Walking into The Cheshire Tap in Altrincham this Saturday just gone, I was filled with a nervous kind of anticipation and excitement. My good friends Lisa, Allan and I were walking into this venue, a semi regular of theirs and a permanent slot for one of our friends Jake Fletcher, of Darling Club, formerly of Cupids who started out as Gramotones. I was wearing a t-shirt of the latterly named band which another of our group, Rob, had given me just eighteen months' prior.
After a brief chat and hug with Lisa and Al's daughter, Abi who had arrived to see Jake earlier, but had to leave for a pressing engagement, we bought drinks, greeted Jake and the music continued. He played Changing Man by Paul Weller, a friend in the music world of his and I had to ask whether or not it was Wild Wood, before either Lisa or Al, put me straight.
Jake took a break midway through and I got a round in: his drink was called 'Old Engine Oil'. I immediately thought of The Wizard of Oz, but Jake's heart and soul starts at his DM boots so I dismissed that thought before I interviewed him. Lisa and Al listened and chipped in here and there, but only to correct my mistakes (I'm a bit of an alien brain in a cute way at times) and we need friends to step in every once in a while don't we, especially as the two I was with, had been there from the start of Gramotones' journey where I was and am still fairly green on the scene, innit.
My first question came out as a bit of garble, but Jake knows what I'm like and it went a bit like this: "Jake, I don't really understand why is it, that at this point, your music still isn't out there; why is it so hard for you?" He was confused by the question, because I went all around the houses and back in down the chimney via a garage to get to my point. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
He had this to tell me: " I find it hard, because I like talking to people I like. I hate shite talkin' and I hate schmoozing." I was already liking where our chat was going, but we've known each other on and off for four years' now so I knew I'd like what he was going to say, otherwise why the fuck was I even there? He furthered: "I've never been comfortable with cuddling up to someone who's like an industry person, just because it's parasitic. I just like talkin' to people like you, like my mates, over a drink". We were all pleased with that, obvs. But he didn't stop there: "I hate doing the things you seem to have to do nowadays, d'you know what I mean?" I did. And I do, and our friends didn't argue. I agreed with Jake that it's not cool: the industry now, currently.
I think I got him a bit fired up (sorry! ahaha). "The thing is, a lot people that work in the industry they don't really give a fuck about it, they just see the numbers and sales. So, I don't wanna have to start talking about something that's a creative artistic thing, to someone that doesn't really actually give shit about what I'm doing: he's just thinking: can that make me money? No, maybe not in the first album or summat, maybe in a few albums, I mean look at Bowie? His first two albums were shit, but he became Ziggy Stardust and now he's this icon. No-one's willing to take a punt now, on something that's not quite the norm, and that's why things now, are in such a bland state of affairs". I agreed, and offered Elton John as another example of someone who's first album flopped and yet he was given a chance after that. I think Jake found that funny, as he apparently likes that album! Haha.
I realise that this article doesn't entirely read like a serious piece of writing. It reads like we're all off our faces and giggling about music. But the reality is, we'd had just a couple and as Jake put it afterwards "Are we even calling this an interview, it's more like shooting the shit!" But in my eyes, I have had the most refreshing insight into exactly how things work today, the process of forming a band, the highs and the lows, the choice to become part of a machine or stay completely true to oneself and all this from someone who has tried tirelessly to be heard, all the while maintaining his integrity, and never bowing or succumbing to any pressure from those at the helm and with the money. Pretty impressive really.
We discussed how back in the '90s, there was still plenty of great music in among the dross. Jake had this to say: "You'd look at the charts back in the 90s, and yeah, you'd still have all the shit like your Mr. Blobby's and that, very good tune (!), but then you'd get like Ocean Colour Scene, Supergrass, Oasis, (I offered The Charlatans and Jake agreed)" Jake went on: "There'd still be an absolute wealth of good music. You look at the charts now, and there's not one good band, not one good artist that actually enters the charts nowadays, I'd almost take it to the fact that if I entered the charts, I'd be thinkin' I'd done something wrong artistically, do you know what I mean? I'd probably question myself".
We then went on to talk about how, in this dire straits situation of the industry today--which has radically changed so much in just twenty or thirty years or so-how, maybe the only way to get anywhere with your music without compromising yourself or your sound, was to understand that it's about small steps. I told Jake that our friends Kashmere understood that, which I found out after I'd interviewed them earlier this year, and he agreed saying that they're lovely lads, and have some really good tunes.
From this point onwards, Jake's tone changed ever so slightly in places, as he recounted his band's history: how they had become a function band, or a "ready made package" as Lisa stated - but what she meant by that was that they were label-ready I think, all good to go, with everything there at their feet, "You were very focused and you would only bow to a certain extent, she added". Jake laughed saying they were perfect for weddings, christenings and bar mitzvahs at that point, but that it paid their way, and the beautiful if poignant part of the interview for me, was how highly he spoke of Gramotones, Cupids and his fellow band-mates. I've heard them been described as 'too good' actually, which we didn't discuss, so hopefully that will make those who read this smile, but Jake understood that because they were into so much music, of so many different genres, that they were hard to sell.
Personally, I think that's bullshit, as they just needed someone to see their worth and put it all out slowly, but Jake and I agreed that twenty or thirty years ago, this could have been the case: someone probably would have taken them on, just as they had done with Bowie and Elton John as we'd already discussed. Allan recounts how they were so good together on stage, "amazing" was the word he used. Jake went on to describe fellow songwriter Sid Cooper as probably the best songwriter he knew under the age of 40, whilst saying: "Sid churns songs. He might sit down and write four songs in a row, whereas I am into a load of nerdy shit, I will go and play in bands, play guitar, or collect guitars and go off listening to music; songwriting is a bit; I find it irritating songwriting". Turns out that although he spoke so highly of former bandmate and friend, Sid, his all time favourite songwriter is a man called: Tony Auton, "He's amaaaazing, my dad used to play in his band".
Joe Strummer is one of about three musicians that he wished he could have met and I'd say therefore he's one of Jake's hero. He describes him as "Stubborn as fuck, and embodies everything that's right about a human, not just as a musician, everything he does: he made millions with The Clash and everything, but he's still til the day he died, standing up for what he believed in". Wow. I feel a bit teary typing that out actually. "Weller's the same (Jake continued) he's [Strummer] dead, dead normal, and straight to the point". He added: "Not enough musicians are taking these role models, and even by saying they're legends, if they're that important, why aren't musicians today sticking with those principals and learning from them", and also; "If I die without a penny to my name, that's fine as long as I've felt like I've stuck to the whole thing". Yup, well said, Jake. I can't wait for people to read this interview! Ahaha.
Jake went on to say, that the one regret he had with Gramotones was that they sat on their songs for ages, and that they should have just given them away for free, before now. But as Lisa put it, and I love this "It's like saving your clothes for best: don't, just wear them!" Love that. Jake offered, that even though :"It didn't work (Gramotones and Cupids) it failed, I'm still really happy with what we did cos.... It was real! (Me, I said that it was real! haha) Exactly, Jake concluded.
In fact, it got to the point where the more people that told them to write this and write that it kinda fucked with their heads a bit, so much so that Jake thinks that: "Some of the songs that people still love, are the songs that we wrote, me and Sid, I think it was about ten tunes, in about two weeks, and we were still playing those live as Gramotones, really late on". M62 was one of those and I know which one of our friends was hooked on that from the first listen! She wasn't present today but she knows who she is. But the great thing about those songwriting days Jake said, was that; "We weren't expecting anything of it, we weren't even thinking about gigs, about anything". Turns out it was a little bit of fate and circumstance: Sid and Jake's other bands were naturally coming to an end anyway, which is why they ended up writing together.
At this point in the interview, someone came up to Jake and politely asked when he was going to play again. Did I mention that I grabbed Jake to do the interview while he was taking a break from a set he was being paid to do? But he promised to just give five more minutes of his time with me, Lisa and Allan, before returning to his guitar and mic.
I asked my final question: "Can you think of any defining moments in your childhood when you realised that music was the thing that meant something to you?" He couldn't. He said that there must be, there will be, but it's a world he was born into. He remembers that as a child he was: "Just surrounded by musicians, and music and going to gigs and stuff. As a kid, I remember walking around stages, just toddling around with like, monitors and drum kits around me". I think it was just a normal part of his life: being around music and becoming a musician, like his dad I suppose.
We discussed how you can tell if a song is special; the best song ever. I offered that it's the ones that make you cry, and for me Heaven Knows me now by Cupids is one of those. For me it's about having no choice but to be a part of music or I'd die, and it turns out that it's actually about a documentary Jake saw about "Locked in syndrome" which Lisa knew the proper term for: it's about being in a constant vegetative state. And seemingly about a feeling of being able to hear and sense what's going on as you're dying, but those around you might be planning your funeral, doctors and loved ones. Well I worked in The NHS as a nurse and we had to study these ethical matters at uni.
Of the industry today, I think we concluded that "It's a machine, and some bands are happy to be a part of that, and that's fine, who can blame them, but I wasn't" (Jake) and then we had to let him go back and play his tunes and who can blame us. It baffled me that not everyone in the pub was struck by Jake, but quite a few were, and we danced and sung along to the tunes he played for us.
The title of my piece is a play on words from that song "Everybody's Talkin at me" by Harry Nilsson, and I knew this was from the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack. One definition of a Cowboy is a 'Charlatan' which I like, as it reminds me of The Charlatans that band from The 90s but also, midnight is that time when it all starts again, a new dawn a new daayyyyy. And...you know how that song goes.
The track I wish to feature in this article is my favourite Cupids song, the last time I heard and saw them in play in Leeds, they played this and I nearly cried. It makes me cry when I hear it, I wrote a piano remix of it, and for me it's such an important song. It means never give up, if you have a belief and a cause that you want to fight for a support and mine is music.
Photo credit - Steve Hickman
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