The lead singer is a market trader and actor with credits including Coronation Street and Brassed Off, and his songwriting collaborator is an eccentric strolling poet who lives in a grotty high-rise.
Add a group of talented Lancashire and Yorkshire musicians into the mix, and you have a unique band that’s attracting a cult following with their CD, downloads and radio airplays, not to mention interest from the BBC for possible TV appearances.
They’re called Sentimentalists, but the songs from this northern band are anything but sentimental in the slushy or mawkish meaning of the word.
Poverty, drugs, unemployment, depression and self-loathing – set against an obviously northern background – abound on the King Joe CD by Sentimentalists (there’s no The prefix), recorded and produced in a studio at a converted coach house at Colne.
“The band aren’t wilfully northern, they just turn out to be northern with their observations,” says Adrian ‘Mel’ Melling, head of Planet Records and executive producer of the CD.
“Some southern reviewers didn’t get what the band is about.”
Sentimentalists are centred on charismatic singer/guitarist Phil Fowler, 51.
Phil’s acting background adds a sharp theatrical edge to his darkly humorous words and songs, delivered with distinctive vowel sounds.
He says: “Our biggest influence is living in the north of England, trying to conform but always being on the outside; not quite accepted; not entitled.
“Musically we’re influenced by anyone who can, in a pretty way, convey sadness and gentle defiance through music.”
On stage wearing a suit and tie, with his neat haircut, he looks anything but subversive – which makes him all the more subversive.
In an undisguised swipe at David Cameron and Boris Johnson, one of Sentimentalists’ lyrics declares: “Having my pockets picked by millionaires, I wonder are those Bullington b******s still awake, scheming of how much I don’t have they can take.”
Phil used to work with enigmatic writer Joe Sibmaud in a band they called The Bland Brothers. Joe doesn’t work with Sentimentalists in person, but posts lyrics to them from his Leeds flat… that is, when he’s not going walkabout for days on end in search of another pub poetry reading.
Other core members of the band are northern in outlook, even if they weren’t born here.
Keyboard man Daniel Bath was born in Nottingham and grew up in Withington, Manchester, listening to his dad’s Motown and Beatles records, and got into Eastern music when he was at university.
Bass guitarist Tony Simms is from Bristol via Cheltenham but now lives in that hotbed of northern alternative culture, Hebden Bridge.
Drummer John Shepard is from Leeds and has played all styles of music from punk to funk, including tours with Yorkshire folk band Magna Carta.
Guitarist Matt Pawson, from Foulridge, Colne, has been a professional session musician for nearly 20 years and lists his musical influences as everything from Mahler to Joni Mitchell.
Additional musicians and singers, including the Ariana String Quartet, took the total number of performers on the album to 16.
The band recorded their material at Hilltown Studios in a former coach house at Lidgett, Colne. The studio is run by Mel’s son Kieron Melling, who plays drums with legendary Manchester band The Fall, and Mat Pawson, who formerly worked at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Stuido at Bath and has recorded top artists such as Van Morrison, Tom Jones, Jay Z and Kanye West.
The album King Joe has started to get Sentimentalists noticed, with plays on Radio Two and the cult BBC Radio Three show The Shed. The BBC has told the band they are being considered for spots on The Andrew Marr Show and Later With Jools Holland.
They already have another album in the pipeline, titled Ledston Luck after the closed down Castleford colliery, due out this summer.
The album King Joe on Planet Records is available on CD via Universal or as a download from iTunes and Amazon. See www.sentimentalists.co.uk