Old school: an interview with International Teachers Of Pop

Old school: an interview with International Teachers Of Pop

By Lee Gale

British Ideas Corporation, 2018

Sheffield is a city of pioneers. The first football club in the world were Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 and still in existence today. They beat Stocksbridge Park Steels last week 3-1. Hallam FC are the second-oldest club in the world, founded in 1860 to give Sheffield FC an opponent. Hallam’s Sandygate Road base in Crosspool is the oldest football ground in the world. They thumped Harworth Colliery 5-1 on Saturday in front of 204 people.

We also have Sheffield to thank for stainless steel, which was invented by Harry Brearley at Brown-Firth Research Laboratories just before the First World War. Brearly left in a huff due to a disagreement about patent rights but his successor, WH Hatfield, ran with the idea and in 1924 presented the world with 18/8 stainless steel, 18 per cent chromium, eight per cent nickel – the most common stainless steel used today. Unless you’re Lord Fauntleroy or Lady Docker, your cutlery will be made of this, as are those drippy teapots at motorway services.

Britain’s first astronaut was Sheffield’s Helen Sharman, who hitched a ride aboard the Soviet Soyuz TM-12 mission in May 1991, spending a few days growing protein crystals on the Mir space station. Sharman may have been adjusting to Earth’s gravity two months later when she famously went ass ovver tip at the 1991 World Student Games at the newly opened Don Valley Stadium. During the opening ceremony she tripped while holding the games torch and completely extinguished the flame. Thankfully on Worksop Road there were enough newsagents nearby that sold boxes of matches. Incredibly, Don Valley Stadium was demolished in 2013.

More than space travel, football or metallurgical breakthroughs, the city is perhaps best known for its influential musicians. Sheffield, as you’ll be aware, is synonymous with synthpop and electronic trickery.  Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League, ABC, Pulp, Heaven 17, Clock DVA, Warp Records, the Bleep scene and Fat Truckers (who?! Check out “Teenage Daughter”) have all helped place Sheffield firmly on the global musical map. Slow Club are pretty good, too.

Now, on the strength of two singles, we can add International Teachers Of Pop to the long list of Sheffield greats. “Age Of The Train” and “After Dark”, both released this year, carry the baton for Sheffield synthpop in a way that Phil Oakey, Jarvis Cocker and Martin Fry would appreciate. Prior to a UK tour, we catch up with International Teachers Of Pop’s Adrian Flanagan to discuss wonky electronic music and the state of Britain’s railways.

BIC: You’re a Sheffield-based band. Do you see yourselves as the next logical step in the great electronic journey of the Sheffield sound?
Adrian Flanagan: Not really, no – I don’t feel we are reinventing the wheel or owt. With Dean [Honer], my writing partner in International Teachers Of Pop and The Moonlandingz, we do another far, far more experimental and boundary-pushing project called the Eccentronic Research Council. We’ve been doing that for about seven years. Dean was also in the All Seeing I, who were a top-20 chart band. He’s been on Top Of The Pops several times. He’s been making weird, wonky electronic pop music for years. He’s also worked on and produced a lot of electronic artists and pop records, things like Add N To (X), Britney Spears, Moby and The Human League. Sheffield has always been 30 years ahead of the pack when it comes to future pop music and the avant-garde. So I don’t see International Teachers Of Pop as being the next logical step. I see us as being already deeply knitted into the wool of Sheffield’s rich and glorious wonky pop tapestry.

Are any of you teachers in real life?
Leonore [Wheatley] teaches music in a girls’ school in Manchester; Dean teaches synthesis and music production occasionally in Leeds; and I… teach people lessons if they cross me (laughs).

“Age Of The Train” is one of the best records ever made. Why did we have to wait until 2018 for this track to arrive?
Thanks, I agree. It was due to be released back in 1982 but David Brown, head of Northern Rail, was in charge of our release schedule. It turned up 36 years too late.

Are you sick of how the railways are being run?
Of course – the song is about the uselessness of train travel in the UK. The chorus is a kind of sarcastic, mocking refrain aimed at all this big talk of super-trains being built, that can get you from London to Sheffield in 30 minutes, whereas Northern Rail can’t even get you from Preston to Bolton in a day without delays, breakdowns or drivers stopping for a fag break at every station. You’d kind of expect in 2018 that we’d be buzzing across the UK at light speed in some silver air pods with thoroughly honed psychic news being fed direct in to yer cranium. We’re still travelling in something akin to a lame donkey pulling an oversubscribed cart of shite! The solution? Sack David Brown and give the trains back to the people!

International Teachers Of Pop "Age Of The Train" single sleeve

Platform and function: Not many groups would feature a Class 76 electric locomotive on their record sleeve

Are you aware that the electric locomotive on the sleeve of “Age Of The Train” is at Sheffield Victoria and used to work services to Manchester?

Your latest single “After Dark” is a belter as well. Did you have a long period before releasing International Teachers Of Pop music where you sorted out your sound and ethos?
Thank you, but no – everything fell straight into place quickly and naturally; it’s something that Dean and I have always done. The gel for this project is Leonore. She comes from more of a British psych-folk background, which makes the songs sound like a very British kind of pop, like groups such as Pet Shop Boys and The Human League. There is something nerdy about that kind of English pop music, which I love, and it’s not something that gets explored very often. Well, certainly not competently.

Are you working on an album and if so when is it out?
Yes, we’ve just finished our debut album. It’s incredible – a tour de force in pop magic. It’ll be out early spring to cheer people up before Brexit kicks seven shades of joy out of us!

What’s been the reaction to International Teachers Of Pop over the summer?
Well, considering our existence has only been six months, it’s been going really great. Our first live shows were with Jarvis Cocker in a cave for two nights, then we played a massive show with Roisin Murphy at Somerset House and did a couple of festival shows – Green Man and Bluedot. We also got a little record deal, put a single out that got a few spins on radio and there seems to be a bit of a buzz building. So yeah, not a bad start at all. I’m really looking forward to going on our first headline tour in October. Our aim is to simply bring joy to the huddled throngs. International Teachers Of Pop are the ultimate group to escape in, too. Let’s face it, things are really shit right now and the future terrifies me. We need to destroy all burdens of strife and ride the disco pony!

Marc Riley is championing the band – have you met him?
Yeah, Marc is a lovely guy and has been a massive supporter of my various projects. He was the first DJ at 6Music to play Moonlandingz and The ERC, and he’s had all of my projects in doing live sessions for him, which has been invaluable to us and muchly appreciated. We did a Teachers Of Pop session for him before we’d even put a record out. He’s a good man.

With you living miles apart, how do you communicate when working on tracks – by Skype?
We don’t live miles away. Dean and I are in Sheffield and Leonore is in Manchester! Dean and I tend to bang together some instrumental tracks, then we get Leonore over for a day or two to work on vocals and lyrics. We average getting two to three songs done a day when she comes over. We work really quickly, then tweak and make adjustments when we start mixing. It’s a winning formula!

Do you get the feeling you’ve made a connection with an audience and do you find that they are mainly aged over 40?
It’s too early to say really, as we’ve been playing to a very mixed crowd of people – other people’s crowds if you like – in different places and not really done that many live shows in our own right. It’s still a very new band; I don’t expect to be playing to sell-out crowds just yet, certainly not outside our hometown [International Teachers Of Pop’s hometown show in Sheffield sold out in days]. I’m not sure what age has to do with music, though. We don’t make music for the 40-somethings, we make music for the everybodies! It’s a fact, though, that people who grew up listening to punk and 2 Tone are pushing 60, old acid house and rave heads are pushing 50, people who were into Britpop are pushing 40, even original Arctic Monkeys fans are now in their mid-30s. But so f***ing what? People get older and if music’s your passion, it knows no age.

What’s the plan from here? Do you have day jobs and if so, can you give them up?
Music is my day job, my night job and my blow job (laughs)!

Who designs your sleeves?
The past couple of single covers I’ve knocked up myself. We’ve got a friend working on the album sleeve and also we have some schoolkids working on the CD booklet for us. We’re good teachers!

Do you have any merchandise yet?
Only our souls are for sale, for now.

United or Wednesday?

If you had to choose, who’s the best band ever from Sheffield?
The Eccentronic Moonlandingz of Pop!

Buy/stream International Teachers Of Pop single “After Dark” here: http://hyperurl.co/After-Dark

International Teachers Of Pop UK tour: Sheffield University Drama Studio (5 October, sold out), London The Moth Club (22 October), Leeds Brudenell Club Community Room (23 October), Glasgow Broadcast (24 October), Nottingham Metronome (26 October), Salford The White Hotel (27 October).