Tidily attired in what may well be the first Pringle -esque sweater Sandman has encountered in its travels into Sheffield’s rock world sits the Supreme Vagabond Craftsman. It’s a piss awful Sunday afternoon and we’ve dragged him down to the Beer Engine for a bit of a chat.
His album, Twice As Nude, has been bothering us for a few weeks now. We’ve reached the point where we’ve realised that writing about music, or at least about how it sounds, is a frustrating pain in the arse. You either go down the referencing road - a handy, if tired, shortcut (‘As if the Grateful Dead had never taken acid, yada, yada, yada’) In which case SVC is a slippery thing to label. We thought we could hear a bit of XTC, the ones where Andy Partridge forgot about the Beatles and wrote Gregorian folk-pop instead. (SVC helpfully points out that, while he doesn’t see it himself, people have mentioned Robert Smith and Sean Ryder, which we can sort of see, and Dexy’s Midnight Runners which we can’t). In this particular case this approach seems wrong. Part of its appeal is an apparently indulgent lump of off-kilter pop which doesn’t allow itself to be penned into easy, pre-conceived forms. This year we loved The Coral album because it pressed all the right buttons by reminding us of groups or sounds that we already loved, Love, The Las, Beefheart etc, etc, etc. At the moment we love SVC precisely because it doesn’t.
(He reckons he has phases. Currently he’s having a bit of a metal thing. He hopes that, like an ailment, he will come out of it soon. At one time he listened largely to Trad Folk and Ragga, Buju Banton and The Watersons.)
The other approach is the abstract (Destiny’s Child sound exactly like soap. Or chairs). SVC reckons he just keeps on and on recording and occasionally comes up with stuff he likes. On occasion he hears stuff that he has no memory of recording, which he finds a bit disturbing. When he listens to ‘Cloud Punched Me,’ the first EP he recorded for Manchester’s Twisted Nerve label, he says he was obviously angry about something but it is not clear whether he knows what it was or not. In Wim Wender’s lovely film, Wings of Desire, there are angels watching over the people of Berlin. They have the ability to hear every thought that goes through these people’ heads so large parts of the film’s soundtrack is a blurred melange of the internal monologues that we all have. These range from the banal, to the profound, to the scary. Twice As Nude is like SVC has taken the brake off that machinery that prevents us from saying everything we think out loud. It’s dark and disturbing as well being silly and funny, which pop culture rarely allows for. It is quite likely that some people will hate this music, it will trigger the kind of perpetually offended mentality that saw lorry drivers kicking their tellies in when the Sex Pistols were on. Good.
SVC is not alone, however. Along with Kid Acne, Earl Shilton, 64 Cousins, Chips For The Poor, More Mummy and Be My Twin he runs the Invisible Spies label. They record seperately and together as Toah Dynamic (see ‘Cops Hate Our Love’ review on page 9.)
Rock’n’roll has always loved the urban but the rural is undervalued as a force in creating interesting sounds. It’s the isolation and the innate conservatism of the countryside that pulls more out of pissbored teenagers sometimes than concrete, steel and pace. SVC and the Invisible Spies network went to school together in Leicestershire, a place staggeringly unrepresented in popular music terms and went throught the correct teenage rituals of being hassled on the streets for having longhair and being grungers. There’s more than a hint of childhood in their music, of injokes and the sort of proper righteous silliness you van only get with your oldest mates.
University took him to Bristol and after a brief spell in London he returned to Leicester where he was part of Brian & The Teenagers, a pisstake band that allowed him to start writing material that he felt was his own rather than his versions of Pavement or Sebadoh.
The lyrics on the cover of Twice As Nude are taken from e-mails he swopped with other Spies - he claims to have written his autobiography by e-mail. The Spies themselves are not constrained entirely by music, they’ve had their own comic out, Zebra Face, Kid Acne designs a lot of their stuff and, if you check their rather good website out there are some ‘films’.
Apart from his own label SVC puts out stuff on Twisted Nerve- Damon Gough (Badly Drawn Boy) rated Twice As Nude as his album of the year recently. Much like the music, which can seem oddly random, it was a bit of luck that brought him to the attention of Andy Votel - Kid Acne had been DJing with him and took him home. A bit of SVC on the stereo and hey! Hupla! Record deal! It was a fairly joyous sight on the recent Badly Drawn Boy tour to see audiences being barked at by SVC and band he drew from the Invisible Spies pool to play live.
A year or so ago he moved up to Sheffield. He confesses to being a bit of a recluse and isn’t particularly aware of what’s going on musically in town although he has produced Pink Grease’s new single in the Invisible Spies studio, essentially the house he shares with Kid Acne. He reckons that some bands see what’s big in music, try and recreate it themselves as closely as possible and get confused and hurt when the rewards they feel are owed them aren’t apparent. Which is a shame.
Sensible sweater underneath a nice big warm jacket The Craftsman wanders home for a bite to eat. It’s unlikely you’d recognise him on the street but, of course, he’s an Invisible Spy.
Apart from Twice As Nude and Toah Dynamite’s Cops Hate Our Love which are out at the moment look for an Earl Shilton album (selfmade German death metal apparently) on its way and a new Supreme Vagabond Craftsman EP coming out on Twisted Nerve.
Supreme Vagabond Craftsman
words: Jack Tractor
pics: Ian Newcombe