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International Teachers of Pop: Lessons Learnt

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For a band that hasn't even existed a year, International Teachers of Pop are bolting towards success. They're made up of the drummer and co-founders of Sheffield's favourite meta-band, The Moonlandingz: Adrian Flanagan, Dean Honer and Richy Westley. These three are joined by two fabulous frontwomen in Katie Mason and Leonore Wheatley, the latter of The Soundcarriers and Whyte Horses.

Their jam-packed debut year has been elevated by some big performances, their first supporting Jarvis Cocker at Peak Cavern, aka The Devil's Arse, back in April. Their self-titled album will be released this month and is bound to bring them an even wider audience.

I caught up with Leonore over the phone, who had just finished a long day at work and was tucking into a well-deserved after-school beer.

Can you tell me how the band formed?

I went to uni in Sheffield actually, and for some reason me and Adrian became Facebook friends. He was one of those people I always kind of knew but didn't really know. He put a post on there, asking for a vocalist for a new project they were working on and I piped up saying I'd be up for that. I went to sing over a couple of tracks that Adrian had previously written and we had a jam and thought, 'Okay, maybe we're onto something here'. He's such a lovely guy and the tunes that they've been making are just so accessible.

How did the rest of the band come together?

The main bulk of the tracks for the album were finished in April time and that was just before we got the call about the Jarvis Cocker gig. I was out at the pub at the time when I got the email and I remember doing a little shriek at the bar. It was about a week before the gig and the other girl Charlotte that was standing in for whoever was going to be in the full lineup, I'd only met that day. We had her, then Richy who's the drummer who used to be in Moonlandingz, so that was quite a no-brainer. After a few gigs with Charlotte, my best friend Katie and I were pissing about with the songs, making up dance moves and stuff like that. We just came together really naturally and decided it was working now. It was really good for her to get involved and bring something fresh.

How did the invite to play with Jarvis come about?

I know, for the first gig jammy bastards! Dean worked with Jarvis on the All Seeing I. Remember 'Walk Like A Panther'? Also Richy's wife is a promoter. We feel like we did earn it, but at the same time to get a gig like that you have to know some people. I think we stepped up to it though.

My life has just flashed before my eyes these last six months

Tell us about the band name. I hear you're an actual teacher?

Yeah, hence getting straight in, putting my pyjamas on and cracking open a beer. I'm a music teacher in a secondary school in Manchester. Adrian came up with the band name. Obviously it's not a coincidence, the teacher thing. It just seemed to fit. Richy teaches drums, Dean does the odd bit teaching synth. So yeah, I teach at an all girls school. It's been interesting trying to juggle it with the band.

I was going to ask about the juggle. It seems mad to be doing both.

It does seem mad because it is. My life has just flashed before my eyes these last six months or so. It's not something I'm necessarily used to because The Soundcarriers were a slow burner. It took four or five years to release an album. With this it's turned around so quickly. Adrian doesn't mess about. There have been times where I've taught a full day anyone who's a teacher understands what I mean then spent the evening going into town, meeting Katie, getting on a train and going to Sheffield for two hours. Then going to the pub, and getting on a train home ready to go and teach again the next day. You end up running on empty a little bit.

But you think about what has happened in such a short space of time and that excitement just kind of fuels it. It's what I've always wanted to do. I went into teaching obviously because I love working with kids, but first and foremost it was an excuse for me to actually be able to earn money while being a musician. I've had the opportunity over the last year to be an actual gigging musician. Fair enough, not really getting paid for it, but just performing, which is what I've always wanted to do.

Do the kids know about the band?

Yeah they do. God, they don't care. I brought in this magazine review to see if they wanted a look through it and nobody batted an eyelid. Nobody gave a shit. No, the girls who are really into music, some of them I have been teaching singing for five years now - they really like it. It shows them that they can be a musician outside of school.

Also, we tried to integrate them into the album. One of the songs, 'Oh Yosemite', I managed to get the choir to sing on. I was invigilating a mock exam last week and you know how your mind just wanders because it's really boring while they're all doing their exam? I was daydreaming, thinking I could take the girls on tour with us, bring them out to do this choir solo at the end. I'd love to take them with us.

Is it important to you to be a positive female role model and encourage more girls into music?

Definitely. It's about empowering them and showing them that they can do any type of music. It's not just, 'Oh, you're a girl, you should probably stick to singing or maybe the piano'. We had a workshop before Christmas and this brilliant woman came in and taught them how to use different recording techniques on GarageBand. At the end they were all making horror soundtracks girls, or kids in general, are obsessed with horror. We talked to them about production and being sound engineers and all that stuff. I'd love for them to go into that.

Do you enjoy performing with another front woman?

I suppose some people could think of a rivalry, couldn't they? But she's my best friend. Me and Katie have known each other since we were 15 and we live together as well. There's only rivalry with who's done the pots this week. We appreciate that we both have things we're good at and don't try to outdo each other. I like to think that comes across when people watch us, that it's about what we can do to show us both off equally. Girl power!

What's coming up next?

It's not getting less busy. The single has just come out with the video. We're hoping to get a bit of attention from that. On 8 February the album comes out, then a week later we start the tour - then who knows. If the rest of the year turns out the way these last six months have been, we should be in for something quite exciting.

Tasha Franek

The self-titled International Teachers of Pop album is released on 8 February. The band play The Leadmill on 22 February. Tickets are £13.20.

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Photo by Duncan Stafford

Next article in issue 131

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