Birmingham favourites The Twang are back with a pre-Christmas gig that’s become a joyous festive tradition. Are you in?
We caught up with The Twang’s lead singer Phil Etheridge ahead of the band’s latest run of gigs and found a man who’s more likely to be enjoying a pint of Batham’s and a cheese cob in his local than boozing it up in a dressing room. It might not sound rock ’n’ roll but Phil cherishes his ‘beautiful life’ full of family, friends and music making these days.
Formed in 2004, The Twang fast became one of the Midlands most successful bands of the decade – maybe too fast. Establishing a loyal fanbase in Birmingham, the band mixed dance beats with catchy indie guitar riffs and quickly became favourites of daytime radio DJs and prestigious magazines like the NME who described them as Britain’s hottest new band.
They were also the subject of a BBC documentary and went from day jobs to signing with B-Unique after a record label tussle to woo them. They supported the likes of and released their highly successful debut album Love It When I Feel Like This. Four more albums followed with the band touring the UK consistently, supporting Doves and Shed Seven as well huge headlining shows of their own.
The band’s original line-up of Phil Etheridge, Martin Saunders, Jon Watkin, Stu Hartland and Matty Clinton has shifted over the years with Ash Sheeran replacing Matty on drums and Martin leaving in 2018, but five albums down and they’re still going strong.
It was in 2007 that the band was planted firmly into the mainstream music psyche. Debut single Wide Awake was released in March followed by their biggest single to date, Either Way in May which was picked up by radio stations and championed by DJs such as Jo Whiley and Edith Bowman. The first studio album, Love It When I Feel Like This was released in the same year charting at number three and the band made the cover of NME as well as winning the Phillip Hall Radar gong at the NME awards. Major festivals followed such as Wireless, Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds as well as selling out large venues.
The band’s home turf is never far from their minds and second album Jewellery Quarter was named after where they were living at the time. Holed up in a cottage in Anglesey writing the JQ album, the band describe it as a ‘magical time’. Local artist Temper who we’ve interviewed in these pages and who was also living in the Jewellery Quarter, created the artwork for the album cover so it was a real local project.
Phil says gracing the cover of NME and being lauded as the country’s hottest new band on the back of just one record wasn’t all good. He remembers: “There was definitely a downside. There was money and free drink everywhere we went. People kept telling us, ‘you’re gonna kill it’ and we probably took our eye off the ball and believed it would never end.” He adds: “It was amazing, but we were fucking up.” It turns out the music press that had fawned over the band initially were just as quick to try to pull them apart. Phil’s philosophical about it and doesn’t like to look back too much, but accepts the band never really fulfilled their potential.
Having said that, if it weren’t for bassist Jon Watkin suggesting going back to college, Phil may never have made it at all. He hated school leaving with no qualifications and started roofing with his uncle so when Jon Watkins suggested going back into education, Phil was a bit dubious. He agreed anyway and says the pair managed to blag their way onto a creative music course at Kidderminster College where in part, thanks to inspirational tutor Gary Edwards, their lives and prospects improved.
Of his tutor, Phil says: “He was a philosopher really. He was meant to talk about music but talked about everything. I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed being in a classroom. Kiddy College was a total game changer for me – one of the best times of my life.” From there, both Phil and Jon went to Leeds University where they wrote songs such as Aimless With An Aim and Push the Ghosts. Neither completed their degree as they felt they’d be better off cracking on with forming a band. Phil says: “We had blind faith that we’d get signed. I don’t know why, but we never really doubted it. That sounds arrogant, but it’s how we felt.”
The band never moved away from the Midlands, so it’s always been home and while the crowds are incredible, Phil used to feel more pressure when performing in Birmingham than anywhere else. He says: “I always wanted it to be perfect – my mum or brother might be there, and I just put so much pressure on it.” Now he just enjoys lapping up the energy from the crowd.
The gig this month at the O2 Institute will be typically one big party. The pre-Christmas tour has become a tradition which fans treat like a giant Christmas party and Phil describes as ‘a big old knees up’. They’ve toured pre-Christmas every year since 2007 and Phil says it’s ‘mad and beautiful’. In the past they’ve gone hell for leather on the Christmas vibe even dressing up their manager in a Santa suit and firing T-shirts out of a cannon. They’ve reined in the festive add-ons recently, but you can still expect a top night full of joy, great music and good vibes.