“1965, that was the year Vietnam hotted up,” explains Jak Payne, guitarist with The Metros, the teenaged south London five-piece who count Squeeze, Ian Dury and the Beastie Boys among their biggest influences. We’re sitting outside a pub near Oxford Circus, enjoying one of the few sunny afternoons of July. Jak and his songwriting partner, vocalist Saul Adamczewski, are discussing the year that inspired the name of their record label, 1965 Records, also home to Dundee indie-rockers The View. Barely old enough to drink legally (like the rest of the band, Jak and Saul are 18), they’re necking lager like it’s about to be rationed, while rowdily taking the piss out of unfortunate passers-by in loud, raspy south London accents. It feels a little like being on a school trip you know will end in trouble.
In a few hours’ time, a band member will break Saul’s front teeth when he punches him through the window of the band’s van. Minutes after that, The Metros will electrify the Heavenly Social with an extraordinary – if somewhat chaotic – fusion of punk, funk, rockabilly, pop and witty lyrics about bunking trains, the degradation of the Welfare State, nights out for a tenner and old Cockney lags with sawn-off shooters.
It’s exhilarating, and with the punch-ups, Mod flash, lectures on Vietnam, monumental boozing and ramshackle charm you can’t help wondering whether the next chapter in British pop is starting here. The Metros first came to the attention of 1965’s James Endeacott last year, but the music biz supremo who famously signed The Libertines to Rough Trade back in 2002 had to bide his time because of the minor problem that some of the band were still studying for their exams. Endeacott had been taken with their demos – produced by Ian Dury’s son, Baxter – which included the magnificent Education Pt. 2 (an attack on the schooling system with its anthemic final line about getting “10 years and a fucking ASBO”) and Missing In Acton (the story of a hapless armed robber, loosely based on a friend of Jak’s father’s called Ginger).
Saul and Jak have been mates “since they were born”. Their parents had been school friends, before finding jobs in the music business. Saul’s dad designed record sleeves for A&M – the Captain Sensible Xmas single with the free foam beard was a favourite – while Jak’s father played session bass for, among others, Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook. Aged 15, they started writing songs together, recruiting mates Freddi Hyde-Thompson (drums) and Charlie Elliott (bass). The band played rowdy ska for a while under the moniker The Wanking Skankers. “It’s a better name than The Metros,” muses Jak. “We changed it purely for commercial reasons, I feel.” A year or so ago, they brought in a second guitarist, Joe Simpson, who shared an arty background and a penchant for unruly behaviour.
To begin with, the band’s influences were ska, Oi punk and The Libertines and The Strokes. As habitués of Sydenham and Peckham, they also absorbed the prevailing urban soundtrack of R&B and grime. But The Metros’ sound developed into something truly distinctive after Saul’s move from his mother’s to his father’s house two years ago. To his delight, his new bedroom contained his dad’s old vinyl record collection – everything from The Specials and The Clash to Ray Charles and Bo Diddley, but most crucially Squeeze and Ian Dury & The Blockheads. The latter spurred he and Jak to write gritty, witty character songs inspired by the edgy, semi-criminal underworld on their doorstep, as well as their own colourful teenage lives.
“What we write is a cross between what’s actually around us and a fantasy of it,” explains Jak. “Peckham is a dangerous area, you take a little but from one bloke you meet, a bit from another. When we were younger we’d go to the pub with my dad and be surrounded with east London drug dealers, really dodgy people. We’d drink in proper old men’s Cockney boozers full of these villains.”
“It’s easy for people to get confused,” adds Saul, for clarification, “thinking we’re wide-boys or lads, but we’re relatively middle-class. We weren’t born on a sink estate or anything. We take a bit of our own experiences and what we see around us and turn it into songs.”