Overthinking is overrated. Why pick the ego of artistry when your mates have a bedroom, an eight-track and a handful of references? I’m sitting at a table with a pint, looking at a photo of Hooton Street’s completely unremarkable street sign. “I like the Os,” says Callum McFadden. It’s an everyday object, yet it’s one that now means more thanks to the innocuous simplicity that made it appealing in the first place to a band that shun pretension. Welcome to the world of HOOTON TENNIS CLUB, where normality is certainly different.
McFadden, along with his three band mates, is almost a life-long member of this little club. He met James Madden on the first day of primary school, where they became “little buddies” and have remained so through the geographical demands that come with growing up and moving on. It’s a sign of how well these guys know each other that it seems redundant to ask many questions; their answers spill over each other wildly as they breeze over topics with a wry smile, self-aware enough to be a little astounded at how so much momentum has developed from a knock-around project.
As knock-around projects go, Hooton Tennis Club is a pretty impressive effort. What started as a vague idea to record some scuzzy, lo-fi garage rock tunes on a Saturday last year has led to the band becoming the second signing for The Label Recordings, Edge Hill University’s innovative student-led project; alongside The Inkhearts, Hooton Tennis Club were scouted by The Label and are now benefiting from the marketing work of a dedicated team of students led by former bassist with The Farm, Carl Hunter. Yet, they couldn’t have chosen a group more wary of the process. “It’s not the coolest thing in the world,” admits Ryan Murphy, guitarist and casual romantic, “but it’s nice working with a sassy girl who kisses everyone. I probably shouldn’t talk about this . . .”
This kind of exchange happens quite frequently: a comment blurted out and swiftly apologised for, amusing to watch as my interviewees try and dig out of many, many conversational holes. Now gearing towards their second release as Hooton Tennis Club, these four boys from Chester have taken a long, hard look at their musical palette and forged themselves a delectable identity. Throwing Pavement, Scott & Charlene’s Wedding and Parquet Courts (along with a string of obscure Australian bands) under Generation Y’s laconic eye, their EP I Was A Punk In Europe (But My Mum Didn’t Mind) fizzes with brio and ramshackle lyricism, taking the listener on a stroll through a handful of tracks that really capture the perplexity of being a twenty-something dude still in adulthood’s honeymoon period. Used to recording very quickly on a single microphone (there used to be two before they got tired of taping the other one to a wardrobe), it’s easy to see how the EP generates its DIY charm while retaining accessible pop sensibilities. Evidently this is what The Label saw in the EP’s opening track Kathleen Sat On The Arm Of Her Favourite Chair since they jumped at the chance of releasing it as a standalone single in April. As if sensing that this alignment would compromise Hooton Tennis Club’s DIY credentials, Callum is quick to assert the band’s creative freedom in the whole process, revealing that they declined offers of studio time because they wish to stay as self-dependent as they can for as long as possible. Meddling on the mixing desk trying to fake the muddiness of retro-fetishists is evidently not for them. “You lose the producer and I like that,” is the position of singer James Madden. “When you go into the studio you have to do, like, thirty takes before some other guy thinks it’s perfect. Then again, we don’t settle on being comfortable.” They swap instruments sometimes to keep practices interesting, and all have a hand in writing, sending demos to each other on a regular basis – and their one-take approach stems from the rare time they get to spend together, in addition to aesthetic choice.
Another kind of dedication slips into what we’re talking about. Take the title of the EP for instance, a cheeky nod to conceited angst as well as immortalising Ryan’s jaunt round the continent with touring giant Concert Live, where he helped to make high-quality Robbie Williams bootlegs. James is a fan. “He’s great, man. I did half the tour in England. He comes out on a conveyor belt.” Really, a conveyor belt? How many Robbies are there? “A zip wire,” Ryan clarifies. His friend laughs. “Yeah, that’s what I meant.”
It was Ryan’s experiences meeting “a lot of fit girls” that inspired . . .And Then Camilla Drew Fourteen Dots On Her Knee, a languid paean to a hippy chick from Berlin. Apparently Ryan boasted of his conquests months later to his manager’s wife and was promptly fired, having unintentionally explained many late starts and a date missed while he was shacked up in Milan. For other songs, the focus on females is less specific (aside from the titles), and can be chosen with the same randomness as the street sign and tennis spot that gave the band its name. Much Quicker Than Anyone But Jennifer Could Imagine borrows from Supergrass, while I’m Not Going Rose’s Again was born from a terrible party attended by Harry Chalmers, the driest member of the group. Ask what was so bad about it and the response is “Reggae music, bad food and it was cold. Very cold.” He could be joking, but since the original epithet for their first label release was going to be Overly Long Titles With Girls’ Names In, I get the sense that any laughs to be had are merely inseparable from spades of bromance.
Not that serious measures aren’t being taken to put Hooton Tennis Club on the radar of purists everywhere. Having only played a single gig as HTC, the next few months will usher in several opportunities for the band’s charm offensive to work overtime, including a prime spot on The Label Recordings showcase at Sound City, with more appearances to be announced. A live session on Dave Monks’ radio show was the break that got them noticed, sparking a positive trend that has just seen them land on the NME Radar page. However, the screaming adoration of thousands of groupies is hardly likely to follow from this exposure, which suits these four slackers just fine. “You see people take this so seriously,” Harry says, right before Ryan launches into the idea of hiring tennis players to cater for their audiences. “Oh, and Cal, remember when you joined the BNP?” And we’re off again . . .
Kathleen Sat On The Arm Of Her Chair is out now via The Label Recordings.