How The Metros are making a big noise in Peckham
The south London band tell Chris Mugan why their home area is so important to them
Friday 07 March 2008
Leafy streets with rows of boutiques and brasseries may not correspond to general perceptions of Peckham, but nonetheless it is just such a location where fast-rising fivesome The Metros convene. Their collision of punk, ska and rock'n'roll has been honed in the bars of south London, from where the Klaxons and Art Brut have already emerged. The quintet's tales of failed criminals and escapees come from hanging around the wrong sort of people in the wrong kind of pubs.
Not that these teenage scamps, all 18, are out to change attitudes towards the notorious environ, even if they complain about northern interviewers harping on about Only Fools and Horses. Instead, lanky guitarist Joe Simpson whispers that he has been held up at knifepoint a couple of times. Yet what emerges over a couple of pints is that the band remain attached to the place where several of them grew up (lead guitarist Jak Payne was born above the Desmond's barber's shop that inspired a Channel 4 sitcom of the same name).
We meet in one of the few hostelries that has stood firm against the tide of gastropubs and theme bars that has accompanied recent regeneration and gentrification.
"When we were 14, it was the only pub we used to get served in," the skinny singer Saul Adamczewski confides. "And my dad still comes here," he adds, shiftily peering round. His childhood mate Payne butts in, "Most of the pubs round here, the pool tables have been taken out and you can't get crisps any more."
Watch The Metros performing forthcoming single 'Education Pt 2' live in concert.
So it was probably always a bad idea for them to attempt to record their debut album in the wilds of Monmouthshire. The Metros chose the fabled Rockfield studio, a place where The Charlatans and Oasis have got up to mischief in the past.
"We put down a couple of drum-tracks and ended up being charged bills for smashing up the place," Payne admits. "We wanted to get away from everything, inspired by this romantic, Withnail And I idea that we would sit in a beautiful valley and detox, but that's not what we're about. We all went nuts. You got up in the morning and it would always be drums first. We're lazy people anyway, but over the course of a day you would drink 30 or 40 beers each and get that tired kind of drunk. And these people that lived there were Wicker Man weird. It got a bit scary after a while. We thought there was something in the field chasing us." Bassist Charlie Elliott pipes up, "I used to lock my door at night. It was like the plot for a horror film."
Payne, Adamczewski and drummer Freddi Hyde-Thompson were brought up a few streets away from each other, progressing from football to drinking cider in the local cemetery. The guitarist and singer started playing together first, hardly a surprise given that both their dads had also been involved in music. Payne's father was a session musician who worked with Squeeze's Glenn Tilbrook, another south-east Londoner, while Adamczewski's dad designed record sleeves for A&M Records, including one for Captain Sensible, until he was forced out when he proved unable or unwilling to enter the digital age. Elliott's dad, meanwhile, is a jazz musician.
For Payne, there are two plusses in having parents with music experience. On a practical level, they helped out early on, driving the boys around and showing them how to set up PAs. "They never made it and in some ways they're living vicariously through us," he adds. Meanwhile, both he and Adamczewski ransacked the elders' record collections. As children, they ignored their parents' tastes, though eventually came round via the nineties ska and skate-punk explosion led by the likes of Rancid, moving onto Dexys Midnight Runners, The Specials and Ian Dury.
"When I was younger, I just thought it was rubbish because it was what they listened to, but then we coincidentally seemed to get similar tastes," Payne continues. "There's still stuff my father likes that I don't and vice versa. It's weird, but what I later listened to was what he played on guitar on holiday. When I was younger I thought he'd written them."
Almost as a tribute to that generation, the B-side to their debut single is a cover of "Gabrielle", originally by The Nipple Erectors, a punk band best known as Shane MacGowan's first outfit. Before that, though, the gang that became The Metros hung out in the febrile environment of New Cross and, while pleased by its vibrancy, Adamczewski was unimpressed by the quality of the bands.
"It just started out of boredom, man. We were too young to go out and get really drunk, so we started writing really bad, fast songs as a joke. Then we went out and saw these bands that were really rubbish, but had a little following, maybe 20 odd people and thought, we could do with some of that."
The Metros became established when Hyde-Thompson's schoolmates came in around the beginning of 2006 – Elliott replaced an existing bassist, while Simpson took over rhythm guitar duties from Adamczewski. Too young for many local venues, they put on their own gigs, printing off flyers to distribute outside the local girls' school, but before the under-age gig circuit became established. Nowadays, a greater number of venues have removed or relaxed their age policies, making it easier for young bands to play and their fans to watch them. But The Metros refuse to be aligned too closely to the movement, even though they themselves were a highlight of last summer's Underage Festival.
"You see these kids who are 16 and they're the coolest people at the festival, but they can't go to gigs or feel insecure when they're there," Payne explains, "yet you want fans that are your own age. All these 14-year-olds are like little brothers." "It was a struggle at first all round, when some of us were in school, none of us wanted to work and we had no money," Adamczewski says, frowning. "But we wouldn't want to be poster-boys for under-age gigs. We wouldn't want to wear an "under-18" T-shirt."
With the as-yet untitled album now in the bag, recorded at studios around London, their debut single is set to be a scathing assessment of our exam-based teaching system. "Education Pt 2" is the second song they wrote on that theme.
"Part one wasn't good enough, though it may make a comeback," Hyde-Thompson, the well-dressed class-clown of the band jokes, while Payne points out the title's homage to their hero Ian Dury, who had a hit with "Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3". Confusingly, a song that starts out dismissive of the grade-obsessed grind of British schooling ends with the cautionary tale of a drop-out who ends up trying to rob a bank.
Adamczewski airily admits that there is no connection between that cameo and its companion verses. "Sorry, but I just put that in because I didn't know what else to write."
They happened to know a lad serving time, having held up a travel agent, just one of several dodgy characters that crop up in their lyrics. "They're over there," Adamczewski says, nodding in the direction of the bar. "They're all nice blokes, they just don't want to get real jobs."
"No one likes paying tax," Payne adds, "I know I don't. I've never been to hospital once." Not even to nurse the Harry-Potter-style scar he sports just above his left eyebrow, caused by a bottle of a popular brand of perry (the pink variety, apparently) dropped on him when they played at a squat party.
Payne admits meeting some choice characters from going to the pub with his dad. "My dad and Saul's mum used to hang out with these people and you'd hear them tell their stories. Most of them are quite funny, none of them were serious gangsters or anything."
But it is the lads' own perspective and wit that is most interesting, something others will be able to appreciate when their album arrives later this year. It is produced by Baxter Dury, the son of Ian, who happens to share management with The Metros, though his musical style is very different.
"He's got a good ear for music and he's a funny, interesting person," Hyde-Thompson explains. "He's really motivating and gets really antsy if we don't do what he says."
So with a stern producer on board, the band finally knuckle down. That helped, along with finally recording their songs in areas similar to those that inspired them. The Metros is an apt name, for they are truly products of their environment.
The Metros tour to 18 March ( www.themetros.com). The single 'Education Pt 2' is out on 17 March on 1965 Records
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