Friday, 15 August 2008 18:41

Tramp Attack Interview

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‘I’m just that lazy, no-good-for-nothin’, long haired, four-eyed son who wrecks it all,’ is how former Tramp Attack front man Matt Barton describes himself in his song ‘Short back and sides’.

I meet him in the Lago bar early on a Saturday afternoon, he chose here because ‘you get a cheap pint’. This is a fact not lost on the various drunken men already holding confused conversations around the bar, despite it being only 1.30.

With Liverpool’s musical landscape now colonised by drainpipe wearing fashionistas, Barton cuts a humble figure in his lived-in parka coat and blue jeans.

“Is it all finished for the band now? Yeah, pretty much. I wanted to do one last gig but none of the others wanted to do it,” says Matt.

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This autumn has seen the demise of a band who the NME once described as the Liverpool band’s favourite band. After almost seven years, Tramp Attack are no more.

Tramp Attack’s history as part of the scene that spawned Liverpool favourites such as The Coral, The Bandits and The Stands is well documented; as is The Zutons’ Dave McCabe’s stint in the group before he went on to sell loads of records and find he suddenly had lots of new mates.

Whilst friends went on to sell hundreds of thousands of records worldwide, Tramp Attack stayed in Liverpool, enjoying a cult following and playing all the gigs the city could throw at them.

“Would I have liked to have travelled the world and really made something of it?” says Matt, “Yeah I think I would. But I always had this thing about not selling out, selling out always infuriated me. But the thing is; at no point has anyone asked me to sell out! I’ve learned that you can still play music and not sell out properly. It was the business side that I hated.”

Matt believes that the relationship with label Must Destroy (who also had comedy rockers The Darkness on their books) is partly to blame for his band’s lack of national success: “We had loads of trouble with Must Destroy, they wouldn’t let us go, but they wouldn’t let us release anything either. It was boring. That was probably one of the things that killed the Tramps. With indie labels, they’re either nice guys but incompetent, or evil,” he says.

Like many of Liverpool’s musicians, Matt Barton found himself playing music as part of an employment scheme, which saw him turn down advice from no less an authority than Sir Paul McCartney, who was also in a band at one point.

Tramp Attack were going through a phase of calling themselves The Mother Lovers after the collapse of the original line up.

“We did the first single through LIPA, where we’d been sent by the dole. We got to meet Paul McCartney at this thing at the Philhamonic and ask him a question each. I asked him if he thought The Mother Lovers or Tramp Attack was a better band name. He liked The Mother Lovers, but I always thought that name was a bit sleazy, a bit grimy,” says Matt

Actor Kristian Ealey, who appeared in Hollyoaks and Brookside was in one of the early incarnations of Tramp Attack. Matt says it caused the band a few problems: “We had Matt Musgrove from Brookside playing with us; we got a lot of shit for that but we’d also get a lot of people coming down for the novelty value.”

Tramp Attack’s four singles and two albums can still be found by a trawl through indie record shops or online. The band’s first single ‘Rocky Hangover’ is being sold for up to £20 on eBay, mainly on the strength of the Dave McCabe connection. “I’ve got a copy of it somewhere,” says Matt, “I might sell it myself. I hope it goes for thousands.”

He is puzzled when the connection between his music and money is made: “Money? I’ve never seen any money from it. We’ve sold a few hundred copies of the new album, which I’m pleased with considering it’s had literally no promotion and we haven’t done any tours or anything to support it.”

Barton’s songs celebrate the little things in life; the family dog who is growing old, having a love for your home town. They are almost invariably of the three chords, three minute variety. “I’ve had people say to me ‘You’re so good, why don’t you write proper songs?’ I don’t know what that means. To me, they are proper songs and most music has a humour to it at some level. People seem to take their music far too seriously these days and it’s as though they think the people who wrote music in the 50s and 60s are somehow stupid because they wrote in a naïve way. Although I’m not trying to say everyone should be sitting around writing comedy songs” says Barton.

The 2004 debut album ‘Attack Attack Attack’ has a garage punk sound that is dramatically different from this year’s acoustic driven ‘Call in sick’, released on Liverpool indie label Viper.

Matt explains that the reason for the change in sound was partly for practical reasons: “As early as before the first album I was trying to get everyone to play acoustic. There’s a few reasons for it. Tinnitus played a big part and I was afraid of doing my ears in and one of the big arguments was over the loudness of the drums. I also found I was shouting a lot and half of the songs on the first album aren’t even angry songs, I sound like I’m having a go at something, but I’m just singing about a dog or 1471,” he says.

Barton’s songs are often minutely biographical with goofy poetry akin to Birkenhead heroes Half Man Half Biscuit, shirking the often grand concepts many major label bands allude to.

‘I’m doing my best to cut down on the booze, but I’d rather be drunk with holes in my shoes’, sings Barton on 2003 single ‘Eight Years Since School’ a theatrical sounding dolites’ lament.

Songs like ‘Smithdown Road’ help to give a picture of the conditions in which the early Tramp Attack formed in. Matt says: “I moved to Smithdown with my mates when I was 18 and most of them ended up in bands. I was actually living by Wavertree high Street, which is like the evil Smithdown. The song is about how horrible Smithdown Road is, but I actually quite like it, it’s just that I was living down the bad end.”

The music industry is well known for having what can only be described as an ageist employment policy, and at almost 29, Matt Barton might have to go down another road to get his music heard.

“I’d love to do some publishing but I wouldn’t know how to get into it. If I see Natasha Hamilton in town, she can have one of my songs for 500 quid because I’d like some money for Christmas. I’d do her a boss deal,” he says.

As far as the future goes, Matt is working on his new band, The Sweetcorns, with ex-Tramp James Redmond. For now he is concentrating on Christmas.

“I’ve only got one present up to now but I’ve got loads to buy for, I’m off to Lewis’s” says Matt.

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