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Shed Seven

+ {Rick Witter & The Dukes}

York’s answer to the burgeoning and buoyant Britpop scene of the mid-90s, SHED SEVEN had er… several years floating in and out of the charts, albeit with only one appropriately-titled Top 10 hit to their name: `Going For Gold’. While their music was no great shakes outwith the movement, the diminutive Rick Witter had a remarkable voice, something akin to a sleazy liaison between MORRISSEY, BRETT ANDERSON or ADAM ANT. The band also had attitude in abundance, something which translated well in the live arena, but not across the Big Pond.
Formed in 1990, the aforesaid Rick Witter and bassist Tom Gladwin had abandoned the Brockley Haven band (made up of guitarist/songwriter Paul Banks, Magnus Thompson and John Leach) to hook up with guitarist/keyboardist Joe Johnson and drummer Alan Leach (John’s brother) to become SHED SEVEN; a name taken from spotting “Shed 7” on an allotment whilst returning by train to York (and not as press-baiting Alan stated: “where and what age he lost his virginity”!).
Unwilling to lose any further time languishing on the busy indie-label trail, and hoping to cash in on being voted third in a live at London’s Inner City Festival competition, SHED SEVEN snapped up a six-album deal with Polydor Records. However, like so many major turning points in a band’s career, they had to let go Johnson, who was replaced by Witter’s long-time buddy Paul Banks (the pair’d also rehearsed as ENAM many moons ago). The “Sheds” were initially grouped in with the hopelessly contrived “new wave of new wave” scene, alongside run-of-the-mill pseudo-punk revivalists like S*M*A*S*H and THESE ANIMAL MEN, but thankfully, they resisting the lure of the Big Smoke, preferring to stay in their native York; their sound a more anti-glam/anti-mod retro power pop, lying somewhere between SUEDE and The SMITHS.
Issued in March ’94, their debut single, `Mark’ – a very minor hit twinned with `Casino Girl’ – had certain sections of the music press tipping them for greater things, which, indeed, was proved correct when they crept into the charts later that summer with the `Dolphin’ and `Speakeasy’ singles. A “cash-in” – so to speak – Top 20 debut album, CHANGE GIVER (1994) {*7}, wasn’t exactly ground-breaking, although it consolidated their catchy, hook-line Britpop appeal a la said A-sides, including next off the chart conveyor-belt, `Ocean Pie’; incidentally, the long-gone Johnson was co-credited on a handful of tracks including bookenders `Dirty Soul’ and `On An Island With You’.
Pumping up the volume and fulfilling all expectations, SHED SEVEN forged ahead (after a couple of stop-gap mid-table hits, `Where Have You Been Tonight’ and `Getting Better’) with best-to-date, `Going For Gold’, their third success from the accompanying sophomore set, A MAXIMUM HIGH (1996) {*8}. While the hit-drenched Top 10 record drew some critical praise from the NME and the likes, it ultimately failed to drag the anthemic band out of the mainstream second division ghetto; `Bully Boy’(#22) and `On Standby’ (#12) also proving doubters wrong.
However inspirational to their many followers in England and beyond (`Chasing Rainbows’ yet another masterful Top 20 clip from ’96 and beyond), SHED SEVEN were not expected to last the pace. Banks would now be relied upon to provide all the music to Witter’s lyrics and, in the process, a rockier ROLLING STONES-via-BLUR plume was obvious on the near Top 10 `She Left Me On Friday’, whereas the pastiche of swinging-60s-styled hit `The Heroes’ was probably not the most glam way to rack up sales for accompanying third album, the Top 10, Stephen Street-produced LET IT RIDE (1998) {*6}. Guest spots for keyboardist CLINT BOON (including attendant follow-up minor hit, `Devil In Your Shoes’), and Mostly Autumn’s Heather “Lady Galadril” Findlay on vocals (for `A Hole’) were nice touches but not their saviours.
As a stop-gap “Going For Gold – The Greatest Hits” shored up a little Top 10 time for the band in ‘99, a new direction was also sought for preview hit, `Disco Down’ (credited to SHED 7). A few years to contemplate if all was worthwhile without Banks (whom they lost in ‘99 to The Rising), and with Britpop going through a transitional period that rinsed out a few hangers-on, SHED SEVEN found themselves relegated to indie label (Artful Records) for 2001’s retro-blasting TRUTH BE TOLD {*5}. The honest truth was that this was basically another average indie-rock record, likely to cut some proverbial rug with diehard fans only. Recorded with a revised line-up that featured Fraser Smith (keyboards/vocals) and the returning Joe Johnson (guitars), the `Cry For Help’ album – the name of the preceding hit – stalled at the outskirts of the Top 40.
Further into the new millennium, SHED SEVEN were still treading the boards for the benefit of their aging if hardy band of followers, the loyalty of whom were rewarded with the live WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN TONIGHT? (2003) {*6}. Probably not yet the call at a SHED SEVEN gig, but judging by the sweaty enthusiasm contained within these grooves (including the funky, near Top 20 hit `Why Can’t I Be You?’), one may just have missed out. Not a CURE cover, or indeed a cure for the sinking riptide that had more or less buried the Sheds, they immediately said their goodbyes, only to re-form in 2007 for live reunion tours. Songs they did in fact re-vamp were:- `Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ (The ROLLING STONES), `The Seeker’ (The WHO), `Wired For Sound’ (CLIFF RICHARD) and `Jean Genie’ (DAVID BOWIE).
On the back of RICK WITTER & THE DUKES’ one-and-only set, the self-financed THE YEAR OF THE RAT (2007) {*5}, SHED SEVEN were happy to stay on the same old tracks for download album LIVE AT LEEDS 2007 (2009) {*5} and 2011’s `A Maximum High: 15th Anniversary EP’, with Banks, not Johnson, as Witter’s sidekick. No fresh material as yet, they await the second coming of Britpop… mmm.
© MC Strong 1996-2004/GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2016

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