Mark Millar talks to Jonny Brown about the return of Twisted Wheel.
Twisted Wheel is back and as always, it’s with a bang! Born in the backwaters of Saddleworth in 2007, the young band, fronted by the feral, precocious Jonny Brown, roared into the race of Indie Punk with such anthems as ‘You Stole The Sun’, ‘She’s a Weapon’ and ‘Lucy The Castle’. Their irrepressible energy and ability to deliver inspired Rock’n’Roll gained them support slots with Oasis, Kasabian, Paul Weller, The Courteeners, Happy Mondays and Ian Brown to name but a few, as well as sell-outs on their first UK and European tours.
Constant touring across the UK, Europe and Japan led to a solid fanbase despite the dramatic trajectory of its frontman, Jonny Brown – or maybe because of it. Twisted Wheel has indeed rocked and rolled, been smashed up, fallen off the wagon, gone solo, kicked to the kerb – before finding its groove and getting back on it, full speed ahead. ‘Snakes and Ladders’ is about the band blowing the ladders of opportunity they were given – and the snakes which led to them falling off the board. It’s a tour about getting back in the game, finding opportunity again and avoiding those slithery serpents. Twisted Wheel are back like a man from the dead and with tunes to make up for time lost.
What was the first record that turned you on to music?
I got into music seriously when I was about ten when I got into Led Zeppelin 4, and I had the Beatles Blue compilation album which inspired me to try and write songs, but Led Zeppelin 4 switched me on to guitars and rock n roll. I had a Led Zeppelin video as well, and I used to watch Jimmy Page and try and mimic him.
When did Twisted Wheel get together?
Not long after getting into Led Zeppelin I heard about Oasis when (Whats the Story) Morning Glory came out and straight away I was following them on TV and went to a few gigs. They inspired me to start a band so all through school I wanted to get a band together. I tried various times with people but could never get a full lineup sorted. I left school in 2002, and I went on to do a music course at college, and I met a load of lads who were in their second year who all wore cool clothes and were into their music and played instruments. They were the kind of guys I had been looking for. One of them asked me “do you want to join a band?” I said; "yeah, too right." We called ourselves the Children.
We did all right around Manchester, but as time went on, we started having disputes. I had started playing the guitar at this point and brought in Rick Lees who was on bass. Arguments kept happening, and me and Rick decided to leave it to one side and started doing a few open mic nights with an acoustic guitar and a bass. In the meantime, I was playing with a drummer called Adam Clarke jamming with him. One night in the bedroom where we used to practice, I decided to put the two together, and it just seemed to come alive as a three-piece. We had songs like She's a Weapon, Strife and You Stole the Sun came soon after. Id always wanted to be in a band since I was a kid and everything fell into place when Twisted Wheel started. In less than a year we had about six record deals offered to us. So that's how it started.
What is your songwriting process and does songwriting come easily to you?
I don't have a process, but I usually write lyrics freestyle as if I’m writing a poem and then I'll play the guitar separately and get some chord progressions together. It can come from learning someone else's song, and then I'll convert it into my own thing, or sometimes it's wholly original and I'll make something up on the spot, and it will come together. A new song that could be the first song to drop out in April called Jonny Guitar was written quickly I picked the guitar up and wrote it in more or less one go. It came from nowhere.
Are you proud of the two Twisted Wheel albums - Twisted Wheel and Do it Again?
I'm proud of them, especially the first album but there are things I'm not proud of on the second album although I'm more proud of it now than I have ever been. The reason is the tickets for the shows are selling so well now, and it shows there is still a fan base and there has been a lot of people who have not seen us before since we split up means they got into the band from listening to those albums and they mean a lot to people. That makes me feel proud. At the time of recording the albums, I didn't think that much of them I wanted to do better, but obviously, stuff got in the way. On the second album, I was absolutely out of it we all were, and I think we could have played a lot better and picked songs in a different order and we should have recorded somewhere else with a better producer. I would like to change a few things. On the first album, I did all the vocal takes in one day and I think its a bit rushed. I guess I could have sung the songs better on a few of the tracks. But the thing is you cant change stuff, and at the end of the day, I'm proud that the songs still mean something to people.
Looking back at Twisted Wheel first time around what are your highlights?
My main one was when Paul Weller asked me to play That's Entertainment with him on stage at Silverstone racetrack. To get on stage with Paul Weller to play one of his best songs and be asked by him personally was definitely a monumental moment in my life. I've probably never been so nervous. I was absolutely shitting myself. (Laughs) Also touring with the View was definitely rock n roll – it got a bit messy. I can't say any of us played well on the whole tour, but we had a good time. Supporting Oasis was tremendous and getting recognition from Liam Gallagher was amazing. Liam dedicated Cigarettes and Alchohol to me at after we supported them at Wembley Arena. He said; "this is for Jonny Brown he's a breath of fresh air.” That made my day.
Unfortunately, the band broke up on 13 July 2014, this was announced to fans via the band's Twitter account, with the tweet merely stating 'R.I.P. Twisted Wheel.'
Funny enough it wasn't me who wrote that. I fell out with a member of the band and sacked him because he wanted to get too involved with stuff he didn't need to get involved with. The phone call ended quite abruptly, and I went out to the pub and had a few drinks. When I woke up in the morning, I went on Facebook and Twitter, and it had been announced 'R.I.P. Twisted Wheel.' But it wasn't me who wrote it it was him. I wasn't going to end the band, but after it was done, I thought it was a sign, and it would be best to call it a day. To be honest, I'm glad it ended when it did because I wasn't in the best of places and if we had made an album I probably been more disappointed with it than I was with the second album, to be honest. Now I'm sure that this next album we are recording will be the best one ever that Twisted Wheel has done. Definitely.
After the split, you embarked on a solo acoustic tour. How did it feel being out on your own and how did the shows go down?
They went down well. I feel privileged that there was still rooms’ fool of people singing the songs and crowd surfing to an acoustic set. It’s a great feeling that I can entertain a room of people on my own with an acoustic set. I've been in some dark places so some of the shows were good and some were bad. At the time I wanted to go solo and record a solo album in the style of Donovan and Bob Dylan. That was my plan but as things go with me and the band you never know what's going to happen next and everything changed. I went into the studio and recorded some acoustic songs with my mate. Although I'm not going to put those songs out recording them got the ball rolling and got my head back in gear and got me focussed where I wanted to go as a songwriter and what I can do with my voice.
Did writing those songs inspire you to get Twisted Wheel back together?
Yeah, I did the acoustic stuff and then started another band. We got a practice room together and started writing new songs we were going to be called a different name altogether it was going to be a whole new project. We thought of a few names, but that fizzled out, and I did a few more acoustic gigs and jammed with a few different musicians just messing about. I was looking at the current music scene and realised there are some excellent bands about and some very overhyped bands around. When Twisted Wheel came out, guitar bands weren't the thing, but now I think the kids are hungry for proper rock n roll music I thought "Twisted Wheel need to come back." So I called the guys I had been jamming with and said: "We need to start Twisted Wheel back up." We had a few practices, and I had a solo gig booked in Manchester in December. I thought I would bring the new band on at the end, so I played for forty-five minutes or so on my own, and then I walked off stage and returned with the rest of the group as the new Twisted Wheel.
The whole music industry has changed a lot since the band last released a record. How does it feel being a band in the current music Climate?
A while back I was quite a bit annoyed with streaming services like Spotify and iTunes now I use Spotify myself and barely touch my vinyl anymore. I can't control the way the music scene is going all I can do is adapt and fit into it. I think the idea that people can access our music easily now is a good thing.
Liam Gallagher is a friend of yours who has had a brilliant come back album and tour. Has he given you any advice?
Without saying too much, I have been in touch with him, and he might be helping me out on something. He's definitely behind the band coming back. He has said to me to keep the name Twisted Wheel and don't change it and have a good go at it.
Twisted Wheel is performing live on the ‘Snakes and Ladders' tour in April. What can fans expect from the upcoming shows?
They can expect a dangerous electric atmosphere with the old songs played with more passion and more ferocious than ever. There will be a few new songs dropped in to mix it up. It will be energetic, and we are back with a bang we mean it, man. I've got something to prove, and I'm going to prove it to everyone.
What’s the new stuff sound like?
It’s not entirely different. There are some transition songs there from the general style I've done in the past to the new side of things. The new stuff is a bit more eighties inspired with a bit of the Cure in there with some Joy Division and New Order with a bit of a dance element and groove. It also has a classic feel about it similar to the Chain by Fleetwood Mac. We have brought the guitar solo back because no bands are doing proper guitar solos nowadays. We have a few of them I play a few, and the new guitarist plays a couple of them. I've been blown away when we have played the songs back. People are going to learn those solos.
Do you have a record that you always return to?
I have many that I go back to but there is a recent album that I listen to nearly every day then I'll have a month or two off it. Its called Honeymoon by Lana Del Ray. I cant describe to you what it is about that album, but it just seems to grip me from beginning to end. I love the lyrics, I love the sound and the atmosphere of it – I'm addicted to that album.
What have you been listening to recently that you could recommend?
I’d say have a listen to Cabbage who are two members out of one of my lineups – Stephen Evans and Eoghan Clifford who were on the second Twisted Wheel album. They are now in Cabbage. I would recommend them. They are a great live band, and they have a bit of attitude. I also like a group called the Blinders who are from Yorkshire, but I think they are based in Manchester.
TWISTED WHEEL – SNAKES AND LADDERS TOUR
20TH APRIL 2018 – WHITEHAVEN –THE YELLOW EARL
26TH APRIL 2018 – LEEDS – LENDING ROOMS
27th APRIL 2018 – PRESTON-THE FERRET
28TH APRIL 2018 –SCUNTHORPE – CAFÉ INDIEPENDENT
4TH MAY 2018 – GLASGOW – RECORD FACTORY
5TH MAY 2018– DUNFERMLINE – P J MOLLOYS
9th MAY 2018- EXETER- THE CAVERN
10th May 2018 –BRISTOL –DEPARTMENT -THE LANES
11TH MAY 2018 – LONDON – DINGWALLS
12TH MAY 2018 – CORBY-WHITE HART *
18TH MAY 2018 – SHEFFIELD-CAFÉ TOTEM
19TH MAY 2018 – YORK-FIBBERS
25TH MAY 2018 – CLEETHORPES – MOON ON THE WATER
26TH MAY 2018 – BISHOPS STORTFORD –THE HALF MOON
31st May 2018 – NOTTINGHAM- ROCK CITY
1ST JUNE 2018 – MANCHESTER –BAND ON THE WALL
2ND JUNE 2018 – LEICESTER –THE SOUNDHOUSE
7th JUNE 2018 – NEWCASTLE – JUMPIN JACKS
8TH JUNE 2018 –HULL –THE ADELPHI
9th JUNE 2018 – STOKE ON TRENT –THE UNDERGROUND
15th JUNE –BLACKPOOL –BOOTLEG SOCIAL
16th JUNE – DERBY- THE HAIRY DOG
22nd JUNE 2018- BARNSLEY THE GARRISON
27TH JUNE 2018 – LIVERPOOL – TBC
29th JUNE 2018 –SOUTHAMPTON-HEARTBREAKERS
30th JUNE 2018 – BLACKBURN – THE CELLAR BAR