19 Nov 2016

The Suncharms' Comeback Interview: Sheff's Finest Shoegazers Talk Their Reunion

Formed in the late 80s, The Suncharms were a Sheffield band that combined dreamy shoegaze ethereality with crisp indie pop melodies to make some of the prettiest and most charming music of the era. The five piece released a handful of gorgeous EPs before disappearing off the face of the earth without any of the recognition they deserved. However, with the shoegaze revival in full swing, the Yorkshire quintet are back to settle some unfinished business; I spoke to Marcus Palmer, the band's frontman, to talk about the past, present and future of one of the 1990s best kept secrets.

Hiya Marcus, could you start by telling me a bit about the band and its beginnings?
The Suncharms are all from Sheffield with me on vocals, Richard Farnell (bass), Chris Ridley (drums), John Malone (guitar), Matt Neale (guitar). I was at school with Richard and we bonded over a love of McCarthy and The Pastels. This obsession with music started in about 1986. We decided to form a band even though neither of us had done anything musical before. Richard had just started Art College where he met our musical conspirator Matt, who could actually play the guitar. We went round to his house and I went straight to his vinyl collection. I was pleased to see Psychocandy and The Cure.

We locked ourselves away in his bedroom with a drum machine, a broken 1 stringed acoustic guitar which we used as the bass and a red 80s tape cassette to record ourselves, and we started on our musical adventure there. It was later that Matt O'Connell joined for a few fledgling gigs before leaving. Chris and John, both friends of Matt Neale joined us soon after, and remain to this day as bandmates.

What sounds originally influenced the band in their first incarnation?
We all had different influences and record collections. John had never heard an 'indie' record in his life and played classical guitar to entertain himself - this can be heard most clearly in our track Reflections. The other members shared a love of the sound of My Bloody Valentine, but I was listening to a lot of 60s bands. Particularly Love, The Byrds, Strawberry Alarm Clock and The Creation, as well as ordering the latest Sarah Records 7'. Richard was listening to Felt and still is to this day. Chris has always loved the Mary Chain from then to the present day. However, the band that had a big impact on us most was the first Pale Saints album, a really beautiful album with so many haunting layers to it. It opened our ears to experimentation.

Do you count yourselves as a shoegaze band? 
We existed before and during the first wave of shoegaze. But because it’s more to do with playing loud distorted guitar and concentrating on your pedals without macho posturing, we are happy to accept the label of shoegaze. To label ourselves shoegaze would also mean sharing a label with lots of great bands - also, like us, our contemporaries like Ride and Lush existed before the term was created. .

What are your fondest memories of the band's first incarnation?
One of my fondest memories of that period was our gig at the Kool Kat Club in Nottingham, put on by a band The Fat Tulips.We supported The Television Personalities, who I've been a life long fan of. The audience could have easily stepped out of the pages of the fantastic Sam Knee book A Scene In Between; lots of pointy boots, stripey tee-shirts and Byrds haircuts. It was great to play such a cool club with Indie Royalty and air our brand new tracks that were now sounding much more shoegazey and experimental.

Another great memory from the early 90s is our hometown gig in Sheffield. We put on a gig with 2 other Sheffield bands (Cradleyard being one) at a venue called the Palais (now a supermarket). The gig was packed, hot sweaty and the crowd were jumping and nodding along with fringes flying everywhere, and to my surprise mouthing the words to the tracks. One VHS video tape existed of the gig. I think its disappeared into some cosmic abyss, but maybe I dreamt the whole thing.

You recorded a Peel Session in 1992. What are your memories of that?
We recorded a Peel Session, but were disappointed that John Peel wasn't there to greet us at the door and nod along to the tracks or make us mugs of tea. The session was recorded live, with a studio team that had the poshest accents. We nearly didn't make it as our van broke down, so we arrived in style on the back of a recovery van.

However the session went well, and were pleased with the studio recordings. Before the internet, and with BBC Radio 1 being the biggest station in Britain, we thought that a play on the station would lead us to pop stardom. To this day it’s still a massive buzz to hear our tracks played on the radio. It’s amazing to hear our tracks on 21st Century Radio stations like DKFM, Primal Radio, Strawberry Tongue, Mat Catling's The Reverb, Indie Rewind and BBC 6Music to name but a few.

How did your reformation happen?
The reformation occurred after we got together in a pub to discuss what should go on our retrospective CD album, which was put out by the wonderful Cloudberry Records. Roque, the owner of Cloudberry, had written in a blog that I discovered that he was listening to our first EP Sparkle, and wrote some very complimentary words about the band. Roque asked at the end of the blog for any information about us. We were amazed that our musical baby released all those years earlier was alive and well in the 21st Century, and coming out of the speakers in Miami and New York. It was a chance meeting at Indietracks Festival between Roque and our bassist Richard where the deal was sealed for a release of the retrospective album. Indietracks is somewhere we would love to play next summer, if we could.

It really does feel like we are back together after a few days rest, rather than a reformation after 23 years. The passion to be creative and the hunger to make a magical sound is as strong as ever. Especially as it's with such good friends. It's a complete coincidence that Ride. Lush, Slowdive have also reformed.

Of those shoegaze bands, which are your favourites?
With regards to the first wave of Shoegaze I do enjoy the sounds of the bands mentioned above. Although my personal favourite is still The Pale Saints, and the underrated 14 Iced Bears whose experimental sounds had that psychedelic shoegaze sound that many never hear if they just listen to the Sarah Records releases. Our drummer was a big Ride admirer though, and our track Spaceship has often been reviewed as Ride-esque.

Do you think it's a good thing that all these bands are getting so much posthumous recognition?
With regards to bands from 25 years ago getting posthumous recognition, if music’s good its good, whether recorded a 1000 years ago or yesterday. In the early 90s I was listening to Pebbles compilations made up of bands new to my ears. sounding fresh to me, but none of them ever charted in the 60s. It’s great that people are listening to our music for the first time and playing it alongside brand new bands. We have received support from Renato Malizia's (of The Blog That Celebrates Itself) label and we appeared alongside contemporary bands on a recent Husker Du tribute album.

How've you kept yourself busy post-Suncharms?
After failing to get our million seller album in the early 90s, and having no record label to pay for our studio time, we went into musical hibernation. Myself and Matt created a few short films to vent our creative needs, whilst Richard went onto play with The Screen Prints. We disappeared into the world of work and had beautiful families. We discovered however, that we all felt that our creative vision had finished far too early.

In this day and age, music fans can instantly listen to any music - no matter how obscure - from wherever and whenever they want. As a member of a reformed 90s band do you think this is good for music?
It's great in this digital age that we can access so much music. We have been played on radio stations from all over the world from Hawaii to Japan to Brazil and been contacted by bloggers who have heard about us because we have been shared by others.

The fact that we are having this interview is proof of how times have changed. In the early 90s communication tended to be through tapes sent in padded envelopes and postcards. We want to be creative and be heard by as many people as possible who will enjoy our sounds.

In the past you got to hear about new/obscure music through fanzines or friends compilation tapes. The Mainstream media had the power and you rarely got to hear about bands unless they were from Britain or USA.

What are you listening to at the moment?
I’ve been playing; 'Ringodeath Starr, Whyte Horses, Rain Parade, lots of Northern Soul compilations, and Younghusband. The others have said they've been into Broadcast, The Accidentals, TVAM's Gas and Air, Moon Duo, Alison's Halo's Dozen, The Wolfhounds, Boys Forever's debut album, Seafang's Motorcycle Song, The Rightovers' Blue Blood, EZTV's High In Place and Oskar's Drum's A Cathedral Of Hands

What next for The Suncharms?
The Suncharms are currently rehearsing for our February gig in Preston alongside The Orchids and The Chesterfields. We hadn’t intended to play live so soon as we wanted to concentrate solely on writing new material. However the invitation to play live again was too great, we just couldn't refuse. Rehearsing the old tracks is really weird as it feels as though we only wrote them yesterday. They seem fresh to us and are fitting in nicely with our new tracks.

We are really excited about releasing new tracks and it’s great to be back with the Charm Brothers.

Thanks Marcus!
Massive thanks to you Cal and Vapour Trail

You can catch The Suncharms at their first gig since the nineties in Preston on 17th February at The Continental.
Stream their career retrospective 'The Suncharms' below. (Seriously, do it)

(Words: Cal Cashin)