By Rick Witter
I was in first year at school, cycling home on my bike when a lad named Paul Banks stopped me and said, “that’s a good bike, where did you get that from?”
15 top 40’s later, here we are.
A full back catalogue – just no songs
That was the start of our friendship. Aside from a shared love of a good pushy, we were both into music so we decided we wanted to be in a band. I couldn’t really sing very well and he couldn’t play guitar, but that was what we’d chosen to do.
We spent a good two or three years designing sleeves for records. We had a full back catalogue of material ready to go – sleeves, song titles and maybe the odd lyric here or there – we just hadn’t actually written any songs.
(Photo by hinnamsaisuy - http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1529)
We also occasionally played music and started getting a little bit better at that and so decided we wanted to start performing in front of people.
That first band was called Broccoli Haven (don’t ask why) and it was me, Paul, Tom Gladwin playing bass and our future drummer’s brother, John Leach, playing keyboards. We sounded very much like the House Martins. We did actually do demos (people around York will still have demos we did and sold) but we were only 14, 15, 16.
We’d do gigs in pubs around York at that age – nowadays you’d find it quite difficult to get away with that. We’d even advertise playing a gig in a pub and put the posters up at school but we’d always get told to take them down because, obviously, we were advertising for other school children to go to a pub.
(Photo by akeeris - http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=2242)
It was 1989, just after we left school, that Shed Seven started. That was when we decided we wanted to get serious – which meant going to London to play in front of nobody, come all the way home again and go to work the next day.
We always enjoyed playing music, doing gigs, people cheering and just the general thrill of standing on a stage and playing. When we left school, suddenly the Manchester period of music came in – the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays – and it was something that just connected with us. It was cool, independent, different music that was suddenly getting a bit more main stream and it was right up our street.
At the time in York there wasn’t really any indie. We were the only kind of indie kids, we were the ones with the weird hair and the weird dress sense because everybody else was just in to main stream.
The Manchester scene made us realize we were doing a similar kind of thing but in a younger kind of way, so there was room for this and we wanted to be a part of it. Quite clearly, a lot of bands around the country were thinking exactly the same and it all came to a head when we signed our record deal and started releasing records.
Britpop but not. Get it?
Suddenly there was the Bluetones, Supergrass, Gene, Cast, Elastica, Sleeper, Oasis – all these bands from over the country thinking they’re doing something different when in fact loads of us are doing the same thing. Which, obviously, became Britpop.
When you start getting written about in music papers they like to pigeonhole you, so when we did first start we were New Wave of New Wave, which was a set of bands at that time like Smash and These Animal Men, which were a bit more DIY and we were lumped in with that right at the beginning. Then we were something called Lad Rock, which didn’t last very long. Then it was Britpop.
But I don’t really think we were Britpop. I’d say we’re just a good indie band with pop elements.
We were just put in with that lazy journalistic bracket because it’s an expression – oh what do you sound like? Britpop, oh I see you’re like all them other bands.
We’re British, we play a certain element of pop. But that doesn’t mean we’re Britpop.
Well we are, but we’re not. Get it?
November 1993 was the time it really started to happen for us and the reason I know it was November was because it was my 21st birthday.
We knew what we were doing was really good and we were getting a bit of press attention. We’d gone and played loads of gigs in London – to nobody – and come all the way home again and then gone to work. The gig that actually got us signed was a gig in a really small pub in London.
There were probably about five people there watching us and two of them were my mum and dad. There happened to be an A&R bloke from Polydor records there too. We just went out and played like we were playing at Wembley, thinking, “we’re good, doesn’t matter that nobody’s here!” That was the crux of us getting a record deal.
(Picture by Kafuffle on Wikipedia commons)
I remember getting a train with the rest of the band to London to sign the record deal, got there, the lawyer’s there, flicking through everything and there’s a sticking point. A little point that wasn’t quite right for us as far as our lawyer was saying so we ended up coming home without signing it. I was thinking “oh no, we’ve done all that and it’s not gunna work, it’s not gunna happen.”
Then two weeks later we went back, signed it and then I turned 21. So yeah, quite a nice birthday present.
That classic Polydor logo
We did a six album deal with Polydor, of which one could have been a live album and one a greatest hits, so four proper studio albums. We ended up doing three proper albums, a live album and a greatest hits.
There were three or four record labels interested so we had to choose the right one for us, which I don’t think we did in the end. We chose Polydor because of bands like The Jam, the Who and that classic Polydor logo.
The first few years it worked really well for us because we had total control over what we were doing. Part of the deal was that we chose what we thought was the single, we chose the artwork – they obviously had an input but we had the final say and if we didn’t like it, it wasn’t going to happen.
Our debut album, Change Giver, was as debuts should go – it was introducing us. There’s five or six really good songs on it but I can’t listen to that album anymore. I sound about 13 on it and I think some of the production’s rubbish.
But if you listen to the first U2 album it’s not great – production-wise and the fact that they sound young – same with the first REM album. But, like these classic bands, it was a starting point, introducing our band to the world.
Then came the difficult second album. The thing with your first album is a lot of bands have ten years to write it and then they have a year and a half, two years, to write the second.
A Maximum High came out in 1996 and in that year we had five top forty hits. That was more chart singles than any other act in England – no other band or artist did that in ‘96. That’s quite a nice fact and we did alright in that our difficult second album spawned four or five top forty hits.
Polydor taking the piss out of our fans
After releasing our third studio album, Let It Ride, Polydor decided it was time to release a greatest hits album.
We weren’t happy about it because we thought it was too soon in our career. In this day and age Enrique Inglesias can have two hit singles and release a greatest hits, just fill it out with other fodder. We just thought it was a bit uncool.
The only saving grace for us – because we were basically told they were going to release a greatest hits – was the fact that we had 15 top 40 singles, so we did have enough material to make a greatest hits album. In hindsight, our greatest hits album was probably our best selling album – people liked Shed Seven for the hits. But we fell out with Polydor soon after that.
The tipping point was the fact that – and this happens to a lot of bands – the record company asked us to write a couple of new songs to be released as singles to help promote the greatest hits.
That’s difficult in itself, being asked to write two songs for a greatest hits album, because you have to make sure they’re going to be hits if they’re going on a greatest hits. But we did it, “Disco Down” became a hit and helped sell the album.
When it came time to release the other new song, “High Hopes” – which we believed was a good single and if it had come out could have catapulted us to another level – Polydor turned round and said, “look rather than release ‘High Hopes’, we’d much rather that you re-release ‘Going for Gold’ as a single”.
We’d only released “Going for Gold” three years earlier. We thought well hold on, we weren’t really keen on the greatest hits idea but we did that for you, then we wrote a really good song that we want to come out as a single but you’re saying rather than release that, re-release a song – that’s already been a hit – as a single again.
We didn’t want to do that. That’s shit. That’s really taking the piss out of our fan base because they’d already bought that. We didn’t want “Going for Gold” coming back out.
Who knows what would have happened if that had happened? It could have done really well for us again but we would have preferred to keep our credibility and release a whole new song, which I thought was just as good as “Going for Gold”. So that was see you later.
Do I regret signing with Polydor?
I think if we’d signed to a smaller, independent label, it could have failed dismally at the beginning or it could have gone on and we could still be with that label now. It’s swings and roundabouts and you never know what could happen in life.
But, in hindsight, there could have been something better for us.