The Rakes or ‘My Pun Nightmare’

Sheffield Leadmill on Friday 3 February 2006

Why do we interview bands? To bridge the gap between them and the fans? To get the latest hot gossip from the inner music world? To help them promote their latest record?

Probably, but there’s another reason we do it that’s far more underrated but equally important. To make puns. Just as a band tinker at their instruments to play songs for us all to raise our goblets of ale to (I wish goblets were used in more common practice these days), it’s up to us to play on words in order to make these ‘ere paragraphs as interesting a read as possible (because let’s face it – band’s don’t ever say anything THAT mind-blowing – Ouch!)

Only kidding, but I’m sure you’ll agree a great pun is a wonderful thing. When NME started calling Morrissey the Mozfather I shat my pants right on the spot, it was that spectacular. But, sadly for me the perfect pun remains elusive. After chatting with Matthew Swinnerton, guitarist and quiet genius of The Rakes, my initial idea of calling what you’re reading ‘The Rakes Of Wrath’ was made redundant, as the chap was just so damn nice. With a word as versatile as ‘rake’, surely a least one appropriate pun could be applied? Apparently not, unless you think ‘Rake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ is the apex of modern wit.

It’s the sixth day of the band’s tour and as we sit in the basement dressing room of Sheffield’s Leadmill, the atmosphere is as rock and roll as a game of French boules – polite chit-chat, cups of water and a lot of relaxed silence (forcing me to scratch ‘Rake, Rattle & Roll’ off the list).

Matthew is a pleasure to talk to and he seems pleased to be able to. He explains how this tour has dramatically mushroomed in size since it’s initial announcement last year, “we booked it before Christmas, and seeing as they started to sell out we decided to put a few extra gigs on at the end of the tour during May, to round off the promotion for our first record.”

Are you surprised how big the tour’s been? Do you think last year’s Franz Ferdinand support slot helped at all?

“Yeah, it does help, but then a lot of things contribute really. We’ve been a band that sort of developed pretty gradually. We haven’t gone from playing a little bar to suddenly playing the Astoria, we can quite easily chart how we’ve developed. All these things have helped – the good reviews on the record, building up a reputation as a good live band and of course the Franz tour, which couldn’t do anything but help us. It’s brilliant to go on a tour like that as it’s very slickly run and you get a lot of exposure.”

The Rakes have been together for around three years and having worked long and hard to reach where they are today. I wonder if they’re still loving every minute of it:

“Oh yea, I mean it just gets easier really. Especially doing gigs, you learn to appreciate the different aspects and approaches to them. For instance, when we’re doing our own tour now – sold out shows, playing an hour-and-a-bit set, we build it up, we learn how to structure the set, hopefully give people a good show with the lights. Whereas when supporting Franz we just pick the songs that are a good introduction to the band.”

So far so good, but still no ‘Rakish Revelations’ (GEDDIT!!??!), still no mind-blowing pun for the title. Talk turns to festivals and Matthew informs me that they hope to be playing Reading and Leeds this year, probably on the Radio 1 stage. After playing a handful of UK festivals last year, including Glastonbury, T in The Park and the Reading & Leeds weekend, the band found time to plug in their amps further afield at some festivals abroad, including Japan’s Summer Sonic. Matthew is keen to share his experiences in The Land Of The Rising Sun. [..and you thought the puns too cliche?? Will you say 'bonnie Scotland' next? - Ed]

“We’ve been to Japan twice now. The first time was great – with the second time at Summer Sonic, we were only there for a weekend. It’s not your average weekend break destination, sitting on a plane for 12 hours to Tokyo. We got there, felt completely dazed, did the gig and flew back. But the time before we went with Bloc Party as a support for a five day tour – Osaka, Tokyo, Nagoya. You go to Japan and see things you recognise from over here, a skyscraper, a big city, but the scale of it is just so different, there’s much more intensity. It was a really interesting experience.”

So far on this tour they’ve played Cambridge, Portsmouth, Norwich, Bristol and the first of several shows in London. Tonight is the first gig of the ‘Northern Leg’, but sadly they don’t have any dates booked in Cumbria, meaning I can forget using ‘A Trip To The Rake District’ as a title. As Matthew’s said, this tour will mark an end to promoting the first album, so I wonder where do they hope things to go next? Have they started writing any new songs? Matthew graciously fills in:

“Yeah we have, we’ve begun to put a few tracks together – very early demo stage, if you like. Now that we’ve got some songs that we’ve been working on for the past five months, we’re working towards a new record. We’re going to try something a bit different.”

And will there be any new material performed on this tour?

“We’re playing our new single, ‘All Too Human’. It’s not on the album; it’s a song that we wrote whilst on the Franz tour. Then when we got back to London we just bashed it out in the studio over a couple of days. We decided it would be a good idea for fans old and new to hear a new track from the band. It’s a good tune, it shows a slightly new direction for us. There’ll be a few little other bits and pieces in there tonight too.”

The ‘other bits and pieces’ turn out to be a mediocre cover of a Serge Gainsbourg ditty and a trite song about Celebrity Big Brother – a shame as their inclusion serve to pot-hole an otherwise excellent set. It also means I can’t get away with using ‘This Rake Ain’t Rusty’ as in those few moments, they’re scraping off flakes.

We end with the obligatory current-affairs-in-the-realm-of-the-music-industry questions, so I ask for his opinions on Arctic Monkeys phenomena and My Space. With wistful insight he dispels:

“We’ll I mean these things are connected really. We felt as a band developing that our forum [helped]. One of our first support tours was with The Others, who built their fan base through the internet, so we’ve always been aware of this thing going on. I don’t really go onto our forum too much because when you’re in the band it’s not really advisable to go on your own forum, just simply because it’s for the fans to communicate with each other [rather than us].” – Yeah, and you don’t want any obsessive saddos stalking you or sending you picture messages of their private parts either.

Are you at all cynical that it has become a media obsession to talk about internet communities and My Space? I saw an Arctic Monkeys show the other night and the band didn’t seem to trusting of all the adoration they were getting...

“From what I’ve heard – what people have told me and what tracks I have heard – I’m sure their success is deserved. But the thing is there’s this hype machine that you have to wary of. They’ve sold an incredible amount of records for a first album, but that type of sudden leap would personally make me feel uncomfortable. I think it’s a case of them not believing their own hype. We’ve been lucky in the sense that – although we haven’t sold as many records – we’ve got steady sales and now we’re on a certain trajectory. We haven’t just gone from little straight to massive, which is good for the bands development. It means we never feel too much pressure.”

And with a conclusion drawn, both suitably at ease, we wrap things up. It’s just a shame he admitted to the ‘steady sales’, I was on the brink of hazarding ‘Rakin’ It In’ as the title.

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article by: Alex Hoban

published: 09/02/2006 16:03

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