Thanks so much to Ian Alexander for this great interview! The Spinning Jennys released only one 7″ back in the day on the well-known Tea Time label, and also a split flexi with the Fat Tulips. And that was it. They had some great tunes, so it was great to learn more about this obscure Norfolk band!
+ Hi Ian! How are you doing? Thanks for doing this interview. I know you are still doing music with a band called The Foster Kids. Do you have anything in store with them for the future?
Hello Roque,The Foster Kids are having a bit of a sabbatical at the moment, well subject to big money offers. There are only so many seeds we can cast on stony ground.
++ So let’s go back to the late 80s, early 90s, right? Who were the Spinning Jennys? How did you all meet?
Well, when Rock historians look back at the Spinning Jennys, with no disrespect to subsequent members, the classic line-up would have to be me (Ian) singing and playing guitar, Matthew playing guitar, Steven hitting drums, Matthew playing bass and Matthew dancing (yes they were all different Matthews). With the exception of the final Matthew (our Bez for lack of a better comparison) we met at Diss High School, in Norfolk, England. Steven and the first Matthew lived across the street from each other from a very early age.
++ Was this your first band? Or have you been involved with other bands before?
Any previous bands were of little consequence, even less consequence than the Jennys as our hardcore fans would call us.
++ So where does the name Spinning Jennys comes from?
The Spinning Jenny, as you may or may not know, was invented by James Hargreaves in 1764. We learnt about it in the History class that three of us were in. Also Matthew the bass player had a habit of getting off with girls called Jenny round about this time (not 1764, when we were in the History class together). That was more or less where the name came from.
++ You signed into the reputable Teatime Records, who put many favourite singles of mine, like the fab Candy Darlings one! How did you end up on this label and what was the deal between you and them?
As far as I can remember there was no deal, they were idealistic times. I think they just gave us a certain amount of singles in return for the “privilige” of having the Jennys on the label. It all came about because we won a local band competition with a prize of time in a flashy recording studio. We had absolutely no idea what to do with the finished article, I guess the standard procedure would have been to send tapes to labels such as Sarah and hope for the best. So a tape was sent to Teatime and they agreed to put out the 7″. The guy from Teatime, who we never even met in the flesh, told us that people had complained to him that the single was too “baggy” but it was too late for us we had already had our heads turned by prevailing musical trends and it was just the beginning of the Spinning Jennys decline into shameless bandwagon jumping.
++ Your only proper release was the “It’s It It It” 7″. Why didn’t you get to release more records?
Somehow the immense talent of the Spinning Jennys just passed the world by. I guess it was a mixture of not being that good and not being particularly fortunate. I’m gonna hold back the stories of the drunken punch-ups for the book.
++ Well, there is that split flexi with the Fat Tulips, but you included the third song from the 7″ there. But I’m still curious, how tight was your relationship with the fatties? Any anecdote about that crazy bunch?
I wish that I had stories about late night jams with the Fat Tulips, the Pooh Sticks and Amelia and all that but it never happened for us. Norfolk is pretty remote, I have the feeling I might have met some of the Tulips but that could be a lie. The Foster Kids did get a nice message from them on Myspace once, completely coincidentally. With regard to the flexi, it wasn’t the song from the 7″ but a song called “Splendid”. I even checked on I Wish I Was A Flexidisc just to see if I had gone loco.
++ On Twee.net it lists that you appeared in a couple of compilations as well, on “Positively Teenage”, on “Just Another… Compilation”, and “Shiver Me Timbers”. Are we missing any other collaboration?
I have no idea, in those days it seemed that songs just ended up on tapes willy-nilly.
++ Also I found on a blog someone mentioning a tape called “Spinning Too”. What’s that about?
Once again I have to plead ignorance. One problem with being in a band called the Spinning Jennys is there are always other bands called the Spinning Jennys (I just checked on myspace and there are 5 Spinning Jennys on there at the moment). It might have been related to our extended family, there’s no way of telling until I clear out that old tape box.
++ The four songs I’ve heard from you are very different, “It’s It It It”, “Supermarine”, “I’d Laugh If Your Head Exploded” and “Gardeners Weakly”. By any chance they were written by different people? How was the creative process of the band?
I wrote pretty much everything.
++ I think my favourite track is Supermarine. It’s a fantastic pop tune! It is upbeat but I also feel some sort of melancholy behind the song. Care to tell me about this particular song?
It was named after the manufacturer of the Spitfire but it sounds like quite an Indie word. It was the one song that got played on John Peel. I had just got home after a night out with a young lady (they threw themselves at the Jennys) and I switched the radio on and there we were, I though I’d pressed the play button by mistake. For me this was one of the highlights of my time as a Spinning Jenny. On the record the only two of us who played on Supermarine were Steven and I, I waited for some Monkees style “They don’t even all play on their records” style backlash but it never happened.
++ What do you remember from the recording sessions for this great single?
I can remember Matthew the bass player holding a white Rickenbacker up against a speaker to make feedback, it was his entire contribution to the recording session. Also the song It’s it it it (or It’s better now than what it was when it weren’t as good as what it is now part VII to give it it’s full title) has backwards voices on it, which were us making fun of people we didn’t like very much, we were young.
++ What about gigs? Did you gig a lot? Any particular shows you remember?
We had a lot of fun and the audiences did too, there was absolutely no pretension involved. I can’t even begin to describe some of our gigs without them sounding awful. Our first ever proper show was with the Field Mice, that should get us some indiepop cred, we also played with the Groove Farm, Bob, Heavenly amongst others but only when they came to Norwich. We played a few shows with the New Fast Automatic Daffodils (I had completely forgotten about them until this interview) we were bowled over by their funky antics and we tried to follow them down that avenue. We played with them in Oxford and Amelia Fletcher was dancing in the audience, can you even imagine?
++ Were you friends with any of the bands in the scene? How do you remember the scene in Norfolk back then? In which venues would you see the Spinning Jennys hanging out?
We were young, still teenagers and we really thought we were the bee’s knees and would not have considered being friends with any other Norwich bands (apart from the Potting Sheds we were friends with the Poting Sheds). The main place to hang out, as it still is, is Norwich Arts Centre, although Norwich does have a tendency to be a bit anti-pop and wilfully obscure.
++ So why call it a day? What did you all do after?
The Spinning Jennys limped on a long time after the single, we done Teenage Fanclub impressions for a while, bought effect pedals and made stupid noises for 6 or 7 minutes at a time and as I said before jumped on any bandwagon that was passing by. You will probably hear this answer a lot but it kinda fizzled out. Apologies to any former Jennys but I haven’t really kept up with them very well.
++ I heard you’d be around Indietracks this year? Have you been to prior editions of the festival? Who are you looking forward to see this time?
The Foster Kids played there a couple of years ago and I went for a day last year, I’m a bit disappointed they aren’t celebrating elefant’s 21st birthday this year. Please don’t think any the less of me but the main attraction for me will be the Pooh Sticks. I know it’s bad what with all the great new bands but I never saw them the first time around and I thought they were great, even my Dad liked them and could probably still sing “I know someone…”
++ You said to me that you only operate on the fringes of Indiepop nowadays. How was back then? Were you really involved? Maybe even involved with zines? Tell me what did you do?
I’ll try not to be all sentimental and nostalgic but music will never mean as much to me as it did when I was a teenager. The guitarist from the Jennys and I wrote a fanzine called “What we did in our Summer Holidays” it almost got to a second issue, we bought all the records religiously.
++ How do you feel about the international indiepop community, do you think we have something special in our hands?
That’s a tough one, I honestly can’t understand why indiepop isn’t massive and why it needs a community at all. It should be burning up the charts all over the world. With regards to a scene, you know the bit in High Fidelity where the guy gets tricked into liking someone with Phil Collins in their record collection, or something similar, obviously just because somebody likes indiepop they aren’t automatically “cool”. I can still remember a bit in one fanzine about a guy who loved punk when he was by himself in his small town with the records swirling round his head and was let down when he met other people into the same stuff. Saying that I recently went to Spain and met somebody who used to like Talulah Gosh and I was immediately on this guy’s side, it’s silly.
Sorry I’m tired and this answer is rubbish maybe I should have just said yes.
++ Oh, we should stop now! It’s getting late :p Thanks so much Ian! Anything else you’d like to add?
The Foster Kids, big money offers, that is all