Tom Spencer (The Men They Couldn’t Hang/The Loyalties etc!) Interview

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Over the years, you sometimes come across people who just seem to have rock n roll in their blood, and Tom Spencer is certainly one of those. It helps that he has played in some of the best punk n roll bands of recent years i.e. The Yo Yos and The Loyalties. We got the chance to find out not only what he is up to musically but also how he actually pays the bills!

Hi Tom, as I mentioned in a recent interview with Rich Jones, normally musicians are introduced as member of x band, but that isn’t quite as straight forward for the pair of you! So fill in the blank, this is an interview with Tom Spencer of…….. ?

This week I will be mostly playing with The Men They Couldn’t Hang

Last year, I reviewed the wonderful “’till the death of rock n roll” album by The Loyalties (see the review here https://thesoulofaclown.com/reviews/i-l/) and also placed it in my top five albums of the year. Can you tell us a bit about that band?

It’s me and Rich Jones post Yo Yo’s gang. When he joined the Yo Yo’s (when we reformed) we discovered a great working relationship as well as a friendship. We had met before when we were both touring the US with Subpop bands but hadn’t bothered getting to know each other – too much monkey business going on. Then various friends have joined us along the way.

There was quite a time gap between the band’s two releases, why was that?

We both play in a lot of other bands, plus I sometimes get busy with my Tattoo glass – my push into the art world – which is what I live off. I get some income from music but not enough to survive and stand my round.

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Would you describe The Loyalties as a going concern? and if so, can we expect any new material and/or some gigs?

If enough people showed interest we would gig and do more. But the truth is we haven’t worked the band hard. We hoped our work in other bands would push it. Plus, we are unashamedly apathetic. We are proud of the noise we make and love playing with each other but sort of want the world to come to us…ha ha …we have an attitude problem.

Somewhat unusually, the album was also accompanied by a book, what was that all about?

It’s an idea I started working on a few years back on an unpleasant tour. I realised it was the perfect scenario for a whodunit. Lots of hate and motives in a confined tense space, where a body could go undiscovered for hours or even days – the smell would be nothing new. Murder on the hedonistic express. So I dug it up to go with the album, adjusted some chapters to go with songs, and we wrote some to capture the stories vibe.
I have to say I’m very proud of the album but know the book could/should be so much better. It made me realise how much work goes into a great novel. It would take 6 months minimum of undivided attention, without the distraction of making an album and the rest of my busy life. Hopefully it’s still a fun read though, if not a work of literary genius. It tells a few naughty true stories too!

I have to admit, that of all the bands you have played in, The Yo Yos are probably my favourite. If someone asked me to describe the type of music I like, I would probably play one of their tracks, as it incorporated everything i love…rockabilly, punk, glam, rock n roll etc etc. The songs are all just great fun, although I except the reality of recording them might have been some what different, what was it like?

Making the first two EPs were as fun as they sound. By the time we were doing the Subpop albums some of Danny’s problems had re emerged. Overall, it’s still a chapter of my life that I’m proud of. Although without it I might have kept more hair and teeth.

It may surprise some people to learn that the Yo Yos were actually signed to Sub Pop, who had signed another band that people may have heard of called Nirvana! How did that come about, as I wouldn’t consider that you fitted in with many other bands on that label?

I can’t remember the exact chain of events. They got to hear of us through various people.
I do remember the gig they flew over to see us though. The Barfly in Camden (the old one) I got off the tube and met touts selling tickets for the gig, a good sign. The gig was a blinder, squashed down the front were the Subpop main men head banging away. They saw us at our best. We saved the worst for later.

How about the recent shows with the reformed band, tell us about them and can we expect any more new material at any point?

We got together for Danny’s 40th, all down to Chris McCormack. That was fun so we did Download. It’s a tricky situation all based around Danny’s health and mental well being. Part of me thinks to let’s sleeping dogs lie, the rest can’t resist the call. I can’t see a situation with new material but I wouldn’t write off the odd get together.

It would certainly seem that one of the key ingredients in anything you become involved in is a sense of fun, I imagine that playing in the Banjoey Ramones must be a great laugh?

As I said earlier, I don’t pay my bills through music, so why do it unless it’s fun. Mind you I had high hopes for the concept of Banjoey Ramone. I thought the right management could turn that into a paid touring thing. Oh well, hey ho, fuck it , move on.

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Going back a few years, when I was researching what happened to The Yo Yos, I learnt that you had set up a stained glass window business. This seems a bit unusual, is Art something you have always been involved in and is it still going?

I think I’ve answered this earlier, I’ve always been arty. I went to art collage after school, but the main reason was that’s where the Clash formed. Music always came first in my heart, still does, but art keeps me off the streets. Check out tattooglass.com to see my stuff.

Finally, what does 2014 hold in store for Tom Spencer?

The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s Pledge campaign hit 100% before Christmas so we’re rehearsing now to record the album in Feb. I’ve played banjo for them for a few years but have now been promoted to guitar!! Because I played bass for The Loyalties, I’m really enjoying a return to the instrument I’m best at. I’m no Steve Vai but I’m at home on the guitar.
There’s a launch gig at Shepherds Bush empire in April. Then a summer of festivals (including Sweden Rocks – bizarre) then autumn tours.
Not sure about other band stuff. Things normally turn up, I’m not very good at saying no, never have been.
Glass commissions are good, I’m doing one now for a lady from Eastenders. Colin Firth bought two last year….oh Mr Darcy!!!
So, the answer is…I’m going into 2014 with a big optimistic smile.

Tom Spencer is very clearly a man of many talents and even though the rock n roll gods may not always have smiled on his bands (or some of the members) he always seems to approach it with a genuine love for what he does. That is probably why the bands he has been associated with are so loved by their fans.. They’re just real. So make sure you keep your eye out for any future projects.
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