It’s pushing eight o’clock but still pretty warm in Manchester. With it being late May, the Sun’s descent has started to take a little longer than usual. The light sticks around and as a result, there’s way more people about. Well, more people than you’d expect to see in a half empty car park in the northern quarter anyway. I only mention this seasonal change because it might help explain the homeless guy who’s just approached us, mid interview, and tried valiantly to flog a small porcelain fish.
I’m stood with Switchboard Spectacular, winners of the 2009 Blackpool Rockquest Battle of the Bands competition (bagging them a nice fat cheque) and proud waivers of the northern music flag. They’re currently getting ready for tonight’s gig – a support slot for hick-rockers Hayseed Dixie during their express UK tour and have agreed to a brief chat.
However, a hobo sales pitch was not part of the agreed interview terms.
Good journalism is supposed to be unbiased. With that in mind, it’s only fair to point out that the interesting smelling guy who has approached us in the corner of the parking space is fairly upfront about his demands. “Look, I need two pound, my legs are bad,” he rasps in a broad Mancunian accent (think Frank Gallagher from Shameless). Good opener I think to myself, honest and to the point. We stare blankly and he moves onto the pitch. “Alls I’ve got to offer is this…it might be worth a few quid,” he whips out a porcelain fish from a plastic bag, it looks like something a child might make in primary school out of clay and cheap paints. He continues with his routine, “If you look on the back, at the signing of it…who are them?” he asks quizzically, leaving the question open as if to imply that it could be a Picasso when in actuality it’s probably been stolen from a garden.
“Who’s it by?” I ask, only fair to humour him I guess, “no idea” he admits. Noticing our interest fading he quickly gets back to business, “I need two pound, any offers?” After a brief but awkward silence, he accepts defeat and moves on to the next group of people. “He’s our main groupie” smiles Beth Pawson, the bands feisty drummer girl without missing a beat. Now, where were we?
“We classify ourselves as a north of England band…” clarifies Andy Palfreyman Switchboard Spectacular’s trumpeter and co-founder, not wanting to get bogged down with specifics. “We say it’s northwest, not just north…” interjects Beth, eager not to forget her home town of Leeds. Pretty soon, the bands frontman (and second co-founder) Dan Clayton decides to step in and set the record straight, “we just come back north, win the Battle of the Bands and then fuck off” he deadpans.
That seems to get everyone in agreement. Part Blackpool band, part Leeds band Switchboard Spectacular have become a regular feature in the northern music scene. Since forming in 2007 the band has come a long way with members coming and going over the years, “2007 we started, so what’s that? Three years?” reflects Dan, “me and Andy are the original members and now we’re stuck with these prats” he jokes. Is it hard to maintain a consistent sound with a revolving door line up? “It is hard yeah, it’s dead hard,” sighs Dan, “me and Andy keep having to pick up the pieces.” However, with Dan and Andy in charge, being left to stick things back together isn’t necessarily a bad thing, “We’re the foundation, the core, the heartbeat of the band,” laughs Dan. What if Andy decided to jump ship? “I wouldn’t carry on, I’d start a new band with Andy cuz I’d know it wasn’t me he was annoyed at it would be everyone else.”
Luckily, the chances of that happening are pretty slim, after tonight’s Hayseed Dixie gig the band has quite a busy schedule ahead of them, festivals, club nights and a support slot for Ash. The band’s tendency to not take themselves too seriously is reflected in their stage presence. Jumpy-pop, happy go lucky tracks like Twists and Turns and Like I Need You are punctured by off the cuff quips from the band mid show, making their debut EP, Entertainment, suitably titled.
For all those unfamiliar with Switchboard Spectacular’s sound, here’s how they would describe it: “really good” smiles Dan, “pop rock with a dancey twist. It’s a mixture of everything we like really,” he adds. However, not comfortable staying in one genre for too long, they prefer to be constantly developing “there’s more balls to it essentially” explains Dan of the bands newer material, “it’s a bit more raw I would say”.
After Dan and Andy, the third longest standing member is the bands drummer Beth Pawson. Providing the backbone to the bands catalogue of tracks, Beth’s rapid and rock infused drumming style is pretty distinctive, something that always attracts comments from fans. “I get quite a bit of attention which is nice” explains Beth, “but I hate it when people come up to me after a gig and go ‘oh you’re good’ and then say ‘for a girl’” she adds sardonically. “It’d be better if there were more (girl drummers) because then it wouldn’t be such an unknown thing, they’d just see me as a drummer, a girl drummer” says Beth. She pauses for a moment and smiles, “one day we will rule the world.”
Like many of today’s unsigned bands, self-promotion is a must. As such, Switchboard has made it a priority to establish a strong online presence. “The internet has made it easier” explains Dan on promoting their material, “it’s easier to distribute your single but getting it out there is still just as competitive as normal.” However, this factor hasn’t deterred Switchboard Spectacular, instead their music can be heard on Spotify and their music video viewed on You Tube as they continue their quest for world domination. It’s a case of highs and lows, chipping away at the music scene one piece at a time. Winning Rockquest, supporting big name US acts – the band take it all in their stride. “We played above a bowling alley, in the function room” laughs Dan at the contrasting nature of their gigs, “It was in the middle of nowhere at the back of some council estate,” adds Beth “there were like four people there, all our mates” she laughs.
Tonight however is sure to be the polar opposite. As the May Sun fades, even more people seem to be surrounding the small Manchester venue, all of them eager to drink and see some live music. Our interview comes to a close as Switchboard Spectacular head off into the venue, taking to the stage in front of a sell out crowd. “Tonight will be the best,” assures Dan. Quite a jump from a deserted function room.