Vintage Interview: JACK PENATE

Words: Janey Moose

Disorder photos: Ewan Spencer

Speechmarks photos: Matthew Marchant

Vintage! Disorder Magazine, London, October 2007

GUESS WHICH ONE can give you laryngitis: a piñata, a pina colada, or a Jack Penate…

Unless the former two items are some sort of throat-avenging explosives, it’s unfortunately the London-bred Jack who’s got a kissing disease. But as long as he’s only spitting at stars and not spitting at you, consider yerself aw’ight.

Thankfully, his vocal chords are producing sound.

“I’m wonderful!” he says with the gusto only tight skinny jeans can afford. He sounds better, minus the odd croak.

“I was really upset. Worried. Like – ‘Shit! I’m not gonna be in full health for a big gig!’” Regardless, Jack Penate stomped his way through Reading and Leeds, adding an index of vigorous live shows involving graffiti in Glasgow (allegedly his name was written everywhere in err, marker pen); Fatboy Slim covers: “Dub Be Good To Me: love playing that to get a reaction,” and daft-dancing at Glasto.

“I thought nothing could beat Glastonbury, but I think Reading did. Reading was a bit of a moment. I was taken back by it…really special.

But there is one ultimate place.

Performing at Brixton Academy. I could die happy knowing I’d done that. Oh, and headlining Glastonbury!” Two then.

The new album ‘Matinee’ is destined to be a massive hit with Jim Abbiss, Artic Monkey’s knob-tweaker, enlisted for production duties. With music and his artwork (his own – “I used watercolour on the cover”) as lush as a Mexican blanket, the self-confessed “corny-hippie” has penned a radio-tight yet soulful record.

“I want people to go ohmygod and jump to it, or really hate it. It’s a collection of songs from my youth. All the best albums are thought through. I really believe you have to do that, otherwise there’s no point.”

Drawing sunshine from The Kinks, Donovan and Supergrass, Penate and his band manage to mix this with 21st century wit and post-Libertines sensitivity. ‘Second, Minute or Hour’ is as refreshing as his Top Ten ass whooping ‘Torn on the Platform’ and could easily win him the title: Male version of Charlotte Hatherley.

The chirpy ‘Got My Favourite’ is a sweet pop gem: ‘Of course I know these things are all for show/…through these things constant love will flow.’

“It’s about how possessions can comfort you.”

Festival favourite ‘Spit at Stars’, although it sounds like the happiest track on the album,  “it’s about being unified in feeling we’re gonna fall. Positive but negative.”

The epic ‘We Will Be Here’ is similar in sentiment – and could easily have been written by Coldplay, only without the cat wailing and boredom. A Tim Buckley influence is clear on the funky ‘Made of Codes’ and ‘Have I Been a Fool’.

“Mum bought me ‘Happy/Sad’ first, but ‘Greetings from LA’. It’s such a good pop record. He’s the one person who’s affected me in my life,” Jack admits.

Beautiful ‘My Yvonne’ featuring Adele, and ‘When We Die’, recorded at St. Barnabus Church with a massive gospel choir, are the slowies – all acoustic guitar and heavenly harmonies.  ‘Learning Lines’ (produced by Mr Electro, RJD2) borrows drums from Lynard Skynard’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, while ‘Run For Your Life’ sounds sweeter than its subject matter – Jack getting mugged.

And if he’s not getting mugged, he criticised by famous transvestites. “Everything he said was pretty much wrong,” he says of the jibe. As ever, manbitch Manic Street Preacher Nicky Wire is more than happy to get his exquisitely gobby face stuck in.* In NME’s pre-Carling Weekend interview with Wire, Kasabian’s Tom Meighan and The Enemy’s Tom Clarke, Jack was namedropped. To paraphrase, he was accused of being one of ‘too many middle-class people making music’.

“If you’re gonna act political, you should have knowledge behind your statement,” Jack says, politely understanding his ground. “He’s not a politician. A grown man to be worrying about what school a 23-year-old went to. Sad. It’s funny too, actually. I’m not gonna bring it up with him.”

Wire’s comment trails the infamous ‘LDN is a Victim’, the oft quoted “public school rock ‘n’ roll crew” lapped up by proud outsiders to the LD-in crowd and paradoxically, the dahlings themselves. (Nevertheless, you’d all be surprised how many roadies are privately educated.) And to be fair, Wire is, economically speaking, bourgeois himself. “If he wants to get better press coverage then go for it, but I’m very easy to hit at. It’s cool for him though, I like that,” he concludes wryly.

Citing William Blake as an inspiration in a thick Estuary accent is the stuff of A-Level examiners’ fantasies.

“I got obsessed with ‘Songs of Innocence’; his paintings are all engravings. I wanted to be like that. Childish, but soulful as well.”

Jack’s a descendent of writer and illustrator Mervyn Peake. “My granddad, he was an artist. It would be hard to say that I don’t take his influence from his style, because I really do…. it’s a family thing.”

Rumours are rife as to his lyrical influences. He was recently linked to New Young Pony Club’s front woman, Tabitha Bulmer.

“It was very odd. I think it’s because somebody I was going out with looked like her.” Jack pauses shyly. “I met her, it was awkward. I thought, oh god! Maybe something has happened!”

However, it seems that as Jack’s star rises, rumours become a bit more law-straddling, and serious.

“This guy I knew was this [other] guy’s best mate, and he said that I had been dealing cocaine!” he said, appalled by every word. “First of all, like I’d have the time to do that, seriously, why would I need to? I was like: ‘are you mad?’”

Jack’s sartorial style has certainly been noticed as well, yet checked shirts normally indicate one of three personas: country bumpkin, Ugly Betty, or frustrated ice cream man.

“My identity’s been battered by Topman! Rolled up sleeves and done up top-buttons on the mannequins. I’m gonna have to stop wearing them for about three years. SO now I’m like, what the fuck am I gonna wear? My new thing is just to wear ugly shirts, so – ”

How about Hawaiian shirts then? They’re well obnoxious.

“Yeah, I’ve got loads of them! Me and my mate bought matching shirts and we go out like that. It’s wicked! You should do it. Go out to a club and split up, everyone says ‘I’ve just seen exactly the same shirt!’ and you’re like, yeah, I know! Then everyone wants to be your friend for some reason.”

Well, there’s my bizarre party tip of the month. OK. While we’re being random, let’s test out a hype phrase on him. Is Jack the Cockney Van Morrison?

He laughs. “I’m not Cockney!” Eventually, he surrenders, quietly pleased at the compliment. “Go on then. Van Morrison was one of the greatest musicians of all time.”

Ace. There you have in three nouns what you need to know. Jack Penate, the Cockney Van Morrison.”

*POSTSCRIPTS

  • Didn’t say this at the time so as not to reference myself in the article but in my blog I can – I think the manbitch gob is a good thing about Nicky! And I still do have a gigantic love for Jack and his music though; he’s the first of his kind.

  • …And I’m laughing and cringing at my Almost Famous writing
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