“In a time when most bands on the scene either mimic Doherty's antics or follow the fad fuelled Nu Rave route, Citylights tumble out of the toy box like a glorious melodic mess of fun. With no path laid before them, Citylights are making their own route, regardless of how many other bands follow the boring brick road” claims the MySpace of Manchester band, Citylights. This, you may think, is a bit pretentious of them. They’re just going to be some mediocre “indie” band, who sound like everyone else but are under the strange delusion that they don’t, right? Wrong. Musically, common instruments like guitars, bass, drums and keyboard find themselves accompanied by a slightly more incongruous ‘cello. It makes for a far more interesting timbre with a thicker texture than most. They’re five boys bored of what they’re hearing on the radio and so they’re making stuff they’d like to hear a bit more of. And it really does work. Upbeat, catchy and lyrically amusing they manage to create something rather different, and rather great. It’s all quite nice light listening and never too heavy or show-y off-y.
Proof, if any is really needed, that the boys are doing this for the fun of playing is the song ‘Cowboys and Indians’: an argument via song about who is better, beginning with some Indian war-cries and a cowboy shouting “yee-haw!” It’s one of those really fun songs which you can imagine would be crazy live, the crowds shouting “COWBOY” or “INDIAN”. ‘Life At Sea’ has a lovely riff on the ‘cello and musically has a jangly, jerky feel to it, while singer, Joe Allen, proclaims smoothly “Life without you, life with me, think I'll choose a life at sea.” ‘Mashed On Fashion’, is lyrically one of their best; a satirical attack on those annoying fashionista Top Shop girls- you all know the ones: “Your dressed in Top Shop, right down to your socks; this week it’s spots, next week it’s polka dots”. They manage to capture the character so well in those few lines. It finishes off on a ‘Hounds Of Love’-esque “Oh Oh Oh” session, and it’s really rather nice. Then there are some of their slightly older songs, ‘A Friend Is A Friend’ and ‘She’s A Disco Nightmare’, which are probably their catchiest songs. ‘A Friend Is A Friend’ is a bold, bright and infectious song which is almost guaranteed to have you singing along by the end. The opening to ‘She’s A Disco Nightmare’ is extremely danceable if slightly sinister, and they’ve created quite a character of the “disco nightmare” who we shall find out more about later. Citylights are, as copied from the MySpace: Joe Allen- Guitar, Clarinet, Keyboard, Percussion and lots of Sing Song
Ben Dawson-Bass Guitar, Guitar, Percussion and Booty Shaking
James Smith-Drums, Percussion and bits of Sing Song
Fred Smith- Cello, Keyboard, Glockenspiel, Percussion and lots of Sing Song
Richard Cornelia-Guitar, Bass Guitar and Smiles All Round I’m not sure how often Joe whips out his clarinet, but overall they’ve got a more interesting instrumental range than most bands around at the moment. Oh, and they also have an owl mascot, but I’m not sure how relevant that is to anything. I had a chat with Ben, James and for a while even Fred. Here’s the interview: I ask the first question; why did Citylights form? “Well,” begins Ben, “Me and James have been in bands for years.” “We had more ideas that we wanted to happen, that never happened with the bands we were with,” puts in James. “Citylights are basically 5 people that finally figured out how to cooperate when writing songs…It started off as fun, but people seemed to enjoy it so we carried on.”
It’s at this point that Fred, one of the newer members, joins us, which brings me to my next question- is this the final formation of Citylights? “Probably not,” sighs James, “I wish it could be.” “It’s a little out of our hands,” explains Ben. It becomes clear that although they’d like to keep this line-up, factors on the horizon such as university may split them up. This sorta kills my “in two years time, where will you be” question
Next I ask about something very odd; their strange obsession with kittens and sweets. “James is just odd,” states Ben, “And it rubs off on you eventually.” Ignoring this, James begins, “Well, everyone likes free stuff, right?” Fred interjects: “James is like fake silver jewelry.” “Rubs off on you?” I ask, confused. “And he’s cheap,” Ben informs me. Moving us back onto topic I once again ask about the free kittens they’ve promised in their bulletins. “Well wouldn’t you like a free kitten?” asks Ben. Fred, apparently muttering to himself, says, “Free kittens would make us so damn popular…” I am then informed by James that the kittens may not be vaccinated. I passed on their kind offer of a free kitten, and ask what started the madness off. “James thinks he is like a cat,” Ben tells me, “yet he is not nearly as nimble,” and as an afterthought adds, “or graceful.” “But I do have whiskers,” says James, clearly upset by these accusations from Ben. “But I think bands are more interesting if you have some sort of image to conjure up when you think of them [par example: TMA’s Sharks and Kites]. And I also like metaphors and characters in songs because they make them more recognisable.” “Like the disco nightmare?” I ask. This makes them laugh and they agree. “That’s based on a girl we know,” says James, “but more generally at really annoying drunk girls.” Suddenly Fred remembers something and exclaims- “Oh my God! I spent the whole day with disco nightmare. My arm is so damn sore!” “Never speak her real name, Fred…” mutters James, “And yes, she does like to hit doesn’t she?”
Mysterious much? Anyway, that starts me, Fred and Ben off on some Harry Potter jokes ("she-who-must-not-be-named") much to James’ distaste. Ben accuses James of being a killjoy, but we are told by James that he has in fact swallowed a wasp and can’t help but feel down as it is stinging his soul.
Ben decides to try his hand at interviewing, asking a question I liked so much that it’s now gonna feature regularly: “what shall I do with my drunken sailor?” “Stab him,” says Fred, angrily. James considers the question...”Don’t put him to bed, otherwise he’ll just think you’re a killjoy. Isn’t being put to bed when you’re drunk the most annoying thing?” Fred continues his tangent of hate, “Kick him in the eyes.” Ben seems quite shocked- “Fred, you’re so violent!” “What did the sailor do to you?” I ask, appalled. “Fred doesn’t care much for nautical folk,” explains Ben. “I don’t care for drunken nautical folk,” retorts Fred, staunchly. “Sober ones I have no qualms with.” And then I said the line- “whatever floats your boat… No pun intended”. Yes, that’s right for those of you who have been paying attention- that was the joke I used in The More Assured interview where I said “I’ve already used that this week”. This was the other time I used it that week… Good stuff. “I like boats… And the sea,” says James, dreamily. Ben scoffs at this; “Putting that a bit lightly aren’t you? You’re in love with them!” They make for good metaphors, apparently. “One day you will all come on my boat, and never leave,” says Fred, spookily. No one says anything for a while; it’s quite a conversation stopping statement.
And after this, Fred has to go. We thank him for his dazzling input, and then move on to the next question; who writes the songs, and what influences them? “Well, let’s start in the beginning, in a land before time,” says Ben. “It’s a joint effort,” starts James, “Everyone adds their bit.” Ben agrees, “Me and James tend to sit down and get the idea started; usually guitar and vocals, get the structure and stuff down.” “Then the rest is added layer by layer,” continues James. “After that we take our idea to band practice, instruments are dropped in and out… It’s not pretty, but it works.” James adds, “We discuss time changes, vocal build-ups, harmonies etc. just to vary it… It’s a bit boring when just one person writes a song on their guitar and then gets a band in who play along with what s/he’s written for 3 minutes. It’s very same-y, very Oasis.” So, we can take from that they’re not big on the Manchester scene (other than Whiskycats who are “so underrated it scares me” according to Ben).
Then who influences them? “Music in general really,” says Ben, who then adds, “And an all consuming love of party rings.” No party is truly complete without party rings… “Mystery Jets spring to mind,” James tells me. Ben agrees; “Yeah, and The Cure as well.” “But then,” adds James, as an afterthought “Lots of bands don’t directly influence our music. We take stuff from all sorts, it’s sometimes quite subtle. Aphex Twin, System Of A Down, Tom Waits and Sly And The Family Stone; we don’t sound like any of those, but we take from things like the song structures… It’s shocking how many bands seem to be influenced by one current genre. Like all these “nu rave” bands that have sprung up; they all formed on the basis of Klaxons. It’s sad.” Ben, who had quickly gone to fetch a cup of tea (or, a “cup of delight” as he so eloquently put it) comes in with “Oooh, nu rave bashin’! Go for it Jimminy [his apparent pet name for James… We don’t judge here].”
That aside, what’s their favourite gig so far been? It’s a close toss-up between a headlining gig in Edinburgh, and an All Ages Concert in Manchester with Late Of The Pier. They decide on Edinburgh, “Just because we headlined for some unknown reason, and had 150 odd kids loving it.” Ben laughs while pointing out; “only 5 of whom had heard of us!”
So, which bands would they hate to be likened to? “A lot really,” says James. Ben returns with yet another “cup of delight” and puts in, “SARS wouldn’t be too great”. Oblivious, James continues, “We’ve been likened to Arctic Monkeys a few times, and it’s nothing on them because they’re a good band, but it makes you think people aren’t really listening.” And then, on noticing Ben’s comment, he asks, “SARS?” “The disease,” states Ben. “That’s not a band, is it Ben?” “No,” says Ben, sadly, “I’m sorry, I was being silly.” “If you’re sorry that’s all that matters,” James mutters. “I agree with him about the Arctic Monkeys,” says Ben. It seems they’re suffering from location prejudice, because Joe has a vaguely Northern accent when singing. He also gets comparisons with Maximo Park, though they think he just sounds like a “gruff weasel”.
Speaking of singing, their favourite song by themselves? “’Cowboys and Indians’ or ‘Life At Sea’” decides Ben. “’Life At Sea’”, agrees James, “Fred’s cello has brought in a whole new sound.” I ask about the diverse range of instruments, but they just shrug it off- “Just keeps it interesting,” Ben tells me, “More stuff to play with.” “And it’s better to have all sorts now than in two albums worth of materials time; just looks like you’ve run out of ideas then… We can still write a good tune on guitar, bass and drums though; we’re not trying to hide the song behind fancy equipment.”
Now the fruit question; surely you know how it goes by now? If you were a fruit, what would you be and why? “Joe would be a gooseberry-“, starts James. “A weasel like gooseberry,” says Ben, “And I’d be a banana, just so I could eat myself…I love bananas.” “Fred would be a pear-”, continues James. Ben, apparently still transfixed by the imaginary banana murmurs, “Especially with peanut butter on toast…” “Everyone loves a good pear, but he’s no-ones favourite! Then Ricky would be a coconut because he’s so hairy. And I…What would I be?” “You’d be a bog standard apple,” decides Ben, “You’re nothing special.” Nice nice nice.
Advice to bands starting out? This makes them laugh- they’re only just starting out. In my attempt to aid them, I ask what they’d like other bands to say to them. “Here, have a kitten,” proclaims Ben. Helpful, isn’t he? Then, more seriously, he adds, “Ask for gigs- you don’t get if you don’t ask!” “Be nice to people and work your MySpace right and you’ll gain valuable fans,” says James. “Oh, and don’t write rubbish songs.” Encouraging.
And advice about life? Ben lists some helpful stuff, “Don’t throw stones at old people, don’t insult badgers (they will find you), and always, always brush your teeth.” “Train a circus of raccoons and you will be rolling in the money!” according to James, “Then, if you want, you can do the whole band thing on the side.”
And that’s it. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this about our Manchester friends, do give them a listen and download their songs: www.myspace.com/citylightsarecoming
They are coming, so never turn your back on the Citylights.