Nobody passes through Hull. The town lies at the end of an unmodernised branch line that, travelling from London, involves changing at Doncaster and boarding a rickety train service going by the name of Northern Spirit.
It’s fitting enough that this out-on-a-limb-town has given birth to the self-contained, idiosyncratic music of Salako. In the 20 months since they released their first single on Jeepster, this group has unleashed over 60 songs onto the world, all recorded in Luke’s bedroom (except, that is, the ones that were recorded at the beach or the newsagents).
Some of them are about bees. And some of them are about metaphorical bees.
They started playing together in late 1995 as a four-piece featuring guitarists David Langdale and James Waudby, drummer Luke Barwell and friend Stu on bass. Through 1996, they performed numerous gigs at the Hull Adelphi, soon reaching the point where record companies started showing interest. Visiting A&R men were, however, less impressed by their live playing than their recordings.
A change was needed. And it came at the start of 1997 when Luke to bass, Stu shifted to keyboards and Tommy Spencer was introduced on drums. In this vastly improved guise they snared the interest of Mark Jones at Jeepster Recordings sending him tapes containing two new songs every week. Before long, he had a backlog of around thirty tracks. “He thought there must be something there if we can keep throwing them out,” Luke recalls.
Finally, in November 1997, Jeepster tested Salako out in a studio in Edinburgh, an experience they found “a nightmare, total waste of time”. Jeepster realised the band worked better in Luke’s bedroom and so resolved to simply sign them and buy them some better equipment. In February ‘98 they finally signed a deal, starting recording their debut album on their new gear the very next week.
Recording took place over around eight consecutive weekends during which James commuted back from university in London (he eventually dropped out after a year). After the ‘Growing Up In The Night’ single, the album ‘Re-Inventing Punctuation’ was released in October 1998. It featured a set of 20 songs (chosen from over 40) inspired by such great things as the Hayley Mills-starring children’s movie Pollyanna (‘The Story Of Bill’) and acclaimed modern architects Future Systems (‘For Inspiration Only’). The sleeve featured shots from the countryside around Hull that has inspired the band (indeed, James and Luke both remain stubborn village dwellers).
A further single ‘The Moonlight Radiates A Purple Glow In His World’ and a limited edition 7-inch ‘The Bird And The Bag’ followed, as did their debut television appearance on the unmissed Jack Docherty Show in July. “We won’t do anything like that again,” shudders James.
A gig at the 12-Bar Club in London also turned rather colourful when, following their own performance, the venue’s landlady commandeered their drum-kit, continuing singing and playing her own songs long into the night.
When the band decided it was time to turn in, they had to start deconstructing the drum kit around her. “She ended up singing and just playing a kick drum, before standing up and going, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.’ And then the audience started shouting at us…”
The band ended their first year of recording with a Peel session, with the esteemed one suggesting that Salako were destined for world domination.
Second album ‘Musicality’ was recorded over late ’98/ early ’99 and adopted some unorthodox methods along the way. Some guitar parts were recorded on the beach, others in a local newsagents where James used to work. For the vocal to ‘Arts And Crafts’, James hid under a pile of coats to better capture the song’s theme of being confined in an attic.
Standout moment ‘Look Left’ featured a 200-strong choir recorded at Hull’s Sutton Methodist Church. “There was one little woman who didn’t quite understand,” Luke smiles, “and instead of “Follow the light of the lord”, she was singing “I am the light of the lord”. People have noticed it in the left hand side when they’ve listened to it on headphones and written us letters about it. Perhaps she was.”
Of the 57 tracks they recorded, they eventually picked 17. Released in June, the album’s title was long premeditated – they’d even planted a clue to the future release in the sleeve to their debut (there’s apparently
a clue to the nature of the third). The lighter, more acoustic feel was undercut by a running theme relating to the sinister allure of religious cults. Some listeners might have missed this thread.
A summertime tour with Pavement followed, a jaunt that saw them dragging the late lo-fi legends to the sweaty confines of the Hull Adelphi (and event which put the town and the band highly in the visiting Americans’ hearts). The last night of the tour, at London’s Brixton Academy, saw not only the end of Pavement but also the departure of Dave Langdale from Salako. Since then, they’ve been a trim three-piece and plan to stay that way.
Last November saw them embarking on a new venture: releasing a quartet of EPs over a 12 month period – all named after places and the dates at which the cover photos were taken. The first, ‘Mappleton Sands 201298 EP’ was released last October and featured six-tracks of folk-flavoured psychedelia with such titles as ‘The Three Crows Of Life Vs The Woodpidgeon Of Death’ and ‘The Overhead Projector Theory’. The east coast spot featured on the sleeve has since crumbled away.
The second in the series, ‘Ventimiglia 120899 EP’, is released on 1st May and is named after an Italian town that James visited on holiday last year.
The five tracks feature a wider musical palette than ever before. ‘Hull City Tiger’ was named after the horse owned by former Pavement percussionist Bob Nastanovich. ‘The Queen’s Got A Price On My Life’ concerns “A bee that’s got hayfever so it can’t collect pollen, so the queen’s after it’s life. But it’s not really about bees. They’re metaphorical bees.”
The places names of the next two EPs are shrouded in secrecy. The next album will complete their loose trilogy – at which point they will reinvent themselves once again. The likelihood is that, at this precise moment, Salako are recording more songs.