Posted by: pascoesabido | September 20, 2008

360 – The interview

Del the Trumpeter

From a small tent in Birmingham, the Lydon Brothers tell Pascoe Sabido about Glastonbury, being compared to UB40, and why 360—their eight-piece ska-funk-punk-reggae band—are finally being recognised:

Published in Volume (Birmingham Edition Summer ’08) [online edition available here]

A constipated Ross Lydon

A constipated Ross Lydon

In a large damp park in South-West Birmingham, two grown men watch over a pink bouncy castle as children run amuck within. CoCoMad is throwing its annual family-oriented festival in Cotteridge Park and Ross and Scott Lydon are not just there to play uncle and father: the brothers, 27 and 31, are part of 360, an eight-piece funk-ska-reggae-punk band from Birmingham that will be headlining the small celebration. Despite only just getting back from Glastonbury the band aren’t fussed to be playing in a purple porta-stage, instead seeing it as another small step on a journey that has so far taken eight years. The remarkable thing is that as a group, they’ve only grown stronger, building on foundations of solid friendship and constant banter – If only their mothers could hear what they say! They’ve been around the block a few times but it’s not wasted on the Lydons: Ross is the first to admit, “We’re not kids, we feel like we’ve learnt a bit whilst ‘doing it’; we’ve spent years learning what the industry is -it’s nothing magical”. Playing live is the band’s forte, whipping up audiences and spreading excitement through a crowd. Although they have been performing for some years, a reformed attitude and a kick-up-the-arse from their new manager have the boys finally heading on the right track. However, no matter how far these guys go, banter surrounding ‘your mum‘ will always have its place.

The two brothers form the core of the band, and it was their joint musical upbringing that spawned 360. Scott, on bass guitar, began with organ lessons – “Mum used to make me play in the old folks’ home” – while Ross, on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, was fortunate enough to be a natural, “If he wanted, he could just pick it up – drums, trumpet, anything” says Scott. It was Ross’s band that, after graduating in fine art and illustration from Southampton, Scott joined, but it was the new direction and injection of fresh talent that turned it around (one of the many cheesy excuses for being called 360): Delroy Henry aka Del, who knew Scott from school, was brought in on the trumpet while Ian Pennells moved from bass to saxophone – his first true love. Darren Flynn, their dedicated keyboard player, and Ross, the musical brains behind the band, sadly bid farewell to ‘Inertia’ (the band’s former indie incarnation) and embraced the changes. Another saxophonist, Peter Wingate, later joined to beef up the brass section; whilst Paul Scott, a second guitarist and the youngest member at 24, joined recently following a boozy jam-session at Glastonbury.

Toby the drummer
Toby the drummer

The position of drummer holds its own enigma: “We’ve had every style of drummer there is” claims Ross, “Someone who’s taught themselves, a professional drummer, someone who’s half-way; and now we’re back to Toby Wilks”. “It’s drummers, man, they’re Mysterious people!”  Scott exclaims, “If you speak to most bands, they’d say the same”. Aside from the drummer no-one else has left the band. As a result the group are very close and any rehearsal or performance is full of banter: when Darren innocently asks Ross what he’s been doing, ‘your mum‘ is thrown back, but the feigned shock on Darren’s face is a well-rehearsed routine. Over the years Del has willingly adopted the role of pantomime victim, and any cheap insult is cause for lengthy lament in his thick Brummy accent.

Comparisons have been made with UB40 and the Specials, although Heart fm once likened them to the Mavericks, “Think he meant Madness and got the wrong band” clarifies Ross. The UB40 comparison goes down well as they are another Brummy band with a similar story, but according to Ross, their music fuses everything and anything, “There’s not many styles I can think of that we don’t taste”. The range of influences come from Birmingham’s vibrant jam scene, where basements across the city provide the perfect antidote to the monopoly of indie bands: “people love the scene because they get a chance to play with different kinds of musicians” explains Ross, “Instead of going to a jam where they’re all doing baby shambles, you come to a jam in Birmingham and you’ll end up playing a little bit of salsa mixed with reggae – or a little bit of Hawaiian music – and then go into someone free-styling”.

Although Ross takes creative credit, he admits the band is “blessed with some amazingly talented people”. Most members play at least two instruments, and the three-piece brass section are not just there for show, “once we get an idea going, they go off on their own in the corner and work out the bits” clarifies Scott, “and if it sounds good, we give them the thumbs up”. “And if not, we say sort it OUT!” Jokes Ross. Despite recently being given the chance to record with Bob Lamb, who produced UB40’s first album Signing Off, some of 360’s better moments have come from Ross’s own home studio. “We spend hours just making our own tracks” he explains, “You get the vibe in your own set-up”.

A bit of group-lovin'
A bit of group-lovin, from left: Scott, Ian, Del, and Peter

But it is out of the studio where the band really shine. Live, they ooze showmanship, while their music invites you to dance. They are flying high after playing all four nights at Glastonbury, but even in a grey park in Birmingham the boys put on a show. The crowd has dwindled and the rain begins to fall, but those remaining can’t help but grin, especially for the enthusiastic rendition of ‘Keep Your Smile Up’. When ‘I Ran’ begins, Ross encourages as many people as possible to get up and run – which they all obligingly do. The man was born an entertainer and every cheeky remark is met with laughs by parents and children alike – even risqué comments about sports bras and ex-girlfriends go down in hysterics. On stage, the brass trio provide a beautiful compliment to the melody, while the guitars delicately pluck a skanker’s rhythm; Ross’s melodic lead-vocals are reminiscent of Joe Dukie from Fat Freddy’s Drop, catchy but still meaningful.

Playing Glastonbury has been 360’s pinnacle, but even that was a struggle to achieve: the band had to audition in front of Michael Eavis to secure their original slot, and it was only after a stellar first performance that three more gigs were scheduled. The fact it has taken eight years to get to this point shows how tough it has been; “One of the reasons that we’ve taken so long” admits Scott, “Is that we don’t really conform to a certain genre – and it’s even pretty tough to break ska and reggae in the UK.” Add to that the difficulty of reconciling eight separate schedules that all contain a day job, as well as new responsibilities such as children: “it’s quite hard going to make it work sometimes” admits Ross, “But when you do get together it works… We’ve been a band that long that it doesn’t take much to get it right”. A mid-week performance after a hard day’s work can be difficult, but the aim is to show a united front: “Whatever it is” explains Scott, “We try to be as professional as we can on stage – when you get off, then you beat each other up!” However, professionalism is sometimes impossible: “someone gave hash cakes to the drummer before a gig – by the time we got on stage he was playing the drums backwards” laughs Ross, “And I broke two strings – the worse 20 minutes of my life. I walked off stage”.

Ross Lydon entertaining Glasto

Ross Lydon entertaining Glasto

The last two years have seen the band’s fortunes change: a new belief instilled by current manager Mark George accompanies a sense of professionalism. “He’s not just someone who says they’re an agent because they’ve got a card” states Ross, “All of a sudden nothing happens with those people”. Previous ‘agents’ have come and gone, never delivering, and one ‘business deal’ they were offered even demanded the band cough up, “They put a contract in front of us” explains an amazed Ross, “but they wanted a grand upfront!” By contrast, George has mastered the business side, allowing the boys to concentrate on the music, “Without him we would have been a mess at Glastonbury” acknowledges Ross.

The belief among the band is that they have what it takes, “we’re there ready to go, we just need the break” declares Scott – “But only in the last year or so really” qualifies Ross, “It’s been a hard struggle, but it feels like we’re getting some sort of recognition”. From hearing their songs at Jams to someone’s ringtone playing ‘I Ran’, 360 are making their presence felt: “walking round Glastonbury, I saw complete strangers wearing 360 t-shirts” adds Ross, proudly. They even have a dedicated groupie, who, at said festival, “comes over – totally ruined – to sit with us, slips over, tits fall out of the boob tube, and then she pukes up all over herself” laughs Ross, “That would be the worst thing I’ve ever seen a fan do!”.

The boys in action

The boys in action

With recording time scheduled for Gavin Monaghan’s Wolverhampton studio (recently visited by Birmingham band The Editors) and an album geared to set tongues wagging, the members of 360 can start considering music as their nine-to-five. Nothing is set in stone, but finally coupling their talent and experience with a competent manager should stop the band running in circles and send them on their way – that is, as long as hard-done-by Del isn’t left in charge: “I wouldn’t QUITE FRANKLY have them polish my shoes, cos they’re that SHIT! And you can quote me on that!”

(All photos by Andrew Simpson)

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