Rob is also starting a new monthly night at the Settle Down Café, Newcastle in association with Riley's Fish Shack, called Riley and Bob's Fish Fry. There will be live music from Leeds band Louis, Louis, Louis (R and B, New Orleans Boogie etc) and Martyn Roper (also from Leeds and a ragtime guitarist) + Rob and Neil from Swung Eight on the decks + 4 course + a drink....£25-bargain! Rob described it as "Not your average sit down meal, more like a dance and eat in an intimate environment".
Finally before Lee Fisher's article, and then the show's playlist, just to say that the show is very much a roots/folk/Americana show this month with a big chunk of the music from the annual Summertyne Americana festival on the south side of the muddy Tyne-assippi courtesy of Sage Gateshead and the Jumpin'Hot Club!
Originally published in Issue 96 of NARC. Magazine, June 2014
High speed Lefties? Anti-train train songs? Felt bowler hats and clip-on bowties? Sounds like Lee Fisher is chatting to Tea Pad Orchestra frontman Rob Heron.
While not veering too far from the template of their debut album Money Isn’t Everything – essentially gypsy swing infused with elements of country, jazz and early blues - the new Rob Heron & The Tea Pad album Talk About The Weather is a remarkable step forward, in the songs and the arrangements.
What’s most notable about Talk About The Weather is the way the songs incorporate new styles without it seeming forced or smacking of dilettantism: the CW Stoneking-esque Crazy Country Fool, the Latin rhythms of Penny Drop Mambo, the Sun Records hillbilly of High Speed Train. A lot of this is down to Heron’s voracious vinyl habit (you can see him most weekends behind the decks in some Newcastle bar or other, a tottering pile of freshly acquired 7"s by his side) but also the eclectic tastes of the band.
"Everyone in the band likes good music, they’re students – in some cases literally - of music, and they’re real music fans. Rob the bassist likes composers like John Cage and Steve Reich and complex, weird stuff that sounds like noise to me! Tom the mandolin player is really into old blues, Colin (accordion) loves folk, Ben (guitar) loves gypsy jazz and Paul (the drummer) is into everything. Mainly jazz. And Queen. So’s Colin. They’re both massive Queen fans. Colin has a Queen t-shirt. But don’t print that."
It’s customary to ask a frontman how the songs get written, and bandy around words like ‘benevolent dictatorship. Heron insists it’s all totally democratic. Ish.
"I write the songs and the basic chords and then I’ll take it to them – I usually have an idea for a melody or arrangement, or even just a style I want – like with the train song I knew I wanted the drums to go ‘chugga chugga chugga’ and the harmonica to go WAAA-WAAA! So it’s not a dictatorship. Although I wouldn’t let things happen that I didn’t want to. (laughs)" And if the band didn’t like something, would he back down? "Yeh, totally, because I would believe them. I trust their opinion. But sometimes they’ve grown to like things that they didn’t originally…"
Another feature of Talk About The Weather is its roll call of guests. "We have TJ Muller from Pokey LaFarge’s band (who used to be in the Tea Pad till Pokey nicked him), Tom Fletcher from The Lake Poets on pedal steel, Paddy Darley on trombone, Danny Hart from Southern Tenant Folk Union on fiddle – he’s from Cumbria too, so there’s a good Cumbrian contingent on the album. And the legendary Stagger Lee on handclaps…" The addition of Paul Archibald on drums late last year also seems to have had a galvanising effect on the Tea Pad, as seen on the subtle syncopated brushwork on Killed By Love. "Yeh, Paul’s a jazz drummer, none of the rest of us are jazz musicians but he gives us that edge…"
Heron has always made a point of writing about what he knows (High Speed Train being a case in point, an anti-train train song that got them described as ‘high speed lefties’ online). "I never saw the point of doing loads of covers... I’ve always written songs so when I started listening to this sort of music I wrote songs in this style. Why would a British guy sing about prohibition or dustbowls or ranches?" That said, the album does include one cover – Crazy Country Fool was written by local hero Graham Shipcote (Shipcote & Friends, Jumpin Hot Club). "Tom used to play it with Shipcote and said we should learn it, we’ve been playing it live for ages now but it was so good I didn’t want to leave it off the album."
Talk about the band’s summer schedule – slots are already booked at Bestival, Wilderness, Boomtown and the Edinburgh Jazz Festival amongst others – leads us, in a roundabout way, to talking about new festival staple electro-swing – a bête noire we share. "I just don’t see the point, it takes the swing out of swing music... There’s no swing in an electro beat, it’s just four to the floor. They sample good tunes and I guess they might get people into the original, but why not just listen to the original… people don’t seem to want to go to clubs and listen to old records. Maybe electro-swing makes people think they like swing music but they don’t, they just like something novelty chucked on top of a heavy bassline… It’s everywhere, part of that whole circus burlesque thing, steampunk and that, it’s a fad. and everyone wears fucking felt bowler hats and clip-on bowties. It’s scraping the surface of something instead of digging deep."
Ah yes, clothes. This is a man who returned from a recent US trip with around 20 vintage ties in his hand luggage. I wonder how his feelings about ‘proper’ attire affect the rest of the band. "They’re all good at it now, they’ve all got at least one suit each that they know to turn up in. It’s funny when we do a radio session and they’re all in suits, looking good for the radio. But I refuse to dress up, I wear my dungarees and a hat – the clothes I wear in the van - and I look fine. Hey, I look good ALL the time! (laughs). It’s important to dress right though, people might see you knocking about before a gig and if you’re in hoodies and jeans, it makes it look like a costume you’re putting on. Which turns what we do into a pastiche..."
Rob Heron & The Tea Pad’s new album Talk About The Weather is released on their own label (including a limited vinyl run) on July 7th, with a Cluny launch party on July 11th.
Players for the show can be found towards the foot of the show page
Artist/Track title/Album (click on link for more info/media)
Peatbog Faeries: Friend of Crazy Joe: Live
Kari MacLeod: For All the Boys
Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra: Soleil: Talk About the Weather
King Bee: Return of the Dave: King Bee
Misty in Roots: Man Kind: Roots Controller
Lilliput: Moving Shadows: Who Knows Where
Zervas and Pepper: All the World: Lifebrigner
Lesley Roley: Once: Living on the Line
Lowp: Madam I’m a Darling
Adam Holmes: Alone We Stand
Hat Fitz and Cara: Hold my Hand: Wiley Ways
The Urban Voodoo Machine: Jimmy Cuba: Pipe and Slippers Man
The Hot Seats: Killing Time: Live
Fickle Lilly: Rocket to the Moon
George Shovlin: Unknown Track Title
Magnolia Sisters: Je va’s jamais oublier (I’ll Never Forget You)
Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra:Hey Mr Landlord:Talk About the Weather
Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra:Penny Drop Mambo: Talk About the Weather
Ewan McClennan: Joe Glenton: The Last Bird to Sing
The Teacups: General Taylor: One for the Pot
The next Newcastle Roots Music Radio will be out on August 3rd, initially being broadcast on Hive Radio at 5pm and then via this website. My next new show will be the Roots of the World Show, featuring Senegalese singer-songwriter Samba Sene, on the 20th July at 5pm on Hive Radio then via this website.
Links mentioned in the show:
Banner of the North Folk Festival
Cumberland Reel, Cumberland Arms, Newcastle
Brass: Durham International Festival