Matt McManamon - Lead singer, guitar
Ben Gordon- Keys, guitar
Charlie Turner, Bass
Bryan Johnson, Drums
"I'm trying to follow the tick-tick-tick/ At the heart of the nation!"
The Dead 60s 'Nationwide'
If the resurgent British rock scene of the last twelve months has given us plenty to celebrate, it has also been lacking one vital element: a band young, smart and articulate enough to genuinely reflect the look and and feel of life in the UK as we enter mid-decade. A group who can hard-wire the paranoid skank of A Certain Ratio, the social awareness of The Clash and still have razor-creases in their sta-press whilst they do it.
Time to meet The Dead 60s (Matt McManamon: guitar/vocals, Ben Gordon :guitar/organ, Charlie Turner: bass, Bryan Johnson: drums). They're from Liverpool, but crucially, they don't have to be. Rather than trawl through the typically rizzla-heavy 'vibes' of The La's, Love and Beefheart for inspiration (the name is a dig at the Mersey seal of approval "you sound dead 60s"), they will happily namecheck anyone with an eye for the dancefloor, regardless of age or era. Expect to hear traces of everything from Desmond Dekker, The Skatalites, Lee 'Scratch' Perry to Public Image Ltd, Happy Mondays and The Cure.
Lyrically, like The Specials before them, they deliver a pin-sharp commentary on the world around them; a country where city centres have become boozy no-go zones after dark, deserted but for whirring CCTV's; where new towns breed discontent and even a walk home from the pub carries with it the ever-present threat of danger. The result is a group set to provoke and excite in equal measure.
"We're not rejecting the traditional Liverpool sound" explains Charlie. "We're just tapping into a different kind of history, which is just as relevant. It makes sense to us to sing about things people can relate to their own lives, like buildings getting knocked down to be replaced by car parks and the effect it has. Or how bad new towns are, and how difficult it is to get out of them and create your own life. It's the sound of growing up surrounded by concrete, in a city where it's always pissing down with rain.."
The back story goes like this: formed in South Liverpool by two rival school bands (Charlie: "We consider ourselves a supergroup!"), the boys had been formulating musical ideas from an early age. Tracing their love of Jamaican ska, punk and dub via relatives' record collections, they spent eight months in the studio "learning to play like the Wailers" before attracting the attention of eagle-eyed Deltasonic boss Alan Wills, who signed the band to the label barely a year after they'd formed.
If the spook-core skank of first single 'You're Not The Law' first displayed their trademark 'horrorshow ska', it was Top 20 follow-up 'Riot Radio' which suggested The '60s' were set for, erm, ska-dom. Two minutes and twenty-two seconds of seriously infectious agit-pop. It wasn't so much an incitement to violence as a celebration of drummer Bryan's spoof phone calls to local radio legend Pete Price. As well as earning them an NME Single of the Week ("a slam bang-up-to-date rendering of ska, Franz Ferdinand and King Tubby") it also brought the band to the attention of a certain Stephen Morrissey. Next thing, the band were packing their Fred Perry's for touring duties with Moz. "Although he personally selected us for the tour, we never got to meet him" muses Charlie. "Though I did see him peaking around the stage curtain at us a couple of times!"
In between releasing chart-topping singles (their recent offering 'The Last Resort' finished in the Top 20), the band penned a management deal with the mighty Q Prime (home of Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Metallica), ripped through three headline tours, watched in disbelief as 'Riot Radio' became #3 Most Added track at Alternative Radio (behind Coldplay and The White Stripes) in the US and proved the universal language of the dancefloor during a raptuously received Japanese debut at Summer Sonic (Charlie: "I don't know how many of the lyrics they understood, but they must have liked it because they didn't stop moving").
Somewhere betwixt all this the band returned to Liverpool and set about recording their fire-cracker live set for posterity. The result is the stunning debut album 'The Dead 60s'. Recorded over six weeks at 'The Ranch' with maverick local producer 'Central Nervous System', the claustrophobic conditions served as Liverpool's answer to Lee Perry's 'Ark' studios. "It was like recording in a garden shed!" explains Charlie. "There's an old desk and no natural light so you lose sense of what time of day it is. We'd just jam songs for ages and slowly the right versions would come through."
Recording in such an environment has drilled the band's looser grooves with a genuine menace. 'Red Light' pitches skeletal rhythms to the sort of spooked commentary once the preserve of The Skatalites, whilst the sparse 'New Town Disaster' is a damning indictment of the townplanners dream gone seriously wrong ("The industries dead/Packed up and gone/In this tabloid town"). Meanwhile, 'We Get Low' is the Dead '60s at their most light-hearted, reaching beyond the rhetoric to show off what King Tubby and Ennio Morricone might have sounded like had they grown up in the backstreets of Merseyside.
Amidst the sirens and the rhythm of the falling rain there are moments of genuine gruff dance-floor genius too. If 'Control This' and 'Loaded Gun' reflect the jittery punk-funk throb of the early Mondays, the real pay-off comes with 'Nowhere'; a gothic, spliff-at-midnight mantra. It's an indication that The Dead '60's have the capacity to document city life for years to come.
"We were listening to bands like The Smiths and The Cure, as well as the usual dub, punk and reggae during recording and I think that's helped create this atmosphere" confirms Charlie. "It's a city album. At the end of recording each night we had to walk home through this dodgy area and that paranoia creeps into the music."
Not much! Thirteen razor-cut songs aimed at both the head and the feet. Thirteen songs which stand head and shoulders above their peers and serve as proof that observation of life's bitterest pills often brings the most valuable rewards.
But enough of the theorising. Turn up the bass and get lost in the grooves yourself. As a wise man once said: F--- art, let's dance!
By Paul Moody - May 2005
--- from the official The Dead 60's website