Rick Witter, lead vocalist with Shed Seven (seen here second from the right), chats with Kevin Cooper about playing their eleventh gig at Rock City, having The Inspiral Carpets on tour with them, his thoughts on slowing down and the forthcoming UK tour.
Shed Seven are an English Indie Rock band from York. Forming in 1990 with an original line up of Rick Witter (vocals), Joe Johnson (guitar and keyboards, later replaced by Paul Banks), Tom Gladwin (bass) and Alan Leach (drums), they belonged to the post-Smiths wave of UK musicians such as The Sundays and Marion.
At the height of their popularity between 1994 and 1999 they had fifteen Top 40 singles and four Top 20 albums in the UK. The band officially broke up in 2003, but reformed for a greatest hits tour in November and December 2007. Other tours have since taken place, including in 2011 when the group celebrated fifteen years since the release of their album, A Maximum High.
The band are currently busy preparing for their tour of the UK later this year, but Rick Witter took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Rick how are you?
I’m alright thanks Kevin. It’s good to hear from you.
Thanks for taking the time to speak to me.
It’s my pleasure Kevin.
We should talk about Shed Seven and Rock City. Whenever you play there it is always sold out and a great gig. You are playing there again on Thursday 17th December and guess what, it has already sold out.
(Laughter) well Kevin all that I can say is that Nottingham has always been a good place for us. And of course Rock City most definitely needs to be on our tour simply because we are chasing that record.
So tell me about this record that you are chasing; are you still going to go for it?
Three or four years ago now when we were playing at Rock City they had just had a little bit of a re-fit and backstage in the dressing room there was a book which basically listed every act that has ever played at Rock City. We were killing a bit of time reading through it and we thought let’s have a look to see who has actually played there the most times. We found out that we, Shed Seven, had played there ten times but low and behold the only other band who had played there more times than us was Spear Of Destiny. So we need to play there more and more in order to try and beat their record Kevin. They are at this moment eight gigs in front of us so we need to come back a few more times (laughter).
This December will be your eleventh gig here at Rock City, so perhaps two gigs per year to catch up? (laughter)
You have obviously done your research Kevin, well done. So yes, maybe two gigs per year may be called for (laughter). But if you are telling me that Spear Of Destiny have played there eighteen times, then if that is the case, there is a bit of work for us to do Kevin isn’t there.
Rick I have to say that if you only do one gig per year I will be far too old to come down and photograph you so you need to step it up (laughter).
(Hysterical laughter) well to be honest with you Kevin I will be right there with you (laughter). We will both grow old together, disgracefully of course (laughter).
How does it feel having The Inspiral Carpets on board for this tour?
Honestly, I can’t wait Kevin. It’s a little bizarre really because we actually supported The Inspiral Carpets way back in 1993. They actually gave us quite a good step up the ladder so it is a bit bizarre and really nice that we are back with them and I am really looking forward to it. The last few tours that we have done with them, they have had just an acoustic guitar so it will be nice to see a full band out there and I reckon for the people who are coming to watch us, it is a good value for money gig, Shed Seven and The Inspiral Carpets together. It should be a really good night out.
You quite obviously enjoy playing at Rock City. A well-known artist, who shall remain nameless, recently said to me that the place is rather scuzzy but it has a great vibe. Would you agree with that?
I think that it is a very important part of it having that vibe Kevin. You can walk into certain venues in the middle of the afternoon and you can just tell that it is going to be good; without anyone being in there, whilst it is just an empty room. Rock City has got a great sound to it. It is in a great area, and there is just something about it. Obviously people come and go over the years; we have played there a lot over a long space of time now, and we have seen a lot of the staff come and go, but it has always had such a great atmosphere in there. It is the little things that do matter when you are playing a gig; the layout of the place, the fact that there is a balcony there, but it doesn’t necessarily feel as though there is a balcony there. Everyone is almost on top of you. To be honest with you Kevin it is always a pleasure to play there.
So there are no thoughts on slowing down just yet?
Well Kevin we have now become one of those bands who people think tours every year, but in actual fact it is every other Christmas that we tour. We like to leave it a year before getting back on the road simply because you can have too much of a good thing, unless you are a Shed Seven fan of course (laughter). We would hate to get into the position where people might think I went last Christmas so I won’t bother going this Christmas, so we always leave that year off. You just have to try and be a bit savvy about the whole thing. In the down year we tend to play a few festivals around the country. The problem is that the years just seem to slip by so quickly Kevin. Considering that we tour every other year, they seem to come around so quick.
Your last album, Truth Be Told was released back in 2001. Are there any thoughts on writing a new album?
Obviously at this moment in time we are a band who doesn’t write any new material. However, that can hamper you in the sense that you are literally just playing to a select few people; people who really just want to hear the past and to reminisce about things. We are well aware of that and I am hoping that in time we will end up introducing maybe some new material. The thing is that in these days you can do it completely at your own leisure and you don’t need a record label per se to help you in that respect anymore. Obviously if you are a new upcoming band then it is slightly different but we now find ourselves in the situation where we can rely on our back catalogue and hopefully in the future we hope to add to that.
Does not writing new material affect your audiences?
No Kevin not at all. At the end of the day we are a very lucky band because we can book a gig knowing that we are just going to play songs that we wrote twenty years ago and people are still going to come and hear us. We are just really lucky in that respect. Obviously we have put in the work so I am thankful for that. I am not suggesting for one minute that we are lucky in the fact that we are here, I am just saying that it is lucky that people are still interested in us after all this time.
What if nobody came to see you?
I am sure that if we put a gig on and nobody turned up to watch us, we would simply say right ok, our time is through. But as I have said Kevin, we can book a tour which lasts a month and people just want to come and sing their hearts out and get drunk. I think that we are one of those kinds of bands you know (laughter).
Do you still get that buzz out of touring?
I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t Kevin. I think that it is the ultimate experience that you can get really. Obviously it is really satisfying when you can write a good quality song. But to actually perform it and to get the reaction that you do get is miles better than just doing the school run.
Does it surprise you just how well your music has stood the test of time?
I wouldn’t say surprised Kevin, because when we were originally doing it way back in the 90’s it was something that we were just doing without stopping to think about it. We weren’t thinking that we must write a song that will stand the test of time or that we must write a song that is successfully going down well in twenty years’ time. We were just doing it. It was almost like a job of work. Ok we need to write a new album, then we need to go out and promote it here, there and everywhere. So we were all caught up in the moment really I suppose. But it is very satisfying now to look back, or more so when we are performing these songs now so many years later and that people are actually knowing every word and looking as though they are really loving hearing the songs. That is the satisfying part that that still happens because at the time it wasn’t really something that we thought about.
You say that you are currently not signed to any record label. I have to say that from my research it would appear that in the past you have been let down badly by your previous record labels. Would you agree with that?
Yes Kevin I would have to agree with you on that one. That is very kind of you to say as not many people would be aware of that. Obviously when we first signed to Polydor we did that intentionally. We had a lot of different offers on the table but we chose Polydor because of the fact that it had that classic logo and it had The Who and The Jam on there and we just wanted to join those type of bands. But obviously they want to see some type of return on their investment and I don’t think that they saw the kind of return that they were hoping to see over the space of three albums, which is when they started to panic and wanted to release a greatest hits album. We were not particularly happy with that and so obviously it all started to go a little downhill from that moment.
As far as Polydor were concerned they are a massive company and they want to make their investment back. So that is where things started to go wrong with them. Because we had had success on that label, and we had had top ten hits, when we found ourselves on smaller independent labels they were expecting us to be writing these top ten hits but they weren’t really giving us the backing or the finance, or getting us on the front cover of magazines which obviously gets you into the charts. So we found ourselves in a Catch 22 situation really, we were being asked by a small label to write top forty hits but it is not just about that, it is about spreading the word.
You don’t just write a top forty hit and there it is, you need the financial backing, and the bullshit that goes with it to get you into the charts (laughter). You need to be speaking on every TV show going, you need to be in every magazine, and that is all part of the game Kevin. When we were young we were up for that but to be honest, the thought of doing that now just knackers me; it really tires me out. It is a young man’s game Kevin.
On the other side of the coin, are you happy with how Universal Records have remastered your Polydor back catalogue?
Yes Kevin we are but we did actually have quite a lot of involvement with that. Me and our bass player Thomas Gladwin got heavily involved because we didn’t want it to be a shoddy put together thing by somebody in an office who didn’t really care about Shed Seven, because it was just a job to them. We wanted to make sure that there was something there for the true Shed Seven fan who does come to the shows every other year and sings these songs, and who sings their heart out. We wanted to make sure that it was not just going to be a rehashed Greatest Hits album as has been done to us a few times in the past by some of the bigger labels. We didn’t want to find ourselves being accused of ripping people off Kevin because it was nothing to do with us; it was going to happen anyway.
So me and Thom ended up rifling through boxes in our lofts and we discovered loads of pictures that had never been seen before; some demos, some rarities, and some remixes that had never been heard. And I have to say that it was quite good fun putting that together because it reminded us of certain periods in our past. There were certain songs that I was listening to on minidiscs which I couldn’t even remember recording (laughter). And for that reason it was quite a buzz for me Kevin. If I am going to feel like that and I bloody wrote the things then somebody who is a fan is really going to enjoy hearing it (laughter).
I have to ask you, is all now good between the rest of the band and Paul (Banks). Is all now as it should be?
Yes, pretty much Kevin. It is different now because we don’t all live in each other’s pockets. But way back then you couldn’t turn a corner without somebody being there and that all added to the stress and the hassle of stuff, and me wanting things to be right made things quite difficult. But yes, we only really see each other now when we are doing Shed Seven related business and that’s not very often so if we can’t get along for two months out of one year then there is no hope at all Kevin is there (laughter).
On that note Rick I will thank you for taking the time to speak to me and I am looking forward to seeing you here in Nottingham at Rock City.
Thanks very much Kevin and I hope to see you down the front in December.