T in the Park - The Ting Tings
The name of the game
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, something the Ting Tings know all about as they storm the charts and win our hearts. David Pollock meets the band with the soundtrack to the summer
Walking through Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens with the band who are number one in both the UK singles and downloads chart is a cheerful feeling, and it’s not purely down to the bright, sunny Saturday afternoon weather. Katie White and Jules De Martino, collectively the Ting Tings, are in buoyant mood once they’ve had their picture taken lying on the grass, and they seem glad of the break.
‘It’s literally been months since we’ve done that,’ says De Martino as we walk back to Queen Margaret Union, where they will play a celebratory, sold out show later in the evening. ‘Going to the park, lying about doing nothing for a bit. We just haven’t been able to, it’s been non-stop.’
During their photoshoot, certain passers-by – chiefly pairs of student-age girls, it must be noted – stop and rubberneck at the duo, who have worked their way from local notoriety in their native Manchester to national ubiquity with the sassy and immutably catchy ‘That’s Not My Name’, by way of relentless hard touring over the last year. So how does it feel to be number one? The pair glance at each other, as if telepathically weighing up the level of modesty required. ‘It feels,’ they answer together, ‘fucking great’.
White and De Martino – who aren’t a couple, by the way, although they finish each others’ sentences like one – have a mutual history that extends further than just the Ting Tings journey, right back to their introduction at a mutual friend’s party. Their route to recognition has been harder won than most overnight success stories, and well-documented, but the specifics of it define the band that they are today. Even though there are only two of them, that gang mentality which holds the best and most transparently authentic groups together is strong.
Back at the venue dressing room, the pair settle in. White looks for a plug point for her hairdryer, and De Martino – wearing sunglasses outdoors, indoors and usually on stage as well – looks like he still hasn’t recovered from getting back to nature. He kicks his feet up on the sofa, and the pair sit down to chat before soundcheck. The story doesn’t start well; the first chapter is entitled ‘Dear Eskiimo’, the name of the pair’s first group, and ends up being the kind of music industry cautionary tale that many unsigned bands will be glad they haven’t been exposed to.
‘Here’s the perfect example of that time,’ says White. ‘The first marketing meeting we had with our label, I’d made this big book of all my favourite art and photographs. It took me weeks to get this together, to show them what I was all about, and they didn’t even look at it. Instead they said, how much are you willing to get your clothes off in men’s magazines? I said, “you’ve picked the wrong girl for that, fuck you” to them, then a few months later they dropped us.
‘But they’d obviously signed us in the hope they could polish us into whatever they wanted.’ White continues. ‘It was...’
‘...over before it had even started.’ concludes De Martino, right on cue.
What they were left with when Dear Eskiimo came to an end was a rehearsal studio space called The Mill with five months’ rent paid up on it, and an urge to just be playful. White, who would have described herself as a fan of the Spice Girls at the time, began going to see groups like Acid Mothers Temple, and having her mind expanded by the Japanese avant-industrial collective. Meanwhile, De Martino was happy to keep his fun cheap and close to home.
‘I’d just sit about the studio,’ he says, ‘getting drunk with mates. Then more people would come along to these parties, so we started to get beer in and stuck a broken telly in the middle of the room asking for donations towards it. Eventually this money was paying the rent as well, and Katie and I would perform our own jams on the night. Then when the local press got wind of the whole set-up, we had to call our own group something. So we became the Ting Tings. It was all a complete accident, really.’
A happy accident, though. By the fourth or fifth installment of the night, such a buzz had grown about the duo that famous locals like Mike Pickering of M People, now an A&R man, were showing up to give them advice. ‘I don’t follow the fookin’ crowd,’ was how Pickering apparently greeted them, ‘but I think you’re fookin’ brilliant. You need to come and talk to me.’
So they did, and – with assurances from their new manager that the Dear Eskiimo situation wouldn’t be repeated, and Pickering’s recommendation – De Martino and White met Bob Stringer from Columbia. ‘We put our own contract together for them,’ says De Martino, ‘and it was appalling. Our lawyer said, “you’ll never get it. It promises complete creative control over the music, the mixes, the artwork. There’s not a record company in the world that would let you have that”. We sent it off to America and we got it.’
It seems such self-assurance has worked. The pair report their label’s satisfaction at having helped achieved a number one single, but also at the success of their ‘complete control’ experiment. ‘They supported us,’ says De Martino, ‘which is what a label should do. None of that asking for more songs and picking what goes on our album for us. What happened with us is something that other labels should look at.’
‘You know, Jon McClure’s (of Reverend and the Makers, who the Ting Tings toured extensively with last year) mum sent us a card to say congratulations for ‘That’s Not My Name’,’ says White. ‘I’d just done a really shitty interview with someone from (insert name of national music mag here), and then I opened her card. It just shows you that there are nice people in the world, huh? Oh, and Neil Diamond sent us one too’.
‘Yeah, we’re on the same label as him,’ confirms De Martino, ‘although I don’t think he’ll send us another when he sees we’ve beaten his album to number one this week.’
That was back in May – so are the sounds of the summer born.
The Ting Tings play King Tut’s Wah Wah Tent, Sun 13 Jul.