Interview with Ian Barnes from The Longsands

If anyone gets the notion that invention and quality within UK the indie/rock scene is lacking need to go no further than listening to the debut album Meet Me In Spanish City from The Longsands. It is a release which is passionate, mesmeric, and easily one of the more impressive and essential albums to come out this year. The Newcastle quintet ignite thought and emotions with their and impassioned and infectious blend of rock, pop, and indie sounds for a full and lingering pleasure. Given the opportunity to talk with guitarist Ian Barnes from the band we delved deeper into and behind the band and album.

Hi Ian and thank you for taking time out to talk with us.

Firstly please could you introduce the band members?

We are The Longsands from Newcastle (well Northumberland if you wanna get technical!) we serve up rock n roll tunes with great melodies and honest lyrics.

Singer: Trev
Guitar and songwriter: me (Ian Barnes)
Lead guitar and songwriter: Stan
Bass: Gaz
Drums: Paul

What was the beginning of the band?

Started mucking about with a few tunes in 2006 and it was more of a hobby then, but we won a national unsigned competition and put a single out which made us take things more seriously. Myself and Trev quit work to get us off the ground. We then got a collection of early songs and got out there gigging as much as possible around the UK at the end of 2007. We sold out The Sage in Newcastle and then went on a few tours of Greece commissioned by Sony music and Jack Daniels.  At this point our old drummer Sean (and he was old) decided sunshine, free whiskey and rock ‘n’ roll was not for him!  Haha! Well I think it was more the commitment, really… After that tour we took things far more seriously through 2009 and began working on a debut record with a new drummer (Paul) and an agenda of world domination! There have been a few curve balls since then but we are still here and I believe we have one of the best records this year.

Is there a musical history before The Longsands?

Yeh 4 of us at some point between the age of 15 and 21 were in a band called Lotus.  We had some good tunes and it was the most fun I’ve ever had, but although we had ambition it was really just about getting off your tits and playing music in shit holes! Without management we were young, drunk and lacked direction.  We were a great band though! We made a few demos and at some point I’d like to get all the former members together and re-record an album just for myself! And maybe do a show for a laugh! God knows when though! Very busy with The Longsands at the mo!

It seems like The Longsands was grabbing attention almost from the start, was that the case?

Partly, live we have always performed well and drummed up fans but there are parts of the British music scene that I don’t think will ever warm to us.

It’s a funny old place – 2012 – for bands, but great music will pull through I hope and something has to give.  I have no doubt that there are tons of talented people out there, but for whatever reason it’s getting tougher and tougher for new artists to get noticed.

Now we have a record out though, no-one can argue with that and it’s getting to the stage now where we are getting in people’s faces whether they like us or not!  And I think whatever peoples’ initial thoughts, if you give this record the time it deserves you’ll love it!

Which are the major influences that shaped your personal musical directions and the band sound?

Musically, the most important band for me were Oasis. Without them I would not have picked up the guitar or wanted to be a songwriter.  They opened the door to a lot of other music as well.  The Stone Roses, The Jam and the most important band of all time, the Beatles.  As a 12 year old kid I would never have listened to a band my dad liked if Noel Gallagher hadn’t told me too!  I’m so pleased he did… We could go on and on – The Doors, Tom Petty, Neil Young…

More currently bands like The Streets and The Courteeners have made me really improve lyrically which I always thought was my weak point as a writer.

You have just released your new album Meet Me In Spanish City which we loved. What has been the early response towards it?

Unreal, let’s put this into perspective… We are an independent band with our own label.  We pay for the manufacturing, recording, touring, PR the lot! Our marketing budget wouldn’t buy you a pack of cigarettes at today’s prices!

We have had 3 five star reviews, Dave Stewart championing the record, plays by Bob Harris and Alex Lester on BBC Radio 2 and the response from fans on iTunes, Twitter, etc. has been fantastic. I always believed in the record but peoples’ comments really made the last 5 years feel worthwhile, and let’s be honest the fans are the real critics.  Let’s just hope enough people get to hear about it to fall in love with it.

Obviously as a band you had great confidence in the album but how much is that tempered by trepidation whenever you release something?

This is not the game to be in if you fear the response to something you do.  We write music for ourselves and hope others like it and we would never put out anything that we don’t think is good. I think our b-sides on the singles show that. You can’t worry about things like that. Obviously nerves are natural, you want things to do well and reviews to be good etc., but we are big boys and can take the rough with the smooth! I’m more worried if the fans think something is shit, but that’s not happened yet and the more you do good things the more belief you have in your music. I think that is natural!

How long was the album in the making?

It was written over a period of about 5 years with some songs being ones I’d had for years i.e. North South Divide and Worlds Collide. I spent about 6 months from summer 2008 to early 2009 with Stan writing the gaps so I was happy with every track.  We demoed and recorded it in about 4 months and produced it by the end of 2009 just before The Jam tour.

With record labels talking to our management and a debut album ready to go, we went into that major tour with high hopes.  We nailed that tour; we were brilliant probably better than them if I’m honest. But a few things out of our control occurred, and by the end of 2010 we had split with the management and had two deals go sour.  As you can imagine we were deflated and an old fan and friend of the band Steve Wraith of Player Inc events management offered us a no nonsense management deal.

We regrouped, and after following up a few leads decided to set up Unknown Soldier records and began releasing things.  We could have put the record out then but we wanted to test the water with a few single releases to get to grips with a side of the record industry we knew little about.  Both Little Britain and Streets and Pavements were released last year and helped us raise some funds to plough into the album release as well as contributions from our sponsors VW Pullman and DT contacts.  By early this year we set the release dates for June giving us time to organise everything. So far so good!

Did you have an exact outcome for songs which were realised going into the studio or did the tracks evolve as you were inside?

The songs were written and picked and we had played them all live, so everything we could do live went down 1st.

Obviously in the studio you can layer further tracks, so we were able to build on areas of guitar work, keyboards (which we don’t have live) and also percussion.  The producer also changed the rawness of the live takes with all the fairy dust and effects to make it sound like a proper record not a demo.

How does the songwriting happen within the band?

It’s mainly my bag at the moment, and Stan and I collaborate now and then, but that tends to be instrumentally. All the lyrics on the record are written by me. Trev is writing for the next record and has a couple of corkers up his sleeve as well! It’s nice, I hope the lads chip in more as long as the tunes are good enough they are all welcome to write.  The best songs will always be picked though, no matter who wrote them, there is no ‘you get 4 and he gets 4 ‘to keep it fair! Obviously, judging what are the best is where the fighting begins. They are fun sessions! Haha!

Your songs are infectiously anthemic is this a deliberate part of the songwriting or just how your music emerges organically?

There is nothing deliberate about any of my songs. An idea can start with a hook, a chord progression or a melody, and from there the creativity serves the song. If it’s an upbeat idea then you build on how it feels, if it’s a slower song then the music will have more dynamics and feel. I usually write the lyrics last, and they can be inspired by anything, from a headline I read in the paper to my own personal thoughts and feelings. Again the lyrical content matches the musical style.  If the song sounds anthemic it’s ‘cause it should do!

What is the biggest inspiration for your songs and lyrics?

It’s nothing specific.  As I said above I write about my own life and personal experiences sometimes but I try not to do this too much as I’m probably not that interesting!

I love politics, although we are not a politically driven band as such, I just like writing about current issues that affect us all.  Things you hear on the news, things that people react to. Sometimes people watching or conversations spring an idea. Quite often I will sing random words to a chord progression just to get an idea of the melody and then a line may stick. Streets and Pavements was like that, I had ‘and it’s happening all over’ in my head and then thought ‘what’s happening all over?’ That week I read 3 articles about knife crime in different parts of the UK and I found them shocking, worrying, and thought it was an important issue. I also tried to suggest some reasons as to why kids end up in gangs, as it was something I studied at university.

Are you a band which road tests your songs on stage before unveiling them in the studio or vice versa?

Other than maybe 1 b-side, we have always played things live before recording and releasing them. It’s not a rule, I think it’s just because this is our debut record and to drum up a fanbase you have to play live.  There may be a point where a record comes first and then a tour, once we are more established.

Is there any particular part of the album you are most proud of or feel things really hit the sweet spot for you personally?

The climax for me is where Trev sings ‘it’s just you-oo-oo-oo who can change the world’ on Let Love Rain On You. Hairs on the neck moment!

But they are all great songs, and everyone will have their favourites. A fan came up to me last week and said ‘This is the first album I can listen to back to back in a long time. I never skip a track!’ that made me a little bit pleased, as you can imagine!

You led up to the release of the album with the single Shut Your mouth, can you tell us about the song and its inspiration?

I could but it might split the band up! Our video company came up with an idea of domestic violence against men after reading the lyrics and listening so we ran with that for the video. But really it’s about another band member who I was really angry with a few years back!  It was only for a day or so and was written in the heat of the moment, so is not really a true reflection of how I feel about him! Thoughts and moods are temporary and change quickly, but songs stay in that moment forever so should never be taken too seriously! I think it has great attack for it though and you can really feel the intensity. Songwriting is often a great way to make something positive come out of anger and frustration, and helps you deal with stuff. Just for the record, we are all mates now!

Amongst your continually growing army of fans you have the likes of Steve White of The Style Council and Bruce Foxton of The Jam as notable followers the latter of the two inviting you to be the main support for The Jam’s winter tour in 2009 as you mentioned before. Do you know how he came across you and how inspirational was the tour?

First of all let’s just clarify that Bruce has never ‘came across me’ !  If you mean where did he hear about us, it was through Russell who is the singer in From The Jam.  He saw us live and recommended we contact their agent and that was that.  We had a great tour and made a lot of friends.

You have gained a great reputation for your live shows; you are a band that ensures all have a good time as much as simply hearing great songs?

I’m not really sure! We don’t really do much apart from play and sing our songs as well as we can!  We are not the type of band who has visuals or jumps about, but it doesn’t stop the crowd going for it! Guess you could say we let the music do the talking!

Please tell us about the series of sporting challenges videos you have made ‘The Longsands Challenges’. How did the idea of those come about?

It wasn’t really planned as a series, it just kind of happened! We knew we were playing at the Tyson event and Trev suggested we try a PR stunt.  We were having a round of golf and we were in the trees looking for a ball (as usual). Trev was under a conker tree and said that’s it I’ll fight him at conkers, thinking it was a very English game and he would find it quite random! Which he did! He wouldn’t let anyone have the conker after he was besotted with it!  The response was so good to the clip that we contacted other sports stars and once Tyson has done something everyone wants a crack! He’s over in the UK again this year, so the re-match may be on! Who knows!?

Was it easy to get the likes of Ricky Hatton, Steve Harmison, Shay Given and Mike Tyson involved?

Yeh they are all contacts of our manager, Steve. His sports events company use these guys a lot for charity do’s and so we were lucky we had their details!  They still had to agree to it tho’ and we thank them all for being up for a laugh!

Did you sell them a copy of the album too?;)

The winners got a free one! Sorry Shay!

Will this be an on-going thing if the opportunity arises or was just part of the album build up?

Like I said, it wasn’t really planned but worked well in the build up!  At the end of the day we are a band and it’s mainly about the music, but our style of music sits well with sport and sports fans for some reason.  We won’t continue to flog a dead horse just for a bit of cheap PR though as it would not be interesting! People would have to demand more, and if our fans are enjoying something and it’s helping push the music to new places, then never say never!  I think the Tyson rematch is most likely, as Trev has been winding him up on Twitter!

Are you all sporting fans?

Yeh, all Newcastle Fans and fans of most sports really!

What s next for The Longsands?

2nd single out at the beginning of September, hopefully with 4 big UK tour supports and just work our way up the ladder with radio, press, etc.  We are also working on a new record in between everything and releasing a live DVD for Christmas.

Again thank you for sharing your time

Have you any last words for the readers?

Just thanks for reading and hopefully listening! The word is spreading and we need their help to get out there and tell the world about The Longsands :-)

And lastly did anyone take ‘a dive’ out of fear of facing Mike Tyson in conkers? :)

No, but Gaz bottled British Bulldog against the Newcastle Falcons due to a shoulder injury!

Read the review of Meet Me In Spanish City @ https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2012/06/09/the-longsands-meet-me-in-spanish-city/

The Ringmaster Review 08/07/2012

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