tender firs portraitsJamie Briggs has been part of the Barnsley music scene for well over fifteen years now. Alongside his former Imoko Set co-vocalist Emma Johnstone and drummer David Haigh, and Black Vines vocalist/guitarist Stuburt he originally performed in Grande Casino, during those latter days of BritPop. However, over the last five years, he fronted Imoko Set, a wonderful indie band which fused modern Brit Rock with the sounds of 60s girl-groups. In their last year they perfected their sound with their then new vocalist Susie Martin, releasing some of their finest recorded work. This summer, Jamie launches his new project Tender Firs, which comprises of former Imoko Set members Susie Martin, David Haigh and now on bass another former Grande Casino member, Ian Skipworth. They release their first recording ‘Sinister’ on the new Of National Importance Records compilation this month and for myself, is an easy highlight of the album. I wanted to find out more about the transition from Imoko Set to Tender Firs and what to expect from the new project. Jamie and Ian provide an insight…

Jamie Briggs. Photo by Rory Garforth

Jamie Briggs.
Photo by Rory Garforth

• What’s your take on the live music scene in Barnsley now, compared to back with you were in Grande Casino? I reckon it’s much bigger now, but seemed a lot more of a team effort back then, with a big focus national on all that was good and wonderful about British music. There’s definitely a broader range of music being made in Barnsley now, with lots of really interesting bands, rather than a scene as such. The late nineties was very much of it’s time – sound and attitude wise, but there wasn’t much experimentation going on due to most of us being young and just finding our feet. Having said that, there were more places to play and more happening week to week. The few local places to play now are of a better standard though and people like you and Joe at Of National Importance are doing a wonderful job of promoting local music. Plus there are annual festivals to play and bands doing record launches so there’s maybe fewer gigs per week but more interesting events overall. This suits us better – we’d rather put together a strong set, think about the visuals and tie-ins than bash out a rough and ready gig once a month. There are plenty of other ways to present music now and, though live music is still the best, we want it to be done right because everyone can get tired of gig after gig, same songs, same venue, faces and beer. • The female voice has played massive part in your music, with three different female co-vocalists on rotation in Imoko Set, and now Susie Martin fronting Tender Firs with you. Towards the end of Imoko Set, it seemed that Susie had started to play a more integral part in the band, being a central position in photoshoots, on stage and on record. Was this a conscious decision for the band and if so, what was it about her prescience that encouraged that decision? I’m not sure we ever made conscious decisions like that, Imoko Set evolved so many times over the years as members left/joined, so Susie joining was another natural progression and change of dynamic. I know Emma, Susie and I were all a little uncomfortable with the idea of being the ‘front’ man/woman, none of us wanted to be in the middle when we played live. In terms of photos, it just worked better compositionally I suppose and maybe the rest of us were more than happy to move further away from the camera. • Although I hear the influence of modern British Rock bands in your music, I also hear female vocalists of the past – The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las, Blondie, theaudience, Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne and even a hint of Cocteau Twins. Which female vocalists have played the biggest influence in crafting your sound. There are a few that you could call influences – not only because of the vocal style, but also the music. First off Low, who we all really love, then Broadcast, Blonde Redhead and Warpaint. Those bands have that beautiful darkness we like. Broadcast’s ‘I found the F’ is a particular favourite song of ours – really simple but with the perfect mood. Another song we heard recently by Death & Vanilla certainly inspired us recording/production wise, from a DIY point of view. Cocteau Twins made some ridiculously great music, but we’d never try to capture that sound. We do talk about certain songs in regard to feel but, like every other band, we try to make something entirely ours and are wise enough to not to try to ape something already done. • What is it about the pairing of both male and female voices together that does it for you? And are there any famous pairings that have influenced you? Again, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low are big favourites although our dynamic is louder and more rhythmic. I don’t know if it’s anything more than just wanting that other ‘instrument’ to play with – we’re only a 4 piece, so 2 vocalists with very different delivery and timbre gives us more options. Vocals are something we work hard on and having 2 voices gives us plenty of scope for dynamics. • As Tender Firs comprises of three quarters of Imoko Set, is this new band a re-branding exercise or is it an entirely new sound and direction? What can we expect? A new band rather than rebranding. Other than one old song which we’ve completely revamped we haven’t really taken anything forward from Imoko Set. Andy played a major part in the songwriting so when he left it felt natural and more of a challange to start again. It didn’t feel right continuing as Imoko Set without him. Not sure what people can expect as we’re still finding our feet in some ways. There will be the obvious similarities but we’re definitely doing things differently in terms of songwriting and recording, so the end product should be very different. sinister1• Your first track to be released will feature on Of National Importance Records’ new compilation Misophonic Minds: Another Corner of Barnsley Counter Culture. Can you tell us about the track? The song is called Sinister and it’s one of our newer songs – we pretty much finished writing it as it was being recorded. It’s quite a delicate song to play right and there are parts where the vocal is naked, which was a bit scary at first to go with. The recorded version balances that nakedness with a deep, rumbling chord sequence and then there’s the ending… • The Imoko Set song ‘This Is The Language’ opens and closes the two Of National Importance Records compilations, the first from 2010 by Imoko Set and the latter released next week by Diskettes Fore Minor. What’s the difference between the two acts? It’s a version Susie and I recorded at Rory’s in the period between Imoko Set and Tender Firs. Diskettes Fore Minor is an anagram of both band names. Very different to the original. • Tender Firs have their first gig lined up for Coalfields Festival and then a headline date later in the year at Barnsley Rock & Blues Venue. How’s the set-list coming along? First off, thanks to you and Stu from Black Vines for inviting us to play without hearing any tracks at all! We’ll try to sneak something in before Coalfields. It would be good to try the set in a ‘venue’ first, just to get a feel for the songs live and have an idea of how they come across. As for the set, it’s coming together nicely – we’ve found our sound which means a lot of earlier ideas have been dropped or modified quite a bit. One of the very first songs, Closer, which was finished last spring, hasn’t changed at all and is still really strong and exciting to play but we do have a habit of tinkering with things if they don’t work 100%. Thanks to technology, we bat demo ideas around between us and do a lot of kitchen recording which lets us listen back, develop songs and experiment. As of now, the set is nearly there and we still have a mound of ideas and lyrics left so who knows what the set will end up as? Promise• Jamie, you’ve played a key part in a number of other band’s output, as a graphic designer. Most recently, the designs for Exit Calm’s last records and gig posters and the new ONI compilation too. What has been some of your favourite local music projects to work on? The Exit Calm work was always interesting, a challange at times but very enjoyable. It‘s great to work with Simon as he has a good eye for design and takes on the art director role, usually finding some interesting reference material for me to work from. The most challanging was probably the sleeve for Promise. Simon wanted the artwork I created to be projected onto a model, so Rory Garforth and I managed to set it up, find some willing models and we were very pleased with the final photos/design. I’ve really enjoyed all the other local music projects I’ve worked on, as usually, like for The Black Lamps, Garforth & Myers and ONI, the paintings/photographs/illiustrations are of such a good standard that it makes my job easy. • What are the plans for Tender Firs? Is then an EP in the offing? We’re very very lucky in that we can record a lot ourselves and with Rory. Staying out of studios helps us to relax and play around more with the sonics, which in turn helps us to get more done. The aim is definitely to get a group of songs together, but how we release them is quite loose. Whether we hang on to 6 or 7 tracks and then release them all together or do it in bursts, with visual stuff and other media is not set in stone. Again, we’re lucky to not only have the opportunity to record in an organic situation at our homes, but between us we have loads of skills and ideas and angles to how we can present the music best. It feels like we’ve been picking up momentum since the New Year and a lot of ideas are falling into place, but we edit and revise constantly, so when and what will be released is still anybody’s guess. Sinister is definitely on ONI’s compilation and we’re definitely going to deliver more. Soon-ish. Sinister by Tender Firs appears on the Of National Importance Records compilation ‘Misophonic Minds: Another Corner of Barnsley Counter Culture’ which is released on Monday 27th April. Visit https://ofnationalimportancerecords.bandcamp.com/album/misophonic-minds-another-corner-of-barnsley-counter-culture on the 27th to download your copy. Tender First play the Alt Stage at Coalfields Festival on Saturday 11th July. They also headline at Barnsley Rock & Blues Venues on Friday 23rd October, with support from The Surrogates. Follow Tender Firs on facebook and instagram.

Imoko Set (left to right: David, Jamie, Susie, Andy). Photo by Rory Garforth

Imoko Set (left to right: David, Jamie, Susie, Andy).
Photo by Rory Garforth

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