Having first become aware of Dead Like Harry when they supported Strawbs on a UK tour in 2006, along with many other lovers of good music present on that tour I have kept watch on DLH's activities. There have been a few changes in line-up, and in August of this year I watched the band perform a great set to an enthusiastic crowd at The Cambridge Rock Festival, following which I joined the autograph queue for a few words with Matt. He obligingly agreed to be interviewed at a later date. Given the miles separating my Essex home and the home he shares with his family (including brother Sam) in Sheffield, a telephone interview seemed like the best idea. Thanks to a split-line telephone arrangement I recently spoke to both Matt and Sam, fielding questions asked by curious DLH fans including myself (a perk of the job!). Both were most obliging, though Sam had to disappear half way through to let the rest of the band into the house for a rehearsal!
The Dead Like Harry sound has changed quite distinctively over the years, and I asked whether that had been a natural evolution or more driven by how the band wishes to position itself. Matt replied that DLH are not aiming at a particular market, although they consider their sound is more "together" than in the past. He added that John (Redgrave, guitars and vocals) and Adam (Crofts, drums and vocals) both help with arrangements these days, increasing creative input and keeping everything fresh and interesting. (Matt and John had been creating new demos earlier in the week.) The band is in the enviable position of having a massive backlog of material, with enough songs ready for another album after that already completed. The material for the album, due out in 2010, has been ready since the beginning of the year when they had sixteen tracks ready in demo form, twelve of which will be used.
According to Sam, Dead Like Harry (as witnessed by audiences on the Strawbs tour) provided a window to what the band was about. However, several changes followed the experience, as Graz Szewzyck (drummer) left to spend more time with his new family, and Sally Brown left to study medicine. (Incidentally, Sally has now qualified and is extremely busy, working in the Sheffield area. Matt added that Dead Like Harry were recently delighted to perform "Lake Geneva" at Sally's dad's birthday party.) Following the tour with Strawbs, Matt, Sam and Alice played a few gigs as a three-piece then decided to present their sound in a bigger format. Former member John rejoined the band, new member Adam took over on drums while Robin Baker continued as Dead Like Harry's highly energetic bass player. The band pondered whether a name change might have been in order, but concluded that there was no need; "Dead Like Harry" attracts a lot of interest. A name which has undeniably caused many to ponder its meaning, Sam explained it had originated following the passing of John's Uncle Harry. John had used the phrase "Dead Like Harry" and it had somehow stuck.
Moving on to questions supplied by fans and followers of the band I asked about their performance at the highly-prestigious Glastonbury Festival in June. Sam declared the experience to have been terrific, they were well-received, various interviews were conducted with band members, and they were most impressed with the way they were looked after by festival organiser Michael Eavis, who likes to deal with each band individually.
I asked what had inspired the aforementioned "Lake Geneva", one of my favourite DLH songs. Matt explained that Sam wrote the tune, while he was responsible for the lyrics which had been inspired by novelist Mary's Shelley's writing of "Frankenstein" at a location near Lake Geneva. Matt elaborated that generally he and Sam write a lyric and melody together, although they do not follow any set formula. Sam continued that when he came up with the melody for "When We Were 17" he knew it had the makings of a great song but something wasn't quite working; Matt then added the riffs which made the song complete. Though they work separately, their songwriting partnership is clearly organic, and their individual creations inspire each other.
Another question related to the "third" DLH, which had not been released. Sam explained that there wasn't an unreleased album as such, it was a case of their having a bunch of recordings which they no longer feel represent the more "upbeat" sound of the band as it is now. They have been aiming for a more "cohesive" sound which the public are able instantly to recognise as Dead Like Harry, and no longer consider those songs relevant. Sam pointed out that between them the band have dozens of songs which have been recorded in Sheffield studios, and it is highly likely such songs will resurface over time in one form or another.
Conversation moved to discussion of an antique pump organ which Sam and Matt have in the cellar of their parents' Sheffield home. The pump organ is over 100 years old, and was garnered for free from a pub on the moors in Yorkshire. One track from the forthcoming album, "Satellite", has a rocky riff which was written on the organ; the song started life as a ballad but evolved to become faster and more of a rock song. I asked whether the acoustics in their cellar (which itself inspired their album entitled "Stories from the Cellar") were good for making music. Apparently not, Sam told me the acoustics were "terrible" – following a lot of hard work (aided and abetted by others) which involved the use of an industrial vacuum cleaner and a lot of whitewash, the cellar had been transformed. Those pristine walls are now apparently adorned by the signatures and grafitti left by everyone who visits, including various producers, journalists and so on. Sam mused as to how the wall would be viewed by prospective buyers, should the house ever be put on the market!
Somewhere around this point Sam apologised that he had to disappear in order to answer the door, as other band members had arrived for a rehearsal. Matt therefore answered the next question; I had been asked to enquire which director the band would choose to direct a video to put to one of their songs, given the opportunity. It seemed rather a strange question to me, but Matt answered without hesitation that given the opportunity he would choose Quentin Tarantino (who often provokes controversy for his use of violence) and give him free reign to select one of their songs for his treatment.
It was by now clear that given the opportunity both Matt and Sam love to spend their days creating music; they are both highly prolific songwriters, acutely aware of the importance of constant creativity and how a band effectively "dies" if writing and recording new material ceases. Asked whether they have ever considered careers away from music, and if so what those careers might be, both answered that songwriting is the only route they would want to take. It was clear they mean business. Matt declared that he would love nothing more than to be able to get up in the morning, compose at the piano and record demos of his creations in the afternoon. He currently works part-time to support himself financially, as do other band members, and both he and Sam are full of gratitude for the support they receive from their parents which allows them to indulge their creativity. I enquired whether parental input had been responsible for Matt and Sam's love of music; Matt explained that his dad had written music on the piano, which he had played to them since they were young, and those experiences had undoubtedly proved inspirational. He continued to tell me that his dad had been responsible for writing the tag on the end of "Whatever I Did", a song which featured in their set while touring with Strawbs. The Taylor brothers' major musical influences have been highly eclectic however; Matt declared a love of music both modern and from earlier times. Artists he cited included Paul Simon, The Beatles, Dylan ("Blood on the Tracks" was a major influence), Kate Bush, Bruce Springsteen, a more recent act called Marina and the Diamonds, and several bands of the "folk-rock" genre including Strawbs. (Sam, who had by now returned to the phone, recalled with pleasure the occasion during a soundcheck at the Half Moon, Putney, when Dave Cousins showed him how to play "Stormy Down".)
To a question asking which TV music show they would most like to perform (or have performed) on, the response was a unanimous "Old Grey Whistle Test". Both Matt and Sam consider Bob Harris to be a master of his art, and highly entertaining. The TV show that launched countless hitherto unknown acts to late night BBC2 viewers still clearly remains a favourite.
Aware that other band members were waiting (patiently!) to start rehearsing, we said our goodbyes and I let Matt and Sam get back to the art of making great music. To keep up to date with information about the band's gigs, the new album and everything else "Dead Like Harry", visit their website at http://www.deadlikeharry.co.uk and myspace http://www.myspace.com/deadlikeharrymusic. The band have a Christmas Theatre gig lined up for Saturday 12th December at Sheffield's Library Theatre, and prior to that several dates in October (Glasgow Capitol on Thursday 22nd, St. Andrews Inn at Lathones on Friday 23rd, Saturday 24th in Newcastle at the Dog and Parrott. Check out the website and myspace for full details.