LUCKY 7 is the feature where we ask artists to name their 6 favourite songs by others, and a lucky 7th song of their own…today is the turn of Nottingham noisemongers and follicle monikered punks Grey Hairs. They formed in 2011 and had their best year yet last year, supporting VS favs including Hey Colossus, SAVAK and mighty local heroes Sleaford Mods.
Grey Hairs features members of bands Fists, Hey Colossus, Kogumaza, Bus Stop Madonnas and started out as an offshoot band but 2016 album “Serious Business” was a statement of intent and things have got even serious-ier with this year’s lean and mean “Health & Social Care” on Gringo Records. With things out there tougher than ever it’s a relief to find records of dissonant anger and righteous activism coming through. We can’t just rely on the returning Specials for this stuff you dig? With songs with titles like “Tory Nurse” subtle it ain’t (there’s no time for that).
Noisy it is though, like METZ with a headache, full of open tuning and Drop D chords, reminiscent of original VS fanzine bands like Ligament, Nub and Penthouse and with the lithe linguistics of Pissed Jeans’ Matt Korvette. They state their themes as “how can someone be a public sector punk in 2019?” and go onto say “What if your punk rock ethics extend to your occupation? This is a record about balancing your creative impulses with your life as you get older and the time to do either squeezes in on you. It’s a record about aesthetic punks, Dunning-Kruger syndrome in the Health service, extreme 360 degree cognitive dissonance and – most crucially – a confusion and inability to tackle these external problems because you’re so f*cked by your own personal ones.” Along with the likes of Pigs x7 and Hey Colossus, Grey Hairs proves that heavy British music is in rude health even if the UK isn’t. I can’t get enough of the song “Breathing In, Breathing Out” which sounds like Drive Like Jehu led by Frankie of Leatherface.
I saw Chris Summerlin of the band was talking up some great bands that he and Grey Hairs loved on Twitter, so thought what am I waiting for? Have some of that etc…and it’s a pleasingly eclectic list.
Without further ado, it’s over to our man – “Hi – I’m Chris and I play electric guitar in Grey Hairs. We have a new album – our 3rd – out on Gringo Records now and it’s called “Health & Social Care”. You can have a listen here:
We are very proud of it, though we accept we maybe aren’t the best people to judge.
Velvet Sheep kindly asked me to pick 6 songs I like and one of our own so here goes. As always, these views do not represent the views of the Grey Hairs group as a whole…”
1.ZOMBY “TEARS IN RAIN”
The first music I ever obsessed over was rave tapes when I was about 13 or 14. Some of my mates from school had older brothers who were part of the community of people travelling to raves and it seemed so exciting and dangerous to me. Thing is though, I hate dancing. I’m just not very good at it and I’m too self-conscious. So my love of this music didn’t stem from a physical connection to it as I never experienced the environment it was made for (and I was too young to be gobbling pills like the older lads at school). I loved this music because of how it sounded – the production and the build and release. I’d even say I love murky sounds to this day because of the fidelity of a 3rd or 4th generation cassette.
I have no idea what led to Zomby making this record or why but it feels like someone’s memory of a time they experienced peripherally like I did. Like an instinctive recollection of memory deliberately left un-factchecked. There are sonic signifiers dropped in that recall the time but the music is not a faithful copy of the era and weirdly becomes more evocative of it (or my memory of it) because of this.
2. HEY COLOSSUS “BLACK AND GOLD”
I’m slightly cheating here as I joined Hey Colossus a year or so ago. But I didn’t play on this or help write it so I’m picking it as one of my favourites. The impact this song (and album) had on me was subtle but profound and lasting. It always seemed to feel like ‘upping your game’ (in the UK especially) meant making a conscious decision to try and ‘make a go of it’ or whatever you want to call it. A lot of my musical peers seemed to wash their hands of their true influences and try and iron out any trace of the underground music world that formed them in order to be more palatable and make a statement that they were now a marketable force. “Look at me! I cleaned up! I’m a viable commercial commodity”.
But Colossus managed to make a statement of intent that solidified who they were and where they came from instead of rejecting it. It felt like it showed a way to openly take your music more seriously – as someone getting on a bit – without compromising it. It definitely acted like a kick up the arse for us in Grey Hairs at any rate.
I f*cked my hand up years ago and I can’t play barre chords so doing this every night with them is a bit of a nightmare to be honest. Sometimes I look down at my hand and it’s like it belongs to someone else. Worth it though.
3. BOB FRYFOGLE “SIX FEET UNDER”
Who was Bob? There’s some background in the comments on You Tube but it’s nice to have a song to listen to that isn’t immediately Wikpedia-able. All we really have is Bob’s voice (and that amazing log logo on the seven inch).
This one became a bit of a theme song when we were recording the last Grey Hairs album. Often when we get obsessed by a song we’ll try and play it in order to somehow exorcise it – we did it in the past with Harry Nilsson and Roky Erickson – and we have a version of this that will see the light of day at some point. But there’s a mysterious extra element at work here – you can hear what every part of the puzzle is doing but together they make something else, a sonic ghost buried in the recording that elevates the whole and makes it impossible to replicate.
4. B52s “DANCE THIS MESS AROUND”
The greatest! I can’t believe there are people who like Talking Heads, or Devo (or Sleater-Kinney even) who dismiss the B52s as a novelty band. I went to see them a few weeks ago and had to find a number of excuses to rub my eyes during this song so people around me didn’t see I was blubbing. I even danced. Badly. And when Cindy sang “Why won’t you dance with me? I’m not no Limburger!” I could have died then and there.
I ended up in a B52s tribute band a few years ago and learning Ricky Wilson’s guitar parts was like a lifetime of guitar lessons in the space of a month or so. He really was the best (him or Link Wray at any rate). Those first couple of B52s records are perfect.
5. JOHN OTWAY “CHERYL’S GOING HOME (LIVE ON OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST)
We in the Grey Hairs group are very into the idea that there is no such thing as coincidence and anything considered as such is actually a sign from the cosmos that needs immediate respect and immediate action. Many years ago my friend Mark started a Facebook group called Rockcidents that was about sharing onstage calamity videos and this performance was the first thing posted. Woah.
I can’t adequately describe the power of it. On paper, it’s a video of a TV performance written-off by a man smashing his nuts in on the corner of an amp – but yet somehow it has transcendental qualities.
In Grey Hairs we watched it, rewatched it, discussed it, marvelled at it. The mysterious outsider Otway absolutely not giving a shit, blowing his moment (in traditional terms) but somehow – on reflection – it couldn’t have gone better.
One Saturday afternoon we as a band were supposed to go and DJ at Record Store Day but got sidetracked. The weather was nice and our local pub (north of Nottingham) has a beer garden so we tucked in for a couple of pints in the sun. As we left we held the door for a gentleman who looked a lot like Otway. We stood in the street, puzzled. Why is Otway in our local? Isn’t he from Aylesbury? What does this all mean? Have we died?
Our friend Tom put us out of our misery and went back in to make introductions. There started an ongoing history of bumping into this great man in the street in our neighbourhood. This isn’t a coincidence, it’s a sign of immense importance so we asked him to do a cameo in our video for “Serious Business”. He did, we bought him a pint, and I genuinely think the upturn in the band’s fortunes from then on is a direct result of the completion of this weird little circle.
6. COUNTRY TEASERS “POINTS OF VIEW”
It’s pretty hard to be shocking in 2019. The USA and UK are run by imbecile figureheads who frequently up the ante for what is acceptable to openly say in public. But I’m still not sure I’d want to play this one in my workplace or for anyone who doesn’t know me well. I even thought twice about including it here because it’s not a good one for an era where meaning is gathered from lyrics-as-soundbites devoid of context or wider intent. How often do you hear some f*ckwitted comment justified with “I’m entitled to my point of view”?
At Christmas a relation of mine used that very excuse for a nasty racist tirade that had me at his throat. The points of view in this song are – in writer Ben Wallers’ words – “very hard to understand”. The language is brutal and offensive and used without fanfare. The words have a power to shock but shocking you isn’t the point. The point is the absurdity of anyone’s “point of view” being a sacred thing to be respected at the expense of anything else. I don’t know if Wallers would appreciate being called a “genius” so I won’t call him one, but this whole album (“The Empire Strikes Back”) seems like a prediction of the world we live in now. I wish it wasn’t. But it’s a truly great record.
And one of ours…
THE LUCKY 7TH: GREY HAIRS “TORY NURSE”
We debated the title on this one. It was a working title that stuck but lyrically the song concerns itself more with the effects on the self of living in a world where a Tory Nurse is a thing rather than any character study. But I’m pleased we stuck with it, it seems to have some sort of oxymoronic power. We try and steer clear of sloganeering in our music. Nothing is that simple, especially not the health and care system of the album’s title. It’s complex and contradictory, it can’t be fixed by shouting “SAVE THE NHS” to 50,000 people at a festival and worrying about that mess is f*cking us up on a personal level. I think we were after that sense of unease with the music – there’s a chord structure in there somewhere but none of us ever really play it. We were going for the ‘ghost’ traces of Bob Fryfogle – letting something else creep into the recording without knowing what it will be. It was the last one we wrote for the record and nearly didn’t make it on but I’m really pleased with how it turned out.
THANKS TO CHRIS SUMMERLIN of GREY HAIRS. COVER PHOTO BY JAMES FINLAY.
You can get the Grey Hairs album “Health & Social Care” here…
You can check out the “song for ewe” by Joe Thompson of Hey Colossus
and here’s a Lucky 7 by Sleaford Mods…