New To Us – The Spook School

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
Pablo Picasso

Whether inspired by Brian Eno’s superb John Peel Lecture or a recent trip to the Picasso Museum and Pompidou Centre in Malaga, we’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of art.

If you haven’t heard Brian’s lecture for 6Music yet, you can still listen to it HERE. Whilst we highly recommend the whole thing, a few quotes and moments really jumped out at us. The first was the link between art and society, Brian stated that “art is everything that you don’t have to do”, which is one of those phrases that sounds obvious until you think about its wider context. Yes we have to eat to survive but we don’t have to make Baked Alaska or Sausage Rolls, so they’re art; we need to move to exist but we don’t need dance or play sport, so they’re art; we need to wear clothes for warmth but we don’t need fashion or brands to survive, so it’s art. Pretty much everything in the world is, in some way related to our desire for things to have an ornamental and stylised quality. There’s little that exists that can in any way be considered entirely necessary, and it’s in those unnecessary but crucial details that art exists, and in those details that our cultures and lifestyles are built.

The government has recently declared art “a luxury”, but in reality it’s so entrenched in our culture that art is anything but luxury. It is Art, in all its many and varied facets, that enriches our lives, and ultimately makes them worth living.

When people think of art, the mind generally leaps to painting and visual arts, but it’s easy to forget how they have inspired music, from The Velvet Underground’s work with Andy Warhol to Wild Beasts lifting their name from the Fauvism art movement, music has always been inspired by, and inspired, other art forms. That’s the wonderful thing about art, it inspires others to keep creating, we need to make it viable for artists, including musicians, to be rewarded and supported in their creativity, otherwise our culture cannot progress. A life without art, well it’s a life not worth living.


The Spook School are a four-piece band who share songwriting duties between all their members. They consist of guitarists Adam and Nye Todd and bass player Anna Cory, who all take turns singing, as well as drummer Niall McCamley.

The Spook School take influence in equal measures from T-Rex, The Buzzcocks and the fuzzier, noisier end of C-86 era-Indie, as well as their contemporaries in bands such as Martha, Trust Fund and Joanna Gruesome. What comes out is a hugely varied array of sounds; from 1990’s pop-punk recalling Speak When You’re Spoken Too, with more than a hint of Ash, to the jaunty glam-punk of Only Lovers and the should have been a noughties dancefloor filler Binary, which falls musically somewhere between The Rakes and The Cribs.

They may lift their name from a nickname given to the so-called Glasgow School, an influential group of modern-artists who came together in Glasgow in the 1870’s, however The Spook School are actually from Edinburgh. Whilst Edinburgh is better known for its links to the world of comedy, it also has a relatively rich musical history, being home to bands such Idlewild, Ballboy and The Bay City Rollers, as well as singers Shirley Manson, Isobel Campbell and of course Finley Quaye.

The Spook School formed back in 2012, and following the success of their 2012 EP, I Don’t Know, You Don’t Know, We All Don’t Know The Spook School, they signed to Fortuna Pop. They released their debut album, Dress Up in 2013, and have just released their second full-length record, Try To Be Hopeful, again via Fortuna Pop.

What’s most impressive about Try To Be Hopeful, is the upfront and honest approach to lyrically dissecting the issues surrounding gender and identity. This is an album that questions so many of our societal-norms, and looks at how they can be challenged and re-aligned. At the heart of much of this album is Nye’s own personal journey, embracing his trans-identity; however what makes the album so compelling is how universal and relatable its themes are. It’s an album that deals not just with societies old-fashioned ideas of what gender means but with alienation, love, lust, friendship and battling to find your own place in the world, and ultimately the discovery of who you are.

I Want To Kiss You is the sound of locked-eyes on dance-floors, and the anticipation of those first intoxicating meetings with someone new, Burn Masculinity is about accepting your place as part of a society that allows male-privilege and encourages us all to be part of challenging that society, whilst Everybody Needs to Be In Love questions the worlds obsession with the pursuit of romance.

If it’s all sounding a little heavy, it’s really not. Much of the pleasure here is that for all the complex issues discussed, the back-drop is one that sounds ramshackle and joyous: they’re a band who seem to be loving every minute of being a band. Working alongside producer MJ (Hookworms) they’ve managed to capture both musical complexity, and not lose the simple joys of a bombastic guitar solo or a squalling piece of feedback. August 17th, a song about fidelity, neatly capture in the line, “I don’t want to split you up, I just want to see you naked”, is a quietly odd triumph, a jangling lone guitar, is underlayed with a distant feedback screech, before a pulsing Jesus And Mary Chain-like bass line and quietly, huge drum beats enter, they even leave room for a blast of saxophone, even though the song is less than three minutes long.

The true highlights are when they combine the musical triumph with the lyrical exploration, recent single Binary questions gender-norms and suggest there’s more to life than a straight choice between, “bowties or high heels”. The track asks us to, “let it be complicated and hard to understand” and to, “make them uncomfortable and challenge their ideals, because their antiquated notions are blinding what is real”. That would all be well and good, but if the tune wasn’t there the message might get lost, luckily it’s an absolute blast, from the shout-along, “I am a bigger than a hexadecimal” chorus, to the tremendous bass breakdown and spine-tingling drum build up, it’s a track that’s just impossible not to love.

The first note we made on Binary was, “winner”, genuinely on first listen, we didn’t think anything came close to it on the record, but that was before the albums closing, and title track, Try To Be Hopeful, wheedled its way into our brain. From it’s Velvet Underground-like opening muted guitar line to it’s tear-jerking, lyrical moments of realisation from giving into the fear of getting what you want and it not being the answer, to above all else just trying to believe that things can, and will get better, whether on a personal or a societal level. A tremendous, moving piece of song-writing, that closes a frankly spectacular album, The Spook School deserve all the plaudits they’re getting and so much more.

Forgive the personal aside, but we just don’t like Books And Hooks And Movements that much, and even that isn’t that bad, there’s just nothing else to criticise alright? This albums great, go buy it!

Try To Be Hopeful is out now on Fortuna Pop! The Spook School play dates around the UK in October and November, click HERE for details.

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