Positive energy

“A cold star, supported by the exclusion principle repulsion between neutrons.” Hawking’s description of neutron stars in A Brief History Of Time is bleak. He paints a skyline of emotionless, friendless bodies; so dense they threaten to rip a black hole in the fabric of space and time. Take a journey into the inky darkness of X-Factor culture and you may encounter such stars. But much nearer to home, in Carlton, Nottingham, a merry band of three men are challenging the weight of established principles. They are not manufactured or characterless stars. They are The Nutronstars!

The room isn’t packed. But gig-by-gig, the number of Nurtonstar gazers is growing. Wearing low-fidelity jeans and matching blue t-shirts, the band begins. Punchy, fuzz-felt chords warm an atmosphere built on crisp, drum-machined rhythms, sun-bleached keyboards and multi-directional lyrics. Free from gravity, Bob Tarbuck’s vocals chart a course through the melodic heart of space. I close my eyes to be greeted by images of early Beach Boys wandering the harmonious streets of late-seventies New York, high on psycho-candy from the celestial stalls of Jesus and Mary. Mid-set, Bob briefly raises his visor and says “Hello. We are The Nutronstars. And we play pop music.”

See, Hawking. Nutronstars may not explode. But they do pop. A few days after the gig, I ask Bob to divulge the ingredients for a tasty pop song. “A really good hook and a catchy chorus,” he replies. “I guess it needs the window cleaner test. We have done that with our window cleaner. Once we caught him whistling to Start Of The Week (a Nutronstars number). And you’ve got to make the lyrical content interesting. Like Syd Barrett. See Emily Play is a fantastically structured song. We’re aiming for those heights but we have a long way to go.”

Bob met Kandy Hoffman (bass and keyboards) and Ian Simpson (drums) during the early 90s. It was ten years before the trio formed a band. “We were all into music,” explains Bob. “I could play guitar a little bit. But Jon and Ian had never really played. We got together anyway. I had some songs and didn’t want to audition for people. I wanted to be in a band with friends. So if it’s crap it’s not a problem, as long as everyone is having fun.” However, the band’s controls were not always set for the lighter side of the moon. “We spent a year rehearsing, under the name Weird Beard,” continues Bob. “But it was rubbish so we scrapped it. We had some dance beats with guitar over the top. Really terrible, 15 minute breaks. I think it was techno-rock; a vicar’s nightmare.”

There have been many catalysts on the musical road to Damascus, famously including the lord of the underworld. But for The Nutronstars, redemption came in the form of a very different beast. “I had a pet crab called Eric,” remembers Bob. “When he died I wrote a song about him. It was a pop song and received a much better reaction than our other stuff. So we thought, ‘ah, this is what people like.’ You can say everything and cram in all the hooks in two minutes. And then people will want to hear more. I went back to my love of pop music and 60s psychedelia.” Bob had already learnt how to play the first Ramones album. “They are all easy, three-chord songs,” he comments. “They were great songwriters; catchy tunes and lyrics with a real impact.” With beards trimmed and endless progressions dropped, the Nutronstars had a new focus. “We didn’t want to copy the Ramones,” says Bob. “But we did want to use our influences, like The Buzzcocks.”

Peering through the telescope of Early EPs, such as Oh No No Caroline and mini-album, Carltonpop, it’s possible to spy shadows cast by the clashed and slashed pioneers of yesteryear. But the alignments influencing The Nutronstars are not always so linear. The band’s website mentions a host culturally popular reference points, from John Barry and toy shops to Hammer Horror or 70s sitcoms. Bob, Ian and Kandy inhabit a broad and colourful galaxy, choosing their own orbits. “My idea of pop is different to others,” states Bob. “My idea is bands like The Ramones or XTC. Not bland pop. Our stuff is not well produced. Sometimes I go out of my way to screw it up in the production stakes, so there’s something that niggles away.”

The band have just finished their first album, Love Pop Noise Speed. And the production values haven’t changed from earlier recordings. “We put string arrangements on the album which sounded great,” says Bob. “But then we fucked it up with the production. It sounds rubbish but we’ve left it in as it has a certain charm. Love Pop Noise Speed is lo-fi but the next thing will be more of a step forward.” Don’t be fooled into thinking that lo-fi means slapdash. The Nutronstars take time over their work. “The album had to be no more than 30 minutes long. I want people to play it and put it on again straight away,” continues Bob. “We wanted the whole thing to flow. I spent about six months worrying about the track listing. We didn’t want to do anything that spoils people’s perceptions of The Nutronstars but still wanted it to be different. Now it seems that everyone copies everyone else. It’s soul destroying sometimes, playing with Oasis wannabes. So many Liam Gallaghers. We just try and stay away from it.”

However, for The Nutronstars, being different doesn’t mean ploughing a crowd-less furrow under the moniker of artistic integrity. “We do listen to what people think,” states Bob. “We’re not up our own arses. We never really know how a gig has gone down but just try to enjoy ourselves. We’ll cut it to 20 minutes if it’s crap. But if it’s great we could do two hours. Perhaps next time we’ll take a kettle along so we can have a break and make everyone a cup of tea. There’s more of a buzz at gigs now, which is great, it’s more of a pop celebration. That’s what we’ve been aiming for all along.” But it hasn’t always been this way. “We couldn’t get a gig in Nottingham two years ago,” recalls Bob. “We wouldn’t go out and hassle promoters. Luckily, promoters are now contacting us now. More and more magazines are saying that they like us and that is giving us strength. God, I sound like a professional twat!”

It’s hard to imagine The Nutronstars ever being professional twats. On-and-off –stage, their self-effacing humour and honesty is refreshing. Enjoyment is everything. But this doesn’t mean the band take their pop explorations lightly. “We wear the same shirts because we want to look like a band,” states Bob. “It connects us together. Some bands don’t bother. But we’re representing pop. We tried wearing our own stuff once but ended up arguing. So now it’s either the red or blue t-shirts.” And unlike the neutron stars that inhabit the world of Hawking and his cohorts, Bob, Ian and Kandy could go with a bang tomorrow. “Pop music should collapse. Or feel as though it’s about to fall apart. Our confidence has grown. But when playing live, we still get that feeling that it could collapse at any minute.”


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