At the end of 80’s and the beginning of 90’s many of us went to dig up, thanks to the precious archivial work of a few enthusiasts, a bunch of obscured and incredibly underrated mid 60’s to early 70’s garage, proto-punk, psychedelic bands. Surely someone will remember those essential fantastic compilation series called ‘Nuggets’, ‘Pebbles’, ‘Back From The Grave’, ‘Chocolate Soup’, ‘English Freakbeat’ to name a few.
Apparently music history repeats itself, and recently the same is happening for the most unlucky and overlooked groups from the late ‘80 / early 90’s.
The Suncharms, an indie fuzzy shoegazey jangle pop five-piece from the surroundings of Sheffield formed in 1989, were a bright example; they released a couple of beautiful EPs, later collectors’ items, and played several gigs supporting cult bands such as Television Personalities, Cranes and Curve, before disappearing. But in life the surprise is always behind the corner: An indie pop fanatic and Cloudberry label owner from New York bought their debut 12” on Ebay, fell in love, wrote about them on his blog, got in touch and now The ‘original Suncharms’ are magically back in action and new exciting recordings and gigs are on the way.
Let’s start from the early days, two of you hailing from Stocksbridge in the countryside near Sheffield, Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner had yet to be born I guess… How you started playing together? What were your early influences and why the early name The Eunuchs and the definitive The Suncharms?
Marcus and myself started hanging out together in 1987 and we were both buying indie music – The Chesterfields, McCarthy, The Wedding Present, The Smiths amongst many others and also listening to a lot of punk stuff – Buzzcocks and Dead Kennedys in particular were big for us and their anti “cock-rock” stance inspired us to choose the name The Eunuchs – once we’d met the other band members of course! I met Matt at Art College and he brought in some of his school friends – however we soon tired of the name and by 1990 we chose The Suncharms – named after a Yorkshire produced soft drink which had a fairly psychedelic logo.
You released your two EP’s for Norwich’s Wilde Club Records, home also of Catherine Wheel and The Bardots. How did it happen and how was your relationship with the label and your label-mates?
Our friend Dan Cooper (another Stocksbridge boy) had bought the first Catherine Wheel EP and noted the address on the sleeve – he sent our demo tape and they liked what they heard – the fact that they wanted to put it straight out on vinyl without re-recording was appealing as it meant we could release a record straight away – it turned out to be a good move as it got to 23 in the indie chart – not too bad for a debut. The label was great and very supportive – the only downside being the fact they were in Norwich – a very long way from Sheffield!! As for our label mates we had little or no contact with them except for playing the occasional gig together.
In April 1992, you got invited to record a Peel Session, how did it work? It was supposed to be an electrifying and unforgettable day, but I’ve read that turned out to be a ‘‘mixed’’ experience instead…
It was exciting for sure – and a real honour – however our van broke down on the way to London so it became a race against time to make the session – luckily we did but the next disappointment was that I’d assumed for years that Peel was present at the sessions but we found that they were pre recorded a week in advance so we didn’t get to meet him – just me being naive I suppose. The actual session was fun and exciting and somewhat surreal being in the legendary Maida Vale studios.
You played many local and national gigs supporting bands as Curve, Cranes, The Brilliant Corners, Sarah Records’ The Orchids and St.Christopher, and my personal favourite The Television Personalities too. What’s your favourite part about playing live and can you remember your first gig as a band and your best and worst memories?
It’s so long ago now that I can only remember snippets of the early gigs – just remembering who we played with and where. Best memory was I suppose playing with such indie legends as you mention – worst memory was possibly the time John was hospitalized following a gig – he’d soldiered on despite suffering a kidney disease and played the gig despite feeling dreadful – I was so worried I got blind drunk and fell over my amp on stage
Your career was held in just few years (1989-93), caught in the middle between the C-86 jangle guitar pop bands and the emerging shoegaze and the now ‘dream pop’ scene. Your sound, also too fuzzy for the beautiful ‘pop world apart’ from Sarah Records, was hard to fit in to either scene, the call from Creation Records, maybe the more suitable label, didn’t come… Please, could you give us a deep insight of the indie musical scene of that period and talk about the development of your sound (that psych and dance baggy elements) and the reason why you did not fit in any particular scene?
I think most bands of this era wouldn’t have actively tried to fit into a scene – with the fickle British music press at the time being lumped into a short lived scene could be the kiss of death but I suppose we, like many others at the time, absorbed some of the current sounds and styles that were around. Many bands that started out being C86 / jangle / indie pop started to beef up their sound with effects pedals – Τhe Jesus And Mary Chain influence and U.S. Groups such as Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth were inspiring many to try out more distorted sounds – the ‘You Made Me Realise’ EP and Τhe House Of Love‘s ‘Christine’ were both huge releases in 1988 which influenced many to try for a similar feel – then along came Pale Saints who distilled these influences with more experimental rhythms and atmospheric sounds – by 1990 the sonic landscape had changed and we were very much swept up in that. I remember the first time I heard Ride I thought that these lads had been drinking from the same well of influences as ourselves and they seemed to appear fully formed – and annoyingly younger and good looking too!
I used to sell records in the 90’s and I’ve always seen your vinyls in all the most complete indie pop wanted-lists, especially from Japan and USA (the freakiest ones). Your songs were never forgotten and instead your name kept circulating in various blogs and fanzines, one of those fanatics and bloggers was Roque Ruiz of Cloudberry Records. He talked about the band, you met him and all of a sudden something magical sets in motion… Could you better explain what happened?
It’s fantastic that you say that we were often on wanted lists and mentioned in blogs etc – it’s really nice to know there were people out there holding a torch for our music. Roque Ruiz was a real catalyst in all of this – he’d got in touch in around 2012 /13 to ask for an interview for his blog which was really good to do. Then, I actually got to meet him at Indietracks festival in 2014 – he enthusiastically chatted to me about The Suncharms and even suggested re-releasing our old recordings – following this I met up with the other band members and we got talking about making a compilation for Cloudberry Records– within half an hour of meeting we were discussing that we all felt we had some unfinished business to attend to – there’s no doubt that if we’d not had Roque’s input and interest we might never have re-formed.
Some brand new tracks are going to be previewed on the ‘big day’ of the forthcoming The Orchids / The Chesterfields support slot. What has influenced you, both lyrically and musically, while working on the new tracks?
Just being together again after all this time has been the real inspiration – within a few practices we found that little riffs and ideas for songs started to appear – Then Marcus put the lyrics down and all of a sudden we had new songs.
How has your approach to songwriting and recording changed after so many years? Even if I guess that the good old precious Rickenbacker guitars are still there, which are the differences sound-wise with the old ones and how is your connection to the new advanced technology?
We still keep things simple – play live in the rehearsal room with amps, guitars, drums, vocals – I suppose the benefits of new technology are that we can record any ideas straight onto our phones and we have set up a Bandcamp and Facebook page.
In this period where music is all about digital, I guess we’re missing the beautiful true charm of the vinyl hunt, the covers, the record on the turntable… Are you still record collectors? Did or do you have a favorite record shop? Which were the first ever records you bought at the time and which are the most recent ones?
Yes we still collect records – in fact I co-own a record shop (Vinyl Exchange, Manchester) which is of course my current favourite. Back in the early days we’d go to FON Records and Record Collector (both in Sheffield ) and I’d buy loads of different stuff including Felt, Pale Saints, Sarah Records releases, stuff on Creation Records– but my first record was way before that in 1979 (a 7″ single by The Skids called ‘Masquerade’ – still got it!).
Last year you have been invited by my friend Renato Malizia of the excellent Brazilian blog/label ‘The Blog That Celebrates Itself’ to take part to a tribute compilation to Hüsker Dü with the track ‘Green Eyes’ from ‘Flip Your Wig’. It has been your first recording since 1992. Why did you choose that song? Are you going to play it live or record other covers?
It was great that Renato got in touch and offered us the opportunity – I adore Hüsker Dü so really didn’t want to turn down the chance – we saw it as a way of galvanising ourselves back into action after so long. However, we’d never planned to come back after so long with a cover version so it might be our only one! Why ‘Green Eyes’? Well, partly because it was a simple one to do – we only had one day to learn it and record it – also I think Grant Hart doesn’t get as much attention as Bob Mould so thought we’d do one of his songs. Also the lyrics mention “sparkle and shine” as did the lyrics to our old song ‘Sparkle’ so it was a nice nod to our past too.
17th February you’ll play at the Continental in Preston alongside The Orchids and The Chesterfields. It’ll be your first gig since 1993, so what the old and new fans should have to expect from it?
We’re really excited to be doing this gig – in fact we supported The Orchids way back in 1989 in our Eunuchs days – they’re one of my favourite bands – as are The Chesterfields whose debut LP ‘Kettle’ was on constant rotation in mine and Marcus’s bedrooms back in ’87. I’m hoping fans both old and new will think we’ve done justice to our songs and that they like the new song which we’re planning to reveal.
I noticed that Richard has incredibly recovered his old original Suncharms’ Ibanez bass after 24 years, sold to a flatmate; the main issue was that guy’s living in New Zealand now! It’s a sign that the circle is almost complete and you’re ready to ‘Sparkle’ again…
Yes! You can thank the modern world for that – if it weren’t for Facebook I guess my old flatmate and I would never have found each other. It was great of him to offer to send the bass back after all this time.
Many thanks for taking the time to talk with us and all the best for your gig, just your final message to our readers?
Thanks for the interview and thank you to anyone out there who still listens to our band. We have big plans for the next few years so watch this space!