Interviewing bands doesn’t often find you in glamorous locations. Last year, I interviewed Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip in the confines of the grotty kitchen at the venue they were playing that evening. This is the calibre you sometimes have to work with. On the flip side of that, I once interviewed Scholars in the comfort of their swish tour van, which looked like it had just driven in from the future. A lot of the time you just don’t know what you’re going to get.
This past Saturday evening, you could say I was pretty much in the middle of these two extremes. In a venue that “didn’t have a backstage area” (the mind boggles); the interview took place in the drummer’s car. The band in question was Birmingham trio &U&I, Thom Peckett, Richard Lee and Wiz, so I was quite content with this arrangement. I would quite happily interview these lads anywhere, after the fun we had in their previous interview with Birthday Cake For Breakfast. So we left the warm (and spacious) confines of the venue, and squeezed into the equally warm (but much less spacious) confines of Wiz’ car.
During the course of the interview, we veer dramatically off-topic multiple times. Front-man Thom proudly beams at one point, as he shows us a picture of his cat from the passenger’s seat (he is in the passenger seat, not the cat.) We also discuss which James Bond actor might join &U&I should the chance arise
(Rich “Definitely not that new twat” Wiz “Craig David?” Thom “What about Roger Moore? Just for sorting out the pussy and that *laughs*”) as well as which lyrics sound most like they were voiced by Alan Partridge (Wiz “’To the water’, ‘cus that’s about being on a canal boat – That’s quite Partridge innit” Thom “The whole of ‘To The Water’, that’s about a canal boat holiday. Water-way to spend a holiday.”*Everyone laughs*)
But the real reason I’m interviewing &U&I is because, and I say this without hoping to jinx it, they’re “back.” Now, of course – they’ve not been anywhere, and therein lies the problem. 2013 and the early part of 2014 was rather sparse in terms of &U&I shows. Heading into our previous interview last December, I was dreading the beginning of the end. A glimmer of hope came from the idea that they had plans in the works, but there wasn’t a date in mind for when these would come to fruition. It was heart-breaking enough losing fellow Birmingham three piece Shapes; surely not &U&I too?
Thankfully, with an announcement made earlier this year that &U&I would be playing at 2000 Trees in the summer, there was sunlight on the horizon. One of the main highlights of the festival, the lads took to the stage early afternoon and smashed it. They ended on a cover of the Seal classic ‘Kiss From A Rose’ – A finale that was equal parts hilarious and amazing, with Peckett climbing an amp stack to perform a blistering guitar solo (whilst topless.) Beautiful.
Wiz “We’ve always wanted to do a cover of it for years, haven’t we?”
Thom “One of the best songs ever written”
Rich “…Even like, early Blakfish days, we were talking about doing it. ‘Cus it – it’s a powerful song anyway…”
Wiz “Full on banger, innit…Just in case it all went horribly wrong, we could’ve just pulled that one out the hat and gone ‘ey ar, you know this one!’ *laughs*”
Thom “We hadn’t done any sort of shows for quite a long time, so to get offered 2000 Trees, considering we didn’t have any gigs or anything leading up to it, we thought it would be nice to do something that we’ve never done.”
Rich “…‘cus we didn’t know we were doing ArcTanGent, we just thought we’d better do something – a showstopper – ‘cus it could be one of the biggest gigs we did, and then next month we’re doing a bigger one.”
The “bigger one” being the second annual ArcTanGent, sister festival of 2000 Trees. Filling in for Tangled Hair, &U&I were a last minute addition to the ATG line-up, which saw them higher up the bill, playing to a packed out crowd. Stealing the spotlight for their second festival date on the bounce, they ended up sneaking a surprise Blakfish track late into the set. Joined on stage by Ex-Shapes guitarist Steve Batchelor (Rich “Couldn’t have thought of a better man for the job. Well, maybe one *Laughs*”) it was a definite surprise to hear ‘Ringo Starr, 2nd best drummer in the Beatles’ and appeared to be a hugely triumphant moment for the band. The crowd absolutely lapped it up. Not a dry set of underwear in the tent.
Thom “It was nice. It was really flattering, ‘cus obviously we could’ve played it and everyone gone ‘Fuck off! Rubbish! What ya doing?”
Rich “Where’s Sam?”
Thom “You sad old twats”, “You rock dinosaurs”
Wiz “You’re not even in that band anymore!”
Thom “…But no, everyone was really receptive about it. It could’ve gone either way really. Luckily it went the good way”
Rich “…I thought it was brilliant just from the opening ‘Da-da-la-da” and everyone just going mental. It was just nice to see people enjoying themselves, ‘cus ya know – there’s not really much point doing it if people aren’t”
Other than a picture of Ringo Starr posted up on their Facebook page before the festival began (alarm bells), the Blakfish tune was pretty much out of the blue. With the last ever Blakfish show being back in 2010 (the same show in which Steve of Shapes played ‘Ringo Starr…’ as part of Blakfish), fans have been vocal about getting the band back together or at least for them to do a return show. So after all this time, what was their motivation behind playing the song at ArcTanGent?
Wiz “It was all tied in with the Blakfish day that gets celebrated. So it was just off the back of that, and I think we were just kind of in the mindset where everyone was going on about Blakfish quite a bit, so it was like we should -”
Thom “Yeah, it was something we’d discussed in the past like, and always just sort of gone ‘Nah nah, no point now’ and it just all seemed to sort of make a bit of sense really”
The hype around Blakfish leading into ArcTanGent was high, coming mere days after the annual Blakfish day from Musical Mathematics. For this year’s festivities, the boys re-released lots of goodies thought to be long gone, including copies of Champions on vinyl, that according to Kev of Big Scary Monsters, “We thought (this) was long sold out but Peckett found a box in his loft”
So to top off a great Summer with two winning festival appearances was the icing on the cake for not only &U&I, but the fans as well.
Rich “…Some of the best shows we ever played, for me in my musical career. Really, really good. 2000 Trees was amazing, and we were lucky enough that James gave us a call and said could you play ArcTanGent as well. That was up there for me, ArcTanGent”
Wiz “By rights, no one should really be that bothered about us. We haven’t really done anything, we’re really lazy as a band and then we play something like that and we did pretty well on attendance, and everyone seems to enjoy it. It was a bit of a surprise really”
Rich “I got the old goosebumps at the ArcTanGent one, doing the Blakfish track”
So they’re a lock for next year than?
Rich “…we’ll do them again next year, if that’s alright?”
Wiz “We’ll just announce that now – Exclusive. We’re playing ArcTanGent…”
Thom ”Reading and Leeds, Download, Sonisphere, The Big Chill *laughs*”
Wiz “We’re doing Global Gathering”
You heard it here first.
Thankfully, &U&I have carried on riding a wave of momentum from their summer dates, having recently played a couple of shows including a support slot for Maybeshewill. But after quite a big gap in between shows, getting back into the swing of things has proved a little harder than first thought…
Wiz “It’s nice to get back into it, but it’s a little bit of a shock to have to get it together again, and do the stuff that you need to do – like practicing. Basically practicing’s been a bit hard *laughs*”
Thom “The gigs have been great, but…”
Wiz “We’ve never been great at practicing anyway but I suppose back in the day, because we used to play all the time, it didn’t matter so much. But if you do a gig every six months and don’t bother practicing, then it starts to get a bit obvious that you haven’t practiced”
Rich ”I always…I resented practicing. When I get there it’s ok, but it’s just the ‘oh no, I’ve gotta go to band practice’ I hate it, and then I get there and I’m like – oh, it’s actually ok. It’s just that initial – If we didn’t have to practice and just did all the good gigs all the time, that’d be perfect. That’s what we’re working on really *laughs*”
Thom “If anyone reading this can make that happen; make that dream come true for Richard Lee”
With all this talk of playing more shows and practicing again, I had to ask the boys – Are they releasing a new record, or setting people up for a disappointment?
Wiz “Both *Laughs*”
Thom “We are doing a new record. We’re going to the studio in two weeks’ time, and we’re doing a little four track record. Like a digital release, called ‘Merci’”
Rich “I forgot we called it that. This is hot off the press”
Wiz “Not like mercy as in MERCY! *Laughs*”
Thom “It’s like ‘Merci’ like French”
Rich “Nice one”
Thom “We felt a bit bad. When we got offered Trees and ArcTanGent, and we had such a good time and everyone was really nice. The reception was fantastic and everyone was asking about us doing another record, and we got to a point where we’d finished the festivals and we thought – it’d be a bit unfair if we didn’t. We kind of owe it to the people who bothered to stick with it, who came out and actually saw us. It’s only fair for us to do some new material. Which is good, ‘cus it’s forced us to start writing again…”
The new four track EP from &U&I will prospectively be released at the tail end of the year, and will be their first new material since their last record ‘Light Bearer’ released in 2011. Incredible news, I’m sure you’ll agree. I’m super stoked about the idea of a new record, and the new songs they’ve been sneaking into live shows have sounded pretty great. Here’s hoping this is the spark the boys need and then, who knows – second album time?
It’s only right that the interview ended on a truly hilarious note, and the boys made sure of that. After letting me know their favourite wrestling moves (Thom “Swanton Bomb. Hardy Boys”, Wiz “Stone Cold Stunner. Seriously, that’s my signature.” Thom “Wiz will drop a Stunner on you in a bar, out the blue” Wiz “It only happens now and again, but it’s just beautiful when it happens”) the boys revealed the story behind their Number 1 Christmas smash ‘3 Kingz – Next Episode’
Thom “We only did 3 Kingz ‘cus – this always happens to us – ‘cus we had a website get in contact…”
Wiz “It’s quite embarrassing actually…”
Thom “It is, but I’m glad we did it”
Rich “Can I just put this out there about 3 Kingz – I had no idea what was going on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of it, but it was these two that instigated it”
Wiz “Rock Sound wanted us to do a kind of Christmas message, and us being us just took it to the next level and did that. Then we sent it off to them and they didn’t even use it *laughs*”
Thom “They wanted a thing to make a compilation like ‘Hi guys, this is &U&I. Hi this is…whoever. Merry Christmas!’ but we did that video instead, and they didn’t use it”
Wiz “Sent it in and they were like ‘oh right, fair enough’ *laughs*”
Thom “I don’t know whether it’s worth doing 3 Kingz part two?”
Rich “Dunno – not sure. Get back to you on that one”