Mike Williams interviews Shellsuit Singer Songwriter, Ed Doherty.
“I’m falling for Skem in a big way”
As most of our musical journeys have organically grown over the passing of time, during lockdown I found myself achingly searching for the bands that gave me the biggest buzz when I watched them live as this is what I craved and certainly what I have missed. I sat and reflected on the band, their energy and passion that can lack over zoom and any other medium that overwhelmed the trail of social media. I was left, sort of heartbroken, for the void the artists so passionately tried to fill. But hats off to those who tried to capture the same energy within their lockdown online gigs, it was the closest I felt to the intimacy of a gig and the beauty within guitar. However my thoughts always drifted back to the question, ‘what are Shellsuit doing these days? Apart from the occasional fly tipping tweet from Walton’s finest inhabitants I really didn’t have any idea – so I decided to ask Shellsuit singer songwriter, Ed Doherty.
The early years, was music celebrated in the Ed Doherty home?
I’ve got 3 older brothers and a younger brother so they brought the music into the house. My ma was and is great at singing hymns and the Carpenters. Coming from Northern Irish stock on both sides the hymns were a big thing, there’s a great book called Hymns Old and New, these 2 writers called Damien Lundy and Estelle White, they knock out Hymn after Hymn, some classics, ‘Colours of day’, what a chorus.
My dad had a really funny take on music, this is an actual quote ‘in the 1950’s there were some smashing singers, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Sinatra, then along came the Beatles and ruined it all’. He thought the Beatles were rubbish, he walked out of the Cavern the only time my Mum dragged him there. My mum used to watch them all the time on breaks from child exploitation office jobs in town, golden years. My brothers got me into loads of good stuff, apart from one brother who liked listening to Sinitta and Leif Garrett when he wasn’t hanging off the back of fire engines on bogus 999 calls.
What was the very first musical influence you remember getting excited about?
The Jam, my brother and me shared a box room, he’d plant a record player on the foot of my bed at midnight and say ‘homework, damn’ then play Setting Sons by the Jam on repeat whilst looking at his reflection and asking if me he was going bald. The first LP I bought was The Damned’s debut. New Rose, Neat Neat Neat, great songs. There were also cassette tapes, people made compilations, I could pretend I got into early electro and hip hop but in truth I was trying to work out the words to ’Masquerade‘ by The Skids.
Did you attend gigs in Liverpool and any stand out gigs you can remember?
I remember The La’s supporting The Mission at the Royal Court in 1989 when the leccy went off and everyone sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. I also watched a lot of Benny Profane shows around Liverpool venues – The Cosmos, Planet X, Macmillans, The Hardman House hotel, I really like Dave Jackson’s lyrics. The band that properly fired me was the Stone Roses, I saw them at Warrington Legends in 1989, just before the LP came out, what a night, a life changer, the whole gaff bouncing to ‘I Wanna be Adored’. Me and some mates followed them to Northampton that same tour to a venue called ’The Roadmenders’ just to check that we weren’t dreaming it, they were even better. By the time of Spike Island we thought they had sold out, ha ha, classic teenage stuff, I’m glad I didn’t go.
Was Shellsuit a full time job?
I always worked, Shellsuit was the real us, work got the pretend version. I like the fact that we’ve got jobs, I always imagine John Lydon working in a mini cab office in north London for 30 years and coming back with the greatest LP of all time. I don’t know what there is to write about if you’re not daydreaming through team meetings or getting knocked off your bike by a harassed office worker on Westminster Road. Otherwise you end up singing about a blazing row with your Victoria Secret model girlfriend over who put the bins out.
You’ve spoke about “the 10 fans” you’d be happy with …. what number are you at now?
Probably less than that, I think it’s the quality of the people the fact they can be bothered to sit through a song or that they even half get what we were on about. That is not to be taken for granted, it’s good to be around passionate people. The 10 fans thing was something I made up as achievable, if 10 people are into you and that’s what you aim for it’s a good little aim arrived at, don’t get carried away looking for plays on Spotify because Leif Garrett and Sinitta will always win.
I like performers who make a connection with the audience, I just can’t think of any. Someone has turned up to see you, so get talking them, make the show something to look at and it might distract from your duff singing. Alot of singers look aloof, maybe they’re nervous, I’m nervous, I want to leave the country shortly before a gig but I also want to feel we are sharing a moment during a concert, maybe a hook or phrase will stay with you and carry you along through a difficult time one day.
I feel Shellsuit could not be placed into any category, they avoided being pigeon holed, is that a true reflection?
Yes, it’s making songs first of all and then putting them across in a way that feels right, in our case when the drummer bailed we did some acoustic tracks, then we met a guy who could play harmonica and put him on some stuff. Some of the time it’s as easy as hearing the Foo Fighters or anything by the Gallagher’s and saying ‘that’s exactly what we don’t want, let us proceed in the opposite direction’.
Listening to lot’s of stuff does help with ideas, my oppo in Shellsuit, Lee, is good at that, he’ll send over a song by an east Shropshire electro outfit, and an idea sparks to life. It is helpful to define yourself against what others are doing, I heard this song on the radio today, the kind that goes ‘dance like no one is looking.. smoke crack like your kids aren’t on the child protection register’ I hated it, but I knew that was a good thought.
I also feel lyrically, you stand alone, do you feel your lyrics are different than other lyricists/bands?
I think most lyrics are ropey, it’s rhubarb and custard rhymes to fit a melody. That’s ok if the melody is great but I generally don’t subscribe to the pop writer as poet stuff. I can’t play any instrument to a proficient level so I only have the words and melodies to focus on.I’ll be influenced by what I see every day, it’s all there in front of you on the street. I’m not interested in your girlfriend/boyfriend/significant other, I don’t think it’s interesting. I like to hear people draw word pictures about their area, I want to know what kids in Mansfield see, saves me a job going there. When you go to the shop at 9am and the kid from the flats is unscrewing a bottle of white cider, looking at you and saying ‘screaming demons’ you know he is writing a song for you right there.
And today, where are Shellsuit as band?
In the £1 cd section of Bold Street British Heart Foundation shop. Me and Lee decided a while ago to try and do something else musically. It took 4 years to record the second LP at Parr St Studios, relying on mammoth fixed odds coupon wins and back dated child tax credit. We both agreed we had run out of interest in guitars and we wanted to use other sounds. I could see us going back to it at some point but do we really want to be 26th on the bill at the ’Shiine On’ weekender? Yes, only if we can go on before Betty Boo. I think, I hope, people expect more of us, so that’s our view on the world.
What is your happiest musical memory as an artist?
I always like recording, being in a studio with someone who knows what all the tiny buttons do, and turning a strong idea into an exciting recorded song. I think a lot of it is about patience and putting some thought into it, not kidding yourself that your first idea was amazing. I like to hear other peoples ideas, collaborate a bit, those involvements with other people are also good moments, hearing them enhance the idea that started on a bike ride to County Rd DIY shop to buy some white bath sealant.
Does Liverpool provide inspiration for you to write and would you write anything without it?
I think the place where you are living should provide a lot of inspiration, any city is good for that, Liverpool is no different, I think if you talk in detail about what you see it has a universal appeal. If you try and be too broad you can end up in a Hucknall quandary, trying to appeal to the back row of the MEN arena. Looks like I’m gonna be in Liverpool until I snuff it, so yes, it’s important, crucial in feeding me the ideas.
What kept you busy during the lockdown period?
Playing football on Wally Hall Park astro, going on bike rides along the ralla, saving a few quid on not going out and spending it on home studio equipment, winning a £500 hot tub for a tenner in a raffle.Climbing trees with my kids, I got well into that, we’ve been doing it for thousands of years as a species, it’s sitting in the queue for a Muckies drive through that’s weird. Open air work outs, again in Wally Park, feeling like Bravo 2 Zero because I can do ten pull ups. Timing myself hanging on the pull up bars for a 100 seconds so I can win a £100 off the ‘pull up bar challenge’ man in town, learning how to record music at home, asking for advice from people like ‘Bye Louis’. Getting better at it, realising it’s still crap getting better at it again.
What next for Ed Doherty?
I’ve just mixed 2 songs with Steve Powell, who has more recently been playing guitar for Mick Head, at his Ark studios in Sandhills. I had to apply some discipline to the writing and recording. I restricted myself to a bass guitar, 808 drum machine and some keys.I booted the guitars right down the road. I think the sound has come out like some of the early Shellsuit stuff, it’s melody and lyric driven.I’m putting it out under the name ‘Victor Serge’ trying to get a bit of interest, 5 hardcore followers, politburo members. Then I’m gonna record 2 more songs, there’s loads of ideas knocking round and I’ve worked out how to do it with the help of a good friend of mine.
Expect activity, a massive poster campaign in Skem, I’m falling for Skem in a big way it should definitely have hosted the 2012 Olympics, serious, no messing, massive town with no train station, what a disgrace, it should be the sporting centre of the world by now….and don’t get me started on Pimbo.