The truth of the matter is, we’re easily amused at itm?. Gimmicky records, interweb nonsense and of course ‘performers’ who truly perform, are our staples to get us through the day. So this extends to our gig booking too with our regular stints at the tiny 13th Note in Glasgow a great source for laughs – “how funny will it be seeing Broken Records squeezing onto the stage – there’s 7 of them including a cello!” That kept us amused for a bit. Until, that was, How To Swim’s show shortly afterwards saw 11 of them in the line-up, and that included a trombone (ouch, elbows!)
So when the Second Hand Marching Band appeared on the Glasgow gig radar we HAD to book them. That was even when their reputation preceded them. 22 members equals an event, a spectacle, and a potential nightmare for the soundman. Ok, we could have gone for the Dagenham Girl Pipers if we simply wanted to fill the stage to a point that would contravene health and safety, but the band’s lineup – an indie supergroup in all senses of the word – was almost a guarantee of great things. Boasting members of Q Without U, Eagleowl, the Plimptons, Dananananaykroyd, and perhaps inevitably the aforementioned How To Swim, plus a few other ‘lesser’ names, every one an itm? favourite. How could they fail to impress?
Happily our hunch was backed up by the first recordings, the gig reports, and eventually itm?’s first experience of their remarkable live set. All was well. Which was just as well, as we’d already penciled them in.
With a single to be released on Chaffinch, the band are set for greater things – well, if they can sort out the mechanics of taking a collective such as this from a novel live experience to a proper band with top songs, who just happen to be the size of a couple of football teams. We spoke to founder and chief songwriter Pete Liddle about what we can expect, both at the Note and in the future.
How hard is it trying to organise a 22-piece band, ensuring they all show up, getting rehearsed etc?
Quite hard, but it’s worth the effort. Everyone in the band is keen and we have on the whole a fantastic time when we play, so it tends to go fairly smoothly. Our goal in 2009 is to have more practices than gigs – something 2008 sorely lacked, from the perspective of an audience, I’d imagine. Nice’n’Sleazy’s 3am license and the party attitude of our younger marching brats constantly theatens this.
There must be upsides to it (e.g. if each member brings a friend you can fill the Note). You’ve played in smaller bands, so what’s good about this one that makes you ignore the chaos and organisational headaches?
The band is like some sort of horrible combination of a cult and a family. Some of them I’ve known for years, and some for a year, but we’ve got to know each other well especially through long days at festivals or out of town gigs. Each gig is like a reunion, and about an hour of every practice is dedicated to gossip and catchup.
The big bonus is having the feeling of 20 people all joining in on the same line or playing the same song together. It’s a really different feeling from smaller bands. It’s probably close to mob hysteria more than anything more romantic but it’s lovely.
If performing is a collective challenge, what about songwriting? Especially with some varied ‘influences’ via the styles of the other members’ own bands – Remember Remember, Just Joans, The Martial Arts to add to the list above which encompasses punk, folk, post…
I write most of the songs, but we have others contributing and writing songs too. The sound generally came from a bunch of depressing folk songs I wrote when I first moved to Fife and had no car to get out of Fife in (first rule of moving to Fife – get a car…). I’d been listening to lots of ensemble-type stuff and lots of folk stuff and I’d started collecting instruments on eBay. I recorded the first demos myself playing everything but the trombone, and sent links to the mp3s out to some friends, and later on myspace. The members of the band were those that wanted to be in it, so that way I think we had already settled on a sound.
Because everyone is in other bands doing other things I don’t think people are too worried about changing the sound. I’ve been lucky that everyone else is willing to give my songs a shot, so far without complaint!
How far can this thing go? Is it a hobby/bit of fun, or – with the record release – can a serious go be made of it (and will some members’ ambitions be stronger than others?)
It’s a serious hobby – to get that many people playing together couldn’t be an occasional thing. We will definitely record some more stuff, and we have a couple of really good gigs and things coming up. I don’t think it would be easy to have a serious go of it but that’s really down to people liking our band first! There are some very talented members in the band who will, regardless of circumstance, go on to make more wonderful music. My ambition is really to organise round the band so we can release things collectively, like Constellation records in Montreal, but more twee.
Any plansd to expand the lineup? I felt you needed a bit of flugelhorn in there 😉
(and more seriously, is there a 2hmb-lite version planned so you can do smaller shows or radio sessions etc?)
We have more drummers coming in when needed, and a new trumpet player, and an extra mandolin player. Aside from that, I think it’s probably a full house. Since we started a few members have learned new instruments so we will probably see more of them. Our job now is to (shudder) “tighten up” and make more of what we have by, well, practicing. Andy constantly threatens his autoharp, and several members got stylophones for Christmas, so it’s anyone’s guess.
I’m not keen on a lite version of the band. It has to really be all or nothing, though we have had one mini show before. The radio stations will just have to build us a bigger room.
The Second Hand Marching Band’s EP ‘ A Dance to Half Death’ is out now, limited to 100 copies. Available via Chaffinch records, the tracks can be heard and bought via the 2HMB myspace.
The band play itm? live on Thu 15th Jan at the 13th Note, Glasgow, with Burnt Island and The Seventeenth Century.
And here’s an action sketch of the show by artist Jenny Soep.