Adam Killip on a long and varied musical life around the London Americana scene.
In the early years of 21st century London a nascent scene was bubbling up, an americana enthused assortment of musicians and songwriters forced to create their own opportunities to play the music they loved. This burgeoning movement spanned both sides of the River Thames and spawned many artists that would go on to become household names, to commercial success, and beyond. At the epicentre of all this was Adam Killip; singer-songwriter, erstwhile record company manager, and frontman of the self-styled ‘third-best country band in London’, The Tailors.
Between 2007 and 2010 The Tailors released three albums of acclaimed English country music, whilst Killip established and curated two of the foremost Americana nights in London; ‘Heartworn Fridays’ at Nambucca in Holloway, and ‘Sadder Days’ at The Windmill in Brixton. These two nights were frequented by the likes of Frank Turner, Laura Marling, and Emily Barker and helped give all three acts plus many, many more a valuable platform from which to launch successful, long-term careers.
When not making his own music Killip was involved with and for a while ran indie label Trash Aesthetic, releasing music by Americana A-listers such as Chuck Prophet and Mark Eitzel.
Killip has been in self-confessed semi-retirement for some years now, The Tailors largely inactive but for some long unavailable material reissued during lockdown in 2020. He still makes the occasional live appearance, continues to be a source of inspiration to many of his contemporaries, and has most recently contributed to albums by Rural France, and John-George Cooper’s project St. Ove.
In May 2022 the owners of Nambucca, the scene of those ‘Heartworn Fridays’ finally lost the fight for survival and sadly called time on the bar one last time. With bittersweet circularity, a closing night lineup was hastily convened and Adam Killip found himself once again on the familiar stage in a room full of friends old and new. Anyone lucky enough to have been in attendance at this emotional show will have seen first-hand the high regard in which he is held, and would have been heartened to see him, back on stage with a borrowed guitar, keeping the fire burning. Paul Gibson caught up with Adam to talk about his musical life, coming full circle at Nambucca, and current collaborations.
When did you start playing music?
I grew up with Will Burns, later from the band Tree Creeper, whose dad ran the Rough Trade shop on Portobello Road, and he turned me on to Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, and also a lot of classic country stuff as well. We formed a band called Belle Vue, playing pubs doing covers of Lemonheads songs, that kind of thing. After school I studied in Leeds and started opening for punk bands, playing solo country songs, and then moving back to London in 2002 we started putting a band together. The principle was to maintain a bit of a punk ethos in terms of keeping things stripped down and not too overblown, and around 2006 we had a lineup sorted and put out a single ‘A New Hairdo’ on Trash Aesthetic. They’d already put out debut singles by Bloc Party and The Rakes.
How did you become involved with Nambucca?
Through mutual friends, I got to know Jay McAllister, better known today as Beans on Toast, who was promoting bands at The Monarch in Camden. I connected with him and then when he took over Nambucca he was keen to have live music, so I started putting on ‘Heartworn Fridays’, named after Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Heartworn Highways’. I became friends with Frank Turner, whose band Million Dead had just split and he was looking for direction. We ended up on the roof of the bar one night playing country songs, Neil Young, that kind of thing. Frank was deciding that the acoustic route was the one he wanted to follow.
Did you and Frank Turner ever play together?
He did ask a few times if he could join The Tailors, but I always said no, we don’t need anyone in the band but then Chad the guitarist left, so I said ‘Frank, join The Tailors!’ But it was just as things started to happen for him; he’d booked a tour and not long after that his first EP ‘Campfire Punkrock’ came out, and the rest is history.
Indeed it is, Turner even name-checked a roll-call of the leading lights around the Nambucca scene in 2008 in his song ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’, referring to you as ‘the resurrected spirit of Gram Parsons’. Were there many people around at that time listening to stuff like Gram, or Townes, or Neil Young?
There probably was, but in our youthful arrogance we were always convinced that we were part of our own little thing, and that was the thinking behind those nights. The people that came to those shows were part of an extended group of friends, but it did turn into something bigger. I think now, with both mainstream and alternative country, for want of a better word, people just get it. It’s become a lot more normalised but when started we did feel a bit out of place from what was going on at that time, Libertines era London, so we did try to create our own thing.
The Tailors were pretty active during this period.
We recorded two fully finished and released albums (2007’s ‘Wakey Wakey’ and 2009’s ‘Come Dig Me Up’), and we finished a third album (2010’s ‘Spectral Plane’) but by the time it came out I was the only original member of The Tailors left, and we’d gone through so many musical permutations we’d lost interest. After the band had finished I did a couple of short tours of Italy with some friends out there who’d become fans of the band, they put together a backing band called The Tailors to play with me and we had a lot of fun. We did reconvene The Tailors for a one-off gig in 2016, opening for Frank Turner at his 2000th show at Nottingham Rock City. Frank joined us on guitar, it was a dream scenario to just turn up and find two thousand people ready to discover your music.
How did the St. Ove album come about?
John-George Cooper had been working on his songs for a long time and a couple of years ago some of us said we’d put a band together to back him up. We rehearsed for a few months and ended up making an album (2020’s ‘County Show’). It was released on a label called Half A Cow which is run by Nic Dalton, who was the bass player in The Lemonheads. We pressed a couple of hundred copies and realised that people were into it so we played some shows, and we’ve started thinking about a second album. I think we set out to make more of a country album than it actually became but our collective influences started coming in, stuff like early R.E.M., The Replacements, ‘Zuma’ era Neil Young, Big Star… Thinking about the next record we may try and go further down that road.
You described yourself as semi-retired, as a performer. Has playing at the Nambucca closing show rekindled the urge to play your own songs again?
I got a call on the Tuesday, which gave me two days to remember how to play the songs. Frank (Turner) told me just to turn up, I didn’t even have to bring a guitar, and we had a quick run through which sounded pretty good! I think if every show was like that; just turn up with no hassle knowing it was going to go well I’d be well up for it! There has been talk about doing something, you just have to find a way to make it fit in around everyday life, so let’s see what happens.