Bull launch second album Engines Of Honey over two days at The Crescent with gigs, DJs, jamboree art fair, bingo, quiz… and curry

Bull: Two nights and a jamboree day at The Crescent to mark the release of Engines Of Honey

BULL, York’s “finest purveyors of jangling indie joy”, launch second album Engines Of Honey with a brace of home-city shows at The Crescent this weekend.

Their tour booker has sent the guitar-powered slacker pop quintet on a frankly bonkers itinerary, beginning in Brighton on March 14, where frontman Tom Beer slept on a bean bag – “a comfy, long bean bag,” he says – at his cousin’s house, followed by Bristol.

Next came Manchester on Saturday; Edinburgh on Sunday, where Tom took a restorative run up Arthur’s Seat first thing on Monday morning; Newcastle last night (20/3/2024); Glasgow tonight; then, back home to York after all that mileage, tomorrow and Saturday, before a London finale at the Windmill, Brixton, on March 28.

“Ex-tour booker,” jokes Tom in a Wednesday morning chat in the Explore York library hush of The Centre @ Burnholme.

“Rather than music, I’d been doing a lot of painting, some little doodles – one we used for the artwork for the Red Rooves single – now some bigger ones as well, though I’ve got no plans to exhibit them, but this tour has reinvigorated me massively, making me realise I do want to do more music.

“I’m now realising that life is a round thing, where you can do lots of different things. So I can do some music, some law, some painting, some gardening, some swimming pool construction.”

Playing plenty of squash and tennis too, sometimes against fellow York singer and songwriter Sam Griffiths of The Howl & The Hum. “I beat him at squash; he beats me at tennis,” says Tom.

Kai West’s cover artwork for Bull’s Engines Of Honey

We shall return to “some law” and “some swimming pool construction” later, but first the new album, Engines Of Honey, the title taken from a lyric (from Stranger), not a song title, in the tradition of the Pixies.

“Sam [Griffiths] says that when you bring something out it reminds you that you exist,” says Tom. “You can take it way too seriously, but it’s just some songs for people to listen to, and if people have like them, that’s great. The reaction to the album has been really good.”

Released on March 1, with distribution by AWAL, who did likewise for The Howl & The Hum’s Human Contact in 2020, Engines Of Honey is available via Bandcamp on CD and vinyl, and digitally too, but not at record shops.

Billed on Facebook as “our second greatest hits”, the album’s arrival has not been accompanied by the fanfare that met the alt-rock dandies’ March 2021 debut, Discover Effortless Living, after Bull became the first York band since Shed Seven to sign for a major label, fully ten years after their formation. £20,000 from EMI came their way, along with a further £5,000 backing for 2022 EP Stuck.

“Signing to EMI opened up a lot of doors in terms of the record being sold in places like HMV, which was a big deal for us, and brought us headlines. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy where people start taking you seriously,” says Tom.

Not everything went swimmingly, however. “We were going to put out another album with EMI and went down to London to meet them, but I had a bit of a burn-out after their 2022-23 tour, when I kind of realised I didn’t want to be focusing on music as much as I’d done before…so I started a new job.”

Tom had studied for a law degree at Newcastle University in earlier days. “I’m now working as a planning consultant for the gypsy and traveller community nationally, and I’m a trustee for the York Travellers Trust too. It’s about giving them stable private homes, but where they can live their traditional lifestyle,” he says.

“I’m working with lawyer Marc Willers, a leading King’s Counsellor on gypsy and traveller issues, who’s been such an inspiration to me. We met up last week when Bull were playing Brighton, and I’m considering doing a pupillage down there.”

Bull on the March tour trail: Brighton, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Glasgow, York, last stop London

Tom decided that Bull should not push for the second album with EMI. “It wasn’t the right fit, to be honest,” he reflects. “We’re a cult independent band from York, That’s what we are. We’re not going to be the next Wet Leg. We have cult appeal, a catalogue of 35 songs, and a small group of people around the world that like us, and that’s all we want.”

Twelve of those songs form Engines Of Honey, recorded by singer, guitarist and principal songwriter Tom, keyboard-playing sister Holly Beer, guitarist Dan Lucas, drummer Tom Gabbatiss and bassist Kai West with producer Remko Schouten in his Amsterdam studio, as was the case for Discover Effortless Living, with further recordings at Tom’s parents’ house in York. “Adding endless harmonies, shakers, timpani and saxophone,” as Tom puts it.

Bull are in a good place, says Tom. “It doesn’t matter that we didn’t do a second album with EMI. We’re happy where we are because you can’t make money from music unless you’re huge, and we were broke,” he says.

“I wasn’t making ends meet, so I needed to get a job. We’re not exactly business people. We tried but it kills it. I started taking things too seriously, but it’s only music. Though I feel very conflicted about it. I don’t feel I’ve quit, but I was working way too hard at it, to the point where I can’t do that any more.

“Music is much more personal than other careers; you feel it too deeply, where it would activate my ‘fight or flight’, so I had to stop doing it, but thankfully Holly and Dan and the rest of the band took over finishing the album, with Dan doing the lion’s share of the mixing.””

Bull: Playing a different set each night at The Crescent on Friday and Saturday

Bull have signed to new management; a further York live event is upcoming at the York Explore library on May 17, and recording plans are afoot already for two more albums, one with Renko Schouten at his new studio in rural Spain, the other, “super-lo-fi” in York.

“We’re trying to strike a deal with Renko to build him a guitar-shaped swimming pool on his land to cover making the next album,” says Tom. Polymath Kai is a builder among his multiple skills, should you be wondering.

Turning 30, Tom finds himself becoming more of a home bird. “I’m engaged; I want to have kids, make normal money from a job,” he says. “I had to give up on my rock’n’roll dream, which is unreal. Only Bob Dylan pulls off the never-ending tour, and I’m not sure how happy he is. I just want to be have friends around me. Be a good citizen for York.”

First up, Bull play two entirely different sets tomorrow and on Saturday with no repeats and DJ sets afterwards by Victor Alvarez, the Mexican-masked host of the Golden Ball’s Latin nights, Sophisticated Boom Boom DJs, from the Micklegate Social, DJ Dr Vic, DJ Georgie, probably Joe Coates and maybe Tom Beer too, picked from his record collection.

In between comes Saturdays’ free daytime jamboree, kicking off at 2pm with an art fair featuring Jade Blood, Harry Clowes, Kai West and Izzy Williamson and more. Ben Crosthwaite’s music quiz at 5pm will be followed by Jade Blood’s Art Bingo with prizes at 6pm.

Look out too for Bull’s homemade curry, cooked up by Kai West, and a memoraBullia exhibition with 20 Bull T-shirts down the years, posters, promotional artwork and record sleeve designs. MemoraBullia, Tom? “I came up with that!” he says.

Please Please You and Brudenell Presents present Bull at The Crescent, York, tomorrow, supported by FEET, from London, and Vehicle, from Leeds, 7.30pm. Tickets still available at thecrescentyork.com. Saturday, supported by Eugene Glorious and Fat Spatula, 7.30pm, sold out.

Album launch Saturday Daytime Jamboree, The Crescent, 2pm onwards; free entry. To buy Engines Of Honey, go to: https://bullband.bandcamp.com/album/engines-of-honey

Kai West’s poster artwork for Bull’s album launch weekender

York River Art Market ready for August return with 30 artists and designers signed up for each of the six days by the Ouse

Last Maps’ poster for York River Art Market’s 2023 season

YORK River Art Market will return for its eighth summer next month, sited once more along Dame Judi Dench Walk by Lendal Bridge.

“This city-centre riverside location lends itself to the open-air events of our award-winning market,” says founder and director Charlotte Dawson. “It has often been compared to the Left Bank in Paris.”

Each of the three weekends – August 5 and 6, August 12 and 13 and August 19 and 20 – will host a different variety of more than 30 independent artists and makers from all over Yorkshire and beyond from 10am to 5.30pm.

Work by York River Art Market artists and makers taking part this summer

“Each event has something new to see, and there is always something to suit all budgets,” says Charlotte. 

Among the artists and makers taking part will be illustrator and Bull bassist Kai West, noted for his gig posters; ceramicist Jill Ford, new for 2023; printmaker Izzy Williamson, also new for 2023, and Cuban painter Leo Moray, who made his York Open Studios debut this year.

Look out too for York jewellery maker and York Open Studios regular Joanna Wakefield and Last Maps, Thomas Moore and Angel Jones’s small design studio, dedicated to producing work that celebrates adventure and the natural world. They designed this summer’s York River Art Market (YRAM) poster, by the way.

Last Maps design duo Thomas Moore and Angel Jones

For a sneak peak and further details of all the artists on board on each date, keep an eye on YRAM’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/YorkRiverArtMarket/events/?id=100040543310183&sk=events

YRAM’s chosen charities this summer are York Rescue Boat, the city’s independent lifeboat and search and rescue team, and Henshaws, which supports people living with sight loss and a range of other disabilities to achieve their ambitions and go beyond their expectations. The charities will be present at YRAM to raise funds and awareness of their work.

The markets are free to attend.

York River Art Market founder, director and artist Charlotte Dawson

Spark Studios’ makers exhibit works of colour and community – or its loss

Kai West’s poster for the Spark* Studios Makers exhibition

SPARK* Studios Makers’ resident artists Dominic Brooks, Leon Francois Dumont, Jake Moore, Lucy Topham and Kai West are exhibiting at Spark:York, Piccadilly, York, this weekend.

Based in Spark’s MAKE space for the past 18 months, the York artists are showcasing their distinctly individual styles and talents.

On display in the SHOW space upstairs on Saturday, from 12 noon to 10pm, and Sunday, from 12 noon to 8pm, are a collection of 2D artworks in oils, acrylics, mixed media, pen and digital.

“You’ll see a conscious emphasis on colour, themes on community, and the absence of it in the pandemic years we’ve lived through,” says artist Leon Francois Dumont. “There’s plenty of figurative work and a mixture of realist works, alongside the more fantastical, abstracted and imagined.” Admission is free.

Dominic Brooks’s poster for Spark* Studios Makers show

Today is the day to Discover Effortless Living in York as Bull release debut album

Band and the banner: Bull take to the River Ouse on the album launch day for Discover Effortless Living as the artwork hangs from Millennium Bridge, York

BAND formed: 2011. Debut album released on major label: March 26 2021. No wonder York alt-rock  dandies Bull rolled out a large banner of the cover artwork for Discover Effortless Living from Millennium Bridge today.

“It feels great. I’m really excited,” says songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Tom Beer, revelling in one of the most joyful stories in the history of York’s music scene, as the first buds of spring deliver Bull’s 13-track flourish on EMI Records, in conjunction with York promoters, producers and proponents of potent pop, Young Thugs.

“We’ve been working on bringing out the album all year [since signing to EMI last July] and it’s just exciting that it’s done and ready to go.”

Ten years to reach this zenith, and you thought elephants had a long gestation period. “We didn’t know we’d ever get to this point. We’d never bet on it,” admits Tom, after Bull became the first York act since Shed Seven in October 1993 to sign to a major label.

“It definitely feels all the more significant because it’s not only a year’s work. Everything we’ve done has been incremental, learning as we go, for years.”

Are Bull the hardest working band in York, Tom? “I’m not sure we can be called that! I’ll give that to The Howl & The Hum. Not that we haven’t worked hard, but we’ve always just done what we wanted to do. When you work at something you love, it’s not work, is it?” he says. “I’ve only just started calling it ‘work’ in recent years.”

Going Green: The artwork for Bull’s first single for EMI, a song written as long ago as 2012

Bull have hit the roof, in the best way possible. “We’ve just played a gig on the EMI roof,” reveals Tom. When? “Um…I only remember dates in the future.”

Sometime in March, anyway, as Tom, guitarist Dan Lucas, drummer Tom Gabbatiss and bass player and artist Kai West followed in the London footsteps of The Beatles in their last public performance on the Apple offices rooftop at Savile Row on January 30 1969 and U2 in a not-so-secret gig atop BBC Broadcasting House on February 27 2009 to launch their 12th album, No Line On The Horizon.

The Beatles, U2, what esteemed company Bull are keeping. “We’ve actually been called The English Beatles, which we quite liked!” says Tom.

“We had a few meetings at The Golden Ball [York’s first community co-operative pub in Cromwell Road] and came up with a few whacky ideas, and originally we thought we’d just try to play on the roof without telling EMI, just doing it on the day, maybe with the help of the janitor.”

Instead, it developed into a full-blown performance, playing all 13 tracks from Discover Effortless Living. “It will be broadcast on Jericho Keys’ BBC Music Introducing show on BBC Radio York tomorrow [27/3/2021, from 8pm],” says Tom.

“As for actually releasing it, we’re pitching it to various sources, but it will be available to watch via our Facebook site on a date to be confirmed.”

“Everything we’ve done has been incremental, learning as we go, for years,” says Bull’s Tom Beer on the day their debut album arrives

Bull made their little piece of rock’n’roll history on that rooftop. “Apparently we’re the first band to play on EMI’s offices, at the Universal Music building next to King’s Cross [Four Pancras Square, to be precise],” says Tom.

“It was insane! Like, the food that day was better than anything we’d eaten in years! The roof must be 20 storeys up. Brilliant up there, but cold. It was bracing to say the least. We even had a drone photographing us that looked as big as a helicopter! We’re editing that now.”

No fewer than seven singles were released from Michael Jackson’s 1982 album, Thriller, and Bull are on his tail with Eugene this week becoming the fifth from Discover Effortless Living, in the wake of Green, Bonzo Please, Love Goo and Disco Living.

Tom’s mini-symphony of self-flagellation spans the various stages of feeling down on yourself – from lethargy and frustration to anger – using tempo changes to “paint an audio picture”. In its brief visit of only two minutes and 38 seconds, the idiosyncratic song manages to be both melancholy and spritely at the same time.

“It’s a real kick-yourself-when-you’re-down song,” says Tom. “I wrote Eugene when I was feeling dissatisfied with what I was doing. It’s kind of a self-hate song, you know when people talk about self-love? It’s not that. I’m slating myself; it moves through the key changes and different moods, and ends in a way that mocks the sadness, another form of self-deprecation!”

One of the red apples from Bull’s animated video for new single Eugene

Recalling penning Eugene, Tom says: “I felt rubbish at the time but I did feel better for writing it. The problem is singing it for ten years, still having to revisit that apathy, but hopefully it’s preventative to getting back to that state.”

Mulling over the kick-yourself-when-you’re-down subject matter: “I used to listen to a lot of Elliott Smith [the American singer-songwriter who took his own life with a knife in 2003],” says Tom. “There’s a line in High Fidelity: ‘What comes first? The music or the misery? I had a down year when I wrote Eugene…but I think the answer might be ‘music’, though…”.

Who’s Eugene, Tom? “We used to name a lot of our songs around our original drummer Louis’s friends, such as Eddie’s Cap. We like the idea of giving the song a name, as opposed to lifting it from a lyric.

“Eugene is named after Joe G, Joseph G. Louis used to call him Gorgeous G. So Eugene. My brother Paddy’s band are called Eugene Gorgeous after this guy too.”

The video is an animated gem in a collaboration with artist friends of the band that reflects the song’s different moods. Band members Dan and Kai set the ball rolling with a burst of DIY Claymation before handing over to artists Jack Iredale, Rory Welbrock, Roxy Linklater and Tom’s sister, Holly Beer, who each tackled a different animation style.

York band Bull pictured in….Scarborough. Picture: Amy D’Agorne Craghill

“With all those key changes, the song’s a bit of a rollercoaster, and we wanted to mirror that in the visuals, splitting it into animated sections, but we also thought: ‘Does it need something to tie it together?’, so we made the arbitrary decision, or maybe not, that all the animations had to feature a red apple,” says Tom. First Adam and Eve, then Snow White, now Bull!

Summing up the album as “13 songs written and rocked on between the years 2012 and 2020”, Tom elaborates on the origin of the title: “It’s taken from the opening lyric to the final track, Disco Living. We wanted to use a lyric from the album and felt like this was a good one.

” I first saw the words Discover Effortless Living in London, written on the side of a mansion being built and thought it was funny. It also ties in with ideas around class, new beginnings, a golden era of prosperity, and hoping to have life ‘in the bag’.”

What would constitute “effortless living”, Tom? “I just think it’s a contradiction in terms. That’s what was funny about it. Effortless living? I don’t think anyone would want to discover it. Effort is surely worth the effort?” he says.

“My idea of discovering how to live is to take things slowly; finding joy in the little things; having lots of different things on the go at the same time, and not worrying about any of them too much. Maybe lockdown has been a necessary change of pace. A nice change of pace. It’s the first time I’ve had a routine since school.”

Spread out: The artwork for Bull’s debut album, Discover Effortless Living

Tom finds joy in going for walks. “I love walking in suburbia; it’s my favourite thing. I’ve always loved it. You have really good conversations on walks, and I love discovering roads and parts of communities I’ve not seen before,” he says.

Now those discoveries are as much in Scarborough as elsewhere after moving from York with girlfriend Martha – band member Dan’s sister – a year and a half ago.

“Martha is a midwife and it was either Oxford or Scarborough that she would be working in. It was time we lived together; we both liked Scarborough; it’s close, so I can go to York, rehearse all day, then get back to Scarborough.”

Tom and Martha are living in Castle Road. “We’re south-facing, so out of the window we have incredible views of the South Bay,” he says.

“In fact, Castle Road is where we made the album cover, at St Mary’s Church. We knew we wanted somewhere with beautifully green grass, the greener the better. I called the church up on the phone, to ask if we could use the churchyard [where Haworth novelist Anne Bronte is buried, by the way].

Richard Hawley pictured at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, for the album cover for Coles Corner

“I said, ‘can we have it between 10am and 5pm, if we clean up afterwards ourselves?’, and this man very kindly said ‘yes’.”

To create the cover image, Bull combined items they found on the street with “lots of flowers we picked”. “I hope they’ve grown back,” says Tom. “A bunch of people came up to ask ‘what are you  doing?’, and once we told them, they said, ‘oh, that’s nice’. Some people even sat and watched!”

And so, St Mary’s Church churchyard becomes the second Scarborough setting for a landmark album sleeve, after the Art Deco frontage of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, at the former Scarborough Odeon, graced the cover of Richard Hawley’s Coles Corner, released in September 2005.

The band portrait at the top of this interview was taken in Scarborough too by Amy D’Agorne Craghill. “There’s this amazing place on the North Bay. From the castle, you walk through the castle walls to woodland with all these orange-coloured rocks and that’s where Amy took it,” says Tom.

A further Bull image in Scarborough came about when they stumbled across 100 gnomes in a woman’s garden. Who could resist using gnomes for a picture? Not Bull. Permission was duly forthcoming.

What’s next? Bull in a china shop?

On the edge: “We didn’t know we’d ever get to this point. We’d never bet on it,” says Tom Beer of Bull’s progress to a major-label debut album

Track listing for Bull’s Discover Effortless Living: Bedroom Floor; Love Goo; Green; Shiny Bowl; Eugene; Eddie’s Cap; Serious Baby; Perfect Teeth; Find Myself A Job; Bonzo Please;
In A Jar; Smoke and Disco Living.