When Sonic Cathedral first started out as a club night in 2004, there were a number of bands around that reminded us of the stuff that had made us fall in love with music about 15 years earlier. In this so-called ‘nu-gaze’ scene, alongside the likes of Engineers and Amusement Parks On Fire, were an unassuming four-piece from Norwich called Sennen; they played lots of shows for us, and their mixture of melody and noise made them stand out.
Their debut album, Widows, was released on October 24, 2005 by the Hungry Audio label to great acclaim from websites such as Drowned In Sound, who, in their 9/10 review, described it as “enticing, invigorating and most importantly extremely enjoyable”. American webzine Somewhere Cold went even further, saying “they have produced what should become a classic in the genre… they have taken it to a new level with their patient compositions, influx of slowcore elements and incredibly talented instrumentation”.
Sennen have gone on to release a number of albums, the most recent being 2016’s First Light, and their music has featured on big TV dramas such as One Tree Hill and True Blood. However, Widows, which never got a vinyl release, remained a much sought after time capsule of early noughties experimentation.
Now, just over 15 years later, we are really proud to be once again shining a spotlight on it – releasing it on (double clear gatefold) vinyl for the first time, as well as on CD and digitally. The new, expanded edition doubles the original album with another seven contemporaneous tracks, many of which were live staples at the time, but have never been released before; the single ‘Forty Years’ (watch Jean de Oliveira’s trip down memory lane video below) was only ever released on a CD-R by Club AC30.
The whole package has been painstakingly remastered by Slowdive’s Simon Scott, whose then band Televise were touring partners with Sennen back in the day, with new artwork by Stuart Jones.
Full tracklisting for Widows (Expanded Edition)
1. I Couldn’t Tell You
2. Opened Up My Arms
3. Laid Out
4. All The Time
5. It’s Not Like It Used To Be
6. One And The Same Thing
8. Next Day
9. Hard To Take
10. I Knew A Girl
11. Forty Years
12. It’s Good To Know
13. Watch The Skies
14. Just Wanted To Know
“Our instincts were right” – Sennen look back on Widows
“We’re all still very proud of Widows,” says guitarist/singer, Rich Kelleway. “With your debut album you just have to trust your instincts. You don’t need to know everything – technical stuff, etc – you just need to know enough to make a good noise together. Listening to it again in 2021, I wouldn’t change any of it, I think our instincts were right. We gigged and rehearsed a lot in those days and the band was the most important thing in our lives; we worked those songs out together and put a lot of time into them, and you can hear that.”
The album actually came from an unexpected source, with the title track being developed from an instrumental piece that guitarist/singer Larry Holmes had written for a production of the Ariel Dorfman and Tony Kushner play of the same name. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that the band weren’t actually shoegazers at all, instead cutting their teeth on mid-’90s Britpop.
“Larry, Rew and I all went to school together on the Isle of Wight and decided that, if we wanted to carry on doing ‘the music thing’, we should all go to the same university and start a band, so we moved to Norwich, where we met Brownie in 2000,” explains Rich. “The earliest incarnation of Sennen also included Phil, another friend of ours, on guitar. We were much more like a post-rock band at that point, we were interested in what Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor were doing – basically exploring how much apocalyptic noise we could make with our amps and pedals. When Phil moved away we carried on, but we made the songs a bit shorter and introduced the vocal harmonies, so instrumentally we sounded a bit like a post-rock band, but we were trying to sing in the style of Teenage Fanclub.
“We weren’t aware of much of what you’d call shoegaze. We were always being compared with shoegaze bands, and people assumed that because we were called Sennen we were all huge Ride fans [‘Sennen’ is a track on their 1991 Today Forever EP]. Originally it was Phil who suggested Sennen for the band name, we liked it, but we were actually only familiar with a few Ride songs at the time. So we did some of our musical education a bit back to front. Once we did our homework we discovered a lot of great music that you might assume we’d listened to all along. We liked the repetition of bands like Spacemen 3 and Six By Seven and I suppose all this was the beginning of what would become Widows.”
“It felt like there were lots of cool things happening around the music we liked at this time, the Sonic Cathedral nights were starting around then, for example, and we felt momentum in the build-up to this album. I remember rehearsing for a gig one night and we’d been told Steve Lamacq might play us on Radio 1, so we rushed home and sat on the sofa not quite believing it was going to happen. It did. He played ‘It’s Not Like It Used To Be’, which ends with a minute of white noise. He played it in full and we wondered aloud how many people were listening to our almighty racket. At the end he said, ‘Not exactly a cure for insomnia is it?’ It was a brilliant time in our lives. We were enjoying playing so much we’d accept almost any gig we were offered; we’d think nothing of driving from Norwich to Leeds and back on a Tuesday night. We all had jobs and had to work in the morning after getting home at 4am, but we were all friends and we lived together, we enjoyed it.
“We played with some great bands: The Telescopes, Lyca Sleep, Televise… I remember Simon [Scott] kindly getting us out of a hole by lending me an amp when mine broke in (I think) Oxford. Everyone now knows Simon as the drummer in Slowdive, but he sang and played guitar in Televise and they were a really good band. We were thrilled that he agreed to remaster the record for us. He did a fantastic job, I’ve honestly heard things I’d never noticed before.
“All of the bonus songs on the reissue are taken from the same recording sessions as the Widows album. Most never saw the light of day until now, probably just because we were moving on so fast and always thought the next song was more important. I think these songs stand up alongside the original album and I’m glad people can finally hear them.”