The city of Peterborough in the county of Cambridgeshire is not renowned as a hotbed of artistic creativity. Its most famous musical son is Andy Bell of 80s camp popsters Erasure. After that, there is a guitarist who once played with The Prodigy, early 90s one hit wonder Cola Boy, and one member of X Factor boy band JLS. In fact, so desperate is Peterborough for something to cling to, practically the entire school age population can be seen sporting JLS hoodies round town of a weekend, despite the fact that said member has since moved to London, unlikely ever to return.
Meanwhile, a band called The Candle Thieves have quietly slipped on to the scene, played a few local gigs, organised an unusual tour of the city’s gardens and living rooms, and got themselves an international recording contract, a gig at New York’s legendary Hammerstein Ballroom, and a showcase at industry launchpad South By Southwest festival in Texas.
So how did they buck Peterborough’s thus far miserable trend? Influenced by the likes of Eels and Sufjan Stevens, The Candle Thieves have hit upon a unique formula of combining downbeat, melancholy subject matter with upbeat, happy go lucky melodies. And while on record they sound like a full band, there is actually only two of them, playing everything from acoustic guitar and keyboard to glockenspiels, toy pianos, drums, percussion eggs and party blowers, adding in some playful vocal harmonies, and still finding time to give out chocolates, set off a bubble machine, and take their instruments into the crowd for a couple of unplugged audience participation numbers.
Gigwise grabbed a few words with band members Scott McEwan and ‘The Glock’ (presumably named for his glockenspiel prowess) before they flew out to Texas for SXSW…
Gigwise: To the outside world, your rise from first appearing on the local scene to playing in New York and at SXSW has seemed pretty rapid. Has it felt like that for you, or has there been a lot more going on behind the scenes?
Glock: Yeah it’s been a fun and interesting couple of years. We were both playing in bands for a long time before The Candle Thieves so we do forget sometimes how far we've come in a short time. We had faith in what we were doing but only dreamed that it would take us to New York and Texas. We're very grateful for the opportunity and we're going to rock it as hard as we possibly can... with glockenspiels and a toy piano and a shakey egg.
Scott: It’s weird coz I think we’re doing what we’ve always done but we just have a bit of help with it now. We still have to very much prove ourselves and we’re beyond grateful for some of the chances we’ve had. Things like SXSW are amazing because first and foremost I’m a music fan so I can’t wait to see some of the other bands.
Gigwise: Your myspace page tells us that you’re influenced by the likes of Eels, Sufjan Stevens and The Lucksmiths. Do you think your home town and surroundings had any influence on your songwriting?
Glock: We've never lived anywhere else really so it's sort of hard to tell. We're influenced most by what happens in our lives. I know, for me, that coming from a small town you can sometimes forget that there's a whole world outside of it. Perhaps that feeling of enclosure has had some sort of effect on me lyrically. I should leave that one to my psychiatrist really!
Gigwise: In your live shows, two musicians in an ‘acoustic’ set up has worked well in the smaller venues. Do you think you’ll need additional musicians now you’re playing the larger stages?
Glock: So far it's worked really well as a two-piece. We try to multi-task so there's always other stuff going on. We do try to do things differently. It'd sort of be an obvious move to just get a drummer and bass player but it'd be cool to try the band with string players or a brass band, or even a comedian!
Scott: Yeah I’d definitely never say never. One thing I really like is that we’ve never planned too far ahead with live ideas, a lot of them are very spur of the moment.
Gigwise: You did a garden tour last year and a living room tour this year, which is pretty unique. What do you think you got out of these tours, and do you think you’ll do any more?
Glock: I think we got a lot more out of those gigs than we ever expected. We're lucky to have some really lovely fans. In a changing industry I think bands have to adapt to what's happening. We're always up for new ideas. We played an ice cream parlour last year and got paid in ice cream, and we're playing someone's boat in a few weeks. It might sound ridiculous but... yeah it is a bit ridiculous isn't it? We feel we've exhausted the living room shows for now but we love being on the road so there'll always be something, somewhere to see.
Gigwise: BBC 6music was among the first national stations to play you. Any thoughts about the recent announcement to close it, and the campaign to prevent its closure?
Glock: I find it very sad to hear about 6music. I guess it's sort of a sign of the times. For bands like us trying to emerge it was a really important platform and I'm not too sure what it's going to mean for future acts trying to be heard should it close. We've signed the petition and are hoping for the best.
Scott: I think the reaction since the announcement has been amazing, so many people have come forward and voiced how much they love 6music which shows how many people want to hear new music. Tom Robinson in particular has really helped us and many other new bands out with his BBC Introducing show. As Glock said we’re hoping for the best.