Very few bands can claim to have played one of their first shows on stage with Damo Suzuki from Can, but that’s exactly how Manchester based band The Nightjars came to light.
Founded on a mutual love for obscure sounds next-door neighbours Ollie Wright (bass/vocals) and Phil Arnold (guitar) grew up playing guitar together whilst their love of Nirvana and then Oasis made the idea of being in a band a reality. Soon Dan Sims (guitar) was recruited and then Seamus O’Kane (drums) who was recently sacked from his previous band for not being fashionable enough and hitting the drums too hard. Ideal for The Nightjars.
Hotly tipped by the Manchester press while already boasting a healthy local fanbase, The Nightjars are considered by many to be one of the most under-rated bands around town. Therefore I thought it was only right that I met up with lead singer Ollie and guitarist Dan at Manchester’s Roadhouse just before their gig to chat about what they’ve been doing with themselves as well as the release of their debut mini-album ‘Towards Light’.
AK: When you formed in 2005, did you always have an idea of the type of music you wanted to play or was it a case of just getting together and seeing what happened?
Ollie: well, Dan and I have been mates since we were kids really so we’ve been writing songs together for years and years. I think that really meant that we could develop a style. When we were looking for musicians we basically wanted something quite different and we didn’t want to be the average band. Obviously we wanted to be a guitar based band but we didn’t want it to be bog standard, it was never going to be like that really. We were too interested in groups and artists that produced weird sounds, so the idea was to be as original as possible really. When we advertised for band members we put up all these bands like Slint and God Speed Black Emperors. Then Seamus the drummer just emailed us and said it sounds really interesting and then when he actually came in it turned out he’d never even herd of any of the bands but just thought we sounded interesting.
AK: So how long were you lot together before people started to take notice?
Ollie: It was great actually because within the first few months people like High Voltage took cottoned on. They’re a label that’s really on it and are very quick to spot what’s going on, they got us a gig and then put us on their compilation album. I also think it really helped that the demo we did was recorded by Polytechnic and local press got really interested straight away. I think in Manchester if you’re doing something interesting then it’s the right place to do it and if you’re pretty good then people pick up on it fairly quickly.
Dan: It’s small enough to make an impact so it’s an ideal place really. It’s a place of musical minds.
AK: I think your right but I always find that in Manchester a lot of people only go and see bands they’ve herd of where as in London people are more likely to go out on a whim and see something random.
Ollie: Yeah I know what you mean
Dan: That’s just London for you though, anything goes there.
AK: Have you done any London gigs then?
Ollie: We’ve done a few
Dan: We need to do more really, the intention is to definitely go down there and get all those Londoners listening to us. There’s a really good night there called Fluke where we did the Christmas party.
Ollie: Yeah, but I had a raging flu and then we got lost driving round, it was right on oxford street too so I don’t know how we missed it. People drive like loons there.
AK: You did an improv gig with Damo Suzuki at Manchester’s night and day, how did that come about?
Ollie: I was kind of maybe a little over ambitious. Basically I heard about this thing called The Damo Suzuki Network which is an online way of gathering musicians form all around the world. You just email him if you fancy playing alongside him. Obviously he's on this never ending world tour and is a bit of a globe trotter, so if his in your town he’ll ask you to join him onstage.
Dan: We had this fireman playing the keyboard with us called Dave, he was mental.
Ollie: Dave from polytechnic also sat in on guitar with us too and it was a great night.
Dan: It was definitely one to remember, Damo was meditating onstage before we started and we asked him when he was going to stop his tour and he said when I’m dead.
Ollie: Adrenaline wise it was one of the best experiences and when I first met Dan he said he had done some improvisation when he was a kid, so we thought we would have a go.
Dan: I wasn’t one of them arty improv kids let me just say, more big band stuff. But going from that to playing 90 minutes with a legend was one you wouldn’t forget. It was a great crowd too.
AK: You played In The City in 2006 did that work out well for you?
Ollie: Ahhh that was the one where Vertigo records came to see us and then they paid for us to go into the studio and do some demos, so that’s when it really kicked off for us. The gig was brilliant.
Dan: It was sold out and absolutely rammed to the walls, Polytechnic were playing as well.
AK: What do you think of events like this for up and coming bands?
Ollie: I think it’s sad because there are certain things that exploit it, for example some local promoters are quite savvy and there’s a lack of genuineness about it all.
Dan: But it’s great that the whole industry comes to Manchester to check it all out. There’s a great buzz all around the city for the whole weekend.
AK: Yeah and it’s a good way for people down south to see what Manchester offers musically, but a lot of people these days reckon that the Manchester music scene isn’t what it used to be. What would you say to those people?
Ollie: Well it’s obvious that world class bands have come out of Manchester and there always will be. The other thing that people have to remember is that people come to this city because of the legacy of them bands and it’s always going to be a cultural hot bed really. All the members of The Nightjars originate from all over the country but we all came here for that reason alone.
Dan: But some of the bands that have come through are just genuine one offs, like your only going to get one Smiths, Stone Roses and joy division.
Ollie: But you never know what’s coming up next in this city, that’s the best thing about it.
AK: If you could have been in any of those Manchester bands which one would it have been?
Ollie: Well I would have to say the Buzzcocks as they are by far my favourite Manchester band, but any of them really would have been sufficient.
Dan: I would defiantly have liked to have played bass for the Stone Roses.
AK: Obviously Manchester music is known for its laddish swagger, but it seems you’ve stayed well away from all that. Was that something you were conscious of?
Ollie: Well, we’re not a particularly laddish band. I like to think were a bit more thoughtful than that.
AK: Definitely, your song writing is a bit more sensitive, you’re not banging on about going down the pub, getting pissed and then shagging some random bird.
Dan: That sounds like fun actually, we're doing it all wrong I reckon.
Ollie: Yeah what are we playing at!
AK: Its probably a result in the end as you wouldn’t have ended up with this mini album, which by the way is a blinder. How comes it only took you 5 days to record it?
Ollie: We knew we was capable of making the track in live which meant it made it really quick, we didn’t have to fanny around. To be honest it was really exciting to go in a play as a band. The studio was absolutely beautiful.
Dan: It was a place near Snowdonia, the air was so pure that our city lungs weren’t used to it and you start to realise how starved of oxygen you are when your in the city.
Ollie: We’re really proud of the record, when you listen to it that’s basically what you would of herd if you’d come to see us live. That is pretty much the sound of The Nightjars.
Dan: When we do the album next year, all going well, we will probably spend a lot more time in the studio dealing with different sounds and it will be less of a wham bam thank you mam which is what this mini album is all about.
AK: Off of your album what song do you enjoy playing the most?
Ollie: No Kicks, if we could do 12 of those then I would be a happy man
Dan: It’s very cathartic especially when you’ve just finished your nine to five.
Ollie: It’s a difficult one to explain but it has a specific resonance for me personally.
AK: As well as No Kicks you’ve got a song on the album called MDMA, is that your drug of choice these days?
Ollie: Erm…. No
Dan: Well a little bit.
Ollie: I wrote it when I was coming down and I wanted to make sense of a few psycho dramas that had occurred.
AK: Well what better time to do it I suppose, I’m sure a lot of people can relate to it.
Dan: Everyone likes a cheeky pill every now and then!
Ollie: I’m pleased with that song though, because it’s more like a spoken word piece than a vocal melody.
AK: yeah, it’s a great song. So you won’t be taking any class A’s in preparation for tonight’s gig then?
Ollie: Certainly not.
Dan: Erm… maybe after.
The gig itself was perhaps not their finest. Technical fumbles and lack of crowd involvement saw the band expose waves of disappointment. Nevertheless its obvious The Nightjars are here for a reason, the reason being talent and the ability to write thoughtful songs oozing with a direct musical passion. They know exactly what style of music works for them and they approach this style with intricate precision. Once the band settles you soon realise what they’re all about. Seamus proves that the rumours are true and does not fuck about when it comes to hitting those drums providing audiences with an impressive thunderous output, while “puppet dancer” Dan and Phil combine their pointy snippets of guitar and drifty riffs in such a way as to subtly promote the bassist.
Although not beaming with stylistic street cred this is not a problem for lead singer Ollie as his insistent vocals and driving bass unusually escorts nearby instruments through each song in a manor that yells true melodic quality. I find myself challenged when trying to establish which song comes across most impressive live as each individual tune deserves appraisal and is brilliantly original in its own right. Once The Nightjars become more widely acclaimed, and they will, Manchester I can guarantee will be proud to have hosted the growth of such a decently respectful band.