In Layer Cake, Daniel Craig’s unnamed character asserts that good business is all about being a ‘good middle man’ and ‘putting people together.’ Since 2006, Leeds’ favourites Middleman have been doing just that. This fearless genre bending four- piece have managed to not only create some exceptional and unique music, they have also entertained many music lovers around the region, the country, and as TSOTA found out in a recent interview, the world.
Middleman begin by divulging their origins. Interestingly, the band started life under a completely different name (Green Beats), as a 7 piece Drum ‘n’ Bass act. Matthew Simpson (drummer) comments that this early incarnation was both ‘”rawkus” and “wild”. Sadly, this early line up didn’t really give all involved a great opportunity to perform in the way they wanted to though. Matthew continues by saying that “it was just overkill in that band, I think. I played an electronic kit, and there was another guy, called Al, who played an acoustic kit. Then there was a stand-up percussionist, and a really good keyboard player. It was just so many people, and because Drum ‘n’ Bass is very minimal there was a lot of us who were frustrated because we wanted to let loose a bit. But, it just ended up sounding more like German prog rock!”
After Green Beats disbanded, Matthew, alongside Krish Thiruchelvam (guitar), and Lee Smith (bass), formed Middleman. It is very clear that creating a unique sound was the most important thing for the band right from the outset. According to Matthew, “the three of us were very eclectic. We could find something good in chart music all the way down to black metal, and anything in between that. So, we just wanted to keep things as open as possible.” This sense of cumulative innovation that drew inspiration from numerous genres was cemented when they were introduced to Andy Craven-Griffiths (vocals) – a talented lyricist and spoken word poet who had cut his teeth co-organising open-mic poetry nights, at Strawberry Fields bar, in Leeds.
As Middleman continue, it is really interesting to hear the band talk about their desire to get away from the Noughties’ “sprayed on Jeans and fashionable hair” obsession. The determination to create an exciting sound that was an alternative to the ubiquitous presence of bands like ‘The Kooks’ and Kaiser Chiefs’ was not only refreshing, but also quite daring. How many bands during this period made decisions for completely the opposite reasons?
Frustratingly, this progressive vision wasn’t fully embraced by Leeds’ music scene, in 2005. Simpson recalls, “Live, I never remember us being hated or anything. But, it was just weird because we could never comfortably find a night that suited us. There’d be us then three other angular Indie bands, because we could only ever find Indie nights to play.”
Thankfully, these early difficulties were completely eradicated, in 2006, when Middleman received invaluable support from several of the BBC’s most well known DJs. This all came about when the band was contacted by a PR link and told to shake off their hangovers and get into town so that their demo could be passed onto Steve Lamacq. After listening to it, loving it, and playing it on his show, Lamacq then passed it on to Huw Stevens, who in turn passed it onto Zane Lowe. Numerous plays on Radio 1 and BBC 6 Music followed, alongside a Maida Vale session. All of which culminated in Middleman being contacted by Bad Sneakers Records, and signing a two single deal (to release: Blah Blah Blah and Good To Be Back).
“It did feel a bit fast” considers Krish. “We only had about 6 tracks at the time, because we were just focusing on being an energetic live act.” Despite what might sound like a lack of material for a band rapidly growing in popularity, Middleman’s work ethic, and willingness to use their music to bring people together, really paid dividends. During this period, not only did the band establish themselves in Leeds, and across the country, they also branched out to Europe, playing gigs in France, Holland, and Germany. Then as far west as the U.S. to perform at SXSW.
At this point, the conversation turns to the way music is received outside the UK. Beginning with Holland and Germany, Matthew states: “they’re just so hungry for music.” He then continues to explain that there is a genuine respect for live music out there, which exceeds the expectations of musicians performing in England. Contrary to experiences of lukewarm promoters, money hungry booking agents, and poorly organised events, these European tour dates sound idyllic. Krish, pitches in here and explains that “there is a real respect for music out there. People will take time to check out the bands, listen, and even buy their albums before they’ve even seen them.”
It’s not just the fans that make these gigs special either. Middleman go on to describe the kind of hospitality that would keep most celebrities happy, coupled with professional organisation, and unbiased communication between promoters. Matthew sums up Holland and Germany by saying: “they definitely put everything into it, which makes you play better, and feel better.”
The success, and scope of these European dates – which Matthew clarifies are ‘mostly festivals, with big crowds of about a thousand people plus, focusing on one or two main stages – is clearly addictive for Middleman. This summer they will be returning to Germany and Holland, commencing with a lunchtime slot (1pm) at Krach AM Bach Festival (Germany), followed by 6 other dates across the rest of August and September.
But, what about the bands fans in Leeds, and the rest of the UK? Well, Krish informs us that they’ll be “back into the studio writing, with a whole new set-up.” He continues by considering, “it’s more live I guess.” Matthew chips in here, telling us that “it’s more live yeah, and it’s just physically different I guess. I’m playing a completely different kit, which is totally influencing the way I play.” Krish adds, “I’m playing more keyboard. I’ve still got my loop pedal, so I can still do all the looping. But, I’m not able to do them both at the same time. It just means I can’t crowd stuff too much. Lee’s stripped back his sound a bit too. He’s not even playing bass at the moment I don’t think. He’s actually been playing bits of drums recently.”
Although they admit that this evolution of sound has only taken place over one Saturday session so far. They both sound very positive about where things will be going musically though. “It’s worked really nicely actually… It’s sort of afro-beat really. I tried to think about it as more electronic initially, but I think it’s more like afro-beat yeah.” Krish clarifies, “it’s very bright. A little bit like early Tune Yards. The final sound is just what’s in the room. We’re not putting any extra layers of synths or anything on it.
Anybody who has followed Middleman over the years, knows the quality of the music that they have produced. From the initial success of ‘Blah Blah Blah, to the widely played Spinning Plates, to the recently released magic that is Better Off, this band have majored in providing their audience with something special. No doubt, this will continue long into the future.
You can find out more about Middleman and upcoming gigs on their website.
Filed under: Music