Take Tom Petty, a healthy dose of Nancy and Lee, throw in a double helping of the Byrds and a healthy slice of Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac and you have, in a loose sense, the essence of THE SUNDOWNERS.
The sound that Alfie Skelly (Guitar & Backing Vocals), Fiona Skelly (Lead Vocals & Guitar), Niamh Rowe (Lead Vocals & Guitar), Tim Cunningham (Bass) and Jim Sharrock (Drums) create may seem simplistic, but much of the time the simple things are oh so hard to master.
The Sundowners come from Hoylake. They have a sound which is not traditionally Scouse, not much in the way of mop-top, Beefheart, or shanties here, but still with record collections heavily weighted in the retro. This seems to be a theme with music lovers from this quiet corner of the world; they know their stuff when it comes to music. The great American folk, R&B, and Blues came down the river from our Yankee cousins and it’s pretty obvious that some washed up on the Mersey’s less famous coast.
The band are all too aware of our rich musical heritage and the fact that Merseyside residents tend to produce great music. The Sundowners: “The place where music is made is everything. If you look at Manchester and the whole Northern Soul thing, it’s quite similar to round here with the Beatles. We live in a musical place where music is important to people. You know every Beatles song by the time you are five and you move on from there.”
Our great artists have the ability to take the best parts of the past and create music that is undoubtedly unique. The Sundowners have first-hand access to a large chunk of our recent musical lineage as Alfie and Fiona Skelly have some pretty famous brothers who you may well have heard of. But this should never be considered a trapping; good musicians will become good musicians in their own right. Think the Wainwrights and Marleys. They have grown up around music and shaped their own music in the truest sense, amalgamating their favourite parts of the past to create a sound which is engaging and contemporary. But don’t just take my word for it, recent NME Tip of the Day and Fred Perry Subculture features say the same thing.
Growing up around musicians, I ask them what qualities they think are important to look for in the people with whom they make music.
“There are loads of good players, but people can do too much to a song. If you’re jamming you can do what you want, but when it comes to a song you need to play tasteful and keep it simple. Also, patience is a virtue. Everybody needs to have their opinions heard at the end of the day, and we all do that. It takes time to get it right. When it comes to the song, you need to put everything aside really, because it all comes down to the tune. You also need to have an ego, because you’ve got to be pretty confident to get up on stage in the first place.”
Unique is a term that fits. Not only the twinned vocals of Fiona and Niamh, but in the way in which they rest heavily on Tom Petty and Byrds’ sensibilities whilst at the same time sounding contemporary and up-to-date. It’s all too easy to be influenced by the past and sound retro, but that’s not the case here. Does Ryan Adams sound like Dylan? No, he sounds like Ryan Adams. Does Amy Winehouse sound like Etta James? No, she sounds like Amy Winehouse. Do Viva Brother sound like Blur? Erm, bad example…
There is a depth to The Sundowners. The subject matter in some of the lyrics implies a darker and more troubling element, covering topics such as loss and isolation. For instance in, Wild One (“you take me or else I’ll take you”), Hummingbird (“fly little humming bird, through the pouring rain”, “fly little hummingbird, through the blackest night”) and Gone Into The Sun (“you’re not the only one looking for a place to hide”). Pretty bleak in parts, but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise when they’re delivered with such charm. This duality is a tricky feat to master, so I ask, who writes the songs?
“We all do really. Somebody will bring a tune and by the time everything has been done on it, it’s a group. It’s usually Fiona, Niamh and Alfie who write the lyrics but we all pitch in to make the song what it is.”
It’s great to hear of a band whose members all have a cumulative creative input; a factor which may go some way to explaining the diverse nature of the music. The songs are The Sundowners rather than any one individual.
Recent shows at the Zanzibar, Mojo and the Bido Lito! New Year’s Eve Party rounded off a busy end to 2011. They coincided with a show at London’s South Bank with Faris Badwan’s Cats Eyes; a double night residency with Cherry Ghost in Manchester; and a session for our very own podcast, recorded at Elevator Studios (head over to bidolito.co.uk and give it a listen). It’s clear that there’s something stirring over the water. Are The Sundowners set for a big 2012? Don’t bet against it.