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New Musical Express (29th Jan 1983)

RIDICULOUS RUSTICS

A ridiculous assortment of maverick rustics perhaps, but in less than a year The Farmer’s Boys’ distinctive stamp of cute rural romanticism and unaffected boys-next-door charm has strolled effortlessly from the rank and file back street Indie bop to the doorstep of mainstream acceptance.

Successively preening their rugged slapstick cheek in favour of a more polished provincial chic, they’ve quietly graduated from the awkward naivety and subsequently brusque spontaneity of ‘I Think I Need Help’ – a debut single that revelled in a comely amateurism spiked with a simplistic but stunningly infectious hookline – to the fetchingly manicured sheen of the highly acclaimed successor, ‘Whatever Is He Like?’.

Now, following the news that their third and current single, ‘More Than A Dream’, has been marked out by CBS distribution and marketing for an extravagant High Street push, it’s high time The Farmer’s Boys were given a good talking to.

A role EMI seems to have taken on since this interview. The Farmer’s Boys have just signed a recording contract with them and their single is to be repackaged and reissued, with the band currently in the studio completing a new single and processing their debut album.

Draped irreverently across the lounge of the oldest hotel in Britain – within spitting distance of the pompous serenity of Norwich cathedral – the most immediate description of Norfolk’s fastest rising pop band is indeed ridiculous.

There’s the jug-eared, ruddy complexion of keyboardist Frog for a start. He mucks out pigs for a living and tinkers in synth technology in his spare time. Then there’s the drawling amiability of Baz, lead singer and record shop owner, in dinky glasses and frizzy short hair, and the Ted Moult lookalike Stan, who alternates the choppy Farmer’s guitar with shifts at a local hospital. And completing the incongruous assemblage of pop purveyors is the sullen countenance of bass man Mark.

This is pop?

“It’s always been very much an oddball band,” admits Baz. “At first we were changing directions, sentiments and all that so often it was a joke. What we do now is a lot more natural…we’re being ourselves much more. Like when we started out we all had the attitudes of The Fall but it didn’t take long to realise that you just can’t take that sort of thing too seriously in a place like Norwich.

“Life’s too easy and slow here…people haven’t got the energy to jump up and down and scream and look menacing…it’s just too much like hard work, so we decided we were better off being ourselves. I think we’re all pretty romantic really and it shows. The biggest struggle here is to avoid sounding too much like Barry Manilow.”

“Yeah. We went through our Spandau phase as well,” sniggers Stan. “But it’s not exactly a hedonist’s paradise here either.”

After just one afternoon being assimilated to the environmental pedestrianism of Norwich, it’s difficult not to agree. Where the city’s other musical forces – dominated by The Higsons’ gritty polit-funk and the chaotic dissidence of Serious Drinking – have been largely tampered by a score too many University politics classes, The Farmer’s Boys’ earthy idealism lies intuitively closer to their surroundings.

“Yeah. We owe a lot to this place,” Stan continues. “Because we’re so far removed from the merry-go-round of London we’ve been able to make mistakes and just stagger along without having to acquiesce to any biz procedure.

“The Higsons introduced us to the music scene, got us gigs and persuaded John Peel to come and see us…so we’ve never had to try that hard. In fact, the main reason that there was a lot of interest in Norwich last year was because everyone here was helping everyone else get noticed. There’s a kind of healthy musical hierarchy were everyone co-operates in shifting everyone else up the ladder.”

“He’s making it sound like a commune again,” laughs Baz. “But it has been helpful in that we’ve never had to send out a demo tape to anyone. I’d hate to get involved in that side of the business…it’s really seedy and demoralising when you have to prostitute yourself just to get a gig. Mind you, living in a closed set like this does have it’s repercussions.

“Like, we’ve been playing here for a while and started to think we actually had something…and the first time we went to London, they couldn’t understand why we were so totally bland. I mean, I’m not very keen on pressure at the best of times, but it was really difficult to come to terms with all those cynical souls in the capital.”

So how did you eventually open up those cynics?

“Not by ignoring them, exactly,” replies Stan emphatically. “But by sticking to our beliefs that music doesn’t have to be cold and calculated. There’s always room beside your ABSs and Dollars for some amateurish warmth. We really do feel for our songs…I’d hate to make a recording that was totally out of our own inept hands.

“Take our first single…we did it in eight hours and Frog produced it himself, and it really does show…but that doesn’t make it a bad record.”

Frog changes tack with a timely interruption, “The radio’s done a lot for us. John Peel was quite disappointed when he first saw us cos we weren’t enough like The Higsons…but he came round eventually and persuaded the likes of Peter Powell, Kid Jensen and even Richard Skinner to take an interest. And when your record’s being played on the radio three times a day…the cynics become mysteriously silenced.”

“It’s all down to the fact that we’re frighteningly whistleable,” adds Baz quoting from a Record Mirror article. “We whistled ‘em into submission.”

Bubbling with quaint melody and burning with brass, fortified by and increasingly discerning production from Frog, ‘More Than A Dream’ has already dissipated any tenuous links The Farmer’s Boys’ earlier product may have forged with the likes of Orange Juice and The Monochrome Set. Out on their own at last, the single is already high in the indie charts.

But how much of an effect will the considerable muscle of CBS have both on the band and the record?

Baz answers the expected question without hesitation, “As far as our name is concerned, we’ve officially joined the rat race. No doubt, all the new chart return shops will be issued with free Stan T-Shirts and Frog badges for a nifty slip on the computer, but as a band, y’know, we’ve not compromised anything. We haven’t signed our lives away or anything.

So what becomes of trusty independents Backs Records, matriarchal upholders of the Norwich scene?

“We’re not going to get into that debate,” replies Frog. “Backs are still very much at a formative stage and while we’ve enjoyed working with them, it might take them five years to become an established and efficient label. If it takes us five years…we’ll be too old.”

Young Farmers. Go for it!

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