Bradford are back. And with purpose. 30 years on and this time they mean business.
Featuring founding members Ian H. (vocals) and Ewan Butler (guitar), the reunion also sees the band welcome acclaimed producer Stephen Street (who produced their 1989 debut album ‘Shouting Quietly’) as an official full-time member.
Thirty years ago a young Northern skinhead band named Bradford from Blackburn were handed the baton by Morrissey as ‘the’ band to blaze a trail in English indie music following the demise of The Smiths.
Producer Stephen Street signed the band to his brand new Foundation label. With the backing of such key players, the scene was set for Bradford to hit the heights. Stephen and the band recorded their debut album ‘Shouting Quietly‘ which was released in March 1990 to critical acclaim.
International tours and shows with Joe Strummer, The Sugarcubes, and even Morrissey himself soon came beckoning in that sacred time that envelops a band in dizzying ascension.
But, the time wasn’t right for the band and finding themselves without a label in 1991, the band went their separate ways.
In 2018, ‘Thirty Years Of Shouting Quietly’ saw Bradford’s seminal debut album remastered and re-released as a 30 song collection on A Turntable Friend Records. Receiving warm reviews and a new cult reverence, the record was re-appraised as a ‘lost English classic’ and would set the cogs in motion for something more…
Let us hear the story from the band as they now are. It was a great chat and really good to get an insight into the way in which the music industry can lift you up and then drop you from a massive height.
There were a couple of false starts, dodgy mics (don’t try using an external mic with Zoom, kids), WhatsApp messages and re-sending of emails, but we got there in the end, starting off with Stephen and then Ewan and Ian joining in later.
It was fun and the guys were really engaging. We had to call a halt after about 45 minutes (we were needed elsewhere) but we got the impression they would have chatted long into the night.
They love what they’re doing and it shows in what follows.
As usual, we kick off with the ice breaker:
P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?
Stephen: At the moment I am mixing an album for an American band called Sun Atoms. It’s new ‘band’ that is mainly one guy, Jason Adams working with Peter Holmstrom of The Dandy Warhols. It’s much more atmospheric stuff than the Dandy Warhols. That’s the main thing I’m working on at the moment.
It’s been a difficult year with lockdown, really, because, obviously I’m known for working with bands and so on, so we can’t really do that at the moment.
Ewan: I’m doing a lot at the moment. I’ve got the music thing obviously, on the go. But I also work as a psychiatric nurse and I’m a dad as well, so there’s quite a bit going on really.
P3dro: Can you just fill us in with a little potted history of the band? How was it formed, where did you meet?
Ewan: We’re going back to the mid 1980s and I came a cross Ian at a Musicians’ Co-operative in Blackburn and we got to know ourselves a bit better, started making music from thereon, really.
It was about 1988 when we released our first single, ‘Skin Storm’. Then Morrissey started championing the band. Following that we had a period of about 6 months when we were media darlings – we couldn’t put a foot wrong. Which was great – we played lots of gigs, lots of stuff came off the back of that.
But then, as the media often does, and combined with the music scene at the time going into that Madchester phase, we kind of fell out of favour to a certain extent.
We’d been signed with Stephen’s label [Foundation], but then there were problems with Rough Trade …
Stephen: Yeah, there were a couple of main things that happened towards the end of the 80s that kind of pulled the rug from underneath Bradford and the Foundation label, the label I started. There was a bit of a recession at around that time and Rough Trade Distribution [who we used] had a bit of a problem. The cash flow situation got a bit sticky.
We’d made a really good album [Shouting Quietly]. It got to a point where it was difficult for the label because the money wasn’t coming in from the [music] we had generated.
And then the whole music scene changed. It went all baggy and dance and loops. It was very much what Bradford were not about. So, unfortunately all that promise kind of fizzled out.
So, the band literally lay dormant for quite a long time.
Ewan: The band split up in 1991 and I left Blackburn for about 10 years, but I’d always stayed in touch with Ian and whenever our paths crossed we’d hook up.
I came back to Blackburn and then in about 2015 we thought we could do a bit of work together again. We ended up supporting Glenn Tilbrook at a gig in Blackburn. It kind of happened from there, then.
We had a German record label get in touch with us asking if we were interested in doing a re-release, which we were. So, that was put out in 2018, called ‘30 Years of Shouting Quietly‘
And then we considered the possibility of us doing [new] material. Took it from there and got back in touch with Stephen. We were chancing our arm a little bit. He might have been keen to get involved to some degree, but we weren’t exactly sure. Fortunately for us he was really impressed by the material and was really keen to get on board.
P3dro: Do you think in the late 80s, early 90s the band just hit at the wrong time?
Ewan: Yeah. I think we probably did. If we’d been a few years before, I think there would have been a lot more possibility … the indie thing was a bit bigger [then]. And, then if we’d maybe come about 4 years later we could have fitted in with the BritPop thing as well, but we were at the kind of tail end of that Smiths period. It was really unfortunate timing, really.
It was bad timing for us. We were all very passionate and enthusiastic about making a go of it. And it seemed, at one stage that things were really going for us. And, then the wheels came off.
It was much to our disappointment that things didn’t work out. And then we all went our separate ways, so the opportunity was gone.
Ian: Sorry guys, I was just having my tea.
P3dro: How did the band get its name? Why did you call yourselves Bradford?
Ewan: It’s a regular question, this one.
P3dro: Oh. Sorry.
Ewan: It’s nothing intriguing. The band kind of evolved out of a bedroom kind of thing with me and the previous singer. It was very light hearted to begin with and then we got new members into the band and it evolved. We didn’t really consider changing the name of the band.
And then before we knew it we had the line up when we did ‘Shouting Quietly’ and Morrissey had championed us at that stage, so we weren’t really in a position to consider changing the name. There’s no other great explanation for it other than it was one of those things we never really addressed.
Ian: It’s a bit like if you’re in a band called ‘Sue‘ isn’t it? It’s just one of those names.
Ewan: I think in all of our previous interviews the band name becomes something more than its norm. There are no connotations attached to the name. There’s no influence as to whether its a good or a bad thing.
Ian: Yeah, I agree. I mean The Police, what a terrible name. Who would call their band The Police? The Jam? Marmalade? I mean, come on. Jeez.
Stephen: Once you’ve gone so far down that route, it’s very hard to change the name of your band. You may not think it’s the best thing in the world, but that’s the name you’ve been given.
P3dro: I know we’ve touched on it, but tell us about the triggers that got you back together again to write new music.
Ian: Basically, [when] I got the gig in 2016 with Glenn Tilbrook at Blackburn Museum and I said to Ewan did he fancy doing a couple of songs? I had my own material, but there were a couple of songs where we could play together. Ewan said yes and he’d very cleverly re-imagined ‘Skin Storm’ on the chord front, which I thought improved it and it had a really nice reception.
Then the German label, A Turntable Friends got in touch asking if we would do the retrospective [album]. We had to contact Stephen to do that, bits of clearance, bits of mopping up, was there anything in the vaults?
After that came out, Ewan and I thought it would be fun to see what we sound like now, just for our own interest. And then it sounded really good and we got so cocky and confident we thought “Shall we send these to Stephen?”
Thankfully and luckily Stephen thought it was good, strong stuff. We all started chipping in. Previously he’d been our record label boss and producer, but this time, that dynamic had changed a bit and we said “How about we three go out as Bradford now?”
He said Yes. And that’s how it happened. The music is [now] very much a three way thing. I come up with the initial song and lyrics, but what these two chaps do is immense. It always surprises and amazes me. And that’s how we ended where we are now.
P3dro: That leads to the next question, specifically directed at Stephen. You’d previously been the engineer and producer for the band, so what persuaded you to become a playing member of the band?
Stephen: I’ve always been a fan of what we did in the past. I’ve been lucky to have worked with some great lyricists over the years and I put Ian up there with them.
When the guys got back in touch with me, asking if I knew of anyone with a studio where they could mix these tracks. It hit me, although there was great potential there, they were nowhere at the point of being mixed. They needed quite a bit more work put into them.
Normally, if it were someone I didn’t particularly care for I would just have said: “Sorry, I can’t do it”. But in this instance I thought I could really see some potential here. The only way it was going to work … there was no record company and no budget to employ me to finish off this record … the only way we could make this work was if we were to become a team. And if we were going to be a team, then we might as well be a band.
So, we made it Bradford, mark 2. And that’s what happened. It was a case of me getting stuck in and rolling my sleeves up. You send me what you’ve got and I’ll work on it, I’ll send it back to you and you work on it. And we can just chip away at these songs until we get to the point where they were ready for mixing.
It’s a real three way team effort. Whatever the song needs, one of us will step in and do their bit. It’s been a really nice, natural and welcome progression in our relationship.
And, of course, we don’t have to worry about being in the back of a Transit van together going up and down the motorway. That doesn’t interest us at the moment. We just wanted to make some good music and get it out there.
P3dro: You’ve been teasing the album release and the most anyone has pinned you down to is “sometime next year”
Stephen: It will be February 19.
P3dro: Did you delay the release because of coronavirus?
Stephen: No. It was finished quite a few months back and we could have said: “Here’s our new record and then just put it out”. But if we had [done that] then it would have just disappeared.
The only way you’re going to get anyone interested is to build up a profile again. So we decided between us that we would release three singles so we could build up some interest again. And then, when we do say the album’s coming out, there will be a reaction. There’s no point in releasing an album into the darkness, that would be soul destroying.
P3dro: What has been the reaction to the singles?
Ewan: Very good. Gary Crowley [BBC Radio London] has been the most notable. Since we released ‘Like Water’ he’s said it’s one of his songs of 2020. He played it for 5 or 6 consecutive weeks until ‘Down-Faced Doll’ came out.
We’ve also had airplay from Steve Lamacq on BBC Radio 6 and one or two other outlets. Generally the feedback we’ve had on social media has been very positive and we’re very happy with the reaction we’ve had.
P3dro: Did you have any plans to tour the album, to play any gigs in support of it?
Ian: Not really, no. Bradford got decent crowds [at gigs] but we never packed out [anywhere]. So as a gigging thing, this time out we think it would be absolutely soul destroying, having put the band together, rehearsed, got ourselves nice and match fit and then to play to, say 70 people somewhere in the Midlands.
So, this time, that’s not our mission. We’re more of a unit in a musical sense, rather than a band / gig sense.
Though, if Guy Garvey really likes what we do and he wants us to do a support slot at Manchester Arena, then we’re there.
Stephen: If the reaction is really, really positive and if people say: “We really wanna come and see you”, then we could try and work something out.
But we all have other jobs, apart from being in Bradford … so, for us to come away from that and tour, we would have to be sure it would be worthwhile.
Bands don’t really make money from touring. By the time you’ve paid the lighting guy, the production crew and so on. [Bands] did that in the hope that people would then go out and buy the album.
But, now, no one’s making money from records anymore (because of streaming and all that) which is why they go and play every festival under the sun because it’s a way of sharing production costs, the lighting, the PA system. That’s the only way they can make some money.
We maybe able to do some acoustic things in carefully selected clubs, or radio sessions and things like that.
P3dro: How do you think the dynamic of the band has changed going from a 5 piece to just the 3 of you? Has it had an impact on the sound?
Ewan: Absolutely. I think it works so much better now. We all get along really well. We’re older and maturer and inevitably, because there are only 3 people contributing to a piece of work there’s less potential for people pulling in different directions. It just seemed to have gelled instantly.
P3dro: Down-Faced Doll is quite a dark song. Is that representative of the rest of the album?
Ian: Not really. That song is a kind of one off. It’s a real story. I really found this doll while my wife and I were cycling. We found it in a ditch, turned it over and it looked all distorted, like a murder victim. It really disturbed me.
So, I did what I normally do, which is to go away and think about these things. Then the poetry starts to form, which I can then put into some kind of structure, add the music and a song is born.
But this song has a life of its own which is beyond us all.
Ewan: It sounds like a horrendous experience, turning that doll over.
Ian: It was. Freaky.
P3dro: It’s kind of like a metaphor for our time.
Ian: Yeah, man. Yeah, absolutely, it’s a metaphor.
P3dro: Recommend us a band or an album we should be listening to right now.
Ian: The Lilac Time – ‘Return to Us’.
Stephen: I’m going for a band from Brighton – my daughter is managing them – Bleach Lab. They have a single called ‘Never Be’ and I think they’re incredible. They remind a little of The Sundays and Phoebe Bridgers type stuff.
And also Bernard Butler made a record [‘In Memory Of My Feelings’] with Catherine Anne Davies and that sounds really goo, too.
Ewan: I’ll go for the Willie J Healey album. Very impressed. One of the albums of the year.