PARKHILL Flats have inspired vitriol and nostalgia and even modern art down the years.
But now one former Sheffielder has been so stirred by the recently refurbished structure that he has named his debut album after it.
Then again, the building did figure strongly in the childhood of Bob Loukes – as the cover photograph featuring his Nan’s front door confirms.
“I could talk about Parkhill all day, to be honest, the good and the bad,” he says, having recently caught a documentary about the ‘streets in the sky’.
“I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing when that man from English Heritage was saying ‘we’ need to use the same concrete. It fell off after 20 years last time.
“I’ve been away from home for 14 years and I don’t know what the current feeling is but I’m just glad they’re not knocking them down.”
Recording under the name Bob’s Bus, Parkhill’s earliest roots were planted 14 years ago when Bob “stopped playing air guitar (mostly) and bought a real one” and penned some songs with his cousin Ste Hall.
“Then a load of stuff happened - some of it good, some not so good, none of it particularly unusual – and the next thing I know I am living with some great mates in Greenwich and playing guitar again, other people’s songs but it was a very therapeutic time.
“When I moved out of Greenwich about five years ago I got a ‘portastudio’ and started writing again, recording and playing to mates. Once enough had said they liked what I was doing I thought it was time I got someone who really knows what they’re doing to record the songs properly.”
And that led to Bob, a teacher by day, hooking up with G2 Studios to sprinkle more steel city dust onto the project. G2’s John Sephton and Paul Harris were joined by, among others, Dave Stanton (slide guitar), Simon Dumpleton (accordion, piano) and Roo O’Hare (vocals). Vocal duties were shared with Bob delivering the title track. Cousin Ste also features.
“Basically I wrote the words and how most of the songs go, but the whole ‘Sheffield thing’ is a vital component of this.
“From the first email from G2 Studios onwards I knew I had fallen on my feet. I was worried I would sound daft saying how happy I was that they had got back to me because they are based in Sheffield and I knew they would ‘get’ me better than some anonymous studio down here, but I needn’t have worried.
“I don’t think for a minute I would have got the same amount of care, patience and, dare I say it, love put into my ramblings and Parkhill definitely wouldn’t be what it is.
“Because I scarcely appear on it – my choice – I can listen and really enjoy it and I really get the ‘warmth’ that comes from it and hope other people can too.
“It’s beautifully produced and I love the sound of it, but also it’s really more important to me that everyone who gave up their time to help some bloke they’ve never met before live out his middle aged fantasy of making a CD hopefully enjoyed it. It sounds like they did.”
Needless to say the former postman is proud to have got to a result, just as the flats in question begin filling up with new residents. You never know, Bob’s album – a very listenable mix of styles, smart ideas and sentimental notions – could end up echoing along some of those plush new corridors.
“Just how personal Parkhill is can’t be overstated to be honest,” Bob says of the content. “It was an angry little s*** to start off with and then it got quite dark, felt sorry for itself, but after a good slapping thankfully emerged a bit more contemplative, with a sense of humour and having lost the massive chip on its shoulder.
“I don’t want my album to be seen as a ‘showcase’ for Sheffield talent – the whole thing was a lot more ‘organic’ than that – but when it comes to playing live – who knows?
“I kind of thought that if the end product is good enough people will let me know – if I let them know it is out there – and if that happens then the band will come if needs be.
“I always liked the idea of a transient set-up where people can come and go – hence the name, Bob’s Bus – and let’s face it if Glastonbury or Jools Holland get on the phone, with how lucky I have been so far, I am sure that I’ll be able to get some people together. They might even get me on stage.”
As for one of the references in the lyrics…Bob has a confession to make.
“In the first couple of lines of the title track, I never had fish fingers chips and beans at my Nannan’s,” he says. “She was too good a cook for that, but I couldn’t get plate pie, chips and peas to ‘scan’.”