Page last updated at 07:18 GMT, Tuesday, 25 August 2009 08:18 UK

Talking Shop: Sweet Billy Pilgrim

Sweet Billy Pilgrim
Sweet Billy Pilgrim fit music around their day jobs

An album made by an office maintenance man in his garden shed is in the running for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize.

Sweet Billy Pilgrim have been compared to last year's Mercury winners Elbow and their album Twice Born Men will go up against releases by the likes of Kasabian, La Roux and Florence and the Machine at next month's ceremony.

The trio are led by 37-year-old Tim Elsenburg, who adds everyday noises - the sounds of a dishwasher or an antique steam engine - to traditional instruments to make haunting, heartfelt pop.


Is it true that you were fitting a toilet seat when you found out about your Mercury nomination?

I'm just going to be remembered as the toilet seat guy, but it is true. I spend the working week driving round various horrible locations around the M25 mending things in offices. I could have been changing lightbulbs, but at that particular moment I was on my hands and knees changing a toilet seat.

Tim Elsenburg
There's a dishwasher, which had a very resonant B flat when you plucked it on the inside
Tim Elsenburg

What was you reaction?

Absolute disbelief. I did swear. In fact I took one word and stretched it out into a much, much longer word. It took two minutes of persuasion from my manager that it was actually true before I calmed down.

What have you been maintaining today?

Today I am putting down carpet tiles in Guildford.

Are you going to continue with the day job?

I really, really hope not... without being rude to my boss. Regardless of riches and dreams coming true, if I had one wish, it would be that I could come away from this and be a musician as my employment.

Do you work on music in the evenings and at weekends?

Yeah, basically. When the kids are asleep. I've got family, mortgage, the whole bit. The album was recorded piecemeal over about three years.

Was it really all recorded in a garden shed?

Yes. There is no natural light, really. If I close the door, I suffocate, and in the winter I freeze to death. I've carpeted the floors and walls and put up the obligatory egg boxes. And there are dodgy electrics coming in from the house.

What kinds of instruments and methods did you use in your shed to create the sounds on your album?

I hear music in lots of things. If I hear a plane at the same time as a lawnmower, I can hear a chord. I find myself rushing about with my little recorder trying to catch things like that.

The windscreen wipers on my van at the moment are making a quite interesting noise, which is quite rhythmic and I find myself recording that with my phone. A lot of the sounds are location recordings.

On the first song on the record, I recorded one of the antique steam engines on an activity park on the Isle of Wight. I found myself trying to catch that on a microphone while the children went to get an ice cream. And there's a dishwasher, which had a very resonant B flat when you plucked it on the inside.

Are you deliberately trying to do something new that doesn't just involve guitar, bass and drums?

Elbow accepting the Mercury Prize
Elbow singer Guy Garvey picked up the Mercury Prize last year

The band we were before this band - with the same members - was a traditional power trio rock thing. But then the music I was listening to was drifting more towards something a bit more reflective, with a bit more space and subtlety.

But I didn't consciously think I'm going to make this odd, because that will make it interesting. I like pop songs but then I like interesting sonic stuff.

How do you feel about the Elbow comparison?

I love Elbow, I think they're fantastic. I bought their first record. I guess what we share is the melancholy thing.

If there's something connecting the music I like, there's generally something sad about it. And that's what we share with Elbow - even in the uplifting moments, in the background there's always that sadness.

Do you think you can win?

I haven't allowed myself to think along those lines. I'd never in a million years have expected us to be nominated. It would be lovely and I would be thrilled, but I'd also be hugely surprised.

Have you got to be at work the next day?

I'm hoping to be nursing the mother of all hangovers, whatever happens.

Sweet Billy Pilgrim's Tim Elsenburg was talking to BBC News music reporter Ian Youngs.



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