The Dead 60s: The Sixties live again

A Top 20 single, a tour with Morrissey, mobs of frenzied fans in Japan - for The Dead 60s, things could hardly be going better. Charlotte Cripps meets Liverpool's latest sensations

The Dead 60s, a Liverpudlian quartet in their early twenties, who sound uncannily like The Specials crossed with The Clash, arrive in Leicester Square, hopping around keenly. All apparently wearing Fred Perry tops and shiny brogues, they are not the tough and leery-looking lads I had expected.

The Dead 60s, a Liverpudlian quartet in their early twenties, who sound uncannily like The Specials crossed with The Clash, arrive in Leicester Square, hopping around keenly. All apparently wearing Fred Perry tops and shiny brogues, they are not the tough and leery-looking lads I had expected.

Their tour manager, Keith O'Neill, who looks like a fifth member of the band, has parked up the big gold tour-bus around the corner. "Oh, I can see where we are now," says the drummer, Bryan Johnson, 23, earnestly, in a thick Scouse accent. He's wearing a Fred Perry cardigan with a light yellow Munsingwear three-button polo shirt and a pair of Levi's Sta-Prest jeans. The band set off from south Liverpool at 9am that morning and watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest on the way to the capital.

Despite sounding like a band who should throw bricks at policemen, they are polite to a fault and still live with their parents, except for the lead singer, Matt McManamon, 22, who stands out with his sizzling charisma and his tendency to point his guitar like a gun when playing live. "I like to be intense," he says.

The Dead 60s supported Morrissey last month on his tour (by all accounts, he asked for them) and are to support The Libertines in November. They have already played with their Liverpudlian peers The Zutons and The Coral, with whom they share a record label, Deltasonic, but whom The Dead 60s couldn't sound less like. They are now recording their debut album, due out early next year.

Their catchy new single, "Riot Radio", was NME's single of the week a fortnight ago and is No 20 in the midweek charts. Like their first single, "You're Not the Law", released in May, it has urgency, valuing rhythm over melody, and features police sirens and slogans of song titles and lyrics shouted at high volume by McManamon. It takes sounds from ska (The Specials "and early proper ska, like Desmond Dekker and The Skatalites") and mixes them with punk ("back to early dub like Lee Perry and King Tubby") and Eighties punk-funk ("Talking Heads, The Slits, A Certain Ratio").

What it lacks in originality, it certainly makes up for in vitality. But, unlike The Clash, The Dead 60s are not pushing a political message. They prefer to write about people they know and things they encounter - usually in Liverpool.

"'Riot Radio' is about a prank call one of my friends made to a local radio station where people air their day-to-day problems," McManamon says. "It is meant to be deadly serious. But it is, like, hilarious. I mean, does it matter?" he says of the problems people call the show to discuss.

"The ordinary is the extraordinary," says the bass player Charlie Turner, 22, looking smart in a matching navy blue Fred Perry top and cardigan. "We have distanced ourselves from politics. What's going on in the world is beamed out 24 hours a day. What is happening is madness. That is fairly obvious without us singing it. The world doesn't need us commenting on our views. The music is an escape for us."

The Dead 60s formed about 18 months ago. Utterly bored with what they were hearing - "there must be more to music than rock" - and with the charts full of rock bands such as The Libertines, The Strokes and Razor Light, the four Liverpool lads are intent on doing their own thing.

"The band's name derives from our Beatles heritage and from other small bands in Liverpool who all sounded 'dead Sixties', as in 'dead gorgeous'. We felt it was about time for a change. We've had enough of it," says Ben Gordon, who plays the spooky organ sounds (think The Specials' "Ghost Town").

Turner adds: "We always knew what the band was going to be like. We had a strong identity right from the start." He and McManamon are the band's creative forces: McManamon writes the lyrics and sings, and it's Turner who comes up with the musical ideas.

Having met at school in Liverpool - they were 11 - the two played in several school bands. "We used to practise in garages. My mum still thinks I should be doing my A-levels, but I left school at 15," says McManamon. Johnson jumps in with: "I still get back from being on tour and my mum plonks my right back in reality and points me in the direction of the pile of ironing."

This summer, the band went to Japan's Summer Sonic festival. McManamon found the experience of being mobbed by Japanese fans - "all mad for ska" - quite overwhelming. "We had to run out round the back of the hotel, just like we were The Beatles," he says. "But it was not as amazing as our headline tour, when more than 200 venues were sold out, just to listen to us."

What was it like playing with Morrissey? "We never actually met him," Gordon says. "He was whisked in by two hefty security men and then left." Turner adds: "Morrissey is a man of mystery," and Johnson follows with: "He's like the headmaster at school that you never see, except in the corridors, but apparently he's really into us - that's the shout we got."

Johnson and Gordon were also at school together and played in school bands, and knew McManamon and Turner. "We were in rival school bands. Both bands were equally crap. We used to do our band practice in the church," Gordon says. "We were once described as Metallica-esque LA rock. Their band was described as bad Foo Fighters on speed."

But now the The Dead 60s have an inexplicable chemistry. "It feels natural. We jam about and shout lyrics over the top of the music - and the music evolves naturally," says McManamon. "It just happens. The album we are making also flows together. Each song shifts into the next, effortlessly, like a DJ set - or a journey. You will have to listen to the whole album to experience it."

It's early days for The Dead 60s. They still have leaving home to look forward to. But for a band that got together because they thought there must be more to music than rock, they're certainly making themselves heard.

'Riot Radio' is out now on Deltasonic

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