“You know they have that thing like ‘when JFK got shot, where were you’,” says Reverend & The Makers’ frontman Jon McClure. “I’ll always remember I was walking a fucking camel down John Street in Sheffield when the Queen died.”
There are some answers you never expect to hear in an interview. This was one of them.
McClure was posing for the cover of the band’s seventh album, Heatwave In The Cold North, at the time. “This is what she would have wanted. Me fucking about with this camel in the middle of the road.”
Over the past few years, the band has been working with new collaborators, influences and techniques to create their most modern, soulful record yet. One musician who has played a pivotal part in the writing of the seventh LP is Danny La Frombe, whom McClure met while working on various projects when COVID restrictions halted his income from live music.
The two guys quickly bonded over their similar working-class backgrounds and a shared love of Sheffield Wednesday. “You know when you just hit it off with people straightaway?” says McClure. “I were like, ‘this guy is class’.”
Describing the pair’s creative approach to songwriting, McClure says: “I don’t know what it is about me and him as a combination, but it just bangs. He’d get a melody and I’d have to fit my words into the melody without changing even a syllable. I’ve got to fit it like a jigsaw puzzle.”
When I spoke to 41-year-old McClure, he was sitting in La Frombe’s home studio in Wales. Despite the fact that his aim that day was to promote Heatwave In The Cold North, the eighth Reverend & The Makers album was on his mind.
“That’s why I’m here now, because apart from fact I love hanging out with him, it’s a thing we’ve not exhausted. It’s like, say you’ve been facing this way all your life, and then suddenly you’re like, ‘oh shit, there’s all this other stuff behind me’. There’s a whole other world of musical possibilities that’s opened up now, and it’s dead exciting.”
In addition to trying new techniques, Reverend & The Makers have taken inspiration from modern artists, such as Frank Ocean, Future, and Drake, as well as musicians like Isaac Hayes and Barry White.
Listening to the album, these influences are like a breath of fresh air and can be heard throughout, particularly on Heatwave In The Cold North, on which we hear McClure’s most sultry, soulful vocal performance to date.
Despite the title track’s sophisticated sound, McClure concedes that the song came together as a result of him and La Frombe “acting daft”. One minute they were messing about with the line ‘there’s a heatwave in the cold north’, saying it in their best radio DJ voices. Next thing they know, it’s BBC Radio 2’s record of the week.
“Somebody told me The Beatles used to do it. They’d have daft lyrics like ‘Paul is a knobhead’, and that’d end up being like ‘I want to hold your hand’ or sommat”, the frontman said. “That’s why I got in a band, right? It’s just nice to fuck about and have a laugh.”
Like most people, McClure has taken to TikTok over the last few years. He’s used the platform to document his trip to Sheffield’s twin town Kitwe in Zambia and promote the band’s upcoming releases. In one video about the latest single Problems, McClure claimed it was the greatest song on the album. I asked him why and got the best response.
“I’ve got problems, like everybody else got problems…,” sang McClure in a pitch perfect rendition of the catchy chorus. You better believe I was bopping along to it in front of the webcam. He then explained that the band played it at two festivals last year, and both times the crowds were singing along by the second chorus. “I’ve been doing this 20 year right, so I know when I play a tune.”
Since then, the band has received a flood of messages asking when Problems will be released. “That’s what you fucking want. Before it’s even come out people feel like they know it.”
Some 15 years after the release of their successful debut album The State of Things, McClure believes he is “getting better with songwriting”.
“There aren’t many bands from my era that can say that. Even if they’re massive, are they getting better than they used to be? Probably not. Things are fucking going reyt well. This is what’s supposed to happen to you when you’re 21, not when you’re 41.”
Talking about the LP as a whole, McClure says: “I’m so fucking proud of it. It’s the first time I’ve ever done an album where I listen back to it and play it. A lot of pop songs, they sound great, and the melodies are great, but the lyrics are shit. And a lot of leftfield indie music, the lyrics are great, but the tune is shit. This is both. They’re ear worms but they’re about sommat. They’re tasty but they’re nutritious.”
Nevertheless, the humble Rev is convinced that he’s never written the ultimate song. As someone who lists Heavyweight Champion of the World as one of their all-time favourite tunes, I find this difficult to believe. But at least it means we’ll never be short of new music from McClure as he continues on this mission.
“I’m addicted to the idea that one day I’ll write a perfect song. And I never will. But the idea that it’s just beyond reach. Oh, I’d fucking love to do it. I wonder if anybody’s ever done it.”
Recalling an interview he’d watched with Motown legend Lamont Dozier, McClure reflects: “Even he’s like ‘it’s great, but I always think I can do a better one’. And it’s that, you know. I’m a lifer.”
Heatwave In The Cold North will be released on April 28, 2023. To pre-order, click here.
To buy tickets for Reverend And The Makers’ 2023 tour, click here.