The Sundowners

This new Liverpudlian five-piece are in thrall to the Laurel Canyon and the sixties folk-rock revival, creating a warm authentic sound that turns back the clock on 21st century indie. We spend some time with songwriter Alfie Skelly to discover how Liam Gallagher first persuaded him to learn guitar and hear how a teenage love of David Lynch has informed his music.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 30 Jul 2013
  • min read
Classic western The Sundowners boasts a wild outback setting and raw performances from Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr. It’s a dusty tale of adventure down under, where outlaws roam and time stands still. It seems apt that a new Liverpudlian five-piece, in thrall to the Laurel Canyon and the sixties folk-rock revival, has chosen the same moniker.

The band have yet to release an album, but their blend of folk, psych and classic rock has already garnered comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, The Byrds and Love: high praise for Fiona and Alfie Skelly (right) and Niamh Rowe (front left), the band’s songwriting trio that has carefully channelled a love of West Coast garage and alt-folk to deliver a tight live set.

Joined by Tim Cunningham (bass and backing vocals) and Jim Sharrock (drums), they have so far released a string of well-received songs on YouTube, Soundcloud and, most recently, a single for Skeleton Key Records.

Tastemakers at BBC Introducing have since fallen for the band, booking them for their stage at Glastonbury festival this year. Earlier this month we spoke to Alfie, brother to Skelly brothers Ian and James from The Coral, to find out how the set went down.

He also tells us how Liam Gallagher first persuaded him to learn guitar and explains how a teenage love of eighties films and David Lynch has informed his music.

How did your gig on the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury go?
We loved it! The tent was rammed, I was dead surprised. It was spilling out the sides, we were so made up! And we couldn’t have played any better!

The stars were aligned for you then?
Yep. I think breaking my collar bone must have been part of the master plan. I did it on the Friday after the gig. Too much ale I think. I went to the on-site paramedics who said I had to go to hospital but I didn’t want to miss The Stones! So I just started drinking again. I’m alive, it’s ok.

How did the BBC Introducing slot come about?
There’s this guy called Dave Monks on BBC Merseyside who really likes our songs and he said we should put them up through the online Introducing uploader. So we did and a few producers and presenters who programme that stage had a listen. They got in touch with us afterwards and want to do a Maida Vale session with us off the back of our 25-minute Glastonbury set so we’re really pleased.

Are you finding you prefer playing live or do you like writing and recording?
It’s weird because I used to only like writing and recording and didn’t really play live at all. When the band started out we couldn’t really perform our songs live. As it built up we started to get offered more gigs and you have to play them. I think through playing to rougher crowds that aren’t impressed, you have a point to prove. That’s why the music is a bit more energetic now, so we can get to people straight away.

So your music is changing the more you play live?
Definitely. It’s been a natural progression. When we started out we were into that Phil Spector fifties sound, which you can’t really perform live. As we went along we lost the acoustic guitars and the girls went electric and we got more in that heavier sort of vein.

What gets you started on a song?
There are three songwriters in the band. Fiona and Niamh both write too. Our new single, Don’t Coming Knockin’, is the first song the three of us wrote together. When I do a tune it’s usually different each time. Sometimes you can hear a song and it inspires you to write one like that, or sometimes it will just come out of thin air. It’s something you don’t want to look too much into in case it goes away.

Did you find it hard to start writing with Fiona and Niamh?
No, I prefer it. Someone will have a verse or chorus and another one of us can help to make it better. We sit there and work it out together. Even if one of us does a song on our own and brings it to the table it still ends up being better when it’s gone through the three of us. And then we’ve got Jim and Tim on bass and drums so it becomes a whole other beast. A song goes through loads of different phases.

When did you first get into making music?
I was a really late bloomer on guitar! I must’ve been about 17, which is quite late really. I never played. My brothers James and Ian were in The Coral and when I left school they invited me to roadie for them. Then they got a tour with Oasis and I just remember being in their dressing room at the end of the tour and Noel was bladdered. He asked me if I played guitar. I told him no and he replied, ‘Well you should’. The next day I learnt D’Yer Wanna Be a Spaceman? by Oasis and then Stand By Me. I picked it up pretty quickly. Noel told me to do it and so I just did it!

When did you form The Sundowners?
I learned the ropes playing live and recording with other bands. Then I saw Fiona and Niamh play a gig in my dad’s pub and we started practising. It was all quite natural.

Your sound is really seventies folk-rock and you all look the part too. What attracts you to that era?
It’s definitely the girls! They’re massively influenced by that late sixties early seventies Laurel Canyon scene. They’re really into Crosby, Stills and Nash. And Niamh is really into country and alt-folk like Fairport Convention, Townes van Zandt and stuff. They told me they want to be in a band like The Byrds so it’s kind of gone that way.

How does that fit with what you like?
I love Crosby, Stills and Nash. I like so much stuff. I was massively into Elvis, Eddie Cochran and the Everly Brothers. There are loads of films from the eighties that are really influenced by the fifties like Rumble Fish, and I love them. Sean Penn is in quite a few! Tom Waits has done a few good films too. He’s got a great album called Blue Valentine, which I’m really into.

David Lynch is good at doing all that fifties stuff too…
Yeh, I bought his latest single, it’s mad! It’s really good and dead heavy, and he sings all weirdly over the top. It’s in that film Inland Empire. I got so into Twin Peaks too, I love him. So I was watching all of that when I was about 16, 17, around the time I picked up the guitar. Then I got into Phil Spector, then Springsteen and Tom Petty. It’s still rock ‘n’ roll but it’s recycled for the next generation.

What’s next for you?
We’re going to start on an album in September but it’s just getting the money to do it. We’re planning to chip away at it and use our gig money to finance it.

Where will you record it?
Parr Street in Liverpool. It’s a really good studio. Coldplay recorded an album there, so have the Bunnymen.

Are there any up and coming bands from the Wirral that you could recommend?
We’ve been gigging a lot with a band called The Circles. They’re brilliant. The guitarist is great. They’re a three piece from Birmingham. Up here, there’s By The Sea, they’re good. Broken Men are good too. There are quite a few great new Liverpool acts around at the moment.