Photography: Nata Moraru /

Holed up in front of a fire near their hometown of Little Sutton, a suburb sandwiched incongruously between Ellesmere Port’s industrial spires and the bucolic village of Willaston, Hooton Tennis Club, the Heavenly-signed next great hope for gloriously shambolic guitar music, are trying to explain what it is that makes them sound so distinctly like themselves. “You always want to struggle against your ineptitude,” offers James (Guitar), which sees his band-mates dissolve into laughter. Unperturbed, he continues, “That said, perfect’s boring. Perfect’s dull. It’s always the little mistakes that make it good.” Harry (Drums) has another explanation: “We have an old Tascam 8-track. It’s got character, you know. It’s got limitations.”

Having been friends since secondary school, the quartet (completed by frontman Ry and bassist Cal) have that tendency of old friends to alternate between completing each other’s sentences and laughing at each other’s explanations, but both James and Harry’s ideas make a lot of sense. Having been in bands together before disbanding and heading to uni, they returned and began HOOTON TENNIS CLUB almost by chance. “We had a free house, and that’s where the drums were, so we could make loads of noise. So we thought, let’s get some food, get some beers, and just make some music.” As perfectly disarming as mission statements come, that ramshackle charm easily slipped into their early tunes. “Those songs got played on Dave Monks [on BBC Introducing Merseyside] really soon after we recorded them.” For all of those rasping imperfections, maybe amplified by their battered old 8-track, their harmonies were unmistakeable enough to not be missed by at least one listener to that radio show.

“I remember Carl [Hunter, bassist in the Farm and creative director of The Label Recordings, the not-for-profit record label run by Edge Hill University] saying he had a load of tracks and was trying to sift through them all to find the two bands he was going to release. They’d already decided on one, but he was struggling to find another, so he went home on the Friday kind of deflated, then he heard our session on Dave Monks, and he went in on the Monday and said, ‘Right, I’ve found them!’” That was January 2014, and it was just a few months later that The Label Recordings released Kathleen Sat On The Arm Of Her Favourite Chair, a lethargic ode to travelling around Europe, cloaked in fuzz-saturated guitars and a raw intimacy that made a mockery of manufactured perfection.

The wider world agreed; support slots for Childhood and Night Beats cemented their reputation in Liverpool, before Carl Hunter’s enthusiasm rubbed off on Heavenly Recordings’ (Manic Street Preachers, Stealing Sheep) boss Jeff Barrett, who signed them to his label in September. It’s the sort of meteoric rise that could overwhelm a young band still discovering themselves, but new single Jasper is proof of a band galvanised; it’s their most personal, effusive and infectious work to date. Crucially, it was conceived and recorded in the way that all of their other tracks have been – an initial spark of inspiration fleshed out in snatched hours, before battering out the whole thing on their trusty old Tascam 8-track in their bedrooms.

HOOTON TENNIS CLUB Image 2

“I remember Carl [Hunter, bassist in the Farm and creative director of The Label Recordings, the not-for-profit record label run by Edge Hill University] saying he had a load of tracks and was trying to sift through them all to find the two bands he was going to release. They’d already decided on one, but he was struggling to find another, so he went home on the Friday kind of deflated, then he heard our session on Dave Monks, and he went in on the Monday and said, ‘Right, I’ve found them!’” That was January 2014, and it was just a few months later that The Label Recordings released Kathleen Sat On The Arm Of Her Favourite Chair, a lethargic ode to travelling around Europe, cloaked in fuzz-saturated guitars and a raw intimacy that made a mockery of manufactured perfection.

The wider world agreed; support slots for Childhood and Night Beats cemented their reputation in Liverpool, before Carl Hunter’s enthusiasm rubbed off on Heavenly Recordings’ (Manic Street Preachers, Stealing Sheep) boss Jeff Barrett, who signed them to his label in September. It’s the sort of meteoric rise that could overwhelm a young band still discovering themselves, but new single Jasper is proof of a band galvanised; it’s their most personal, effusive and infectious work to date. Crucially, it was conceived and recorded in the way that all of their other tracks have been – an initial spark of inspiration fleshed out in snatched hours, before battering out the whole thing on their trusty old Tascam 8-track in their bedrooms.

Although the track seems like a strangely euphoric eulogy from the first line of “we lost a great, great man today,” Ry insists that “it’s really a celebration of life. Basically, my granddad passed away maybe a year ago now. I was really sad about it because I was really close to him, and then that song just came along. He was called Jasper when he was at school – I wanted to write about it, but I didn’t want to write something that was depressing.”

True to their intentions, Jasper has a melancholic edge, but its dreamy melodies and rapturous guitar parts have their own lethargic energy, and they’re rightly proud of it. Ry continues: “The take went really well, it was just one take! It was one of those moments where we were all waiting for the last note to die, and when we pressed stop on the old 8-track we were just like ‘Yes! That was amazing! Is this really happening?’” Backed by the dense fog of Standing Knees – all stormy guitars and world-weary delivery worthy of Parquet Courts – it makes a strong claim for the city’s first great single of the year.

“We had a free house, and that’s where the drums were, so we could make loads of noise. So we thought, let’s get some food, get some beers, and just make some music.” Hooton Tennis Club

So, how do they follow it up? A boundary-pushing collab with electronic auteur and part-time Yeezus-producer Evian Christ, who James has let slip was his next-door neighbour in the musical mecca of Little Sutton? Evidently not; instead, the band have been trekking up to the other end of the Wirral to seek the wisdom of Bill Ryder-Jones after a stressful visit to Parr Street Studios. As James says, “I don’t think we were ready to go into the studio proper; we didn’t know what we were doing. The version of the next single [a punchier version of Kathleen…] that we did there wasn’t very good, so Bill was more than happy to re-do all the guitars at his place. Everyone can relax a bit more, instead of being in this big studio where you’re wasting everybody’s time.”

But, as Ry interjects, this is exactly what you’d expect of a band who only released their debut single within the past year: “I remember Bill saying that we needed to go through that, to go to a professional studio and realise that that’s not what we needed to do at that time. I think we’re still finding out what we want to sound like.” That said, there’s already an emerging Hooton Tennis Club sound that’s perfectly encapsulated by the next single that they’re plotting (Kathleen…, backed by the swampy dissonance of a cut entitled New Shoes), even if they’re still exploring the outer limits of their sound and how best to get there.

Asked if they’ve got further plans to record, they become surprisingly quiet for a quartet who can talk for hours with minimal encouragement. Eventually comes Ry’s non-committal response: “In March we’re going into the studio with Bill. We’re going to be putting down tracks to maybe make a thing longer than an EP…” A piece of work formerly known as the Long Player? “Well, we’ve got thirty tracks to go into the studio with…”

Despite the band’s youth and their ongoing search for the boundaries of their capabilities, they already seem like they’ve developed a depth that warrants an album. Crucially, they seem to want to actually say something, even if their message is as indistinct as their soaring melodies. Take the middle passage from Standing Knees, on which they sigh over furious, biting guitars: “Working every hour/ I’m not sure what I’m meant to do anymore/ This feeling’s so heavy/ it might hit the floor.” Coming as it does straight after Jasper, their interrogation of death, (the sobering second line that follows the news is “it’s just another Wednesday”), I ask whether it would be too much to describe the heart of Hooton Tennis Club as that grim mid-20s existential angst where the discovery of mortality comes in uncomfortable proximity to the slow realisation of the mundanity of parts of modern life. “It’s that existential crisis down to a tee,” comes the reply. “It’s a huge question. But we’re trying to draw the line between being cheeky and chirpy and being ‘serious artists’ who wear black clothes and sunglasses inside.”

“Someone might listen to Kathleen… and think it’s just about swimming on a nice day, someone else might think it’s about the nature of things. It’s all down to taste. We can’t comment on what it’s about once it’s out there; whatever people think is right,” says Harry in summation. Whatever conclusions you draw from their uncomfortably relatable lyrics, though, the point is that there is something there, however you choose to interpret it. Taken as a whole, wrapped in their towering washes of guitar and their impassioned lethargy, it’s an infinite variety of relatable messages that prove impossible to ignore. And with that, they might just have pipped Evian Christ to the title of Little Sutton’s most exciting musical export.

Words: Phil Gwyn / notmanyexperts.com

Photography: Nata Moraru / facebook.com/NataMoraruPhoto

Jasper b/w Standing Knees is out now on Heavenly Recordings.

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