This year should spell great things for local band Black Hats. TIM HUGHES finds out more.
BRASH, punchy and fizzing with attitude... you know exactly what you are getting from the Black Hats.
One of Oxford’s hardest-working bands, they are a live favourite – serving up a feisty platter of hook-laden power pop and swaggering copper-bottomed indie-rock which is guaranteed to leave you grinning from ear to ringing ear.
And that’s the beauty of it. Forget about arch concepts or introspective soul-searching, this trio just want to rock out – and succeed with clever lyrics, addictive riffs and rhythms which drive harder than an ice road trucker.
“We play intelli-punk,” laughs frontman Nick Breakspear. “It’s intelligent rabble-rousing punk-pop which appeals to cool indie kids, and people with smart shoes and funky shirts!”
With a largely Oxfordshire fan base, consisting of those of us who choose to spend our spare time cutting a dash, or sticking to the floor, at the county’s more intimate venues, guitarist/singer Nick and bandmates Ian Budd (bass and vocals) and Mark Franklin (drums and vocals) have hammered at the gates of the national rock scene, but have yet to storm their way in.
But that is set to change. Dramatically. Starting on Saturday with a showcase of their new single, called, appropriately, Kick in the Doors, which will be launched nationally next month. That will be followed by an album Austerity for the Hoi Polloi, yet another single, and – later in the year – a second album. Phew!
If there is any justice at all in the world, then 2012 is certain to be the Black Hats’ Year.
“We’ve decided to hold a ‘not really a launch gig’ for the new single,” says Nick.
“It’s not a launch because the single isn’t available until April 16, but we’re impatient and bored of making people wait.
“We also want our fans in Oxford to get it first. You could see it as a little treat!”
To that end, the band have 50 copies to sell and a handful of numbered, limited edition singles to give away to the first 15 people through the door upstairs at the Jericho.
“They might run out,” adds Nick. “So if you want them, come and get them!”
So what does it sound like?
“It’s really fresh,” he says, proudly, “It’s an exciting new song which is going down really well.”
It was produced by Oxford’s Sam Williams, whose credits include Plan B, Supergrass, Noisettes and Go! Team, and was mastered by another local talent, Tim Turan, who has worked with everyone from Madness and Hawkwind to Marilyn Manson and Bellowhead.
“It was amazing working with Sam,” says Nick.
“It’s the first time we’ve done something like this, but his knowledge of music is fantastic and he brought a lot to the single. And this is just what we need to project us nationally. We’ve got to keep things rolling along. This is going to be hard work, but it’s going to be a great year.”
Unlike many of our local musicians, Nick, formerly a member of local act Chamfer, is a genuine Oxfordshire lad, hailing from Wantage, living in Marston, and a familiar figure cheering along Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium. Budd, meanwhile, is a Witney man, and Mark a Londoner.
“Being local means I’ve been here from the start,” says Nick. “I’ve grown up with the sound of Oxford bands, love it here and have a lot of respect for many of the people playing here. Of course, Oxford also has the best fans – and the best-looking groupies!”
Never ones to shy away from the post-gig duty of socialising, Nick, Budd and Mark dedicate themselves to the task with the same energy they put into playing.
“We had a gig in London once and got so wasted that we couldn’t face travelling home and had to stay in the venue, in an upstairs function room,” says Nick recalling one such incident.
“We went on an all-nighter around London. Anyway, the next day we were too hung over to travel back, so we did another gig that night in the same venue and accidentally got totally out of it again.
“We had to spend a second night at the venue until we were well enough to get a train home the day after. It may not have been totally rock ‘n’ roll, but it was a classic lost weekend!”
So what can gig-goers expect from Saturday’s show? “It’s going to be a full-on set, with lots of edgy moves,” laughs Nick.
“Oh, and lots of sweat!”
* Black Hats play the Jericho Tavern on Saturday. Support comes from The Scholars and Matt Midgley. Doors open at 8pm. Tickets are £4 from wegottickets.com, or a fiver on the door. Single Kick in the Doors is out on April 16 and album Austerity for the Hoi Polloi later that month.