Tea Street Band released their much anticipated self-titled debut record this week, Getintothis’ Peter Guy delivers his verdict.
Timo Tierney is a man who knows his history. And the irony of his band supporting Doves‘ main man Jimi Goodwin on their recent tour isn’t lost on him. Like Lost Souls, The Tea Street Band‘s debut record probably shouldn’t exist. And for five lads from inner city Liverpool they possibly thought it never would.
Where Lost Souls‘ equipment and mastertapes were lost in a fire which would see an entire recording studio go up in flames, The Tea Street Band‘s metaphorical desires could have similarly gone up in smoke. However, their’s was an indestructible belief that burnt so bright seemingly nothing could prevent this record from seeing the light.
The adventure for Tierney (vocals/guitar); Lee Smith (guitar); Nicholas Otaegui (bass) and Dominic Allen (drums) began in 2002 on the streets of Anfield and Kensington, a tale recounted a hundred times and more, as a band named The Maybes? had the world seemingly at its feet; industry and label bosses – not to mention fans – swooned in adoration of a guitar band that would phalanx club stages and blow the place to bits. Instead they blew it all.
Well, nearly. Regrouping, minus their de facto frontman, Nick Ellis, and recruiting keyboardist James Albertina, they took the template from The Maybes? one bonafide classic track, Promise, and set about metamorphosing from a rock & roll band to a progressive dance-rock act.
Where Liverpool’s redbrick walls were once infamously daubed with the name of their former charge, now the inside of corrugated warehouses were dripping with the tangible sense of something much more real. And much bigger. The hundreds of fans that would cram like sardines into the Zanzibar had outgrown their mid-teen garage band infatuations and were now 20-somethings experimenting with chemicals not exclusively found inside a bottle, and The Tea Street Band‘s late night tear-ups were the soundtrack to the best new night of their lives. Aligning 80s terrace acid house to a sound which was both cosmically euphoric as it was melodic you’d find their music equally at home in a 2am sweat-soaked black box as you would in the back of a taxi as the driver whistled it merrily on his round. For whatever incarnation these five lads represent they positively bristle pop belters.
And here’s why Liverpool needs The Tea Street Band. In a music community which lacks coherent strands yet is riding high on a national level, this fragmented landscape makes so much more sense with The Tea Street Band embedded in its core. They are a big sounding pop band. A band which unites so many, while conversely dividing a good deal too. That’s pop’s modus operandi. And while their tribalism and ingrained passion can so often be misperceived, unlike many of their contemporaries, this a band fiercely proud of belonging to the people and willing the city and its music community to reach a mass market.
And make no mistake, this band is once again thinking big; on home turf they represent a cornerstone of the contemporary Mersey sound – while on the live circuit they’re one of few who can justifiably claim to be making a national buzz outside of the city’s walls. Mini tours of the US, Australia and all over the UK has pushed the message further and now arrives their long-awaited debut record.
Ten tracks, many of which have been in gestation for upwards of four years, yet all have been reworked, re-recorded and given a hefty dose of production nous from Al Groves at the Motor Museum.
Like Dominic Foster‘s already iconic sleeve this is a record which is defiant in its simplistic brutalism; industrial, brazen, man-made, standing tall and backed by bold sweeping colours.
You can buy The Tea Street Band‘s debut eponymous album now via Baltic Records here or buy on iTunes here but in the meantime, here’s Getintothis‘ verdict.
1. Lost For Words: The opening track packages up The Tea Street Band‘s sound and story in a nutshell. Dating back several years, Lost For Words has undergone a series of changes while retaining the band’s characteristic features – namely Timo Tierney and Lee Smith‘s cyclonic reverb-heavy guitar positively sodden in liquid-like delay married to Dominic Allen‘s incessant percussive patter. Where the band have changed proceedings, say from the version first aired in 2012 (see here) is align the components together in tighter, metallic like sheen. Lost For Words zips along at breakneck speed imploring late-night drives amid the neon lights of the blackest of skies. It’s a confident, effervescent beginning.
2. Summer Dreaming: Another track dating back to around 2010, Summer Dreaming marked a significant breakthrough in the band’s early live dates (see this early Getintothis review from Liverpool Music Week in 2010) proving a firm favourite with fans. Shaped around Smith’s weaving fretwork it recalls the dizzy hedonism of the Stone Roses‘ One Love with Albertina’s parping synths providing a backbone for Tierney’s gentle falsetto. In truth, it’s actually one of the weaker tracks on the record, sounding slightly outdated and more reminiscent of those early warehouse jams, however, being such a fan favourite its understandable why it survived the cut – and makes a worthy addition for the skyscraping finale blending seamlessly into the sun-chasing acoustic strum coda – a rare comedown amid the ecstatic peaks.
3. Disco Lights: What is there left to say? Disco Lights has stamped itself into the fabric of Merseyside music like few tracks in recent times and its a testimony to the song-writing that it retains that daft life-affirming brilliance with each play. Like The Streets‘ Weak Become Heroes, Disco Lights captures the magic and our love affair with being addled on a dancefloor. For a track which is so brash there’s a master craft underneath which ensures it builds and builds until 3.22 with the repetitive choral refrain driving the point firmly home. It’s timeless perfect pop.
4. Look On Your Face The band have admitted on several occasions that Timo Tierney was the reluctant voice of the band. He stepped up to the plate because the others simply couldn’t – indeed, they told Getintothis in March they’d considered a female vocalist. And while it’s true, The Tea Street‘s sound isn’t dependent on a prominent delivery; the vocals are often softer textures to the brash outer exterior, this is the one moment on the album that Tierney really comes to the fore as a frontman. Apparently recording his vocals in a different set up, on Look On Your Face, he unleashes an untamed volley of hammered home refrains. The effect, aligned to chunky stabbing guitar and Otaegui’s rhythmic throb alongside Albertina’s almost Caribbean keys is a billowing force of propulsive gold. The album’s finest track.
5. Dance With Me: Sadly Tea Street Band‘s strongest moment is quickly followed by it’s weakest. If there’s a criticism that can be levelled against the band it’s their reliance on a similar formula and Dance With Me is their tried and tested methods carried out to the nth degree: reverb and delay divided by squelchy synths plus falsetto lyrical refrain equals mediocrity in extreme. Must try harder.
6. Push The Feeling On: Thankfully, the group’s mantra marks the flipside and doubles as their most ridiculous party number committed to tape. Push The Feeling On sounds like band, sound engineer, roadie, friends, family and the cleaners all double dropped in the studio and then pressed record. The results are primal, hedonistic and fabulously fun. Smith provides searing lead guitar while Tierney and Otaegui pluck rhythmic strings out of the ether and just as the music transports into a ghostly, slightly interstellar moonwalk, a fart-like funk spews through the mix and everything boots off into overdrive. It’s tailor-made for a Formula One montage involving 20-car pile ups. Throw in on the 2.42 mark Albertina’s ‘panpipes on Meow Meow’ keyboard setting and you’ve a delirious rocket-fuelled rickshaw ride.
7. Tonight: Ready for a curveball? Tonight is another track dating back to early sessions in 2010, however, it has undergone a transformation more radical than any other. Not least, with the introduction of Albertina on vocal duties – something which will come as a suprise to even the most hardened of fans. And it proves a mini masterstroke. While it’s fair to say he’s no Antony Hegarty, Albertina’s deeper tones (and somewhat confident delivery) add another dimension to the mix, and when fused alongside Tierney’s whisper, the effect is quite brilliant. Reminiscent of 80’s electro pop, Tonight, with it’s ‘strings around your heart‘ refrain, is another of the album’s centre-pieces.
8. Santa Monica: Whether it’s true or not, Otaegui told us this track was conceived with the crispy vocal of Kylie Minogue in mind – and it’s this kind of shimmering, gold hotpant sporting pert pop that’s ideal for a sassy female to get to grips with. Oozing sun-flecked rhythms and a Chic-like strut, Santa Monica is the Tea Street Band‘s most direct nod to the pop charts and the album is all the better for it.
9. Sunny Days: Another of the album’s plateauing moments. Sunny Days finds the band on autopilot; Smith’s perpetual cyclical riffs overlay dreamy, yet somewhat inconsequential keyboard motifs and Tierney’s wistful summertime imagery. While it’s fair to understand respite is needed after such peaks earlier in the record, the album’s penultimate song merely meanders to an inconclusive finish.
10. Fiesta: However, if there’s one thing this band have learnt through years of grafting, it is how to sign off in style – and Fiesta ensures their debut record finishes on a definitive high. Another of the band’s signature tunes, Fiesta is a nod to all those heady days lost in a haze of delirium while it’s pensive tone has a longing look to the future. It’s the sound of a band driving forward, careering into the distance – all five tangled up in a rhythmical sonic rollercoaster reaching out for something more, something which may or may not be within reach. And judging by how far they’ve come, you’d be a fool to bet against them.
Lead image by John Johnson and insert by Mark McNulty.
Further Tea Street Band reading on Getintothis
The Tea Street Band live review at Liverpool Sound City 2014.
The Tea Street Band at the GIT Award 2014.
Grand National 2014 featuring The Tea Street Band.
GIT Award 2014: Artist nominee profile – The Tea Street Band.
Astral Coast reveals headliners Bill Ryder-Jones, Tea Street Band and By The Sea
Tea Street Band: East Village Arts Club, Liverpool
The Charlatans, Tea Street Band, By The Sea, The Fallows: St. George’s Hall
Tea Street Band: Lost For Words video
LIMF 2013: Mark McNulty‘s A New Penny Lane feat Tea Street Band.
LIMF 2013 featuring The Tea Street Band at Stanley Park, Liverpool: picture gallery.
LIMF 2013 itsLiverpool best new music stage feat Tea Street Band.
Getintothis reviews Tea Street Band at FestEVOL at the Kazimier.
FestEVOL featuring Tea Street Band – picture gallery.
Tea Street Band, Mark Frith, Sankofa, Sugarmen: Zanzibar, Liverpool.
Getintothis on The Tea Street Band at Liverpool Sound City 2013.
Tea Street Band at Bestival Benefit gig at Nation.
North By North West at the Olympia featuring the Tea Street Band – gallery.
North By North West at the Olympia featuring the Tea Street Band.
Wave Machines, The Tea Street Band and more at The Kazimier‘s Rural Disco.
The Tea Street Band: Cantina, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk
The Tea Street Band: Disco Lights and The Zanzibar – picture gallery and live video.
Tea Street Band at FestEVOL 2012 – gallery.
Tea Street Band reviewed at FestEVOL 2012.
Tea Street Band, Cold Shoulder and more lined up for Alex Jarmay tribute gig.
Rebecca Ferguson to cover Tea Street Band?
The Tea Street Band: Dovedale Social, Penny Lane, Liverpool.
Liverpool Sound City 2012: Top 10 bands of the festival feat Tea Street Band.
Liverpool Sound City 2012 feat Tea Street Band.
GIT Award 2012: The Tea Street Band on the GIT Award and new track Fiesta.
GIT Award 2012: Artist nominee profile – The Tea Street Band
EVOL‘s Christmas Extravaganza: Outfit, Tea Street Band, Killaflaw, The Winter Falls, The Laze, Lucky Beaches, Jazzhands.
Don’t Buy The S*n Concert feat Tea Street Band in memory of James McVey: Olympia.
Liverpool Music Week presents: Picture Book, Tea Street Band, Janiece Myers: Mojo.
The Maybes? album Promise reviewed.
What The World Is Waiting For: The Maybes? – Promise.