was like back at the real beginning in 2005. It’s right lovely. We’re all involved, and chat.
Little Man Tate has become a real family thing and all our kids can’t wait to see us. They’re coming to sound-check. They were a massive part in us deciding to do it. My little boys are seven and nine now and my nephew came to Leeds and was eight or nine at the time. Dan’s kids are eleven and sixteen. They all kind of put the pressure on us so it was like “The kids want to see us, so we can make them happy”. The biggest reason apart from the fact that the stars were aligned was that our kids were asking us to do something. You can’t say no, can you? I just hope we don’t let them down. We’re all eleven years older and all of our songs are high energy. No one wants to see a Scouting for Girls band of thirty eight-year old blokes bouncing about stage singing about being a teenager, when you’re thirty plus.
We’ve got to have the energy, but somehow, we’ve got to find a happy medium. Something in between these twenty-year-old lads being daft and a bit drunken and the fact we’re eleven years older. If we can’t turn up at these shows and play like we are twenty-seven years old and give everybody what they experienced then there’s no point in doing it. So, we’re trying to get fit, and lose some weight. It has to have that vibe. It’s got that nostalgia feel as we’re not coming back with a new album. If we can give people the same show we gave them in 2009 when we finished in 2020, eleven years on, then I think we will have done our job. We don’t want to be on stage playing like old men. We want people to remember Little Man Tate at their best. We’ve got to be better than we were then, if that makes sense. We’ve got to be a better band. Tighter, with the same energy without the all being hammered and messing everything up. That kind of edge to it, if that makes sense.
PB: It’s the original line-up for the forthcoming shows. Was that a critical factor in making this happen?
JW: Yeah, 100%. It had to be all four of us. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have worked.
PB: It must be a bit weird in the current climate as there’s all this excitement surrounding the reunion but currently you can’t even get back in the same room as each other and strap on your guitars.
JW: Yup, it’s absolutely insane. We’ve not been together as a four since Maz’s wedding.
PB: I’m guessing that while you’ve been in lockdown, you have decided on a set list for the gigs.
JW: We’ve decided on a group of songs but not the order.
PB: You’ve got a lot of songs to go at as you have the two albums and numerous B-sides, which, to be honest, were never really B-sides.
JW: I often have thought that some of the B-sides were better than the A sides, in some cases.
PB: Yeah, the quality of your B-sides reminds me of The Smiths a bit.
JW: I love it that we’ve just been mentioned in the same breath as The Smiths. Thank you!
PB: I think you just used to get in the groove and write good songs. You never seemed to get writer’s block.
JW: That’s because we weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. We were just trying to write good songs. We weren’t trying to be too deep. Catchy songs that people could relate to. Things that were going on at the time. Me and Maz were looking back at the songs and there are some lyrics we are going to change as it’s a different day and age.
We’re not 21 or 22 anymore. Like for example the lyric in “House Party at Boothy’s” – “I talked to some kid, he couldn’t be much gayer”. It was about a true story and he was my friend and he was gay. We weren’t actually sat in a chair next to a CD player, we were in a hot tub at Boothy’s. I remember at the time our radio plugged was saying they might not go with that. And I said “Well, he is my friend and he is gay”. But it’s a different time now so we’ve decided to go with “I talked to a someone, he couldn’t be much greyer” which works really well as we’re all getting grey and older. We never meant to cause any offence and most people took it for what it was. Just a throwaway lyric and a bit of fun.
PB: Will you feel nervous about playing your hometown to two sell-out shows and over 3,000 over the two nights?
JW: 100%. Shitting myself. Especially that we will be going in dry. We won’t have played a gig together in eleven years. We will have practiced, but we’re not doing a secret show or any sneaky supports. What we would like to do is have a bit of fun with the fans where they can win some tickets to come to the final rehearsal, but there’s not going to be any gigs before. So, for people who have bought tickets, it can go one of two ways. They can come and have a good time, or they can see us crash and burn. Either way, it’s going to be interesting.
PB: What will the plan be for LMT post the gigs? Will you do more gigs and maybe start writing and recording again?
JW: It’s two gigs.
PB: But presumably you won’t have ruled out doing things beyond the gigs if you really get the thirst again?
JW: We’ve not ruled it out as it’s not come up in conversation. It’s difficult enough to do these two shows. We’ve not even been in a rehearsal room yet. So, there’s no point thinking ahead of those two shows.
PB: Jon, thank you very much. Thank you for speaking to Pennyblack Music and all the best with the shows.