“The rarefied air of the academy and the arena produce the six shilling novel and the music-hall song, but the desirable life is revealed only to the poor of heart.” James Joyce said that. The important Irishman would have loved The Shipbuilders if he was still around… and not just for that name and the rivers that flow through their music. This classicist Scouse outfit are a rare guitar breed: they transcend their influences. And they’ve only just started to sail from the shore. By Alan O’Hare.

“We’d be daft to deny the influence of the Mersey,” says chief Shipbuilder Matty Loughlin. “It runs through a lot of what we do and Jimmy Campbell, Mick Head and The La’s have been formative in me writing the tunes… but we’re conscious of sounding like another Scouse ‘jingle-jangle’ band. We work to ‘de-Merseyfy’ some songs, just to put our own stamp on it.” You can’t argue with the singer. The Shipbuilders couldn’t really be from anywhere else – yet they’ve got something all of their own, too. And that’s what sets Liverpool’s latest most-likely-to apart from the rest.

You can’t throw your voice without hitting a dummy with a guitar and a melody around here. We all know that. But, often in that darkness, a hidden light will shine and draw Liverpool music fans to it like moths to a flame. The Shipbuilders are such a band and people are starting to take notice. “We’ve just released our first EP and have been playing a set of ten alternating songs for about a year now,” says the graceful Loughlin. “They’re as tight as anything, so it’s exciting and we’re just dying to get them all out there.”

The EP in question, ‘Something In The Water’, was released this month and has already started to get the old school four-piece attention. Radio play and good reviews have arrived – but the catalyst for their initial impact has been their live performances. In short, they’re ones to watch in every sense of the phrase.

Talk to us about music from Liverpool… 
We’ve been described in all sorts of terms, so we decided to lump a few together and came up with ‘gypsy Scouse surf’ – my particular favourite at the moment! Like I said, we’d be daft to deny the influences, but I love music that’s weird, noisy and has melody at the heart of it: Galaxie 500, Tom Waits, Love… their songs all have madness around, but underneath it all is a tune you can hum.

The name’s certainly a cracker. Elvis Costello?
Nice one! Yeah, it comes from the Costello lyric. I was in town the night Margaret Thatcher died, handily with a guitar, so we partied into the wee hours and when I got home – in keeping with the theme of the night – I played ‘Shipbuilding’ on repeat and it struck me as a boss name for a band, even before you get into the sentiment of the song. That Chet Baker trumpet part just kills me too… I know a lot of people prefer the Robert Wyatt version, but don’t listen to the dirty heathens!

We agree. The EP sounds alive and there’s a vibe to it… 
Alive? Is right! We recorded it at The Motor Museum with Carlo Variola (Space, The Sneaky Nixons) and James Mellor (The Fall), who both have fantastic ears and are willing to try all sorts out in order to get something unique. I think we captured what we set out to and it reflects the various sides of the band.

The sound is eclectic: folk, pop, bit of psych. Fair?
‘Feeling In My Pocket’ came when I was listening to a lot of the Smithsonian Folk albums, The Poplin Family and Alan Lomax stuff. We wouldn’t want to pigeon hole ourselves in any way, and it’s not a bad thing, but we try not to veer too much into the psych pool… it’s everywhere at the moment, isn’t it?

True… but ‘The Moon’, from the EP, could bring on visual and auditory hallucinations!
I wrote that tune while watching a flamenco documentary on BBC4! I was winding my long-suffering wife up by trying to imitate the wailing and, in the process, I thought ‘there’s something here’ and stuck with it. The lyrics are inspired by Federico García Lorca’s poetry and the imagery of the Spanish Civil War.

Your gigs are a bit like that…
Oh, we love it. Love it! We throw ourselves into a gig and are determined to let you know that we’re having a blast up on stage – it’s borderline chaos at times, but that all adds to it. Watching back videos I think that comes across, especially my bass playing brother-in-law Nicky McGrane’s moves on stage – Wilko Johnson eat your heart out!

So, where did The Shipbuilders come from and where are you going?
We’re mates first and foremost, so it’s a great unit to be in. The guitarist, Danny Lee, and I have been mates for a long time and he’s probably the key to our sound with his reverb-drenched, surf guitar. We’ve got some boss gigs in the pipeline and we played the first of our ‘Shipwrecked’ nights at EBGBS this month to launch the EP… we’ve got high hopes for those, so success there would be nice.

Anything else?
More gigs out of town, another record… and a Marine FC promotion would top it all off!

The Shipbuilders, ‘Something In The Water’ EP, is out now
Available from iTunes

Pic by John Johnson