Editor Jade Curson speaks with The Spook School on their 2019 farewell tour
This interview took place in September 2019 – intended for a print zine we didn’t get to produce because time, money, pandemic. So, bask in the warm, warm glow of nostalgia for a little while.
It’s a warm evening in September and I’m sitting in Highbury Fields with The Spook School, for what will surely be their final interview as a band. Formed in 2011, the band quickly became darlings of the DIY scene for their skilful marriage of sociopolitical themes and understated pop gems. Later that evening, they will play a sold-out show at The Garage as part of their farewell tour, to a crowd who will surely be grieving and grooving simultaneously as they mourn the loss of one of the finest queer punk bands in the UK.
As we will find out later – when the band take to the stage in full astronaut gear (that is definitely official and definitely not just matching jumpsuits paired with homemade cardboard helmets) – The Spook School aren’t splitting up, they’re just relocating to the moon. And honestly, after even a cursory look around at the state of things down here, who could blame them? But for their Earth fans and the band alike, this tour has been an emotional farewell.
“It’s been, as Ronan Keating once said, a rollercoaster,” says Niall McCamley with as straight a face as he can muster. “It’s been weird. I think it’s so lovely and warm, but last night we were playing in Brighton and before we’d even done anything there were people crying in the front row.”
“Like, really crying” AC Cory interjects.
The band have intentionally been keeping things light so far (“No one wants to see four people crying on stage,” Adam Todd points out, “that’s not a fun night out”), but as their very last show looms, the reality is starting to sink in. “I think we’ll still do the silly show, but it’ll be a lot harder to talk on the mic,” Niall says. “I think it makes it easier for us to do. We’re doing nine of these altogether, and to be really sincere every night would be hard.” Adam agrees: “I don’t think any of us have enough of an ego to think we could do a serious show.”
A farewell tour for a band with such a devoted fanbase could have become a sombre affair, but instead The Garage is awash in glitter and smiles and the gentle slosh of beer over the side of plastic cups as dancing becomes less reserved. A final show is always bittersweet, but there seems to be a concerted effort from the audience as well as the band to keep it firmly on the sweet side. Watching the four members on stage is a joyous thing to behold, and with them clearly loving every minute of the set, it begs the question: why call it a day at all?
“Life,” Adam offers. Would anyone care to expand on that?
“So we’ve all got day jobs,” explains Nye, “and it was at the point of either ‘I’m not going to hold down a job and I’m going to come back and forth and get lots of temporary contracts’ – which is a very stressful and unstable way to live your life – or it was like, ‘let’s have one last hurrah’ thing, go out on a high and not let it just fade away.” Niall quickly adds: “my catchphrase is ‘niche bands make niche money’.”
When asked what each of them has planned for life after The Spook School, there is a neat divide of ambition. McCamley and Cory each have new bands in the pipeline. AC takes great pains to ensure that I am aware of the name of the new project (“provisionally” called Picture Round) after an earlier press mishap: “I said that I’d mentioned in The Skinny that I had a recorder solo and they were like, ‘ok but did you mention the name of the band?’”
Meanwhile, the Todds have their own big plans…
“I’m going to get a cat. Maybe two cats,” says Nye. “Somebody asked me the other night and he really wasn’t impressed. I think he wanted something artistic.” Adam has a slightly longer list of goals and ambitions, that only AC has apparently kept track of:
AC: Adam’s going to learn to skateboard.
Adam: I’m going to learn to skateboard.
Niall: Are you really going to learn to skateboard?
AC: What else are you going to do? I thought you’d got a big list.
Adam: I’m going to go to the gym, get hench. What else was I going to do?
AC: Get a mortgage.
Adam: I’m gonna get a mortgage [laughs].
AC: There was some other kind of skill.
Adam: Yeah. It’ll come back to me.
AC: Oh, you were going to brunch.
Adam: Oh yeah, I’m going to be a person who brunches. I’ll take holiday from work and just brunch. I could be the new big name in bruncheon.
AC: I don’t know if that’s the skill I was thinking of.
Gruelling schedules without a sustainable income have been a common complaint of bands who end up going their separate ways. But the feeling of disillusionment within the scene stems from far more than the lack of financial security (particularly in the DIY community, where that was never really a plausible aspiration to begin with). The rising number of artists who have (rightfully) been criticised for a variety of inappropriate behaviours has been a blow to other bands within those communities as much as the fans – this is especially the case within the queer punk community. A space created specifically as a safer and more inclusive space than the larger punk scene, it depends on trust, cooperation and compassion for others. As some bands who talked this talk the loudest were revealed to be manipulating the platform it had given them, it was a short sharp lesson in trusting so freely. The Spook School, having toured with PWR BTTM in a past life, feel this succinctly.
“In the early days of the band I was like ‘it’s lovely! Everybody loves each other! Everyone’s so wonderful!’ and then, yeah… stuff happens and I am a lot more cynical now,” says Nye.
“I think there’s only so many times you can be let down,” adds Adam. “I think a lot of these things we’ve experienced have come out of… what we initially thought were very exciting experiences. That makes it more difficult to get excited about stuff in the future, because there’s always this niggling thought in the back of your head, like, ‘what if this person…’
“It brings reality into something that I personally use quite a lot to get away from reality. That’s one of the things I really like about being in the band, you’re in this whole different world. You feel like you’re in this little group of people who share similar values to you and have similar taste. And when that bubble gets popped, it can take away from the magic of it. You expect people to be better.”
So what will The Spook School’s legacy be, aside from an impressive catalogue of songs with a secure position in UK queer punk history? A message of hope and positivity for those of us struggling to deal with our gender, our sexuality, our bodies, and our minds. An example for us all to follow in kindness and supporting your respective communities. And a resounding reminder that passion ultimately trumps experience…
“We’ve learned through doing it wrong,” Adam says. “When we started the band we had no idea how any of this stuff worked. The first time we toured Europe, we toured on the train, and we just brought a big bag of equipment with us–”
“And on the second day it split in half,” adds Nye. AC continues: “After that we drove around in a Honda Jazz for a while, with one of the seats folded down in the back, two of us squashed in there with a bass guitar along the leg.”
Niall interjects with a laugh: “I was used as a counterweight to make sure it didn’t rub against the ground.”
Examples abound of The Spook School winging it, and McCamley in particular seems to revel in the absurdities.
“One time we got to a gig and it was in the basement of a flower shop,” says Adam, “and there was a local band headlining, but they only turned up for their set time and they had the PA and everything. So there was nothing in the room, no PA or microphones or anything. So we played the set with the first support act, a guy with an acoustic guitar. And someone had… a washboard and a spoon?”
“Yep. I played a washboard and a spoon,” says Niall proudly. “I rocked out so hard I cut my hand open! It’s quite hard to play the washboard, and I didn’t know what I was doing.”
“I feel like we’ve had a lot of experiences like that,” says Nye. “Because we don’t know what we’re doing, we just end up places. But one thing I can say for ourselves is, we’ve always played the show. It’s not always been good…”
Niall concludes: “Part of the thing with us is that you get a nice, off-the-cuff shambly charm, so you can have a laugh about it. We can just have a nice time with people, without the necessary pieces of equipment.”
The Spook School’s time on this planet is drawing to a close – so before they get into their definitely real and definitely not homemade cardboard spaceship to the moon, do they have any parting words for their Earthling fans?
Adam: Start a band.
AC: Hell yeah man!
Niall: Start a band, and read your emails.
Nye: I think we’ve done quite a lot of complaining.
Niall: Start a band – it might break your heart, but there’ll be some fun times too.
Adam: I’d say start a band based on people you get on with rather than musical ability, I think that’s what has served us well. None of us can play our instruments but it’s been a nice time.
Niall: It’s been a nice time learning together.
Nye: Listen to Martha.
Niall: … and be good to yourselves.