Connor James

COVID lockdown proved to be a drag for many artists, putting barriers in the way of so much of the normal day to day. It’s impressive then to manage to form a band during the acute throws of the pandemic as Connor James and Jack Gray did. Jack working as a taxi driver picking up a fellow musical enthusiast in the shape of Connor and the two of them going on to recruit Will and Jay and form the group Dock City one of the newest additions to the Liverpool Indie music scene.

Despite all being expert Zoom users since the pandemic we still had some technical issues to get through before I joined Connor ahead of the band’s gig at Phase One in Liverpool. As he warns me “I’ve picked three here that are Liverpool specific, spreading outwards there’s so much other bands, I’ll listen to stuff going all the way back to the 50s, swing from then. I’d have taken ages to pick stuff though.” We do let him sneak a fourth in though.

The Beatles – Dig a pony

The Beatles are an eye rollingly easy option you would guess but maybe Dig a Pony isn’t what springs to mind as one that leaps from the many songs they’ve recorded. As Connor puts it himself “When you see he’s said ‘The Beatles’ it’s like ‘oh yeah, of course’ but Dig a Pony is one that I’ve really loved. It gave me a different appreciation from the more cliché songs you know by The Beatles. I was turned onto this by my guitar teacher. I’d never heard a riff like this before but it was great for learning to play, it’s a great exercise. It’s got a great bouncy intro, that dexterity getting the blues style guitar, that helped me as a guitarist to develop. I can jam this with my eyes shut, guitar behind my head, balancing on a beach ball.”

“My dad and I used to listen to The Beatles round the house, it’s just a typical in Liverpool thing when the weather comes out so do The Beatles. I grew up listening to all the classics but I didn’t delve into the trippy period, stuff like “Love is a warm gun”. Where they delved into different time signatures, slide work, where you could see they were getting more intricate. Playing, not cliché, but less pop style songs, less classic rock ‘n’ roll. I didn’t even know that side of The Beatles was there until my guitar teacher showed me it. I know this was them as well, that they had this reach.”

“I use it as a warm up a lot before going on stage for instance, sound checking and the like, I’ll just go over that riff. Until I listened to things like say, Hendrix it was something I wasn’t switched on to, it led me on a path of all kind of different music. I owe a lot to my high school guitar teacher for switching me onto that. I had Mr Partinson, we just called him Colin, he was an awesome dude, him and my piano teacher taught me so much when I was at school. That was Alsop in Liverpool, I got there just in time, they added the MAD block – Music, Arts and drama, This new part of the school all dedicated to stuff I love – 100% perfect timing.”

The Wombats – Moving to New York

“So much of our inspiration comes from all over the place, bands like The Wombats we talk about with the lads a lot, an alternative indie band is what I’d describe them. Our drummer is a huge Wombats fan and songs like “Moving to New York” have the beats that drive through them, that show off bass work and drum work together as a driving pattern. It’s something we take away from a band like that.”

Dig a pony inspired me as a guitarist but The Wombats are more of a direct inspiration on our sound as a band. The songs where verses drop out the guitars and let the bass and drums drive it, it’s such a Wombat thing to do. But we admire their trajectory as well, to come from the small scale and get to where they got is a big step Their style at the time was pretty unique for the scene.”

“I’ve been listening to The Wombats for a long time. They were practicing at one point at, I think, Vulcan studios and it’s on the wall ‘The Wombats‘ name. I used to practice there with a previous band and it was like “no way” this is the room they used. I was a fan from early on anyway, they blew up in Liverpool before anywhere else, they were huge. I remember that period when they were just huge here – which they still are now, people turn out in Liverpool when they come and play. They still lose their minds over it, The Wombats are playing so everyone comes out to see them, it’s great”

“They always make me think of The Kooks as well, the two bands tie together in my head for some reason, I’ve listened to them both a lot, they’re still doing good music. The new Kooks album is incredible. So it’s bands like the Wombats who’ve led me on to the bands like Razorlight and Kings of Leon. I wasn’t big into the music scene when i was younger but they led me on to listening to bands like that. The single we’ve got out, Mirrors, it’s feels like it’s band like that that have inspired us to songs like it. There’s a Smiths feel to the single as well. We supported Niall Marr (Johnny Marr’s son) which was pretty cool, it’s great to make connections like that and tie in with music you love. If I was to sneak another song in then there’s a Kooks one I’ve been listening to recently – “Cold heart”, it’s from a newer album but it’s just a fantastic song, great breakdown. They bring it down to a point where it seems a completely different sounding song with a fantastic transition.”

“I listen to music and look for those breakdowns, how it’s put together. For me the contrast of how you put a song together is great, just use three chords and change the dynamics. What makes it the song it can be? What makes it so good? I’m listening and taking that in.”

The Night Café – You change with the seasons

“Not many people will be aware of the Night Café, they’re a Liverpool band. Kind of hard to describe, really spacey, chorus-y, beautific [sic]. We try to get that in our chorus’ so you can have a bit of a kick in the verse then bring it down in the chorus rather than bring it up. They’re a band we notice doing that, and they’re our lead singer Jack’s favourite band.”

“We’re covering “You change with the seasons” in our set, that’s how much our lead singer loves it. It goes down really well, I’ll busk in Liverpool and sing it and you’d be surprised how many people sing it. They’re such a cult band in Liverpool. It seems odd the love our lead singer has as they’re not large scale but they’re a gem that hasn’t broken out of the area as much as they deserve. I’ve seen them appear on plenty of festivals and stuff so they do get some recognition.”

“But it’s not about being the biggest band in the world, that’s a dream you maybe have as a musician when you’re younger, but as you get older you just want to play the music and if that can make you enough to get by then great. At the moment the Liverpool music scene seems it can be up and down but the bands coming out still exist, there’s great bands coming out of there.”

“For Dock City There’s a small tour, we’re recording, we’re enjoying the music and anything we’re ploughing everything back into the music. It’s a little about getting organised and deciding what to do, but creating more music for people is right up there of course as our priority. It’s weird but EPs seem to be less of a thing now, without hard copies as a thing they’ve died off a bit. So for us we plan to go single by single and then straight into an album. We’ve done a few sessions at Allo studios in Widnes and what’s been done is a great job so far, we knew “Mirrors” was the one we wanted to put out but we’re putting down some great earworm tracks and hope to release them as well soon.”

Interview by : Dave Sparks | First published 8th May 2023.

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