It was the end for the Sheds and the end for the Barbican... only both are now back in business. Rick Witter tells CHARLES HUTCHINSON why Shed Seven are on the road and recording again.
SHED Seven last played the York Barbican on December 20 2003, their farewell gig before calling time on chasing rainbows.
The Barbican Centre, as it was back then, went the same way into mothballs but both York band and venue have since been resurrected, and the Sheds’ shows there on December 21 and 22 will mark the finale of their third re-union tour.
This winter’s 20 dates mark the 15th anniversary of their most successful album, 1996’s A Maximum High, prompting the York band to call the tour Maximum Hits And Maximum Highs and to venture into the recording studio for the first time in nearly a decade.
The September recording session at John Parr’s studio near Goole proved an inspired decision, as Rick, guitarists Joe Johnson and Paul Banks, bass player Tom Gladwin and drummer Alan Leach were joined by violin and viola player Marcus Busfield and cellist Clare Little for reinterpretations of Going For Gold, On Standby, Bully Boy and Chasing Rainbows.
Long-time fan Chris Moyles instantly played the piano and strings rendition of Chasing Rainbows on his BBC Radio One breakfast show, and soon afterwards, the Sheds were invited on to Janice Long’s late-night Radio 2 show.
“We went down to her studio in London and played Chasing Rainbows and had a half-hour chat with Janice on air,” says Rick. “That felt like being in a band again and that all came about because of the EP.”
Billed as “Four Songs Revisited And Reworked For Your Maximum Listening Pleasure”, the 15th Anniversary EP was released as a collectors’ edition CD limited to 777 hand-numbered copies that were all snapped up within three hours via the band’s website.
“It’s the number of the devil’s mum, 777, isn’t it!” jokes Rick. “To say we only went into John Parr’s studio for the hell of it… but as we knew the songs so well, it was just easy, no stress or hassle.
“We just thought we’d pick four of our best-known songs and muck around with the arrangements as we hadn’t been in a studio for a while.”
‘Mucking around’ is a flippant assessment by Rick but one that is apposite for the country hoe-down revamp of Bully Boy.
“It’s meant to be a joke! It was just a right laugh,” he says. “A version with spoons and fiddle is probably not what we originally planned, but Marcus [the strings arranger] had already done his parts for the other songs, when he got his fiddle out and started playing as if it were a hoe-down, which led on to everyone doing the choruses and yee-hahs.
“If anyone is upset by it, they need to lighten up. It was like when the Wedding Present did a Ukrainian ten-inch of their songs – which I’ve still got in my collection – and in our case we were trying to come over like the Rolling Stones doing Country Honk on Let It Bleed.”
The EP also reveals how Rick’s voice is in fine fettle at 39, although he pads that compliment back down the wicket.
“I don’t really think I sing. I reckon I shout in tune… and I’ve got away with it for years,” he says. “I blame Paul Banks for it because, from the age of 11 or 12 when I’d decided I’d be the singer and he’d be the guitarist, he’s played loud, so it’s his fault I shout.”
Rick has a confession to make. “There was one occasion in the mid-Nineties when I did go for singing lessons with a teacher in Fulford Road, but it lasted only 20 minutes as even with the scales I couldn’t get past certain frequencies. But this is me; this is what I am, and because I’ve sung the songs on the EP so often, I just stepped up and sang them.”
He is particularly pleased with the EP version of Chasing Rainbows, the one without any loud guitar from Paul.
“I think Chasing Rainbows works really nicely with the piano, which Paul plays. It just gives it a really different feel, and then you have the strings on top. It’s great when people say it’s spine tingling,” says Rick.
The participation of the string players emerged from Rick’s wedding.
“Funnily enough, when Claire and I got married in June, we wanted a string quartet at the ceremony and party, and Marcus [Busfield] was the main man,” he says. “And because we’d used him for the wedding, he was the first port of call for doing the EP too.”
Re-recording Bully Boy brought back happy memories of the day when the Sheds’ friend, Ed, had to dress up in schoolboy gear for the single sleeve photo.
“I remember going to hire that from the Fulford fancy dress shop. Me and Ed went in and I don’t know what they must have thought when I asked for a school uniform for my friend. ‘It’s for our new single’s cover, honest’.
“That was when we had a lot of creative input and a lot of the sleeve covers were totally our idea.”
Alas, such creative input has not stretched to overseeing a deluxe 15th anniversary reissue of their platinum-selling album, the aptly named A Maximum High. The Sheds may have had more Top 40 hits – five in all – than any other British band in 1996, but Polydor has not seen fit to honour that achievement.
“I personally got in touch with Polydor to say it was the 15th anniversary and we’d be doing a December tour to mark it,” says Rick. “I spoke to a nice guy in the reissues department, but the bigwigs didn’t think there would have been enough sales, which is a shame because we could have done it ourselves.”
His disappointment is palpable. “We’ve sold 20,000 tickets for this tour so it’s obvious that people still want Shed Seven. I wouldn’t expect it to chart – we’re too old for that – but surely with all those sales for Lady Gaga, there’s enough left in the pot to treat your Britpop fans as well?
“You could have had a DVD of all the Top Of The Pops and other telly performances, as well as all the B-sides and BBC sessions and the original artwork I’ve got stored away that was never used.
“Maybe we’ll just have to wait another five years for another anniversary, but I think what they’ll do is wait until I die and then do a really nice job, so I’ll miss out on that, and The Press will put me on the front cover, and I’ll miss out on seeing that as well!”
Nothing, however, can dampen the Sheds’ enthusiasm for the anniversary concerts. “We decided that rather than doing all the album in track order, we’d basically do the greatest hits package, but concentrate on A Maximum High too by playing tracks we haven’t done live before or did only a few times when it came out; tracks like Ladyman, Falling From The Sky and Magic Streets.”
Next year Rick and his wife have big anniversaries of their own: they both turn 40 in November, Claire the day after Rick. “We might book to go to New York,” he says, stirring more memories.
“Shed Seven played at CBGB’s in around 1995/96, which I’m really pleased we did as it’s closed now. We were the headliners but for some reason we went on first at half past eight, played to about 300 people, and then everyone left even though five bands were still due to play after us.”
• Shed Seven, Maximum Hits And Maximum Highs, York Barbican, Wednesday (tickets still available) and Thursday (sold out); doors open at 7pm. Box office: 0844 854 2757, 0844 811
0051 or gigsandtours.com They also play Leeds 02 Academy on Tuesday; 0844 477 2000.
• A Maximum High 15th Anniversary EP, released through Blue Apple Music, remains on sale digitally via iTunes and major download sites.