The Vicar’s House Is Nice

Artist : Staggs

Title : Shy Bairns Get Nowt

Format : EP

Label : German Shepherd

Release Date : August 8th 2015

front cover

Music pioneers Staggs are back with a new release on German Shepherd Records, and it is their best work to date in my opinion. I have previously reported on their activities with reviews of their Risqué But Not Blue release, the remix EP Smart Husband Resonator Set,  and ample airplay on the Aural Delights Podcast.

Their self released work to date is still readily available on Bandcamp and their previous German Shepherd outing is required listening for the discerning audiophile.

For those of you who are not aware of their work, Staggs are Michael T. Scott and Paul Ridley.  They describe themselves as follows:

Staggs were born out of a one-off experimental remix of their own anarcho-punk track from the early 80s. The production is wholly contemporary but the anger of that era lives on in their energy, lyrical content and vocal expression. With a healthy cynicism towards British culture contained in the wealth of nostalgic samples and a bizarre smattering of French language thrown in for good measure.

grim up north

The EP comprises four tracks. It starts with a clearly recognisable trumpet sample and moves into typical Staggs riffery, left field noises and vocal samples, and Scott’s trademark scabrous vocalising. Staggs have a clever knack of capturing the bleakness of Tory Britain in 2015,  but setting it in a humorous context. With all the current empty promises of the so called “northern power house” the track is very relevant.

The tempo is upped to glam rock levels with a tumbling footballing homage to the Charlton Brothers. The mix of glam-surf guitars, arpeggios, and rich synth sounds, together with Scott’s middle 8 commentary on Lord Bobby of Charlton, with a rather acerbic aside about his hairstyle, all makes for a rather heady brew.

big jackPost industrial decline is the subject of the Orwellian “Sunset Over Aldi” a thought provoking commentary, via a kitchen sink drama , where Scott proves to be a raconteur of the highest quality. Musically rich, and bursting with ideas, this is Staggs are their very best.

Matters conclude with seaside sounds, a glimpse of a forgotten England, and then a heady rush of punk electronica of the highest quality, as Scott disembowels middle class aspiration in an utterly marvellous tirade.  Glorious, and like all good closing numbers it leaves you wanting more.

With most bands these days trying to re-invent early Syd Barrett tunes, with Jefferson Airplane as a backing band, how utterly refreshing to listen to a band that is doing things on their own terms, with a fascinating mix of righteous anger,  cynicism and strong doses of humour.

A short promo sampler from the EP gives you a taste of the contents:

I took the opportunity to ask the duo a few questions with regard to the release and current activities

The seventh release from the mighty Staggs – what were the key inspirations/drivers for this one?

Scott: Conceptually, this EP was initially inspired by my relocation to Newcastle after 25 years down “That South” in tandem with a dysfunctional relationship, leading to a period of homelessness, poverty and depression. Typical Northern situation for a lot of people. I’m not influenced to do this by music, rather by experience and circumstance. The initial idea for Staggs was to put the listener in a position where they don’t know whether to laugh or cry by juxtaposing tragic and comedic elements. I see my lyrical work as observational commentary, so I’m more inspired by surviving cancer than say, Sparks….which all sounds a bit grim, I do however retain a very healthy sense of tumour. Case in point: “Ron Was Cool” – a “humorous” song about a paedophile……..

Ridley: Musically, whatever tickled my fancy the day I turned the computer on. Michael tends to come up with the themes and I like fitting my muse around that and this will often be informed by his lyrics. We work remotely from different cities, so one of us will offer an initial “sketch” and it builds from there. A lot of the songs “write themselves” which is possibly a reflection of our growing up together and sharing past experiences.

The subject matter appears more political/social commentary this time around – not so much a Staggs Party, but a Staggs Party Political Broadcast – a reflection of the second Cameron/Osborne zeitgeist perhaps?

Ridley: It wasn’t intentional but a good deal of our music involves social comment whether we like it or not…There’s a lot Up North to comment on, in fact anywhere, it’s just that we happened to grow up there … It is pretty Grim though, I must admit…….

Scott: Yes – having shied away from politics after the anarcho-punk period (too much to young) I find I simply cannot ignore it any more. I’m actually pretty fucking pissed off now. I do some voluntary work teaching IT to “jobseekers” on a North Shields estate which is a real eye-opener. Cameron has fucked it – it will take us years to recover.

sunset over aldi

Bobby Charlton – a football genius or hairstyle pioneer?

Scott: He’s from Ashington – no more needs to be said.

Ennio Morricone – influential or am I hearing things that aren’t there?

Scott: Im a fan but it’s not a concious influence – I sampled the trumpet part for Grim Up North from the legendary album “Larn Yersel Geordie” by 70’s North Eastern TV stalwarts Mike Neville and George House. I believe Neville was the inspiration for Viz Comics Roger Mellie (the man on the telly) – The Viz boys attended the same school as Staggs………..

Ridley: Again not intentional, but the only place I can hear it is the guitar riff on “Big Jack”, which Michael played, so I can’t take the credit there !

Can you replicate this live – if so any chance of some live appearances?

Scott: We keep discussing this, but it’s a technological and logistical nightmare for many reasons, and there is always the danger of becoming a “Punk Pet Shop Boys”, and I fear the dreaded Sleaford Mods have beaten us to that…….However, it is possible and I would like to do it at some point.

The “anger” of your “punk/anarcho” days seems to there still – is that a fair comment?

Scott: Yes indeed – The new EP references our anarcho past – Reality Control  samples and a lyric on “Sunset Over Aldi”, which is in fact an homage to our 1982 Reality Control release: “Sunrise Over The Falklands”. “Vive Les Staggs” is based on the work of Crass, of whom I now have mixed feelings. Yes – they changed my life but I was very young and impressionable – I wonder what would have happened without them……..I wrote the song “Nice” in the back of a school exercise book at the age of 15. As I approach my 50th year it still rings true. Let’s get angry.

(Scott and Ridley were the guitarist and drummer respectively in Reality Control – there’s a bit of band  history here)

Ridley: The anger is there yes. This is why I encourage Michael to find a garden shed or equivalent to do his vocals so that no neighbours are harmed in the process…

Is humour important in music?

Ridley: Absolutely, it’s there in most of our work – some are private jokes from school – “Hey Miss – are you a communist” ? (Staggs Say No) Some are universal – Risqué but not blue..

Scott: A horse walks into a bar and the barman says “why the long face” ?

(I thought there might be Frank Zappa reference here but the pair of them missed the feed line by a mile!)

Any further releases planned?

Ridley: Definitely – a best of vinyl album so we don’t lose the back catalogue to internet ether. There’ll always be new stuff in the pipeline.

Scott: It would be churlish not to continue…….

A lot more North Eastern references in this one – are you flexing your regional muscles?

Scott: Not particularly – again its just social commentary informed by experience. Having said that, the “North – South Divide” is alarmingly still alive and kicking – I lived in London and was just as angry………….

What are you listening to music wise at the moment?

Scott: I tend to listen to 6music all the time, which is very lazy and I find myself singing along to songs I have never heard before. I like listening to old vinyl found in charity shops, skips etc. I enjoy Surf, Country & Western and British Folk.

Ridley: New Chemical Crothers album, a drum and bass mix by my brother and the best of the Boomtown Rats – my own edited ! Bit of Nitin Sawhney…….


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