Leah Hamer || June 2016
A kind Yorkshire voice greets me on the phone, as Brit-Pop hero, Rick Witter, escapes into his garden, away from the chaos of his children enjoying their half-term. This is the normality that Witter is now engulfed in. Adolescent angst and toddler tantrums have replaced the band feuds and the competitive battle of 90s indie stars.
Witter’s career spans over twenty-five years, after officially forming the regular line up of Shed Seven in 1990. Although they are now considered to be one of the champions of an iconic genre, in the early days Witter remembers how indie guitar bands were rare in their hometown. ‘We were looked upon as being a bit weird and odd, but we just believed in ourselves.’
It seems hard to imagine guitar-based indie kids to be anything out of the blue today, these bands have dominated my playlists for the best-part of my life. Yet, to Rick, there has been a distinct shift in the music scene since the golden era of Brit-Pop. ‘Music is still healthy, but is has just changed a lot, with the advent of the internet. I think Brit-Pop in a guitar based way was the last kind of big music scene that we will ever see again. I can’t ever see the news at ten discussing who will be number one again between two bands. I think them days are long gone, which is a slight shame.’
As a baby of that generation, born in a week that Blur dominated the charts with Country House, I have never witnessed the rush of awaiting who would be number one that week. The closest thrill of this nature I have experienced, was the campaign for Rage Against The Machine to triumph over the commercial X Factor winner that Christmas in 2009. Yet that is a pathetic comparison to the war between Oasis and Blur.
Although our system of obtaining music has changed, as physical CDs wither away before our eyes and online downloads lead the way to piracy and free streaming, does that mean the heart and soul of indie bands has died? ‘There is still a lot of good guitar bands out there that are furrowing their path. I think that will always be the case. I think there will always be the need for young lads to learn instruments, have good haircuts and write good catchy songs. That is never going to die.’
‘So I’m not worried about it. But I think people who want that sort of music need to search a little harder for it, but I like that. I like going on YouTube and browsing and trying to find something no-one else has heard of.’
These discoveries have meant that Rick’s playlists now consist of Australian psych bands like Tame Impala and Kings Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, in contrast to the ‘snobish indie bands that no-one else had heard of’ that defined his youth like The Smiths and Primal Scream, ‘But bands can’t last if only one person likes them so you have to change your mentality a bit… Since I’ve gotten a bit older I’ve realised there’s a whole lot of good music out there and loads of different scenes and genres.’
However, the new wave of indie guitar music is still prominent in his household, but on the speakers of his children, ‘I’m constantly hearing Catfish and the Bottlemen in their bedrooms.’
These bands may be a part of a new generation, yet it is still their passion and determination that has allowed for their success, in the same respect as Shed Seven. ‘You’ve just got to keep playing as much as you can, even if no one is listening to you. You need to get that work ethic going. We kind of realised that things might not particularly come looking for us, we’d have to go searching, so we went down to London and played in run down pubs with no one watching, and then packed up our stuff and drove all the way home through the night. The basic thing is to have it in your heart…and write good songs.’
It is clear how much grafting Rick and the original line-up threw into every effort to make it in the industry, and those who do not embed the same attitude, Rick has no time for, ‘I think that not long ago there was an advent of bands signing record deals after two gigs. Fair enough if you get that luck, but you shouldn’t expect that. I’ve seen an awful lot of bands fall at the wayside over the years for expecting it to come to them, when it doesn’t happen. You should work for it and when it finally does happen you can sit down and say we’ve earnt this, we deserve it.’
Success in this world can only be achieved if you endure an unimaginable amount of hard work, and patiently await a spot of luck. ‘We played pubs in York like The Winning Post and The Spotted Cow, when we were underage. When we were at school we’d put posters up in the corridors and then get told off for that because we weren’t meant to be in pubs. Then we did a four track demo tape that we spent a bit of money on recording. We sold them to friends, and somehow a copy found its way to this fella in Coventry, who heard it and liked it, phoned up the contact number on the back, and he became our manager.’
‘So between us and him, we created this buzz, and doing all of that resulted in someone from Polydor Records coming to see us in this pub and there was about five other people in the room. But we walked out like we were U2 at Wembley, and that resulted in our record deal.’
‘There’s an awful lot of luck as well as the talent involved. It’s a funny old world, but that’s with everything in life. You could be the managing director of Boots- but you got there somehow.’
Despite their four-year break from 2003-2007, Shed Seven have survived the demands of the music industry and find themselves still touring regularly, contrary to the other titans of the decade. They return to the market every other Christmas for a big sell-out tour, and then indulge in the occasional one-off festivals and treats throughout the rest of the year, like their visit to Keele University on the 29th July, which will be their first time at the venue.
‘We’re in a privileged position now. We’re a band that reformed to just perform old songs so when we put a gig on, the people are in there to hear songs that they know and love from a previous time. We book gigs months in advance now, and people are excited, so by the time we get to the event, it’s a bit of a frenzy.’
‘So there is pressure off us, but the only problem we have is making sure we all play right… Saying that we’re pretty weather-worn. After all the years we’ve practiced, it would be a bit of a fluke if one of us were particularly bad.’
Although Rick has not ruled out recording new material, and there has been frequent talk of returning to the studio, the busy schedules of the band has meant that these plans are not priority at this moment in time, ‘Hopefully at some point in the future, people might hear something new. I’ve never said never, ever.’
Contrasting to other musicians again, the demand for new music from Shed Seven is not overwhelming, as their loyal fans are content with the classics of their heyday. However, it is not just the teenagers of the 90s who belong to this die-hard following, but their children as well. ‘The longer we keep going, we find more people are bringing their kids, who are in their late teens. The funny thing is that these kids are singing every word, it’s not as if they’re their under any type of sufferance. So in that respect we will be like The Rolling Stones and we will keep going and entertaining new generations.’
Shed Seven are not a band living in the shadow of their former glory, but a band renewing and reviving Brit-Pop to a new fan base, ‘We’re not going anywhere.’ That is very good to know.
So the 90s may be over, and so we no longer watch the television with eager eyes awaiting the news of who is number one, nor do we queue for hours outside record stores to purchase the latest album. Our world may have been encompassed by technology, but this does not mean that the heart of music has been lost. The glory of Brit-Pop has been continued through the legacy of Shed Seven and it has spread to more fans than ever before. But most importantly, the spirit that drove Rick Witter to success over twenty years ago, is still present in the bodies of Alex Turner or Van McCann or our local musicians playing at The Exchange or The Sugarmill. They are the new youth of guitar heroes. Time has not divided our glorious music scene. Those who idolise Witter, can idolise McCann. The Catfish and The Bottlemen and the Shed Seven generation are one and the same.
Shed Seven perform live at Keele University on Friday 29th July.