Early this year I gave an email interview for a Spanish website called Shook Down. It was quite an unusual interview because it was about one song: The Ballad of Phil Jevons.
The interview was published shortly afterwards with some commentary. The interviewer seemed nice, so I’ll assume the commentary is too (I can’t be certain because, as you might reasonably expect of a Spanish website, it’s in Spanish, and as you might reasonably expect of a Grimbarian, I am yet to acquire Spanish).
Anyhow, since this week was the 13th anniversary of Jevons’ remarkable winning goal for Grimsby Town away at Liverpool, I thought I’d share my interview answers with you here, in English.
What can you explain about the lyrics for The Ballad of Phil Jevons? I enjoyed them. They are quite peculiar in a good sense.
Thanks very much, that’s kind of you! Phil Jevons played as a forward for my football team, Grimsby Town, in the early 2000s. There was a feeling among some Grimsby fans that he was a bit lazy, but he had some talent. He scored an astonishing winning goal when we played away at Liverpool in 2001. Jevons had another incredible day when we beat Barnsley 6-1 – he scored four of them. Also I am pretty lazy myself, so it would be hypocritical of me to berate Jevons for the same thing. The song is about all of this stuff.
A year or two before I wrote it, I heard another song about a footballer called The Ballad of Wade Elliott, by a band called The Bewley Brothers. I liked the idea of it being a ballad, because it was the story of a career, rather than just a moment in time. So I took some inspiration from that. (There’s another footballer ballad now, by Lonely Tourist, called The Ballad of Paul Tierney, which is probably my favourite song of the three.)
I wrote the song after my old band The Regulars split up, and I hadn’t really started playing solo much, so I wasn’t expecting to play it live. And I didn’t think it would make sense to anyone who wasn’t a Grimsby fan anyway. But then I started getting asked to play solo gigs. And when I thought about it, every club has had one or two players who can sometimes be exasperating but sometimes be brilliant, so maybe people would understand it after all. So I started playing it and it went down well, so it ended up on the b-side of my first solo single! My friends from the football still ask me to play it at parties sometimes though.
What impact did the single have in your musical career?
The a-side was played on national BBC radio once (an event commemorated in my recent album track They Played My Song on Radio 1), but it was never going to be a global megahit. It took two or three years for Atomic Beat Records to sell the few hundred that were pressed. What impact it had was more of a slow burn thing, popping up on blogs every now and again. People in England enjoy the novelty of a pop song about football.
But more importantly the single helped to announce who I was, and what I was about, to a small community of indiepop people. Everything I Do is Gonna Be Sparkly, on the a-side, was a statement of vulnerability and defiance and let’s do something pretty. The Jevons song balanced that nicely and helped to keep the whole thing grounded – in humour, football, self-deprecation and mud.
Also, Jevons tracked me down on Twitter a couple of years ago. He tweeted to ask if I’d written any more songs about Grimsby Town players. Bit scary. Probably a nice enough bloke though, I’m sure.
What can you explain about the cover?
Atomic Beat Records asked an artist/designer called Anda Theodorakaki to create something for the single. I guess ‘Sparkly’ is about rebuilding your life after some kind of disaster (which I had to do in the early 2000s… long story), so the design is Anda’s interpretation of this. When I first saw it I was delighted. I love the littleness of it, the humble scale. This reflects perfectly what I set out to do in my music, and what appeals to me in other music.
Lo-fi, indie pop… How would you define your single in your own words?
When the single came out, I was playing indiepop shows, the same as I do now, but also playing a lot of acoustic shows. I had nothing in common with most of the other acts at the acoustic shows, except that we were all playing acoustic guitars. They were bluesy, folky, very serious, mostly with dull melodies and nothing sparkly. When I play an indiepop show, even if the other acts are all full bands, even if they’re loud and noisy, I still have much more in common with them musically. Acoustic is just a mode of arrangement, not a genre. I belong to indiepop.
What can you explain about the recording?
I recorded and mixed the single myself, in the attic of my old house, up on a hill in the Meersbrook area of Sheffield. I didn’t really know what I was doing, so it doesn’t sound very slick and professional. But maybe it would lose something of its soul if it did.
I think I recorded the Jevons song a while before the other two tracks from the single, perhaps before I was even asked to release the single. I used my laptop and a program called Tracktion, and one microphone. There’s a tiny bit of lead guitar overdubbed in the chorus and some tambourine comes in for the third verse. It would only have taken an hour or two.
Apart from the single, is the song ‘The Ballad of Phil Jevons’ relased somewhere else?
It was on the compilation album released in 2007 to accompany the first Indietracks festival. If you manage to get hold of a copy, the track by Horowitz is fantastic!
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