Little Man Tate on how the mid-noughties indie bubble burst: “There were too many bands and people got sick of it”

The reunited Sheffield group take a trip down memory lane to recall their glory days (and bar work with Alex Turner)

What do the words “New Yorkshire” mean to you? If you’re an indie kid of a certain age, the term will evoke memories of bands from the county – such as Arctic Monkeys, The Kaiser Chiefs, The Long Blondes and many more – who turned up their polo necks and squeezed into their winkle pickers in the mid-noughties. Their crossed words and competitiveness played out in the pages of NME like a post-punk Bash Street Kids. Some went on to world fame and others rejoined us mere mortals back on planet Earth.

Which bring us to Little Man Tate, the Sheffield lads who released two albums (2006’s ‘About What You Know’ and 2007’s ‘Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy’) and enjoyed a handful of Top 40 hits, including the goofily endearing ‘Sexy In Latin’, before calling it a day in 2009. Well – they’re back and due to play a big old reunion show at the 02 Academy Sheffield in September. NME gave frontman Jon Windle a call to hear an epic tale of ambition, failure, regret, friendship, family and – ultimately – happiness.

Hi Jon! There was a big reaction when you announced the reunion. Why are people still so obsessed with the mid-noughties era of indie bands?

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“People want that nostalgia and to relive their youth. When we go anywhere in Sheffield we always bump into somebody who says, ‘Are you gonna do something again?’ It makes you think, ‘We actually meant something to people.’ People remember the shows – ‘This is where I met your mum.’ So many people met at our gigs, got married and now have kids – they tell us in amazing messages on our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.”

Do you miss that time?

“It was such a good time for bands in general, wasn’t it? There’s not so many bands around these days in guitar music. Maybe there were too many [in our heyday]. It got a bit oversaturated; people got a bit sick of it.”

You’ve said that now’s the “perfect time” for the band to come back. With the greatest of respect, it’s hard to imagine a worse time to reform a band

Over the years we’ve had different offers with people asking if we’ll play and the timing never felt right. But a promoter came to us in January and it all made sense with where we are in our lives. I’ve got two little boys who are a bit older now – they listen to our stuff and say, ‘Why can’t we see you play, Dad!’ The guitarist’s little girl is asking him the same questions. Our kids are old enough for us to put the time into making it work again. It felt like a good time. And then the lockdown hit.”

What have you all been up to for 11 years?

“I ran a local label in Sheffield and put out a few singles for some local bands – I’ve always loved new artists – and then I set up a [music] management company [Carmel Music Management]. I’ve always been in the music scene in and around Sheffield. Mazza, the guitarist, is a music teacher – somehow! He’s Head of Music at East Barnet School down in London, so he’s done really well. The bass player works at Yorkshire Water and the drummer runs a fruit and veg business, which he did before we ever took off in the first place.”

Why did the band split up?

“It were a funny one. We were always chasing something else. You’re always going for a chart position, you’re always going for this tour, you’re always going to try and get the front page of NME. You’re always reaching for that next bit and it just kinda felt like we’d hit a bit of a brick wall. We weren’t gonna get any bigger and as much as we were enjoying it, we didn’t wanna get any smaller.”

What are your memories of the mid-noughties indie heyday in Sheffield?

“We used to all work at [iconic Sheffield venue] The Boardwalk. Me and Maz worked on the box office with Jon from Reverend and the Makers and Alex [Turner] and [original bassist Andy [Nicholson] from Arctic Monkeys worked behind the bar. Back then that was the hub where musicians would hang out there and see different bands. It was a really good, healthy scene.”

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What were Alex and Andy from Arctic Monkeys like back then?

“Really normal. Everybody [in the New Yorkshire scene] were just right normal. We used to work for a promoter who put on shows at Joseph’s Well in Leeds and Simon from The Kaiser Chiefs worked behind the bar. The Monkeys were just really normal down-to-earth kids.”

Did you ever look at Arctic Monkeys and think they’d blow up like they did?

“Yeah, definitely. One of the first times I saw them they were doing a gig at the Boardwalk and we were working on the box office. It were massive. People were coming to see ‘em that weren’t their pals. There were people desperate to see ‘em. They came on and the crowd just went. People would be crowdsurfing – we’d not seen that stuff. It was only a 400-capacity venue – we were once working the box office for a gig by Curly Watts from Coronation Street.

“Anyway, you started getting the feeling that they were gonna do it. Because we worked on the box office we got the guest list, and we knew they had record label after record label coming in.”

Alex Turner is a proper rock star now, but he didn’t seem like that at all back then?

“No. It’s strange, isn’t it? But then if you start at job at 18 you develop and get more comfortable in your own skin as you get older.”

What was it like being in the middle of a scene like that? With all that pressure at a young age?

“It was very strange. People loved that Sheffield sound and the way people wrote songs because they were able to relate to it. Arctic Monkeys, Reverend and the Makers, Little Man Tate, Long Blondes – you’ve got all these kinda normal kids in bands. That’s what people wanted. You didn’t necessarily have to be really into music to enjoy what we’re all about. It was MySpace and all that. You’d spend hours on there in the forums and adding people.”

Do you think the scene was a bit ahead its time in terms of using the internet to share music?

Yeah – bands would announce a 200-pressing CD and sell it at a gig. We were at the forefront of, ‘Here’s my music to promote my gig’, rather than the other way around. We’d give all our music away online – it was accessible. It all just fell into place: the internet had popped up; people were realising you could put your music out there, stick it on MySpace, give it away so people could start sharing it. Alan Smyth was a producer who did nearly all them band’s demoes. He’s probably one of the most underrated producers ever.”

A bit of an unsung hero of that era?

“Totally – he captured that raw feel. It were a hundred quid to record a demo. Four of you would turn up with £25 and you’ve got four tracks to give away. You’ve come out with this demo that’s better than some bands record [in top studios]. You’d play live in a few takes, he’d take your best bits and put it all back together and all of a sudden you had this energy. It just captured what the bands were about.”

Was it a competitive scene or was there a sense of mutual support?

“It was mutually supportive before everyone got signed. As a young lad, you’re getting advice from [label] people like, ‘[The press] are after a headline – make sure you get this headline in your head.’ So then you say something stupid. You’d say silly things as a young kid of 23 that you wouldn’t say now. There was only so much room at the top table and you’d say daft things. Looking back, it’s a bit embarrassing.”

Do you look at Arctic Monkeys’ success and wish you could have what they’ve got?

“When you start out in a band you wanna be the biggest and best you can be. Within about six months of the Monkeys taking off the realisation hits that you’ve gotta find your level and accept it. We were never gonna be global like that. We just weren’t. It was just one of those: accept it and good luck to ‘em. You’re a bit jealous because it’s everything you want, but at some point you just hold your hands up and say, ‘Well, actually, we ended up where we ended up because that was our level.’”

That sounds like a healthy attitude…

‘[Arctic Monkeys] ended up where they are because they had that talent and charisma. It was not an accident; it wasn’t a fluke. It all worked and obviously they’ve gone on to be huge and we’re kinda where we are. But I wouldn’t swap anything in my life now. I’d love to add [their success] to my life, to be multi-millionaires or what have you. But I wouldn’t swap anything I’ve got in terms of my kids and that. You look it and appreciate how well people do.”

– Little Man Tate perform at the Sheffield O2 Academy on September 18. They have recently added an extra date due to “phenomenal demand” and will also perform on September 19

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