Shaftesbury area band ‘Sorry About Shaun’ kick off their autumn tour in Motcombe on Saturday. Their Coppleridge Inn gig coincides with the release of their third EP, ‘Summer’.
Alfred caught up with group members to hear about their show inside Top Man, their time in jail and their forthcoming pre-Christmas Shaftesbury performance.
A great band needs a memorable name. Simple Minds was borrowed from a Bowie lyric. The Human League was inspired by a character from a sci-fi board game. And when six-member Sorry About Shaun formed in 2017, one of the group’s founders inspired their identity.
“Shaun is a jovial character and he is always messing around,” recalled vocalist Geoff Coward. “We found ourselves apologising for some of his behaviour. There was nothing too bad. It was in a tongue-in-cheek way. One day Sam said, ‘Sorry about Shaun’ and it was there.”
The original trio of Sam, Geoff and Shaun started playing other people’s music – cover versions – but soon progressed into original composition. “From then onwards we started to write our own music and we eventually got together with Tom, who operated a local studio. We recorded some tracks with him and asked him if he liked to play guitar in the band as well,” explained Geoff.
Tom Jobling, known to a generation of Shaftesbury people from his music-recording work at the former Toby’s Centre, could be considered the band’s George Martin. He’s their ‘fifth Beatle’ producing and sometimes playing the guitar. “Yes, I guess I am,” Tom laughed. “We have been working on the tracks for six months now. I’ve been a massive part of the songwriting and recording.”
Tom says his role is to give the music an edge through production. “Usually the process is that either Sam or Geoff come to me with some chords and words and I tell them to speed it up or slow it down,” explained Tom. “We do songwriting and recording in one room, at one time. We have a wonderful studio where I now work – Mill Farm at Sherborne. It has instruments set up so you can just go in, start playing and jam in the room. The songs fall together. Two or three days later we have a wicked recording under our arm, and it takes me about a month to mix it.”
Geoff refers to the group as being within the ‘folk rock’ genre. But don’t expect Ralph McTell. Their folk edge is contemporary, with a nod to The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons. The new EP is polished, memorable and could easily fit into mainstream radio playlists.
“Maybe with the melodies you have a pop mentality with it. It’s very easy to listen to. We do a cover of ‘The Chain’ by Fleetwood Mac and I think that’s influenced our newer stuff,” said Tom. “It’s got big rock guitars as well as small, beautiful acoustic moments. It’s got simple drums. At the same time, we listen to the record. It doesn’t sound like a different band. It is one big sound.”
The band release their own material but they do throw in some cover versions at gigs. ‘Mr Brightside’ is a crowd-pleaser and Tom says their recent Sturminster Newton gig supporting Toyah at The Exchange let them pick from a back-catalogue of 80s classics. “Everybody is slightly sceptical when they see a new band for the first time. They don’t know if they’re going to enjoy it. We did ‘Take On Me’ in our own style. It was a good way to draw people in,” he said.
Sorry About Shaun have learned how to write their own singalong foot-stompers. Their new track ‘Brothers’ featuring a catchy vocal ‘whoa whoa’ hook will encourage the audience to join in. It’s bound to become a musical ear worm that fans take home with them after the gig. “I guess you want people to remember your songs, not necessarily through specific lyrics,” said Geoff. “We often try to involve a chant on one of our songs. When you’re a local band you’re often trying to ingrain yourself in people’s minds. The goal is to have people hear a song a couple of times and be humming it the next day.”
Geoff loves seeing the audience mouthing the band’s lyrics at gigs. “It’s a great feeling. It’s almost a seal of approval. You know that number must be okay,” he said.
Chas has enhanced the band’s rich sound. He plays cello on some tracks and Tom reckons that using this real instrument, rather than a sample, adds magic to the mix. “You can’t fake a cello. It makes a massive difference,” said Tom. “Geoff plays piano and we have a ukulele, an electric guitar and the cello. We can move around the goals. When we think that a song would be perfect for a piano, it’s a nice way to mix it up.”
‘Summer’ is the group’s third EP. Geoff says the band prefers to release these smaller compilations. “Musicians locally think that EPs are an affordable way to get music out. It would be nice to record an album of 12 tracks, but it would require a lot of time, money and effort. It’s nice to break it down into smaller chunks of four songs on an EP. It’s a better platform to get our music out there,” said Geoff.
“With our first EP we were aiming for a radio-friendly Radio One feel. This new EP is more bluesy, dirty and raunchy. There are country vibes and it’s heavier,” said Tom. “The next track to come out on the EP is almost like Muse. It’s all piano, strings and big guitars. We’re not veering too far from where we were on day one, but each three or four songs gives you a slightly different feel.”
Geoff’s vocals appear natural and effortless. Some lead singers try to affect a rougher rockier sound, overdo the vibrato or over-sing. “Geoff is very good at singing to the song and the music given to him. The new record has some rocky songs on it and his rock voice comes out more,” said Tom.
Over the last two years, the boys have played interesting and varied venues including a barn at Edwards Farm off Foyle Hill. They’ve turned on Motcombe’s Christmas lights and there was even a gig inside Bath’s Top Man store. Geoff revealed that they didn’t even get a free shirt after the Top Man gig. “We did get some discount,” he admitted.
“We just take anything we can really,” said Geoff. He meant gigs. We’re not suggesting shoplifting at Top Man. “We love playing to an audience that’s willing to listen. We’re not financially driven. We just want to get our music out there and hope that people listen to it and like it. We’ve been really fortunate to play at the Larmer Tree a couple of years in a row which has been our best crowd in terms of numbers and response.”
Johnny Cash famously performed at Folsom Prison and Sorry About Shaun has also rocked a jailhouse – Guy’s Marsh. “They were a good crowd,” said Geoff, although Tom was pulling a bit of a face. “I think the Prison Service is very understaffed, to say the least,” said Geoff. “There were a few moments when I thought there are not very many people around here. We did give a nice performance. I think they enjoyed it.”
Geoff’s biggest buzz is playing a home crowd at The Coppleridge Ridge. “90% of the audience are friends and family, there to support us. They listen to the songs first and help promote us,” he said. The band start their autumn tour at 7pm Saturday (19th October) at The Coppleridge Inn.
Sorry About Shaun has set itself a high bar with the quality of its videos and online promotion. Maintaining that standard requires a lot of work. Bands signed to record companies can rely on teams to organise, film and edit videos and experts would update social media. The men have to perform all of these functions themselves, write and record their music while spending 8-hours each day at work.
“I think we take it fairly seriously,” said Geoff, owner of GG Barbers on Bell Street. “We may not be as active on social media as we could be, but we try to engage at least a couple of times each week, either with a track that we have recorded, an acoustic video or practice stuff. It is a great platform.”
“It is a hard thing to do,” added Tom. “We’ve made leaps and bounds since we first started. I think we’re pretty active. Geoff will call me and ask me to finish a song, ‘In the next three or four days’ so he can put it out on social media,” Tom laughed.
I asked Geoff where the group wanted to end up. Are they seeking to continue having fun, find fame or make a fortune? “We all have day jobs and we can’t up and leave. There are houses and kids for some of the band. Ultimately our goal is to enjoy ourselves,” said Geoff. “If that means writing and playing as much as possible, we will do that. That’s not to say that if opportunities arose, we wouldn’t want to jump at them. When we started we were just playing pub gigs. We would never have expected The Larmer Tree to happen. Being able to achieve those things is fantastic.”
Tom reckons that changes within the music industry could be good for the boys. “At one point you had to commit all of your time on tour from city to city. There are a lot of people that we haven’t played in front of who live around Shaftesbury, Sherborne and Salisbury. Probably only three people from the 400-strong crowd at that Toyah gig knew us. We can keep playing around here and keep building up a fan base. It’s better to be a big fish in a small pond in this case and we will get noticed.”
The men’s Coppleridge Inn gig launches a mini-autumn tour. “We have got six dates confirmed. One of those events will be the Shaftesbury Christmas lights turn on, on the 2nd December,” said Geoff.
‘Message Man’, the second track from their forthcoming EP ‘Summer’ is now on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and Amazon. “We’ve definitely not stopped recording, even though we have this EP being released on Saturday. We have got loads of songs to go,” said Tom. “I don’t think the guys are going to stop recording anytime soon.” North Dorset should be delighted to hear that.
You can follow the band at Facebook.com/sorryaboutshaun.