I’m very good at saying that I’m not really into a certain genre of music but then playing it a lot, going to a gig, thoroughly enjoying it and then declaring that band as one of my favourites.
So I’m just going to come out and say it.
I like music.
Lots of it.
I don’t necessarily know all the ins and out of it. I’m a listener and I play it out but I’m neither a musician or a music historian.
It appears that I now rather like Ska. I like the vibrancy and the energy of bands that take their influence from the music that originally came floating across the Atlantic from Jamaica in the decades after World War II, blending heady 50s reggae and calypso, mixing in jazz and blues to which the 70s added the anger and intensity of punk to give an edge to the faster rhythms. The result was 2-Tone and the epicentre of this new music was Coventry. The music was named after the record label created by Jerry Dammers of The Specials.
Other than growing up with and hearing the music, I wasn’t really into that scene and my main connection to The Specials is that I love the artwork of The Specials’ bassist, Horace Panter, but that’s a whole different feature.
A recent Artist of the Week, on my Sunday Girl radio show, was a Liverpool band called Western Promise who describe themselves as Rockin/Reggae/Punk Soul Dancers. They have that Ska/Jamaican sound mixed in with a revolutionary political anger that pours out through their lyrics and as I really liked them I was instantly interested in hearing the music of The Talks, so I jumped at the chance to go and see them play live at The Matrix.
This Girl About Town doesn’t often do taxis and I made the mistake of expecting one to magically appear the second I wanted it. Apparently that doesn’t work and, in this case, it would have taken 20 minutes. I was already running late so car it had to be and although I found a parking spot down Wellowgate the crossing was all cordoned off. Thankfully, the bridge was still useable but by the time I got there I was somewhat red-faced but, amazingly, spot on the time I was aiming for.
The Talks, formed in 2008, are a ska punk band from Hull but there’s a lot more to them than that and they don’t really deserve to be stuck in a box with just one label on the front. They have many influences; from 50s Jamaican calypso, through the 60s reggae and ska scene, 70s 2-Tone, reggae, punk, indie, hip hop and dub. That’s where their roots lie but their own tastes and influences have also crept into the mix – anything from Blur to grunge.
The individual members all played in other bands before forming The Talks. Iain had been in an Indie band and Pat a punk band whereas Titch had been more heavy metal. Iain and Pat met up with each other while studying for their music degrees at Hull University. This diversity of influence carried on into their studies and, as Iain put it, it was all the really quirky, plinky-plonky music stuff that he liked – avant garde contemporary music. The type that they will probably never use but it was good to research and find out about.
I’ve been liaising with Richard ‘Titch’ Lovelock, The Talks’ drummer, so I give him a call and we head to the tour van for an interview with him, Patrick Pretorius, lead vocalist/saxophonist, and Iain Allen, bassist. Both the latter two studied music at Hull University and there’s an intriguing academic and political awareness to their songwriting and musicianship, although it’s not in your face or party political and angles more towards social awareness. If you have a stage – you may as well use it and at this The Talks excel. The track Hacks, for example, is about the choice of language in journalism and how things are politically led or conveniently ignored.
My first question is why ska and they explain that it was partly due to projects that they had been in with other bands and artists and it felt like a natural progression.When they formed in 2008 they had more of a Police feel to the music. It was project work and didn’t have that distinct ska beat to it. It was all experimenting to find their sound by discovering what worked and more importantly, what didn’t.
Even though they don’t write formulaic ska the music industry always attaches genre labels and tries to stick artists in a box. It almost creates an obligation, as an artist, to conform and in one foul swoop that’s what you are, and nothing else. The Talks are keen to stress that they’re not a ska Band from Hull – more a band from Hull who are influenced by ska – and other things.
Pat sums things up – “I’ve always thought about music as freedom of thought – as being creative. That was the theory but it seems the absolute opposite in respect of everything else that is really happening.”
The music industry offers freedom with boundaries. Conformity has its place, but the Talks will always kick back and that is what gives their music life. You need to know the rules in order to get away with successfully breaking them. The Talks don’t want to be the band that churns out the same stuff, writing the same song again and again, like some very successful artists do – trying to convince themselves that it’s alright. We’re talking artistic integrity here and it is good to talk to a band that has some.
How do they go about songwriting? They tell me that it comes from individual collecting of ideas, general noodling about and then, from all the disparate ideas, creating a structure, melding the ideas into one and trying to isolate the purpose and the point. They all have different tastes so it’s not necessarily easy. One person can be listening to folk or country, Titch listens to 1930s jazz and Jody listens to rave and hip hop. They love it but trying to make it all stick together into at least a rough thread is like something else! However, that’s the beauty of it. They’ve written plenty of songs that they dig but think other people wouldn’t, these songs get stuffed in a little corner waiting for their day to come.
For example, Tear Us Apart, on the new album, is a song they have had for four or five years until they decided to turn this funny little tune into something totally different by reggae-ing it up – and it worked. The song came into its own and found what it should be.
The Talks believe that you have to take an open minded approach – without that things just wouldn’t happen. Think of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. How must that have sounded at the time to a public who had never heard anything like its outrageous brilliance before? It’s a classic album but even now it is fairly surreal. The genius was in making it accessible at the time.
There isn’t really a main songwriter in The Talks. It’s a collaboration and everybody puts their own bits in. Originally it was Pat and Jody but as they turned into a proper band with Iain and Titch joining it became a case of all getting together and creating music. Learning their own lines and respecting each other’s space, building on each other’s strengths and working with honesty is what makes it happen. At the beginning it was all a bit too polite and the “yes, that’s great” (sssh – quick, put it in the bin….!). That may be nicer but it doesn’t get rid of the weeds and let the real flowers bloom. They’re not that nice to each other any more.
I asked them if they had any intentions to move from Hull but the consensus was that they rather liked living and working there. Pat is a mixing, mastering and production engineer and has worked as a studio engineer at studios including Shepperton, working on Disney films. He is roots reggae at heart and thrives on getting that big sound but can turn his hand to any project and has an impressive list of artists he has worked with. He owns a recording studio, in Hull, A.O.O.R. (All Of Our Records) and provides voice overs and recording, and creates tracks for a video or radio projects. They can also provide cost effective demo packages for up and coming bands.
Fellow Talk Jody Moore is also a producer, mixing and mastering engineer who has spent a lot of his time in top studios and is a creative force when it comes to mixing & producing. He has had many of his mixes played on Radio 1. Able to turn his hand to almost any instrument, Jody is definitely someone you want involved on your session. If it’s that massive guitar sound or off the wall programming it’s right up his street.
We talk about the pleasures of being from smaller places North of Watford, they believe that there is an immense amount of talent – just scratch beneath the surface and there is loads going on.
Pat thinks that wealth and prosperity don’t necessarily breed great art. Iain agrees, saying that it can leave you with nothing to strive for. Ambition comes from determination. They agree that, if you haven’t got much, you see things differently and this is why Liverpool had its moment and Manchester had its. Pat thinks that this region will have something special happen to it soon – there are too many good things for it not to.
The Talks have been good friends with Neville Staple, vocalist with The Specials and Fun Boy Three, for a number of years and have released a single with him, the rather brilliant Can Stand The Rain (about trying to put a brighter face on the recession). They toured with The Specials when they did a reunion tour. Pat says that it was quite an intense experience, as after 30 years the fans of The Specials were gagging to see them and The Talks felt that they were a bit in the way. It felt like they should get off the stage and let the fans have their long awaited moment. Despite that pressure, they had a great time and keep in touch with the band. A lot of The Specials members have their own solo projects and The Talks play a lot with the members individually. Neville is their most frequent collaborator and he’ll be joining The Talks on stage at some festivals this year and they’ll be doing some more collaborations. Lynval Golding, also of The Specials and Fun Boy Three, guitarist and vocalist, has his own band, Pama International. Horace Panter does lots of different things and The Talks tend to meet him a lot at various festivals – usually in the food tent!
As well as touring with The Specials, The Talks have supported Rancid, Madness, The Beat, King Blues and The Toasters.
The Talks enjoy collaboration and another artist that they work with is Itch, a rapper and former member of the King Blues. He now has a very successful solo career and features on the Talks album track, Ceasefire. They are also involved in the Specialized project which raises funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust.
The Talks describe themselves as a slow burner band. They’ve worked and toured and built themselves up gradually. It’s is all about practising your art and the more you do it, the better you become, both as a unit and as individuals says Iain.
And seemingly little things can turn out to be big things. For example, Tim Armstrong from the Californian punk/ska band Rancid heard a track via a mate of a mate of a mate and played it on his radio show. The next thing that The Talks knew was they were on stage in front of 3000 Rancid fans, playing in Leeds at the O2 Academy and the band were really good to them.
You can buy The Talks’ music from all the usual digital platforms and they have just signed a contract with a record company in Germany who will be handling all the physical distribution so their vinyl and CDs will be available in shops all over Europe and the UK. The latest album is available on a limited edition of 500 on red vinyl, and has sold really well so, if you fancy one of those, I wouldn’t waste much time. I’m tempted myself – I’m a bit of a coloured vinyl girl. After that the vinyl will be the same great music but black, so not as pretty to watch spinning!
They have also been selling physical music via their own website and through a couple of independent record shops. Pat really likes independent record shops. They are always run with passion and heart driven but tend to be up against it with high rents and other practical financial obstacles. Although, despite downloading and competition from supermarkets and their tendency to quietly die away, there seems to be a resurgence as people are turning back to physical media as it is something real to have and to hold. The Talks have found that their sales of vinyl have gone through the roof. They couldn’t believe it. When they started pressing the vinyl they wondered if anyone would actually buy it as it is more expensive, both to produce and to buy, but it has gone really, really well.
When you listen to a single you often just listen to it superficially but if you listen closer you realise that there are a lot of ingredients that have contributed to this particular auditory dish, and you can start to identify all the different flavours that make up the whole.
Pat says that he wasn’t expecting to feel the way that he did when he actually had a record to hold and Iain adds that, in a way, it is quite profound. It brings back memories of the records that Pat’s dad used to have and that Pat then went onto mess up by practicing scratching with!
We talk about how difficult it is to extend into different genres. Even though they love to experiment with different sounds and musical avenues it is something that has to be managed quite carefully and creatively in order to keep coherence and not alienate their listener/fan base. They have achieved this successfully in their latest album, 2014’s well received Commoners, Peers, Drunks & Thieves.
One standout track is called Don’t Look Behind You and the way The Talks are performing they certainly have got plenty to look forward to – as do we, the listeners.
They recently recorded a tribute to Trevor Bolder, a Hull native who was bassist for Wishbone Ash and Uriah Heap and for Bowie’s band, the Spiders From Mars. Iain knew Trevor from when he was a teenager. He taught Iain how to play and was a big fan of The Talks, giving them some help with song writing and career guidance. Unfortunately he passed away in 2013 and they wanted to record a track as a tribute to this man that had been such a big influence on them.
They chose Changes, the first track from the 1971 Bowie album, Hunky Dory. Trevor really liked that album as it was new and fresh – he loved the exciting stuff – not rehashing the old. You can find the video for The Talks tribute version on You Tube.
Finally, I ask them to say something about each of them individually. Iain admits to being quite heavy on the drinks part of the rider but has had his crown taken away from him by both the last two keyboardists who tend to be quite extreme and demolish it and have made him look a bit of a wet blanket in comparison! (The Talks have two keyboardists who take it in turns to join the band on stage and, at the Matrix, it was the turn of Joe Holt.)
Pat says that as he owns the recording studio, he tends to be quite involved in the production side and as he works with a lot of incredible bands, he gets to know what is going on in the Hull scene. The production for The Talks tends to be his experimentation space where he gets to try out all the crazy stuff.
As Titch and Jody weren’t around I left it to Pat and Iain to talk about them behind their backs. It turns out that Titch, who plays the drums – he loves drums – drums, drums and yet more drums – is the quiet one. He is reserved and has gradually become the sheepdog of the band. The one that runs around nipping at their ankles herding them to get where they need to be – in the van after a gig. That seems to have become his role. Always useful to have one person who can do that!
Then there is steady Jody. He plays guitar and has been Pat’s rock for a long time. He understands the sensible side of things and tends to rein in the craziness. He holds things together a lot of the time and has done for years.
They seem to have a good balance in the band and this has proved a strong attribute and kept them together even when they have been under immense pressure, such as on long European tours. In these circumstances you just can’t get out of anywhere, any space – you are stuck together. You’re stuck in a tiny space with four grown men, all their equipment and the rest of the kit/personal belongings needed for a long duration and the most mild mannered people are bound to get tetchy.
It can also get mildly bonkers and they get hooked up on running gags that go on for weeks.
When they found out that Jody had ridden a horse once, when he was 11, it escalated into ‘Jody does dressage’ (which sounds like a dodgy, 1970s film!).
Pat said that he doesn’t know of many bands that have stayed together as long as The Talks have under those conditions and with all the pressures that they have been under and, if nothing else they have stuck together through thick and thin and their ultimate triumph has been to have had that kind of personal relationship with people for that duration, under that kind of pressure. If they don’t come out of it with anything else they have always got that to look back on with pride. Iain agrees with that sentiment, absolutely.
And the future? They’ll go on with The Talks as long as everyone wants to. They are ambitious but they are not going to let anything rule them – certainly not something that they started as a love.
Thankfully, they have understanding partners. They have always been musicians, as long as they have been working and even from an early age. Pat turned his potty into a drum-kit. And they’re great fun to be with and to interview. A huge thank you to them for taking the time to have a long relaxing interview. It is certainly a bonus if people who make good music are amiable with it. No Divas here.
I head back to the club to catch the live sets, starting with The Franceens, a 3-piece garage/rock and roll band from York.
They were entertaining and performed to the crowd. Dan Oliver Gott, on lead vocals and guitar, reminded me a bit of a crazed werewolf as he glared at the audience, often walking off the stage, while still playing, and getting as upfront and personal as possible. Naomi Westerman, bass and backing vocals, was the calmer side, in a nonchalant way, a punk puppet with attitude as she often just flopped forward and stayed there. Fast paced and loud there was still that rock and roll beat that carried through the set, grounding the more frenetic punk/garage side of things. The Franceens are completed by drummer, Miles “Les” Morrison and being only a trio doesn’t diminish the noise as they crashed every track out with gusto.
And so to the headliners of the night, The Talks, who owned the place from the first and didn’t let it go until after the encore.
I can highly recommend going to see The Talks play live. Their music exploded into the venue, from the first note, and their presence totally filled, not only the entire stage, but also the whole room. Trying not to move was futile. They asked for bounce and they got bounce with a capital B O U N C and E. The floor moved that night as did the enthusiastic and appreciative audience. It’s hard to keep still when The Talks are giving it some, and they certainly didn’t stand still themselves for the entire duration of their excellent set.
Right from the immensely catchy Can Stand The Rain, Friday Night and Radio and, possibly my favourite track, Hacks, they had me through both the familiar and the unfamiliar and I would certainly go and see them play live again.
You can find lots and lots of videos on You Tube and they have a presence on all the major digital platforms.
Their website is: www.thetalks.co.uk. They’re a band well worth talking about – and listening to.
And I’m still tempted by that red bit of vinyl….
This feature appears in The Peoples Issue 35 Web Edition