words: Pete Mella
pics: Andy Brown
There’s something happening on the streets of Sheffield. A buzz, a sense of excitement. Young bands have found a voice, are picking up guitars, singing in their own distinctive accents, and are wooing fans around the country because of it.
One of those bands are Milburn…
Milburn are a band so young their singer and bassist, Joe Carnell, is still in the middle of his A Levels, yet seem to have been a mainstay on the gig circuit for ages. They claim to have played the Boardwalk about 25 times, not bad for a band who’s eldest members are 18.
“I was about 14, the rest were all about 15,” explains Joe. “The rest were all in the same year, and I joined later on because they didn’t have a bassist or vocalist.”
“We started off just doing covers, being that young we weren’t very good at writing our own stuff,” says his brother and guitarist Louis, “and obviously you haven’t got anything to write about when you’re that young anyway. I think we were all good decent musicians in the end, cos we did loads of covers and just got good on our instruments, and then we started writing our own songs. It was like an apprenticeship.”
“Musically what we write now is so much better,” says Joe, “some bands start writing their songs from the start and they’re a bit tacky.”
The band have come a long way. Recently the band (Joe and Louis, lead guitarist and backing singer Tom Rowley, and drummer Joe “Greeny” Green) have been garnering interest from national radio, especially Zane Lowe and Steve Lamacq.
They cite their turning point as when they made their original demo at 2Fly studios, a time when they were forced to hone their sound into something concrete.
“We used to do loads and loads and loads, we didn’t have a sound,” says Joe. “We’d do anything from a huge spectrum of music. Then further down the line, this 2Fly demo, we got a bit tighter, we got a bit of a sound. We started to sound more like The Jam, kind of punky, but melodic, in your face kind of stuff.”
Their recent release ‘Lipstick Lickin’’, on new indie label Free Construction, shows just how far they’ve come. It’s a spiky three minutes of indie guitar, coupled with insightful lyrics telling of a typical night out in a northern setting. The lyrics are written between Joe and Tom.
“[It’s] just everyday life, we’re just obsverving stuff,” says Joe. “A massive influence on us is Sheffield, none us have really been anywhere else for a long enough time. And Sheffield’s a massive influence, obviously it’s got its own Yorkshire culture, urban life you can just stand back and make notes on, stand back and admire I suppose. It’s like your music influence, you don’t notice it, it just happens like that. That’s what you want to write about, it’s things you can put your hands on.”
The EP’s been doing really well. The band have had orders from as far away as Germany and Japan, and have had a good amount of radio play and glowing reviews.
“It’s been weird,” says Tom. “reviews comparing us to the Ordinary Boys and Pete Doherty, and saying we could be better, and it makes you proud in a way, but it’s like steady on, we’re just a small band from Sheffield.”
They acknowledge there is something exciting going on in Sheffield, something that they’re sharing with current talked about indie bands such as Arctic Monkeys, Harrisons and 1984.
“I think one of the good things about Sheffield is we’re all really good mates,” says Joe. “It’s like Arctic Monkeys, we’ve known them since before we were in bands, which is weird.
“There’s kind of a common sound, although every band’s a bit different. The Monkeys can be a bit funky, a bit melodic. 1984 have got a lot of dance in ‘em, we’re more indie, but still got a couple of those elements, and Harrisons have a very Jammy, The Who kind of sound. Especially lyrically, there’s a kind of Yorkshire ‘flat caps’ kind of thing, and I think it comes across quite well.”
“You hear about all these performers and managers getting on a bus up north” says Greeny. “We are causing a bit of disturbance aren’t we?”
“I can imagine a NME Sheffield edition,” ponders Louis. “Maybe they should do, but you don’t want to get involved in that pretentious, up your arse NME shit.”
“I used to work at a restaurant,” says Tom, “and I went up last night for summat to eat, one of the chef’s put a sign on the door saying ‘Milburn-friendly environment – get your signed tea towels here’. He made me sign a tea towel…”
“It’s not fame, it’s just what’s happening around you,” says Greeny. “Because it’s happening to the Arctics at the same time we can talk to them about it too.”
“Everybody brings everybody else back down to earth,” says Tom.
“I bumped into Andy from Arctics on the tram the other day,” says Louis, “and I was like, ‘Andy. Can we stop talking about music just for once’. And we sat in silence for two minutes… we couldn’t do it! What did we used to talk about before all this happened…”
So what’s next?
“Short term is to be able to do it as a job,” says Tom.
“Just to spend the next years of our life gigging, and enjoying music,” says Joe. “And then possibly world domination or summat like that…”
The band are about to embark on a mini tour, and then will release their first single proper on Free Construction. They’re quite happy being on the indie label for the time being.
“We don’t want to sign to a big label yet, it’s a bit of a gamble,” says Joe, “what with us being so young…”
“We’ve got time to develop,” says Tom, “and an independent label gives us room to do that, especially creatively.”
“A major will want to put you on that conveyer belt straight away, package you, maybe as something you don’t want to be, and you might even get lost,” says Joe. “Some people think getting signed is the be all and end all, but it’s just the first step on the ladder.”
Despite their confidence, the lads aren’t pinning all their hopes on the music. Joe’s accepted university places, and is mulling his options. Greeny and Tom both have jobs, and Louis is training to be an electrician.
“Joe’s got the most to lose in a way…,” muses Tom.
“And more to gain, Mr Lead Singer!,” says Louis.
Modest, quietly ambitious and talented, Milburn have worked through their musical apprenticeship and are quickly becoming masters of their art. I can’t see the day jobs needed for long.