Interview: The Rockingbirds

Rob GarrattHalf of early-90s country revivalists The Rockingbirds hailed from Norwich, and now they're back with a reunion tour and a re-release of their iconic debut. ROB GARRATT spokes to vocalist Sean Read.Further listening: The RockingbirdsRob Garratt

Half of early-90s country revivalists The Rockingbirds hailed from Norwich, and now they're back with a reunion tour and a re-release of their iconic debut. ROB GARRATT dug out his Stetson hat for a chat with vocalist Sean Read.

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The Rockingbirds burst of trendy Camden in the early nineties playing flagrantly un-cool country music.

Infected with the hillbilly charm of Hank Williams and the sweet harmonies of Gram Parsons and The Byrds they were everything British indie was not.

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Three of the band's founder members originally came from Norwich, and after splitting up nearly a decade and a half ago are back on the road to commemorate the reissue of their self-titled debut album - now repackaged with a second CD of b-sides and live material.

We caught up with vocalist and tambourine player Sean Read ahead of Wednesday's gig at Norwich Arts Centre.

t How did this reunion all come about?

Our record company Heavenly decided they were going to rerelease the album and we decided to do a few gigs to celebrate and support that. It's just a week of gigs, nothing too heavy.

t You're only doing five dates - why did you pick Norwich?

Three of us have links with Norwich. I grew up there and I still go back there regularly to see my parents and they have the Evening News everyday! Norwich has always been a big influence on my musical upbringing - I saw The Jam and Dexy's Midnight Runners in Norwich, there was a big music scene there in the early 80s. It was quite a good time to come from Norwich - there was a big underground and alternative scene. I was in a band called The Love Explosions and before the Waterfront was there we played the Norwich Venue Campaign. Then in another band we moved to London in search of fame and fortune and that's where The Rockingbirds came from. Norwich has always punched above its weight for me. Our pedal steel guy Patrick still lives in Norwich, so he's been gunning down the A11 for rehearsals. I used to hang around the Arts Centre, we're really looking forward to playing there again. It's a great place to play and hopefully we'll see a few old friends. Is The Jackal still there?

t No…

It was on Magdalen Street close to Magdalen Gates, it was this club above a shop where you used to pay a pound to go upstairs and hear all this spiky haired music, it was great.

t How the band get going the first time around?

Me and Andy had moved to London together and we met up with Alan Taylor and started listening to country records and were inspired by the simplicity and honesty and beauty of that stuff. We got a pedal steel and suddenly everything started sounding like a country band. We were very out of time, in Camden it was the big grunge scene and early Creation and we were quite an oddity.

t Did you encounter much opposition playing country at that time?

People often weren't very open to or supportive of country music. For years it was subjected to people making jokes about 'my dog's dead' and 'leaving on a train' and 'crying in my beer'. But then I listened to people like Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons and Hank Williams and Johnny Cash - people didn't see country as cool but those guys really were cool. Sometimes it was very hard. Only a few years later it became cool to like country music and bands were pinning the country flag to their mast and citing all the same people we liked.

t It's still going strong now…

Those American bands had a pedal steel and showed us it could be cool. That's the other reason we though we'd get back together and start playing again, it might go down better now.

t What was it like playing such 'uncool' music?

Being English guys we came from a different experience and the way we play country music has a certain Englishness to it. We did have country shirts and boots, it was nice to feel a bit at odds with everybody else. It did get us a lot of attention.

t Why did it fold in the end?

We got lots of really good reviews but didn't really sell any records and there wasn't any money around so we stopped playing and we went off to do our separate things. We've maintained friendships since then, it just petered out. We did a farewell gig in 1995 and that was that.

t What have you been doing for last 15-years then?

Alan Taylor the lead singer had a solo career and has had a few albums out. I went on to play in Beth Orton's band - who's also from Norfolk - for about ten years. More recently I've played with Graham Coxon and played keyboards for the Manic Street Preachers. They're a slightly odd bunch of guys, it's certainly very good playing with them, we go all over the world and play some big festivals - it's a good job to have. I've got a studio and I do a bit of production, I did Peter Greenwood's album which has done quite well.

t Are you hoping to see some new faces or play to the old fans with this reunion?

Hopefully we'll pick up some new fans and recognition, people who hear The Rockingbirds now and get what it's all about, and hopefully some of the older fans too.

t Any chance of a third album now you're back together?

It depends on how the gigs go. Taylor has said that he doesn't really write songs like The Rockingbirds anymore. If there was enough interest we might. We're doing Glastonbury and a couple of other festivals this summer, we'll see how it goes down.

t The Rockingbirds play Norwich Arts Centre on April 15.

t The Rockingbirds 2-CD re-release is out now.

Further listening: The Rockingbirds