‘ThirtyTwo’ is a heavyweight pop statement. Such a poised, deliberate work isn’t what we’d expected from a band whose course has for the most part seemed plotted with an all-or-nothing, damn the torpedoes recklessness. Reverend & The Makers’ output has been delivered strictly on their terms, leaving a ruptured trail of memories in its wake, from sell-out stadiums and top ten singles, to moments of near annihilation. While the conversation surrounding the band since their 2007 debut The State of Things has often occupied a realm of goofy hysteria, the releases themselves have raided the charts with incrementally mounting intensity.
Having grown out of the indie rock renaissance of 2005/6, they were at the forefront of a resurgent Sheffield scene, along with friends and collaborators like Arctic Monkeys and Milburn. 2009’s follow-up ‘A French Kiss in the Chaos’ weathered the backlash that scalped some of their contemporaries, rode back into the top 20 and saw the band invited out on tour with Kasabian and The Enemy for Oasis’ now legendary final shows. At such a point in a music career, one could be forgiven for playing things safe. Reverend & The Makers did anything but, working feverishly instead on side-projects, setting up their Reverend Soundsystem club nights and co-curating the acclaimed Tramlines festival in Sheffield. Frontman Jon McClure and Laura McClure (keyboards, vocals) spoke on panels and played intimate shows for Instigate Debate, a rolling youth, music and ideas forum they’d helped found with Carl Barat and activist Mark Donne.
In interviews too, the band took every available opportunity to goad the industry out of its conventional mindset. Jon McClure is an archetypal jester-troubadour, a charismatic worker of the Carnivalesque who brings Britain’s class anxieties to surface with embarrassing ease. You can hardly blame journalists for volleying shots in the direction of a willing provocateur but from online spats to Curb Your Enthusiasm-worthy crises of etiquette, the focus of discussion slid from the music. Growing tired with the cycles of hype and tabloid pettiness, the band turned their back on the attention. When @Reverend Makers was released in 2012 it was without much media fanfare but their instincts had paid off; the album came in at no.16 and ticket sales exploded as a growing legion of fans sunk their teeth into McClure’s urbane, personal stories of life in contemporary Britain.
ThirtyTwo constitutes a resplendent follow-up but also marks an unparalleled effort to connect with this ballooning fanbase at a level that goes beyond selfies and hashtags. Pre-orders are higher for this album than any of the previous and most dates of the tour have sold out months in advance. Signaling his appreciation, McClure has borrowed a camper van to play thirty-two house gigs in the run up to the release. 5pm, at the whisker of cocktail hour, he puts out a tweet to say he’s getting in the van. Fans pour in with their pre-order numbers or ticket stubs and he messages one back to say he’s on the way.
“I nicked the idea off Carl Barat – he’s a mate, he doesn’t mind. Bill Drummond from the KLF did it too,” says McClure, “I’m really into the idea of playing cities that don’t usually get a look-in. Nothing compares with the feeling of playing some lad’s front room in Scunthorpe or, like, Stockton-upon-Tees, there’s no gig like it.”
With one collapsed floor and a few scrambled police vans taken in stride, these shows are achieving their aim of reaching the places overlooked by the usual tour circuits. The band follows the same idea when they make their music; shorn of any pretension it speaks directly to real people.
“It’s something I don’t think a lot of musicians do, actually,” says McClure, “they get caught up in trying to please the industry and forget that when they started they were just writing songs their friends would like. I try and keep in mind the people I write for; they’re the people who want to listen to our music. That line in ‘Your Girl’ [‘We’ve took to calling you the pilot light, because you won’t be going out tonight’], I heard my mate’s dad say that in the pub, you can’t buy that.”
In an experiment based on the same logic of publican populism, Makers released their own ‘Reverend & The Makers Summer Ale’ with the esteemed Thornbridge brewery in 2013. They shifted huge volumes of the stuff up and down the UK, from Hackney warehouses to Manchester Airport, and in over 30 countries. It was such a success that guitarist Ed Cosens, who spearheads the brewing enterprise, got back in the distillery and came up with a Winter counterpart to coincide with the new LP.
With Joe Carnall and Ryan Jenkinson returning on bass and drums, the band produced ThirtyTwo themselves with Youth (Primal Scream, The Verve, Depeche Mode) and James Welsh. Opening salvo ‘Detonator,’ makes the link between the last record and this one before the lovers rock-influenced ‘Devils Radio’ signals the sense of assurance and considerable stylistic breadth that is to follow. The breakbeat-Lennon of ‘Your Girl’ and the album’s title track, McClure’s age, alludes to a newfound sense of peace and collectedness.
“I don’t really give a shit anymore, I like being thirty-two, it’s where I’m at, I’m at ease with myself, I like great music, and the people that matter to me rate our music. People in this business are funny about their age, but someone like Richard Hawley, he’s is in his forties and he’s great.”
This is at the heart of ThirtyTwo, a sense of mature acceptance that’s lost none of its playfully sardonic, amped up and instantly memorable elements. One gets the sense that, while pushed to the point of disbelief and despair at the cab-hopping, coke-grabbing misery to which people can be driven to backstage, McClure, fourth time round, is OK about it, more reconciled to the world, and the industries which make their cash taking its picture. The feeling perhaps comes across most clearly on ‘Happy Song’,a tune that joins ‘Play Me’ in hitting a poignancy the band have not achieved previously. Both find McClure writing from a critical distance, still passionately engaged but with a sense of calm resignation prevailing over restless combat. Off the war path but still headed in the right direction, this album sees Reverend & The Makers cement their place in the rock and roll story.