INTERVIEW: Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The cover of the new Tea Pad Orchestra album features front man Rob Heron in rodeo clown make-up and western threads looking morose amidst the dregs of a party. The bunting behind him spells out The Party Is Over and you could wonder if they’re trying to tell us something.

Originally the song was just about not going home after a party and feeling crap, and obviously lots of the songs are about booze anyway.” Heron explains. “But I thought it would it be fun to make people wonder if it was going to be our last album, to raise that question. Or is it because some of us have had children? Whether it’ll actually be our last record, I don’t know – I thought the last one was going to be. Also, I wanted a photo cover, our albums have always had cartoon covers. One night I was half-asleep and dreaming and had the image in my head of me dressed as a clown.”

The Party Is Over grew out of lockdown in a curious way, the title track originally recorded for a solo EP Heron released. “I’d always wanted to re-record it so if I hadn’t written it in lockdown, we might never have recorded another album. It’s the only song I had ready. I’d kind of thought that a solo adventure might be worthwhile after lockdown but then missed playing gigs with the band…” Wanting a new album to accompany a tour was another more practical incentive.

I wanted it to be more minor key, more country, less twee. Less of the bow-tie wearing, vintage tea dance style that we might have been mistaken for ten years ago

Heron admits he can only write on a deadline. “When we had the studio booked, I panicked, started writing a song a week and it gets easier. I can’t be bothered to finish half-baked songs so they end up as notes and might get used later, even squashed together with other bits. But the best songs, I think, were the ones I literally wrote the week before recording. A Call To Mother’s Arms was written about half an hour before going into the studio.” I wondered if Heron worked up arrangements with the band, but it seems he has them fully formed in his head. “Obviously new things will come out of playing it together. Ted [Harbot, bass player] actually has a lot of strong ideas in the studio.” And did he have a clear idea about the sound going in? “I knew I wanted to have no songs that had the classic Tea Pad chord progression in it, that goes UM-DEH-UM-DEH-UM-DEH-UM-DEH, like a major key ragtime thing, I wanted it to be more minor key, more country, less twee. Less of the bow-tie wearing, vintage tea dance style that we might have been mistaken for ten years ago.”

The band have always been creative in the way they’ve evolved, each new album harking back to previous releases to satisfy long-time fans, but always adding something new. This time there’s the full-on folk of A Call To Mother’s Arms (“I’m a bit worried about that one scaring off the rockabillies!”) and the first single, She Hypnotised Me, a proper R&B stomper that’s coming out as a 7” with a James Brown-style funk B-side. And they clearly had a lot of fun with The Horse That You Rode In On, another song written at the last minute. “What makes that song is just the whole feel, the guitar and the whip sound, every Morricone cliché possible – without those elements it’s not that great a song but it turned out really well.”

Recorded at Blank with John Martindale, the album uses guests more prominently than before. Ruth Lyon (Holy Moly & The Crackers) plays a big part in both singles – “she really nailed her two songs, made them really different” – and House Of The Black Gardenia added some New Orleans second-line flavour to closing track The Doctor Told Me.

I wondered if Heron considered making another album in completely one style but he’s not sure. “Part of me would love the band to sound more like She Hypnotised Me but a whole album of that could get boring too. I like that we can do that, then a weird country song, then a zydeco one…”

The Autumn sees the band touring the UK, ending up with a special Christmas show at Newcastle’s Cluny on Saturday 17th December, a show that will feature as many album guests as possible and a few surprises. “I still get excited about touring – especially in Europe, it’s like a holiday. Touring in the UK in the Autumn, staying in Travelodges, how good can it be, but if the gigs are great it’s still fun. And I think these gigs are all going to be great.”

The Party Is Over is released by Tea Pad Recordings on 30th September. The band play The Forum Music Centre in Darlington on Friday 7th October and The Cluny, Newcastle on Saturday 17th December.



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