Music interview – Bob Stanley on ‘English Weather’

Spirit of an era: Bob Stanley says he sees the turn of the 1970s as a 'mysterious period' in British rock and pop.
Spirit of an era: Bob Stanley says he sees the turn of the 1970s as a 'mysterious period' in British rock and pop.
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As Bob Stanley showcases a new compilation of 70s tracks in Leeds, he speaks to Duncan Seaman about capturing the sounds of an era.

Of all the compilation albums released in the last 12 months, few succeeded in evoking the spirit of a particular era quite as well as Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs Present English Weather.

A collection of tracks from the turn of the 1970s, it captures a period of transition in British rock and pop when the chemically-enhanced optimism of the psychedelic movement was giving way to the foggy uncertainty of national decline.

The album has been chosen by Leeds independent store Jumbo Records as its Compilation of the Year and today Bob Stanley will be DJ-ing and doing a question and answer session about it at the shop, in the city’s Merrion Centre.

The 52-year-old – who, along with Pete Wiggs and Sarah Cracknell, is also part of the band Saint Etienne – admits that up until relatively recently he’d paid little attention to music from the time in question. “Progressive rock was something that I’m of the age where I was brought up to laugh at it, not even give it a moment,” he says. “It was only when I got a bit older that I was fascinated by the look of a lot of those records from the 70s. I really liked the artwork and they’re all impossible to find before they got reissued, things on Vertigo or the Harvest label. It was like a mysterious period between psychedelia and progressive rock. It wasn’t progressive rock, it’s like a more acceptable version of it. It’s more concise and more melodic and less about anyone taking solos.”

The inspiration for this album came from a visit to a second-hand record store, RPM, in Newcastle. “It started tipping down and the bloke in the record shop was playing an album by a group called Shape of The Rain which was quite a nice title for the situation and I really liked it, then he said ‘Someone’s just sold this collection’. It was a collection of stuff exactly from that period so we spent the whole afternoon listening to these things and there was a lot of things I’d never heard before which just blew me away and that’s really the basis of the whole album.”

I think the thing about these records is they’re on the far edge of lots of psychedelic pop so they’ll have been made by people who were into The Mamas and Papas as much as they were into Cream or whatever.

Bob Stanley

One distinctive feature of many of the songs on the record is the blend of warm, California-style harmonies with a very English melancholy. Stanley concedes it pushed all the right buttons for him. “I’m always a melody fan and an arrangement fan, I love vocal harmonies. I think the thing about these records is they’re on the far edge of lots of psychedelic pop so they’ll have been made by people who were into The Mamas and Papas as much as they were into Cream or whatever, so you still have that.

“It’s a bit of a hangover from the 60s going into the 70s of people still wanting to make records that had that Californian warmth because that had been such a huge deal two years before but at the same time we had a Tory government in 1970, we had devaluation and it’s a not dissimilar situation to where we are now which kind of informs the melancholy and the sense of drift. That’s definitely what appeals to me.”

English Weather is out now on Ace Records. Bob Stanley will be DJ-ing and talking about it at Jumbo Records, Leeds on Friday December 20 from 5.30pm. For details visit www.jumborecords.co.uk

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