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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When you take a look at just how hard Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra have toured over the last couple of years, it’s remarkable they get any recording done at all. This month sees the release of their third album, Something Blue, a record that builds on the band’s strengths but heads off in some surprising new directions too.

According to Rob Heron, it’s the relationship between the style and lyrics that dictates where the song is headed. “I usually come up with the concept of a song first, from a note on my phone or an idea that has been burning a hole in my brain for months. The lyrics usually don’t emerge until the basic style has been considered, so I guess the two come together. If the song is about heartbreak, country music lends itself well to it, or if the song is about girls and sex, then R&B and blues styles are more suited. Gospel is best for preachy stuff, hence why I chose it for The Devil Wears A Blue Tie – the biggest inspiration on that song was a Reverend Gary Davis song, Say No To The Devil.”

Heron’s songwriting seems to work best under pressure, he’s clearly a crammer at heart. “I wish I was a prolific writer and wrote a song a day, but I was never like that at school either. I usually write the whole album in the few months before we record, with the rest of the band panicking. We spent 10 days up in Orkney and Shetland last September, and I finished a lot of the songs there – we had time to relax, and we were staying in a lovely place, away from home, which frees the mind from distractions. We recorded all the songs a couple weeks later, in five days. That’s the easy bit of making an album though – after that, it’s the artwork, sleeve notes, setting all the promo and distribution up. These are things that labels do for signed bands, but in our case, it’s us that has to organise it all!”

It’s really important to have peers and create something together, help each other out, swap contacts, instead of being jealous or dismissive of others trying to do the same thing as you. There’s power in numbers and power in human kindness

Whilst Something Blue hardly represents some ‘Dylan at Newport’ stylistic shift, there was a conscious decision to toughen up the sound. “The first two albums are mostly acoustic, all the songs are five minutes max, and they’re pretty safe. I wanted this one to have a bit more grit and balls. Ben [Fitzgerald] only plays electric guitars on this new album, and Ted [Harbot] even plays electric bass on one track. There’s more post-production, stuff like slapback delays on vocals, and we play more instruments – banjo, piano, Hammond organ. I even played the piano on the title track, and I can’t play a note, which was kind of the point – I just opened the thing up and hit it with a drum stick! I wanted the overall sound to be like Tom Waits’ more rock and roll stuff, or if Merle Haggard had gone to bed with Merle Travis and Johnny Burnette, and started debating about 21st century British politics and girls.” The album marks the departure of long-time drummer Paul Archibald, whose jazz training added something special to the Tea Pad sound. “Paul is doing a PhD in the history of the drum kit! He has such an individual style, and he fits in with us so very well, that he is basically irreplaceable. We have been playing live without him since August now, and we still get the place going and enjoy it, so we will just wait and see if he wants to have his job back when he finishes his PhD. The drum seat is always empty and open.”

Constant touring takes its toll, especially when you’re so closely identified with where you live. “I pine for Heaton every time I leave, I miss my friends a lot, I love the place. But every time I return, I pine for travelling and playing all over Europe. I don’t think that will ever change – I like to meet new people and see new places, this trip in Europe right now is roasting hot, the beer is good and the people are welcoming, but I miss my little neighbourhood!” The band have had their fair share of tour disasters but as Heron points out, the gigs make it worthwhile. “Our favourite last year was playing at a festival in the Ardennes, Belgium – La Truite Magique, a cute little festival in the woods, full of young, hot, Belgium hipsters. We played an encore of Quaich Keeper’s Blues from our first album, left the stage and had 400 people singing back at us ‘Heyyyy boys, whiskey ain’t no good for me!!’ They didn’t stop until we had left the area!”

Part of what makes touring bearable for the band is being part of a close, if somewhat amorphous scene of like-minded artists. “I love our little scene, we get to play gigs with each other, meet each other abroad. It’s really important to have peers and create something together, help each other out, swap contacts, instead of being jealous or dismissive of others trying to do the same thing as you. There’s power in numbers and power in human kindness.”

Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra release Something Blue on 3rd June. The band play at The Cumberland Arms on Sunday 3rd July.


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