The Tea Street Band are fast becoming woven into the fabric of Merseyside music like their heroes before them but as they tell Getintothis’ Sean Bradbury, it’s the common touch which has helped propel them into the hearts and minds of their growing fanbase.
There are many different paths to success. Bob Dylan rode along Highway 61, Nat King Cole got his kicks on Route 66 and Eddy Grant rocked down to Electric Avenue.
For the Tea Street Band’s frontman and tweeter-in-chief, it is the 82 bus line from Speke to the city centre. Getintothis catches Timo Tierney at a rare moment – he’s on the move through the streets of Liverpool but not on a double decker.
This past 12 months have seen the Tea Street Band jetting around the world spreading their good time gospel of Balearic beats, hedonistic riffs and euphoric grooves. What has it been like to represent themselves and the city on the global stage?
“Only 0.1% of people who pick up an instrument actually do something. My dream was always to pick my guitar up off one of those mad conveyor belts in the airport and think we’ve made it somewhere by playing music“, Timo says.
“Last year we went to New York for Sound City and to Australia; this year we’ve been to Salt Lake City in Utah. It always does come back that you are there because you’re from Liverpool.
“Everywhere in the world people know where you’re from and know things about the place. They can always relate to you, even if they can’t understand you.
“I just hope that soon we’ll be going because Tea Street Band posters are up everywhere – that people are buying our records and coming down off the back of the music rather than the big picture which we’re part of.”
The full band line up is James Albertina (keyboard/synths), Dominic Allen (drums), Nicholas Otaegui (bass), Lee Smith (guitar and backing vocals) and Timo (guitar and lead vocals).
Here on home turf there has been high praise for the five-piece this month from none other than Mick Head.
In an interview with The Anfield Wrap, the Shack legend namechecked the Tea Street Band and said their sound took him back to the days of noted Bootle nightclub Quadrant Park two decades ago.
In his words: “Some young bucks have got right on it.”
Sentiments that went down well with Timo and co: “Behind Lennon and McCartney, Mick’s the best songwriter from the city. He’s been doing it in the 80s, the 90s and the 00s.
“He’s a cult hero and to have an accolade like that has blown my head off. He told me he’d listened to Disco Lights 43 times. If he’s into it then we’ve got to be happy.”
Tea Street Band are keen to meet their adoring public
And it’s not just Mick Head who feels that way. Tea Street Band gigs are as much about the crowd as the five lads on stage. It is difficult to decide whether to watch Timo’s serene vocal delivery, Lee’s fancy fretwork, Nic’s bass runs and grins – or simply stand back and savour the sea of limbs and people letting go on the floor before them.
Explaining how they create this kind of away end atmosphere when playing live, Timo says: “The albums are just for people to learn the songs when they come down to the gigs. That’s when they’ll really see what the band is about. The interaction with the crowd just takes over you.
“We were going to get a female singer when we were starting the band, but we were like: ‘Can we really stand in a room talking about what we talk about when there is a woman there?’ But it was always trying to create elation. I don’t class myself as a singer, I class myself as someone who is just adding more to the music.
“We want people to come down and feel really good about themselves; take them away from work, forget about the doormen on the door and forget about bands who build up a big character that isn’t real. People can relate to it and get into it and that does me.”
And the flashback Mick Head got to hazy days years ago is no surprise to Timo.
“When we were starting the band we did our own warehouse raves,” he says. “There was something about the early house music in Liverpool in the 90s – people like Lee Butler and Mark Simon. I can still remember those songs even if I haven’t heard them for 20 years.
“It’s about trying to create that again. Nothing against any other bands but you see some gigs and the crowd is the same leather jacket standing in the same place, they don’t let on to each other and they are in their own little gaggles – they watch the band and then they get off.
“I remember going to an under-18s event at The State when I was 16 and you could walk around and talk to people from different areas – no animosity, no ‘what clothes are you wearing?’. We were all there to have a good time and we always wanted to create that kind of vibe at our gigs.”
Sounds easy – but is it? What is the magic formula that makes their tracks come together?
“With this album, one of us would have a few chords or sequences“, Timo recalls. “Once we got in the room no-one tells Nic what bassline or Dom what beat to play. We’d sit and jam it for an hour; try and sing and get a melody over it, think about a context and some words.
“The concept of our first album was all the things a man would like to say but he feels too embarrassed to say them. Women talk about their feelings all the time to each other – I tried to put myself in another lad’s perspective with the lyrics.”
Tea Street Band get the disco lights flashing
This mood is keenly felt when listening to the record, as Timo’s vocals float in with the luscious opening guitar line of Summer Dreaming (“The leaves are falling down/And they’re blowing to the other side of town“) and on heart-pumping headrush Lost For Words with its confessional refrain: “I know I love you but I just can’t say/I know I want you but the words they fail me“.
With a debut full length under their belts and their hometown conquered what is next for the Tea Street Band?
“We want to get a bit of radio and crack it,” says Timo. “We’ve built up momentum but it’s regional, we’re known in Liverpool and a bit in other cities. The album will be out early May and we’re going to do a tour around then and a few festivals.
“We’ve nearly written the second album and we need to rehearse it. We’ve all got families and houses and jobs and bills to pay, so it’s hard to do it the way we’d like to do it and give every moment of every day.
“We’ve got to work at times we’re all available to do the best we possibly can to fulfil the potential of what we’re doing. I just want to move on as far forward as we can as quickly as we can.”
It’s fair to say the Tea Street Band are heavyweights on the city’s current scene. This isn’t lost on them but neither is everything else happening here.
“We do see ourselves as spearheading the Liverpool thing,” says Timo. “There’s load of amazing stuff going on in this city. A few years ago when we stopped doing our old band [The Maybes?] there was a lack of venues and even bands. Now there are loads: Circa Waves, Bird, Sugarmen, Broken Men – I can’t list them all because I don’t know them all.
“We’re all moving in the same direction together. What’s going on here is boss and it’s really good to see things like the GIT Award. Six or seven years ago it was like a competition to be the better band, people giving each other shit.
“It doesn’t need to be that way. We’re representing the same thing.”
Pushing the feeling on you could say.
Further reading on Getintothis:
Tea Street Band: Lost For Words video
The Charlatans, Tea Street Band, By The Sea, The Fallows: St. George’s Hall
Tea Street Band: East Village Arts Club, Liverpool
Astral Coast reveals headliners Bill Ryder-Jones, Tea Street Band and By The Sea
The Tea Street Band: Disco Lights and The Zanzibar – picture gallery and live video
The Tea Street Band: Cantina, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk
GIT AWARD 2012: The Tea Street Band on the GIT and new track Fiesta
GIT Award 2014 launches One To Watch prize.
GIT Award 2014 judging panel announced.
Review and pictures from GIT Award 2014 launch at Leaf.
GIT Award 2014 returns with Leaf launch ahead of Kazimier spectacular in April.
GIT Award 2013: Baltic Fleet: To be involved and win will always stay with me
The GIT Award 2013 report, reaction and review from Leaf Tea Shop, Liverpool.
GIT Award 2013 winner announced as Justice Collective win Inspiration Award
GIT Award 2013: picture gallery featuring Baltic Fleet, Nadine Carina, Conan, John Heckle, Tyler Mensah and more.
Lead picture: Mark McNulty.