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Cult Concern: Chris Olley On The Legacy Of Six. By Seven

Thursday, 16 February 2017 Written by Graeme Marsh

Everyone has a song, an album or even an entire artist’s catalogue tucked away in their collection that, for some obscure reason, none of their friends own, don’t they?

It’s always the same. A band or singer-songwriter somehow strikes a chord with you as if they’re the only artist in the world that matters. As you unearth more and more of their material, it’s like a revelation, a miracle. How could you have lived without it before? It’s music to cherish, to flog to death, to learn to play yourself. But when you approach the subject with your mates a familiar scenario takes place. This artist doesn’t do much for them. They’re also-rans, nothing special or, even worse, they’ve never heard of them. You stare blankly at them in bewilderment. How can they not see it? What’s wrong with their fucking ears?

So it is with Nottingham-based Six. By Seven.

Well, maybe it’s a little different with them. The more, shall we say, refined music listeners you speak to, the more fans you gradually uncover, and many of them in the press. It’s almost like a cult, or a private listening party. Playing a concoction of “post-rock, shapeful melodies, neo-Kraut and sonic psychedelia” per their Facebook page, there should be something for everyone in this melting pot, so it’s no surprise to find pockets of appreciation for a band that’s grown comfortable with being a cult concern.

And, following a fan campaign to get the band’s song Eat Junk Become Junk to Christmas number one in 2015, wheels also began turning elsewhere. The band’s frontman, Chris ​Olley, and Lesley Bleakley of Beggars Arkive decided to go further and release a new ‘Greatest Hits’ collection alongside a reissue of the second Six. By Seven album, ‘The Closer You Get’, which was released in 2000, alongside Peel sessions and b-sides.

“Shaun Keaveny at BBC 6music played Eat Junk Become Junk on the breakfast show on band T-shirt day and a fan wrote to us saying we should all buy Eat Junk and get it to number one for Christmas,” Olley said. “We started a Facebook campaign and lo and behold it went to number one in the Amazon Download chart. Lesley emailed me and said: ‘Let’s do a release to celebrate.’ That's a pretty cool thing to happen.”

A celebratory release could have come in numerous guises, but ‘The Closer You Get’ makes sense. Even among a back catalogue dating back almost 20 years, Olley was able to pinpoint it as a fan favourite he was happy to pay further lip service to.

“It’s the album that most fans like best,” he said. “We did it here in Nottingham with Ric Peet and John Leckie. It was a great time and we seemed to be able to play all sorts of different styles of music, we were a good band at last and we understood the studio and how to use it. We didn’t care about the business side of things anymore, all we had was our voice which was our music.”

The ‘Greatest Hits’ release, meanwhile, has no room for gems like Ten Places To Die, Another Love Song?, Ready For You Now and The Rise And Fall And Decline Of Everything – the list goes on – so how on earth did they whittle the number down to 15?

“You have to remember that this is a Beggars release and it has to sway in favour of those early releases, which is how it should be,” Olley said. “There are other albums and b-sides too that aren't represented but we also wanted to leave a certain amount of songs off the ‘Greatest Hits’ for people to discover themselves. It's a ‘Greatest Hits’ so it needs to carry those type of songs, the singles, the more immediate radio songs.”

Olley then reels off a list of nine or so of his own favourite Six. By Seven songs, only two of which are included on the new compilation, to prove his point. “It's all a compromise, really,” he said. “You can't please everyone and put everything onto one CD. Maybe people will go and buy other albums and discover those songs you love too. Remember, Bowie never had Life on Mars on ‘ChangesOneBowie’. Not that anything we've ever done was as good as Life on Mars.”

These retrospective releases are also welcome because they don’t represent a band grasping at former glories. Olley remains a prolific writer, having recently put out the krautrock-inspired ‘Ex’ plus a constant stream of material from his regular MuZiK KluB, including the compilation ‘Klub Mix!33’, and music from his solo project, Twelve. There is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered by a larger audience.

“You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again,” he said. “‘Klub MiX!33’ was a different record but it's done well over time and I still get emails from people saying how much they like it. And, anyway, everyone keeps going on about us not being successful but how can you change that if you don't have a go at changing the sound with the odd record? Six. By Seven was never meant to be Oasis. I want Six. By Seven fans to be the ones that like the idea and the mission and the sound, not the specific chord and the tempo at which it is played.”

There’s one nagging thing, though. As mentioned earlier, Six. By Seven remain an under-appreciated concern. That’s bound to have some repercussions for those within the circle, but Olley’s philosophical about the space they occupy in 2017.

“When you don't have any wider success it's difficult to assess how much it affected you,” he said. “We were successful to a point. We never had much money but we had enough to buy decent guitars and amps. We got to make records in top studios with great producers, we toured and played festivals and on Jools Holland and did five Peel Sessions. It was all about learning as we went along and things got easier musically as we moved forward, that was the whole point wasn't it?  

“A band is made up of different personalities and various things happened to cause people to leave for their own personal reasons. If I could do things differently, I guess I would sit down and talk to people and I wouldn't have let them leave. But then, I did do that and they pissed off anyway, sometimes I pissed off myself. It was what it was, I'm about looking forward.”

Before we look forward, though, it pays to look back to where it all began. Growing up in Germany no doubt played a part in Olley’s love of krautrock, but he credits his first interest in music to a Dansette record player and a copy of All You Need Is Love/Baby You’re A Rich Man by the Beatles, followed by seeing Neil Young’s ‘Rust Never Sleeps’. In 1993 he formed Six. By Seven with Sam Hempton at Nottingham polytechnic, where they were both studying photography.

Five years after their formation, they put out their debut album ‘The Things We Make’. The first single, European Me, enjoyed critical acclaim – from NME in particular – and the debut is well represented on the ‘Greatest Hits’ collection, contributing a third of the tracks. After ‘The Closer You Get’, albums continued to appear on a regular basis, all of a consistently impressive quality that even extended to compilations ‘Club Sandwich At The Peveril Hotel’ and its companion ‘Left Luggage At The Peveril Hotel’.

Over the years, the group gradually disbanded. And when a new, full band album, ‘Love And Peace And Sympathy’, appeared in 2013, it came as something of a surprise, and a brilliant one at that. This time, the line up would feature ex-Placebo drummer Steve Hewitt and his talent was showcased on the almost nine minute epic Truce, another to deservedly make the cut for the ‘Greatest Hits’ collection. Shortly afterwards, however, the band went their separate ways again.

Now, though, the original line up - Olley, James Flower on keys, Hempton on guitar, Paul Douglas on bass and drummer Chris Davis - has reformed for two special shows in Nottingham and London. “It’s like riding a bike, isn’t it?” Olley said when quizzed as to how rehearsals for the shows are coming along. But, the question remains, how did they manage to reconvene once again and was anyone difficult to persuade?

“It was me who took the most persuading but I'm glad we are doing it,” Olley revealed. “I think deep down everyone is happy to be doing it. At the end of the day they are all my friends and they are all nice people. It's just a band, it's just music, it doesn't belong to us anymore, we should just pass it on and make those people who like it have a great experience.

“Unfortunately not enough of those people exist or know about us so there are no more plans to do any other gigs. I'm afraid we were a cult band, now we are honoured with being so cultish that you can't even see us on tour anymore. It's a shame really because we had a lot more passion and energy and good music than many other bands who are still touring constantly. We never had a proper hit and we were in a place and a time that made it into something that just meant it wasn't meant to be.”

So, does he really think this is the end for Six. By Seven, on the live front at least? “If these gigs go well, which they will, I don't see why we shouldn't play a few gigs every year wherever and whenever we feel like it,” he said. “Maybe we could do something special in a weird castle or something in a given November. Oh, and Glastonbury.”

‘The Closer You Get’ and ‘Greatest Hits’ are out on February 17 through Beggars Arkive.

Six By Seven Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat March 04 2017 - NOTTINGHAM Maze
Sat March 11 2017 - LONDON Garage

Click here to compare & buy Six By Seven Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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