Southampton’s The Novatones have been together since 2010 & have just self-released their second EP ‘For Monies Sake’. Ripe time then for Louder Than War’s Ged Babey to interview the band. Initially Ged was under the impression The Novatones were young, cocky, “Britpop pretenders who think they’re punk rock”. It turns out though that they’re a great bunch of unpretentious, mischevious lads who knock out a good tune and who have more potential than most.
In the days before digital one of the best way to hear a great random playlist was on a decent pub jukebox where various patrons would shove their pennies. You could play pool, chat, drink, smoke, catch up with friends and do all that to the sound of electric guitars and great chorus’ which you could bellow along to. Listening to The Novatones two EPs on my iPod, a locked-in solitary pleasure, makes me think of the shared communal joys of those days … days which occurred long before the band were even born.
Caught by the Fuzz, Song 2, What a Waster, Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor, I Predict a Riot … those kind of anthemic indie-guitar knockabouts are what The Novatones seem to aim for, and they are definitely on target.
If I had to pick a sample of their lyrics, which sum up the Novatones it would be this line:
If I knew you better / I’d tell you how I feel in a dirty love letter…
…because it sums up the randy cocksure romance of their songs.
“There’s no deep and meaningful message in our songs, they’re just about havin’ fun and girls we know. We ain’t poets and we haven’t got much to be angry about. We feel pretty blessed to be living in this country. You get all these bands writing songs that don’t make sense claiming its poetry and songs about austerity and how hard times are and then they ask you to go to I-Tunes and buy their music. They write about politics and how hard life is and the irony is they have a mobile phone that does pretty much everything except wipe their arse! And a TV that’s bigger than a fuckin’ cinema screen.”
Anthony Pittman is a gobshite with a disarming grin on his face much of the time. He’s The Novatones lead singer and player of a Union Jack Epiphone Supernova. The Novatones are a four-piece white-boy indie-pop, ska-punk, Lad-rock, Britpop-Mod, guitar-band from Southampton. I’ve seen them about three times over the past few years and each time they seem better, faster, tighter and more popular. They do remind me a bit of the Libertines though, and are one of many Southampton bands who get described as being ‘Mods’. These two misconceptions are what the band are most eager to clear up.
Anthony: “We get that comparison a lot, it was never intentional though, it’s only really Tony (Smith, guitarist) that likes the Libertines.”
Stewart Page plays bass and sings backing vocals. He has more effects pedals for his bass than the other two guitarists put together:
“Don’t speak to Tony though, it’s like talking to a modern-day gay William Shakespeare.”
Sean Swift is the drummer.
“But what doesn’t make sense is that people say we sound like Libertines and Tony doesn’t like many of our songs but he wants to bum Pete Doherty! Work that out!”
Anthony: “We get some random comparisons too, the Pigeon Detectives is a common one, someone came up to us and said you sound just like the Transplants. I didn’t have a clue who they were and just said thanks, when I got home I gave them a listen and it was fucking awful.”
“Another bloke told us we dress too mod for our music and said we should dress a bit more punky? We’re not going to go out shopping together to buy matching fucking outfits with matching fucking sparkling hats. We wear on stage what we wear in our spare time, it’s not a pantomime, it’s not an act, we are who we are!”
Punk bands wear matching sparkly hats? Oh, right, I get your point, You don’t want a stylist to dress you up, you wanna be yourselves. As for being Mods?.
Sean: “I’m neither a mod nor rocker but rather a women trapped in a man’s body.
Anthony: “I do love the mod scene but don’t own a scooter! I bought a Vespa once on eBay but the missus told me off and made me write to the person claiming my 16 year old son bid on it with out me knowing (I dont have a 16 year old son!)”
“My dad was a mod in the 60s and it just sort of rubbed off on me, but the yes the mod tag can be quite misleading because there is us, the Rising, the Lost Boys and Welcome Pariah, four completely different Southampton bands yet we all fall into this Mod grouping.”
“We do play in front of scooterists all the time and they enjoy it but that’s because they love live music, they don’t just listen to the Jam on repeat 70 times a day as I’m sure you know mate.”
“The lads will hate me for saying it but I have to honest. Limp Bizkit and Nirvana.”
Tony: “Bink 182. I used to go mad for it. The fast drums and scratchy guitar made your head bounce faster than you thought possible. Then The Vines, the Strokes, Libertines, The Kinks and that….”
Stewart (deadpan): “I was into musicals, Mary Poppins stuff like that.”
Sean: “Mary Poppins was shit Stew, well over-rated.”
Stew: “Yeah, but Mary Poppins? I would!”
Ant: “What do you mean by that? Isn’t the bird who played her fucking mega old now? I know you like an older bird Stew but that’s fucking extreme.”
Sean: “Stew I’ve told you about turning up to interviews pissed, so far you haven’t answered any questions but said you wanna shag Mary Poppins whilst telling Ged we are all gay?”
Oh yeah, I forgot that. They’re all gay, which will come as a surprise to Anthony’s wife and kids. This is turning into an unused script from “The Inbetweeners Form a Band”.
You’re not gonna make us look dicks and ruin our career are you? Anthony asked me later. No, I said, you’re more than capable of doing that yourselves.
But that’s what I like about The Novatones; no pretentions of grandeur or cool, no stylist, no plan, just a proper old-fashioned band writing songs to soundtrack their lives, cramming in as much fun as they possibly can in the process. Which is exactly why they’ve built up a healthy fanbase and are getting too popular, and too good, to just be ‘local heroes’. They have just as much potential, possibly more, than any of Alan McGee’s new signings and any new band of the moment.
They are enjoying playing further afield than their hometown. Life on the road.
Stew: “I’m happy with the secret sex in motorway travel lodges.”
Tony: “We drove to Sheffield and back on Sunday to play a festival you know, it was hard work, but fun…”
Anthony: “We got a free Burger King out of it. I thought it was a fucking result.”
Stewart: “No we didn’t, we all got £5 towards a Burger King.”
Anthony: “Yeah Burger Kings not cheap mind, but you pay for quality.”
Other fast food is available of course.
I’m glad to see the Novatones don’t have oh-so-fashionable hipster beards.
Anthony: “I can’t grow a beard but if I could I’d probably wear woman’s jeans, some deck shoes and a cardigan that’s 52 years old…”
Tony: “Stupid question mush, who gives a fuck about beards when walnut whips are fast becoming extinct!”
I asked Anthony about one of their songs called Relentless. Part of the lyric ( at 1:07 in) seems to be “Don’t let your penis fly, behind”? Is that right? Cos if it’s not you’ve gotta improve your diction!
(He laughs a lot) “It’s “you left your feelings far behind.”
His vocals are part of what makes The Novatones great, he has a distinctive voice, which at times can be Wellerish, but is all his own. The way he sings thiefs, instead of thieves and fink instead of think is becoming his trademark.
Their songs are pretty-much readymade punky-pop classics that bring to mind, as I said, I Predict A Riot and Caught By the Fuzz (Supergrass’ debut) due to simillar lyrical themes, maybe, but also the energy and manic tuneage.
Despite what Pittman says, The Novatones have great songs, the lyrics written in a natural, unselfconscious way using the poetry of everyday speech, conversation and banter. They’re poets and don’t know it.
Their songs are personal yet political in that they deal with and celebrate everyday life; the British dependence on alcohol and the living-for-the weekend atitudes prevalent during hard times. They aren’t protest, but they ain’t as dumb as they think.
Songs are always open to individual interpretation by the listener. For example the song Avenue Road I find quite emotional, just because of the chorus, as from the first time I heard it, I thought of my late dad.
When my dad got senile dementia my brother and I drove him from Wiltshire where he lived to a Care Home, nearer to us, in Hampshire. Driving through Southampton on a sunny day he said to me recognising where we were, surprised:
“Is this The Avenue?”
Yeah, I said,
“I built this.”, he said proudly. He used to work for Hampshire County Councils road-building gangs until retirement ten years previous.
“What all on your own?” I replied.
“No, I had a bit of help.”
It was one of the last times I saw him smile and laugh in a moment of lucidity.
So now, the rousing chorus of “We are the lost boys of the Avenue” will always make me think of him first and then The Novatones, a bunch of herberts who talk bollocks but write great tunes, which more people should definitely get to hear.
The last word goes to Tony.
“I AM a poet y’know. I’m influenced by Ted Hughes, Chas and Dave and that Jessica Rabbit …!
The ‘For Monies Sake’ EP is out now on CD and Download from iTunes and all the usual outlets such as Amazon (see widget on the right).