James Sutcliffe, lead vocalist of south London’s riotous outfit, Honkies, spoke to us about the capital’s punk sound moving away from the grey post-punk we are used to.
It’s common knowledge fashion is cyclical. Nothing is new, everything is either a cycle or a recycle. I don’t know much about fashion but Vogue and a bunch of experts seem to think so anyway.
The same can be said for music. But while the most influential style mag out there thinks the fashion cycle runs in 15 year revolutions, music can take a lot longer to be dredged up again.
Take Ben Wallers’ Country Teasers. The revolving set of literary crooks took the UK by storm in the early 90s and continued to make an impression internationally right up until the end of the 20th century. 20 or so years later and now the cream of the crop of south London’s new sound are bringing back the Teasers’ country and western tinged art punk with a vengeance. This revival immediately follows a trench of dark, grey post-punk and hardcore bands flooding our capital, as well as a few other nearly-dystopian British cities, like Leeds.
James Sutcliffe, supremo of south London alum Honkies and their bonkers, hillbilly sound, believes it’s all a natural curve but is more than happy the bands of the south are breaking away from the mould.
“It’s a good opportunity for lots of different sounds to develop,” he said on the phone.
“It’s not just loads of post-punk bands from east London now that are just playing a dark sound I’ve always found quite boring,” the 27-year-old continued, “there’s a lot more space for people to do something a bit more out there basically.
“That’s why the Honkies have managed to get out there, because bands like the Fat Whites, Warmduscher and this whole Country Teasers renaissance has allowed that to spread.”
The root of this new crossover sound seems to have stemmed from Fat White Family and as Sutcliffe puts it, their singing of the Teasers’ praise and everyone’s ensuing realisation of how great the Edinburgh band were. From then we have seen Goat Girl go onto achieve pop success and bands such as Shame, Duds and Peeping Drexels invade the London sprawl, imitating the janky, punky, dancy racket both FWF and the Teasers put out.
Now it’s Honkies turn, and they want to bring even more colour to what is already interpreted as an eclectic palette. Formed roughly two years ago, the five piece, which has now apparently settled on a line up after a number of changes, have built up quite a following for their enthralling live performances.
“We’ve gained quite a reputation now for our shambolic live shows. When we first started most of us couldn’t really play our instruments,” Sutcliffe remembers.
“It wasn’t the best sound at first, we had to go through a lot of shit gigs where it sounded awful and the crowd didn’t like it too much.
“It was a massive learning curve but it helped us get to the standard we play at now, which is still quite sloppy but I guess we can hold it together at least.”
After people started to pay attention and come down to see Honkies, the band recorded an EP with Margo Broom at Hermitage Works Studios, where Goat Girl recorded their first single.
The EP, Hold Your Horses / It’s all kicking off for Honkies Vol. 1, has drawn comparisons with the Teasers, obviously, but also Minutemen and Meat Puppets. The Minutemen connection is not only aired for the pace and sound of the recorded but also the nature of the recording. Six songs were “banged out” at the studio in two days. While these comparisons are the most obvious, Sutcliffe hastens to add how influential the Happy Mondays were on the record. He claims Bummed is one of his favourite records and can’t stress the importance of syncopated beats and finding different grooves within music which commonly has the same groove, something Sean Ryder and his motley crew were pro at.
Honkies’ EP launch at The Windmill, Brixton where the band have got an almost constant residency (along with their normal abode of Five Bells in New Cross), sold out. It was a big occasion, not only for the band but for anyone in south London wanting to make a racket. Honkies have shown us that you don’t need to be able to play your songs perfectly live, follow any form of convention or pander to what the scene you play in needs to be adored.
What’s next for the band, well, after having to wait a year for their record to be released, they have got enough new songs for another album. Expect that soon, as well as festival shows and a summer tour, if one of them can learn to drive.
By Tom Johnson