Arriving early at our agreed meeting place, The Harley, on the edge of Sheffield city centre, I partake of a refreshing pint of lager and venture outside to await Toba Caldera. A much lauded Barnsley based psychedelic rock quintet whose set I’d caught at Soyo a few months ago. From that performance its obvious why their star is now shining so brightly and they are starting to get the attention their music demands.
Nev, guitarist and backing singer texts to advise they are parking up and within minutes they arrive and we commence. 3/5 of the band are present, Nev, (Matt) Clayton guitarist and (James) Gilroy vocalist but missing are Tom bassist and drummer Connor. I’m assured their presence would have made it difficult for anyone else to get a word in!
An unusual band name, Gilroy claims credit “I was reading an article about Toba Caldera being a scientific version of Noah’s Ark, where thousands of years ago the (Indonesian) volcano erupted and all that was left was around 5,000 breeding pairs. I thought it was fit” I suggest they won’t have problems with other bands having the same name Nev says “ no Toby Carveries is an unusual name ” cue laughter, the first of countless bouts showing the band despite a passion for music don’t take themselves too seriously.
Toba Caldera’s formation came about after Nev, Gilroy and Tom were in a band together as 15 year olds and Clayton met them at College, but they admit to going through a few drummers, which I confess had confused me when looking at gig photos of the band, one drummer with long hair then another with a shaved headed stickman, Gilroy corrects me with a smile “not shaved, bald”. With the high level of commitment required the previous drummer had to replaced, Nev explains “we can drop everything, well actually there’s not much to drop, but he had a job and other commitments outside the band”.
basically if you don’t like the music that’s out there write some yourself that you do like, so that’s what we did
They all agreed because of their relatively young age they have to let their music come first, Clayton expands “we haven’t got time for bands that are lazy and just make a recording put it on the internet and expect everything to just happen”.
Is coming from Barnsley a positive or negative for Toba? in unison they say “both” Gilroy tries to explain but finds the words hard to come by, finally saying brutally “we don’t want to be associated with it, it’s a bit of a shithole and we don’t play there that often so nobody gives a shit about us “Clayton disagrees and clarifies “it is what it is, a small town, and people do come and watch us but there isn’t a scene to get caught up in and influenced by”. Nev concludes “when we do play, maybe twice this year, people do come but there’s no point playing there too much. We love to get out there and play as many different places as we can”.
Gilroy, despite the harsh words about his home town reveals a genuine affinity to Barnsley when explaining with Clayton’s assistance “We set up our own venue there, for the sole reason of getting out of town bands to play. Instead of whinging about bands not coming to Barnsley we put on the bands we wanted to listen to, like Blackmarket Karma from London, then we got a couple of gigs with them and got to play a festival in France through contacts we made.“
Clayton expands “We had the room above a pub (Cedar Rooms) and decorated it with cash from our own pockets but then the place changed hands and they realised it was a bit of a cash cow but it had served its purpose” Gilroy agrees and adds “it was like our own private party every other week.”
They produce pretty big musical soundscapes and I was interested in how that developed and what their writing process is? They agree about the full sound and mention how loud they like to play, Nev chips in “basically if you don’t like the music that’s out there write some yourself that you do like, so that’s what we did”. Influences include the excellent Exit Calm which they all love but say they themselves want to play more aggressive music. Gilroy says “it’s hard to understand why Exit Calm haven’t got an even bigger audience, every gig we see them play people are raving about them.”
They also rate another ‘local’ band Ivory Tusks who also play loudly (which they agree is a must) “very Queen of the Stone Age” adds Clayton. I looked up Ivory Tusks after the interview and am now an ardent fan.
So the writing process? Gilroy jokes “I do everything, I come to the band with everything prepared and they all go yes we like that” to jeers from the other two, then more seriously “usually someone brings something along and we all help develop it” Nev again adds “things usually comes together when the drummer provides the beat, Connor did that the other day with one we’d be trying to sort for ages.”
They explain how none of the band has any mates anymore, Clayton laughs “Connor is the nicest guy you could wish to meet with loads of pals but since he joined the band he just knocks about with us now, everyone has disowned him. It was Nev’s 21st yesterday there were about 3 people out” they erupt with laughter then own up to the fact everyone being skint actually kept the numbers down.
Talk swings round to live sound which they feel is the most important thing for any band and they proclaim that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club blew them all away with all aspects of their live set, the sort of band, as Nev puts it “if you’re at the bar and the band starts playing you have to turn round and get lost in the layers of their sound”.
Gig wise, when we speak they had about 10 gigs lined up including Viper Rooms Sheffield. Their best gig to date was again unanimous, the Brickyard in Carlisle, Clayton expands “ we use really old amps so unless you crank them up really high they sound shit, so we usually get asked to turn them down and explain we can’t, but up there we were loud and it was such a wide sound it were brilliant.”
A London gig comes to Gilroy’s mind “the first gig we played there was the George Tavern and there were people outside smoking after previous band finished and the venue guy said ‘you’ll have to turn it down cos they won’t come in if it’s too loud but we turned it up and they all came back in, people standing on seats to get a look it’s was a right buzz. Wherever we go there’s always someone into it” he continues with a grin “often the best gigs are ones where we turn up and think this is shit but they end up mental like a Coventry gig we did.”
Clayton bemoans the different attitudes towards them as full time musicians by quoting people in England who after asking what they do for a living find it amusing that they’d want to play in the band as a full time job, his maternal family roots are in Ireland but there they instantly accept his career choice.
It does have its perks, Gilroy says “I used to say ‘I’m a singer in a band’ to pull girls” then adds very quickly “but I don’t do it now cos I have a girlfriend. If you said ‘I’m a bricklayer’ it doesn’t sound as cool does it?” cue knowing nods and smiles.
Their dream gig ranged from playing with Verve, ‘before Urban Hymns’ Clayton qualifies, and then Gilroy stumbles over his words a little before stating “without seeming to be up their arse, it’s got be Exit Calm, we did the Barnsley Civic with them for their album launch and it was amazing” .
So as the word spreads around the country about of one of Barnsley’s finest what are their aspirations? Gilroy chips in “to be able to look back when we are 40 and homeless and say ‘well we had a good laugh’. Clayton nails it though when he says ‘we don’t want to look back and say we didn’t give it our best, so do it full time and do all you can and if nothing happens then you obviously weren’t good enough” Nev adds “ Spending your twenties dicking about in a band with your best mates, what could be better” ?
With more new tunes in the mix now is a good time to listen to Toba Caldera or even better catch one of their upcoming gigs for music played loud with a passion you don’t get from many bands. They come highly recommended.
Friday 19th Oct – Lucorum, Barnsley
Friday 2nd Nov – Plug Neutral, Sheffield
Friday 23rd Nov – Hope & Anchor, Islington/London
Thursday 29th Nov – The Northern Monkey, Leeds
Saturday 15th Dec – Vintage Rock Bar, Doncaster