If the Libertines‘ formula for success was “look like The Beatles, sound like The Clash“, then The Tranzmitors’ is look like extras from Quadrophenia, sound like a punkier Jam.
And as you might expect, this is going down pretty well on both sides of the Atlantic, from their native Vancouver, Canada, to north London, via Guildford, Hitchin, Newcastle, Liverpool and Brighton.
Tonight is their penultimate gig, at Tufnell Park’s Dirty Water Club, before they head off to Birmingham and then home where, “I’m going to kiss my wife,” promises Jarrod O’Dell (vocals and keyboards), while Jeffrey McCloy (vocals and guitar) plans to “take my dog for a walk”.
This might not sound like the most rock’n’roll plan in the world, but after the fun and frolics they’ve been through since arriving in the UK a mere eight days ago, you’ll agree that they deserve it. You can’t help but feel that the God of a peaceful life is eking out some terrible revenge on them as we take a gamble that the general street noise of Fortress Road, N19 will interfere less with the interview equipment than the very loud support band sound-checking inside the venue.
Bar the wailing sirens and occasional local crackhead, we may just make it through the night, though considering their luck so far, it’s amazing the band have made it here at all. “When we first landed”, says Jeffrey, “there was a mix-up with our van. We sat outside Heathrow, where the van was supposed to be, for an hour and then thought we should do something about it. We went onto the internet, and there’s a bulletin that says, Needed: driver, now!”
“So we’re at the airport with no driver,” continues Jarrod. “We know where the venue is, so we get on the train, but we’ve got an enormous amount of kit – merchandise, boxes of records, plus our guitars and all our luggage.
“One person got on and we eased it all onto the train, and then at the other end one person would get off and we’d ease it all off, but not everyone always made it. They’d get stuck and we’d see the train pull away with them still on it, into the abyss. It was mental, it took us hours. It was rush hour, it was hot. We were hated by the locals.”
Unfortunately for the band, things didn’t get better when they got to the venue. “The gig had been cancelled,” Jarrod explains. “Their license had been taken away for blocking a fire escape, so we got thrown on another bill, which was really nice of them to do, but I don’t know if there’s a bill we could have fitted worse with.
“They were art noise bands. There wasn’t a guitar or a drumkit to be found but there were tables full of pedals.” Consequently, they weren’t all that well received on their first night. “We were hated. It a sea of blank faces going ‘we hate you’ and we’re, ‘I know’. I was waiting for someone to throw a pint at me and I noticed they all had paper cups, so at least I’d be okay…”
Punchy, garagey punk-pop reminiscent of the Mod-influenced bands of the late ’70s and early ’80s, their sound is a long way from the art noise of countrymen such as Godspeed! You Black Emperor and even Arcade Fire, but it is a good fit with their UK label Stiff Records, one-time home of such bands as Madness, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, The Adverts and Richard Hell and The Voidoids. There’s also of lot of influence from The Jam and 2 Tone to be heard.
“The Jam are one of my favourite bands of all time”, says Jeffrey. “As for the Stiff Records sound, well… I own all those records so of course I get off on them”.
Throughout the interview, we’ve been periodically interrupted by Terry, a local Camden casualty who met the band for the first time tonight but is now their greatest fan. For all his incoherence through much of the proceedings, discussions of the band’s influences bring out a period of lucidity in him: even if it is only to claim they sound more like punk band 999 than anyone from the Stiff or 2 Tone scene.
“These are the most important bands that have arrived in this country for a very, very long time,” he imparts with remarkable earnestness. “They’re the best band since The Clash, Primal Scream, the Stone Roses and Flowed Up. I think these guys are really, really important.” There’s something in his tone that makes it clear they’ve touched a nerve.
Though Terry disagrees with any suggestion that there’s a 2 Tone element in their work, keyboard player Jarrod is happy to take the credit. “I learned to play keyboards listening to [Ska and 2 Tone],” he says, “so that’s what I know how to play. I take that and try to make it fit with rock’n’roll.”
The organ (and Jarrod) almost didn’t make it onto a UK stage, however. “When we first landed,” he explains, “I got my keyboard up from baggage and it was broken. It’s an old ’60s keyboard, a pretty delicate thing. So one of the roadies and I had to go out to a synthesizer repair place in North Acton. The people in the keyboard shop were ridiculously great.
“We called them up and they said ‘yeah, if you can get here soon maybe we can have a look at it’. I think soon for them meant about an hour, not the four and a half it took us – we didn’t really have any idea of how to get there. When we arrived, they were about an hour and a half from closing, and the guy there gets on it, drops everything else he has and rushes it out the door for us. That was a lifesaver really because we didn’t have any other options. Otherwise there would have been two roadies on the bus.
“We were hopeless when we got here but people have been unusually… I don’t know, maybe not unusually because maybe people are always really helpful but they’ve been tremendous. Every single person who has put us up, who’s promoted a show has given us stuff and bought us dinner.”
“One of the bands in particular, The Down And Outs from Liverpool, have been amazing” says Jeffrey. “They basically loaned us everything for the whole trip, from not really knowing us at all. Nothing more than a bunch of emails and maybe one phonecall and that was enough to let us take all their stuff for pretty much the whole trip. For the first part of the tour they were there, but for the rest of it they just let us use all their stuff. If they came over to Canada, we’d definitely put them up in return. We’d foster them.”
In fact, Jarrod even offers to marry one of them, just so that they could stay in the country, even though he already has a wife.
“We could marry off one of the roadies,” he eventually decides instead. “Yeah, we could marry one of the roadies off to The Down And Outs”.
“Roadie is a pretty open term”, agrees Jeffrey, “it’s doing whatever’s necessary. We should marry off roadies to band members to get them Green Cards. We could make it like a production line – everywhere we go would be family”.
In some respects, they’ve been finding that they have this already, through the Mod and scooter scenes in particular. Jarrod is disappointed that he missed a scooter rally in Brighton by a couple of days: “This band and the other band I’m in, we always make a really strong effort to play to rallies, because kids come from all over the North West. But I missed the Brighton (scooter) rally. So near and yet so far.”
With venues such as Brighton, and Guildford Youth Centre on their itinerary, did they make a conscious effort to play venues that seem to fit perfectly with the scene?
“No, that was just because the people who helped out with the tour, that’s where they chose,” says Jeffrey. “It was mere coincidence”.
“We did notice that it was very beneficial to get in with the All Ages crowd [London punk and ska record shop and promoters]”, says Jarrod. “We certainly touched a bit of a nerve with some of their bands. People who are in other bands knew about us and I think that’s why they were so helpful in putting on these gigs. They opened for us and got it together”.
So, considering how helpful they’ve found other bands to be, are there any they’d like to give a leg up to themselves?
“The Jolts are a Vancouver band that I really, really like,” says Jeffrey. “Along the lines of Ramones style rock’n’roll. Totally the other side of things are Paper Cranes, a kind of a Cure-loving, indie dance band from Victoria, who are getting a decent amount of press now. There are a lot of Canadian bands that we share our domestic label Deranged, with, like Dead Stop, Career Suicide and The Brutal Knights and they’re all really, really good bands.”
And with that it’s time to go, leaving Terry and the sirens to the night as we head back inside for the evening’s main entertainment. They put on a great show, loud, energetic and genuine. At the end of a week they have at one point described as being “a sea of disasters”, they still look like they’re having far too much fun.