“Hope is not dead, it is just larger than our imaginations; its purpose extending far beyond our comprehension” ~ Kathy Hobaugh
It was back in the summer of 2014 I went round to the recording studio and watched Semper Spero, in their embryonic stages, play a jam for us in the cosy refines of a backroom. I interviewed them afterwards on a rubbish tip up a back alley, pissed and stoned, and that splice of madness can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHlBUQE6oio
We were impressed by the boys’ performance that day, Jay, Uriah and I, and we had high hopes for them (which is appropriate because the name means ‘always hope’). Then, they went into their dark and brooding basement, to stir the cauldron of their songs, and were not really seen from again, but were heard to be practicing, and getting tighter, as echoes sometimes, on a still night up any one of Glasgow’s nefarious back alley hangouts…
Flash forward two years and I’m dragging myself out of an E-induced coma and battling a comedown by eating prodigious amounts of chicken wings in a Wetherspoon’s… In order to straighten up and be able to hold down my liquor enough in time for what my diary informs me is a press pass to cover Semper Spero at King Tut’s… Wait? Semper Spero are playing a gig? Wait? At King Tut’s!? Headlining!? And I have a diary!?!?
Indeed, they are back, and with aplomb! I manage to pull myself together in just enough time to make it to Tut’s (early!) and catch the boys milling around outside with nervous anticipation and gleeful alacrity, except for Will of course, who is imbibed in that catatonic state like that of a tribesman waiting for bison by a watering hole for days. And at this point, as I drag the boys down the street for a smoke, I should probably introduce the band…
Frontman (although this band is really a band of three frontmen, kind of like a supergroup if you will) Chris Chapman, I know the least of the three members, so I can tell you only what I have seen of him, in brief glimpses, through his music, which is that he cuts a fine figure of a musician, putting me in mind, with his stance, somewhat of a mix between Mick Jones and Paul Simonon. He is the frontman and guitarist of the band, providing both in adequate measures, and he has to, to keep up with a drum and bass combo like Will and Pete, but he does, and seemingly effortlessly. His soaring vocals are what carries the main soundscape of the band’s euphonious, cordial, layout.
Peter Blackstock I have known since primary 4 or something, and then again through the notorious drug-fuelled parties of the Brisbane Road flat in Largs, 2003, our own little Summer of Love. He drummed in my one and only ever band, The Petty Hoodlums, who were a failed experiment in DIY punk rock. That was Peter Blackstock’s second band, and since then he has been cutting his teeth providing the skins for many a fine group, Less Than Sober among them, and now he slots his musical genius in nicely alongside that of Will and Chris. Pete is one of the finest drummers I have ever seen, back in the day, if we were hanging out on the farm in Ayrshire where he grew up, he would always be in his room thundering away on the drumkit, honing his skill, which is handy, because in the future he would be the drums to Will Johnstone’s bass…
When you watch Pete play the drums you know you’re watching a real talent at work, heavily influenced by punk rock and drum and bass in equal measures. Jamie Robert Ross was in the crowd at that Tut’s gig and he said “The drummer is amazing, I can’t take my eyes off him, he looks like the kind of guy that would represent you in court, but he’s up there playing the drums like Travis Barker!” !?
Will Johnstone of course needs no introduction, Hellfire original, Gonzo Division co-founding father alongside Jamie, Uriah and I, and above all, multi-instrumentally mentally-talented, musician extraordinaire. Will acts as a conduit for the great music that flows through him from above, he is one of those once-in-a-lifetime musicians who, if you can sober him up long enough, or get him drunk enough, or even somewhere in between, he will still deliver a virtuoso performance, be that of heavy metal guitar or Spanish classical acoustic, be that providing percussion or learning the banjo in twenty minutes to lay down a track (I’ve seen him do that). In Semper Spero he turns his talents to the bass, and for further confirmation of his skill, on that night, first song in, his most important string broke, what did he do?
Well from this reporter’s point of view, nothing had happened, by the third song in I knew something was going on but couldn’t figure out what, the band looked a little perplexed at times, offering glances at Will, and chuckling, sometimes in disbelief. I looked at Will, but all I saw was Cousin It, somewhere under the mass of hair covering his face there was a genius at work, strumming out the basslines, but I couldn’t figure out what was distracting the band, the only thing I noticed about Will’s performance was that he wasn’t giving us his 100%, i.e there was no majestic sweeping soundscapes of bass solos as you might have expected. I figgered* this was because Will was being humble… I asked him backstage what had happened, and he said something like (and this is not verbatim because my dictaphone turned out to be a pen);
“It was mental man, my top string broke, all my solos and stuff are based around that one string, every other string could have broke except that one and it would’ve been fine, but the most important one broke so I was having to rewrite the chords so they would fit, seconds before playing them…”
…Or something to that effect, so rather than flapping or panicking as most would have, Will put his head down beneath his long hair and rewrote the songs as he played them, and nobody, except the confused band, was any the wiser… He put me in mind of Leo Lyons that night.
And what is their music like? Well, it’s good pop-rock with fringes of psychedelia around the edges, some people that night compared them to Pink Floyd but I wouldn’t go that far, and anybody that knows me can understand that. They do go off in flashes of brilliance in their progressive outbursts which is what I think people were referencing. You can hear influences from all the members’ individual influences in their sound, which is quite a large melting pot of inspiration to be getting on with. With all three members being accomplished singers you get a harmonious vocal range among them, with even the drummer doing his fair share. Will describes them as “contemporary alternate/alternative reality rock” Chris said: “We just want to make people happy with our music” and Will added that there’s “too much dirgey, dark stuff out there”.
I caught up with the band afterwards, with Jay stretched out on the sofa intimidating any other bands that came into the Green Room, and the band on the other sofa drinking Buckfast and beer, and we chatted on the same seats such hallowed names that played here early in their career sat on, as Biffy Clyro, Coldplay, Beck, Blur, Crowded House, White Stripes, The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Skunk Anansie, Travis, and many more… And the conversation drifted to the good ol’ days, and then my now infamous ‘guts’ story that has been known to make people faint or vomit, and that I ripped off from Chuck Palahnuick anyway, and on to the future for Semper Spero…
…And the future seems bright, there is always hope, as the band say, their first gig headlining (though they changed their slot down one to accommodate their Ayrshire fanbase catching the last train home) King Tut’s is as great a diving board as any band can ever hope for, and now they are booked in to support none other than the mighty Culann at Audio on the 23rd of July, another great slot for a great band who are definitely ones to watch! Check them out here https://www.facebook.com/semper.spero/ and get tickets for the Culann gig (very nearly sold out) here… https://www.facebook.com/events/1312548718773655/ and after all, I will…
…See ya’ in the pit!!
Originally published on NHC Music 07/06/2016