Indietracks interview #24: The McTells




Interview by Andy (A Fog Of Ideas)
The McTells are Paul, Mark, Stuart and Bill.  The Sound of Young Hertford, The McTells cut an urgent twanging/jangling dash through mid- to late- Eighties indiepop (which possibly nobody called it then) forging links with bands such as Beat Happening, The Pastels, Heavenly, The Cannanes, The Bartlebees, Small Factory and The Nation of Ulysses (amongst others) via the International Pop Underground.


I’m Andy from ‘A Fog of Ideas’ blog/zine/industries and, in early-June, I emailed the band a list of questions and gushing over-excited invective which they duly printed off, took down the pub and answered collectively (the questions, that is, the gushing over-excited invective they wisely gave a swerve).  Paul then attempted to make sense of what they all wrote and emailed the results back to me.


This is that.


Fog:  Who are The McTells and what are you about?


The McTells: We were once like-minded souls, and now we are again. Nothing has changed. When we played last year it was the same as normal. We’ve been unaffected by time and success.


Fog:  You’ve all played in various bands in addition to The McTells are you able to name them (this isn’t a quiz question, I just want the world to know about your many illustrious works)?

The McTells: Yes, we’ve all been in lots of bands:

Stu: McKenzie Break; Gilroy;, Valies; One Blows The Other Sucks; Astronauts; ATV; Elliot Mess; Hectors House; Scarlet Sunshine.


Mark: TVPS; Elusive Diplomats; Jerry and the Chairs; Moscovite 5; C F Kites; Emil; Sportique; Sindy Arthur; Violins; Fenestration; Cee Bee Beaumont; Morton Knights; Budget Girls; Buried By Nuns.


Paul: Mctells; Rig Veeda; The Twins; Gilroy; Elliot Mess.


Bill: Hectors House; Elliot Mess; Scarlet Sunshine; The Valets; The Big Paintings; Dear Arriadne; Question Time Band; The Beatpack; Blood Sausage; Cee Bee Beaumont; The Budget Girls; The Count Backwards; The Square Mile Group; Gilroy; Garden City Projects group; Rob Sekula’s Easter Sun; Bob Biggs plus odds and sods drumming and strumming for various hare-brained ideas.




Fog:  Bi-Joopiter, Paul’s label, began as a tape only label with the occasional flexi disc too- The McTells’s first two tapes were recently lovingly reissued by Captured Tracks… in respect of the current vogue for cassette releases, is it an affectation or a sign of today’s independents ‘taking back the means of production’/’keeping it real’/’digging on a much maligned format’?

The McTells: We liked the sound of the cassette, its compression, and still do compared to some digital forms of recording. Some of us have never stopped using cassettes (especially as there are boxes and boxes of old stuff and compilations that still get played on Walkmans and in the car). Mark is planning to do some new tapes when he gets the chance.



Fog:  How would you describe The McTells sound?  Variously I’ve seen The McTells described as ‘scurrying little creatures bringing light to the deepest shadows.’, ‘Rumbledethump Falling Down The Stairs While Playing Your Instruments Arched Back Heads Down Beat Pop Music from the home counties via graveyards and kitchen tables’ and ‘scratchy, fragile, poignant, personal music’ (at least two of those courtesy of Everett True)…

The McTells: Yes, it is what comes out… we don’t really plan it. These quotes from Everett and others do describe our essence. We are little scurrying creatures, and we often fall over when playing our instruments. We are flattered that someone has bothered to write about us in this way.



Fog: Are there plans for any further reissues of The McTells back catalogue (ideally everything)? Might the Bi-Joopiter (Paul and Gillian Elam’s label that kicked off with tape only releases in 1982) back catalogue one day appear in some form, perhaps online or are these things best left as, dare I say it, historical artefacts?


The McTells: Yes, it is coming when we get the time. It takes time to digitalise things and then to decide where to host it etc. Actually, if you search the internet you can find some of our tracks already out there.


Fog: If The McTells were biscuits what biscuits would you be, either as a band or as individuals (seriously v’kids love this type of question, I’ve assumed, perhaps mistakenly)?


The McTells: Well, Paul is the revolutionary, so a Garibaldi is perfect; Bill is a bourbon, nice and sweet; Stu is a roly, poly Oreo; and Mark is a fashionable Biscotti.




Fog: What are your personal favourite, perhaps definitive, McTells memories?


The McTells: The pump up bed in Clevedon, which went pop. Supporting Happy Mondays in the Black Horse; Berlin, when it was snowing and the 3 hour trip to get to a bed after we played; first gig with the Bartlebees in Munich. Playing Ravensburg on the Danube. Playing a kind of terrible Buddy Holly cover in a local pub and being told to stop by the landlord as we were in danger of causing glass breakage. Breakfast of Weiss beer and red wine. Sitting in Stu’s room drinking tea after we had played a gig. Playing with Beat Happening and a Japanese band called Frederick. Lots of memories, all a little jumbled now.


Fog: Paul, I’ve spotted you at Indietracks in previous years, I don’t believe the rest of the band have been (and I’d have been on the lookout with my binoculars, you can be sure)… how have you described it to them? Looking forward to it?


The McTells: I’ve only been there once, so your binoculars might need cleaning. We have been there every year though… in spirit. 

Check the ‘So Tough, So Cute’ and ‘Kill Your Pet Puppy blogs’ (plus ‘A Fog of Ideas’) for more on The McTells/Bi-Joopiter.

The McTells reissued first two cassettes are available from Captured Tracks.



Photos from Sir Mark Flunder’s 50th Birthday celebrations by Mr Michael Baxter, from Kill Your Pet Puppy blog.