“Very fucking cool,” says front man and guitarist Luke Fenlon impulsively, when asked to describe the sound of the band he fronts, SUGARMEN.
This assertive and self-assured answer is indicative of a band who you will be hearing a great deal more of, sooner rather than later.
Sugarmen are Luke (guitar, vocals), Chay Heney (guitar) and Sam McVann (drums) from Liverpool, and Ali Horn (bass), the token Southerner. Together they have formed one of the most exciting guitar bands to emerge from Liverpool in a long time. Having been together for a mere five months, and playing only a handful of gigs, they are already creating the kind of buzz which seems to have bypassed many new bands for a long time. “I’d definitely say we are worthy of the hype,” says Luke. “It’s hard to get the right balance, but we definitely want people talking about us.”
Formed by Luke (22) and Chay (19) after a drunken night in Milk:Presents’ old hangout on Bold Street, it didn’t take long before they recruited Sam (21) and Ali (26 – although you might find him telling you he is younger!) to their ranks. Ali wasn’t going to make it easy for them though: “I made them court me before I got into bed with them,” he laughs. “I wasn’t going to be easy!” And since Ali succumbed, the honeymoon period has shown no sign of ending, as their future looks extremely exciting, to say the least.
Still in their infancy, Sugarmen have only recorded one song, the stomping Circuit Queen: a belting, passionate, riff-laden melodic bruiser, which was recorded for Eighties Vinyl Records. So who exactly is the Circuit Queen? “It’s me bird!” exclaims Luke in a fit of laughter. “She knows it’s her and hopefully she loves the fact she has a song about her. She asked me to write a song about her and I think she expected it to be all lovely dovey but I just took the piss! It’s also a story about Liverpool in many ways, all the connections and everyone knowing each other. I suppose you could say it’s just a song about being in LaGo!”
There are many more songs to come and there has already been interest from some big hitters to get involved with the band. “Jon McClure from Reverend & The Makers is keen to produce the single when we get round to doing it, although we’re unsure whether we want to use him yet, and Mick Jones wants to do a dub remix of us,” says Chay, trying to keep his cool on what seems like a runaway train. Chay only picked up the guitar because of Mick Jones and recalls a watershed moment: “I’ve been lucky enough to play with Mick a couple of times. When he did the Justice Collective I got a call from Davo, his guitar tech, who asked if I wanted to do Should I Stay Or Should I Go on stage with him. He introduced the song as Should I Chay Or Should I Go!”
If you like your rock n roll to follow the blueprint, watching Sugarmen live for the first time may well have you doing a double take. Anyone who witnessed them upstage The Strypes – the supposed best new band about – at Leaf in March can vouch for that. And what made the performance more remarkable was that it was only their second gig. “We did a demo and gave it [to] Harvest Sun who on the back of it put us on with The Strypes. It was nice for us, as The Strypes had sold [Leaf] out. It was like, wow this is all right for a second gig,” says Luke. “On the back of that we were offered gigs in London and in Leeds, too. They phoned up asking how much cash we wanted to play – we have no idea of how they heard of us. It was only meant to be a warm-up gig.”
So, playing live seems to be second nature, but what about when it comes to the recording process? “We are definitely about the live thing,” says Luke, before Chay points out: “We want more layers put down when we record though – get some keys on there, and sax solos, like the Talking Heads, that will then make it more interesting live.” “Let’s be both,” interjects Ali. “It doesn’t have to one or the other; let’s be a great live band that make great records. I get really bored of going to see bands who sound exactly like how they do on record.”
Sugarmen possess all the vital ingredients to be a ‘proper’ rock n roll band: the looks, the hooks, the belief and the togetherness mixed with a rare live energy, unique in such a new group. “What stands us out is the chemistry we have,” says Chay. “We aren’t exactly playing anything which hasn’t been played before, it’s not that original; but there is something special going on when we play.” Ali continues, “We have no weak links in the band; we are all up for it and we’re all into it, which you don’t get in many bands. It’s easy playing together, not in a way that we aren’t trying, but it’s just easy to give everything.”
Are Sugarmen the latest in Liverpool’s long line of saccharin guitar pop, rock n roll heartbreakers? Cue the sugar rush.