Sheffield’s Kings of Rockabilly, The Slingshots, call time on their career.
“Thank you and goodnight!” is the phrase that bookends the start and finish of this interview with Sheffield’s finest export when it comes to the genre of rockabilly.
From a career that gives the appearance of having graced this planet before the dinosaurs had a chance to claim it, such is the reputation and respect the name The Slingshots holds in relation to the UK’s rockabilly scene. In fact, you couldn’t wish to meet a more genuine and friendly group of hepcats from South Yorkshire, which Famous Last Words (FLW) had first-hand experience of during a “meet ‘n’ greet” in 2013 when ‘Misfits’ was all the rage and romance was in the air due to an impending date with a first ever appearance for The Slingshots at the Rockabilly Rave to consider.
Having provided an in-depth piece of the band from said meeting a few years back, the reason for getting into the ring once more with The Slingshots was due to a particularly sad piece of news that broke last year, and that was their decision to call time on their career. It was a bitter pill to swallow considering The Slingshots ability to write original authentic rockabilly tunes that are at home in the present as they would have been during the 50s when SUN Records, and others of the same ilk, were beginning to forge a path for rockabilly music. Furthermore, having carved out two albums during their time together, frustration lingers concerning what might have been, especially when hearing The Slingshots parting gift to their supporters of two new singles (more of which later!).
That said, the words of frontman Steve “Big Cleveland” Russell, from our previous encounter, continues to resonate because it was always a matter of quality over quantity: “Personally, I would much rather have two albums that have been universally well-received, as we have, rather than five indifferent ones.”
Before the (final) discussion gets underway, there is some good news amid the announcement of The Slingshots demise, and that is the already mentioned news of the release of two new singles, which have already been issued on the O-HA! imprint. Strictly limited to only 300 copies (150 of each), the vinyl 45s, ‘Gotta Cut Out’ and ‘The Things You Do’, are reason to celebrate because it’s the first new material in years from the band. With both tracks showcasing once more the quartet’s knack for original and engaging song writing that bellows, “Rockabilly is alive and well!”, The Slingshots is really ending their career on a high.
So, without further ado, the final words are left to the rockabilly kings of Sheffield, who will forever be known as The Slingshots, to explain their reasons to end their long and illustrious career, in addition to providing some details of a proposed third album that was eventually shelved, and what exactly the future holds for them in terms of music.
“Yes, it is true, The Slingshots are no longer active as a band. Due to changes in work situations, and the need to work weekends, it became impossible to commit to dates. Therefore, the band are not accepting any bookings. Sadly, for those seeking juicy gossip and titbits, there are no stories of massive bust-ups, drug fuelled rampages, or any form of alternative debauchery. That’s not to say they didn’t happen, just that we have no stories we are willing to tell. We are all still friends though, and we do communicate regularly.”
FLW understands that the band had plans to record a new album. What happened exactly?
“We had spent most of the previous year trying out new songs and eventually reached the point that a new album was possible. We did go into the studio for a day and pretty much recorded it in its entirety. A couple of songs needed some reworking, but the majority were good to go. We explored possibilities to release a single or EP, plus, potentially, a 10” album in addition to a CD, but circumstances leading up to this changed, and it was deemed too risky to release the tracks when the band was not able to go out on the road to promote it. We hadn’t finalised our ideas for a title, but we thought, ‘Gotta Cut Out’ was potentially a winner as a track, so that would have been a good choice, maybe even more so now on reflection as it would contain a certain irony.”
Regarding a third album, it would be interesting to know your reasons for selecting the two tracks as singles for the recent releases by O-HA! Records?
“The songs were actually chosen by Olaf at O-HA! Records. Olaf has been a fantastic supporter of The Slingshots, going back many years, and helped us immensely by finding us bookings in Europe. After a conversation at the Rave last year, he expressed an interest in hearing the new tracks and, as he’d been so supportive of us, we sent him all our ‘original’ recordings for his own personal use. Of course, we were absolutely delighted when he said he’d like to release our music, and even more so when he said he’d like to do two [singles]!”
It’s interesting that O-HA! Records releases one-sided records. Did you speak with the label about the reasons for this?
“The single-sided discs are very much a trademark of O-HA! with all their releases in this format. The O-HA! discs are more of a labour of love by Olaf, and he releases records that appeal to him on a personal level rather than commercial. He also puts out recordings with his colleagues at Migraine Records, but those are in traditional double-sided format.”
Why did O-HA! Records decide to go with ‘Gotta Cut Out’ and ‘The Things You Do’ as the singles?
“It all comes down to personal choice by Olaf. Of the songs we sent to him for his selection, we had, in our usual fashion, concocted a variety of musical styles, from blues, to faux gypsy jazz, and Olaf chose these two – one a country style bounce, hopefully in a bit of a Hank Williams style, and the other a straight up driving rocker. At least, we think so!”
What further details can you tell FLW about the two new singles?
“In terms of lyrical content, these two songs, and, indeed, all The Slingshots original songs, come from the pen of singer Steve Russell. Occasionally, the rest of us might suggest a minor lyric change, or offer an idea, but that’s about it from the rest of us. Musically though, we’d try out Steve’s original idea and, if we thought it wasn’t quite working, offer other suggestions, try them out, and eventually hit the combination we all thought worked best. Of course, after playing them a few times at gigs, they evolve a little more, and a little more, until they reach their final (at least until the next gig) composition.”
How did the recording sessions workout in terms of the two recent single releases?
“Recording the songs was a very painless process to be honest. At the point the recordings were made, the band was still a going concern and we were looking forward to the next gigs and releasing the new songs. It was a couple of months or so after the recordings were completed that the situation changed.”
How do The Slingshots rate the new records in terms of your past recordings?
[Dave Kopke – Upright bass] “My own opinion is that The Slingshots don’t really have a set of standards that have to be met. We just played the music we created and loved, in the way that we play, and if people like what we do, then that’s great. If they don’t, well, we don’t meet their rockin’ standards.”
[J.D. England – Guitars] “Sometimes the songs Steve writes are a cut above. I really think ‘Gotta Cut Out’ is one of those and I think we managed to put a good arrangement together. I hope people latch on to it, as they have with some of our earlier material.”
Outside of your own music, what records has The Slingshots been listening to lately and any recommendations?
[Dave] “That’s a tough one – music is always on in my car, at home, and my nights out, and I listen to lots of it – Rockabilly, Rock ‘n’ Roll, R&B, Country, Popcorn…it’s all there for the taking. Paul Ansell’s Number Nine are a firm favourite and, although I may be slightly biased, I do like most things emanating from the Jake Calypso and Marcel Bontempi camps.”
[JD] “Blues and R&B are my main loves, there’s always something you’ve never heard before. For new bands, I’m loving the Hi-Jivers from the States, and Howlin’ Ric and the Rocketeers from the UK; talented guys who can play any style and they do.”
[Dave] “Agree with John about Howlin’ Ric – a superb band indeed.”
What have all the band members been up to lately since announcing your decision to quit The Slingshots?
[Dave] “I’ve mostly been acting as a dep [deputising]; playing for bands such as Relentless and Jack & The Real Deals. I do have the distinct pleasure, and have had for the last three years, of being part of Jake Calypso’s Red Hot when he visits the UK. JD and I have a project waiting to reach fruition, and we’ll hopefully be out on the road together again soon.”
[JD] “In addition to the project Dave mentioned, which is rapidly taking shape and sounding great, I have also been playing some rockin’ R&B with Cookin’ Jack and the Chimney Stacks, another talented singer-songwriter.”
“Regarding Steve, he’s unfortunately out of the performing loop for the time being, due to his work commitments, but is still playing music at home whenever possible.”
Will there ever be a ‘Slingshots reunion?
“The Slingshots have no plans to play a gig again at this moment in time, nor do we envisage a time when we will. Of course, as we are all still on amicable terms, it is not impossible, just highly unlikely.”
Any final words of the day before we say goodbye?
“It goes without saying that we are immensely grateful to everyone that has supported The Slingshots over the years. Promoters, venues, record labels, reviewers (including yourself), but, most of all, the people that enjoyed our music. If you danced to it, sang along, and/or bought our records then we offer our heartfelt thanks to every one of you. Thank you and goodnight!”
(Photography courtesy of Tony Bruce)
Sometimes the songs Steve writes are a cut above. I really think ‘Gotta Cut Out’ is one of those and I think we managed to put a good arrangement together. I hope people latch on to it, as they have with some of our earlier material.”
J.D. England, The Slingshots
FLW - From the Tapes
With the band’s decision to end their career, The Slingshots recollect some memorable moments and some less so.
[Dave] “As a relative newcomer (a mere 10 years of being a Slingshot), my choices may be more recent than the stalwarts. For me, my fondest memory will be when Billy Harlan came up to me after our 2013 Rave performance and complemented me on my bass plonking. High praise indeed from a man who played bass on the road for Jim Reeves, Bob Luman and Janis Martin, amongst many others.
“Greatest achievement for me was playing the Rockabilly Rave for the first time in 2013. I’d given up all hope of playing at festivals many years previously, so was astonished to find myself doing it as I approach the latter stages of my playing years. Most embarrassing was, again, at the Rave in 2016 when I snapped my G-string mid set (no, the one on the bass!). I jumped a mile. (Un)Luckily Tony Bruce (photographer) captured it on video, so I can relive that moment over and over on YouTube, ha-ha!”
[JD] “The early days, whilst fun at that time, were frustrating. We never really got any momentum going. After a brief hiatus we started up again with Graham McElearney on bass and Pete Mulvihill on drums. Whilst we played only a few prestigious gigs in this period, some of my fondest memories are from this time. Since Dave was press-ganged into the band, we had the chance to play more and more festivals and go on several foreign trips. It’s a great life and I won’t be packing up anytime soon.”