Navid Shafai finds himself with nowhere to go with the latest tragedy in the Middle East. Of Irish/Iranian extraction, he learned to hate Saddam Hussein back when the Ba’athist leader was a US-sponsored fighter of terrorists and rogue states. The Newspeak shift in loyalties has not been lost on the Shafai family: “I’ve hated Saddam Hussein a lot longer than most people in the West because of the things that he has done to the Iranians. I think everyone is happy to see him gone, but it is the hypocrisy. Lets not forget that Iran lost one million people because they were poorly armed and Saddam was armed by the West.” He says, seated with the rest of Ten Days in the back of Oldham Street’s Lounge Bar on a pleasant summer morning in Manchester.
As front man for the promising North Manchester trio, Navid’s outspoken views are often misinterpreted as the manifesto of the band, when, in fact, the group compromises a disparate bunch of individuals, with views, tastes and aims all their own.
20-year-old Navid, from Bury, bought a guitar with one string from his brother’s friend in the mid Nineties. A year later, after watching B.B. King on TV, he bought the other 5 strings, a chord book and set about learning to play. He says now, “I can play really fast because when I was 15 I practised about 8 hours a day. I could play like Kirk Hammett if I wanted to but I really hate that shit. It’s a bit technical for technical’s sake. I’m sure people get a buzz out of it, which is ok, but I want to create something that is more like a feeling or a sound.”
In the summer of 1999 Navid met bass player Eddie Sims through a former guitar teacher and together with drummer Steve Livesy formed Fat Cat. In September 2002, with Livesy away attending Sunderland University, Fat Cat recruited classically trained Boltonite Andy Watson, who was attending the same music course as Sims at Bury College. After a few gigs, they decided upon a name change and Ten Days (the age difference between Eddie and Navid) was born.
So why should you care? Arguably because Ten Days exude all the qualities of a band with the potential to make it big, coupled with a healthy disregard for doing so. Their sound is big, dirty, complex and laden with memorable hooks and catchy riffs: They’re a group that may make you think and will certainly make you tap your foot, a band with individuality that care not for fashion or fads.
“I think we bring something new to the table.” Says Navid, “I can’t think of a band who sounds like us. We are just playing what comes naturally to us.”
“We’ve been together for about 6 months and we have played with bands who have been together for five years and we are as good as, if not better, than them,” interjects Andy, “I know that might sound big-headed but we are honest. If a band is good, we say so.”
I accidentally stumbled onto one of Ten Days’ first gigs in January this year. After wandering in as the band finished a song, and presuming to have caught the end of their set, I enthusiastically asked when their next gig would be. “We’re on third tonight” was the reply (yes, I had only heard their soundcheck). A few hours later and I had witnessed a band that restored my faith in an unsigned scene struggling to escape the overbearing influence of its former glories: churning Alt. Rock powered by the propulsive drums and ranging bass lines of a well-drilled rhythm section, offset by intelligent, Eastern-tinged lead guitar lines and transformed into an arresting spectacle by Navid’s bizarre arm movements. Perplexing to behold, it nevertheless has the potential to become a trademark a là Liam Gallagher’s nose-to-mic stance or Ian Curtis’s dead fly dance.
There is also the noticeable political polemic to much of Ten Days work which neatly taps the zeitgeist of our terror-alert nation, although Navid is keen to emphasise that Ten Days, as a whole, has no overt political objective:
“I have stuff that I want to do and I don’t impose that on Eddie and Andy and they don’t impose the reasons they are in the band on me. We all have a different outlook on life; we create without thinking about it. I don’t think Eddie or Andy believe what I believe. My only barometer for being in a band is that they are nice people, and they are. Nice people and good musicians. There is no collective agenda to Ten Days, just a desire to create what is natural to us.”
It becomes clear on meeting them that Navid is the driving force behind the political aspect, with the easy going Watson more likely found propping up the bar and Sims split between political flirtation and flirtation of the other kind (“all the post on the message board from females say ‘To Eddie and Band,’” quips Andy). In December, Navid was British leader of a mission to Castro’s pariah state for the Cuban Solidarity Campaign, during which he met and gave speeches to the Vice President, Government ministers and the families of the ‘Miami Five’, and visited the site of Che Guevara’s repatriated ashes. So are the lyrical themes Shafai’s own method of social change?
is no one concept. Life, politics, love, hate. I don’t want to be just a
political songwriter, or just a love songwriter, I just want to write whatever I
feel, and although that might sound cheesy, to actually do that is very tough. I
still haven’t manage to capture exactly how I feel so that is why I keep
working, that is my inspiration in everything I do. A new song, ‘Why Can’t
We Build a Bridge’, is about how things can connect up and how things drift
apart for no reason.”
In a personal or political sense?
I have my reasons for writing it but I don’t want to spoil it for other people. If they want to connect it to their love life or whatever, then that’s their prerogative. I wrote it for personal reasons. Its not my job to unravel the music for people, if I was going to explain what it means there would be no point writing the song. If people want to think it’s about fishing then that’s cool by me.”
One ideal Ten Days do collectively share is that of doing things for themselves, and not at the expense of others. They have played across the country by developing good relationships with bands through gig swaps and phoning up venues. So far the reaction has been “beyond our wildest dreams”. “We did a lot of gig swaps with Deadset from Accrington, who have split now. They were great guys and we had a good camaraderie with them,” says Eddie, “Everyone should try and stick together, especially in Manchester, because a scene can start from nothing, look at Guns N Roses in LA. We are trying to get our name out there but so is every other band so we should stick together.”
“Music’s not a competition, it’s an expression of your opinion and how you feel.” Adds Navid.
There has been an offer of a tour in Sweden under the guidance of Burning Heart Records (Millencolin, The Hives, Bombshell Rocks) after Navid met some Swedes during his Cuban excursion, although at present it isn’t financially viable.
When discussing their jaunts round the country, familiar tales of a young, unsigned band on the toilet circuit surface: Borrowing the parent’s car and other people’s equipment, over-protected equipment and prima donna antics over billing, although these only strengthen Ten Day’s call for solidarity:
“A lot of bands are like ‘I never said you could use my amp’ before we go on,” says Eddie, “but when we come off they give us respect.”
"Some mad cock rock band was asking me not to hit the skins too hard.” Laughs Andy.
Touring around the country they have seen their fair share of bands. There is an evident admiration for Sikth, the deceased Deadset, Dundee’s Mercury Tilt Switch (“tight as fuck, and really nice guys as well”), Innabula (“a band that stops you and makes you listen”) and Red Jack (“well fucking monstrous”).
Earlier this year the band was contacted by Steve Lloyd, co-manager of Doves who has worked with Coldplay and Alfie, and invited into the studio to record a demo.
“Somebody unconnected with the band rang him up and said ‘Steve have you heard this band Ten Days’, he said ‘I’ve heard of them’, ‘Well you better get them down to the studio because they might be big’. So he rang us up and asked if we wanted to go down. We were going in the studio anyway and we were hoping to get Steve on side so it all came together really nicely.” Says Eddie, “We recorded at Noisebox in Salford. There seemed to be everyone from the Manchester scene there. Jay Taylor from Night and Day was recording there and John Robb was recording a band, and Doves were demo-ing their third album as well”
The three tracks which make up ‘The Future is Unwritten’ underwent a strenuous selection process: The band gigged extensively, took the crowd favourites back to the rehearsal room for lengthy reworking, then gigged them again, including a stint of 10 gigs in 22 days in March, to get them perfect. It is a mark of their musical evolution that the demo does little justice to the Ten Days currently playing live, only months after committing the songs to plastic. It doesn’t convey the power of their live show and is inadequate to convey the progression of their song-writing, such is their rapid rate of development.
Ten Days are fast waking up to the possibilities which feasibly lie within their grasp and, as a result, are taking steps to give themselves the best of chances:
“We need to be more professional about all aspects,” says Eddie, “We can’t just sort a gig and then say ‘oh transport will sort itself out’. We would be going down to a gig making sure we could use another bands equipment and stuff. It was a pain in the arse basically, so now we need to get everything together. We are going to use our own equipment at gigs and make sure the sound at every gig is perfect. We are trying to get a sound guy sorted out. We have been offered this guy so hopefully we will get him to come down and do our sound whenever he can. It’s a lad called Ruey, who works with Steve Lloyd, he does sound for The Roadhouse. He says he will come down to help out with the sound, which is really great of him.”
"On some gigs the sound could be ropey when it’s just us and a headlining band. Us maggots coming on, they’re thinking ‘get the punk band on for five minutes’, some gigs just didn’t do us justice because it was a crap sound.” Continues Navid, “We really want to be an ultimate experience live, if we can. There’s no point compromising on things like that, there’s no point being in a band if you are going to accept second best. So we are hoping to get that sorted out in the next few months and get him [Ruey] officially on board. Get his ‘Ten Days’ tattoo on his arm!”
Musically, Ten Day’s share a love of the groundbreaking metal of Tool, Metallica and Rage Against the Machine, while, individually, Eddie’s greatest influence is REM’s Mike Mills and Navid worships The Smiths and, as is noticeable in his guitar playing, many under-appreciated Eastern artists he hears on the BBC World Service and family compilation tapes. Andy, resolutely, sticks with Lars Ulrich.
Returning to the subject of politics, Ten Days see themselves more of the Rage Against the Machine ilk than Propagandhi: i.e., there are messages in their songs but you can enjoy the music in isolation from how you choose to interpret the lyrics.
“The beauty of life is that we’re all different and I can’t control anyone else’s perceptions.” Says Navid, “How crap would it be if I were to say you must like this song for this reason and this reason only?”
But when you are writing a political song, aren’t you trying to change minds?
“No, no, they are my outpourings of my emotions and if people connect with them that it is a bonus. I’m not putting over an ideology. This is my perception of what happens in a certain event. Listen to the riff, enjoy the music, enjoy the melody, enjoy the vocals, enjoy whatever you want. It is not my right to invade upon what you perceive.”
Ten Days then; mistook for a political band playing rock songs when all along they’ve been a rock band with some political songs.
Asked what they hope to achieve as a band, Navid interjects:
“My personal aspiration isn’t based on sales, it is basically to produce awesome records. I want us to produce the best debut album by a British band ever. That is what I decided about two years ago.”
“We’ve not set ourselves much of a target have we?” Deadpans Andy.
Navid continues, “I don’t think we are going to sell too many records. I think we play a bit too weird and look a bit too weird and talk too much shit. I don’t think we are going to be very big, I don’t want to be that big; I just want to make awesome tunes and let people respond how they choose.”
Despite Navid’s protestations, Ten Days certainly don’t look too weird (in fact they look ready made for MTV), and their wired, anthemic, alternative rock is the stuff of which careers, and millions, are made. Whether this comes to fruition or they end up playing eternal pub back rooms is tantalisingly unwritten, but it will certainly be a pleasure watching and listening, whatever may transpire.
10 DAYS PLAY THE FIRST EVER ELECTRIC CIRCUS AT IN THE CITY ON 14/09/03 : www.theelectriccircus.netWords / Pix : By Alex Ringsell, August 2003.
(c) (p) 2003 manchestermusic / musicdash