For the past couple of months, MFC Chicken have been incredibly busy. As a regular house band for Tangram Theatre’s production of Fuente Ovejuna at the Southwark Playhouse, the boys have had to squeeze in their other gigs at various London rock ‘n roll venues and make time to write new songs. Spencer Evoy, the band’s saxophonist and vocalist, along with Bret Bolton, the bass player, however, made the time to be interviewed by THIRSTY. Knocking on an inconspicuous wooden door set amongst the brash lights of Holloway Road’s abundant fast food joints, I am greeted by Spencer clad in his trademark blue woollen cardigan and vintage tie. He shows me into an apartment perched above a fried chicken shop, the same apartment that, poignantly enough, is where it all began for MFC Chicken.
THIRSTY: I suppose the most obvious question to ask is about the band name. MFC Chicken. Where did that come from?
Spencer:Well, that’s an interesting story actually. When I came over to this side of the pond about a year ago...arrived here on this lovely road, Holloway Road, on my way to make my pilgrimage to Joe Meek’s recording studio. On my way down – I had my saxophone with me – and I was hungry for some fried chicken and there’s a store called MFC Chicken. And I went in to get some and realised I didn’t have enough pounds on me to actually afford it, so I decided to do a little bit of busking on my saxophone outside the front of the chicken shop.
Bret Bolton and Spencer Evoy
(credit: Tom Wickens)
Bret:And that’s where I enter the story.
Spencer:Yup. It turns out that Bret Bolton here lived on top of the chicken shop, his flat was above it. He heard me playing down there and he said, “Let’s start a rock ‘n roll band!” And we did that.
Bret:And that’s it. We became MFC Chicken.
THIRSTY: So in terms of first impressions, what did you both think of one another?
Bret:He’s like my twin brother.
Spencer:I knew right away that he had taste in music. His accent threw me a little bit at first. But I’ve come to like it.
THIRSTY: That’s an interesting point actually. There’s quite an eclectic mix of nationalities within the band. Just take me through each band member and where they’re from.
Spencer:I’m from Canada. I’m half Texan and half Canadian.
Bret:I’m from Manchester. Alberto, our guitarist, is from Brazil. He and I had played in a different band together previously so I just got him in on MFC.
Spencer:Yeah, the guitar genius from Brazil. When I first met him, I couldn’t understand a thing he was saying. Actually, it’s still a bit like that now.
Bret:(whispers) He plays out of tune a lot.
Spencer:(laughing) Nah, he’s a great guitar player. He’s a good man. And Ravi, our drummer, is from London. Our keyboard player, Parsley, is also a Londoner.
THIRSTY: So you’ve been together for how long?
Bret:It’s getting on for a year now.
Spencer:We’ve only been playing regular gigs for about six months.
THIRSTY: And how would you describe your sound?
Bret:Just hard RNB really. Sounds a bit like The Sonics.
Spencer:By RNB, we mean RNB circa pre-1966.
Bret:Can’t go beyond that, you know. When velvet trousers come into the equation – it’s all over!
Spencer:Yeah! I mean, anywhere from 1959 to 65 is our key era. The Sonics, like Brett said. We don’t like to go beyond 66. If we’re hearing something in our songs and think it sounds later than that, we’re gonna scrap it. I mean we want an authentic sound. To us, that’s really the best kind of music, that’s rock ‘n roll. The fifties and the sixties are that kind of hard saxophone driven sound that we like.
THIRSTY: So what would you say your influences are?
Spencer:Number one I would say, as I’ve said before, is The Sonics. And we share a lot of the same influences as The Sonics as well. Little Richard. Chuck Berry. Some of the rarer ones like Screamin’ Joe Neal.
Bret:Howlin’ Wolf. Bit of Howlin’ Wolf for me.
Spencer:Yeah sure. That raw kind of rhythm and blues.
THIRSTY: So when you go onstage, what is it exactly that you aim to achieve?
Spencer:We want to get people dancing basically. Get them all sweaty and twisting until they can’t twist anymore.
Bret:I think the only aim is to get people dancing.
Spencer:And we have fun too, always, but I think it’s been a while since rock ‘n roll has been, you know, primarily a dance genre...it was at the time our influences were playing and that’s what we want to see as well.
Bret:If people aren’t dancing then, they’re probably not into it. It would be hard to carry on playing actually if nobody was dancing! We’ve been lucky so far. People have been getting up and moving everywhere we’ve played. We’ve had really great groups of people. But I don’t think you can help it with this kind of music. Especially live. If you don’t dance, there’s something wrong with you!
THIRSTY: I couldn’t agree more. You’re both really engaged when you’re talking about rock ‘n roll and rockabilly. What is it about these genres in particular that you love so much?
Alberto Zioli, Ravi Low-Beer,
Spencer Evoy, Bret Bolton
(credit: Tom Wickens)
Bret:That driving beat!
Spencer:It’s just essential, you know. We do like some more modern stuff, modern garage, but I think Brett and I always end up going back to those old records. Keep it alive is what I say.
Spencer:Keep it fresh though. I mean we’re not doing some kind of petrified version of it. We’re doing it as it was. It’s all about capturing that excitement.
Bret:And we don’t play Les Paul guitars either!
THIRSTY: That’s good to know!
THIRSTY: So guys, which member of the band gets the most female attention?
Spencer:I’ll be honest it’s Bret. But, you know, he can’t really act on it because he’s off the market. He tries to palm them off on the rest of us, like me, but...you know, mostly they’re not that interested.
Bret:It’s the accent, I think, the Northern accent.
THIRSTY: What about Alberto your guitarist?
Bret:Nah, he’s under the thumb.
THIRSTY: Any of the band single at the moment?
Spencer:That would be me. But there’s enough of me to go around. I try.
THIRSTY: Yes, I’ll say! I’ve seen you guys play about three or four times now and every time you do a bit of showing off – getting on your knees in the middle of the crowd playing the sax. Bret, do you ever feel like he’s stealing the limelight?
Bret:Not really. He’s a born showman and you can’t hold him back. Try and chain him to the stage, he’ll break the chains!
THIRSTY: You think your style is a bit more mysterious?
Bret: Yeah, definitely. I’m the guy in the back who sort of puts his head down and frowns a bit.
Spencer:Holding it together! I mean it’s not like I try and do it to impress the ladies or whatever. I just can’t help it. That kind of music, it possesses your soul. You can’t help what you’re doing.
Bret:When he starts trembling, you know, we just get outta there! (laughs) But, you know, if we didn’t have Spencer in the band then we’d just be an average garage band I think. He gives us the edge because you don’t have many saxophonists in rock ‘n roll these days.
Spencer:Yeah, but everyone in the band is a necessary component.
THIRSTY: But it’s the two of you who write most of the songs?
Spencer:Yeah. We get together and come up with ideas. Usually I’ll come round with a set of lyrics and a vague idea and Bret will somehow already have the riff written before hearing the lyrics.
THIRSTY: And you guys were the house band for most of the performances of Fuente Ouvejuna at The Southwark Playhouse last month. Was that a good experience?
Bret:(jokingly) Yeah, we made that play!
Spencer:(laughs) Yeah. I think we were really cutting our teeth there. Many weeks of just gig after gig...it was a lot of fun actually because there was a whole built-in crowd there and they seemed to like it and get up and dance after the show and at the interval when we were performing.
THIRSTY: Is that your favourite venue then out of the ones you’ve played in the last six months?
Bret:No, not really. It’s quite a cold cavernous sort of space.
Spencer:We’ve played a lot of cool places as well that, as you know...although we’ve not been around long enough to say I don’t think. There’s probably a favourite venue that we have yet to play.
THIRSTY: I see. Have you been given any advice that you’d want to share with other budding rockabilly bands around London?
MFC Chicken at Fuente Ovejuna
(credit: Tom Wickens)
Bret:We haven’t really been given any advice.
Spencer:Would we listen if we were?
Spencer:Although I suppose we’ve had lots of help along the way. Bruce Brand, a good friend of ours.
Bret:From The Milkshakes. Got us our drummer, Ravi, after we lost our first drummer.
Spencer:Yeah. He’s a fan of our band.
Bret:Bruce Brand of the Masonics. Check him out!
THIRSTY: How about your next gigs?
Bret:Well we’ll be starting a residency in the New Year. If you check out our Facebook page you can find out about that.
Spencer:I think our next booked gig is December 9th at The Buffalo Bar in Highbury and Islington. Then the 16th at the Wilmington Arms near King’s Cross.
Bret:Which will be fantastic. Be there or be square.
Spencer:Brett’s making a square in the air with his hands.
Bret:Pulp Fiction reference.
Spencer:They can’t see!
THIRSTY: Thank you guys. Lots of very profound words from the pair of you!