Stepping out as working class, hometown heroes, Red Rum Club have planted their flag at the highest peak of the Sefton Sierra.
The Sefton Sierra. It has a nice ring to it, even if it may seem a little far-fetched. But even if the slack waters of the Irish Sea and its soft dunes may appear incongruous with the arid mountains of El Paso, the Sierra connection isn’t empty. It’s one that’s been lapping up ever more on the banks of the Mersey in recent years.
Just past the docks of Seaforth, RED RUM CLUB have been hard at work bringing in an exotic import of their own. It’s a spirited sound that’s injected a Latin American edge to our damp, windswept city.
The sextuplet have gained a strong following across the North West of late, with a well-deserved rush of support arriving after the release of their debut album, Matador, in 2019.
Today, as we catch up with frontman Francis Doran over the phone, all focus is on their party-starting second offering, The Hollow Of Humdrum.
Comprising of Doran on lead vocals, Tom Williams (guitar and backing vocals), Michael McDermott (guitar and backing vocals), Simon Hepworth (bass), Neil Lawson (drums) and Joe Corby (trumpet), the collective has already attained quite the set of enviable millstones – all while still maintaining an ascent. The mariachi lads have tirelessly trodden the gig circuit, sold out the Liverpool O2 Academy with ease, played the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury and are now gearing up to play one of their biggest shows to date, headlining Liverpool Sound City in 2021.
The band have something of cult status at home, but, if anything, they’re one of the centralised forces in Liverpool’s musical offering – such is their unifying level of reach. You only have to walk around the cobbled streets of Liverpool to see their posters on every corner, or someone sporting a Red Rum Club T-shirt, beer in hand at a bar. But they haven’t always been on the receiving end of such platitudes, owners of such status. It’s been a rise defined by good old Scouse graft and humility. Picking up the phone today, the sodden weather a far cry from the Sierra Madre, we begin at the start with Fran shedding light on how it all came to be.
“Me and Tom are cousins,” Fran explains, “the other lads were all in different bands in different formations. We were all playing in the same pubs and clubs locally and we got to know each other. Mike made a bit of a dream team. He picked the five of us and said do you fancy all coming to have a jam.” A standard band formation, nothing out of the ordinary. That’s until Tom came to join. “Our Tom wasn’t meant to be in the band,” Fran recalls laughing, “but he had nothing to do that day and his mum rang my mum and made me take him to band practise.” Sometimes it pays having nothing to do on a Saturday afternoon. “We got serious about Red Rum Club around the end of 2016 and it just went from there.”
At the time, Red Rum Club were a five-piece, sans trumpet, until their then manager encouraged them to try and think of ways to stand out from the crowd. “They told us to try something different. That week Mike bumped into Joe, who we went to school with, and he dropped into conversation that he played the trumpet. He came to practise, and we just haven’t been able to get rid of him since,” Fran jokes. I’m sure getting rid of Joe isn’t high on their list of priorities given his piercing fills have come to define so much of their sound.
Inspired by Northern bands like The Beatles, The Coral, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Zutons and The Last Shadow Puppets, the addition of the trumpet’s Latin influence gives them that no-holds-barred edge they were after. “When we first got the trumpet in I think we thought it would be a bit more like The Last Shadow Puppets, a bit more big band,” Fran explains, “but over time we were writing songs that had more of a groove, more of a swagger. The guitar tones that Tom and Mike came up with were also very spaghetti western, Quentin Tarantino-esque and they just complimented this mariachi style. We just milked it then. We had a trumpet and a mariachi sound, so we started writing to [fit that atmosphere].”
Fran recalls how the band was originally meant to be a skiffle group, like that of early Beatles incarnation The Quarrymen. While Red Rum Club might not have stuck with that swinging 60s rock ’n’ roll sound of the Fab Four, they recognise how important the original lads from Liverpool have been on their own journey as a band. “A few days ago, I got asked to do a video about John Lennon, about being a musician in Liverpool, and I never really thought about [the significance of The Beatles on us] until I got asked,” he starts. “I realised that, subconsciously, I have a massive belief and I feel confident in the music industry because The Beatles had done it. They were just these lads from Liverpool that took over the music industry, they changed the world and music changed because of it.
“I feel like we have a little bit more confidence a little bit more of a spring in our step, especially when we go further afield around the UK and Europe. We’ve got that Liverpool rubber stamp.”
In Fran’s own words, the early days of Red Rum Club were all about a way to drink in pubs for cheap and impress girls, until it became clear that this was a career path they wanted to take. The hard work stepped up a gear, their named changed and original songs were produced.
It hasn’t always been about selling out venues with ease and playing world famous festivals. Getting to that stage took time. “We reached the age, probably around 20 or 21 where you start thinking about what you want to do.” says Fran. “We just thought, let’s give this a go, [as] we enjoyed this more than anything else. It made it a lot easier that we were in it together,” he reflects, as I ask if there were ever any points where their belief was called on most.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that, when you just have a night out together or go and play footy or go round to each other’s houses, it just rejuvenates you. It was like, ‘Are you enjoying it?’ ‘Yeah, I’m still enjoying it!’ ‘Let’s just carry on then and see what happens’. There was plenty of those moments. Sometimes you still get those days.”
However, with the low points come the highs and these moments make all the hard work worth it. “There’s been a few from an internal point of view,” Fran explains. “It was probably signing the record deal. We were confident in the songs and we knew that there was someone out there that would listen to them. If it all comes to nothing at least we can say we were a band that signed a record deal and put some albums out.”
He continues: “From an external point of view, I think people started taking us more seriously when we started going on tour and selling out shows in Liverpool, London and Glasgow, as well as shows at festivals like Glastonbury.”
The chance to play for the Worthy Farm crowd clearly stands out. “When people talk about the blues you get when you come off stage, I felt exactly like that at Glastonbury. We had so long to build it up in our own heads. While we were on stage I was like, ‘This is Glastonbury! This is Glastonbury!’, but then when we came off stage it was like, ‘We did well there, didn’t we? We’ve just done Glastonbury!’ It really was a pinch me moment at the time, but afterwards it was a chin up-chest out moment.” I saw their Glastonbury performance and can confirm, yes, it was a hell of a show.
There are still elements of those early rock ’n’ roll days, but now it’s all about the live performance. If you’re still to sample a Red Rum Club show, I’d highly recommend making it one of the first you go to when live music returns. Their festival vibe, high-energy performances are a true antidote, a shot of escapism. From start to finish Fran holds the audience in the palm of his hand, at the beck and call of their songs’ anthemic nature. From the experimental and more personal tones of Matador to the mature and self-assured, festival-pleasing tracks on The Hollow of Humdrum, the lads have all the attributes worthy of the biggest stages.
“We didn’t want to restrict ourselves on Matador,” says Fran, “we were just six lads in a band and we recorded it like that. For the second, we were very experimental because we didn’t want to be one thing live and be another thing on the record.” So much of their recording seems to clutch for the feverous energy of the live shows. “As our live sound grew and we became a pretty seasoned touring band playing some big stages, we walked into the studio for The Hollow Of Humdrum knowing we were worthy to be on these big stages at Glastonbury or the Isle of Wight Festival. We had that idea in our heads and were like, ‘Right, let’s make a big sound, big songs and not be hesitant to become more than just six lads in a band’.”
With tracks such as The Elevation, a love song for the blue tick generation longing for a reply on WhatsApp, Vivo, a discussion about being working class Northern lads, and Ballerino, a Billy Elliot-esque social commentary of toxic masculinity, the new tracks owe themselves to a more mature way of thinking. But they don’t fail to bring the party.
Speaking of parties, there is no doubt their headlining slot at Liverpool Sound City in May 2021 is going to be just that as they close the festival on the Sunday night. “I can’t stop looking at the top of the poster,” Fran exclaims, “naturally I always go to the small print at the bottom.” It’s clearly a proud moment for a band that will have spent many years on the other side of the stage at the festival. “There’s milestones from a musician’s point of view and I think, by headlining Liverpool Sound City, we can say we weren’t just a flash in the pan, we did something and meant something to the city.”
Fran is incredibly humble when we get onto the subject of the band’s current popularity at home, noting how their fans are more like a community, or a ‘club’. “Liverpool is such a tight knit city, when people come up to me and say they love our stuff it feels like we’re mates then,” he explains. “That person who listens, buys the album, who stops me in the street, they’ve got just as much say in what Red Rum Club is and where we go.” Where they do go from here is the big question. Having achieved so much over the years, anything seems possible at the moment.
“The blinkers are off,” Fran replies. “We feel like this is a career now. Rather than think about tomorrow, or the next single, we can think about the next two years and the next four tours.” With single Eleanor being picked up by BBC Radio 2, a UK tour starting in February (we hope), their second album bearing down on the top 40 and a headlining slot at a hometown festival, Red Rum Club have proven they are anything but humdrum.
The Hollow Of Humdrum is available now via Modern Sky.