TVV and T(n)VV have been on the go for almost 17 years, but today’s bonus post marks a first.
A few weeks back, I had the immense pleasure of chatting for more than an hour in a Glasgow coffee shop with Jan Burnett, the frontman of Spare Snare, all of which was recorded for the purposes of me then pulling something together for the blog. Such was the extent of the chat that I’ve decided to break the piece into two parts, the first of which will cover more general areas, while I’ll return tomorrow to look specifically at the recording, release and promotion of the band’s new album, The Brutal.
The upcoming release of the new album marks the 30th Anniversary of Spare Snare. It all began back in 1992 in Jan’s bedroom in Dundee, the fourth-largest city in Scotland, where he wrote and recorded his initial songs, releasing them later on his own record label, Chute Records. The debut 45 was picked up by the American-based Prospective Records and Jan was soon on the receiving end of an invitation to tour America and play at a music seminar in New York at the tail end of 1994.
Spare Snare quickly became a four-piece band with the addition of three more Dundee musicians – Alan Cormack, Barry Gibson and Paul Esposito – and after the tour was over they accepted an invitation to record a session for John Peel in January 1995. The following month, the band recorded a debut album, Live At Home, on eight-track, again for release on Chute Records here in the UK and by Prospective Records in the USA. The album was received very positively and the band was invited onto the bill for the Reading Festival in 1995 where six songs from their set were recorded and broadcasted by Peel, within 20 minutes of them leaving the stage, as part of the Radio 1 coverage of the event. The year was rounded off by one of the songs from the debut album being voted in at #32 by the listeners of Peel’s show in the Festive Fifty rundown:-
mp3: Spare Snare – Bugs
“I’m not very good at showing off in terms of how great we are, cos I don’t do that. I’d rather people found us, whether at gigs or through the records.” – Jan Burnett, in conversation with JC, March 2023.
Those words are very much at the heart of why Spare Snare are probably Scotland’s best-kept secret. Thirty years in the business, with a back catalogue of eleven studio albums that have been augmented by compilations and, if Discogs is 100% accurate, a further twenty-four singles/EPs across a diverse range of indie labels, including che and Deceptive.
It’s really an impossible task to suggest where anyone new to Spare Snare should start, but probably the most comprehensive oversight of their work can be found on a release from 2021.
The Complete BBC Radio Sessions 1995-2018 contains 42 tracks, sourced from three John Peel sessions (1995, 1998 and 2001), two Marc Riley sessions (2009 and 2018), along with numerous sessions and live recordings for BBC Radio Scotland which were broadcast in 1995, 1996, 1999, 2004 and 2018.
mp3: Spare Snare – I Am God (Marc Riley Session, 2018)
It is also where you will find their take on Amazing Grace which was aired in 2007 during ‘Good Morning Sunday with Aled Jones’, a show in which the former teenage chorister turned presenter/broadcaster mixed music and discussions about religious and ethical issues with faith representatives.
mp3: Spare Snare – Amazing Grace
One of the most fascinating things about the box set is that it enables listeners to appreciate how much the band evolved over the years. It would have been so easy just to take what had brought them to attention in 1995 and gone down a path of churning out variants on a similar theme in the years that followed. Things have been kept fresh and the musicians have never fallen into any sort of rut.
Here’s a link to where you can pick up a copy.
Jan is, quite rightly, incredibly proud of all that Spare Snare have done over the past 30 years. While the band was very much the be-all and end-all in the early years, it inevitably reached a stage where being full-time musicians wasn’t a viable option. The current line-up of Spare Snare is six-strong, with Jan, Alan and Barry still involved as they were back in the mid-90s, while Graham Ogston and Adam Lockhart have been part of things for around 20 years, with Michael Lambert being the relative newcomer, although he’s been known to the rest of the band for around a decade, so it’s accurate to describe the six-piece as being close friends with one another. It’s now very much a situation where family and work lives take priority, and a great deal of forward planning is involved when it comes to band activities.
Our chat was wide-ranging and space doesn’t allow me to cover everything, even across a two-part feature. I learned that Jan has always been astute in his workings with the music industry. The band has never had a manager, but he was still able to negotiate a position where the full copyright issues came back to him after a relatively short period of time, unlike the situation most new and emerging bands find themselves in. It’s also been one of the factors that has helped ensure the longevity of Spare Snare, where more or less everything can be done in-house, including the distribution of any new music. Costs are kept down, and the band members are never under pressure to tour/perform to pay off any sort of debts. Looking at it as an outsider, there really is much to admire about the way Jan and his friends have navigated their way through the business over the past 30 years.
The biggest thing to emerge from the chat was the passion that Jan has for music, going way back to before he picked up any instrument or wrote out some lyrics. He talked about his working-class parents being totally into music, but never having enough disposable income to build up any sort of collection of vinyl. Their love was to go to gigs at the Caird Hall in Dundee, to which Jan began to be taken from 1974 onwards on the basis that a ticket was cheaper than paying a babysitter. He talked about seeing the big pop acts of the day such as David Essex and the Bay City Rollers, and later on being taken to see Dr Feelgood and Elvis Costello & The Attractions among many others – always up in the balcony as the seats were cheaper, and it was safer for a young kid to be; he’s in no doubt that this very early exposure to live music was the thing which ignited the lifelong passion.
He was just the right age for to immerse himself in the explosion in synth music at the start of the 80s. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark and Soft Cell were among his first loves, and it was the former’s connection with Factory Records that led him to New Order/Joy Division and then going back into the post-punk era. All of these influences were at the forefront of the earliest bedroom recordings. He’s a self-taught musician/performer/writer, someone who has never learned to read music (something, as he pointed out, he has in common with OMD), who has just been happy to pick things up and improve as he’s gone along, acknowledging fully the vital and contributions of everyone who has ever been part of Spare Snare over the years.
He’s become a self-confessed collector/hoarder of music, someone whose collection of albums and CDs now sits at around 15,000 in number across all sorts of genres, although his real passion remains towards electronica rather than guitar-based music.
Knowing all this, I ended the interview by asking Jan to curate his ‘Fantasy Festival’. My idea was that Spare Snare would play as headliners, and that five other bands/musicians would support in the role as special guests – I thought it was a variation on the ‘Dream Dinner Party Guests’ that you often see in magazines/newspaper features. The only proviso was that the musicians/bands had to be alive…..
After much thought, he offered the following. Iggy Pop, R.E.M., New Order (preferably with Hooky), Soft Cell and Pet Shop Boys. The man certainly has great taste.
You might wonder why I’ve gone into such detail and gone off at tangents today. But all of this backstory fits into the way Spare Snare have gone about recording the new album, working for a week in an Edinburgh studio with Steve Albini, and having a couple of high-profile guest musicians join them to play on the record. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow for Part Two.
2 thoughts on “(BONUS POST): A SIT-DOWN WITH JAN BURNETT (PART ONE)”
I am so glad that someone else appreciates Spare Snare. Of the later members, Graham Ogston who is also a journalist, used to work in one of Dundee’s greatest second-hand record shops, Groucho’s (Rockpile being the other). Groucho’s and Rockplile have sadly gone, as have their respective owners, but Thirteen Records with a ‘Big Star’ in the window keeps the feeling alive. I can’t wait for the next part of your interview.
Being taken to gigs as a child because a ticket was cheaper than a babysitter? That’s brilliant! I hope he had earplugs, though. I didn’t see my first gig until I was 20! Then again, bands I loved rarely made it over the Atlantic to Central Florida back in the day. It’s great to hear about a new band [to me] that I might need to investigate. As they are Scottish, I’m sure I’m in for a good time.