cool brother and saxon zine at old blue last // interview: ugly

 

During a wild tangent in conversation, Ugly start discussing where’s good to take dates to. Drummer Charlie mentions Finsbury Park pub The Faltering Fullback. He then suggests the very restaurant whose takeaways we’re currently waiting for: “Franco Manca’s not a bad date spot, because the pizza’s so cheap: take a pizza out, go on a walk.” So, with the group’s casual renditions of Lionel Bart’s “Where is Love” chiming in my ears, and a stack of said takeaway pizzas now in tow, I soon find myself being led up creaky stairwells to the peaceful rooftop of the Old Blue Last, the very venue where band are due to perform a headline slot for a Cool Brother/Saxon Zine showcase that evening. Looks like I’ve bagged a date with Ugly.

 

Then again, there is plenty about them to love. Often clocking in at five minutes at least, each new Ugly song is a curious treasure-trove of undiscovered charms. In a defiant show of eclecticism, the Cambridge-bred quartet traverse almost the entire spectrum of contemporary guitar music in one thirty-minute set: the growling rage of chord-thrash punk met with jazzy flourishes; shimmering, sunshine indie-pop vies with romantic, slow-dance waltzes. It’s the sort of intrigue that’s splashed all over their latest EP Sunday School, an epic serving of biblically inspired indie-rock released physically via Sports Team’s Holm Front label.

 

With that being said, let Ugly now spin their tales of riotous sixth form parties in Cambridge, of tireless slogs on the London pub circuit, and of loose speculations about the second coming of Jesus Christ.

 

Ugly are Charlie (drums), Harry (bass), Sam (guitar and vocals) and Harrison (lead guitar).

 

 Ugly – The Last Supper at The Regal Wetherspoon

 

 

Let’s start at the beginning. You formed in Cambridge at Hills Road College. I wanted to talk about forming a band in Sixth Form. What brought you together in the first place?

Harrison: We met at Music Technology Class.

Charlie: You want to be in a band. It’s fun. When played our first gig, literally everyone within our wider friendship group came along to it, because in Cambridge there’s not a huge amount to do on the weekends, especially in Lower Sixth. With Lower Sixth everyone’s clambering to make friends. So everyone, their brother, their dog, all came along to our first gig.

 

Where was your first gig?

Charlie: Our first gig was at the Portland Arms, which is this little venue in Cambridge.

Harrison: We booked it illegally.

Charlie: I told them I was eighteen. I was sixteen. When we arrived, the guy found out we weren’t eighteen, but quite luckily let us put it on anyway. And then, he was like “Yeah, everyone who comes along is going to bring an adult with them, it’s going to be fine…”. But no one did. Everyone was smashed when they came inside. It was sick though. We charged £3 on the door. Everyone came in, nearly ripped off the PA. It was fucking awesome! That’s the experience of playing when you’re in sixth form. Everyone wants to be involved with it, because it’s not necessarily about the music, I don’t think. Because, I mean, we weren’t very good at that point…

Harry: It’s annoying, that – because the people that you know, and the people who know people who know you don’t turn up for any of the other ones. They turn up for that first gig when, technically, you were the worst.

Charlie: But that’s kind of awesome though! We didn’t want our first gig, and rightly so, to be a non-event: first on bill, playing at quarter past seven, when it’s still light outside, and there’s five people with our parents in the audience.  Fuck that! It was basically throwing a party. And it was sick. After our gig, they told us in no uncertain terms that we weren’t allowed to play back there until we were eighteen. We played at Relevant Records as well, and the exact same thing happened. It happened at the Blue Moon too. The first house party we played at…

Harrison: We didn’t even get on until they’d broken something.

Sam: They broke my amp. And then after the gig, Harrison’s guitar was resting against the amp, and someone started stomping on it and it snapped in half.

Harrison: We played at one party that was good. Our shit didn’t get trashed afterwards.

 

Let’s move to London. You’ve been playing the London Pub circuit these past few months. When did you start?

Harrison: It takes a while to get into it. We played at the Hope & Anchor [in Islington]. Then we played at the Five Bells [at New Cross]. Then we played the Five Bells about ten times in a row. We played some So Young gigs, and that was the first time people started listening. Then Sports Team asked us to support them at Scala, and it sort of went from there.

Charlie: It takes a long time to break into London. That’s part of the point why we all went [here] in the first place, because it is so good for music. Pretty much all alternative music in the UK resolves around London... A bit of Brighton, Manchester and Bristol as well, but London’s the one.

 

I just wanted to talk about the songs on your Sunday School EP. They are unusual in two ways: they’re quite lengthy and have atypical subject matters. First we have The Last Supper at the Regal Wetherspoon. Isn’t the Regal the main Wetherspoons in Cambridge?

Harry: The Regal was where I was recruited [into the band].

Harrison: It’s a fun place of ours from our experience of sixth form…

Sam: Something nostalgic, from our adolescence.

 

And you have a biblical scene playing out in there. Where did you get the idea from?

Harry: Sam writes the songs.

Sam: I come from a Christian family, but I don’t know if it was really related to that. It seemed like it would be a good idea.

Charlie: It’s a fun idea though! There’s a weird contrast, the idea of the disciples and Jesus having the Last Supper in somewhere we would all congregate and where we know is quite a grim place to be.

Harry: It’s just like the modern-day Jesus. Where is he at? We’re still waiting!

Charlie: Maybe next weekend, maybe on Sunday.

Harry: Everyone wants a slice of J.C!

Charlie: There’s a real ecclesiastic nature to Wetherspoons which no one is talking about. In the same way that communities would congregate around the church, so we in our sixth form experiences would congregate around the Regal Wetherspoons.

Harry: In some ways we were the disciples!

Charlie: For the video, we wanted to have funny visuals and 3D stuff. You’ve got to give massive props to Dave [Monis, director]. We had the song for ages – and, to be fair, we gave him pretty much nothing to work on, other than religion and maybe a pub. Listening to the song, we said you can pick and choose your themes from that. Dave did an amazing job.

 

On the other side, we’ve got Redemption on the Road to Damascus...

Sam: The idea for the song itself, lyrically, comes from Charlie. I had this Spaghetti Western style song and needed to come up with something cool for it. Charlie gave me the story of Saul on the road to Damascus. The pattern of the story is so similar to so many films: a bad guy turns good. There’s a guy, he’s hunting Christians, he gets blinded by Jesus and then is like, “Oh my God, I’ve realised the truth!” And then he’s like, Christianity’s the way, bro. Let me see again. Please!

Charlie: Again, it’s a fun idea, taking the biblical story and sensationalising it in a context which is unusual. The story does lend itself to that Spaghetti Western style. It’s the lone ranger, riding into town on his horse on a dusty road.

Harry: It’s like the corrupt sheriff who gets his dose of Karma.

 

You shift between time signatures and styles a lot within your songs. You break into jazz sequences, then cut back into something entirely different. How does that exploratory style of music come around?

Sam: I don’t really do it consciously. A lot of it comes through practising as a band. I think we all are into listening to lots of different styles, which makes a big difference.

Harry: Kanye West!

Charlie: Our songs are fairly long. We don’t have many songs that are straight three-minute tracks. And, so, when you have songs that flip between time signatures and have a lot of thematic changes in them, it can make what would otherwise be a three-minute song more interesting.

 

What’s next on the horizons for Ugly?

Harry: I’ll be in Vietnam, baby! I’m gonna get some bikes! I get back on the day we play the Lexington in June.

Charlie: We’ve got some new tracks. We also want to get our fifth member properly ready…

 

 

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