Sea Fever: ‘We’re deliberately trying to do something different’

Comprising members of New Order, Section 25 and Johnny Marr’s backing band, Sea Fever are a Manchester supergroup of sorts.

Sea Fever. Picture: Anthony Harrison
Sea Fever. Picture: Anthony Harrison

Their debut album Folding Lines, a pulsating assemblage of electronic rock tunes, came out last autumn. Now the band are on the road for a short tour which includes a show next weekend at the Square Chapel in Halifax.

Tom Chapman, who doubles as bassist for Sea Fever and New Order, says the idea for the new group stemmed from his “desire” to work with vocalist and guitarist Iwan Gronow, of Johnny Marr’s band.

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“We’d known each other for a long time as friends, we’d keep bumping into each other on tour and it was something that we wanted to do but never had the opportunity because we were both busy with our schedules,” he says.

“But there was a window for us to work together in 2019 and I had a lot of song demos handy, instrumentals, and I went round to his house and played him a lot of the songs and he loved what he heard.

“Vocal melodies started coming back very quickly and then we thought we should develop this, make it a band.”

As Chapman’s “partner in crime” in New Order, guitarist Phil Cunningham was “always going to be in the band” and drummer Elliot Barlow had accompanied the bassist in two more of his side projects, Rubberbear and ShadowParty. Chapman had seen Beth Cassidy sing with Section 25 and was so “impressed by her performance” that he asked her if she would be interested in working with them.

“There was no masterplan,” says the 49-year-old, “but then of course lockdown arrived and gave us loads of time to zoom in on the record and concentrate on it.”

Due to lockdown restrictions, the five-piece had to adopt a blended approach to making Folded Lines. “There were parts of it where we could work together but a lot of it was done remotely,” Chapman explains. “We would send each other files and work separately, which was strange, but I don’t think we had any options, really. In the early stages there was a lot of sitting around in a room working together. The process was 50-50, really.”

As for the band’s sound, Chapman feels they were “deliberately trying to do something different” to their respective day jobs. “We’re proud of the people we work with, they do influence us,” he says. “Working with such amazing musicians rubs on you, you take elements of what you learn in the studio with you as songwriters and you try to use that for your own music.

“For me personally the writing of Music Complete with New Order was like a big learning curve as a songwriter and producer. Being surrounded by Bernard (Sumner) and Tom Rowland from the Chemical Brothers who worked with us, and the rest of New Order, not just Bernard, everyone, it just rubs on you and you want to use those skills for your own music. We’re not deliberately trying to recreate who we work with, I think the album stands out on its own. Tracks like Folding Lines and maybe Programme Your Life, I think that’s us trying to do something quite different.”

Chapman describes himself as the “initiator” of ideas within the band, “the one who comes up with demos of songs”, but after that, songwriting is “really a group effort where everyone gets involved”.

“The demos initially come from me and Iwan but sometimes Beth will sing a song and she will come in with her vocal melodies,” he says. “Sometimes Iwan and Beth share the vocal duties and then Phil Cunningham has had a big melodic input with his guitar playing.”

Such is the strength of their collective efforts, each song on the album sounds like a potential single. “It makes me smile when you say that because it’s a good thing,” Champan says. “I think our songs are melodically quite strong in the vocal department and have a tinge of darkness to them as well, but they were not written with (singles) in mind, we were just thinking of making the songs coherent as an album.”

They were also able to call on the drumming prowess of New Order’s Stephen Morris for one song. “He worked on Cross Wires,” Chapman says. “We really wanted him to be part of the album. he could have played on any of them, but that’s the one we had in mind for him and I think it worked out well, he’s got a good feel to his drumming.”

For Chapman and Cunningham, the Halifax date cements a burgeoning relationship with the West Yorkshire mill town – orchestrated, it seems, by the BBC 6 Music DJ Chris Hawkins. Last September, New Order played at the Piece Hall. “It was a great evening,” Chapman recalls. “For us, it was so important to do that gig.”

As hinted by keyboard player and guitarist Gillian Gilbert in an interview with The Yorkshire Post last year, New Order are working on a fresh collection of songs. While cautious of revealing too much more at this stage, Chapman says: “It’s early days but we have written some demos and the plan is to release some more music, which is really exciting. I’m really pleased personally because I think after the release of Music Complete we should work together again. It was a great album and we need to follow it up. We’re creative people and I think the time has come to write a bit of new music.

“I can’t tell you when (it might come out), it might take a few years, that’s usually what happens, but yes, we are writing again.”

Folding Lines is out now. Sea Fever play at the Square Chapel, Halifax on January 22; they are also doing a signing at Loafers record store the same day.