For once in my life I am a bit stuck for words (writes Andy Wood, rather implausibly). I really don’t know where to start with The June Brides who have been one of my favourite bands ever for such a long time. I’ve composed this introduction in my head many times already and I know my words probably can’t do justice to how I feel about this band. So forgive my clumsy attempt and I’ll start with a history lesson.
I was still at school, struggling along and trying to find some kind of identity for myself. A friend gave me a cassette of sessions that he’d taped recently from the John Peel show and there was a session by The June Brides which really struck a chord with me and that was it, I was hooked. The four songs on that session really stuck out for me, there was a sense of beauty and lovely melodies, there was the mix between that loveliness and a sense of regret, even worldly-weariness but also a sense of the possibility of change and a defiance that things could be better, no matter how small the change. The words and music became very special to me. I began to get quite interested in the sounds being produced by independent bands and labels and discovered a whole world which influenced me and this got me into playing, putting on live gigs and producing fanzines as part of a D.I.Y. culture that seemed so vibrant and interesting and diametrically opposed to the world of the polished, dull mainstream.
I tracked down everything I could find by the band and looked forward to new records and the possibility of seeing them live. Alas, although they played Dundee once I had no chance of being admitted to a strictly over 18’s only show in Fat Sams. I hated being young, I couldn’t wait to grow up, I was impatient to taste this world of gigs and music, to be free from the strictures of school and my parents but I was stuck, as The June Brides suggested, simply waiting for a change.
Fate is a cruel thing. Despite having seemed to have been on an unstoppable rise, releasing an album and several great singles and touring incessantly – including with The Smiths – the band called it a day with the release of their swansong single, the melancholy, gorgeous ‘This Town’. Frank Sweeney and Jon Hunter who added the lush viola and trumpet to the June Brides sound would go on to play sessions with a number of bands including The Shop Assistants while frontman Phil Wilson signed to Creation as a solo artist. Alan McGee had been a huge fan of the band for years, putting them on at his Living Room club night and they had played with The Jesus and Mary Chain. The two singles that appeared were gorgeous, adding a country influence to ‘Waiting For A Change’ and even having the audacity to cover Nancy and Lee’s ‘Jackson’. Sadly, apart from a limited 7” single of Bob Stanley’s Caff label that was it for Phil Wilson and The June Brides for a very, very long time.
The influence of the band remained though, at times noticeable and at other points less so. I think it can be heard in the music of a number of bands, not necessarily in an obvious way but it’s there. Belle and Sebastian would be one band I’d say shared my love for The June Brides. Their Peel session was issued in 1987 which finally allowed me to replace my hissy second generation cassette. A best of followed a few years later then there was an album of covers put out. The Manic Street Preachers covered ‘The Instrumental’ from the debut album. I think there may have been a couple of one-off gigs as well by the June Brides to promote the best of but I missed those. Cherry Red issued the double CD Every Conversation. The Story of The June Brides and Phil Wilson which collected everything the band and Wilson had ever recorded. It’s an essential album for anyone I think. A year later, in 2006, the writer Dave Eggers published a beautiful piece in The Guardian, ‘A Marriage Of Convenience’ where he discussed his love of the band plus the sad fact that Wilson had no burning desire to create music again. In all honesty I’d given up on even entertaining thoughts that there would be any more new songs so while it saddened me it didn’t shock me.
Then Phil Wilson returned to music with a solo single and album God Bless Jim Kennedy on the American label Slumberland. The new solo material showed that Phil Wilson’s ability to compose beautiful songs had not been diminished by his years away from the world of music. Things move slowly in the world of The June Brides but gently things began to come together. There were shows announced and in 2012 the band released their first single in 26 years, the sublime ‘Moon’ / ‘Cloud’ single on Occultation. Marc Riley had them in for a session and they played their first dates in the U.S. and in Europe as well as playing some rare U.K. one-off dates.
I had an itch that needed scratching and previously spoke vaguely with Phil about putting on The June Brides but never really got going. We’d sporadically talked after Phil contacted me after my rather over-excitable review of the Cherry Red collection was published on the Tangents website which really thrilled me to pieces, that one of my musical inspirations and favourite songwriters had taken the time to not only read my piece but to comment on how much he enjoyed it. If I’d been him I might have considered an injunction…
So things move slowly and somehow that’s for the best. It’s good not to rush into things sometimes but finally The June Brides will come to Scotland and I will get to see them. I’m older and possibly wiser than I was then but inside I feel like I’m fifteen again, I’m full of excitement and anticipation, nerves and sheer joy.
Phil Wilson was kind enough to reply to my questions ahead of the Scottish dates that will take in Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen.
Hello, how are things with you just now? Are you looking forward to your trip to the cold North at the end of the month?
“Hello! All is good, thanks. The band are about to start rehearsing for our trip – so it’s an exciting time. We’re really looking forward to getting up to Scotland again – it’s been too long.”
Do you have any fond memories of previous Scottish gigs that you would care to share with us?
“Well (and I mean this in the nicest possible way)…what I remember is that Scottish gigs tend to be a bit mental! When an audience up there likes what you’re doing, they tend to throw themselves into it and create a fantastic atmosphere. I totally associate Scotland with smiling, dancing and a bit of exciting madness…”
What made you decide to return to music after such a long absence?
“Lots of things, really. I’d been a civil servant for getting on for 20 years, and had done no music. But I had one of those “Is this all there is?” moments. And the moment lasted – so I felt compelled to do something about it. I’m at the age where you start to think about mortality, and it struck me that no-one was likely to remember me for my 20 solid years of writing submissions, attending meetings and my super accuracy in filing! So, I had to have another go at music. There was also the feeling of unfinished business – the June Brides had split up prematurely when there was more that we could and should have done…”
What have been the highlights since reforming The June Brides? How has the response been?
“The best thing has been the audiences. What is noticeable, particularly when we have played in Europe and the USA, is the age spread of the people who come – ranging from 18 year olds to the 50 year olds who were there the first time around. It has given me immense joy, and some pride, to know that the appeal of the band has come down to later generations…”
Are there any plans to release any further new recordings? Things have been quite quiet on that front since the release of a single on Occultation.
“Definitely. I’m actually breaking off from recording a demo of a new single (hopefully!) to write these answers. It would have been easy, and the expected thing to do, to rush in and record a new album after releasing the single. But I was very keen to give it more time before doing so. I want the album to feel special – not just the expected thing to do. So I’m approaching it slowly. I think it will be 2014 or early 2015 before it comes out. But there’s no real rush: I did leave 27 between my last two albums, after all!”
During the fallow years there was often a fair bit of (deserved) reverence held for The June Brides. How did that make you feel?
“Brilliant, obviously 😉 I think it was the Internet that made a huge difference to me. When I got on line, over 10 years ago, I noticed that there were still people mentioning the band – particularly in places abroad like the Philippines, Japan and America. That made a big difference to my self-belief, and it’s something I would never have been aware of if not for the ‘net.”
When not playing in The June Brides what does everyone do with their time?
“Teachers, civil servants, administrators – it’s the usual stuff. I’ve gone from working in the Treasury on Environmental Taxation to being a house-husband in a small town in Devon. I hadn’t really seen that coming!”
Phil, you’ve also released a solo album, God Bless Jim Kennedy. Do you have any plans to return to recording under your own name?
“Probably not. When I started doing music again, in 2007, it was literally just me alone, so using my own name was appropriate. Even when I got a couple of guys from down here in Devon to play drums and bass it seemed wisest to continue using my given name rather than calling the band “The June Brides” – as I felt that that would be misleading people, seeing as I was the only “June Bride” in the band! But three more of the original band gradually came back to playing with me, and it seemed right to go with the original name again. “God Bless Jim Kennedy” could, in all fairness, have been released as a Junies album – and probably should have been. So, with most of the band back in place, there are definitely no plans to go back to releasing “Phil Wilson” recordings…”
How, in your opinion, has the music world changed since you were first playing and making records?
“It’s changed for good and bad. The good things are that the Internet has made it much easier to be in contact with like-minded people around the world, and easier to organise playing concerts in far-flung places. Also, the easy access to home recording has made it much simpler and cheaper to record music. Of course, the slight downside to that is that there are tens of thousands of people putting music out onto the Internet and it becomes harder and harder to find the good stuff.
“Music piracy and the consequent huge dip in the sales of records/CDs has made it very hard, indeed, to make any sort of living from music. I guess that’s fine if you’re in my position – where I can just about afford to pay for this expensive hobby. But it must make it terribly discouraging for young musicians who might be contemplating a career in the music industry.”
Some of the younger bands I know are huge fans of The June Brides, a band that probably originally split before they were born. How do you feel about that? Are you ready to step up and be the older statesmen of pop?
“When we were recording in the 1980s, I think it’s fair to say that we hadn’t really thought about why we were doing it: we’d simply been on a roll since playing a few gigs in local pubs and our stature growing from there. The fact that there are now bands that are influenced by those recordings makes me immensely proud. We may not have planned what we were doing with the band very much, but I’d put a lot of work into trying to write interesting songs that actually had something to say. That some people still recognise and value that is fantastic. And there are worse things to be than elder statesmen of pop!”
What current bands and music to you enjoy?
“I like a lot of the younger, independent-minded pop bands. In recent years, my favourites have been Summer Cats (from New Zealand), Honeyheads (Germany), Pete and the Pirates (England), The Just Joans (Scotland), Crystal Stilts, Sexy Kids, Let’s Wrestle and Veronica Falls. Also, some of the old buggers have also come back with great stuff! Vic Godard, the Wolfhounds, The Sexual Objects, the Fallen Leaves – all making exciting music as good as anything put out by groups half their age.”
Any plans for the future that you would like to share with us?
“Life (and death) seem to interfere with any serious planning, so I try not to do too much. Just await the next adventure around the corner…”
The June Brides play the Cool Cat Club at Beat Generator Live! on Friday 29th November with support from the Hugs and the Wildhouse. More info here.