Strawberry Spotlight with The Suncharms
Strawberry Spotlight is a weekly feature on Strawberry Tongue Radio hosted by Lady Audio. She chats with the bands you hear on Strawberry Tongue. In this edition, Lady Audio chats with Richard Farnell from the early 90’s, Sheffield-based indie rock band The Suncharms.
This is a transcription of that interview which airs February 15, 2017, 1:00 EST, only on Strawberry Tongue Radio. You can also catch the re-broadcast of this show on Saturday and Sunday at 1:00pm EST. Be sure to tune in!
Lady Audio: Hi everyone and welcome to the strawberry Spotlight radio show. Our guests this week is Suncharms. Suncharms, welcome to the show. How are you today?
Richard: Hi, I’m fine thank you!
Lady Audio: Well, thanks for joining me today. I really appreciate it! My first question is always, “what attracted you to the realm of music/”
Richard: Oh, well it was just being a kid and listening to the music at the time, and watching bands on Tops of the Pops on tv and I had an older, well, still have an elder brother, and he was playing records all the time, so it just got into my bloodstream, really. I bought my first album in 1979 and that was The Skids “Masquerade,” so that’s aging me somewhat. So, it’s been a long time now
Lady Audio: Ah, that’s cool. So, what was the name of that album again?
Richard: What my first record?
Lady Audio: Yeah
Richard: It was a single called “Masquerade” by The Skids, kind of a punk band from Scotland.
Lady Audio: Oh, okay! Alright, cool, cool!
Richard: Not the coolest punk band in the world, but, I suppose better than a novelty record. I was only ten, but, I just liked it and I think it was in the charts at the time. So, it’s been a long time now with music. A big thing
Lady Audio: So, you grew older and wanted to find out – how did how did Sun charms get started?
Richard: Well, me and Marcus were friends and we started meeting round at his place to listen to albums and getting into indie pop and getting into a bit of punk, post-punk and so on. Then I went to art college and I met Matt, who became the guitarist. Now he’d been in a school band with friends and we kind of joined forces, really. So, that’s how we started out, and within a few weeks of forming, we had a few songs and then eventually starting getting support slots with indie bands at the time – The Brilliant Corners, The Orchids, and by coincidence, we’re gonna support The Orchids for our first gig in twenty odd years in Preston in a few weeks time. So we last spoke to them in 1989 and then he’s going to happen again soon so that’s really good!
Lady Audio: That is really cool. So, who are the current members, because you were just mentioning three – three different people or yourself and than two others. But it from the picture it looks like there’s four members. So who are the current members now?
Richard: Well, it’s me, Richard Farnell, Marcus Palmer on vocals, Matte Neale on guitar, John Malone on lead guitar and Chris Ridley on drums. So, it’s the same lineup as featured on the records back in ’91. We’ve kind of stayed as a unit – it’s been the same people ever since, you know. But, we had, obviously, a lot of time off – we originally stopped playing in 93 and we didn’t get back together until 2015. So it’s quite some time to be inactive but that but yeah he keep the same lineup, which is nice.
Lady Audio: Wow, yeah, to keep the same lineup after such a a long break that’s quite impressive. Cool.
Richard: We kind of did lose touch for a while, but, I think with things like Facebook and so on – you eventually find each other. And when it came time – when we were approached to do the compilation, which came out last year on Cloudberry, that’s when it was like, right now, I need to find everyone. Me and Marcus had always stayed in touch – he’d stayed in touch with Matt and Chris, because they stayed in Sheffield, so they’d occasionally meet up and I’d see them very occasionally for things like weddings or things like that. But, John, I’d not seen since the band kind of fizzled out, so we had to hunt him down on the internet. We did find him (laughs) so, yeah – then we all met up in a pub in Sheffield for old times sake to talk about the compilation and within half an hour we were talking about getting back together, so it was great really.
Lady Audio: Nice. So, going back in history, what’s the story behind the name of the band?
Richard: Well, when we first got together, we went by the ungainly name by The Eunuchs, which was kind of the anti-cock rock statement the end of 80’s being full of that sort of thing. We were very influenced by, lyrically certainly, Marcus was influenced by McCarthy and Dead Kennedys and so on, so it was kind of a political statement to be called The Eunuchs. We kind of got bored of it very quickly and we had a little demo tape made up with a few songs. When, Matt and Marcus were at a gig and they saw Davy Gadget (The Wedding Present) there and they were handing out this tape and saw him and thought, “oh, we have to give him one, you never know what’ll happen.” So, he gave him a tape and he (Davy) took one look at the name and said, “you might want to change that name, lads.” (laughs) So, that was it. We quickly thought up another name and inspiration came in the form of – there was a very brand of pop – I guess you Americans would call it soda – it was called Suncharm and it was made regionally – quite close to where we were. The thing that made us notice it was because the can’s design was slightly psychedelic. It look like a text on The Beatles “Rubber Soul” LP, So that kind of rounded, wobbly writing and we thought, that looks quite good. Within a few minutes it was like “oh,” let’s put an “S” on it and it looks like a good band name, so that was it.
Lady Audio: Yeah, that’s really cool to find out that history of that because, I love finding out something that is like regional that no one else would know from around the world, you know?
Richard: Yeah. Absolutely, I mean, there’s not a lot of people outside of south Yorkshire – that would remember Suncharm pop, really. But, it was just right at the time and it seemed to suit.
Lady Audio: So, at the time, who were some of your favorite musical artists to listen to and has that changed at all over time?
Richard: There was certain bands that we were all into at the same time. Ultra Vivid Scene comes to mind. Pale Saints comes to mind. They were a big influence. Early on before that, me and Marcus were listening to the Pascals – all that creation thing – House of Love, Mary Chain – you know, we’re big fans of that. Then we had, I think, Matt, and Chris, they were really into The Cure, pretty much everyone was into the The Smiths, as well, but, the influence wasn’t particularly direct there. That’s just one of those gateway bands that gets you into indie music, really. There’s quite a lot – My Bloody Valentine, but, there’s quite a big list of stuff. We were always listening to similar kinds of music, if not the same. Then there was some more leftfield choices – where one band member would like it and the others wouldn’t – you know. Generally, we kind of met somewhere in the middle of indie and post-punk and that kind of scene. But, after listening to it now, I, personally, still do listen to a lot of that. You know, bands like Pale Saints, Mary Chain on a monthly basis, if not weekly basis. So, I do listen to new stuff also, but, generally, I think I still stick to my old favorites.
Lady Audio: That’s cool. Now I want to ask you some questions about the self-titled album Suncharms. The compilation album just put together so, were the songs originally released on Cloudberry Records?
Richard: No, they were originally on Wilde Club. Which was a Norwich based label, which I don’t know if you are familiar with geography of the U.K., but, basically Norwich is a heck of a long way from Sheffield, where we’re from. So, it was kind of odd to sign to a label so far away, but, it happened quite quickly. What happened was a friend of ours, Don Cooper, he bought the first Catherine Wheel 12″ – cuz he used to DJ on indie night and he was always looking for new bands to play there. He noted our address on the back of our EP and he kind of said, “you know, this is the same kind of music that you’re doing,” it’s just kind of – it wasn’t called shoegaze then, I don’t think the press had made up that name. It was definitely indie, but, it was indie with distortion and he was like, “why don’t we send your demo around?” So, we sent it out to the big labels like Creation, Rough Trade, in fact, we got quite a nice little rejection letter from Rough Trade somewhere in the archive.(laughs) But, the thing about Wilde Club was they – we’ll we had no idea at the time that they were a tiny label really, but, they put out some good things. He just wrote back and said, “I Iove your demo – I’ve like to release it straight away on 12″ vinyl.” So, to any young, new band, that kind of offer you think, “well, that’s great, we don’t even have to go to a studio and start from scratch, we can just release that tape on a record. All we wanted to do at that age and that time was to get a record out as soon as possible. It was great, it did really well. It go to 23 on the indie charts, which at the time, relatively, not so easy as it would be now. You only need to sell like five records to do that these days. He did a really good job, he just put the demo tape pressed down to vinyl, basically. We quickly designed a cover – Matt the guitarist, designed the sleeve, and then within a month or two, we had a record out. That was kind of the appeal of Wilde Club. They were the first to make an offer that would get us a physical release quick as possible.
Lady Audio: Wow, that’s amazing. So, where were the songs recorded then?
Richard: Well, we recorded the first demo in a studio called Epichead, which was owned and run by this guy, Nort, who was a bit of a Sheffield face on the scene, really. He used to be in a band called Hula, who was slightly connected to Cabaret Voltaire. So, he was coming from a generation before us, if you like, he was coming from that whole industrial scene in Sheffield, which bands like Human League and Heaven 17 and people appeared out of Cabaret Voltaire as a catalyst. He owned this small 16 track recording studio and it was really great, it was like a couple of rooms in a converted old factory. I can’t even remember how we found him, it may have been through a mutual friend, I’m not sure, but, we went in very quickly with our songs – we recorded about six and we chose the best four for the EP. Then there was two left over that we stuck on a tape we used to sell at gigs. They’ve actually resurfaced now, they are on the compilation. They have seen the light of day now. So, that was it – we made our own cassette. We had those copied up and the inital intention was to give them to people – hand them out – sell them at gigs and so on – just to get noticed. It was that tape we sent to Wilde Club and they released it on vinyl without any edit. They just the thing out on viny, which was great. The second EP, WIlde Club actually paid for us to go into a studio, which they used regularly, which was in Great Yarmouth, again, miles from Sheffield. So, we had a long drive to get to the studio and we stayed there for a few days and recorded what was the second EP. So, that’s how it happened.
Lady Audio: So, what was the name of that studio and the name of that engineer again?
Richard: The first one?
Lady Audio: Yeah, the first one.
Richard: The first EP, that was Nort, N-O-R-T, and the studio was Epichead. It was his own thing – he had it himself. Then the second EP was recorded in Purple Rain Studios, which was in Great Yarmouth. Kind of a tatty, sea-side town. The guy producing that was Richard Hammerton and he had a long-standing relationship with Barry, who ran Wilde Club Records. Barry was just like, I’ve got this guy, he produces my EPs, go to him – sort of thing. He was paying – he was the label boss, so we were like “yeah, fine.” He worked out really well. He did the job in a few days and the second EP, the production is pretty good on it for an indie release. It all worked out pretty good.
Lady Audio: Are the original releases still available for sale? They are, yeah. I mean, they’re secondhand, but, if you look on Discogs, they are all out there. I mean, there’s only two. (laughs) The discography is quite small. With the CD compilation it’s grown slightly. But, we appeared on a few cassette compilations like indie cassette compilations, and we put out the two EPs or rather, Wilde Club out out the two EPs and then after that the next thing has been the compilation. It’s not much of a discography for people to find and relatively cheap still online. You know, so if anyone wants to check out the original vinyl, you shouldn’t have much problem. I think you can probably get them for like $8. You know, that kind of price. But, I have seen it going for more than that online. They’re still around, which is surprising, really, because there is only 1500 pressed. That is the numbers were are talking about in those days. You would put out a 12″ in the hope of getting the NME, Melody Maker, John Peel, you know, all of those you and you would hope to kind of get noticed with it, really. Which, we did, luckily! We did get featured in the press, so, it was good.
Lady Audio: Now I want to dive a little deeper into the music. I really like the song “Tranquil Day” and I wanted to ask what that song was about.
Richard: Well, it’s, I’m glad you like that one – it’s my favorite, too. It’s hard to say what it’s about. We should speak to Marcus, really. He writes all the lyrics. But, usually the kind of singings are about escape and dreaming and often very abstract. Basically, it’s a tranquil day and it feels like a dream, so, it’s kind of slightly psychedelically influenced lyrics, I guess. Generally the songs are about escape. I haven’t got a lyrics sheet in front of me, so I can’t quite think of all the words so I can’t quite tell you what it’s about. It’s just generally a mood…
[Play “Tranquil Day”]
Lady Audio: How did you guys write that song? How did it come about?
Richard: Most of the songs, if not all of them. They tend to start with one of the band members coming up with a riff. I think back in those days, it would be Matt or John, mostly and then me and Chris would fill in, work out rhythm, work out bass lines and drum patterns and while we were doing all this, Marcus would be sat in the corner scribbling with his little notepad working on lyrics. It was all very spontaneous, really. It’s not like he would go into a dark room, like Nick Cave or someone, and bash around for days, it would all be – you’d hear a sound and go, mmm, yeah, that’s kind of making me think of, you know, street life or sun or this one makes me think of space. We ended up with a song called Spaceship or whatever. Yeah, it was all very organic. So, while we bashing away at a song and working out what to play, Marcus would be – the singing and melody and initially just kind of words just coming into his head and then he’d just flesh that out to become lyrics. Generally the songs would start with a two or three chord pattern and we’d just add bits as we went along. It’s amazing really. Recently we met to rehearse for this gig that’s coming up and we found that even after twenty four years, you just kind of fall back into it, really. The other day we just sat down and started writing this little pattern and I put a bassline on it and then Chris was on the drums and before you knew it, Marcus was singing some words on to it and we go a new song ready. It took about 10 – 15 minutes. So, that’s how it happens. Quite organic, really.
Lady Audio: Yeah, that’s great when it just gels together like that. Another song I really like is “Magic Carpet.” On the Bandcamp, it says that it’s a demo and so I wanted to ask you, what’s the story behind releasing some of the demos along with this new compilation.
Richard: Well, they were all tracks that kind of fell by the wayside and Magic Carpet, Into the Sun, they were kind of recorded after we had the EPs out. The idea was that we were going to work on an album. Basically, that never happened – the band kind of fizzled out before we got to that point. So, it’s good to kind of get everything that we put out into one place, really. Magic Carpet is a song that I can’t really remember the creation of it initially. It was different than the songs we had done before, the vocals are a lot more upfront on it than they were on the EPs and yeah, it was too long ago. I don’t remember, but, I’m just glad it’s seeing the light of day. There is really nothing left in the archive, as such. You know, if you think about the timeframe involved…we formed in ’89 as The Eunuchs. By 1990, we were The Suncharms and we would play gigs. In 1991, we had both EPs out in the same year. Then in ’92, we didn’t do much at all. In April, we did a Peel Session and then, we kind of started working on tracks for the album, Magic Carpet is one of them and in ’93, we played our last gig. Really, the fully active time for the band, in terms of releases, was just in 1991. So, this is why some of these other tracks can finally come out, because they’ve been kind of sat on ice, for years, really. I’m just sorry we didn’t record more. I think there was two tracks started, I can barely remember. Going into a studio in Sheffield and starting to work on tracks, I don’t even remember why. But, we went in, we started working on them and we never went back again and then, we all went our separate ways, you know.
[Play Magic Carpet]
Lady Audio: You have a new gig coming up I wanted to ask – well maybe I shouldn’t give it away or anything – but I wanted to ask you even if you don’t want me to release it on air – what are some of the songs you going to be playing live?
Richard: As I said, we haven’t got much of a back catalog in terms of songs, so, pretty much most of them, really. I can’t remember. We haven’t fully settled on the final lineup yet. There’s a few changes to make. But, we’ll definitely be playing the lead tracks off the EPs, so we’ll be playing “Sparkle,” “Tranquil Day,” we’re playing “Wash Away,” which was one of our crowd-pleasers, back in the day. That always went down well. We’re gonna do “Spaceship,” “She Feels,” and for the unreleased songs, we’re gonna do “Magic Carpet.” There’s no secrets there, there’s not many – there’s only 14 songs to choose from – so (laughs) it’d offer a 30 – 40 minute set. It’s a work in progress. We are actually meeting on Saturday this week to finalize the set list. But, we rehearsed pretty much pretty much every song. We’re probably going to leave two or three behind. There may be a surprise on the night, actually. We going to play something new, so, that’s something to look forward to.
Lady Audio: Oh, okay!
Richard: It’s been interesting. After so long, to get it to come together quite nicely. What’s difficult is you try and remember songs you played years ago hoping that the muscle memory is gonna kick in. Generally has, but you kinda play in a way and you think it sounds pretty good. But, obviously, we’re using a studio, you’re not always using your own amp, it’s like whatever in this rehearsal space and it sounds good, but, what will it sound like on the night. So we’re – I’m looking forward to it. I’m gonnna be glad to get to a proper sound system, anyway.
Lady Audio: Yeah, yeah. It’s gonna be a really great show! So, when is the show going to be?
Richard: It’s Friday, the 17th of February and it’s at Preston Continental. We always thought if we did come back we’d play a gig in Sheffield, first, but, we got offered this gig in Preston and it was too good to turn down. I mean, The Orchids and The Chesterfields, two of my all-time favorites bands, so there was no way I was going to not do it, you know? So, it kind of galvanizes our interaction again, which is great. With the compilation coming out last year, it’s kind of is good way to support the compilation as well.
Lady Audio: And now it’s time for a scenario. Are you ready?
Richard: Okay. (hesitantly)
Lady Audio: It’s early in the morning and the sky is turning from black to Indigo Blue. You’re standing at the bottom of a waterfall watching the water start to glow as the day brightens. You find yourself entranced by the sound of the gentle yet powerful water. Your footsteps draw you nearer to the edge of the pool and then into the water towards the middle of the pool. From there you can see a little boat hidden on the other side of the waterfall. You approach the waterfall and go underneath it. As you approach the boat and find an oar. You decide to hop in and go for a little ride downstream. What do you see along your trip downriver?
Richard: Ummm, are you trying to hypnotize me? (laughs)
Lady Audio: No! (laughs)
Richard: Ummm, I don’t know, what do I see? Are there any record shops around?
Lady Audio: There might be!
Richard: Okay, I’ll go with that. I’ll be choosing records as the boat goes down.
Lady Audio: Alright, cool! What are some of the records you’re choosing as you’re going downriver?
Richard: Oh, god. You know me. Probably old stuff let’s face it. I’ll be honest with myself here. I’ll be picking my favorites. So, I’ll be going along thinking, “oh, there goes the Mary Chain, there goes the first House of Love album. I’m not going to go over this waterfall, by the way.
Lady Audio: No, no. You’re at the bottom of the waterfall that at the top.
Richard: Oh, right. Okay. Well, in that case, I’ll just enjoy the view.
Lady Audio: Okay, and last but not least – what is your favorite flower flower?
Richard: My favorite what?
Lady Audio: Flower. What is your favorite flower?
Richard: My favorite flower? Ummm, I’d go with the daisy because I’m a Cardiacs son, if that means anything to you.
Lady Audio: It doesn’t. What does a Cardiacs son mean?
Richard: The Cardiacs is a pretty unique band. Not indie pop, not shoegaze. No one knows what they are really, but, they’re pretty unique and incredible in every way. But, their logo and emblem is kind of a monochrome image of a daisy. So, yeah. It’s not for the faint-hearted, Cardiacs music, I have to say. But, I’ve loved it since 1987. So, you instantly say flower and I instantly think of the daisy.
Lady Audio: Awww, that’s cool.
Richard: But, I thought you said song at first. My favorite song is Everything Flows by Teenage Fanclub. That’s always been my favorite since I first heard it and I’ve not heard one better since really.
Lady Audio: I haven’t heard that song for a long time. I’m gonna have to listen to that again.
Richard: Yeah, yeah. The Catholic Education version. There’s two versions. The one on the first album. The electric version as it were, that’s still my favorite song ever. Closely followed by Ballad of the Band by Felt. Felt, obviously the best band whose ever been.
Lady Audio: That’s great.
Richard: If you have not heard them, you should check them out.
Lady Audio: Okay, how do you spell the name of the band again?
Richard: Felt. F-E-L-T.
Lady Audio: Got it. Cool.
Richard: I think you’ll like them.
Lady Audio: I think I will too. So, one more plug for the upcoming show. When and where is that live show again?
Richard: It’s in Preston, which is north – northwest of Manchester. It’s on Friday the 17th of February and we’re supporting The Orchids from Scotland and The Chesterfields from Yeovil. So, all bands coming from different corners of the U.K.
Lady Audio: Wow. Cool, cool. Where would be the best place for people to go and listen to and purchase the new Suncharms album compilation?
Richard: You could direct from Cloudberry Records or VinylExchange Records in the U.K., which is my record shop. Or, you could listen to it on our bandcamp page. It’s also available on Discogs and we’ll be selling copies at the gig.
Lady Audio: Oh yeahl. I forgot to ask that question, actually. What kind of release are you going to have at the gig? Is it going to be CDs, vinyl, tape?
Richard: We’ve only got CD for this compilation. It would be nice to see a vinyl release one day, but, we’re gonna take some copies along and hopefully sell a few of those. We’re working on t-shirts, but, I don’t think we’ve seen the final results of those yet. So, I can’t really comment on those. It’s a work in progress. But, we’re going to definitely take some CDs along.
Lady Audio: Cool. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Richard: No problem! Thanks again. I’m sorry I couldn’t think much, imagine, about the boat scenario.
Lady Audio: Ah, it’s okay.
Richard: You blindsided me with that one!
Lady Audio: No, that’s great. I’m glad that it took you by surprise. That’s the whole point of it.
Richard: Ahh, well, it certainly does that! (laughs) Thanks, a lot! Thanks, ever so much.
Special thanks to Richard Farnell from The Suncharms for joining Lady Audio for this edition of Strawberry Spotlight. Listen to The Suncharms and learn more about the band by visiting their bandcamp page.