In our next Band Spotlight, we chat to Yorkshire alt-rockers, Percy (Andy Wiles, Paula Duck, Colin Howard and Jason Wilson) about their history, current inspirations and more.
S] What are your biggest influences outside of music, think people, places and movies for example?
Colin] I was brought up on various council estates and Working Men’s Clubs in Sunderland – the people there have a unique sense of humour, very absurdist which I like to think reflects in the band’s lyrics. A lot of my family still live there and I find visiting really therapeutic when I start to take myself too seriously.
Jason] I just like hitting things so I don’t hit people. The drummer I love is Neil Turpin from bilge pump. Books, anything by Joe Lansdale. Place, New Orleans but have never been. Films, anything by Terry Gilliam. I am also fascinated by neolithic monuments.
Andy] Yes, Terry Gilliam is a master, the only thing I have seen that has come close to him recently was ‘Birdman’. I am from Hull and for years just felt happy to have just left the place. That is until recently, visiting again in 2017 for the City of Culture there is a real awakening in the town. Previously sullen pensioners becoming gleeful ambassadors for art and history is quite a transformation. I never really appreciated the close connection David Bowie had with the town through Mick Ronson and the Spiders from Mars. The song ‘Heroes’ makes me well up every time I hear it.
Paula] I lived in Toronto, Newcastle and London for years, all great places for music and culture but I have been really bowled over by York since I moved here. You can’t beat having a venue like the Fulford Arms at the end of your street, it is amazing what the two Chris’s have got going there. As for movies I think you can’t beat the visuals, story and soundscape of the original ‘Bladerunner’, opening scene shot in Middlesbrough… more of that North East infulence going on clearly.
S] What have been some career highlights for the band?
Colin] Discovering a drummer called “Keith” who actually turned out to be Hugh Whitaker from The Housemartins, and who elevated our musicianship to a whole new level; supporting The Fall twice, including being tapped on the nose with a comb by Mark E Smith backstage (could’ve been a lot worse); playing at Galtres Festival wearing Noel Edmonds masks; Donny Rednecks getting Steve Lamacq’s “single of the week” in Melody Maker; recording “Unicorns” and “Big Lils” last week after one rehearsal; standing at a bus stop in Sunderland’s Fawcett St and hearing our song “I Am Not Myself” blaring from a club opposite. I screamed to the people in the bus queue “that’s me ! That’s my song !” Still not sure if I dreamt that one.
Andy] Playing with the Fall has to be up there. I think our first London gig in 1996 at the Hope and Anchor was a big milestone too. We thought this is the stage trod by the Damned and Ian Dury also where U2 debuted in the big smoke. They only had 9 people attending, we had 12 so we thought success was in the bag.
I would also have to include one evening in 2001 when Phil Mayne of Mook records called me to say John Peel was playing our track ‘Caravan’ at that very time. Frantic to get tuned in too and just managed to hear the last bars of the song and Peel mentioned the bands name and the track in his unmistakable voice. I have often tried to recreate it with my dodgy impersonation skills as being well before the days of iPlayer, that moment is lost forever.
S] What would you say your biggest challenges are?
Andy] Getting new promoters or labels to respond to cold-call email introductions is a frustrating reality of modern band life. Things weren’t always better in t’old days but at least you could get people to answer the phone. There is so much web traffic out there that the junk filters of those who might actually like what you are doing are closed to anything that is not already on their play list. Champions of new music like Soundsphere are so important in breaking down the barriers. Keep it up!
Colin] Finding venues and audiences that are sympathetic to who we are and what we do. We don’t have an “image” as such, in fact we go out of our way to look as ordinary as possible, we’re always punctual, courteous and we tidy up afterwards. This can sometimes unnerve people after we’ve battered their eardrums.
S] What would you say the band’s mission statement is, and how has that changed and developed over time?
Colin] We’ve always strived to write songs with challenging lyrics coupled with music that’s both cerebral and makes you want to throw some shapes. The ultimate aim is “Disco Schoenberg”. If we’re ever successful beyond our own backyard it’ll be purely by accident rather than a grand design.
Andy] Always include new stuff in your set, even if you haven’t finished writing it yet…The white knuckle ride of a looming f*** up makes you feel alive and keeps the experience fresh. Remember, only the band will notice that you accidentally just completely missed out the second verse….
I think over a span of time what we originally expected to achieve kept moving up very modest steps. First we were pleased just to get a gig, then chuffed to hear something we’d played come through the speakers of the recording studio, then first radio airplay, then London gigs. We kept meeting those targets quite quickly and so made the mistake of upping the ambition and requiring bigger jumps each time. There was a time around 2002 when we decided London was where we were going to ‘make it’ and kept travelling down for gigs every 6 weeks. I remember on 4am on February evening driving back with work next day after playing to 10 people thinking…”why are we doing this???”.
After that we changed to making sure enjoyed what we were doing and wrote material we liked ourselves and wanted to play live without thinking how it might be marketed. I think being totally into what you are playing live really shows to an audience and happiness can be infectious. There is a lot to be said for delivering some good old ‘entertainment’ …. nothing worse than a miserable band going through the motions on stage.