Nick Quantrill writes:
If you followed the local music scene in the 1990s, you wouldn’t have failed to notice Lithium Joe. Their potent mixture of punk, power pop and indie powered a string of singles, EPs and the “Upstairs At Park Street” album, before calling it a day after more than 300 gigs.
The end of the story? It turns out it’s not the case at all. Joe Solo, front man of the band on guitar and vocals, explains that a reunion had been a vague possibility for some time. “It had been mentioned on and off for ten years or more, but I’d been so busy with my own stuff that whenever I had a window, the others didn’t. Things changed at the turn of this year because I started recording an album of collaborations with other artists and thought it would be fun to have a Lithium Joe song on there. I asked the guys and we met up. Pretty soon after that we were forgetting all about recording and bouncing around rehearsal rooms like it was 1995 all over again. I had the idea we could play a handful of songs at my 50th birthday all-dayer over at The Station in Ashton-under-Lyne, Manchester. Before we knew it people were saying: ‘If you reform but don’t play Hull, that would be wrong’. At first we didn’t think enough people would be interested, but once the idea was out there it became clear we had a good night on our hands if we could pull it off. Thankfully The Adelphi would have us, and the rest is future history.”
If the band has a spiritual home, it’s definitely The Adelphi, the place they played their first gigs in 1992. “We did Musicians Nights a fortnight apart – January 6th and 20th. I remember both and could even tell you the set-list. That was as a three-piece and with the first line-up.” By 1994, the band had expanded to a four-piece and stabilised with the line-up which will play the forthcoming shows. “We got it back pretty quickly actually, way faster than I imagined. That is testament to Dave (guitar and vocals), Ian (bass) and Aidy (drums) who are incredible musicians and hold everything together while I go nuts in the middle. That’s pretty much the sound of the band. Three musicians and an idiot.”
The Adelphi was also the scene of the gig Joe picks out as one of the band’s highlights throughout the decade. “I think my favourite gig there was the release party for the ‘Smalltown EP’, mid-1996. We’d hired in these big spotlights and the place went mad. We were really on top of our game at that point with a strong set and about to tour Ireland after a bunch of UK dates. John Peel had played the last single and we were full of optimism, and that gig, even if we didn’t recognise it at the time, seemed to be our crescendo. We were a far better creative unit, and a far better recording band in 1999-2000, but we were a superior live band 1995-1997.”
Turning to rehearsals, Joe explains it has been a largely painless process, despite the time that has passed. “We tried a few that fell flat, but we agreed really quickly which ones would work and which wouldn’t. It felt pretty natural going back to them. It’s not like we were writing boy meets girl bullshit pop songs, we were asking questions of ourselves and each other and our role in the world.”
Pulling together a set-list has maybe required a little more thought, though. “We wanted it to span the whole decade. When you are together a long time, people dip in and out and are fans for shorter periods within that time frame. I was always very conscious of the fact that people are fickle. Everyone is. I am myself. Although we had ten years out on the road, there will be people who only want to hear 1992-1993 songs, or 1994-1996 songs, or 1999-2000 songs, so we wanted to make sure there was something for you no matter when you followed us. We worked really hard to always have something new out every year to try and keep the venues filled.” It’s still the ethos within the band. “We have new songs and we have studio time booked. The plan is to get an EP out next year and do a couple of gigs to launch that. It’s a vague plan, but it’s better than staying split up. Where’s the fun in that?”
For now, though, it’s all eyes on the forthcoming gigs. “We want to make damn sure the audience get as much as we can give them. I’m working hard on the fitness and the stamina, because I don’t do short measures, and definitely don’t want people to come to the gig and watch a lazy old man playing covers of his own songs. Over the years I’ve had countless messages from people saying how much Lithium Joe had meant to them in their youth, and I know people have memories and emotions invested in the songs we wrote, so we didn’t want to betray those memories. You will get a full-on gig like we’d never been away and it will be joyous.”
Lithium Joe play The Adelphi, Hull, 1st December.
Tickets are available via www.lithiumjoe.com (all proceeds to ‘Hull Help For Refugees’).