words: Seth Tempo
pics: Andy Brown
1966, ‘Nam. 4 young men are on the Ho Chi Minh trail. It’s been a long war. Charlie could be in the trees anywhere. Suddenly, the silence is broken by the sound of machine gun fire from all sides. The long-feared ambush begins.
When the smoke clears, all four men find themselves hiding in a ditch. Miraculously, 3 of them have escaped injury. The fourth, though, a young soldier named Billy Bromhead, has been badly wounded. He was wearing an heirloom – a jacket that had been worn by his father, and his father’s father before that. His dying wish is that his comrades – Tim, Dan and Jono - take the jacket, track down his son and pass it on. Thus, Bromhead’s Jacket were born.
This is one of a variety of ways in which Bromhead’s Jacket try to justify a slightly unusual name. Another involves a sickly, bald hamster named Bromhead and the drummer’s mum’s knitting skills, but you probably don’t need to hear it. The reality is that the name is some sort of reference to the film Zulu, but I can’t be arsed to go back and watch the film so that will have to do you.
Etymology aside, you probably know that Bromhead’s Jacket are one of that bunch of Sheffield / Yorkshire bands that have been focused on by a certain national, usually London-centric music publication. Thanks to the momentum generated by a Sheffield band you might have heard of, the Arctic Monkeys, the NME has for a while now been trumpeting some of the music being made round these parts. In a very flattering 4-page spread, Bromhead’s Jacket found themselves together with Milburn, the Harrisons, the Long Blondes and several Leeds and Wakefield bands (Black Wire, The Research, ¡Forward, Russia!, The Ivories and The Sunshine Underground), being hailed as “our friends in the North … a very Northern riposte to the London urchin-rock of bands such as The Others.” Bromhead’s Jacket themselves were described as “taut mod-punks”.
It’s fairly obvious that such attempted scene-hyping brings with it both pros and cons. It’s easy to baulk at the oversimplification and bemoan the Ones Left Behind (there is a lot of great stuff being produced here, the argument goes, that is in danger of being overlooked if it isn’t wearing Fred Perry and singing about missing the bus), but to their credit the NME did stress that these bands “neither look nor sound the same … what makes Yorkshire the most important place for music on the planet right now is the fact that the spirit of these bands are fuelled by the same things.” Even this, of course, can be debated; the fact, though, is that as the Arctic Monkey’s frankly unbelievable upwards trajectory continues (as it certainly will), bands like Bromhead’s Jacket have opportunities for exposure that even a year ago were simply not there.
So, Bromhead’s Jacket: ‘The Gangs of New Yorkshire’ – discuss.
“Is that what they called it – the Gangs of New Yorkshire ? It’s horrible, isn’t it ?” smiles frontman Tim. “What can we say about that?”
After a very pregnant pause, he decides “it’s good, in a way. It’s cool that bands get exposure to people that wouldn’t necessarily have heard of them. What I liked was that Thee SPC [one of the best record labels in the region] and Sandman got in there – I’m glad about that.”
(It’s also to the NME’s credit that both Thee SPC and your very own Sandman were indeed bigged up along with the aforementioned bands. Sandman has, in addition to being first to cover these bands, apparently “got their finger on the Steel City’s throbbing electro pulse”. I’m not sure I want my fingers anywhere near anything throbbing that is so intimately linked to such Sleazemongers as Kings Have Long Arms, Hiem and Pink Grease, but there you go.)
“It’s like Britpop, isn’t it ?” continues Tim. “Pulp and all those bands all hated the Britpop thing, and it was the same with Cobain and grunge – they hated being labelled. But it feels a little bit like we’re poaching. Milburn, the Harrisons, and the Arctic Monkeys, they’re from Sheffield, they grew up here, they’ve been to school here, and that’s really cool. It’s the same with the Long Blondes as with us – a lot of them are not from Sheffield. I don’t know if that happens in every city – I thought the Longcut were from Manchester, which they are but they’re not – they met at university there like we did here.”
But can you see the similarities between you, the Arctic Monkeys, Milburn etc that got you all lumped together ?
“Erm .. I think I can lyrically. I can understand that we’re all talking about daily bread. But then if you think about early Bowie – there was a song called Uncle Arthur, which is fucking amazing, and which is about Uncle Arthur finishing work, jumping on his bike, and cycling past the gas station home to his wife. And that’s what happened then – people went to work and then went home, just like now. The Kinks, too – Waterloo Sunset – it’s like social commentary, or whatever it is that they’re calling it, has just been around forever. The Small Faces, too – talking about Rene, the docker’s delight. You could go on forever talking about these things. I think it just so happens that the Arctic Monkeys were ready, and loads of their songs were ready to go – and they’re off, and it’s great, and we’re really pleased for them. But it’s kind of difficult at times to be sort of in that shadow and getting grouped in. But then every band goes through that. We do try really hard not to get too involved – like with gigs, we try not to play gigs with these bands, and we try and do our own thing. But I think musically we are very different, and we’re not from Sheffield, and we have a lot of different influences. The big one that the Arctic Monkeys get is the Libertines, and none of us have ever liked the Libertines.”
The conversation turns to another name that very quickly seems to come up whenever you talk to any of this new wave of bands. Prior to the Arctic Monkeys, main man Alex Turner was in a band called Judan Suki, along with a certain Jon McClure. Tim is quick to cite his influence: “to be fair, if you’re going to say that anyone’s started all this, this whole Sheffield social commentary thing, it was probably Jon. If I’m honest, I’ve been more influenced by his stuff. If somebody accused me of ripping off 1984 (Jon’s band until recently), then I’d probably put my hands up. I was really influenced by him, and I still am. I’ve written songs with him, and he’s influenced me, so that would be a nicer thing for someone to say to me than to compare us with other bands.” Mr. McClure is currently working on a project that is very much under wraps, but that I can assure you will be really quite special when it is unleashed on the public. When his new material is ready, you will know about it.
I wander if Tim has a handle on whether this sort of social realism twinned with taut, Jam-influenced rock is peculiar to these parts or if it is coming out of other parts of the country too?
“Yeah, it definitely is. I think the Rakes and Art Brut are talking about very similar things. If we were from London, they’d probably say we were like Art Brut. It all falls into this whole thing, with Mike Skinner and everyone else. If you’re going to compare us to one, then I think you’ve got to compare us to the rest too. I think it is the lyrics, isn’t it, really?”
It’s true that there seems to be a common lyrical ground emerging all over the place, but Bromhead’s Jacket have a real edge to them. Lyrics about a girl ‘getting her wotsit waxed’ are twinned with a real energy that is likely to propel them far. Interestingly, they maintain that the only way forward for young bands now is the model trailblazed by the Arctic Monkeys.
“I don’t think now you can afford not to give your music away on the internet. Its cool – people understand that they’re just demos. Now, you have to give away mp3s – eventually people are not going to want to go and see bands they can’t sing along to. Things are totally changing – more types of people are going to gigs now.”
Bromhead’s are just beginning to tour outside of Sheffield and Leeds and are already reaping the benefits of this approach. Despite only having one single out, “Birmingham was nuts. But then, we went to Wigan and played to two guys from Blackburn. We’re getting a bit of radio play, a bit of press – it’s starting to be enough for people to start to cotton on. When we played in Bristol, there was a guy nodding away – we found out afterwards that a guy in Brighton DJed one of our tracks and he picked it up from there. At another gig, a bloke turned up who had just heard our stuff the day before when his mate gave it to him. The internet debate rages on.”
So, what now? The band have a single coming out in December, 'What Ifs and Maybes', recorded with a bloke called James Ford and released on Marquis Cha Cha records, a London cottage industry linked to the distributors Pure Groove. You can now download their first single Woolley Bridge / Leslie Parfait from their website. And until then “we’re just trying to build a fan base – the best way to make that happen is by releasing singles and keep gigging. We’re just keeping going, keeping writing, and seeing what happens, really.”
If you make the effort download their old single and to buy their new one, you might just agree that ‘what happens’ next for Bromhead’s Jacket might be really quite a lot.