screen prints

Declan Meehan & Justin Hughes

“A hope that one day some may understand”

Q1. Hello, Declan. It feels like a dream to be interviewing you like this. The sound and music of Screen Prints still hasn’t faded after decades since it was released from Earworm (UK) and Motorway (Japan). For me, “Same Time Next Year” is still a summer classic that I listen to every summer. I feel fortunate to witness the original tape recordings being remastered by yourself and to be re-leased.
Can you first tell me what you’ve been doing since “Perfect City (Twenty Songs 1998-2000)” was released in 2000? Have there been any changes in your life or the environment around you?
Perfect City - The only CD album by Screen Prints released by Earworm containing 20 tracks

Declan:   Hi Naoki and many thanks again for taking an interest in re-releasing our material.
After the ‘Perfect City’ compilation CD was released in 2001 we had a couple of songs and ideas that weren’t released on the CD.  Justin had recently invested in an 8 track digital recorder and mixer so we decided to try and record those ideas and maybe move away from the ‘4 track portastudio’ sound from the previous years.  We also decided to have a break away from Manchester and hired a cottage in the east of England near the sea and we stayed there for a week with the aim of recording several songs.
Unfortunately and in hindsight due to poor planning, we couldn’t work out the equipment very well and how to record more than 2 tracks at one time! We had originally wanted to record the main backing tracks live as a band so several days were wasted with our heads in the manuals!
Therefore most of the week was spent on coastal walks and consuming alcohol instead!  We eventually got to record at least a couple of songs by the end of the week using the two tracks we could get to work but went home with only two full backing tracks. We lost most of the things we recorded in a hard disk crash several years ago but one backing track was recovered and that has been worked on in recent years and will be hopefully released in the near future.
As this week wasn’t much of a success artistically, Screen Prints getting together and recording became more and more infrequent.

Between 2002-2006, life just seemed to move on and we became busy with careers and jobs, some of us travelled (Justin spent some time in New Zealand) and have got married and had families and at this time, Justin and I only recorded a few covers (e.g. Magnetic Fields) for projects that we were asked to contribute towards.
In 2007 we were contacted by an organiser of an indie pop festival in Denmark and asked to play at the festival.  Whilst this never happened as we couldn’t get organised and rehearsed in time, this seemed to spark an interest again in possibly recording some material.  Also at this time, I had recently purchased my first personal computer and had bought some recording software for it.  Once I had figured out how to use it and what other equipment we needed, I started to get together a little basic home studio and from 2008, Justin and I have been recording new material when he comes to visit me in Manchester for a few days. This usually equates to around once every 3 months so the process has been slow in getting an albums worth of songs together.

Q2. Screen Prints was formed in Manchester in 1997. I heard that Richard is originally from Sheffield and Alun is from Kent, and they are now involved in the operation of a record shop in Manchester called “Vinyl Exchange”. You told me that the two songwriters “Declan and Justin” were from Derby in the Midlands region where heavy metal was mainstream. Apart from the courses on psychiatric nursing that you studied, this brought you two to Manchester in search of some friends who like the same sort of music. How did you meet Richard and Alun? Was Screen Prints actively engaged in live performance in Manchester back then, or were you more focused on recording projects?
Vinyl Exchange - A famous record shop in the Northern Quarter, an area of Manchester City Center, selling new and used records of all genres. They have a very unique selection of indie music that shows their love for local Manchester bands.

Declan: That’s right – Me and Justin moved to Manchester in 1996 to start our nurse training. We had been recording ideas on a 4-track portastudio for a year or so in Derby and I think intended to continue adding to some of those ideas in Manchester. Thinking back these ideas and ‘songs’ were more about sonic experimentation than properly constructed songs as we were listening to a lot to stuff indebted to the studio process and equipment such as mid 60’s period Beach Boys, Phil Spector, King Tubby and Jamaican Dub, Joe Meek productions and contemporary bands of the time like My Bloody Valentine and Stereolab. 
The rest of 1996 and most of 1997 was mostly spent enjoying our new student lifestyle in Manchester but towards the end of 1997, Justin and I thought it was about time we got serious about doing some music and decided to put an advert up in some shops to meet like minded people into similar sounds. I don’t remember discussing it explicitly but I think we knew we wanted to do something that was very pop and melodic as that seemed to be something that was running through all the music we had been getting into since we left school 7 years previously.
We made the poster/advert and at the time and for the past few years, we were becoming aware of whereabouts in Manchester people possibly into similar music might hang out.  These were places like one particular club night above a pub, which played indie pop, 60’s garage punk and Northern Soul and also certain record shops where we recognised people from gigs and clubs. So we put one of our adverts up in Vinyl Exchange record shop and Richard who worked there saw the poster and contacted me a short while later. On first meeting Richard, I was pretty sure I recognised him from going out to clubs but also I think he had sold me a Byrds box set in the shop! This was a good sign, so I gave him a tape of the ideas that Justin and I had recorded on the 4 track over the previous year and he seemed to like it and said he was a bass player. Soon we were meeting up most Sundays in Justin’s room in the nurses accomodation at one of the hospitals in Manchester and started to put some new song ideas on to the 4 track portastudio with a backing track core line up of Justin on drums, Richard on bass and myself playing guitar.
We later met Alun through Richard as he also worked in Vinyl Exchange and was also involved in putting on and promoting some great gigs in Manchester.
Yes we never played live - at the time Belle and Sebastian were doing very well and hardly ever playing live and being a bit mysterious and I think we thought we could do a similar thing by mainly focusing on having a strong set of already recorded songs (we never thought of the recordings as ‘demo versions’ but the finished versions) that a label might be interested in releasing rather than playing lots of venues around Manchester and no one really knowing or being interested in your music.
Listening back to the portastudio material now, they obviously have a lo-fi and rough texture to them due to the medium they were recorded on, but hopefully the new remastered release will make them a little more like how we originally imagined them to sound in our heads.
A few years ago the Arthur Russell album ‘First thought, Best thought’ was released and on hearing that title, I thought that that it was a fitting description of the Screen Prints approach to music at that time. Whilst we certainly didn’t improvise in a jazz form, there was a degree of spontaneity and looseness to the recording process and we would never sweat over notes and takes and simply moved on to the next thing, which either meant another song idea or a trip to the pub! 

Q3. I remember that your works were displayed alongside those by Teenage Fanclub, Felt, The Clientele and The Zombies in Japanese record shops back then. You covered “Christmas Must Be Tonight” by The Band in your album “Perfect City (Twenty Songs 1998-2000)”. While “Autumnal Playing Field” suggests the fragile harmony of “Odessey & Oracle” by The Zombies, I think the mixture of serenity and buoyancy symbolised by the distorted guitar solo in the latter half makes it sound very original. Were there any particular artists who influenced you around the period when you were recording “Perfect City”?

Declan:   Thanks and we are pleased you picked up the Zombies influence as I think its fair to say that ‘Odessey & Oracle’ was a massive influence on me and Justin and had been for several years before we started Screen Prints.
I think most of those bands you mentioned have all made a big impression on us – in particular Felt and Teenage Fanclub and we are all certainly big fans of both. I think we saw the Clientele as a contemporary rather than an influence but we certainly liked and respected their stuff.
Thinking back to the period of the 4 track songs you are releasing and which were recorded between 1997 and 2000, we were listening to lots of artists but personally speaking, those that come to my mind are:
Lots of 60’s girl group 7”s and Phil Spector / Brill building material (Goffin & King written songs especially), lots of Northern Soul 7”s and Kent label 60’s soul compilations, Sunshine Pop sounds (we were particularly keen on the Curt Boetcher related groups The Millennium and Sagittarius – they got played a lot after pub sessions!), The Byrds – Notorious Byrd Brothers LP, Galaxie 500 LP’s, The Band – Last Waltz concert film (another post pub favourite!), Shack – Waterpistol LP, UK Psych (sike ) pop material from the Rubble compilations and late 60’s UK bands like Honeybus , Yo La Tengo – Painful & Electr-O-Pura LP’s, all the Felt albums and singles, Todd Rundgren – Something Anything & Runt, the Ballad of… LP’s, Belle & Sebastian – Slow Graffiti, Badfinger – Wish you were here LP, Teenage Fanclub – Songs from Northern Britain LP, Nick Drake – Bryter Later LP, Kenickie – I would fix you, The Pastels – Illumination LP (still one of my favourite ever albums) – those are the sounds that come immediately to mind when I think back on that period but we were all listening to lots of great old and contemporary music that we had consumed over the previous seven years or more and I’m sure parts of all that music somehow influenced us and became part of our ‘sound’.

Q4.  I am aware that you (Declan) and Justin write the songs but can you describe the processes for completing the songs? And which one of you does the main vocal? Can you tell a little bit about Justin, too? I understand the single “Her Name I Don’t Remember” was written by Justin. Did you two grow up together?

Declan: I met Justin at School when we were around 14 years old.  I think we connected over having a passion and interest in music and art.  We were both in a few bands together in Derby in the early 90’s but these were just youthful noisy guitar bands as we really loved bands like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr at the time.
It was around 1995 that Justin got the Portastudio and we had been listening to 60’s garage and Psych in the previous couple of years and I also think we became a lot more interested in quite sonically interesting music like some Krautrock bands and electronic music and also bands like Stereolab and The Pastels who seemed to be doing a lot more captivating stuff at that time than most of the other mid 90s UK bands.
We both have quite different approaches to writing. Justin tended to use the four track portastudio to build up a nearly fully formed song that he had chords to as well as the main melody and then I might add to that or we would re-record a new version with a different arrangement and sections that I had added. He also used to and still does use a Dictaphone to capture a solo vocal melody he has and then he would give that solo melody to me to put music to and then we would make final arrangement adjustments as we would record the backing track. This I think tends to make the melody the strong and focal point of the song, and allows you to make an arrangement using changing chords and bass notes under the melody and hopefully make a pop song into something a bit more refined and attractive.
I on the other hand would usually write the other way round, in that I had some chord patterns and then verse /chorus sections of music that I liked and would add the melody afterwards, though I recall I had the melody first for ‘Autumnal Playing Fields’ and then came up with the recurring riff and motif.
The lead vocalist on each song tended to be whoever was the main composer though sometimes the lead vocal was shared – this is the case on ‘Willow Kiss’ as that was two song ideas we both had that we just joined together.
Yes Justin wrote ‘Her name…’ and he can take it up from here…

Justin: Hi, again many thanks for being interested in our work, it always amazes me that people find the music that two lads from Derby made in Manchester bedrooms and bathrooms captivating, but as I get older and reflect back there is a great warmth and atmosphere to these recordings and the flow of how the music came about between our bus journeys to each other across Manchester remains.
‘Her name..’ was a career highlight for us in 2000 as it was played by the late great John Peel twice, so in my mind no matter how many bargain boxes our records and CD`s turn up in; no one can steal that 8 minutes of fame
we had, especially as we all had spent many evenings being exposed to the great and groundbreaking music the great man played.

The song was written by chance one late evening in my room in Trafford. I originally had the sound of slide guitar in my head and big reverbs and possibly got this from Mazzy Star or Big Stars 3rd as Richard later pointed out when he heard it. I am always a sucker for that late 50`s, 60`s tape echo and tremolo sound, the first thing I recorded on the 4 track was a cover of the Everly Brothers “All I have to do is dream” and that was basically because I had acquired an old guitar amp with a tremolo setting and knew most of the chords. The out of tune slide guitar was my lack of theory knowledge, but it had a charm so we left it in and I think I did a similar thing in ‘Cemetery song’ as an overdub.


Q5. The album’s credits say that it was recorded at Trafford General Hospital. I’m aware that you studied medicine but was the recording actually done there at the hospital? I am also aware that some of the other members also participated in the recording of “Perfect City”, but can you tell me how it went? Are there any interesting episodes during this recording you can share?

Declan: Yes I would say that 95% of all Screen Prints material between 1997-2000 was recorded at the hospital that Justin lived in. I lived at the nurses accommodation at another hospital on the other side of Manchester and would come over to the hospital (Trafford General Hospital) that Justin lived at to record as he had a much bigger room than me.  We also mostly recorded in his room as he had his drum kit set up and had an organ there too, but also we used other parts of the nurses accommodation to record to get distinctive sounds.
An example of this is that we had a couple of analogue reverb units, which were really good, but as we were very keen on reverb we wanted as many different types of reverb as possible. Therefore we often did lots of recording in some of the larger tiled bathrooms and open spaces in the nurses’ accommodation, recording everything from drums and percussion to vocals and guitars in the bathrooms.

Justin: Most of the string parts were recorded in one of the bathrooms with Declan picking out the melodies on a guitar for the two classically trained musicians from the School of Music.  We had sat for hours in the school cafe plucking up courage to speak to them, all for the payment of a free lift and a couple of beers.
For ‘Evening Feel’ me, Declan and Richard were banging a combination of drums, tambourines and clapping on the stairwell of the hosiptal accommodation, to the amazement of Doctors coming and going from time to time. I recall one Sunday session, an irate doctor came up from two floors below to tell us what he thought of the noise we were making!
Funnily, Declan had the idea to record his vocal on this song within my wardrobe, amongst all my shirts and trousers. Both Richard and me thought that he had gone all Syd Barrett on us but in the name of artistic creativity we quietly manned the controls for the session with smiles fixed.
On ‘Inspirational’ we had my bedroom full of around five other nurses doing handclaps, which was some feat as there were no headphones or monitors to keep everyone in time. This kind of audience was frequent from time to time as it was hard to not get disturbed on a floor full of young trainee nurses, but clearly it did have some advantages.
For some piano parts, I borrowed the keys to the Psychiatric Unit activity room as this had an old upright piano in it (which was not in use at that time in the evening). Typically for us, as soon as we began recording we had an audience of patients banging on the door demanding to play pool or table tennis.
We often used anything around the nurse’s accommodation as percussion including cupboards etc. and in fact we still do this on the new recordings.
I was always interested in this kind of method of recording after noting it on Unrest`s ‘Imperial f.f.r.r.’ LP so experimenting was fun. Declan I recall also loved the tale he heard of the recorded foot stomps on a Motown record or it might of been The Bee Gees-”You win again”?
Anyway, at the time he lived very near Keppel Road where the Bee Gees had lived in Chorlton and we also loved their first LP back then so maybe that was the case.

Declan: We had a few friends helping out on some of the recordings but most could usually only play instruments or shake percussion that we could play.
As I had written string and brass parts for some songs but didn’t know anyone that played these instruments, we went to the local music college in Manchester and hung around until we spotted people who were carrying instrument cases of what we thought we wanted and then just approached them and asked them to play on our recordings. It must of seemed particularly odd when we told them we lived in a hospital and they needed to come to the hospital to record!
In terms of what instruments I wanted, I remember that as it was the Brit pop era of music at the time in the UK, everything tended to sound big, brassy and overdone. We didn’t want an orchestra or big string sound; we wanted the simplicity of just having solo cello and violin playing together. Likewise with the brass, I wanted a warm mellow sound like a Northern England brass band so we chose to use people who could play flugelhorn and tuba rather than have a trumpet and saxophone sound.

Q6. I recently obtained “Same Time Next Year” in the lathe cut edition limited to 150 copies (7” clear polycarbonate record) released by Queen Nymphet. This record contains a different version of “Same Time Next Year” released by Track and Field in 2000, but I believe that the 7” lathe cut edition is the version recorded originally. Can you tell me about the release of “Same Time Next Year” by both Queen Nymphet and Track & Field, as well as how you ended up signing a contract with Earworm
Track & Field - A UK label that released Of Montreal, Ladybug Transistor and The Radio Dept.

Declan:   That’s interesting that you feel they are different versions of ‘Same Time Next Year’ as I can’t recall them being different. It is maybe down to the different types of material they are pressed on and the quality of the pressing that makes them sound different.
The Queen Nymphet release was released by someone called Dave Skinner who had come into Vinyl Exchange and heard our tape of songs playing over the shop speakers. He released ‘Same Time ..’as a very limited edition lathe cut pressing which was nice and looked great but the audio wasn’t that strong.  Somehow, the same tape of our songs and gotten into the hands of the Track & Field label in London. They expressed an interest in releasing a single so we chose to re-release ‘Same time..’ with Track and Field as they really liked the song and I think it fitted into their aesthetic. We also welcomed the opportunity to have it pressed in larger quantities, on proper vinyl and with our own choice of artwork.
We didn’t really sign a contract as such with Earworm, but Dominic of Earworm records was friends with Dave Skinner of Queen Nymphet and had heard the tape of songs we had made and wanted ‘Evening Feel’ to be on a compilation CD he was putting out.  After this, he put out a couple more singles and then our own compilation of singles, left overs and ideas which became the ‘Perfect City’ CD.


Q7. Can you comment on the following three songs to be released for the first time in this album?

“Willow Kiss”

Justin : Like “Her name..”, this song had its roots in a simple guitar riff but also Declan’s obsession with the Dusty/ Pet shop boys song, which turned it into something much more substantial. Lyrically it was a reflection on youth- a pre-teenage years incident when I was nearly blinded in one eye playing by a Pussy Willow Tree and that meant I could not watch the much loved Cagney & Lacey that night! The rest is just random nonsense about running out of milk for breakfast and losing but being there for a friend. Richard had a great story of existing solely on black pepper on toast when he was hard up so I think it also fitted in with that.

Declan : My parts are certainly influenced by the Creation years sound of Felt and Dusty Springfield / Pet Shop Boys !  Can’t remember much more other than the latter part of the chorus, arrangement wise, sounds like I was listening to lots of Goffin & King’s early to mid 60’s output.
The Moog rogue synthesizer sound and the Fender tube reverb unit = Screen Prints 90’s sound.

“Never Look Back Again”

Justin: This was a song of eternal hope; heartache; healing, realising the grass isn't greener.
Sacrificing the selling of my drums in the hope of short term employment to get to and stay in the sunshine (Miami) and realising when you get there all you want to do is get back to the UK and its gloom, buy some drums again and listen to indie and 60's garage music.
In terms of lyrics, the memories that come today really "face" the test of time ( they don't last or we rewrite them on our minds)  but they had to "stand" as it sounded better poetically. It was really some kind of poem thing I recorded on tape and Declan put some great chords to. Hearing the strings being recorded in the bathroom was very moving and Declan did a great arrangement.

Declan: The string part was written on a mandolin and when I came up with the harmony part, I knew it might sound good on solo cello and violin.  I think we thought we were keeping it over for another release and that’s why we didn’t put it on the Perfect City CD.  We could of been thinking about re-recording it as we often use to play an extended instrumental 3 piece version of it when we got together using a celtic-tuned electric guitar and it had more of a Galaxie 500 feel.

“Cemetery Song”

Justin: The demo of this was written when days at my rented house in Chorlton were coming to an end. It was some melancholic longing of spring and summer afternoons spent in nearby Southern cemetery searching for beautiful names of lovers long past.
One gravestone had the inscription ‘Loves last gift –remembrance’.  When I was recording the demo I heard emergency sirens go past, hence “some kid has been knocked down” came to mind. The Knocking on the back of a guitar was easier than plugging in a keyboard for a rhythm section, so atmospherically it reminded me of ‘Kites’ by Simon Dupree, hence adding wind breaths at the end. Because my guitar skills and knowledge was and still is basic, I was playing lead guitar on Alun’s Telecaster and to me it this ended up feeling something like the Velvet Underground or Pavement towards the end part of the song.

Declan: I remember that we decided to all swap from our usual instruments to get a different sound and feel – Richard played percussion (well, the back of a semi acoustic guitar), Justin played guitars as well as Alun and I played bass.  I don’t remember it being intended but now it sounds like we had been possibly listening to Big Star 3rd LP.

Q8. Upon listening to the re-mastered version, how did you feel? Many songs sing about love but do they remind you of particular episodes back then?

Declan: I hadn’t listened to the songs for a long time so it was a pleasant experience.  Doing the remastering was interesting in that it seemed to bring out some parts that seemed a bit ‘hidden’ on the original releases.

Justin: The songs always remind us of both good things and not so good things, including love etc. but we tend to be optimistic and look back with fondness.

Q9. I understand that you still live in Chorlton, Manchester, the area in which Badly Drawn Boy (Damon Michael Gough) also lives. Is Manchester a perfect city for you having moved from the Midlands? Which places or areas in Manchester do you like in particular?

Declan: I really like Chorlton and Manchester and have lived here now for nearly 17 years.  I wouldn’t say it is perfect but I couldn’t think of living anywhere else now in the north of England.  I like several areas in Manchester, but Chorlton is probably my preferred area as it has lots of pubs and restaurants and things going on a lot of the time, including a few record shops. 

Q10. You told me that you and Justin are still recording new songs as Screen Prints (!), and are about to finish the mixdown of them. I really look forward to listening to them, but are these new songs similar in style to those included in “Perfect City”? Given the advancement of the recording technology, I believe they would sound more hifi, but can your fans expect the same style of music?

Declan: I think that the newer songs do sound different as the new material has been recorded using different equipment that Screen Prints Mk1 never used.  We did have nice guitars and amplifiers etc. in the late 90’s but we are recording into a computer now and have all the benefits that can bring, especially when you want to overdub on to several tracks. That said, we are essentially using the computer and software as a tape machine and are still using pure analogue sounds, but you are right in that these sounds are now being captured with a more hi-fi set up. 
The new songs are probably similar as they are still melodic but we continue to think about how we can use and process sounds differently and not be too conventional like a lot a guitar based bands can be. One song actually doesn’t have any stringed instruments on it at all.
As I said previously, we also have a left over track from the 2001 ‘cottage’ session that is reflective of that time and how we sounded just after the Perfect City CD was released.

Justin: I can`t add much more other than now in 2013 we can achieve the quality we always lost back then with 4 track cassette tape overdubs and ‘bouncing’ down. With the digital age, the warmth is different but we still strive to add that to the recordings and our interest in old and new studio equipment andtechniques, new atmospheric sounds and good music is still there.
The spectrum of music influences we absorb now has also expanded massively and fans will definitely hear this in the new songs, there may even be the odd mistake left in for good measure.
The way of writing may have changed also due to the amount of time to do music and get together and I know because of this, Declan is left with having to do a lot of recording by himself. However we both like the creative process and what we make and this has always been what is important.

Q11. Finally, do you have a message for your fans? Thank you very much!

Declan: Just that we hope that with this Fastcut release, they enjoy the remastered old songs and the unreleased songs and you never know, maybe one day we can meet our fans in Japan and finally undertake the first Screen Prints live performance!