Right now festival season might seem a long way away, but it will be here before we know it.
Brit Pop legends Shed 7 are one of a whole raft of bands that will be descending upon Derbyshire over the weekend of the 24th – 26th July to play at the forthcoming Y Not Festival.
National Rock Review recently caught up with the band’s hip-shaking lead singer Rick Witter to talk about their recent Shedcember UK run, touring with Aerosmith, the band’s appetite for recording a new album as well as taking a nostalgic look back at the 90s.
We’re at the start of a new year. I just wondered how 2020 has been treating you so far.
2020 has been pretty cool so far. There’s not much to report to be honest with you. We finished a big Shedcember tour at Christmas time. So, usually, when we do that, the first few months of the next year tend to be kind of relaxed, coming down off the experience. We did have to postpone two gigs because of illness in December. So, a couple of weekends ago we went out and honoured those two gigs, which were great actually.
We do this thing called Shedcember, which is kind of always based around the fact that Christmas is around the corner and everyone is in good spirits. But to be honest, going out in the first couple of weekends of February, the reaction and the atmosphere was just as good as doing it in December – everyone seemed well up for it. Maybe it was because it was over Valentine’s weekend, so everyone was just having a massive love-in.
I know some of those dates were pretty huge – you played at the First Direct Arena in Leeds as part of that run. And I was actually at the sold-out show in Newcastle, which was a great night. Does it feel like touring for you these days is kind of as big or if not bigger than it was during the peak Brit-pop era of the 90s.
Yeah, it’s a weird one, isn’t it? Because way back in the 90s – it’s difficult because we were just kind of doing it then, it was our job, it was just what was expected. It’s a difficult one because you don’t want to sound like you are kind of moaning – but it was work. So, it was like where’s the next album? You’ve got to go to Spain now and do that. You’ve got to go there. You’ve got to do this. And it was always kind of so full-on because there was never enough time to just stop and appreciate what you were doing really. So it almost became like after you had 10 singles in the Top Forty, it’s like, Oh God, the next one’s got to go in there. You know, it was always a little bit more like a job.
It was only when we kind of stopped and took a few years off and then reformed just to play our old music that we kind of went, wow, this is something that actually meant something to people and not just throw away songs. People are still coming, and they are singing every word back at us. And I’m talking 13 years ago when we discovered that. So you know, fast forward to now and yeah, you’re right, we seem to be playing bigger venues than we ever did. People still come and want to sing their hearts out to ‘On Standby’ or ‘Disco Down’ and it’s a massive pleasure. There’s nothing better than standing on a stage and seeing a room full of people, absolutely loving it.
We are quite good at what we do, we’re quite a good tight band and we like to put on a show, which I think is very important. And then you can go and see so many bands and watch them, and you pay money to watch them and they are just stood there looking uninterested – I don’t really get that. So I think it’s really important. As long as I’ve still got my hips, it’s important to swing them.
So, do you feel that there’s a lot less pressure on the band these days? Like you said back then there was an expectation that you had to get your singles in the top 40. Do you feel like now you can just kind of go out there and enjoy yourself?
Yeah, totally that. I think when we did reform in 2007 we had no record label. We didn’t have a management company. It was just us doing it. And apart from releasing a new record in 2017, that’s always been the case. There’s no one to answer to. We’d set the rules. We decide what we want to do and that makes it so much more pleasurable to do.
Obviously, within the band people might have differences of opinion on how we should do things, but that’s how it’s always been with us. We’re friends who’ve grown up and written music together and we go and play it. But yeah, definitely the pressures massively off. There’s no one there to dictate and there’s no one there to try and rake all of our profits off us – if you know what I mean. If you’re on a record label, you are basically making money for them at the end of the day – unless you are selling stupid amounts of records like you’re Elton John’s or you’re Adele’s. The way that bands kind of make anything out of the music business anymore is by doing gigs.
Last week I went to see Supergrass play. I got really nostalgic about the whole Brit Pop era and also the simplicity of those times. Those days when you got your music news once a week by picking up a copy of the NME or Melody Maker or you switched on the Evening Sessions or John Peel to get those new music recommendations, or TFI Friday. And all those things kind of brought a little bit of a wistful smile to my face when I started thinking about it. I was just wondering would you say that the 90s was a good time to be in an indie rock band.
Well, definitely. I think the stars kind of aligned, so to speak. I mean obviously, music is cyclical and since the 50s there have been things that come and go that are cool and credible and then not so much anymore. But yeah, I believe the 90s certainly – the Brit Poppy Indie kind of element perhaps might be the last kind of big musical movement – which is sad really. Because I think the internet has got a lot to blame for in that respect, that everything’s so easy now and it’s so easy to kind of just click and buy one track rather than buy an album. Everything is good in the sense of technology, but sad in the sense that there aren’t just four channels anymore. So you know, you’ve got your dedicated music channels, or you have to subscribe to Sky to get Sky Arts to see a good documentary that you want to see.
I remember in the early 90s we’d go on kid’s Saturday morning television programs. And for a short period of time, a lot of people took the piss out of us because we’d talk to sheep. Do you know what I mean? Like puppet sheep. And it’s like, why are you doing that? You are saying you are kind of alternative – why are you doing that? But you know, we’d give it a year and everyone else was doing it. It just became the norm, to be in the charts as an indie guitar band. It was great for that, but obviously, these things don’t last. I mean I can’t ever see a time again where News at Ten presenters will be commenting on who’s getting to Number One, that band or that band – which is a bit of a shame.
I mean in this day and age, as you rightly say, all of these different outlets for finding out about stuff, you have to dig a little bit deeper these days, which is a bit sad, but also a little bit more like what I remember when I was going to school in the 80s. I was an indie kid, but there weren’t a lot of outlets for that. There would be a program on at one in the morning on Scottish TV that showed this great program of the Soup Dragons playing all this great stuff. But yeah, it’s a shame.
I very vaguely remember you saying at one of those recent shows that I saw you, I think it was in Newcastle last time, you asked the crowd, ‘Do you remember the 1990’s’ and you said something along the lines ‘…because I don’t’. I just wanted to know, was it such a kind of hazy and hedonistic rock and roll time for you guys?
Yeah, we had our moments – like every band probably did, do you know what I mean? Again, touching back onto what I’ve kind of just said about the fact that you are just kind of doing it, it becomes the things that you do, it was difficult. My dad always used to say, you’ve got to sometimes stop and smell the roses. You know, there wasn’t the opportunity to do that because you were just off doing something else.
Yeah, but it’s kind of a tongue in cheek joke. I mean I ended up saying that at quite a lot of gigs because as soon as I mentioned the word 1990s to a crowd of people who’d come to see us, a lot of them grew up in it, and a lot of them have memories like what you’ve just said and felt quite wistful at the time. And I think a lot of people who come to see us have booked a babysitter for the night and they want to just come out and relive the past a little bit and remember things and just cut off for an hour and a half – which is brilliant, I love that. I love the fact that we can be there to kind of facilitate that. But yes, obviously at the same time we did party quite a lot – the odd brain cell has been knocked out along the way.
There was a lot of rivalry amongst those key Britpop bands at the time. In particular, the whole Blur and Oasis feud. Was that kind of rivalry ever something that you guys were drawn into or did you just prefer to concentrate on the music so to speak?
Yeah, I guess so. I mean, yeah, it did get a little bit silly in that respect of we’re better than you. No, you’re not, we are better than you. It was a bit playground, to be honest. I mean we always believed in what we did, so yes you would get drawn into that. I mean obviously, we probably did to an extent by saying stupid things to the press. But you know, at the end of the day, I think we’re from York and we decided we didn’t want to move away from York, which immediately kind of turned the press a little bit against us. Because you’re supposed to go to London, and you are supposed to be seen in the Camden Monarch. We kind of did do that a little bit, but only because we happened to be in London, maybe recording or doing whatever. But we’d always choose to jump on that train, it takes two hours from King’s Cross to York and just come home and see our mates and just kind of not get too caught up in all of that.
So, the bands who sold more records are the bands that are on newspapers and magazines going we’re harder than you and our songs are better than yours, you know? We didn’t want to get drawn into that and to be honest with you, we’re still here doing it, you know what I mean? And we’re still playing those songs from way back then and people still love coming to see us. So as well as the fact that I feel quite fortunate that we’re lucky to be in that situation, I think we kind of deserve it as well because we did put the work in.
I have to say that ‘Dolphin’ has always been a bit of a favourite of mine from your discography. I even remember the first time I heard that song on the radio back in the day. I was just wondering when you were writing and recording that first album, did you know that you were onto something special at the time?
Yeah, I’d say so. Only because again, touching back to the fact that we are from York – we probably wrote ‘Dolphin’ in about 1990. And in York at that time, there wasn’t really indie bands. York is a very oldy worldly city. You know, there are bands from York, but the majority of acts so to speak were kind of folk duos who would play in your local oldy worldly pub while people would play dominoes. And that’s all fine and dandy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But you know, we kind of got caught in the wave of the Stone Roses first album and the Happy Mondays and all that. You know, that was important to us. So we were the kind of weird young kids who had weird hair cuts and dressed slightly different from everyone else, but we were also writing those songs. So we’d go out and do gigs and apart from a strong set of friends that we had, you were kind of looked upon as a little bit weird.
But then obviously and I can’t speak for any of the bands, but at the same time, I would guess that Cast was in Liverpool doing the same thing. And The Bluetones were in London doing the same thing. And Sleeper was doing the same thing. And that’s what kind of created this kind of mass movement of new guitar bands, because I think they wanted to kind of release the energy. So yes, I think to you answer your question we would stroll around York after writing something like ‘Dolphin’ or ‘Immobilize’ or you know, several of the songs on that first album and we would think we were dead good.
I saw you play in Newcastle back in the mid-90s when you were supporting Aerosmith. And it’s probably a tour that you don’t want to remember too much about. I know it was quite an unlikely combination, but I just wondered what was that experience like for you guys?
It’s a weird one. The funny thing is people do bring this up quite a lot. And a lot of people do say to me the first time I saw you was supporting Aerosmith and that’s when I fell in love with your band and we were just an indie band supporting this massive American rock behemoth.
I mean it’s funny how in a way you’re looking back. It was good doing the tour because we did win people over. But then my memories of it was playing these big arenas in front of a sea of long hair and leather. We did honestly get the odd fuck off you don’t belong here. But you know, it didn’t bother me because we were told – and I don’t know how true this is, but we were told at the time that Steven Tyler had asked if we would support them. So if Aerosmith is your favourite band and you had gone and bought a ticket to go and watch Aerosmith and then you are a little bit put out by a band playing ‘Bully Boy’, just think about the fact that the singer of your favourite band had asked for us to come and do it. So just chill out and enjoy your night out. It’s a bit crazy really.
The only other thing I remember about that is the fact that all of Aerosmith we’re on the wagon at the time. So, there was a big rule backstage where no one was allowed to drink openly or take drugs openly. And we were only allowed to have some alcohol in our dressing room. So, we had to think of a cunning way, because we like to have a pint on stage while we play. So, we had to think of a cunning way to get around that problem because their road crew weren’t allowed to touch anything.
So, we ended up getting these – if you remember, but Tango used to sell their fizzy orange in black bottles. So, we ran out and got eight or nine of these and then emptied them and filled them with larger. And then the lad who is responsible for putting these drinks on the stage, he was walking down this long corridor backstage just before we were going on with this tray full of black Tango bottles full of lager. And he’s walking towards the stage and suddenly Steven Tyler is going, ‘Hey man I haven’t had Tango in years, man’. And our mates going ‘Please don’t have a sip, please don’t have a sip’. We could have been responsible for tipping Aerosmith right over the edge.
See that’s where you are going down in rock and roll history there.
You’re going to be playing at the Y Not festival this summer. And obviously, you’ve got quite an incredible discography. Like you mentioned there are 15 Top 40 singles in there. It must be difficult picking a setlist for a show like that. I mean it must be kind of like choosing your favourite family members. How do you approach that difficult task?
Yeah, it is a bit – I think we call it our happy problem. Yes, it’s true – it’s like what do you not play, which is a very, very good situation to be in because it’s a happy problem. But then it’s difficult, isn’t it? It’s easier at festivals, to be honest, because to me, if you bought a ticket to go to a festival and you want to go and see some bands that you might have heard of and you are going to want to hear the hits. You want to have a drink, and you want to hear the songs that you know and love. So, any band who would play a festival and they come out and say, right, we’re just going to do a set of B-sides for you guys, then you know that’s a load of tosh. So, if we’ve got an hour or an hour 20 slot, it’s good because we can fill that hour and 20 – just like that. We’ll just rattle it off.
It’s more so when it’s our own headline gigs and we are on tour. We got a lot of people on social media saying, why don’t you ever play any early B-sides. And why don’t you ever do these album tracks? And it’s difficult because you’ve got an hour and a half, and you’ve got to fill that somehow. And you’ve got to appease everybody and not just ourselves.
It’s not like I ever get bored of singing, ‘Chasing Rainbows’ because of the way that people react when we play it. There’s no way on earth that you would ever go – we’re not playing that anymore. Do you know what I mean? But then on the other side dropping something like ‘Parallel Lines’ from ‘Maximum High’ – it’s just something a bit different for people who are massive, massive fans. It’s difficult, but it’s a happy problem.
Do you have a favourite track to perform live? And if so, which song and why?
Well again, no. It’s a strange one. Wherever we seem to go and play, certainly more and more, the older we seem to get – just the reaction to even walking out on stage is just incredible. So, to play anything really and people just absolutely love it. So, it’s a big thrill.
Over the last few tours, we’ve started the gig with ‘Room in my House’, which opens the new album and that’s always a bit of a thrill because it is a newer song. But it almost feels like we’ve had that song for a long, long time, that people are going, ‘Whoa, Whoa’, before we’ve even started. It’s a big buzz. But then, there’s so many of them. I’ve mentioned ‘Chasing Rainbows’ at the end where we stop, and everyone sings it – it’s just a massive thrill. So as long as that continues, we’ll keep booking gigs and coming out to play.
Like you mentioned the last album was released in 2017 – ‘Instant Pleasures’. Do you guys have any plans to write or record any new material? Is there any appetite within the band at the minute to sort of go back into the studio?
Well, there are always plans, but it’s doing something about that. So far there hasn’t been any activity at all. And I’ll be honest by saying that because I feel I can a bit more – because it took sixteen years to release ‘Instant Pleasures’ after our last release. So, you know, we know that we’ve got a strong fanbase who will wait 16 years for another release. So, we’re all busy people. We all go out and do other things.
I think ‘Instant Pleasures’ again was a bit of an accident. It wasn’t planned. We didn’t sit and go, Hey, let’s write an album. We just so happened to be rehearsing for a tour and a riff came out of nowhere and that got me excited and suddenly, I’m on my hands and knees squiggling out some words, to put with a riff and a melody. And before we knew it, we had five or six songs just kind of half-written, but we knew that they were good. So we thought, right, well we can go two ways. We could just put them on a shelf or we can try and make something out of this.
So ‘Instant Pleasures’ was like a three-year process really from starting to finishing. So even if we do decide to write anything new, if we started tomorrow, it could be 2024 before it came out. So to answer your question, no, we’re just lazy.
As they say, all good things come to those who wait.
Well, this is it. I’m a big believer in the fact that we wouldn’t want to just release any old rubbish just to keep the name alive. I would rather keep our back catalogue kind of there and it’s just there. I wouldn’t dream of releasing anything new unless I thought it was just as good or better than the last release. So I mean ‘Instant Pleasures’ was a great album, so we’ve got our work cut out there in that respect.
Shed 7 will be performing at Y Not Festival in Pikehall, Derbyshire over the weekend of the 24th – 26th July. For further details and ticket information please visit https://ynotfestival.com/
Words and Photos: Adam Kennedy