INTERVIEW: Behold! It’s Sugarstone! The ANGEL BOYS!

© Sugarstone, 2021

By Neve Robinson

Sugarstone. The new-wave infused quartet are hot, hot, hot at the moment – and they took a moment out of their busy schedule to chat to little old me! I was fairly chuffed to say the least. Joseph O’Haire, George Miller, Brandon Calvert and Ben Wilson are aiming to change the face of the Manchester music scene one synth at a time, and by God are they going to do it. We chatted about their new single, Angel Boy, as well as the trials and tribulations of infiltrating Year 7 rock bands. Behold, the saccharine sweethearts’ wisdom, imparted…

Hello Sugarstoners, stones of sugar or sugary stones if you will. Thank you ever so much for letting me ask you some daft things. First and foremost, how long have you guys been making tunes and when did you all meet? What made you want to get into music?

(George) Joe and I have been mates for going on 7 years now, we went to school together. So I suppose it all started with that, as cliché as that may be. I actually joined the ‘Year 7 Rock Band’ without Joe’s consent, so things were a little Icey at first. But luckily we cut out the middleman (literally) and are now inseparable hehe.  We started writing properly in college, then sort of hit the ground running once we all moved to Manchester. We met Ben and Brandon at college and by second year had the line-up you now know as ‘Sugarstone’. 

You’re making quite the name for yourself as new-wavey synth revivalists. I feel like I’m listening to an amalgamation of all of my favourite eighties records but also with a modern, catchy indie-pop twist. Was this your intention with Sugarstone’s sound? Angel Boy is a bonafide Duran Duran-esque dream.

(Joe) Honestly it wasn’t! We aren’t all that interested in being pinned as one particular type of band. We just write music that we want to hear at a particular moment in time because we can’t find it anywhere else! With ‘Angel Boy’ I suppose it was written during the height of isolation and I wanted to just dance to some Peter Gabriel-esque pop with elements of EDM as we all love that too! Our next single which was written a month after ‘Angel Boy’ is a departure from a lot of our older stuff, but of course like anything our influences always seep into it.

I always like asking this, because I’m really nosey. Why the name Sugarstone? Where did it come from? Big into the name, I’m picturing a really, really big sugarcube – big enough for a swimming pool-sized brew even…

(George) ‘Sugarstone’ is a song by a band called ‘Peace’. One of my mum’s dearest friends was a good friend of the band and is actually mentioned in the song (or so he told us). He passed away in 2013. So I’d like to think the name is a bit of a tribute to him, he was great. But also, yeah, we thought it sounded cool. A lot cooler than some of the other options we’d come up with…trust me. 

So, as aforementioned. Tell us about Angel Boy. What’s it about? Talk me through the writing process…

(George) ‘Angel Boy’ is about the urge to look after someone, even if they don’t need/want it. Joe sent me over the music, and I wrote the lyrics that evening. We basically had the song you now hear pretty much straight away, with a couple of amendment made in the studio. But yeah, it’s lyrically laced with sarcasm, while at the same time being a very personal account of how I was feeling at the time. We love to ride that satirical wave, if you know what I mean

What would you say your favourite of your releases so far has been? I love Angel Boy but I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for I Wanna Be Famous. I think it’s because I wanna be.

(George) I think it would be rude (and bad marketing) to not say Angel Boy. It’s the start of a very exciting chapter for us as a band and we can’t wait to build on it when we release the next one. Although saying that, I do love ‘Tiger, Reach Out!’, its unapologetically intense and I like that. 

Who are your biggest influences? Not just musically, but in your fashion too please. You guys have got a really distinctive, snazzy look. It’s NEW New Romantic chic. I like it.

(Joe) Aw thank you! In regards to music our influences are vast and ever changing. But of course I would have to mention Duran Duran as I was bombarded with them as a child thanks to Mum. Some more contemporary influences would have to be artists such as Panther Modern from LA, De Staat from Holland, Queens Of The Stone Age and Grimes! But the list goes on and on! I would have to also mention the TV show ‘Twin Peaks’ as that has influenced me in so many ways to delve into sonic soundscapes within the music. To be honest, we don’t think about fashion all too much but we do like to match our aesthetics with the music we are releasing or making at that particular time. For instance with the release of ‘Tiger, Reach Out!’ We styled ourselves as flamboyant New Romantics and with the release of ‘Angel Boy’ we went for a kind of olden days school boy look with a hint of children’s tv presenters like Mr Maker hahah! 

Onto gigging. What have we got planned for the future of Sugarstone? Will we be able to catch you lovely lot on tour any time (fairly) soon?

(George) The future of Sugarstone is extremely bright! We’re rehearsing a lot, back in the studio next week and yeah, got some very exciting live gigs in the pipeline for once the apocalypse is over (or nearly over). 

Where do you rate the best gig you’ve ever played is?

(Ben) There are a fair few that come to mind when you ask a question like that. I think most of our fondest memories belong to The Ferret, because that’s where we really grew into the band we are now. I’ve got to give my number one spot to when we played Band On The Wall, though. We were having a string of really good gigs at the time and it was just the icing on the cake. There’s a huge stand to dance around on, the lightings great, i think they even had a smoke machine. It’s just a great setup. The crowd was what made it though, everyone was singing and dancing, I remember it being fairly full and everyone came down. That’s definitely right up there.

You’re another cracking Manchester band. We love to uplift talent based in, FACTUALLY speaking of course, the greatest city in the world. Favourite local artists?

(George) I tell you what we’ll give you one band each, so no-one feels left out. I’m going to go with SLAPRASH. Two of our closest mates, and they make great music too.  Joe’s going for Kashmere. Great lads and we’ve played some great gigs along side them. Ben’s pick is The Blinders. Not technically a ‘Manchester Band’, but too good not to mention. And finally Brandon’s pick is Working Men’s Club.  

And finally, because I am the height of professional interviewer, I’m going to end with a Snog, Marry, Avoid – this time with New Romantic legends because I can somehow see you all having a bev with the likes of Visage’s Steve Strange. SNOG, MARRY, AVOID – Boy George, Simon Le Bon, the one really fit Kemp brother from Spandau Ballet. Think it’s Martin.

(Joe) Hahahah not had to answer one of these since those early school days where you had to choose this very carefully and seriously. 

SNOG – Boy George 

MARRY – Simon Le Bon

AVOID – Martin Kemp

‘Angel Boy’ by Sugarstone is available on all good streaming platforms. Listen here:

HALF-HOUR HUMDINGERS: 10 Albums To Soundtrack Your 30 Minute Makeover

© Nick Drake, 1973, who might make a lovely little appearance on this list…

By Alex Lamont

You’ve eaten your bowl of spaghetti, you’ve scrubbed the mundane daily dust from your hard-worked hands, and your half hour power nap is slept away. The big night looms large up ahead. All that’s missing? The tunes. The tried and trusted “BANGERS” playlist just won’t cut it today, you’re in the mood for real music, man, word food for your incoming encounters. 

Here’s ten albums under 30 minutes for when time is of the essence and this niche situation is your blissful reality.

10. Come On Pilgrim by Pixies

© Pixies

The princes and princesses of the 80s and 90s garagey-punk scene delivered a little package of magic in their 1987 debut Come On Pilgrim which will keep you feeling cool all day. There are some real highlights of the Pixies catalogue stored in this 20-minute thrill, including the infectiously optimistic sounding Holiday Song (ignoring the lyrics just for tonight), the Lou Reed lover’s I’ve Been Tired, and banging opener Caribou. You might even have time to throw another album on after too! It must be your lucky day…

9. Camera by Chromatics

© Italians Do It Better

Italians Do It Better’s poster child Chromatics are second to none in providing that ethereal feeling of perfectly balanced headiness and hope. This collection of tracks along with their alternate mixes and versions will help you float your way through the world with a new sense of purpose, sheening your moonlit surroundings in an enticing glow of optimism. Title-track Camera is a fitting introduction to a 24-minute soundtrack of dreaming, while Magazine moulds itself into an electronic 80’s anthem. And when the originals are over you can bookend your night with the instrumentals.

8. Pottymouth by Bratmobile

© Bratmobile

The punk landscape is full to its grimy brim with short flashes of electric brilliance, and this entry arrives and departs just in time to rile you up and send you on your rebellious way. Bratmobile’s Pottymouth is a criminally overlooked bright spot in the confusing 90’s soundscapes, going hard where it needs to and kicking arse while doing it. Cherry Bomb more than matches The Runaways’ original classic, while Panik and Richard growl and groan attitude. 

7. I’m New Here by Gil Scott-Heron

© Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron has one of those once-in-a-lifetime voices that sulks and soothes with its gruff comfort. Combining soul and spoken word, Scott-Heron delivered a beautiful collection of poetry in his first release after sixteen years, all in a concise 15-song 28-minute album, remixed some years later by Makaya McCraven in a fitting posthumous release.  Rich with heart and experience, I’m New Here is an invaluable staple in the Gil Scott-Heron discography.

6. Bestial Burden by Pharmakon

© Pharmakon

Bestial Burden lingers patiently amongst the shadows, its sleek, oily fingers of intoxication pulling back your hair as the end-of-night retching grips tightly to your shoulders, shaking through to your very soul.

In other words, this industrial nightmare may better soundtrack your late-night lavatory visits than your pre-drinks, but worry not! Nightmares don’t last forever…! Only 28 minutes… (Minus the bonus track)…

5. Aretha Now by Aretha Franklin

©Aretha Franklin

Not every night needs bear such a pessimistic outcome though surely? Legendary Aretha Franklin provides the soul food for when you’re feeling lucky, looking sexy and planning a sleepless night. Franklins version of  I Say a Little Prayer is a strong contender for the best song of all time and joins a whole host of worthy company. And hey, if the night doesn’t reach the dizzy, expected heights; just play it alone and fall in love with yourself. Just make sure you took Pharmakon off the queue…

4. RINA by Rina Sawayama 

©Rina Sawayama

Its follow-up predecessor might have received the wider acclaim, but Sawayama’s debut certainly holds its own as a party warm up. RINA is a spotless 24-minutes of primo pop, and it just sounds like an album which could reappear again twenty years from now as a classic. Ordinary Superstar is a doorway into a whole world of perfectly produced joy, and by the time Cyber Stockholm Syndrome hits, you’ll be bursting at the seams in anticipation for the wonders of the night.

3. My Dear Melancholy, by The Weeknd

©The Weeknd

Some might say that it would be wrong to party to an album constructed in a time so evidently difficult for its creator. To those people, I challenge you to listen to I Was Never there‘s incredible beat switch and insist that those aren’t tears of appreciation, rather than sadness. My Dear Melancholy, is undeniably heart-breaking, but it’s so damn good that it can play out just as effectively as an orgasmic climax of sound. I mean Privilege? Whew.

2. Sweet Princess by Dry Cleaning 

©Dry Cleaning

Yeah yeah, I see the ‘EP’ on the album cover, but you’ve read this far, and I haven’t steered you wrong yet have I? I know Pharmakon was cutting it a bit fine, but I promise Sweet Princess is worth it. 21 minutes of spoken word that feels like its coming from your own mouth accompanying jagged post-punk riffs sounds like a good deal to me. A love letter to Meghan Markle and a critique of the party you’re about to attend sounds pretty convincing to me…

1. Pink Moon by Nick Drake

©Nick Drake

I don’t think too much can be said about Pink Moon that hasn’t already been summarised by our universal accepting of its perfection. Whether you’re in your introspective, pre-party mood, or arriving home drunk and defeated, Nick Drake is on hand to wrap his arms around you in a comforting, audible hug. Which Will is in my eyes Drake’s best work, and it would be quite impossible to leave Pink Moon off this list. 

Sounds From The Other City ’18: Recollections and Observations

In the wake of the recent news of lockdown restrictions (supposedly) lifting by summer, Angus Rolland gives us a fond look back at the festival experience – well, what he can recall of it, anyway…

By Angus C. Rolland

Declining an offer of free entry to a live improvisation, featuring a temp paisley retinue at the Chameleon Arts Cafe (quite the steal I hear), I opted instead to purchase a ticket of entry for the festival in question. My relative proximity (visiting, not living) towards Salford, the titular ‘Other City’, proved decisive in my (momentary) deliberation. The day fit the ideal of being outdoors, with the queues plentiful and the logistics respectable. In venues all over, a spectrum of performers obscure and not did the predictable thing. 

Yet… oddly enough, what provoked my memory of this receding event was not a stagger-some performance (of which there were a quantity) or a o’Man’o’Pint being unceremoniously escorted from the premises, owing to preceding (bacchanalian) behavioural patterns… It was a picture I took of that day (see above), which just so happened to be in the month of just 3 letters. Upon tripping (clicking*) on it within my documents folder, I couldn’t help but think allegorically; the apex-ed few, the ‘captain’s at the helm’ of this much-disdained cylinder represented, to me at least, a societal commandeering. These tins-on-deck (barring the Lucozade) could be applied to any edifice of authority, be it government or sleazy record executive, for all below, in spite of their numerical superiority, looked but trash-designate in comparison. The denizens inside, the ‘fellow travellers’, could perhaps be afforded certain benefits and stabilities… though remember, subordinate to the arbitrary whim of the upper caste, they remain. As for the urchins beneath, the ‘peons’, seemingly they appear disallowed to reside within. Languishing at the gates, they are compelled to congregate further and further away from the placidity of roof and wall, and into the peripheral of uncertainty… for all lodgings were taken. 

The rubbishing of hierarchical structures aside, I now move to anecdote the security apparatus; staffed largely by student volunteers unintimidating in disposition, with a smaller cadre of bouncers guarding such sites of importance as the performer’s cafeteria, and the odd *staff only* door, varying in paintwork and wooden sourcing. Passing through the various ‘checkpoints’ clustered about; the standard protocol of bag searching was in place. The implication of this was that attempting to smuggle alcohol, external in origin, into this parameter of fanfare was predictably… verboten. I offset this by (superficially) covering the contraband with clothing and/or leaflets relevant to the ongoing day. Usually it worked, for the auxiliaries lacked both the incentive and vocational doctrine to perceive my economic subversion. Yet, for the stoic guardsman I had to do something a little different… for this event was but one of many in their distinguished service record. I didn’t wear a particularly baggy jumper that day, so the obvious scheme of stuffing all the tins into the back of it was out of the question. Recalling the concept of dead-drops, I hid the majority of them in a hedge, while keeping one at hand, albeit concealed. Passing through these checkpoints with frequency (you know how it is with the timetable) eventually lulled them into a false sense of security, with the general assumption being that since it was empty before, it must be empty now… I traversed unopposed!

Darkness brought about a new dimension to the whole scenario, as did my fatigue from 4 days of consumption, with the orange lighting emitting from an adjacent takeaway giving me moderate cause to dislike the notion of artificial illumination. In cooperation with my bandana, I tied an inflatable bird to my head, as though I myself had been commandeered. Whether or not it remained on my head with regard to longevity mattered not; it was this act of individuality, this… executive decision… the most arbitrary of whims even, that I placed this item, almost salmon in colouring, on one’s (very own) noggin. I dare not fathom what could have been, had I been the one at the wheel of society’s course, or conversely a tenant in that infernal peripheral. Sometime later (maybe a year?), bandana and faux-Flamingo long since departed, I heard that the organisers of the aforementioned spectacle had curtailed its size? So, the event in question, one that had ended nearly 3 years ago… laden with capital-dispensing consumers (people, not cans*) and capital-inducing performers… had passed by its zenith (Sunday, 36th of April, 2018 AD) and would be right-sizing itself, much like the book-cooking theme park administrators of old, from now… on? Well, what went wrong?

(The aforementioned flamingo headgear)

Angus: I have no idea, but I suspect it’s monetary in reasoning.