THERE’S much to live up to in a name. But then, as a band, Sheffield’s Unsung National Heroes have been trying hard to live up to the promise.
So the epic brass sections, the prestigious drummer, mariachi-style chord structures, punk, ska and skiffle strumming do more than live up to the band’s moniker – they herald it as heroically as unsung national heroes can be.
Their debut, It was Like That When I Found It, is a ten-track tour de force of eclectic ditties – most of which are the brainchild of ukulele player Dave Cowling. As trumpeter Sarah Cotton explains: “Dave writes all the songs and then he brings that to rehearsal and then we all add our own bit but he sorts out the initial structure.”
The tracks were then recorded at Club 60 by producer Paul Blakeman, Sarah’s husband, who laid the songs down in a bi-valve tape recorder while the band were jamming late together. The result is a foot-tapping collection of songs.
“The way it was recorded at Club 60 gives it a really live, warm organic feel because with tapes it harder to edit and manipulate tracks than it is digitally so if you mess up, in most cases, you have to do it again.”
For Cotton, recording in her husband’s studio, where she has spent many a day helping out, was strange. “It was really interesting and strange to be on the other side, like a customer recording in the studio. Usually I’m the one pulling the strings behind the scenes or watching bands when they showcase at our events. But it was a good experience and I really enjoyed it.
“The songs just got better and better the more we recorded. But it was easy because we were all really good friends so I didn’t feel embarrassed about joining in. I’ve been playing the trumpet since I was a kid at school and always thought it was really unrock and roll but now I’m starting to think of it as quite cool – the brass really adds texture and warmth to the tracks. I see brass sections differently now, since I’ve started playing again with the band.”
It’s Unsung National Heroes’ textural quality that sets them apart from other Sheffield bands, and the fact they fuse so many musical styles into one repertoire. “That’s just how it happened, it’s just what Dave does,” says Cotton.
The band’s musical prowess is unsurprising when one considers its players’ curriculum vitae - drummer Simon Stafford has played with Joe Strummer and in the Longpigs and Brian Day plays professionally as a session musician but also in Carmen Ghia and the Hot Rods. “Getting the band together to rehearse is a nightmare because they are all so busy, says Cotton.
But over the new few weeks, the band is making a concerted effort to rehearse ahead of two big shows at this year’s Tramlines Festival. “Club 60 are curating an event at the City Hall ballroom and we are playing as part of it but we also have a date at the Greystones and I am really looking forward to that one because it’s is such a great venue.”
And while the band are match-fit, there is still much to do. “I have given myself the goal of having to learn the music so that I don’t have to read the notes as I am going along.”
The band will be at Club 60 rehearsing before their big dates at Tramlines. For full details of the festival visit www.tramlines.org.uk