Over recent months, Eddy has been expressing his love for certain labels and their amazing founders who ensure, in each case, that they create more than simply another record company. But for this week’s Eddy Says, the focus is geographical. Eddy explores an incredible history and explains how the Steel City stole his heart.
The Wall Of Sound co-host that I wrote about last week was such chaotic brilliance, and in amongst the madness, while I was chatting to Martyn Ware of Heaven 17, there was a moment that really got me thinking. Martyn is from Sheffield, and proud of it, as everybody from Sheffield always is, and quite rightly so. I’ve long held a theory that there is something in the Sheffield water supply that churns out phenomenal musicians, because this city really punches way above its weight when it comes to influential bands.
Think about it. These things are always subjective of course, but speaking personally, that city has influenced me more musically, pound for pound, than any other city that I can think of. My art A-Level was completed almost entirely to the sound of early Human League and ‘Penthouse And Pavement’ by Heaven 17. When I left school and went to London University it was Cabaret Voltaire who showed me the way forward, my first really deep inspiration in sample culture and the coolest electronic/crossover band of the time.
I was a big metal head when I was younger too, and for me the best 1980s ‘hair metal’ album was ‘Hysteria’ by Def Leppard. The production and the songs were incomparable. If you listen to that album without allowing perceptions about silly mullets get in the way, it’s like a lesson in how to write great songs. Almost every track has what sounds like three choruses. Unbelievable. And it still sounds great today.
Meanwhile, one of the acts that soundtracked my early clubbing life was Chakk, a band that came out of the FON Studios scene. At the time I heard a rumour that FON stood for Fuck Off Nazis, which I always admired.
And it doesn’t stop there. I’ve confessed here in the Eddy Says column before that three bands I’ve seen live have moved me to tears with their performances. While none of these were from Sheffield, only one band has ever made me cry just on CD – and they were a Sheffield act. A live performance can be a very emotional thing. A place, an event, so many variables that can illicit emotion, but for something as dry as a plastic disc with binary code on it to suck tears out of a grown man, that has to be something really special. That band was The Longpigs and their song ‘On And On‘.
And while I’m not an Arctic Monkeys obsessive, at this point I have to acknowledge how good they are, and how important they have become in a relatively short space of time. And for the purposes of this piece, they are a peerless example of the Steel City’s more recent sphere of influence. Though more key for me, and my world, is a character involved in their first album, who was soon spotted by Wall Of Sound’s legendary head honcho, Mark Jones, and signed shortly afterwards.
Martyn Ware, one of my heroes through his involvement in Heaven 17 and British Electric Foundation, chose a song by this fellow Sheffielder as his favourite Wall Of Sound tune last week. The tune was ‘Heavyweight Champion Of The World’ by Reverend And The Makers. And I’m so glad he chose it. The Rev, Jon McClure is one of the finest human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure to call a colleague and the honour to call a friend. He’s quite simply the most honest, honourable and passionate man you could ever hope to meet. His word is more cast iron than any contract, an old fashioned, proper gentleman and prolific talent.
I remember our mutual friend, the brilliant Jagz Kooner, calling me up one day, years ago, to tell me I should come into the studio to hear this new band he was producing at the time. He said: “Eddy, you’ve got to hear this. It’s like we’ve made a record just for YOU”. When I got to the studio, met the band, and heard that song, along with a few others, I booked them to headline my tent at Secret Garden Party that year.
Many thought I was nuts for asking a band that hadn’t even released their first single to headline, but I knew it’d be a good move. By the time they hit that stage, they’d had a couple of hits, and were worth about fifteen times what I’d paid for them. It was an incredible show. I recall Jon being drenched to the skin with his own and other people’s sweat, and that tent had never been so rammed.
Jon is always buzzing with ideas and exploding with side projects and interesting collaborations: Mongrel, Reverend Sound System, Instigate Debate etc. I think of Jon as the unofficial Mayor Of Sheffield, and as their cultural ambassador. He is the perfect reflection of that amazing city. Most people would probably go for Jarvis Cocker, but I think of Jarvis as more metropolitan, more at home in a Primrose Hill pub than one in his birth city. Though he is, of course, another product of whatever it is about this Yorkshire town that creates musical greats of so many different kinds.
And all these names come right off the top of my head. Look closer into the electronica world and you’ll find this city is also home to some other gems in yours and my electronic collection: All Seeing I, LFO, Moloko, Toddla T, Olive and Oris Jay – one of dubstep’s founding fathers. And before I stop all this listing, I must also mention Stephen Jones of Babybird too, who charmed me silly in the 1990s with some brilliant music and lyrics.
But let’s stop listing now and think about all this some more. I just checked the population of Sheffield and it was just over half a million the last time anyone checked thoroughly. At the same time, Leeds measured around three quarters of a million.
Do me a favour right now and try to think of a band from Leeds as influential as, say The Human League? I’ve racked my brains all week and I can’t think of many. Soft Cell and The Sisters Of Mercy shone brightest for me. Sunshine Underground don’t count because they’re actually a bunch of lovely Brummys despite calling Leeds home. There’s Utah Saints, of course, and Andy CMU just reminded me of Gang Of Four, but with respect to all, you’d think that with a quarter of a million people more than Sheffield, we’d be able to think of a hell of a lot more musical greats?
Try to do the same with comparable cities in Yorkshire. York? I can’t even think of one artist! Bradford makes me think of Southern Death Cult, New Model Army, and Terrorvision, who made me laugh in the 90s and provided a foil for Britpop. I’ll probably kick myself when I get the inevitable “but what about [insert name of seminal York or Leeds band here]” emails and tweets from many of you reading this, but I am really struggling here, whereas the Sheffield bands just keep rolling off my tongue.
And I can’t mention Sheffield without also bigging up one of the greatest record labels ever, one totally at the cutting edge, which has provided such huge inspiration for so long: Warp. Sheffield’s ethos in one label right there. And that means you can almost count incredible artists like Aphex Twin as being honorary Sheffielders!
So what is it? Is it the water, or perhaps the people who live there. Certainly I have always noticed, over the years, what a quality crowd populate a great venue like The Plug. I always get such good song requests – people there really know and love their music.
But really, I have no idea why it is that, from my point of view, this city produces such cracking humans and so many more phenomenal bands than they mathematically ought to, but whatever it is, and however long it lasts, Sheffield, and all who sail in her, I salute you.