The debut album from Edinburgh quartet The Spook School brings together 13 (mostly) very noisy guitar pop songs, the culmination of four people making a lot of noise about gender and about identity. Inspired by the post-punk-pop of The Buzzcocks, Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’ and the films of Buster Keaton, with a dash of 60s pop for good measure, The Spook School are Nye Todd on guitar with Adam Todd also on guitar and Anna Cory on bass, not forgetting Niall McCamley who plays drums, tells jokes and takes his clothes off. They all sing and shout and write the music together. There is no leader and no ‘frontperson’. They’re a band.
With Nye identifying as trans, the band explore gender, sexuality and queer issues with stories that do not shy away from being absurd and silly. The title of the album is ‘Dress Up’ and relates to the idea of gender being a social construction, something that can be artificially appropriated. Gender is something more fluid than the given binary of male/female. There is also a strength in dressing up, a liberation of mind and body, a chance to smile, be silly, be yourself, be someone else, be anything at least for a little while.
As the band explain; “We want to liberate the listener by lubricating their ears with noisy pop songs about coming to terms with gender identity and realising how silly the world is. We like to have fun, but we also really care about the things we sing and write music about. I think if anyone was to ever listen to one of our songs and think “hey, I’ve felt like that!” then that would make us very happy indeed.”
The band started playing together because Nye and Adam (siblings) had written a few songs and fancied playing them with a full band. Searching around the city of Edinburgh they found Anna hiding amongst a pile of The Beatles records and Monty Python DVDs. They managed to coax her out of her pile and into the band using a bass guitar as bait. Niall joined on the proviso he would be allowed take his top off at any moment and he would be allowed to attempt to seduce the crowd during gigs. In response the other three, unhappy with his abundance of height, made him agree to sit behind the drums so The Spook School could successfully be equidistant from all ceilings. None of them even knew how to play their instruments or write songs. They still don’t really, although that’s now become important in terms of how they sound. They don’t really “write music”, they just try and make noises that sound nice and exciting. They’re four friends on an adventure.
The name came from Adam’s love affair with architecture. Around 1920 a group of Glasgow artists led by Charles Rennie Mackintosh were criticised for their work being too gothic. This led critics to make fun of them by calling them The Spook School. Nowadays of course they’re heralded as one of the greatest art collectives to ever come out of Scotland. For that reason the band don’t really deserve to appropriate their name at all, but they like the idea of taking something mean and making it awesome, of something that was at the time ridiculed and considered ‘weird’ later being recognised as brilliant and revolutionary.