Local three-piece rock ’n’ roll ensemble The Standard Lamps have just kicked off a tour with modfathers of music The Who. Eileen Leahy caught up with the group’s lead singer and guitarist Mike Wilton to find out how the trio ended up playing for their childhood heroes not once, but twice
IF YOU’RE into music and enjoy going out and about in Tunbridge Wells, chances are you’ll already be familiar with distinctively named band The Standard Lamps.
The trio, which is made up of Mike Wilton on lead guitar and vocals, James Livett on bass and Matt Bennie on drums, frequently perform sell-out shows at The Forum and are regulars at local music festivals such as Unfest and Local & Live.
So far, so small-town band territory you might think, but actually that’s where the traditional trajectory of a jobbing, just getting by, unsigned band stops and the fairy-tale story of being cherry-picked by one of the world’s biggest groups to support them on tour starts.
The Standard Lamps, you see, have just kicked off a five-date UK tour with music legends The Who – and what’s more, this isn’t the first time they’ve done so.
“We first toured with them in 2014,” explains Mike, who formed the band in 2009. “We’d supported Wilko Johnson at The Forum in early 2014. It was around the time Wilko was very ill, but he was planning to do a one-off show with The Who’s Roger Daltrey at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
“The night of our gig at The Forum I was chatting to Wilko’s Manager, Lisa Climie, and she told me she’d liked our set, so as a joke I said: ‘Well, we’re available for next week’s Shepherd’s Bush gig if you like.’
“I thought to myself nothing will happen, then she called me two days later and said ‘you’ve got the gig’!”
Still proverbially pinching themselves, The Lamps – as they’re referred to by their fans – performed at the concert, which led them to being invited to join The Who on their 2014 tour.
‘Roger is a very kind man but he doesn’t accept any
old rubbish so he must think quite highly of us’
“I think, genuinely, Roger Daltrey and [fellow Who member] Pete Townshend just really liked us,” explains Mike. “Roger is a very kind man but he doesn’t accept any old rubbish, so he must think quite highly of us. It’s still quite unbelievable: I dreamt about meeting these guys when I was ten years old, so to actually play for them is weird but obviously ultra cool.”
The current Lamps’ line-up has been in place since 2012, and although they’re still all working their various day jobs – either full or part-time in retail, the building trade and office work – the trio are still committed to writing and performing music.
When I ask Mike to describe The Lamps’ music, he says that when you see them perform it live ‘it’s rock and roll’, but in terms of the two albums they’ve released there’s a lot more diversity.
“One of my main influences is The Beatles,” continues Mike. “When they got stuck down in the studio and stopped being a live group it allowed them lots more opportunities.”
He goes on to cite names such as Pink Floyd, Big Star and Oasis as other key musical influences.
“I’m not a fan of albums that are filled with ten songs that sound the same. When I’m writing, I like to make it as much of a journey as possible with lots of different styles and tempos, while still producing something at the end of it all that the audience can sing along to.”
The Lamps’ initial tour with The Who saw them drum up a wider fan base, which led to them playing Hyde Park’s British Summer Time festival in 2015 and to tours with Britpop band The Bluetones, whose lead singer, Mark Morriss, lives in Tunbridge Wells.
The second Who tour came after Lisa, now managing the Lamps, pitched them again.
“She just said ‘they’re available’ and so here we are.”
Why does Mike think that a huge global music phenomenon, who have sold millions of records and been around since the 1960s, have taken a relatively new group under their wing?
“I think it’s because we’re a normal band. We turn up on time and we give it our all: Every night I sing and play like it’s the last gig. We also talk to the audience – no matter how small or big it is.
“I’ve actually been playing gigs for nearly 20 years, and the amount of bands you meet who are not genuine is not good, it’s not the way to get ahead any more.”
Mike adds that they will be the sole support act for The Who’s latest tour, which kicked off in Liverpool on Monday [April 3] and takes in four further dates from today [Wednesday] in Manchester, Glasgow, Sheffield and Birmingham.
“We’ve got about 45 minutes, then The Who come on and do their two-and-a-half-hour set. I think they’re playing a lot from their album Tommy. I grew up with it and was obsessed with it, so it will be really special.”
Once the tour finishes, Mike says it’ll be back to the day job and the task of finishing The Lamps’ third album. And although they’ll have had another taste of stadium success, they’re still happy to be back on the local scene.
“There are so many great young bands in Tunbridge Wells like The Crew and The Galleries – they’re amazing. Tom Williams & the Boat have also hugely inspired me over the years, and it was Tom who advised me to make albums and not just EPs. If it doesn’t go anywhere after this Who tour, then at least we’ll have our music and our core fan base.”
And that seems to be why The Standard Lamps are doing this in the first place – whether they’re playing an enormous venue or a grass roots one.
“I like the audiences – that’s the great part of it. When you’re doing something big like this, or getting in a van touring small venues, if you play a really good gig and the audience like it then it’s the best thing.”
For more information on the band, visit www.thestandardlamps.com