Not only are they riotously fun, but they adeptly reflect the themes of misplaced British nostalgia for the past.
Photo: Tatiana Pozuelo | Words: Brad Harris
On the scale of egg to chain punk Home Counties are somewhat difficult to place. On the one hand, the music has that squelchy sound suggestive of the original eggers Devo and displays a self-effacing sort of humour like the more recent Uranium Club, yet the themes are chain-ly relevant, as they wrestle with the mission statement inherent in their very name; that of Middle England and its various suspicions, fears, and discrepancies.
New EP ‘In a Middle English Town’ doubles down on both of these strains of influence by bringing, in their words, “shitty 80’s synths” to the fore. It’s a smart move. Not only are they riotously fun, but they adeptly reflect the themes of misplaced British nostalgia for the past. Nowhere is this more evident than the opener, ‘Back to the 70s’. Guitarist and vocalist Will Harrison elucidates that the track was inspired by criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn and interrogates the belief that, “we were saved by Thatcherism and everything is great now”.
Lead single, the self-titled ‘Home Counties’ delves deeper into the psyche of a generic, WASP-y couple, exploring the mundanity of their uniform existence. Don’t worry if politicism isn’t your bag though. Like Gang of Four, Home Counties know how to craft enjoyable, politically active music without seeming preachy or condescending. Ad Gammon (a reference to Feet’s Ad Blue? Perhaps they mean to put to bed the comparisons by highlighting their differences) is a tongue in cheek song inspired by a kebab shop and a chaotic traditional football match that moves us away from the South-East that grips the rest of the record. In some way, it’s a celebratory look at our island’s behaviours that says, ‘Okay, despite the weirdly Lynchian feeling of middle England, the fears, suspicions, and hatreds on the one hand, at least there’s community, right?’
Immediately this idea is interrogated in closer ‘Village Spirit’. Based on the murder of a French nobleman in the nineteenth-century, the track shares the spirit of Lars Von Trier’s anti-American masterpiece Dogville or Edgar Wright’s seminal Hot Fuzz by exploring the potential evils of ‘place-based collectivism’. As the piece starts to crumble down, and with it the whole EP, we’re left with the damning words that pick apart a culture in decline. “Gone is virtue and church won’t fix you.”
Wanting to dig a little deeper, I asked a few questions to the band about their process, the state of Britain and the coming demise of BoJo.
After having read your press release, I get the feeling that you guys really do operate as a collective unit. How do you manage this and, if disputes ever arise, how do you resolve these?
Bill: It all stems from the fact that we’re all good mates. Most of us have known each other since secondary school and we’ve all lived with each other at some point or another, after a while you get to know what everyone’s strengths are. If conflict ever arises, we typically settle it by arguing, making fun of each other, and then going for a pint, after which we always come to some consensus. I think we know the music only works if we’re all happy, and so we always take each other seriously when it comes down to it. It’s sort of like some dysfunctional pirate ship; we’ve all got our roles and we’ll sink if anyone abandons their post.
A lot of people may not know that Home Counties came about through the dissolution of previous endeavour Haze. How has your process changed since these humble beginnings?
Will: Haze began when we were in school, playing indie covers. When we started writing our own stuff it was all very scrappy and juvenile, caring more about raw energy rather than the quality of a song. It was also pretty much exclusively written by me, which didn’t really help keep the band feeling together.
In the end we had a feeling that we sort of outgrew Haze. We were no longer excited by it, and we wanted to start afresh and fix all the things we didn’t like about the last project. A big thing was writing in a more considered way – rather than just randomly spamming dissonant chords, we began to map out exactly what elements worked with the intent of each song. We’ve also become a lot more production-centric in our approach, self-producing all of our more recent stuff. It’s a more collaborative endeavor too, and increasingly so since the ‘Redevelopment’ EP. Everyone is writing now, which makes the project feel a lot more collective.
I’m intrigued by the record cover. I sort of love it in that it reminds me of a more colourful take on the very drab English painter L.S. Lowry’s work. Were there any kind of visual inspirations that went into the making of the EP?
The EP art is based on a painting in a local Village Hall in Buckinghamshire which me and Conor stumbled across one day. The original painting is a really gordy portrayal of an idyllic village fete, which was weirdly captivating to us. We used this as a basis, but rather than keep the scene stuck in one moment in time, set it in no particular historical moment or specific place. The EP exists in this same confused time and place.
Other visual inspirations, with continuity to our last EP ‘Redevelopment’, came from the ‘drab’ looking photographs of 70’s modernist town centres. Back to the 70’s, for example, imagines walking down a high street from this period, but reading past the grey ‘mundane’ view and thinking nostalgically about the positives of what we have lost – particularly community. The EP as a whole, with its colourful cover, is sort of trying to look positively at what is often slated.
Despite being very English, there’s a distinct lack of nature on the record. Are you scared for the future?
Will: I hadn’t thought about the lack of nature! It’s definitely a people-centric EP lyrically, about communal experience and shared memory. We should definitely be scared environmentally – maybe a topic for EP-3 (or album).
In terms of writing, you’re dealing with some subjects that have the potential to rub some people (51% of the population, say) the wrong way. Do you go in with an idea in mind when writing or is there a particular audience you are trying to reach?
The EP isn’t intended as an attack on one half of the population for the amusement of the other. It’s a very English EP for sure, but it’s not trying to take a side in the ‘culture war’. There’s one song very much about middle-class southern England (‘The Home Counties’). ‘Back to the 70’s’ is a more country-wide experience of the loss of collectivism in post-Thatcherite Britain. ‘Ad Gammon’ is about a town in the midlands asserting its local identity in the face of London’s culturally decimating influence. ‘Village Spirit’, whilst about a specific event in the past, describes more archaic ideas of community and selfhood. The collection of tracks are intended as a varied look around different uninteresting places, not an attack on different sections of the population.
Is Ad Gammon a reference to FEET?
Will: Unfortunately not (although singer George did do the EP artwork). ‘Ad Gammon’ is about our visit to Ashbourne in Derbyshire a few years ago when we were touring up north. There is a kebab shop there that used to offer ‘Ad Gammon’ for £1 to any meal, which just seemed irresistibly bizarre. The town is also host to a no-rules medieval football game that happens every year with two sides of the team against each other. By chance, this was happening when we visited so we went to watch the kick off. There was a profoundly anti-London sentiment to the whole thing, particularly in the suspicion of the drones supposedly filming the event. The song is a bit daft really, attributing the chaos and quirks of tradition to the consumption of the gammon.
Did you know that Amazing Grace was originally written in the home counties, Milton Keynes specifically? Do you ever feel like a part of the lineage of this great nation’s creatives, or do you prefer to see yourself as outsiders?
Will: I did not know that! Both sides of my family grew up in Milton Keynes (or more accurately, the villages of which Milton Keynes was built on). Milton Keynes gets a bad wrap. It was going to be a monorail utopia until they decided to make it all cars (and with it roundabouts). It’s nice to hear of creativity coming from a place most deride as anonymous.
Not to try and appear humble, but I have definitely not seen us in the lineage of the nation’s great creatives. I don’t think we see ourselves as outsiders either. We just enjoy playing in this band at this moment in time – and if people are keen on it, all the better.
Should Boris resign?
Bill: Yes, please. Hopefully he’ll desperately go into personalised video messages like Farage – £50 for a happy birthday to gran.