“There’s a reason why I’ve done this when I’m 32. Whatever’s been done before failed to connect on an audience level or a personal level. Not to say I think all of it was bad, but it’s not connected because I haven’t been truthful in some way. I couldn’t have made this record at any other time.”
Rock and roll is generally regarded as being a young person’s game. As well as the power it has over each generation of adolescents, the urgency, honesty and vitality required to spread the word are at their most effective when delivered by those who have barely experienced real life. So they say.
Paul Weller split up The Jam, at the time the biggest band in Britain, aged 24 as he felt he had little else to say to that generation. The 27 Club is the ultimate example of living fast and dying young, as legend and mythology has deemed it so.
It’s nonsense, of course: Messrs Cocker and Kapranos were in their early 30s when Pulp and Franz Ferdinand hit the mainstream and, more recently, Idles hit their stride as Joe Talbot entered his fourth decade.
Experience has its uses, and for TV Priest frontman Charlie Drinkwater, the passing of time has demonstrated just how important friendship and music are for his own personal well-being.
“So much of our friendship, and the foundations we bedded down into, were formed around music,’ he told Live4ever over Zoom earlier this month.
“As you start to progress through your life, things change and you don’t see each other as much. I feel like, as young men, we used that space of the band to share things. When you’re growing up, you aren’t very good at sharing your feelings. I know I’m not! That space enabled me to connect with them in other ways, rather than at the pub.”
Before we go any further, a quick history lesson is probably required. Charlie accommodates accordingly: “I’ve known Alex (TV Priest guitarist) since I was six, and I’ve known Ed and Nick since I was 12/13.”
“We probably started playing in a band with each other, in various combinations but always together, when we were about 14/15. They’re like my brothers.”
For whatever reason, things didn’t catch fire for the band and, as it’s prone to do, life moved on. But the specific hole that came from stopping making music with his friends was never filled, as Charlie continues:
“As we got older, I started to realise that that was something in my life that really kept me well, mentally. Not to say your family doesn’t enable that, but when you’ve had such a shared amount of history, it’s quite hard to break that.”
“That was really the route into playing again. We’d try and meet up and practice a couple of times a year and jam, but we hadn’t meaningfully played music together for five or six years. It got to the point where I’d just had my son, and that focuses your mind a lot in terms of how you spend your spare time. I felt I’d lost the companionship of my friends.”
And so, the foursome decided to take the unusual step of starting the band up again, in exactly the same form, with exactly the same approach. “It was a challenge,” Charlie says, “we felt we had an album in us!”
“Let’s make this piece of work together. I miss you. I miss that relationship we have on a personal and creative level. Let’s just play and express ourselves. It sounds a bit glib and cliched, but that was the pure intention of it. Because of that, it feels like our route has been quite quick.”
In relative terms, it has. It may feel like forever ago, but it was only in late 2019 when TV Priest put on their first gig, to their friends, with ‘no-one influential or important’. Yet its impact was immediate:
“At that little show, a friend of a friend knew some guys who ran a tiny little indie label called Hand In Hive. I sent them the demo and told them we had friends in common, and they came back and said, ‘It sounds great’.”
“The intention was to press 500 copies with them and see what happened. There was no game plan. Then they sent it to some people, other people heard it and came on board. My intention was to have a physical vinyl that I’d designed, with music I’d made with my friends to maybe show my son in twenty years. Just to have it. That was it.”
Proving that good things come to those who wait, TV Priest’s debut album Uppers is being released on the legendary Sub Pop label, home to such luminaries as Nirvana, Foals and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, among others.
“The guys who were going originally going to put the record out now manage us, because we love them, and we wanted them to stay with us,” Charlie explains.
“They got an email one day, out of the blue, from someone at Sub Pop. We just had a chat, not really about the record. Then on the next day they contacted us and said, ‘We’d like to put your record out’. It’s a dream. It was bizarre, I shut the laptop and went to go and watch Peppa Pig!”
As is readily apparent throughout our chat, Charlie is very aware of how fortunate he and his friends are: “To be on a label like that, which I’ve loved since I was a teenager, even to just be a tiny footnote in their very illustrious history is a dream.”
“It’s mind-blowing. It’s also very strange because we have done this for so long, with very little outside influence, and then to have that happen made me very emotional. It’s really odd. Maybe there was something in this? Maybe we were right not to jack it in!”
Nowadays, if you’re boys with guitars with something to say, you’re going to be labelled post-punk, but it’s fair to say this moniker is valid in TV Priest’s case. The frontman does have some minor grievances with the term (“I’m always very aware that I’m a white man in a guitar band with other guys, but post-punk was early dance music: E.S.G., sampling…it’s all of that stuff as well”), but is generally at peace with it:
“If you take punk as Year Zero, from a philosophical world, it has parallels with post-modernism. This idea that nothing is original and you’re mining history. You’re recycling. I think sometimes our band has more in line with post-hardcore, rather than necessarily a Manchester band. You make the music you make, and you can’t really alter that.”
“You’re conscious of the cultural context, and that Idles have opened a door for you. You’re conscious that these bands exist and are doing amazing things and people are responding to it. How could you not be? It’s exciting because it does make you feel that the love affair you’ve had with this music or these communities is flourishing again.”
Nor is the record entirely guitar driven. After three assaults of the axe, the album takes a more ambient term with the first of two interludes, ‘a conscious decision’, according to Charlie.
“We wanted it to be listened to as one record, a body of work which is what excites us. I’m very aware that the side of ourselves we have presented so far is very much in that post-punk vein. Maybe you’d listen to the singles and the first three tracks on the record and think, ‘Whatever, it sounds like everything else’, and that’s fine. But hopefully you’ll be rewarded by the progression.”
Recent single Press Gang is informed by Charlie’s grandfather, a Fleet Street photographer in the glory days, and how the idea of ‘the truth’ has changed: “It’s an uneasy song in that way, because my grandad really believed in this idea of telling and presenting the truth. It’s really subjective, but also a noble intent.”
“It was me trying to process how we understand the truth, be it through traditional media, which can be as thorny to negotiate as social media. I can’t offer a solution, and it’s not really my job to, but it’s about me trying to navigate this idea of truth and how important it is.”
Even more disconcerting is the track Journal Of A Plague Year, which was unerringly written prior to March 2020: “That was a difficult one for us. Alex had read Journal Of A Plague Year by Defoe, which is a 17th century account of the plague in London. It was an exercise in, ‘what would happen if we transferred this to now?’, and it happened, and it was awful.”
“We thought long and hard about the inclusion of it, but we sided on including it because there were some strange equivalents on what the intention of the song was. Would the people responsible for this manage it as badly as they did in the book? And they did.”
“I certainly felt difficult, because my parents have had people they know pass away from it. My brother-in-law has had long COVID for months. I understand how real it is for people, but I don’t think you should feel entirely easy with the work you’ve made.”
Sadly, TV Priest aren’t likely to add to their one gig any time soon, but Charlie is philosophical about their short-term future, with the scope to develop their sound even further before anyone can see them live again:
“Traditionally, we’d be out on the road and touring, but obviously that’s not a thing we can think about now. We’re lucky in that we can keep doing it. We have people around us who will support us.”
“The only thing we can do is keep making music.”
Uppers is released on February 5th.