Three out of four band members leaving? Pah! It'll take more than that to bring down Halifax's teenage punk-pop sensations BUEN CHICO.
It must be said that our beloved good ol' rock & roll is in a particularly dire state at present. First we had Casablancas and co. supplying songs derivative of Blondie and Iggy to an audience that for the most part neither knew nor appreciated The Strokes' influences. Next, we had bands abandoning the rustic vibe and instead choosing to ape the latest retro rock shambles. Does this sound cynical? Then why are comebacks and reformations (in the form of Morrissey and The Pixies respectively) the most tantalising prospects on the 2004 festival bills?
OK, OK, so my views on the current rock scene are a tad mean; this does, however, mean that I'm doubly glad to see and hear a band such as uen Chico. Songwriter Morgan Tatchell-Evans is fresh-faced and youthful, surprising when you consider the setbacks he's already experienced: last year, with an indie label deal all but signed, three quarters of the band departed (second guitarist Mat and drummer Si leaving to concentrate on being in post-hardcore types The Lucida Console, and bassist Heather opting out in favour of her studies). Without wanting to bring Alan Partridge's epic tale Bouncing Back too much to mind, Morgan simply picked himself up and got on with it. Of this he says, "I don't think ending the band was ever very close to happening at all, I was kind of expecting it really (the departures from Buen Chico). It was pretty disheartening trying to find new members, but Buen Chico was never really close to ending."
Indeed, new members Kirsty Dolan and Alan Kenworthy (on bass and drums respectively) have arguably given the band its ideal sound - basically the fresh, youthful-yet-accomplished sound of The Jam, Supergrass and the Velvets on their debut albums. Perhaps the secret to their sense of freshness within an arguably stale rock climate can be attributed to their respective musical backgrounds.
Kirsty: "Before joining Buen Chico I was playing guitar, badly, and I was desperate to be in a band, but none of my mates had anything going like that. Then I saw Morgan's advert for new members on Leeds Music Scene and got in contact." Add to that Alan's background of playing 1930s swing (which, as he pointedly asserts, is NOT jazz as yer average commoner seems to think - must admit I did) and you begin to see why they seem so exciting.
When I bring up the subject of Leeds' ever-increasing fashion obsession (which is clearly leaking into the city's music scene ever so slightly), they seem happy to ignore it. "You take a band like The Strokes," Kirsty begins. "Now, a hundred bands come along sounding exactly like them, dressing up (or down as the case may be) in a certain way to fit into some scene or other, they'll all be gone as quickly as they came." Amen.
New though they sound, singer and guitarist Morgan has had Buen Chico together for some time now, the band incurring a few line-up changes along the way. Ashley Evans, Morgan's dad and the band's manager, was putting on band nights in their (and my) home town, Halifax (a dump). This was Ashley's attempt to initiate some kind of music scene in the town, however ridiculous amounts of seriously underage drinking and much violence deterred him, sadly. The nights, at which Buen Chico usually played, served as an important trial for Morgan's performing and songwriting; time was taken before a full-on Leeds assault was staged, which in hindsight has really benefited everyone involved. It means that their ambitions are a little less narrow than the usual (Morgan: "We'd like to get signed, but mainly we'd like to move people. It's the love of music that has to be first.") and their opinions a sight less intentionally controversial (Kirsty: "Even though we didn't know each other before this, and we're doing things together for band purposes, we're really, really close as people and it feels like we've known each other a lot longer than we actually have done.").
More than anything else that grabs me about the tight-knit trio, I notice that they make not one single attempt to exude a rock & roll image. This probably comes from the fact that Morgan's father, Ashley, is also the band's manager; the latter I would imagine at least partially accounting for the fact that Buen Chico simply don't play messy gigs, and they're nice to people.
When drummer Alan's phone rings, his Herbie Hancock ringtone makes me smile (as does his sense of pride at having made it himself). In fact, most things about Alan make me feel good. He doesn't really mention his own talents (which are formidable; the guy plays jazz, no sorry swing, and he's a fucking powerhouse on the pans), yet he can't stop extolling the virtues of West Yorkshire's various acts and performers. He says that "you've got to go to Milo's on a Tuesday! There's a guy there that plays blues and he's amazing. Oh yeah, and Daghda, make sure you mention Daghda, they're an Irish folk-punk band, ace!"
If they'd have had their way, then I would have devoted this piece to just talking about other bands from Leeds apart from Buen Chico (other bands they recommend include Yellow Stripe Nine, 10,000 Things and the now defunct Fail Save Failed). I think there's probably a lot to be said for not feeling the need to promote oneself constantly; as Morgan points out (bearing in mind there's a few labels wetting themselves over Buen Chico of late), "The best bands in Leeds aren't necessarily the ones who are getting signed." So there you have it - Buen Chico: a band that aren't rockstars, fashionistas or clique members of any kind. Just a band that play some fucking belting upbeat/downbeat guitar pop tunes.
words & pic: Adam Benbow-Brown