INTERVIEW: The Union Choir
By Adam Clery on October 5, 2012 in Uncategorized
With their first headline show since last winter almost upon us, I spent a quiet Tuesday evening in Gateshead’s Central bar with The Union Choir’s frontman Jon Melvin. In amongst talking about football and lasses and all that, we discussed what makes the Lit & Phil such a popular venue these days, and the new ethos of occasion that’s running through bands in the region.
One question first, it’s not a release is it, it’s just a gig?
Yeah, that’s right. We just started talking about the last time we did a quiet gig and then Becca, our clarinet player, said “I’d like to do another one, actually” and then just decided to book the Lit and Phil. Quite a proactive stance to take really, but we haven’t done something like this in a while and we haven’t done our own headline gig since January, so it felt right.
Why the Lit & Phil?
I think when we first started we liked the idea of playing idiosyncratic venues, we never really followed through with it. We got into a habit of playing venues like The Cluny and The Cluny 2, there’s nothing wrong with them, amazing venues I think, but one of my favourite gigs we played was when we played the Star & Shadow at the Halloween party, and they were showing Evil Dead 2 next door. We had been drinking wine that night and feeling a bit whimsical so we decided to go somewhere a little bit leftfield. Becca was talking highly of the venue as well because she played the Ajimal launch back in March
A few bands have done stuff there lately; It’s easy to understand the need for people to find places a bit off the beaten track, but why do you think people keep choosing the Lit & Phil? Why not the new library or somewhere else? What is it about the Lit & Phil specifically?
To tell you the truth, I can’t really say because I’ve never been in. I’m going in completely blind on Saturday. I suppose once you know a venue is receptive to having bands on that’s a good first step. There used to be a few churches that had gigs on around here but after one too many noise complaints they dwindled away. But now a few of those venues are starting up again like St Ann’s. If a venue takes the lead it helps. There’s also the union building next door and that’s an amazing venue too, but I think that’s a bit harder to book. The Lit & Phil is, so far, the right mix of being an interesting venue and still easy to work with.
You’re supported by Andrew Foster, Our Imaginary Friends, and Sophie Evans. What they like?
Well, Andrew’s back catalogue speaks for itself with Minotaur’s and Here Comes Good Sailing. Initially it was just Sophie and Our Imaginary Friend, but again it was Becca’s idea to ask Andrew Foster. I was out for a drink with him one night and he just said ‘I’ve been asked to play one of your gigs’ so I said ‘do it’. He could turn up and play Dictaphone songs or Here Comes Good Sailing from his more recent bands, or he might chuck a couple of Minotaur songs in. Either way his set is going to be impeccable to from start to finish.
What about the other two how did you pick them?
Well, Sophie is Rebecca’s sister for starters. She recorded with us a couple of times and did some backing vocals on some demos and that. She was in girls afraid with Becca as well and they’ve done a few gigs round here. She moved up to Glasgow and we asked her to come down and play a couple of songs, I think she has started a band up there that are going to be the basis of what her set is. But she is a lush singer and hopefully she is going to come on stage and sing a couple of songs with us too.
And Our Imaginary Friends are like, just really beautiful broken down pop songs that are really tender. Whenever I’ve seen them it has been in venues like The Cluny or The Telegraph or rooms full of people talking. I think of all the bands playing I’m most excited to see them in this kind of venue ’cause I think their songs will really carry. We’ve picked bands that we know will just really suit the room were in.
Do you think there is more of a sense of occasion now? I’ve noticed a lot of bands have taken the approach of doing fewer gigs, but making more of a spectacle of them.
I think the community… I’m not going to say “scene” because it’s an awful word, but I think the groups of friends in the community have all grown up in bands together, and at the minute that lends itself to that approach.
Because so many people are in so many different bands, it’ll mean that people aren’t always available to play 3 times a week and I think it’s always better for a band to not play as many gigs anyway. I think if a band goes in with this false sense of their own importance and think “oh, we can afford to play 3 or 4 gigs a month steady, and we’ll be huge in a year because we’re grafters and everyone wants to hear our music” they’ll struggle.
I think up here we appreciate that we have an audience and we don’t want take the piss out of them by assuming they’ve got nothing else to do except go to gigs. So we want to spend time making sure each performance is special and making sure there’s something behind it, and the set itself is going to be more interesting than the last one. It’s encouraging to see that bands are trying to top themselves more than just trying to top each other.
Tender lovers is in a sea of rampant shaggers basically? That’s what everyone’s aiming for?
Ha! Aye, you can quote yourself on that.
- Preview: Frankie & The Heartstrings @ Hoults Yard