Shed Seven have made one of indie-rock’s most triumphant returns, exciting fans old and new by releasing their first new album in sixteen years Instant Pleasures and embarking on an impressive tour. The album was highly anticipated with its release on 10th November last year. Produced by legendary producer Youth from Killing Joke who’s previously worked with other esteemed musicians such as U2, The Charlatans and Kate Bush: it reached No.8 in the UK album charts.
The band formed in 1990 and originally comprised Rick Witter (vocals), Joe Johnson (guitar and keyboards, later replaced by Paul Banks), Tom Gladwin (bass) and Alan Leach (drums). Last November and December, the band played a sellout #shedcember tour which sold over 50k tickets across the country. This June they are headlining the 8000-capacity Castlefield Bowl in Manchester supported by Reverend And The Makers and The Twang.
In contrast, Tuesday night saw Rick and Paul playing a more intimate, acoustic set for Red Stripe Lager and This Feeling, the indie London promoters known for their relentless passion and dedication for new music. Presented by Gordon Smart from Radio X, you could not have wished to meet a more brilliant combination of people, or have a better night.
I met up with a rather youthful looking Rick just before their set and asked him how it felt to be playing a more relaxed gig than the usual stadium-sized affair.
‘Well, every now and again me and Paul will go out and do the odd acoustic gig and it’s just nice to see the whites behind people’s eyes and get up close and personal. It’s just as nerve racking – I tackle those nerves with the hope it’s going to go good! By the end of the first song, hopefully followed by a big cheer, they soon disappear. The weird thing with these nerves is, they are there all day and they build up and I don’t like it very much but then once the gig’s over – I want them back again which is weird.’
Rick seemed his usual relaxed, bright-eyed and chatty self. Here’s a guy who’s performed to thousands of people and admits that he still gets nervous. It’s this honesty and forthright nature that the music industry have been able to expect from Shed Seven over the years. What you see is what you get. Integrity goes a long way and plays a huge part in ensuring a band has longevity in this day and age and Shed Seven are a shining example of this. Rick went on to explain that those nerves never last for long:
‘On the bigger stages when the house lights go down and there’s a big roar, I know people are up for it and all I’ve got to do is walk on without tripping up and from then on its plain sailing,’ he says wryly.
Shed Seven are no strangers to festivals and this year has already seen many announcements made with the likes of Tramlines, Camp Bestival, Kendal Calling and TRNSMT with even more in the pipeline. Rick told me his thoughts on playing the festival circuit:
‘To be honest, festivals to me are more like work; if you’re playing a gig to your own crowd and you know you have sold it out, everyone is there for you and hopefully people are going to enjoy it, whereas at a festival it’s a way of trying to win people over who perhaps don’t like you or who have never heard of you. There are plenty of festivals we have played where there’s always the people down the front having a great time and there’s the wanderers walking about past the stage and the aim is to get them to stop and listen. That’s a good way of getting a new crowd! At the same time it makes it feel more like work … plus if the weather is rubbish it puts a bit of a downer on the whole thing! But I do love festivals and I will go to them all and enjoy myself. I used to really like ‘T in the Park‘. We did a headline gig at Bingley as well a few years back and that was great, it’s a smaller thing not massive. Kendall is always really good – I’m looking forward to going back there.’
The band toured all over the world and played festivals overseas in their heyday but never toured Australia, which this year is set to change.
‘It’s one of the only countries in the whole world that I want to play that we haven’t yet. It’s taken twenty eight years to go and do that! A promoter got in touch and that’s usually the way things happen. There’s always people saying, ‘Why don’t you come to our country?’ But without a promoter, who is willing to put something behind it, it’s hard to. But an Australian promoter is happy for us to come over and play so that’s great.
We’re going over for eight days and playing four gigs so with the travelling from each city, I’m not really going to see much of Australia. I’m just going to see an Australian stage, the tops of the clouds and some Australian hotel rooms and airports and some people hopefully! We are just dipping our toes in and if it goes well we will look at going back.’
It’s quite the trip when more recently they’ve been concentrating on touring the UK to sell-out shows. However, Rick still loves to play in his hometown of York and they try to play there periodically for their homegrown fans.
‘Yeah, we have played York a lot of times but we like to spread it out now. With it being our home town, the pressure is on us a bit because we have to walk around those streets and if you do a rubbish gig people will probably throw things at you! But in York we always get a great crowd. We played two nights at Fibbers last November as a warm up for a tour so [our last gig there] wasn’t that long ago really.’
The latest chapter in the band’s exceptional story saw their new album Instant Pleasures being recorded in Spain. Rick told me how being secluded and out of the way of things really helped the band make the album a true success.
‘Our producer has a studio over in Spain and he suggested we go and record out there. We thought, ‘Yeah why not?’ It turned out we were halfway up a mountain in the middle of nowhere with only one car – which only our producer could drive – so we were pretty much trapped! But that’s just what we needed: isolation and no outside distractions. We went out once to Granada which was the nearest big city, an hour and a half’s drive away, so we had one night out and the rest of the time was quite an intense period of creating. I don’t think it would’ve happened as well if we had been anywhere else, or certainly in a big city where there would be temptation to go out. It would have been like, ‘Oh, I’m not needed for three hours so I’ll see you on Tuesday!’ You know what I mean! We were there and we were more than ready for this.’
Shed Seven wrote some of the most prolific songs from the Britpop era with hits like Chasing Rainbows, Disco Down and the epic Going for Gold which remains the band’s biggest chart hit to date. After being away for such a long time and returning with new material, I asked how hard it was to find the inspiration to start writing a whole album again.
‘Well, because it’s been in there waiting for so long, it’s like sixteen years of pent up feelings. I mean, I write lyrics sometimes that aren’t specific to any time or anything. I just jot down a lot of ideas and then build it into a complete song. I write about lust, love, sex, jealousy, hate and all the other universal feelings which I guess a lot of people can relate to, so that’s why I think it’s gone down so well. Better Days for example; everyone hankers after something they can’t have with the hope that one day they can have it. It’s funny because that song took twenty minutes and it was finished. It was almost like grabbing thin air.
Then others could take months, so it’s weird how the process works. A few of the songs changed dramatically from the demo to the actual song, but none of them were a struggle in that respect. Enemies and Friends got more REM and indie-sounding before we actually went into the studio, then it turned into a European almost euro-trashy sort of thing. A song called Hang On wasn’t fully written; we actually wrote half of that song whilst we were recording it which was really exciting. The bit where it all drops then comes in really fast, that bit was all done as we stood there and that’s something we’d never really done before. You can tell when you listen to the album, it feels alive.’
Shed Seven have always had a distinct indie sound, one that set them apart from the other Brit-Pop type bands of the day. But after such a prolonged absence from the forefront of the scene, they felt their sound needed to reflect them sixteen years on, with a few newer sounding tracks that would reach old and new fans. The first single to be released was Room In My House. I asked Rick why they choose that track.
‘It was very important after being away so long that the first song people heard was something not ordinary Shed Seven. We could have come back with It’s Not Easy but that’s very Shed Seven and people would have been like ‘Yes, they are back but still very Shed Seven!’ We wanted to come back with something full on so we choose Room In My House, lyrically it’s quite clever and I love the Stone Roses type guitar solo.’
‘It came together really well that song as a statement point: ‘We’re back! Have this!’ The album was finished by the end of July and we sat on it for ages trying to get the record label into gear, because we knew our fans would love it and were also pretty confident non Shed Seven fans would like it too. Which I hope they did – but at the end of the day it’s just music and music is ace. If someone wants to tell me it’s rubbish, go and listen to something you want to listen to then. This is why music is so good because there is something for everyone. The older I get the more I think, ‘Well, just go and play something you like rather than being so negative!’
Playing for This Feeling TV was something Rick was keen to do from the off. A long time supporter of upcoming bands and new music, Rick has also done his bit in the past on Rick Witter’s Disco Down radio show which also helped push unsigned bands.
‘I’ve know Mikey [Jonns] from This Feeling a long time. I think it’s a great thing he’s doing for music and fair play to him. He promotes new and upcoming bands – there are not many telly programmes on for new bands now and even smaller gig venues are all closing, so to have someone who is the champion of new music is great because there is so much of it about.’
Red Stripes ‘This Feeling‘ TV airs in early April. Shed Seven embark on their Australian tour on the 17th of April and play Manchester at Castlefield Bowl on the 29th of June. All tour dates at http://www.shedseven.com/tour/
Subscribe to Red Stripes This Feeling TV at https://www.youtube.com/user/thisfeelinglive/
Instant Pleasures is now on-sale at https://shedseven.pmstores.co
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WORDS BY RACHEL BROWN
PHOTOGRAPHY: MODEL D PHOTOGRAPHY / WILL IRELAND PHOTOGRAPHY