We talk to Jon Windle, former Little Man Tate frontman after the demise of one of Sheffields finest live bands who chose to go out on a high with two sold out Sheffield Academy gigs last year. frontman Jon Windle, having taken a break, announced recently he will play two solo shows in October, one in London then the following night, Saturday 23rd October at Plug, Sheffield.
Counterfeit were eager to know more so arranged to meet Jon at a favourite haunt the Nottingham House pub at Broomhill, Sheffield. As I arrive Jon is busy sinking the balls at the pool table but then his opponent, Andy New who is playing in Jon’s backing band, sinks his last two colours with one impressive shot and the black sits invitingly mid table. Cue Jon with a wink to me he says “you’ve never beaten me before have you mate?” Needless to say the gamesmanship worked and Andy snatched at the shot and left it for Jon to clear up!
Beaming from ear to ear Jon is eager to start the interview now, but the banter between the two continues throughout.
The last two LMT gigs were sensational and the band were still playing to packed venues when they decided to call time so that was an obvious lead question, why leave when the fans were wanting more? “We decided to stop because we didn’t want to just fizzle out, Financially it was stupid to stop, we could have carried on doing gigs like the last two and had money in our pockets. As much as we took the piss out of ourselves and had a laugh about things but we were a bit more arty farty than we made out and the reason we ended it was because we wanted to go out at the top and be remembered for that as opposed to people saying ‘God are they still hanging on’. We had discussed not splitting up but to have a break for 2 years, but then there would have been no closure on a great chapter of our lives.”
“It’s all about going that way (Jon points to the sky) there’s a buzz when everything’s new and exciting, and maybe that had worn off a bit. We were always 100% on it for live gigs, even when we had a bad gig we’d give everything.”
Most of the bands singles sold well but the albums sales were disappointing, the reason seems to be a mystery, had Jon any clues? “The thing that made us was also the kind of thing that broke us, we sold out gigs as did Milburn, but neither of us got masses of national radio play, so it was down to us getting the songs to people via the internet and giving the songs away at gigs. When it came to selling the records I think the fans were savvy to it, we’d built things up by giving stuff away and then it was harder to get people to pay for them.”
Jon adds philosophically “Everybody is doing it now (file sharing) so we can’t complain, I’d probably rather have sold out gigs than have a top twenty hit.”
Pausing to consider his words he continues “We were never into the Sheffield thing, we kept ourselves a little away from it, it was a conscious decision. We didn’t know many of the other bands in the city then, other than a couple who I worked with in the Boardwalk, but we didn’t go drinking with them or anything. We carried on knocking about with the same people we always had. When we set off up the musical ladder our paths never really crossed and we never thought, lets go and hang about with those people. It may have made life a little more difficult for us.”
He confesses that there were times when he felt as front man of LMT maybe he should have stood up and counterattacked when people had a pop at the band but he adds with sincerity “it wasn’t my style. It would have raised our profile, but in terms of myself I wouldn’t have felt happy doing that.”
No-one who loves the South Yorkshire music scene liked the animosity that was aimed at Little Man Tate from other quarters, and thankfully most of it has been retracted, because there is no doubt Little Man Tate were one of the best live bands to come out of Sheffield alongside the likes of Milburn and Reverend and the Makers.
“I couldn’t put it on the album, its about this guy who is only with this girl for one reason – she’s pretty, she’s not as pretty but she’s got the part (because she’s easy).”
A big plus about LMT gigs is how the band used to chat and drink with the fans after gigs, getting to know a lot of them personally, not too common in high flying bands either then or now. Jon says “its just a normal thing, sometimes it (success) can go to your head, I’m worried about that now working with a southerner, (looking pointedly at Andy) I bet this time next year I won’t be talking to anybody” then they both erupt into laughter.
Is Jon still in touch with the LMT boys “yes I’m meeting Maz in a bit for a few pints, he’s living and working in London but he’s hurt his back and may need an operation so he’s home for a bit, I reckon it’s for his Mum to look after him and do his tea and that.” He grins, “He’s listened to the tracks I’ve recorded for the new album. I speak to Ben a lot too, I’m meeting up with him for a Sunday session then I’ll let him have a listen and get his opinion Dan’s had a listen too and likes it, good drums and stuff. To be honest I never saw loads of Dan, but I have Ben and Maz, we started playing footie together when we were 8. When I was in the studio with Alan (Smyth at 2Fly) he’d take the piss saying ‘doesn’t a day go by when you two (Jon and Maz) aren’t on the phone together’ I do speak to him every day.”
“I spoke to him on holiday, we’d gone with some mates who hired a villa in Lanzarotte, we went to a bar and a couple of girls said ‘ are you from Sheffield? Did you used to be in a band? We saw you at Middlesboro Music Live, do you know Maz then?’ so I had to ring him up to pass the phone onto the girl for her to speak to Maz. We then went to another bar after and there was a busker, and my mate asked the guy if I could borrow the guitar and I ended up doing Sexy In Latin and stuff and everyone was dancing. We then ended up writing a song, Buskers Carol about that guy.”
He adds ruefully “Maz moved to London for session work as there’s not much in Sheffield, and that’s also where the movers and shakers (of the music business) are. As a band we didn’t want to move down there and that probably didn’t help us either.”
Now Jon is flying solo with a backing band. He admits to having had several people playing with him in the interim “I didn’t want to pick people cos he’d got to number 13 in the charts, and he’d been in this band or that band, I like the idea of having people round who know me, who are mates and good musicians, Rich Aucott, who used to be LMT’s Tour Manager, is on keyboard, Andy’s on bass, my mate Liam Sterland is on guitar, a girl called Emily Ireland is doing backing vocals. People don’t realise Ben had a fantastic voice and I don’t know anyone who can sing so high and tunefully as him, so after working with Ben I wanted to keep that sort of squeezy harmony we used to get in LMT. In the studio I was having to do both high and low bits so the only we could do it live was to get a great backing singer in.”
“She’s only 17 or 18 years old” he enthuses “but she’s certainly got that something and she writes good song too.”
We both recalled 3 or 4 years ago when Emily played in the Iliods, and they entered a band competition at the Boardwalk, which Jon judged and we both agreed she stood out then.
Jon continues the tale “I was after a backing vocalist and went down to the Boardwalk to ask Joolz (Vernon, legendary Soundclash promoter) and he suggested Emily so I spoke to her and her Mum and Dad we sorted it.
I like the way the harmonies work cos that’s how I like to write songs, build the chorus up a bit.”
The solo album was recorded at the same studio as LMT’s second album, at 2Fly with Alan Smyth. Jon recalls how during the LMT sessions Alan got straight to the point “we’d been out the night before for Ben’s birthday, Alan had come out with us but went home early, we got home about 6 and had to at the studio for 11. We got there and Ben said ‘technically it’s still my birthday, shall we go for a hair of the dog?’ so we went to one of the pubs on London Rd, We had a couple then went back and I started doing the vocals and after about 30 seconds Alan said ‘Jon just go home’” he bursts into laughter again, then says more seriously “he’s always been straight with me. When I was doing my album he’d say ’Jon come in here for 5 minutes and have a look at this, it sounds rubbish, you need to rewrite that bit, you’re so verbose’” Jon smiles and adds, tongue in cheek adds “I didn’t know what it meant so I said cheers, that’s fantastic” Andy chips in to educate Jon “that’s means it’s too detailed” Jon says, “I know now!”
Counterfeit had heard Jon was involved in writing a musical score, is it ok to discuss it I enquire? Jon is again very upfront and open and grins “yes, yes, no problem” He proceeded to explain how in shows like High School Musical the reality is so far removed from what’s portrayed. He opines bluntly “you see the guys going out with the women and you are thinking, I’d have fingered her by now at least “and collapses with laughter. “I liked the idea of it being real life, like in Grease, where older people are playing kids so you can get away with anything.”
Jon had felt he had it in him to write a musical and had an idea, but it wouldn’t be a “piss take” of High School Musical though along the same lines but more true to life. He met and agreed to work with acclaimed writer David Isaak, who was wanted to base it the story in Sheffield but Jon persuaded him to agree on Manchester. They started work on the musical, in spurts, with Jon writing some tracks, he gives an example of one song called ‘She’s Easy’.
“I couldn’t put it on the album, its about this guy who is only with this girl for one reason” Jon points at an imaginary line up of women “she’s pretty, she’s not as pretty but she’s got the part (because she’s easy). Its more realistic than (in stereotypical American accent) Oh my God I’m going to go sing karaoke at 4 in the morning then have sex after we’re married, everything will great then I’ll have to go see a shrink…”
“I feel more confident now than when I was in Little Man Tate, I probably put too much attention into stuff and we put too much pressure on ourselves but now I have nothing to lose.”
Pausing to get back into his normal Sheffieldish voice explains “I wanted to do something funny but have a bit of meaning to it. At the same time though David wanted to do a sit com about a band, we looked at a few ideas but that book A Young Persons Guide To Being A Rock Star had done a lot of it, they did an 8 part series in the late 90’s, so we couldn’t do that. It would be too easy to fall into the Spinal Tap thing too, so we had to look at a different angle, it had to be a bit daft like The Monkees vibe but a bit more out there, like Monkees meets the Mighty Boosh.” A frown appears as he admits “Sadly the script got rejected by BBC3, and the last I heard this agent was doing the rounds with it.”
The smile is never far away and returns as he adds “It was at that time that the solo stuff was to starting taking shape, so I’ve put everything else on the back burner but I’d still like to do a musical, its something I want to go back to.”
His immediate future starts at the Borderline, London on 22nd October then the following day it’s Plug, Sheffield on 23rd. Jon admits he can hardly wait. “Anything will be good, but if these gigs flop then it would be hard to say I want to do more but it looks at the moment that there is quite a lot of interest so I’m excited, everything’s new again. I feel more confident now than when I was in Little Man Tate, I probably put too much attention into stuff and we put too much pressure on ourselves but now I have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. I’m playing because I want to, not to prove anything to anyone. We are just going to enjoy it for what it is, a few gigs with my mates.”
He tempers the excitement and expectation that’s building up about the gigs “Worst case scenario is people don’t like the album, then they don’t have to buy it, people don’t like the live gigs, then they don’t have to come, but I’m confident people will like the album but I know people will love the gigs if they the liked LMT gigs. The one thing I stipulated to the people in the new band is that it can’t fall short of the energy and excitement there was in the LMT gigs.”
Any more plans “no, just waiting to see what happens at these gigs, if they go well there will be more but I think I’ll be in the studio more. It used to be more about just being in the band and where’s the party? Now though I want to be there and be more involved and enjoy it more. No-one in LMT took any persuading to go to the pub and get drunk, at times it was like a shambolic good time band. With other bands it stopped at the end of a gig and they went home, with us we’d celebrate the end of a tour then start on the next, absolutely great times” Jon says with a beaming smile.
“The album has been whittled down to 10 tracks, but I’m still trying to get input from Ben on what he thinks, it will be good to catch up. He’s busy Djing and stuff and earning a few bob and” he states with a knowing smile “you have to be prepared to give the ball a good kick if you’re going out with Ben.”
Jon’s aspirations for the next year include “working on the second album, have achieved success with the live gigs and planning a tour” he hesitates “without thinking too big” which he qualifies “even though I’m more confident now in myself.”
As if to re-iterate the previous statement the about ease of fans accessibility to LMT, during the interview Jon was approached by several people who were greeted with a genuine smile and given time to chat, even a jogger who during the photo shoot pointed and shouted ‘Little Man Tate’ and he puffed past, then stopped to explain he knew someone’s sister who Jon knew, cue another chat.
A very likeable personality, Jon is also a multi-talented performer and the solo gigs should be quite something to behold, so you’d better get your ticket quick because they will sell out!