Following a one-off tribute gig dedicated to their friend, former Tramp Attack frontman Kristian Ealey in September 2016, it looked as though THE ZUTONS might have ceased trading for good. Thankfully, that gig at Mountford Hall, billed as “probably The Zutons’ last ever show”, wasn’t the end. The group announced on social media last November that they are setting out to celebrate the 15th anniversary of their debut LP Who Killed…… The Zutons?. A decade and a half later, its combination of angular Captain Beefheart riffs, skewed psychedelia, off-beat character studies, B-movie theatrics and Dr John voodoo sound as refreshingly strange as they did on release.
Backed by a seemingly endless series of gigs, including a memorable, audience-converting set at Glastonbury 2004 where they appeared in the mid-afternoon sun decked out in yellow hazmat suits, the road miles turned the quintet into a formidable live draw. For their first tour in a decade, the outfit are set to play a score of dates that will see the album played in full, calling at the magnificent Olympia in early April. To get the lowdown on what we can expect, Richard Lewis chatted with lead singer Dave McCabe on the phone between rehearsals at Elevator Studios.
A really obvious question to begin with: what was the inspiration for getting back together?
I’ve just missed playing, really. I’ve got a load of new songs that are Zutons songs. When you grow up with a band you can’t really replace that, in terms of playing together and singing together, it just feels right. That’s the inspiration for me. The reason we haven’t done it in so long is ’cos we all fell out with each other – when you all hate each other you can only hate each other for so long, before you start liking each other again! [laughs]
It’s nice to just ease back in to it. I’m not doing this for money, I’m doing this ’cos I wanna do it. I’ve missed playing; they’re like family this band. I’ve imagined playing with them. You can’t just sit down and write with everyone when you’re young. You’re scared to express yourself in case someone doesn’t like it and you fall out with them, so you kinda go home and write words on your own. It’s still like that now to a certain extent. When people turn up and write songs together that’s really professional; it’s not like that in most bands, I don’t think it is anyway. It’s not straightforward.
How will the gig format work, are you going to play the LP front to back in order?
No, we’re gonna do it front to back, but not in order. As a live thing, The Zutons were always better, if I’m totally honest, than they were on the records. We tried that and it didn’t really work doing it as a record, you’ve got to build it up and build it down more live. There are a lot of slow-paced songs in the middle of the record. We’re gonna do it how we did it touring the first record, looking [back] at all the sets. A lot of the songs are stretched out live: Zuton Fever, Pressure Point, You Will You Won’t. It makes the difference doesn’t it, instead of playing the album start to finish note by note, it’s never what we did live anyway.
If anything, actually, it’s gonna be more like the record ’cos we’ve got someone playing strings and the keyboard parts and percussion, we’ve got more people singing. It’ll sound warmer, especially on the slower numbers. Not A Lot To Do [underrated Bacharach-esque track] sounds really good and it’s easy to sing. Some of them haven’t been easy ’cos it’s 15 years and, with smoking weed and drinking, I’m learning how to do the album again, which makes me sound old! I’m not as young as I used to be.
Are you gonna throw any deep cuts in such as the early non-album singles and B-sides?
Yeh, I think so, I’m not too sure. We still want to do other album stuff and new songs. We’re definitely gonna do one B-side, I just don’t wanna say which one at the moment.
With Russ currently playing bass on tour for Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, who will be filling his shoes for these dates?
Jay Lewis [The La’s, Cast, John Power cohort of many years]. I’ve know Jay since I was 17, it was a no brainer, he can sing too. We’re all quite big personalities within the band and it can get a bit heated, he’s just right. And there’s a guy called Neil Bradley, he’s playing keys and doing singing and percussion as well.
How is it returning to the role of lead singer, is it fair to say you’re more of a sideman for Silent K instead of frontman?
I’m not the full-on frontman for them, no. I wrote a lot of it with Chris [Taylor, lead singer], we’ve been friends for years, so we naturally just had fun. Playing in Silent K’s good, but it’s a different thing, it’s a lot more aggressive. Especially with an evolving line-up as it has been.
What are your memories of Who Killed…… The Zutons? coming out? You seemed to be on tour the entire time around then.
All that’s a blur, I don’t remember really having a bad gig with The Zutons over the years. I can remember them with other things I’ve done, ha! This just seems right; this is my band, this is what I do, this is my vehicle for my songwriting, really. Things like the hazmat suits at Glastonbury, they make you stand out. We were on top form as band, the confidence was high, we were all getting on well, we were all into touring, we all had energy.
Without Alan Wills [legendary Deltasonic Records founder] I don’t think we would’ve done anything really, because he put a lot of time and money in and got us loads of good support slots. So, it was word of mouth when we did one gig and went back to that town and then played there again they’d bring their mates and it had a snowball effect. I feel sorry for bands now, young bands, there’s none of that. I think you’ve got to be really good looking – not to say that Abi [Harding, saxophone] isn’t good looking – but I was never the natural frontman, we had to build it up from nothing, really. We were constantly getting these Coral shouts thrown at us so we had to break out of that. I just don’t think it’d work for a new band, you’d have to have someone who really believes in you. That’s me giving Willsy from Deltasonic a shout out.
Revisiting the chorus lyric in Dirty Dancehall: “This is just a night in the City of Culture/But everyone’s whacked and looks like vultures”. That was written four years before Liverpool was named European Capital of Culture in 2008. How does it feel singing those lines 11 years after the event?
I remember at the time everyone going on about it and going up for this thing. Do I think it’s made a difference? I think it has. If you like glass buildings, it has made a difference. I kinda miss the old Liverpool, slightly.
With the band fully reactivated, will there be new material included in the shows?
We’ll be playing new stuff on the tour, but we’re gonna do two sets, I think. The first one will just be first album and the second one will be a mixture and a ‘best of the rest’ thing. I’ve got loads of songs I’ve had for years and loads of new ones, too. With me doing some new stuff we’ve just got to get it right, really. Maybe the end of the summer we’re gonna do a single or something like that. There’s no point in rushing anything out, it’s been this long so we wanna get it right. But we’re definitely gonna do some new stuff. We’re always gonna be playing songs off the first record, though, we’re always gonna be playing Valerie too. It’s depressing not to do that.
The Zutons play two shows at the Eventim Olympia, on Friday 5th and Saturday 6th April.