Few bands will ask you to ‘owe your soul’ to the stateside-influenced, whiskey swigging and gingham-adorned night they regularly host. Fewer still will package their debut EP in a grass-green, striped paper bag, straight from Pennywhistle’s Candy Shop, stamped with issue number and sealed with handsome sticker. Even fewer will capture the Americana-drenched, sun-soaked and sunburnt-then-left-out-in-the-rain-again-and-hung-up-to-dry roots sound quite as admirably as local lads THE SIXTEEN TONNES do.
Now with the nostalgic sweet wrappings and talk of religious dedication lurking about, you may begin to worry for the safety of your children … fear not, for even if this were some ungodly cult, you may rest safe in the knowledge that your loved ones will be raised on the gospel of the truest rock n roll, surrounded by disciples with divine tastes in soul, blues, country, southern rock and doo-wop.
Catching up with singer, guitarist, songwriter and occasional harmonica player, Danny Roberts (formerly of The Hokum Clones fame) ahead of the launch of their sonically sumptuous, long-awaited EP Keep You Satisfied Part One is like descending into the musical depths of the River Jordan and emerging a somewhat more knowledgeable individual – concerning all things roots – on the opposite bank. Not only is the band named after the Merle Travis song Sixteen Tons, but the night Roberts hosts with fellow Americana Enthusiast, John Bayliss, takes its name – The Company Store – from the same song’s chorus.
The EP’s title has its ancestry submerged in a Muddy Waters song called I Can’t Be Satisfied, of which Roberts muses, “I was listening to it and thought ‘I wanna write a tune like that.’ The song’s nothing like it but I wanted to use that kinda title and it morphed into Keep You Satisfied. I think it’s one of our best songs.” Although it doesn’t feature on part one of the trilogy of EPs that the band have tucked up their scruffily-cuffed sleeves, the name of the absent title track stands firm in order to read ‘The Sixteen Tonnes Keep You Satisfied’. Nifty, eh?
Influences span “Hank Williams, Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones, Motown, blues, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf,” which Roberts notes as “the obvious ones,” to “an older, dirtier kinda blues, reggae, Jacques Brel and Nancy Sinatra,” (the not-so-apparent); and this musical motley crew is amalgamated succinctly in under fifteen minutes, into a cohesive whole of pure rock n roll bliss. Lamenting opener, Early Morning Rain, commences with a waltz-y lilt, evolves through an impulsive moment of pure distortion, and is then strummed out to introduce second song Heartache, an “ode to a young lovers”, documenting the longing after a lady with an aptitude for breaking hearts.
Cryin’ Back To Me may well ignite a pang of recognition as the sole song on the band’s Myspace, or alternatively because Roberts who likes to, “use obvious references discreetly,” confesses that, “the bass is heavily influenced” by ol’ Blue Eyes’ daughter’s delivery of the Lee Hazlewood-penned classic These Boots Are Made For Walkin’. Either way, it’s a gratifying tune; drummer Danny Rogers keeps time whilst the call and response in the chorus between Roberts, bassist Adam Griffiths and occasional member and mandolin connoisseur John Daglish perfectly showcases the strength of their vocals layered in palimpsestuous harmony. Final track Pale Blue Eyes (not that one) sees young guitarist and co-producer (along with Roberts), Luke Mawdsley, display a dextrous ability beyond his years, ending the EP with a raw instrumental bop that could tempt even the most adamant of non-believers to loosen their limbs and do the devil’s dance.
Having supported Oasis for two nights at the Echo Arena back in 2008, ‘though with a different line up, the then three, now four piece, saw expectations hit the roof, although Roberts duly notes, “We weren’t ready for it but it’s inspiring to know we’ve done something like that at such an early stage. We played to 20,000 people in two nights. We’re proud of it and it’s an achievement.”
Tours with The Zutons and Cast have added two more feathers to an already reputable cap ‘though on hitting the road and being close friends with many a Scouse musician, Roberts observes that, “People automatically put you in that bag, you’re from Liverpool, you’ve got a certain sound. But it’s cos we listen to similar stuff. Back when The Beatles were kickin’ around Liverpool, they were listening to a lot of the stuff we listen to.” On walking in the shadow of the band who declared themselves ‘bigger than Jesus’: “If you’re gonna be pressured cos you’re from Liverpool, you should give up; you should use that history to your advantage.” Amen to that.