It is a prejudice of ours, for sure, but we expect bands featuring transgender musicians to be fringe sorts who make an avant-garde racket. So it was some surprise to discover that the Spook School – whose music is the most conventionally strummy indie raised on a diet of Buzzcocks and C86 – include in their ranks a member, Nye Todd, who identifies as “trans”. We are furthermore informed that the band “explore gender, sexuality and queer issues” in their songs, quite a shock considering we presumed the lyrics would match the music and be the standard lovelorn innocent heterosexual indie fare. They titled their forthcoming debut album Dress Up because it “relates to the idea of gender being a social construction, something that can be artificially appropriated”. They add: “Gender is something more fluid than the given binary of male/female. We want to liberate the listener by lubricating their ears with noisy pop songs about coming to terms with gender identity and realising how silly the world is.”
Their first release was 2012’s I Don’t Know, You Don’t Know, We All Don’t Know the Spook School, self-described on their Bandcamp as a “lovely wee cassette tape” that came “hand-dubbed, hand-numbered and with a nifty wee badge!” The music was written and recorded in guitarist Adam Todd’s bedroom and was the lo-est fi imaginable, ranging from Can You Ever Trust a Man Who Thinks Matt Damon’s Really Cool?, a typical indie-op title along the wordy likes of I’m In Love With the Girl on the Manchester Virgin Megastore Check-out Desk, to the sweetly shambolic I Don’t Know and the wan, winsome and frankly wet You Don’t Know, which sounded as though it was recorded using a mic smothered in mud. If you thought the main point of punk was DIY – and maybe it was – then you’ll love it, if you can get a copy (only 100 were made).
They also issued a single – Here We Go, like a listless Buzzcocks, with a mildly prickly Boredom-style guitar line – but their best record yet is the new one, I’ll Be Honest, their first for Fortuna Pop!. The sound is better, beefier, although some might miss the spindly, ramshackle demo-quality of their previous stuff. The title track, sung by Nye, is a really strong – paradox intended – example of the Spook School’s fey, enfeebled indie, with a classic indie-disco riff and a refrain about “being too drunk to remember” copping off with someone or other that would work well during Freshers’ Week. Will You Always Be My Friend, in terms of C86, is more Shop Assistants than Stump. Here We Go is quintessential woe-is-me indie, with a reference to Orange Juice, although it’s nowhere near as multivalent as the Juice whose songs operated on so many levels they made the Smiths sound like solo Morrissey. “We like being silly and making lots of noise,” they explain, “but we also really care about the things we sing and write music about.” They also say they want to have fun and that is actually way more evident than their concern for gender, sexuality and queer issues. In fact, they sound like a “regular” indie band, which is just fine.