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The inside story of Covid, Brexit and Sheffield’s music industry: SHEAFS

Eighteen months of lockdown and tour cancellations coupled with Brexit-related travel restrictions and costly red tape have devastated an industry that contributes £5.8bn to the UK economy.

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SHEAFS: "The start of the lockdown really opened our eyes and ears to listening to lots of older music we’d never listened to before."

Sonic PR.

Previously we spoke with PR promoter Thom Williams. Now it’s the turn of Sheffield indie band SHEAFS. How have they reacted to 18 months of turmoil? Now Then found out as we speak to guitarist Charles Mellor.

Can you describe the lockdown experience from the band’s perspective?

It’s been a very strange 18 months. We’re very relieved that we’re coming out the other side and things are happening again. When the pandemic hit, three of us (guitarists Chris and Charles, and vocalist Lawrence) were all living together, so that helped a lot. The start of the lockdown really opened our eyes and ears to listening to lots of older music we’d never listened to before, which in turn led to a lot of ideas.

So the enforced isolation got the creative juices flowing?

Yes, Chris started writing some initial instrumental ideas down, and then – with Lawrence – they started penning some lyrics. As we were furloughed it was great not to have the additional pressure of work. In fact it was the first time we’d been able to invest a substantial amount of time in writing new songs and refining our sound.

How did you share the demos with the other members of the band (Charlie on drums and bassist Callum)?

We spent time on Zoom calls and walks to see them. It was a really exciting time for us all in terms of song-writing, and the minute we all got together in the practice room we started thrashing out the songs and bringing them to life.

Did lockdown change your perception of yourselves either as individuals or as a band?

Yeah, it definitely made us think differently, plus it was the first time in ages that we’d had the opportunity to put the brakes on and reset. This had a huge impact on the band as we looked to refine our sound and really consider where we wanted to go both, musically and professionally.

How do you manage your relationship with your fan-base during isolation?

We'd just come off the back of releasing our debut EP and enjoyed the privilege of doing our own headline tour before everything shut down. So we had the EP out, which hopefully kept people listening to the band throughout lockdown.

We kept ourselves to ourselves really, and concentrated on writing. We thought about doing some live, ‘isolation’ sessions but we didn’t think it suited us as a band. So we patiently waited and made sure we had an arsenal of great songs to release when things started to open up again.

The lack of a post-Brexit arrangement between the UK government and the EU allowing artists to tour Europe freely has had widespread ramifications for European gigs and touring for UK artists. Has this impacted SHEAFS?

Touring Europe and branching out of the UK is a big thing for any band. We were lucky enough to support Greta Van Fleet in Germany and Holland a couple of years back, and it presented us to a completely new audience, gaining new fans and selling lots of merchandise. We've not looked into returning to Europe just yet, but it's really not fair that European touring for UK bands has been so overlooked by the government.

How about the UK? What touring plans are in the bag?

We'd been fortunate enough that our support tour with The Slow Readers Club had been in place from before lockdown – although it's been rescheduled four times – and it went great.

Playing live is probably the most fun aspect of being in a band, so it's been thoroughly missed by the five of us during the pandemic. We played some great venues such as The Deaf Institute in Manchester, Rock City in Nottingham and the Academies in Birmingham and Liverpool. It was a good way to get going and test the new material out. We now have a headline date at The Grace in London on 2 November.

As we stand gigs are back, albeit with Covid-based strings attached. Is it a case of getting ‘back in the saddle’?

Yeah, we're feeling good. We played at Tramlines in July and it felt good to be back on stage.

After a long hiatus of not playing or releasing music there's always going to be that worry that you've been forgotten about and that people have lost interest in you. We're incredibly proud of the songs we've written during lockdown and we were very fortunate to record these with Grammy award-winning producer Adrian Bushby (Foo Fighters, Muse).

Learn more

SHEAFS' latest single ‘Spectator’ was released on 13 August. The band are supporting The Slow Readers Club on their UK tour and headline their own show at The Grace in London on 2 November.

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