“Advice? Write some songs. Get on a plane. Simple. When we went to New York last year it was the first time Richie had ever left the country and I hadn’t been abroad since I went on holiday with my parents in 1978.”
Sandman tried a bit of market research recently. Amongst all the lovely demographical questions was a space for suggestions. We received quite a few of these. Most were fairly practical, some weren’t and were pretty nearly physically impossible. One in particular we found interesting and valid. The writer suggested that we should approach music from more of an art orientated stance - make less of the career options inherent within the industry and focus more, perhaps, on the process or the motivation. It’s a nice approach and works well for WIRE magazine but it ignores to some degree that part of the fascination with music is linked inextricably with the trappings of personality and where that personality can take you. Consequently we love the fact that our front cover has four Sheffield lads sitting in New York’s Central Park purely because their band is good. Add that to the fact that this is a Sheffield band who live (although not so much recently) in Sheffield, record their music in a Shefield studios and are managed by a Sheffield management company then there is more to celebrate than the merely cerebral choice of method. Mad isn’t it?
One of Sheffield’s more common sights has been missing for some time now. Up until a year or so ago you’d usually see four lads wearing almost identical garb, leathers, jeans and distressed hair hanging out in S10 pubs or haunting half the gigs in town. The last time Sandman caught up with them was all the way back in October when we accompanied them to glamouous Wolverhampton for a gig. After a peculiarly vengeful NME review of their debut album ‘Or8?’, which seemed to bear little resemblance to what was actually on the CD they seemed to disappear from view. Or at least from Eccy Road.
“Since we played New York last summer we’ve done something like 70 gigs and less than a dozen of those have been in the UK.” Tom Hogg points out. The last year has seen them legging their way through Europe, Austarlia, and North America picking up plaudits and fans along the way. They’ve had France’s Rolling Stone Magazine name ‘Or8’ as its album of the month and they’ve been asked to write music for films.
Tom, and drummer Richie, are having a coffee in Sandman’s office, a weedy child’s throw from Alan Smyth’s spectacularly concise 2Fly Studios where they’ve reconvened to start recording their second album. In rock’n’roll terms it’s an anti-sociable 11am and the caffeine is probably handy. This is not a band who suffer from the ministrations of stylists. Despite the suggestions of contrivance in the Briish press this is simply what they wear, although their is the implicit understanding that the band as a gang is an attractive proposition to both band and audiences.
“It’s just four good looking lads in leathers that’s what they like. It’s what I’ve always worn,” says Tom Hogg wearing what they used to call on old-fashioned look.
He can actually prove it as well. Hoggboy are the product of Sheffield’s fertile live scene.
Individually they have been around a while, Tom in particular has seemingly passed through half of the city’s better bands over the last few years: Ginger (with Motherfuckers / Chuck / Texas Pete drummer Mitch Genner and Man Atom) Weedy (with Hoggboy bassist Bailey), Chicken Legs Weaver and Seafruit while Richie spent seven years drumming with Redder.
Picking through a handful of SAM and MONO magazines (Sandman’s predecessors) which we keep in the office you can see the genesis of the group. And a photo that conclusively proves Tom is not dissembling in his claims to be a lifelong leathers man.
“See, I told you!” he crows as he points out a shot from his Ginger days. (There’s also a Redder review which suggests Richie might have started slightly later).
Hoggboy’s habit of going out to gigs is healthy. It suggests an interest and awareness of what’s going on around and is something that bands who moan about Sheffield audiences then never go out can learn fom.
It’s a habit Tom seems to keep up with when he goes abroad.
“There’s always time to explore - if you get up in the mornings” he gives Richie a look.
“Places like L.A. are really strange, because of the danger of earthquakes all the buildings are made of wood and then spraypainted with concrete so you can have any kind of building you want. We visited Ground Zero when we first went to New York.”
“Yeah, there’ve left that last girder in the shape of the cross. It’s pretty powerful,” says Richie “we left though when the guide started trying to tell that the serial number on the girder was actuaIlly the date of the attack we left.”
Whether you’re a tourist or a musician travel broadens the mind.
“You don’t really get a sense of where you’re from until you come back, you just don’t realise how small you are,” Richie reflects.
Another thing that has changed is perhaps the perspective which Tom uses to write.
“Everything on the first album were pretty directly about things I’d seen or stuff that had had actually happened to me. Now it’s all about shit that has happened to other people.”
One new song, 400 Boys, has been written especially for a film of the same title. “It’s about these kids nicking body parts. I’d had this old song but couldn’t find the hook. Once I’d got this image I got it finished in 15 minutes.”
In keeping with Hoggboy’s mix of glam and steadyness (they note that their first time in New York was spent sharing one room amongst seven) they’re also providing ‘Call Me Suck’ to the soundtrack of a British film. About Crown Green Bowling.
“We almost got a HP sauce add as well,” adds Richie, “but they changed the director and he didn’t want us.”
At least not many bands can claim to be blown out by condiment companies.
They’ll not bang on about what they do on the road and Sandman’s not particularly interested but the image that sticks in the mind after they’ve left is the morning Tom woke up to find his hotel room, Hugh and himself covered in blood.
“We didn’t have clue what happened. We half expected to find a a body in the bath so I phoned someone up and apparently, we’d done a bottle of vodka in half an hour and Hugh had pissed on The Donna’s tour manager. He was wearing shorts and wasn’t very happy. So he threw Hugh through the plate glass window of a shower. Then I suggested that perhaps, we should go back to the hotel....”
That memory is nicely balanced by the curious austerity of the Japanese audiences they encountered.
“We had a 16 hour flight, a one hour bus ride then played a gig to over 3,000. When we arrived they were screaming. It were like beiong proper famous. Except that between the songs they were absolutely silent. The only thing I could hear was the buzzing of our amps."
If Hoggboy hadn’t reached this current level of success you’d surmise that they would still be playing music - the fucked up mish-mash of creative endeavour coupled with the twin, and equally damaging, perils of euphoria and crippling disappointment which constitutes the industry hasn’t beaten the desire to make good rock’n’roll music out of the band.
Billy Bragg once wrote ‘it’s a mighy long way down rock’n’roll from top of the pops to drawing the dole’ and Hoggboy seem to have travelled the reverse route with a good deal of equanimity.
Tom and Richie return to the studio and Sandman tags along to have a listen to a version of 400 Boys. It’s very good, fast powerful guitar driven verses with a Stooges piano hammering away somewhere in the mix while the chorus, vocally, comes over all T.Rex.
“We want to keep this going. Can’t see the point of waiting a couple of years like some bands do” What’s the point of stopping if you’re enjoying yourself?
Hoggboy probably wouldn’t talk about what they do in terms of art but what they do is a serious business. Luckily they enjoy it.
Thanks to Steve Taylor for MONO and SAM materials.
words: Jack Tractor
pics: Gareth James