FOR ALL THEIR COMPARISONS, THIS BLURTED GARAGE PUNK IS NOTTINGHAM’S FRESHEST SOUND When last I saw Nottingham foursome Prize Pets, they were negotiating the tiny, scout hut-like stage of the Stag’s Head in Dalston, their singer lurching about in the audience, mainly with his back to us, sounding like Mark E. Smith fronting Pere Ubu, […]



When last I saw Nottingham foursome Prize Pets, they were negotiating the tiny, scout hut-like stage of the Stag’s Head in Dalston, their singer lurching about in the audience, mainly with his back to us, sounding like Mark E. Smith fronting Pere Ubu, and looking like a Gap advert, until a fellow Prize Pet chucked a multi-coloured blanket at him, which he wore as a cape for a bit (“It was a crocheted throw,” clarifies the singer, George). It was both refreshing and bewildering, watching an understated bunch of noisemakers rocking random home furnishings and seriously awesome facial hair (see guitarist Dan’s beard), spewing feedback and ragged hooks without the slightest hint of pretentiousness or self-consciousness. That sort of uncomplicated, unassuming performance is a rare occurrence here in London – perhaps it’s Nottingham’s distinct lack of cutthroat competition. “No one in Nottingham really cares about being better than other Midlands cities,” says other guitarist James “whereas in Leicester and Derby they’ve got a real competitive, anti-Nottingham sort of attitude.”

So what’s going on in Nottingham that gets the rest of the Midlands so worked up?

“There’s the local music scene that has ambitions to make a Nottingham band famous and only ever put Nottingham bands on, as if they’re the best bands in the world, but then, we promote shows in Nottingham [under the name New Weird Nottingham] and we aren’t really part of that local scene; there are loads of great bands from outside Nottingham – British bands – and we bring them to Nottingham.” There’s also Liars Club, which has been going for seven years and has a similar, open-minded approach to booking bands.

None of the members of Prize Pets are locals, born and bred, but come from a peculiar mix of backgrounds. “When I was sixteen I played in a band called the Shadows,” drummer Joe announces nonchalantly. “Cliff Richard and the Shadows,” which is apparently one of those casual facts he drops into a conversation and, just as casually, doesn’t choose to expand on. “Yeah, there you go.”

Dan and James are even more evasive:

George: “You guys do stuff together, don’t you.”

Dan and James, in unison: “Yeah.”

“A few years ago, I was in a hardcore punk power-violence band called Kamikaze,” offers George in his calm, smooth, decidedly not hardcore-deathspew voice. “We released some seven inch stuff, it was kind of short lived – That was with some friends [Mike and Shaun] who are in Lovvers now.”

“We always find it strange when people say that we’re ex members of Kamikaze or The Snails because probably no one knows about those bands,” says George, explaining that it’s likely that the only people who would have heard of these ex bands would be friends and people from Nottingham, and even then, the translation is essentially, ‘Ex members of a band you maaaaybe saw three years ago. Once. Along with the ten other people who were there.’

Regardless of how involved Prize Pets are in the local scene, they say these references, albeit vague, are a good way of letting friends know that they’ve started a new band, even if previous ventures have had little-to-no influence on their current sound. In a peculiar twist, however, there are undeniable similarities between the punked out fuzz rock of Lovvers and Prize Pets’ scuzzy, post-punk garage. Joe puts it down to the “Guitar twangy, reverby…thing,” not sounding particularly convinced.

“Some of our newer songs sound like their older songs,” George concedes “and we’ve both had the Flipper reference.” His theory is that they have been friends for ages and have similar tastes, coming from the same place, musically, but any suggestions that Lovvers’ music has influenced Prize Pets’ sound are gently dismissed.

‘Guitar twangy, reverby thing’ aside, they all agree that it’s hard to put a finger on what kind of sound their band makes. “We don’t think that we’re doing something new,” says George frankly, though it’s highly unlikely anyone who listened to them would think so anyway, not if that particular person had ever heard of The Fall.

“Yeah, we get compared to The Fall a lot, which we find really strange… We get the Fall thing all the time,” George frowns. From an outsider’s point of view, it’s not a strange comparison at all; the jerky, double-jointed guitar riffs, sneer/mutter vocal rants and pistol shot drum beats all seem cut from the right brand of post-punk cloth, although the similarity does seem a bit odd when Joe admits that he’s not particularly familiar with The Fall. “It went quiet for a bit,” George continues. “We thought it had gone away, that maybe we’d ditched that but it keeps coming back.” They say they’ve also been compared to California punk band Flipper, which certainly ticks the boxes for feedback and gnarled vocals, though Prize Pets’ sound lacks that punky knuckle-dragging weight, being a two-guitar, nil-bass outfit. There have been a few Cramps references as well, most likely referring to the band’s retro, somewhat surfy vibe, as well as a hint of the deranged in the lyrical delivery. Then there’s the B52’s – “But not ‘Love Shack’ B52’s,” they hasten to add – which, again, is surely a reference stemming from the quirky speak/sing aspect and twisted vintage sound.

“I get some weird frontman ones,” says George “like Brian Ferry,” he laughs. “I was hoping that meant early Roxy Music Brian Ferry…”

“Another review said you sounded like Ian Curtis,” Dan points out. “A demented Ian Curtis,” he corrects himself.

Prize Pets’ overall sound was described as ‘shambolic lo-fi’ by one publication. “That was probably just a bad show,” they laugh. “Or, no, it was that guy who hates us!” All four start trying to recall quotes from the review. “We were too studied in something… or too amateur…”

“You’d think he’d give us a bit of a break, it was only our third or fourth show,” comments George. The band only started practicing in June and had a gig lined up before they’d even rehearsed properly. The result was a ten-minute set, which was mostly them warming up – “It took us about three songs to warm up and we only had four.”

Prize Pets could have spent the first six months just practicing but they reason that they would have been completely sick of their songs by the time it came to performing them. Instead, they tend to play songs live before they’re even finished. “We’re quite eager, aren’t we?” says George, while James acknowledges that songs have a habit of changing every time they are played. He admits that this might not necessarily be the right way to go about things, but no one in the band seems particularly concerned about that – “We’ve played every song we’ve ever made up,” says James. And yet they say they’ve had the crowd calling for one in particular – well, one person was calling for it anyway – and someone’s already covered one of their tracks: a Casio electro version, which the band find both flattering and perplexing.

It sounds like, whether they identify with the local Nottingham scene or not, Prize Pets are very much a part of it, not as natives, but as a group of musicians hoping to improve it, open it up and have fun while they’re at it. They admit that it’s hard work, playing and promoting in such a small, self-contained scene but, “It’s better than Derby and Leicester, anyway.”

By Polly Rappaport


Originally published in issue 16 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. April 2010

« Previous Interview
Next Interview »