We caught up with Liam Frost to talk about the vinyl reissue of his 2006 Slowdown Family album Show Me How The Spectres Dance, his live show A Love Letter To Bury that is broadcast tonight from The Met and his new project The Fountainhead.
A couple of months ago, a social media clamour for Tim Burgess’s now legendary listening parties to include Show Me How The Spectres Dance, Liam Frost’s debut album with his band The Slowdown Family, became so loud that the event took place and a renewed wave of love for one of the great (if not the greatest) underappreciated album of the 2000s has led to the reissue of that album on 180g blue vinyl this Friday. Liam takes up the story of how the reissue came about and the clever tactics he used to get to the people who could finally make it happen.
“Obviously when it became apparent we were going to do the Tim Burgess listening party, the story goes back to that. I've been pressing for vinyl reissues of Spectres and other things for a really long time. One of the things I’d found is that once you’ve been through the major label meat grinder, trying to get anything out of them is a nigh-on impossibility. Like for years, it had really done my head in that when you go on Spotify, you go on the Liam Frost page and the Slowdown Family album isn’t connected to it. That was one of the things I wanted to try and figure out. I’d always had in my head some kind of vinyl reissue as you can’t really get hold of it.
So when the Tim Burgess thing came up, we were in lockdown and I thought I’m going to just start emailing people. So I went for the MD of the label rather than pussyfooting around trying to find someone in licensing who might be able to help. All that world moves around in a pretty fluid way so I googled who the current MD was and went into my inbox, looked at the format of their email addresses and used his name at sonymusic. I thought he’s going to be sat at home like everyone else so he’s going to answer. And he did. And he was sound. I know I’ve got a manager, but I’m 37 and if you can’t start doing stuff for yourself at this age, there’s got to be something wrong with you.
He sorted it all out, he put in touch with the people in charge of digital, they sorted out the Spotify issue for me. I asked then about vinyl and he put me in touch with the licensing department and because the boss was talking to them, they were more than happy to sort it. They have a bunch of recommended reissue labels that they work alongside. It saved me the rigmarole of buying the license and sorting out the press – I’m not really making any money on it, because I’m still in the hole to Sony for Spectres, so I thought I’d let Demon put it out as long as people can get hold of it.
It was something I always wanted to get done and it’s nice for people to have a decent copy of it. I mean the original vinyl isn’t bad, but this is a weighty reissue and it’s a lovely colour and everything else.”
Rather than just reissue the album, it felt appropriate to create an event to celebrate the occasion and tonight a video of a live performance of the album with some bonus tracks premieres on Veeps with the show recorded live at Bury Met in Liam’s hometown. Liam explains how that event came together and the band he’s got to play on it.
“Over lockdown I was doing all those covers and I thought whether there was anything more substantial that could be done. I’ve been having this ongoing relationship with The Met for a large part of my life having played there as a teenager and specifically since I’ve lived in the area and the last Head For The Hills festival that I played. We’ve been going back and forth and I know David Agnew who runs it is a fan. I saw they were doing quite a bit of stuff already with United We Stream alongside GMCA and there was infrastructure there to do something within the venue. I liked the way they were presented on the stage, but the architecture of that room is so good-looking, I was angling for them to do it in the round. When they brought that idea up when we initially spoke about it, I jumped on it.
It came from that, it was all quick-moving then. The team was already in place in terms of Croftwerk who did the filming and Edwin Street which is just behind there for the sound. The Met are a really well-run professional outfit. From there it was just getting the dates right and getting the right people involved. I would have loved for it to be a Slowdown Family performance of some description. Everyone else lives up here but given Sadie lives in Canada now and John lives in Bristol and has got a different life.
This band on the show is a load of all-stars. On guitar we’ve got Stuart McCallum who was in Cinematic Orchestra, a brilliant jazz guitarist, I’m saying jazz, but he’s across the board a brilliant musician. There’s Callum Williams who was in the Latchkey Kids band who’s another fantastic player. Pete Mitchell, who was obviously Mandolin Pete in The Slowdown Family, he’s playing drums and also violin on the tracks that require it and Christian Madden plays keys. It’s just a great-sounding band. I knew we were going to do it one day, we started shooting at 11.30 and were done by 4.30. We’d done the band tracks in three hours by 2.30 because Stuart had to leave. I knew we’d smash it.
I think we spoke about this when we did The Slowdown reunion shows. When it became apparent Sadie couldn’t come over for it, it kind of lost a little bit for me. If it’s going to be done as The Slowdown, it’s got to be everybody. I’d rather not do it by half measures, I want everybody there. So that’s what we went with and it’s come out really well.
I’m really pleased with it and, as you know, I’ve been mostly playing shows by myself for the best part of five or six years now, so the full band shows don’t come enough. Part of that is of course getting session musicians, getting them organised then rehearsing it up and the logistics of moving a band around on the road. It was great to be playing in a room with people again and particularly those that I really respect."
The recording of the show will be available until the end of the month, but we ask if there are plans to do more with it after that time
"I need to have a longer conversation about this with The Met. The film will be available for a period of time. The film element I like the idea of making it special and only being available for so long. The audio I might put out as an album, but that depends on whether I can make it work. That's another conversation I need to have though."
We talk about the love that people have for Show Me How The Spectres Dance. Our own experience of four wild nights at The Water Rats in London and trips home to Manchester to coincide with shows at the Night And Day, RNCM and Academy as the excitement grew we discuss and Liam's still taken aback by it.
"It bends my head the amount of love there is for the record, from the stories that people share with me about the tracks and their own connections to them. One of the things I think about a lot looking back is the impact it had at the time which has been forgotten a little bit because of the trajectory that my career took - making the second record for Columbia but it then ending up being an independent release. The label spent a quarter of a million pounds on the record. The making of it was quite expensive, but in terms of tour support, marketing, plugging, a load got spent on it and what comes with that is a much wider net to be cast in terms of the audience. My other records never had that exposure and it's just how that part of the record industry worked. We're talking pre-financial crash, at the back-end of indie where bands were being signed for large sums and a lot of money was being spunked up the wall to try and make it work out.
Spectres was a record getting played at Radio X, XFM Manchester, Radio 2 and Radio 1 and it was getting reviewed everywhere too. We were playing big shows too, Academy-level, and I think that impact of it has been forgotten in some way. That's not from a bitter standpoint, it did what it did at the time and I'm really proud of it. I feel it stands up against anything else that was out there at that time"
We then move on to discuss the way the singer-songwriter genre was an overpopulated one at the time and how the success of certain acts impacted on everyone else.
"I think the genre got dirtied a little bit by some of what came alongside me. The likes of James Morrison or James Blunt, anything that was going for that Radio 2 obviousness. If you remember the way people used to talk about James Blunt at the time, because that track was massive and I used to joke about it as well. It made him unhip, but at the same time it made the genre unhip too. Despite my influences, and I was coming from that Bright Eyes world and all the things I was into at that time, it still got tagged in with that.
I remember when Mourners got reviewed by the NME and the guy said it sounded like David Gray. Firstly David Gray isn't bad and secondly it doesn't, does it? It's just that lazy thing, but then maybe that record shouldn't have had anything to do with NME in the first place. It's one of those things you try not to think about too much because you just end up doing your head in. I don't think though since then there's been many singer-songwriters, guitar-based, who've done as well as that record did at that level.
We were talking about this on the course I was running today, how there's a tendency in the UK press to compare with something that's gone before for every new act geographically. I remember when Delphic came out, people compared them to New Order and Courteeners, it's lost on nobody that they came at the back end of Oasis and they filled that hole and that's definitely not always a bad thing.
That record is always going to be there though and it'll always have those stories attached to it. It's nice to give it one celebration of it as I take steps from being a solo artist towards what comes next. And if this works out then maybe we can release the others too. But Spectres is the record that people know me best for and it feels like sending a love letter back, which comes round to the title of the film."
The Spectres period was also one where multi-formatting meant that there was a plethora of b-sides and bonus tracks for the hardcore fans. One of those At First It Felt Like Darkness is included in the film (and at the top of this piece as a live preview of the show). We ask whether with hindsight any of those would be included on the album if the tracklisting were revisited.
"At First It Felt Like Darkness would go on there. Straight away. We were going to put it out a single around this to see if radio picked it up. We always really liked it as a song, but I think we wrote it just at the back end of the recording of Spectres and for whatever reason it didn't make it on. We were definitely playing it in the summer leading up to the release. It would definitely have made it on.
A Fever And A Shifting I always liked. When I signed the Sony deal, I signed it just as me and we decided we were going to put the band around it. I think from a marketing perspective it might have had something to with how I looked at the time because there was still a weightism thing that was hanging around in the indie scene. This was obviously pre Rag And Bone Man and Adele. I'm not saying that's right, it's a very lazy way of thinking about it. The marketing should have thought about where it was being marketed rather than it being vacuous. But the band became the thing. And as a result we wanted to make it more band-tracked and so I was pretty picky over which of the solo tracks went on there and we had Try Try Try, Roadsigns and This Is Love already.
I'm not sure what the ownership situation is on these tracks. There's a few of them and some demos knocking around so I'm not sure where we would be on a more comprehensive reissue. It's something I'd have to look into."
That leads us into discussing Liam's new project The Fountainhead, which has seen the release of one single In Chrysalis so far, and how looking back at The Slowdown Family period has informed the direction of what he's doing now
"It's a discussion I've had with a few people I've spoken to about it. I want to recapture the energy of The Slowdown Family. As part of preparing for the listening party, I went back to listening to the Academy shows and some of those bootlegs you sent me and we filmed the reunion show on a GoPro and I finally got what it was about The Slowdown Family that people loved so much and it was the energy. I thought for a long time that energy would come from just having a band on stage with me rather than me just doing it, but there's a difference. I'm not knocking any version of the bands I've had. Sometimes you play with super-shredder musicians and they're doing that as their 24/7 and it's well-played and sounds smooth but it doesn't have that same passion.
I'm not saying The Slowdown Family couldn't play, because everyone was a good musician who knew what they were doing, but it wasn't perfect and that's because there was a genuine energy about it. And as part of this Fountainhead project I want to harness that again and come back to that. The idea at the moment is that it'll be everyone who was in The Slowdown Family who is in North, plus Sam Morris who is in Alfie. We all get on. I often think about bands in the way Fergie thought about management. It isn't just about musicianship, it's about whether they're a good person to be around as well. I might not play guitar on it and get a second guitarist and concentrate on singing. There's a conversation there."
With the single In Chrysalis released a couple of months ago to a warm reception, Liam is using lockdown to write a series of tracks, but hopes that the final versions will become much more than his solo tracks under a band name, but that will involve a change in ways of working.
"For the time being, I'm just getting tracks together. It's become a collaborative process with the string player John Purton whilst I'm getting demo tracks down and then I can take them to the guys when I can with COVID and around their other arrangements. Apart from Tokolosh, it's always been relatively dictatorial element to everything I've done. Being in a band I'd like to move away from everything coming from the lyric and the chord. I've never really been a riff writer so let's get someone in who can do that.
I don't think it's necessarily going to sound just like In Chrysalis. There will be a period of evolving with it. I always assume anything I come up with those guys is going to sound somewhere between REM and The National because that's the sort of music guys my age would make. You listen to Orange Crush and there's so much space and everything is so well thought out and it made me think there's not many bands out there doing that type of stuff at the minute. But trying to think like that seems churlish so I'm trying to wait and see what people come up with - and avoid that dictatorial thing. I'm stockpiling lyrics and then we'll wait and see what happens."