I suppose you’d say they were nearly men, Bradford. And just writing that makes me feel a little sad. The Blackburn five piece, Ian H. (Ian Michael Hodgson, vocals), Ewan Butler (guitar), John Baulcombe (Keyboards),Jos Murphy (bass guitar), and Mark McVitie (drums), released a handful of singles and one brilliant album Shouting Quietly, as well as the incredibly hard to find self-titled collection between 1988-1990. Loved by Morrissey, who proclaimed them the heirs to The Smiths throne, they played with the great and the good, building up steam. And then, when I and others thought the world was theirs, they were gone.
By that time though, they had captured the hearts of many, and Morrissey had released his version of debut single Skin Storm, as a b-side to Pregnant for the last time. So we took the opportunity to speak to Ian H about the most unlucky footnote in the history of indie music.
Ian – thanks so much for doing this. It’s really appreciated.
You’re very welcome Jim – it’s a pleasure to be a small part of your fabulous Backstreet Mafia!
Hi, Bradford were formed in Blackburn – how did you meet, and is there an explanation about the name?
I was on the dole in 1985 and volunteered at a community arts project called Action Factory where I produced ten issues of my own fanzine called ‘Just Four Minutes’ [interviewing Paul Weller for the final edition] and where I helped set up ‘Blackburn Musicians Collective’. Bradford joined the Collective with a different singer and when they saw me play and sing [solo Billy Bragg and Redskins type stuff] they asked me to join.
You seemed slightly out of step with the whole indie scene of the time – not baggy or part of the Manchester thing, nor c86 though either. How would you describe it, more soulful maybe? Did you even consider yourselves an ‘indie’ band? Was that a definite attempt to be different, or did it just work out that way?
We got our skinhead style reference point from Ewan Butler’s [guitarist and founder member] brother Kevin who printed the Socialist Workers Party newspaper and worked with Martin Hewes of Redskins fame for a time there. It certainly turned me on to the look as before that I was more into the Mod and what became known as Casual [Eighties football terraces fashions] street styles. We felt a lot of so-called Indie bands were middle class studenty types deliberately dressing down whereas we were more in tune with the more traditional working class ‘dressing up’ milarky. It was a natural way for us to look and it solidified us a gang really. Hard to believe now, but our clothing and haircuts definitely produced strong reactions in people and definitely not all positive – not by a long chalk. We also had a strong Left Wing outlook and had a visceral hatred of Thatcher – in the light of recent revelations about her strong friendship with Saville, nodding through Cyril Smith’s ‘Royal honouring’ [pauses to gag] and the fact several child abusers peopled her cabinet, we all hate them even more now.
You released a couple of early singles for Village Records – was that a local label? How did that all come about?
It was a one-man operation really [Village Records] who our manager George courted and invited to gigs etc and essentially we funded our own releases and Village had some infrastructure in place to help distribute and promote those releases – We even glued our own singles sleeves together [never again!] and were the first indie band in the world to self-finance a cd single release. Lucky for us Morrissey got hold of a copy and shouted about us in Manchester’s City Life magazine and that catapulted us into the music business.
And then onto midnight music and an aborted self-titled record. What happened there? Was it a frustrating time, or was the record just not to your satisfaction? Was there (or is there) any unreleased music on there, or did all/most of it make it to shouting quietly?
If I’m honest Jim the details are somewhat sketchy to me now – this isn’t my Bowie ‘Station to Station’ confession or owt, it’s just a lot of inter-record company wrangling and tug-of-warring with Geoff Travis [Rough Trade] Zomba Music [Stone Roses publishers] Red Rhino [York based indie label], Phonogram and CBS all with a clammy hand on the rope. The Midnight Music [French record company] ‘Bradford’ album was a rush release of some of our demos we did for the above interested parties. We’d played in Paris with the SugarCubes in December 1988 [after supporting Morrissey at his first solo Wolverhampton Civic Hall gig] and the French really went for our street urchin English look and our Morrissey-blessed credibility – hence a quick release of material to make good on this interest. There is quite a bit of stuff ‘in the vaults’ so to speak – Ewan is the unofficial band archivist and has a pile of tapes of Bradford material in the spare room…
And so you signed for Stephen Streets Foundation label? Was he a major factor in the band signing?
A resounding yes – Stephen is not only the best producer in England but he is a real honest, decent and kind man. Cool clothes too. His talent is immense and he certainly helped us to progress musically and realise ideas. My own huge regret is that we didn’t get to make more music with him as my song writing and the band’s musicality really took off post Shouting Quietly.
Tell me about working with him on Shouting Quietly?
No big budgets – Stephen stumped up all the cash for his Foundation Label himself. Three weeks in deepest Wales during a glorious summer – I’ve never felt more fulfilled – off the dole and recording an album of songs I’d written with this incredibly talented chap with already a great legacy.
I remember feeling very proud of Shouting Quietly at the time and amazed that it’s still remembered so fondly and has ‘lasted’ over twenty five years when so many indie bands completely leave no trace. It’s only a small legacy but Bradford occupy a dusty corner somewhere amongst what’s seen as classic Northern English music
It’s a terrific album, and it stands up just as well today as it did on its release. Were you pleased with it? Is it how you envisaged it sounding – I recall you being a little rockier(?) live, and why do you think it didn’t do better? Was it label/distribution problems?
Gosh thanks for the compliments! You’ve hit on one of those ‘with hindsight’ moments there Jim – a sure-sign of an astute interviewer [winks]. Yes we did sound ‘harder’ live and at our finest moments we managed to ‘rock’ as they say and some of this captured in the studio would have definitely made things even better here. It is what it is – I like Gang of One best now purely as that manages to touch upon our anger and passion sound-wise –sometimes a studio environment can stifle this spark I suppose…
By the time the album came out the Stone Roses and Madchester were THE only game in town and a bunch of post-Smiths sensitive skinheads were completely out of step with it all. In a strange way we would have done better five years later when Brit-pop emerged – we were a genuine little working class gang singing about Northern life – perfect credentials!
I’ve always wondered why In Liverpool didn’t make the album?
Stephen’s decision and one I concur with – again – hindsight – we’re sailing a little too close to Smiths territory with this song and probably not the best one to introduce a new band to the world with! Oh well – enough said…
You had patronage from a certain Stephen Morrissey, who proclaimed you as heirs to The Smiths, invited you to open for him at Wolverhampton, his first solo concert, and covered skin storm as a b-side. Did you get to speak to him, or spend time with him at that time, and looking back do you think it was beneficial to your career or otherwise?
Morrissey and I spent quite a bit of time together and corresponded on a regular basis – I have stacks of his postcards and letters still and tour programmes he’d mail to me from the USA and Japan. It was surreal in the extreme to have one of your major musical heroes and influences asking for another biscuit while sat with a brew in your front room. He always looked great and he is brilliant company – very witty, very dry sense of humour and staggeringly intelligent. Morrissey gave me the greatest gift I have ever received – the day he rang me up [early Sunday afternoon] and asked me if I had three minutes to spare and over the phone came his recording of a song I had written. Wow. It doesn’t get any better. It truly is my proudest achievement and when I saw my name in the song-writng brackets along with, Morrissey’s, Paul Weller’s and Marc Bolan’s on two records he also sent to me, then life has been worthwhile.
It’s doubtful Bradford would have had a [brief] career in English popular music if it weren’t for Morrissey’s blessing. However, the man casts a long shadow and we never really emerged from it to become truly our own band – which I fully fully believe was within our reach…
All this time you were playing with bands such as Primal Scream, James, Sugarcubes and others. What was that like – do you have fond memories of that time? Any particular highlights?
Being kissed by Bjork backstage in Paris…bumping into Steve Diggle in our hotel lift as his brother was down to paint a huge pop art canvas while we played at the Manchester North of England festival, again in Paris…spending time with Joe Strummer when we played with him on the Rock Against The Rich Tour…playing Dingwalls for the first time to what seemed like the entire British music press and seeing the pictures and reviews a week later…being single of the week in Record Mirror…just seeing people enjoy your music and receiving lovely fan letters – my favourite being ‘Hail the new Ray Davies!’ What a beautiful and completely untrue thing to say though!
And all of a sudden it was over. What happened?
Fucking Madchester is what happened! I suppose if you’re gonna be bulldozed off the highway, then at least a massive phenomenon is fair play though…
I have to ask, would you do something again, as Bradford? I’ve always thought if it was right, play the album (and maybe in Liverpool as well) right through, one last great hurrah.
Without trying to self-aggrandise myself any more than I perhaps already have, I will quote Paul McCartney when asked about re-forming the Beatles:
“You can’t re-heat a soufflé “ [terrible shame, Ed]
And since then, tell us what you’ve been up to?
Song writing – it’s the one constant in my life – I have around three hundred [literally] songs under my belt which have never been recorded [apart from a handful] – it’s what I do – a natural thing – I feel very very lucky to be blessed with so much music. Done a lot of community work too – I currently work for an environmental charity as a community food growing officer – nearly as good as being an Indie pop star!
Any future musical plans?
I very much like playing rhythm guitar with a bunch of genuine old punks who perform songs by The Clash and wish to carry on doing this. My ultimate dream is to somehow use my song gifts to earn a living but in a totally non-industry, organic, grass-roots music-of –the – people way…I still believe in Revolution – of consciousness.
If you can find it, go buy Shouting Quietly. You won’t regret it.