‘Mike Targett Sings Jake Thackray’ is a five song tribute EP from one cult artist to another.

Leeds-born singer-songwriter Jake Thackray released four albums in the late 1960s and 1970s. With his strong Yorkshire accent and the often bawdy subject matter of his songs, he, however, was a defined taste. Although his albums sold respectably at the time of their release, Thackray had by the 1980s and 1990s drifted into obscurity, eking out a small living on the cabaret circuit. Jarvis Cocker, Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys and Morrissey in recent years have all described him as an influence. Despite the release of ‘Jake in a Box’, an EMI box set in 2006 which compiled together all of his studio work, Thackray, however, remains an artist that few people have heard of and even fewer have heard. He died, alcoholic and in penury, in 2002 in Monmouth in Wales, largely forgotten by the musical establishment.

Mike Targett is the singer and guitarist with the London-formed band Heist, who released two albums at the turn-of-the century, ‘Friday Night at the Trabi Races’ (2000) and ‘A Shopkeeper Will Not Appear’(2004). Both albums, which came out on Targett’s own Super 8 Recordings, combined catchy pop sounds with strong 60’s film influences, and were largely recorded in Targett’s small London flat. The group had some success in Europe and the UK, and toured to critical acclaim, but in 2005 Targett and his wife, Heist trumpet-player and vocalist Allison Thomson, left London and moved to live on a farm in France.

‘‘Mike Targett Sings Jake Thackray’, which came out in December, is Targett’s first release in eight years.

In contrast to both Thackray’s own versions of his songs which involved Roger Webb and his orchestra, and the brass and strings-soaked two Heist albums, Targett’s collection of covers, however, is a stripped-down affair, featuring just himself on guitar, keyboards and accordion and vocals, Thomson on trumpet and two local musicians.

With a new as-yet-untitled Heist album also due out later this year, Pennyblackmusic spoke to Mike Targett about the new EP and his relocation to France.


PB: In the eight years since Heist last released a record you have moved from London and now live on a remote farm in the south of France where you raise chickens. Why did you decide to relocate over there?

MT: I used to spend much of my time looking for indie distribution deals for Heist and the other Super 8 Recordings acts abroad, the plan being to grow CD sales from thousands to tens of thousands and have some money to support ourselves. By 2005 it became clear that things were only going in one direction -- people consuming music digitally for free, and that our plan had been overtaken by events.

We had the opportunity of effectively swapping our tiny south-London flat for a run-down farm in southwest France with a bunch of buildings to turn into a studio, rehearsal/workshop space, venue and accomodation (barns to convert, basically). And some land to grow food. So we took a chance.

PB: Jake Thackray has been an influence on his fellow Northerners Alex Turner, Jarvis Cocker and Morrissey. When did you first discover him?

MT: I am not sure where I first heard him, but I took an interest about six years ago when EMI reissued everything on CD ('Jake in a Box'). It's great to hear those big lush arrangements ('La Di Dah', 'Black Swann' etc) properly, and friends who came out here to visit were always intrigued when I played it to them.

I was actually struck by two reactions: A. They're great, funny songs which people had never heard before B. a lot of people were initially put off by his voice -- an acquired taste shall we say.

PB: Your own influences have come largely from the 1960s. 'Friday Night at the Trabi Races' and 'A Shopkeeper will Not appear' took their influences from spy films of that era; Jacques Brel; the French film composer Michel Le Grand; the Catherine Denueve musical, 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg' and John Barry. The majority of these influences are French. What was the appeal to you of someone as quintessentially English as Jake Thackray?

MT: The same reason I get dewy-eyed when I think of walking down the Kennington Road for the first morning of the Oval test match -- my quintessential Englishness. To be fair I've always been aware of that sentimentality about England within myself (listen to 'When the Tea-Break was King' from ‘A Shopkeeper Will Not Appear’, for example!) but when you live 'in exile', as it were, the English grass can seem greener from afar than it does close-up.

PB: Three of the songs you have chosen for the EP-'Lah Di Dah', 'Scallywag' and the title track-come from Jake's debut album, 'The Last Will and Testament of Jake Thackray' and just one-'Country Girl' - from his second album, 'Jake's Progress'. Why did you decide to focus more on the earlier part of his career rather than the latter part and why have you missed out recording anything from 'Bantam Cock', Jake's third and last album?

Actually there is a fourth album, 'On Again, On Again' which has a couple of his best songs - 'Rain on the Mountainside' and 'I Stayed off Work Today', both of which I'd love to record.

But it's true the first album is probably the strongest in terms of material - obviously he had a lot saved-up by the time EMI finally put him in the studio. Having said that 'Country Girl' off the second album is a moment of great lyrical sensuality and one of my favourites – it reminds me of Dylan Thomas.

People say that Jake's songs are misogynist at times but he clearly adored women and was able to sing about female sexuality without innuendo or blokeishness. I like that. Though I didn't take any songs from it, 'Bantam Cock' is one of my favourite album covers which we've reproduced on the inner sleeve of my CD using a photo of our own cockerel, who is equally photogenic.

PB: The majority of the songs on the EP were recorded originally by Jake with Roger Webb and his orchestra. You have, however, gone for more minimum instrumentation. Heist are no strangers to orchestration. Why did you decide to go for a more stripped down sound with these songs?

MT: Well, I didn't want to spend three years on it! And I wanted to use local people here to play on it. So most of the string arrangements are just played by me on the classical guitar or accordion, and I brought in Yannick Demeure and Fabien Jouan who live in neighbouring villages to do some flute and cello respectively. And of course Allison plays trumpet and does some backing vocals. A small affair, but even then it took more than six months to finish.

PB: Tra La La', the fifth and final track on the EP, is a version of 'Lah Di Dah' sung in French. Who translated it into French? Was it you or someone else? Why did you decide to record it in French? Was it because you wanted to accredit your new roots?

MT: It's Jake Thackray's own translation - he was a fluent French speaker and lived out here for a few years himself. I chose the French version partly because it's even funnier and ruder than the English one (Well, I think so). And it's good to have something to play to people here in their own language. I am not sure if they really get the humour though.

PB: A third Heist album is due out later this year. Who else does it involve? What direction do you see it taking?

MT: The core members who have continued to play and write sporadically are me, Allison Thomson on vocals and trumpet and Tony Oudot on drums. We briefly tried a line-up with me on bass, no guitar but two piano/accordion players which worked brilliantly but we couldn't keep that together long enough to do a record. But now we have Tricia Reid (bass) back after a long absence so she'll take over bass and I'll do something else live, although I am not sure what.

I have been writing mainly at the piano. It'll be a slightly darker album I think - in the eight years since the last record our lives have been touched by both a fair bit of joy and a fair bit of darkness. I suppose like many people in their early forties I'm just trying to process it all and work out who the hell I am again.

Musically I intend that it will be more rhythmically powerful and have less complicated intrumentation - still recognisably Heist-like though. My enthusiasm for machines and programming sequencers has waned somewhat, I have to say.

PB: You toured Europe and the UK with Heist to critical acclaim in the first part if the last decade and played a Pennyblackmusic Bands' Night in early 2004. Will you be touring this time?

MT: We'll have to see. The Heist 'travelling circus' with babies et al. in tow was a rather expensive proposition to take around - but we'll certainly be doing some live shows. Amongst other things we're planning to put on a festival here at our place in France which would allow us to do a gig, watch other bands we like then go home to bed (!). But yes, there will certainly be gigs – that is what we've missed more than anything.

PB: Thank you.







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