Lupacante, perhaps better known on campus as the band with all the instruments ever, have been together for almost three years in their current form – four if we’re including the time before the flute and vocals arrived. Now all the band members are in their final year at University, ‘real life’ is fast approaching and there’s even rumour of their first ever EP. I caught up with them one wet and windy February evening and had a chat with them about… well, everything.
“Lupacante’s first ever name,” 22-year-old Sports Science student and Lupacante drummer Joel Shopland tells me enthusiastically, “was in fact The Five-Tone Brogues.” Exactly why they chose The Five-Tone Brogues was never really made clear during our chat, but the story of how they eventually came to be Lupacante sums up the spontaneity of the band in general. Marco Gorelli, lead guitarist, mathematics student and all-round crazy guy explained that the name Lupacante actually means Lobster in Italian (he’s Italian, by the way) and was used as a username on SoundCloud for a demo track he sent to bassist Jay Singh, who responded with “Oh that sounds like a rocking band name!” To cut this (admittedly) short story short, Joel concluded that the name was adopted at the very last minute before a gig on Brunel’s Quad: “the guy who was announcing us at the back thought we were still The Five Tone Brogues – and he didn’t really know how to pronounce that as it was – and then Jay, last minute, turned around and declared ‘No, we’re now called Lupacante!’”
Getting the makeup of the band right was something they put a huge amount of importance on. Despite being very different people, (“If we weren’t in a band, we wouldn’t be friends!” Georgia laughs), for the most part, they say, all six of them slotted in quite nicely, but Jono, resident saxophonist, tells me that the moment Jay decided to become the band’s full time bassist was perhaps their biggest turning point as a band. Jay admits they trialled other bass players who were technically so much better than he is. “I think me and Joel in particular were very well in sync musically, and were able to set a really strong foundation for the band,” he says, echoing Joel’s statement that “Jay worked simply because he was with the band from the beginning, he knew what worked and what didn’t.”
I asked them how they prepare for a gig, and the answer was almost immediate: “We come up with our playlist last second,” Christine blurts out “Very often a couple of people just say ‘Do it! Do that one!’ and then we go on stage and we’re like ‘Oh! We’re doing that song now! OK!’”. Surely that leaves a huge amount of room for things to go wrong, I ask? “If something does go wrong,” Georgia Cooke, the band’s youngest member and flautist chimes in, “we just laugh at the fact that it has gone wrong, carry on, and then rip the p*ss out of each other until the next gig.” “I forget the words all the time,” Christine admits, to chimes of laughter from the rest of the band, adding that she likes to invent words whenever she forgets the real ones.
There are occasions where things going wrong aren’t the band’s fault, however. “Do you remember when that guy jumped on stage at Portobello Market and we had to kick him off?” Georgia asks. Acklam Village Market, which is off of Portobello Market, appears to be the band’s spiritual home, with some of their best gigs taking place there and inspiring some of their strangest stories – “like that one time where my brother got on stage,” Jay reminisces, “and Christine forgot his name so called him Mark Singh…”
Our conversation eventually reaches the topic of the manner in which music is taught throughout the education system in this country, and one of the things that strike me about the energy of the band is that these are not just people who are passionate about what they do, they’re people who have all gone through the education system and tried to make it work for them. “I think they should make music as important as subjects like Maths and English,” says Jono. “I spent loads of time learning classically, and with an instrument like the sax, I kind of felt like I was missing out a bit.” Georgia, a final year music student herself, says that music education needs to encourage playing as a group. “And not just formally playing with other people,” she adds. “Playing in brass bands and orchestras – just having a jam.”
That’s not to say that the band don’t discourage solo performance, however – far from it. With lots of their material being heavily improvised, there’s a huge requirement for an understanding of the way in which music works at a fundamental and theoretical level, something which the band feel the education system at the moment doesn’t cater for: “I didn’t come from a classical background,” Jay tells me. “I think I would have liked to know a little bit more about how it works, rather than just picking up an instrument with just four strings, strumming it and hoping for the best.” Jay feels that academia in music has become far too strict and perhaps a little formulaeic, adding that it is subject to creative ideas and how you want the music to develop and how it should be performed. “There’s no right or wrong answer, like there is in subjects like maths. There’s so many ways music can be expressed, so why should you have to learn it in just one way?”
It’s clear that the band is not short of ambition either. They’ve just spent a few days in a recording studio and look set to be releasing an EP of some description before the band comes to a natural end and they go their own separate ways at the end of this academic year. I asked them whether there was anything that could still keep the band together. All of them enthusiastically told me that if they were approached by the right people and asked to go on tour (“That would be so much fun!” Georgia exclaims) or sign a record deal, they would do so in a heartbeat, even if it meant giving up a £5m a year job working for the prince of some country somewhere. But they’re all realists, and they understand that if such an offer were to be made, they’d be asked to change things about their sound or their music to make them commercially viable. “We do this for fun,” Jay says, with Georgia adding that they’d reject any change they’re asked to make if it meant changing their chemistry, their musicality or their enjoyment of what it is they’re doing.
Sadly, though, the band have yet to receive a record deal of any description, let alone one where they wouldn’t be expected to make significant changes, so it does look like the end is nigh. “We’ll do a reunion gig!” Jay reassures me. But it’s still planned to be full steam ahead right up until the very end. Despite the demands of their various university courses, they have several more gigs lined up in and around Uxbridge, as well as in Central London. It will be a shame to see such a unique and interesting group of musicians disband and go their own separate ways, but with the experience of the past three years under their belts, they say they would encourage more individuals to get together with any combination of instruments and make it work, even if it is just for fun.
Featured Image Credit: Marco Gorelli