Exposure: Sparrow and the Workshop

Exposure: Sparrow and the Workshop

Sparrow and the Workshop - Last Chance

Next band to ruffle your feathers the right way is here. Sparrow and the Workshop, originally from 'all over the place', joined their folk-friendly forces over a year ago, set up shop in Glasgow and have been-a soaring ever since. Making music with a helpin' of yonder that is both haunting and angelic, Sparrow combine blissful boy-girl vocals with a french violin, slide-guitar, bass and stripped-down drum kit. The result is downright brilliant, with songs about the devil, broken homes, foes, jealousy, crimes of love and gun-packin' delivered profoundly by a trio of old souls. The List caught up with Jill O'Sullivan, Nick Packer and Gregor Donaldson to discuss the local music scenario, a poor little sparrow and Summer Wine.

Howdy. So where is everyone from and how did you find each other?

Jill: Gregor is from Scotland, near Edinburgh, and has lived in Glasgow most of his adult life (he went to Glasgow School of Art and then started a pretty awesome cafe/catering company in this fine city). Nick was raised on a farm in South Wales but lived in London for most of his adult life (also went to the city for art school and then worked there), and I was born in Belfast but raised in Chicago and spent most of my adult life in North America, until I moved to London a couple of years back to do a postgraduate degree in something I can't remember very well, like most of my studious pursuits, under the false impression (self-imposed) that London was an affordable city to live in and that I liked to study...oops...

Nick: Jill and I actually met in Clapton, London - on a road dubbed 'Murder Mile' ... I lived in a place that was the only standing building on the street, and Jill lived in a grotty highrise that got featured in the Guardian's 'worst places to live 2008...' Anyhows, we both were very bored of London and workin' like a dog and its whole who-ha.. so we moved up to Glasgow in search of a bit more action in our lives, moving into Gregor's apartment, luckily and totally by chance. He had drums, (and turned out to be one of the best drummers around), some cool records, Jill had some songs and I had a guitar. Bingo.

Sparrow and the Workshop is an ace name, and it really does work well with your kind of music. Can you explain that? I can't. It just does.

Gregor: We had a really depressing name (Dead Sparrow) and shit drums, so we removed the word 'dead' from the name and added the word 'workshop' in the vain hope that one day a rich benefactor would replace the shit drums with a shiny set of 'Drum Workshop' Drums, which in my opinion, are by far the best drums you can get.

J: Hmmmm, apparently there's a place in the States called Sparrow Guitars, it seems...But in all seriousness, the Sparrow part of the name derives from a song about a dead sparrow (one of my first attempts at songwriting) that my dad shot down with a BB gun as a kid, and then he felt really bad about it when he saw its mangled little wings lying still on the ground. It was my grandfather's fault because he kept goldfinches for their lovely songs and said sparrows were good for nothing. This story really stuck with me, you know? Poor little sparrow, and poor dad, and poor stubborn, mixed up old grandad. Who's to blame, really?! And what's the lesson to be learned? The story seemed surreal, like a fable you'd hear as a kid...except the sparrow didn't talk, of course. I think.

Who writes the songs? Favourite songwriters?

J: I guess I come up with most of the melodies and the chords, but it's not a case of, "okay, here's a song, now you play this and you play that". Usually, I come in with bits and pieces and then we construct the song over time as a group, and Nick and Gregor play whatever they think works and we cut and paste and add, embellish or contract when necessary. There's a lot of talking about what might work and trying out different things and, incidentally, prog rock doodling that inevitably gets cut out but entertains us in the meantime. In terms of favourite songwriters of all time, wow....well, I'll say the man in black, Johnny Cash. He has powerful lyrics.

G: I think Joanna Newsom is good.

N: Brian Wilson. I'm a fan of procrastination.

You've sprung up at a very exciting time around here with Scotland dishing out sweet new talent like yourselves left and right. How has that helped you along?

J: Well thank you very much, that's kind of you. People like Vic Galloway and SongByToad really helped us meet a lot of other musicians around Scotland, in fact. They've been incredibly supportive of us and we've found that there is a great community of sharing and support amongst all the bands. I think we've been lucky because we get on well with bands from both Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the promoters in both cities are really enthusiastic about putting on nights, like Trampoline, Limbo and This is Music in Edinburgh, and Halt Bar Hijack, Cry Parrot, Nuts and Seeds, Splendid Dead Collective and the Concrete Campfire in Glasgow...so there are always loads of gigs to play!

G: Yeah, in the past year, we've played with loads of bands that are starting to prick people's ears and we are fortunate enough to be going on tour with Broken Records in June. We're looking forward to it.

Anyone who made it to your 'wedding set' at the Limbo Live album launch knows you do a damn fine Summer Wine cover. Okay so what's your favourite boy/girl duet ever?

J: Limbo was great fun, actually, I'm glad you enjoyed it! It was an 8-year-old dream of mine to be Tiffany onstage, and I didn't manage to feather my bangs {or 'fringe' for the unhip to North American-speak} but I donned a side ponytail so it was worthwhile.

G: In terms of duets, when we started out as a band, me and Jill did a cover of Green Pastures (Emmylou and Willie Nelson) for an acoustic gig, and it affected how we did songs because doing that made us realise how powerful the harmonies were and how well they worked.

J: Nick had been prattling on about electrical wires (incidentally, he's made his own bass and guitar in one which we call the Basstar'd) and also Lee Hazlewood's incredible song with Nancy Sinatra so when the Limbo gig came up, we knew we had to do Summer Wine.

N: I don't ever talk about electrical wires and all I did was swap a string!! But, my favourite boy/girl duet is 'I had the time of my Life' by Jennifer Warns and Bill Medley.

J: Ha, Nick, I didn't even know you had seen Dirty Dancing out in the country. I'm gonna say 'Jackson' - by Johnny Cash and June Carter

G: 'We've got tonight' by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton - This is the superior version of a song that was originally sung by Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton, these royals of country have sung together for decades...

N: I like the bit where Dolly Sings...'who needs Sheena Easton..'

Sparrow and the Workshop play Captain's Rest, Glasgow with Mitchell Museum on May 14; Flying Duck Kitchen, Glasgow with Broken Records on May 30; King Tuts, Glasgow with Broken Records on June 3; at Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh on Juy 10

St Deluxe, The Gothenburg Adress and Bronto Skylift

Sonic Youth/Dinosaur Jr-loving guitar workouts from St Deluxe, post-rock instrumentals from ex-members of Arab Strap and The Zephyrs with The Gothenburg Address and three-minute power pop punk from Bronto Skylift at this Skinny Dip night.


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