With their Olympics Critical EP out now (Stream via Spotify below) LTW sent Ged Babey to talk to former ”Ëœ6 Music favourites’, one of the UK’s most important & smartest Indie bands, Doyle & the Fourfathers.

“There was a documentary on Radio 4, the premise of which was that no-one is writing ”Ëœprotest’ songs any more. It was at exactly the same time, we were told that ”ËœWelcome To Austerity’ was, to all intents and purposes ”Ëœbanned’ by the BBC because of the impending elections. It’s ridiculous”¦it’s a fairly tongue-in-cheek song”

William Doyle says this quite calmly, not ranting or slamming his fist down on the table. He’s more puzzled than angry. Ben Clark is droll about it:

“The very thought that someone might hear ‘Austerity’ on the radio and suddenly have a critical revelation of ideals, inspiring them to vote differently in a local election is pretty absurd. Particularly, when it basically comes down to how many times the bins are emptied per month.”

I asked if it had put Will off writing songs with a bit of ”Ëœsocial comment’ in them:

“Yeah, it has. But I don’t want it to! I write about whatever happens to be affecting me at the time, whether they are seen as ”Ëœlove songs’ or ”Ëœpolitical’ songs, there’s no real difference. Songs take on a life of their own after a while, ”ËœAusterity’ seems to have grown and become more relevant ”.

Later I email William Doyle the introduction to the anarchist punk band Crass’ lyric-book entitled ”ËœLove Songs’ in which Penny Rimbaud explains that their (angry, ranting, protest) songs are all based on an all-encompassing love of people and freedom and an opposition to injustice. I wanted to get over to Will that he was right, that so-called political songs are just a wider-ranging kind of love-song.

He liked it a lot.

It’s not really demystifying the process when I say that a lot of interviews on websites and even proper glossy paper magazines nowadays are conducted over the Internet, type-talking. So you don’t really get to meet the interviewee, look into their eyes, check out their body language and see whether their tongue is firmly lodged in their cheek. It makes transcribing a lot easier and you don’t misquote, but what you end up with is a verbatim question and answer session, and no real idea what the interviewee is actually like.

I arranged to meet William Doyle, Will, singer, guitarist, and lyricist at five in a city centre pub that I knew would be pretty empty. Stood outside waiting I found I was getting nervous. I like the band a lot. More than someone of my age should. (Doyle is 21 as are the rest of the band. I’m old enough to be his father, if his dad was 27 when he was born.) Was it going to be like meeting a young Morrissey or a young Jarvis Cocker? Would he be an arrogant chap or a shy gangling misfit? I’d seen footage on You-Tube. Onstage he is ultra-confident and outgoing, throwing very Cocker-esque shapes:

“I have to admit, he was a big influence as far as being onstage is concerned, he’s a great frontman, which is what a band needs. I didn’t see any other bands doing that sort of thing locally”.

Will is a confident but shy young man. He looks like an academic sort, more like a lecturer than a student though. He’s quite ordinary-looking but with a quiet offstage charisma. I told him I imagined audiences either thought he was a great showman, a proper performer or ”¦ a poncey git?

He smiled and laughed. In doing so he instantly changes from being ordinary-looking to good-looking. Dimple-lines appear between his mouth and cheeks and his eyebrows rise:

“I’d rather divide audiences, get a reaction, than them be completely disinterested.”

When he appeared, bang on time, he was dressed in a suit jacket, thin lapels, three buttons; collared shirt with a vaguely paisley pattern, the same clothes he wears onstage. Librarian chic. A bit Matt Smith-as Dr Who (but without the Easter Island facial contours) Side-parted hair, which he pushes around his head when he’s a bit uncertain about something:

“Younger people always assume we’re Mods. It’s strange”¦”

I tell him about a couple of quite respectably credible bands who employ a stylist who chooses their clothes. He’s aghast:

“I find that incredible, I wouldn’t ever want to not-choose my own clothes”

Most people of his age in bands have the fashionably ubiquitous beard, piercings, tattoos. Will has none of these. He isn’t really typical of his generation at all. In reviews he and the band are often described as “literate, intelligent and mature”. I ask if he has heard the word ”Ëœintelligentleman’ ”“ coined by e e cummings and employed to describe himself by Howard Devoto. Is he one?

“It’s not for me to say. I’ll leave it up to others to decide”.

Over the course of a ninety-minute conversation William concedes that he has in some way cultivated the band’s image and sound. A massive fan of music, obsessively, he has consumed five decades of pop and rock since his early teens. Radiohead’s ”ËœOK Computer’ being some kind of turning point. (The Four Fathers part of the band name comes from the Last Fourfathers album by the Prisoners, a band whose records he sought out after reading Steve Lamacq’s biography) He doesn’t deny that Pulp and the Divine Comedy as well as the Kinks and others were big influences early on in the bands three-year history. What gets described as the “quintessential Englishness” of their look and songs was exactly what he was going for ”“ at that time. He is not unhappy that the same descriptives appear in reviews time and again; ”Ëœmature, literate, intelligent’ because that just happens to be the way he is. He is far from brash or conceited. It may have been my imagination but he seems to wince slightly when I use the phrase ”Ëœmiddle class’:

“I think the worst thing you can do is try to hide that kind of thing. We are far from being from a privileged, wealthy background, like certain bands I could mention, we’re not ex-public school. But I’m not going to pretend for a second that we’re from a council estate.”

We discuss hometown Southampton, which does not particularly inspire him, “It’s a funny place” we agree, but possibly a better place to be based from a bands point of view than Manchester; the burden of expectation due to its legacy or London; the sheer volume of competition.

I asked Will about the name “Doyle & the Fourfathers”. Doesn’t it set himself up above the others?

“I know, there are so many ”Ëœso-and-so and the’ ”¦bands now, it’s embarrassing, Florence”¦ Tom Williams and the Boat are one of the latest, but it was four years ago we came up with it. I was doing stuff solo and wanted a ”Ëœband’, so initially it was my backing band ”“ but it soon became a proper band, they’re most definitely not just ”Ëœhired help’. Alex is a great drummer and Ben is incredible, probably the best guitarist I’ve ever seen. He plays viola, is better than me at composition, he’s studied the theory of music.”

I speak to Mr Ben Clark, guitarist, multi-instrumentalist the next day. Spectacles, red hair, quiet intensity and bone-dry humour:

“All three of us make our own distinctive contributions to the band. I would say that my strong point is creating arrangements to be added to songs in the studio, and being tiresomely obstinate about minute and inconsequential details.”

“I don’t doubt that [Wills] lyrics, voice, song writing and presence are the main things that have got us this far.”

I ask Ben about the bands remarkable debut album, ”ËœMan Made’ recorded two years ago now:

“At the time I felt really proud of it, and I still think it’s a good piece of work. Maybe it’s a bit past its sell-by date now though. We are certainly going to move away from that sound – there’s only so much ‘classic pop’ you can take when you’re playing your own songs over and over again. We’ve already begun to ‘retire’ a couple of early songs because they felt like they had just been played out. I suppose it’s a big cliché to say that it’s time to move on and do more interesting things on the next album”¦”

Will had mentioned his love of minimalist classical music, American lo-fi and Krautrock:

“It’s a bit rubbish when people harp on about how eclectic their taste in music is, but for example this week I’m seeing the Fall, Bo Ningen & Damo Suzuki and the Philip Glass Opera Einstein on the Beach. I have been listening to a lot of Krautrock, modern classical”¦ I think it may well manifest itself in what we do in the future. It is probably the end of us as that quintessentially English band.”

Ben has recently started learning classical guitar, he tells me ”Ëœthe level of awareness of texture and dynamics that exists in classical and jazz guitar playing can be extremely interesting”¦’

But I’ve only just fallen in love with the irresistible melodies & pop sensibilities of the ”ËœMan Made’ songs with their touches of Bacharach, Britpop and brass.

“I think that I’ll feel better about ”ËœMan Made’ when we’ve released another album, so that people can see the transition we have made, and there is some perspective there. Graham Sutton’s production on ‘Olympics Critical’ I imagine will sort of bridge the gap between the two effectively.”

The band has been on hiatus for almost a year now ”“and the ”ËœOlympics Critical’ EP was recorded in the summer of 2011. Finally, it’s available and an incredible tour-de-force of tuneage and social commentary it is. Each song near-perfect. It got me thinking about the EP in general. Four songs proving the band aren’t one-hit-wonders, each distinct and different yet with a common thread. ”ËœSpiral Scratch’ was the best EP ever. ”ËœThe Cost of Living’ EP was a magnificent example, there are loads more but ”ËœOlympics Critical’ is the most important EP of this decade so far.

I told Will I suspected the issue of the BBC banning was a bit of imaginative PR by their manager.

“It’s not hype at all, to all intents and purposes it’s true. {A friend at the BBC} told us that BBC Radio wasn’t allowed to play ”ËœWelcome to Austerity’. We checked with {another BBC insider} and they confirmed it was true. It’s ridiculous. I know they have to be impartial but ”¦ it’s mad”.

Ben, a master of straight-faced sarcasm.

“It is unfortunate that it impeded our massive onslaught of plays on the BBC, but yes – I don’t think it makes much sense. If there was a song with an opposing message getting airplay at the same time, the BBC would probably ban both of them.”

”ËœBuckle Down and Stop Moaning’ by Hague and the Toryboys is released next week.

The title ”ËœOlympics Critical’ can, of course, be taken two ways. Originally it was a term used by builders in London relating to deadlines for finishing work well before the Olympics. It can also refer to the muted criticism of the event. “Have you no National Pride William? Why don’t you want your country to host the Biggest Sporting Event in the World?” I asked.

“It’s basically just the financial side, so much money being wasted in a time of great austerity. There are all these supposedly necessary cuts being made to public services, yet the government can spend millions on that”

Is it because you’re not sporty yourself, you’d rather the money went to the Arts?

“Yeah, well, no, I don’t know really, it’s a difficult subject ”¦”

Sport is about competition. The Arts aren’t.

“Exactly, they’re about communication, self-expression”¦ but to be honest I just ”ËœDon’t Care About the Olympics’ and I think there are a lot of people who feel the same.”

When they made a video at Stratford, where the Olympic stadium is, the band walked around the perimeter and found a noticeable contrast.

“It’s not a particularly well-to-do area and there’s all this new impressive building and it just feels”¦ wrong. What is it going to be like after it’s over? Previous Olympic cities have become desolate after the Games”.

The BBC being the host broadcaster for the Olympics means using the title for the EP will result in the band being ignored by the BBC, even 6-Music.

“Everywhere we are written about we are cited as 6-Music favourites because we took part in the Save 6 Music campaign. They have been really supportive in the past; we’ve been played on Gideon Coe, Tom Robinson and did a Marc Riley Session. Janice Long on Radio 2 has given us spot-plays. But now we can’t get arrested!”

The future of the Fourfathers musically will see them move into a more ”Ëœcreative’, less commercial phase it seems. The Fall or rather Mark E Smith’s stubborn retention of artistic control impresses Will. I can see them progressing very much like Radiohead; slowly getting more experimental as they go along.

Will and I bond over a mutual fascination and love of one of the best pieces of prose about song writing; Nick Cave’s essay/lecture ”ËœThe Secret Life of the Love Song’. (A version of the full text is here). In it Cave explains the peculiar magic and eerie intelligence of the love song and gives his personal definition:
The love song is a sad song; it is the sound of sorrow itself. ”¦ as an inexplicable sense of longing, an unnamed and enigmatic yearning of the soul”¦. even the most innocuous of love songs has the potential to hide terrible human truths”¦{and} articulate the various feelings of loss and longing.

“It really is one of the most influential things I’ve ever read… there is a lot in there that resonates with me.”

Will likes the way Cave refers to his songs as his ”Ëœcrooked brood of sad-eyed children’ and how if you don’t nurture them they die. Cave talks about how the very best have what the Lorca called duende, ”Ëœdark sound ”“ an inexplicable sadness that lives in the heart of all great works of art.’

“When you first write a song it’s about one thing, and after a while they just take on a life of their own and mean something else entirely. That’s the wonderful thing about song writing”.

As is usual, as soon as the tape recorder is switched off, the interviewee relaxes and talks perhaps more candidly.

We were still talking about Nick Cave’s lecture and in particular the void in your life that needs to be filled with artistic endeavour. In Cave’s case it was his father’s death.

“A lot of that lecture resonates with me,” Doyle had said. More so than I had realised:

“My dad died when I was 12”

It was in a car accident. I was shocked, but in a way it explains a lot. My mother died when I was 14, so I know all about how shock and grief tears apart your life leaving an emptiness. The void that was left I filled with music; to the point of obsession and decades later it still hasn’t abated. With Will he’s turned it into creativity & determination. It’s as if he has absorbed every ounce of his grief and loss and turned it into inner strength and a resolve to write great songs, write beautiful music, make lasting art. To live his life, the way he wants to; say what he wants in a song, to express himself honestly. Paradoxically they’re not (all) dour, sad songs, quite the opposite, many have chirpy upbeat tunes, the crispy candy-coated shell”¦.

I hope this doesn’t come over like an X-Factor-type back-story? It’s not meant that way. The clues were all there in the Nick Cave lecture so it is an important part of what makes William Doyle the songwriter he is ”“or will be in the future.

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The BBC will see sense eventually and the NME should take notice of a band that doesn’t have money and a team of PR professionals behind them, but ten times the talent of most that do. Doyle and Clark could well be the new Morrissey and Marr, even though as Ben says:

“We sound more like a firm of accountants.”

Adding obliquely, not wishing to neglect drummer Alex (as I have done).

“I quite like simply ”ËœUrch’ as a friendly Building Society.”

Err”¦ yeah. I always think of him saying ”ËœYou rang’ (a la Lurch from the Addams Family) and am to tempted to ring him to see if that’s how he does answer the phone.

As we said our goodbyes I asked William Doyle; do your friends call you Will? I just can’t separate that name from annoying dork ”ËœWill from the Inbetweeners’.

“Sorry, I’ve never seen it”

I’ll stick to calling you Doyle then.

“God, no!”

Willie?

“ Get stuffed”.

Just William!

“Yes Ged, Just William”

”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦”¦

You have been watching

Just William ”“ William Doyle ”“vocals, acoustic guitar
Mr Ben ”“ Ben Clark ”“ guitar, viola, harmonica etc
Lurch ”“ Alex Urch – drums
The New Boy ”“ bass (on the recordings Michael Goozee)
And introducing Ged Babey as Paul Morley

”ËœMan Made’ and ”ËœOlympics Critical’ EP are available from emusic, amazon or iTunes.

Doyle and the Fourfathers website can be found here play at:

Sunday 27th May: Brook Street, Chester. (Brook St Carnival).
Saturday 2nd June: Talking Heads, Southampton. (Supporting The Nightingales).
Saturday 23rd: The Leopard, Doncaster. (First 45 SineFM 1st Birthday).
Sunday 24th: Mad Ferret, Preston. (Glastonferret!).
Friday 6th July, Old Cock Inn, Droitwich Spa. (Droitwich Spa Music Festival).
Saturday 7th: Armitage Bridge Club, Huddersfield. (Monkeyfest Six).
Thursday 12th: The Playhouse, Whitley Bay. (Supporting The Undertones).
Friday 13th: The Duchess, York. (Supporting The Undertones).
Wednesday 18th: Llangollen Town Hall, Llangollen. (Llangollen Fringe with Sycamore Lights).

All words Ged Babey. More articles by Ged can be found here. Show photo taken at Rochdale Festival by Melanie Smith of Mudkiss Photography.

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