'The Man And The Echo is a poem by W.B. Yeats. It's about a man who is thinking of ending his life, but when he shouts out that he is going to lie down and die, he hears the echo and argues with it, deciding that he wants to live. It has a personal significance. I also think it's a really cool band name' Gareth 'Gaz' Roberts, Man & The Echo.
Gaz Roberts can certainly relate to the other The Man And The Echo, but it was music not life itself that he was on the brink of ending. His band, Cheap Cuts, had built up a decent following in their hometown of Warrington, with their tragicomic songs about local motorway services and radio phone-ins and the singer's rapier between songs wit. However, in the end, he didn't feel there was anywhere left for them to go. A gig at London's 100 Club was set to be his last until, like in the poem, fate intervened, the manager of the headline band came up and said 'If you change the name and write a whole new set of songs, I think I'd like to manage you.'
Three years on, neither Gaz nor his Warrington bandmates have had much time to ponder their brush with the pop scrapyard. With the name changed, the songs duly written and that manager in place, they've signed to James Endeacott's hugely respected 1965 Records, been invited to play Billy Bragg's leftfield stage at Glastonbury, enjoyed lots of airplay and had influential BBC DJ Steve Lamacq call Gaz 'a great northern storyteller', comparing him to Jarvis Cocker and their gigs to the first time he saw Pulp.
There is a bit of Sheffield's finest's era-defining mix of smart, observational pop and musical glam about Man & The Echo. But there's also a bit of ABC, The Smiths, the Divine Comedy, Dexys, Super Furry Animals, blue eyed soul, 50s/60s crooning, literary references, social commentary, humour and much more, as they have arrived at a sound that isn't retro so much as ricocheting through pop's many decades and landing squarely in the post-Brexit, conflicted, chaotic UK of the here and now.
Their forthcoming album, produced by Neil Comber (MIA/Django Django) delivers. Distance Runner also their fifth single is a sparkling pop homage to a 'northern otherness' of pylons, graffiti, farmer's fields and containers, partly inspired by Paul Farly and Michael Symmons-Roberts' book, The Edgelands. The sublime ABC-ish northern funky Operation Margarine was partly inspired by an idea in Roland Barthes' Mythologies: 'Margarine is advertised in the same way a church or army is upheld: by virtue of their own faults.' Gaz is particularly proud of the song's lyric, 'It's cheaper than revolution and it tastes the same.' Not least because, endearingly, he originally assumed he'd borrowed it from Barthes, only to realise it was actually one of his own.
The soulful Very Personally Yours references 'Cheshire grippers' men who stare, anvil-faced, with their pints. The dreamlike Goodnight To Arms came to Gaz after he read Ernest Hemingway's Farewell To Arms and saw a comparison between the book's ailing protagonist and nurse and himself and his wife, in the days when they had no money and would nurse a coke in a pub for hours.
Already playing the guitars and drum kits that they received as Christmas presents when they were kids Man & The Echo have managed more than Gaz could have dreamed of in those days, although, like the man in the poem, perhaps this was all meant to be.