I arrived early at Club 60, the recording studio of the legendary sound engineer/producer Blakeman, to meet The Reverend himself Jon McClure. With the door locked I phoned Jon, who was walking from the city centre, and as we talk he arrives bang on cue smiling and, as always, chatty.
For a man who stands head and shoulders above most people physically and has a reputation of being outspoken and vociferous about many perceived injustices from racism to Britain’s involvement in wars overseas, he is charming and open. We wend our way through the studio’s live room, the cellar, round a drum kit, microphones and screens and sit aside the refreshment counter.
Reverend and the Makers took a hiatus after a top 5 single, Heavyweight Champion, a top 5 debut album, The State Of Things, a critically acclaimed 2nd album released when record sales were plummeting worldwide “and it still sold over 40,000 copies” Jon reliably informs, add to that sold out headline gigs all over the UK and support slots with the likes of Oasis and Ian Brown, so are the Makers finished now or is it never say never?
“I’m saying now we are going to comeback, I’ve made me mind up. We are going to make a fucking brilliant album and it going to be called State Of Things 2.”
“Not even that” says Jon “I’m saying now we are going to comeback, I’ve made me mind up. We are going to make a fucking brilliant album and it going to be called State Of Things 2. It’s going to be absolutely mind-blowing. It’s been 5 years now and I like the State Of Things concept. Its not the sort of thing you can keep doing but enough time has passed and I still live in the same place, among the same folk and still think the same way and believe the same things.
Ok I’ve gone down that druggy, political whatever route but now I’m going to do a State Of Things 2, and like Godfather 2, it’ll be better than the original” he says with a smile but also conviction its hard to argue with.
It was a shame that after getting Andy Nicholson (former Arctic Monkey and member of Mongrel) in the fold last year the band then wound down, Jon says with warmth “He joined towards the end when we were touring that 2nd album, I’ve got love for Andy he’s a good lad and he’s doing a thing called Bare Trainer now and its going well by all accounts.”
Is Jon’s newest vehicle Reverend Sound System, still going ahead “absolutely, Matic Mouth (Marcus Smith) is such a talented lad that one way or another there’s going to be an amazing record comes out of it. It’s a loose collective of people and a crew I want to keep together, whether is goes into Reverend and the Makers music or Matic Mouth or RSS releases or whatever because we love being together making music”.
I suggest a comparison with Jon’s previous side project Mongrel, which seemed to be a collective “yes but that ended up more of an official band and this is more loose, but we are still defining it, just making a lot of music at the minute and putting an ep out with lots of remixes and stuff on it (RSS debut ep Wife Me Up is out 7/2/11) and I’d still like to do different sorts of music under different names.” He pauses in thought then offers “its like in acting, doing one for you and one for them (the fans) and its time to do one for them cos there’s a lot of people who want Reverend and the Makers back together, every time I walk down the street or go on facebook someone asks me so I thought, you deserve another record so I’m going to make it no bother” he says matter of factly. “But RSS is a big passion and I love it, Matic is going to be a big star, I’ve known him all my life, a Sheffield lad with a foot in the indie scene but he’s really a hop hop head, he’s going to do really well.” There is obvious affection and respect from the big man.
After a breath and reflection he says “RSS is an exciting thing, it’s like a birthing pool for good music.”
You can feel the passion for writing and collaborating emanating from Jon as he continues “it’s very much in the spirit of how I started Reverend and the Makers cos I based myself in Alan Smyth’s studio (2Fly). It took 18 months to do all the prepping for State Of Things and people used to just come down and do a bit and its much the same down here now. I adore Alan but he’s running a very busy studio and this is my den now and people come here to see me and make music.”
A really creative period for Mr McClure who continues “We have loads of songs, some aren’t RSS or Reverend and the Makers or Matic songs so we have brilliant songs for someone else to record. We had a young artist Kimmi Kub down here, 18 years old from Upperthorpe, never been in a studio before but she came up to me at a house party and started rapping in my ear and I thought you are fantastic” quite an unusual audition then but it obviously worked, Jon grins and continues “she’s got bigger balls than me man, very confident, very assured, she looks like a punk, a mad looking mixed race girl. She came down here sang on a track and it was amazing, maybe we’ll hear an album from her sometime. We’ll maybe even start a record label” he hesitates “I dunno, but there’s a lots of creative energy going on down here.”
RSS formed when Jimmy Welsh from Ocelot starting working with Jon “writing and doing clubs and stuff with him, then we got Matic involved and Jagz (Kooner) for a bit but it’s a real fluid thing. To work with someone like Jimmy who is so talented is just amazing and I want to continue that relationship in everything else I do. He’s a real soul brother and is my age, 29, and gets all my cultural references too which is quite important.
Its an exciting time, creating our own sound, I could have kept churning stuff out with Reverend and the Makers and touring but it got boring so sometimes you need to a do a break to do a bit of experimenting. So I thought take a minute and do something else, and that indiestep thing (the new genre RSS created) was interesting and different. What would sweet me is if some young kid 16 or 17 just invented a new sound in Sheffield, I’d love that more than anything.”
We discussed role models and how many musicians were inspired by people like Reverend and the Makers, Arctics and Toddla T, Jon jumps in “I feel passionate about Sheffield, you’ve got a duty to help people in your city. I got kids tweeting me to help them win a place playing Snowbombing festival with us and I retweeted it cos if it comes off it helps your local scene.” His focus quickly moves onto local gigging “what doesn’t help is there are so many places putting on local gigs now that places like the Boardwalk and Grapes are dying. They were the lifeblood of the Sheffield scene. I think a few people get greedy and they think I’m gonna have the money out of this music malarkey but it can kill the art. That’s why I spend my time in Club 60 with Blakeman who doesn’t do it for the money, he does it cos he absolutely loves it.”
A former employee of the Boardwalk along with Arctic’s Alex Turner and Jon Windle of Little Man Tate, Jon saw it first hand “The likes of the Boardwalk and The Grapes, people didn’t make much money out of them, it was done because Chris Wilson (promoter) and them kinda people loved music. There was no ‘Sheffield Scene’ ’til about 5 or 6 years ago and if anyone was in charge of the music scene in Sheffield it should have been Chris, a wonderful bloke. Same with Alan Smyth, he’s one of the few people I’d take a bullet for, people like him are continually overlooked, there should be a blue plaque on 2fly in my opinion. People should be keen to protect their heritage.”
He’s on a roll “Its been long enough now for something else to be bubbling up in Sheffield, there’s a few kids messing about with a few different sounds. That Kimmie girl really inspired me, and only 18 years old, she’s a beginner and doesn’t make tunes that much but such talent, you think ‘alright love lets see what you can do’, that’s what’s interesting to me rather than doing the same old thing all the time.”
RSS don’t really play many conventional venues but favour warehouse gigs or house parties and have created a massive buzz through it. Jon explains the reasoning behind it “our (RSS) thing is not about being pop stars and making lots of money, it’s about a collective of people making interesting music. It was never supposed to be like Reverend and the Makers. Kids don’t want to spend £5 to stand in some crap club, listen to crap music and not be able to smoke, they want to hear great underground music in a skanky place and have a spliff, that’s the truth, how can it be rock and roll when is all so safe.”
You can see the building bricks falling into place in his mind for State Of Things 2!
Accessibility is obviously an important issue with big Jon “its fun to do stuff in your own city and its free that’s the big difference, a lot of people charge, you get a text to a secret gig and its cool but it costs £10 to get in and it wasn’t that good, not better than mine and mine was free. Draw your own conclusions.”
Who floats Jon’s musical boat, “Obviously I like electronic music so people like Distinction” then his face lights up “I heard an album last year called Kingstonlogic by a Jamaican girl Terri Lynn, that was amazing. In terms of pop music Jessie J, ‘Do It Like A Dude’ that’s amazing pure pop. As for indie, “he frowns” it’s a poor time for it, there’s no good bands, other than Kasbiain obviously, a great band doing their thing, but I just think I’ll do a Reverend and the Makers album and lace the rest of them. Its full of idiots, likes Strokes wannabes from 12 years ago. So now is the time to get the Makers back.”
“All Sheffield artists should help each other as a matter of course, if they don’t it has a negative effect on the musical culture in the city. If I have ever been guilty of not showing love to other Sheffield artists then I sincerely apologise.”
Fighting talk the likes of which we have not heard from the Reverend for a while, so after the social and political commentary on 2nd album French Kiss In The Chaos and his role in Instigate Debate, and forming Mongrel is there nothing he wants to shout about now or is it a conscious decision to damp it down?
He laughs and says “My Mum told me to tone it down she says I’m too political, which I am.” then more seriously adds “No I’ll tell you what it is, I’ve said it all now, what’s the use in repeating it? I have the ‘here and now’ in everyday life to talk about now. Also mixing taking lots of drugs with talking politics is a bad combination man, you end talking a bit of twoddle sometimes.”
Underplaying his role somewhat, Jon has always stuck by his principles and he used his relatively high profile to get the messages, he and many others felt needed communicating, across to a wider audience, like his excellent appearance on Newsnight, so surely no regrets?
Matter of factly he says “I’ve been there, done that, and stood up for what I believe in and will continue to hold them beliefs but I don’t want to be a political artist. One kid said to me ‘I used to be a racist but now I’m not and its because of you’ and I thought job done. I love Billy Bragg, he’s a great bloke and a good friend and I do that Jail Guitar Doors thing with him from time to time but I don’t want to be Billy Bragg. I’m not political all the time when I meet people so why should I do it all the time in my music?”
Jon’s immediate plans are “RSS, then an album of Matic Mouth that’s coming out this year and Reverend and the Makers State Of Things 2. I’ve started writing it and it’s tight and I feel good about it, it’s an exciting moment”.
The original State Of Things had a lot of excellent local artists featuring on it, not least Steve Edwards, Mike Hughes and Tim from Bromheads, will SOT2 be the same? “it’s a different cast of people now but I may get a few people down to do a little bit. Jody Wildgoose was down last week, he sang on a track and wrote a track with me, good times.”
I offer that Jody has a great talent but has never had the recognition he deserves, Jon is in total agreement “real talent that man, it’s a tough game and people confuse artists selling the most records with being the best and they’re not. Velvet Underground’s album initially sold 100 copies but is now in top 5 albums of all time. Anybody who knows anything about music knows that Jody writes brilliant songs, unfortunately the world hasn’t caught on yet. “
Fast forward 12 months where would Jon like to be? “done State Of Things 2, with Reverend and the Makers back in business.” He adds philosophically “I’ve had a good run and made lots of records with RSS, Mongrel, dub and had a couple of records with me own band that have done really well so whatever happens now is a bonus but I feel I’m writing my best stuff, so lets have it!”.
On a totally different tack Jon, with a lot of passion in his voice added “How can the Council want Sheffield be a City Of Culture when you don’t consult and honour people like Alan Smyth. A man like that should be heralded as a kingpin of the city and a real cornerstone of our musical heritage. The Council don’t mind riding on the backs of the success of bands that’s he’s help make, and they spin it to make it look good for Sheffield City Council and the Lib Dems. They need to look after people like Alan cos without people like him there is no music industry. When they gave Tramlines (Festival) £125,000 last year they got Echo and the Bunnymen” he says with disbelief, then pauses and smiles “I liked them in 1983. It would only cost a few grand to put up a blue plaque (to Alan Smyth) but they haven’t done that yet.”
Jon then closed with an admission of previous personal wrongdoings, an apology and a hope for the future,
“All Sheffield artists should help each other as a matter of course, if they don’t it has a negative effect on the musical culture in the city. If I have ever been guilty of not showing love to other Sheffield artists then I sincerely apologise. Anyone that causes disunity in the name of money or getting their band name forward is ultimately hurting the City.”
I felt the need to mention Little Man Tate, who suffered a bit at the hands of a few of their contemporaries and Jon reiterates “yes and maybe I contributed to that, that’s why I’m apologising. I’ve had bitch fights with Sheffield bands before and it made me, and them, look silly. Fundamentally its unhealthy and destructive, I see people gossiping about other people and slagging them off on the internet and its not right, I realise that now, you just get all that bitterness.”
“You can’t just take and not put back, like when people move from Sheffield but still want to wear (Sheffield) as a badge, love your city man, whether you live here or not.
There’s certain people who are very cliquey, and that doesn’t open doors for other people, some bands feel excluded cos they don’t know or drink with the right people. Lets make it just about music, get along and all play gigs together.”
Here endeth the lesson.