All good things come to those who wait. Sheffield’s rockabilly kings, The Slingshots prove their worth with the quite sublime ‘Misfits’.
As I follow the great bear north, leaving behind the last twinkle of sunlight before a dense blanket of cloud is drawn overhead signalling out its territorial markings, the long arduous journey offers no respite from the gloomy forecast due to an endless strew of motorway restrictions, overpriced service stations and ever-present noise pollution courteously supplied by the passing sixteen wheels of rumbling muscle. There is, however, light at the end of this tunnel as The Slingshots’ ‘Butterball Boogie’ threatens to wreak havoc in this tin truck, rattling around in pinball fashion with its twanging guitars and foot-stomping boogie providing a timely distraction from the current tedium.
Once the welcome sight of the agreed upon destination looms into view, it’s time to meet ‘n’ greet the rockabilly kings of Sheffield who have been strumming their guitars and slapping their bass since time itself began. This, dear readers, is not too far from the truth as The Slingshots made their first tentative steps back in 1984 when the UK was experiencing a financial meltdown not too dissimilar to the current crisis.
With a wealth of experience in terms of performing live, not only in their native land but overseas as well, this four-piece band know a thing or two about perseverance, despite having a recorded output that makes the Blue Nile seem prolific.
”We first formed in ’84 but there have been gaps due to people having jobs which, unfortunately, has got in the way,” explains lead singer Steve Russell concerning the band’s two, and only, albums to date so far. “In addition, there has been a lack of equipment, lack of ambition, lack of material and that kind of thing really. When we got together with Graham McElearney [previous bass player] it was only then that we started to get things sorted out by playing mainly local gigs and getting the Raucous [Records] contract. Even after our first album, ‘Feels So Right’ people in the band still had jobs which, for example, I was working every other weekend so I couldn’t do a great deal. Therefore, we didn’t play live very often or further afield during this time. Since Dave Invicta [current bass player] joined the band three years ago, we have had more of an impetus as he is quite an energetic character and likes to put the band’s name about. So we have got a bit more energy now regarding the promotional side, which was never our strong point from before.”
There is no doubt that the band’s two albums are worth their weight in gold, but one can’t help wonder about the gulf of Grand Canyon-sized proportions that exists between these two recordings, as there must have been a serious bout of navel gazing going on.
“Twelve years is a bit too long between recordings,” laughs Steve before summing things up perfectly in terms of the band’s minimal recorded output to date. “Personally, I would much rather have two albums that have been universally well-received, as we have, rather than five indifferent ones.”
Having previously been signed to Northwood Records, The Slingshots underwent a transitional phase of disbandment before regrouping under a different name and equipped with a new bass player (see above) and a new record contract with the aforementioned Raucous Records. This change in fortunes seemed to reinvigorate the band as the plaudits started to roll in from the likes of Jerry Chatterbox (Rockabilly Rave) and recognition from Morrissey’s stalwart guitarist, Boz Boorer.
“It was actually Boz Boorer who put us in touch with Raucous Records after we had spoken with Ray Frensham, who owned Northwood Records back in the ‘80s, as we wanted to do another album,” explains guitarist John England.
“Raucous [Records] agreed to put an album out by us as long as we changed our name back to The Slingshots. We thought about this for three seconds and snatched their hands off basically!” finishes Steve.
The outcome of these changes is the appropriately titled ‘Misfits’, which is an album brimming with confidence and full of vigour, despite the band remaining on the fringes of the rockabilly revival scene. Such reflections can be garnered from the title track – “About not fitting in with society and people in general. It’s about people thinking you’re a bit of a weirdo basically,” comments Steve regarding the band’s status. This is, of course, far from the truth as The Slingshots are a charismatic bunch who is never afraid to poke fun at each other if the moment presents itself. If there is ever an issue of not being a part of the social norm, then this stems from their ability to write their own material as opposed to just churning out yet another Johnny Burnette cover, something of which The Slingshots are keen to express their opinions about.
“Right from the start, we wanted to write our own material,” jumps in John England regarding the band’s songwriting. “Even when we were with Northwood Records, Frensham wanted people to write their own music, as he wouldn’t release covers basically. This spurred us on, and we have kept going.”
“You want to hear something new, as the future can’t all be behind us,” adds the ever chipper Dave Invicta. ”If nobody writes anything, then we’ll all be listening to a man twanging a tight animal skin! You have got to do your own stuff or otherwise it’s not worth it. I would rather not do anything than be in a band who would rather play the same covers as twenty-eight other bands because then it’s not about getting work because people like you, you’re getting work because you are the cheapest. I don’t think any of these guys warrant being the cheapest.”
“If you do write your own stuff, then people can’t say it’s pretty good but not as good as the originals,” continues Steve. “Interestingly enough, we have seen Carmen Ghia and the Hotrods, who are another Sheffield band, have picked up on one of the songs we used to perform back in the eighties. So that’s quite funny to see someone else perform one of the songs we have written.”
“Steve is the main songwriter, and it is worth pointing out that he does have a technique of writing particularly good songs, which is quite important as it is no good writing your own stuff if it’s all, ‘She’s my baby, and I don’t mean maybe’. It’s easy to drop into clichés, and Steve has a knack of steering clear of them,” adds Dave.
“Not always!” interjects Steve smiling. “Sometimes you can drive headlong into them and pretend it’s ironic.”
This steely (well, we are in Sheffield) determination to forge their own identity in a scene which can, on occasions, be described as homogenous, is something The Slingshots will continue to pursue. Such efforts have been recognised, and duly rewarded, with an invitation to perform at this year’s Rockabilly Rave and Americana festivals. In addition, the band managed to get their homework finished early due to a spying mission – carefully orchestrated around the everyday toil of various occupations – at last year’s Rockabilly Rave in order to assess the competition and take in the festivities. Such preparations were not a required prerequisite for The Slingshots as they have far more in their locker in terms of different musical references ranging from country to swing; partly as a result of drummer John Boulton’s passion for 1920s and 1930s swing music. But it is worth assessing, however, whether the band has any anxieties concerning this year’s Rave festival.
“As we were driving down to this year’s Rave festival, we did ponder how long we might last before we’d had enough of rockabilly and, as a result, have to run to the car to put the stereo on to listen to something else! For me though, this never happened as everything at the Rave was a lot more about new stuff, as all of the bands we saw wrote their own material and all had something fresh and exciting about them. It was a remarkable event having not been to it before,” explains Dave enthusiastically. “I think there’s a strange thing with the rockabilly scene as what we saw at the Rave were people who are probably a more – out of a whole collective of rockabillies – knowledgeable and appreciative audience. Whereas if you’re getting down to the grassroots level of clubs, then people want to hear more familiar stuff so that they can dance to it. So there is a bitter irony which doesn’t just happen to our band as it happens to others as well.”
Do you feel that audiences, therefore, are too impatient in terms of the rockabilly revival scene?
“I think it’s generally a problem with Britain,” comments John Boulton. “A band I was in before did a lot of touring in Europe. We found that British audiences, for a lot of styles of music, wanted to hear things they knew and they were not really interested in things they didn’t know. In comparison, European audiences, across the board of styles, are much more willing to give you a chance to be good. If you’re good, they don’t care what you do as they just want to hear good music, and they want to hear live music. I find that Europe is much more appreciative of live music without putting labels on it.”
Despite Steve Russell’s own admission, “I‘m a bit sick of listening to it because you get to hear it often when recording,” ‘Misfits’ is firmly cemented in The Slingshots concise cannon as a sublime piece of work. There will not, however, be a repeat of the great chasm of time between ‘Misfits’ and the next recording; something of which John England is quick to point out: “We are going to start working on the new material as soon as possible.” Here’s to the third outing from these self-confessed outsiders, as the future is definitely looking bright for The Slingshots.
I would much rather have two albums that have been universally well-received, as we have, rather than five indifferent ones."
Steve 'Big Cleveland' Russell, The Slingshots
FLW - From the Tapes
The Slingshots’ Dave Invicta confesses to FLW about his love of all things vinyl, whereas the rest of the band provides an overall winner in a tug-of-war between Carl Perkins and Sleepy LaBeef.
“My own record collection is approximately 40,000 records, and that’s just vinyl and doesn’t include the MP3’s and stuff. That’s nothing compared to some of the people I know as that’s just at starting level. I got into rockabilly early on, and I didn’t really know anybody but I ended up going to record fairs and buying records as they had vast amounts of stuff with international dealers. So that’s where I started in terms of my vinyl collection. Show me a vinyl single and I will be chasing it!” Dave Invicta
Carl Perkins or Sleepy LaBeef?
“What in a fight?! That’s a tough one…” Steve Russell
“I would go for Carl, much as I like Sleepy’s early stuff but the voice is too low for me.” John England
“I think Carl Perkins is a much more versatile musician and a far better guitar player. His music itself is a much higher standard than what most people were doing in that genre at that time.” Dave Invicta
“Yeah, I think I’d agree, as he is more of an innovator as well, and a better guitarist. But if you’re in the mood, you can’t beat a bit of Sleepy!” Steve Russell