Some bands will tell you that they’re the best of mates, but for Hooton Tennis Club, that’s a sure thing. The Wirral four-piece may only be in their mid twenties, but they’ve been pals for years, with the friendships stretching back as far as - in the case of bassist Callum McFadden and guitarist James Madden - the age of three. Drummer Harry Chalmers and vocalist /guitarist Ryan Murphy later joined the squad during a mundane graphics class, with the lot of them playing in and out of bands together ever since.
Sat around a table with them at the Scala - where they’re due to play with Heavenly label mates King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard later that night - their chemistry is kinetic. They recall times Ryan’s mum would have a go at them for winding up the family dog; James remembers climbing trees with Callum more than he does picking up the guitar. Ryan and James remained tight during their university years at Manchester, with Hooton Tennis Club forming upon them all reuniting when they got back home. ‘Barlow Terrace’ for example is about one of the more memorable student parties they experienced, with the rest of ‘Highest Point In Cliff Town’ - their debut album - spewing lines that ring true in the most literal of senses.
“With ‘…And Then Camilla Drew Fourteen Dots On Her Knee’, Camilla actually drew fourteen dots on her knee,” Ryan says, recalling the moment fondly. “She was waiting for me outside a bar called Mother in this place called the ‘Meat City’ in Copenhagen, just doodling on her knee.” Hooton Tennis Club’s songs really are as literal as that - there’s ‘Jasper’, a song that “came out in around ten minutes” about Ryan’s grandfather, and in ‘Barlow Terrace’, Laura did actually lose her shoes in the kitchen James transformed into a glitzy spaceship. “I’m not sure if everyone knows just yet that we’ve put them in our songs, though Laura was at the show last night,” James admits. Ryan interjects: “Camilla’s heard ‘Camilla’, and she said she was into it!
The band’s sound takes all the best ramshackle bits of US indie icons such as Pavement and Guided by Voices, and filters it through a distinct, eccentric British tone that tackles highly relatable subjects such as mundane train rides, deadbeat summers and rocky relationships. Apart from Ryan buying James 'Terror Twilight' for Christmas one year, though, and Callum being played ‘Cut Your Hair’ whilst working as a balloon boy at a zoo, none of them have really dug deep into those American classics they’re often compared to. Ryan reckons they’re more into contemporaries - Black Lips, Deerhunter, Ariel Pink - that side of the US scene - and that they all originally bonded over a love for Supergrass and The Jesus and Mary Chain. “I remember thinking, oh, they seem like cheeky lads,” he says. “And they live on a farm, or something. We could do that!”
The album was produced by Bill Ryder-Jones of The Coral fame, a band that the guys were vaguely into back when MySpace was a thing and you had to cram 12 MP3s onto your tiny dongle player, praying you wouldn't get bored by the end of the school day. “I think it was because they were fairly local as well. That whole Deltasonic thing with them and The Rascals,” says Callum. “The idea that we’re influenced by American stuff comes from people saying "oh, you must like Pavement". But when we were growing up it was a lot of British bands, really. Arctic Monkeys, for example, when we were 15.” For Ryan, his mum showed him an article about Ryder-Jones’ album 'If', and asked if he wanted to hear it. “Now, years later, here we are,” he says. “It’s like, oh, we're working with that guy who made that record about that book… it's crazy!
'Highest Point in Cliff Town' is a lively, thrilling soundtrack for any season of the year, covering everything from the sing-along indie pop prowess of ‘P.O.W.E.R.F.U.L. P.I.E.R.R.E.’, to the guitar-driven melancholy on ‘Always Coming Back 2 You’. James and Ryan both share a mutual love for famous genre-hoppers Ween, which serves as a starting point for the Hooton’s universal accessibility. However, James has a more broader idea of where their variation comes from. “I think it's just our generation has this ADHD thing,” he says. “We can't stick with just doing one thing. We'd often swap our instruments, for example. I don't know - I can't sit down and just write a song. They just have to come along one way or the other.” Ryan adds that in terms of their audience, people can find tragedy as well as comedy in their tunes. “Each song is a little bit different,” he reckons. “You've got 'Spokes' compared to 'Kathleen Sat On The Arm Of Her Favourite Chair’, or ‘P.O.W.E.R.F.U.L. P.I.E.R.R.E.' compared to ‘Always Coming Back 2 You'... there's a song for everyone, hopefully.
Hooton Tennis Club will release 'Highest Point in Cliff Town' on 28th August via Heavenly Recordings.
Photos: Phil Smithies / DIY. Taken from the August 2015 issue of DIY.