‘I was really quite sad about never doing music again – I think it’s what I’m best at…’

“I’ve got pheasants following me around – they’re not pets, honestly,” says Matt ‘the Hat’ James, former Gene-drummer-turned-singer-songwriter, speaking to Say It With Garage Flowers on the phone from his garden in the East Sussex countryside, shortly before the release of his debut solo album, Breaking The Fall.

Despite the local birdlife, he hasn’t turned into an eccentric rock star recluse, although after the demise of Gene and his next band, Palace Fires, several years ago, he did leave the music business to pursue a career as a wine merchant, but he’s recently been tempted back into it, and, in 2019, he started writing songs on his own for the first time and rekindled his passion. Three years later, the results are now out in the wider world.

“Having the record out there is the best feeling – I can’t stop looking at the vinyl,” he enthuses. “Musically, I think it’s strong enough to win over new fans.”

It’s hard to argue with him. Listening to Breaking The Fall, which is one of our favourite albums of the year so far, it’s clear that he’s got his mojo back.

Although it’s a debut record, it sounds like a best of collection – 10 memorable, varied and, at times, very personal and emotional, songs that embrace folk, country/ Americana, soul, indie-rock, Spaghetti Western soundtracks and ’60s pop. 

‘Having the record out there is the best feeling – I can’t stop looking at the vinyl. Musically, I think it’s strong enough to win over new fans’

Occasionally it recalls Gene –  the country-soul of A Simple Message and the anthemic ballad Different World – but most of the time, it’s the sound of someone experimenting with different styles and enjoying being in the studio again after a long time away.

“I’m sort of trying everything out – I have thrown it all in there. Perhaps on future albums I’ll take more of a single direction,” he says. 

Stepping out from behind the drum kit to put himself in the spotlight for the first time, Matt has relied on some old friends to help him out.

Former Gene band mates Steve Mason (guitar) and Kevin Miles (bass) are along for the ride, as is keyboard player, Mick Talbot, (The Style Council, Dexys Midnight Runners), who played live with Gene and on radio sessions.

Production duties are taken care of by former Gene associate, Stephen Street, (The Smiths / Morrissey, Blur, The Cranberries) – sonically, the album is rich, colourful and diverse – and there’s some guitar work by James’s friend, Peredur ap Gwynedd (Perry for short), from electronic rockers Pendulum.

We got Matt to talk us through the writing and recording of Breaking The Fall, share some of his thoughts on the songs and let us know what it feels like to be back in the game… 

Q &A

I was expecting the album to open with a big song, but the first track, From Now On, is quite low-key, with a country/Americana feel. It’s stripped-back…

Matt James: I deliberately wanted that – it suits the nature of the lyrics, which are about coming home. It’s a little folky number and the song is a metaphor for me returning to do music. That’s a general theme on the album.

I didn’t want a big bang at the front – I wanted it to be like the Badly Drawn Boy album [The Hour of Bewilderbeast] with something little at the beginning, before one of the big tunes.

The song sounds like it has an accordion on it…

That’s Mick Talbot doing an accordion sound on the keyboard. He’s multi-talented and he’s good to hang out with – he’s so funny. He has a brilliant sense of humour and his stories are immense. He’s full of energy and the moment he plays, it lifts any room. It was quite a moment having Mick there, because I hadn’t really seen him since he played with Gene.

Champione was written about your dad…

MJ: Yeah – he was someone that I loved but he was plagued with problems, and it was quite difficult being his son. Throughout his whole life, he continued to go downhill, and he ended up getting quite desperate and being very needy of everyone else, without going into details.

‘I’m more likely to better communicate the things I want to talk about in my songs  if they’re about highly personal subjects. That’s the great thing about writing – it’s a cathartic experience’

He was a difficult character – the song starts off being quite angry. I call him “champione of none” but I end up forgiving him. When someone has passed away you have the choice to remember the good stuff – if you want – but it’s tempered with the difficulties. I now think of him fondly most of the time, but I really wanted to get it out in this song.

I’m more likely to better communicate the things I want to talk about in my songs if they’re about highly personal subjects that are unique to me. That’s the great thing about writing – it’s a cathartic experience.

High Time is another autobiographical song. It’s about the serious road accident that your pre-Gene band, Spin, were involved with, back in 1991, and it also mentions the first time you met Martin Rossiter – who went on to front Gene – in the Underworld, in Camden…

MJ: Yes – that song and Champione were two hard ones to write.  I’m quite glad I did it – I hadn’t done it before and I didn’t know how it would feel. I was determined to put some real emotions and some reality in them. On those particular songs on the LP, I think I’ve made that connection the best. There are touches of comedy in some of the lyrics.

High Time is dark and atmospheric…

MJ: It’s a difficult subject matter – I wanted a sombre, driving feel and I was thinking Johnny Cash. The song is about random events – good and bad. Things that you don’t have any control over, but they can completely change your life. It’s an interesting concept.

The title track is one of the darker and saddest songs on the record – a big, anthemic ballad. Why did you choose that one to name the album after?

MJ: It was mainly because of the lyric – me returning to music. I’ve never written songs completely on my before. I’m a pretty happy guy and I’ve got a good life… but I looked at myself and, under the exterior, I was really quite sad about never doing music again, because, if I’m honest, I think it’s probably what I’m best at.

People I knew were making a stand and doing their music, and I wasn’t doing anything, so I took a decision to reverse that. That’s what Breaking The Fall is about – it conjures up the sadness of it. I’m drawing under a line under it, but it’s a long journey back and I think I will improve a lot from here.

When did you first start writing songs on your own?

MJ: 2019. The first song I wrote was Snowy Peaks – it was a joyful one. I wrote the verse while I was on holiday and it was sort of a love song. I played it to Steve Mason and he said: ‘That’s really good, but you need another bit…’

That was the turning point. I wrote a lot of songs for the album. It was a bit like with Gene, when, for some albums, we would write 20 or 25 tracks. I remembered that you have to do that to have a strong record. After I finished the album, I had songs left over and I’ve written quite a few more.

The album is very varied in styles. Born To Rule has mariachi horns on it and a bit of a Spaghetti Western feel..

That’s me experimenting – I’m sort of trying everything out. Perhaps on future albums I’ll take more of a single direction.

 

I think the two songs that most remind me of Gene on the album are A Simple Message and Different World

MJ: Yeah – I didn’t want to do too much like that. I was aware of it. I was channelling Gene with A Simple Message – I had that kind of guitar style…

It was also the first single you released from the album…

MJ: Kev said that song was his favourite – I knew it was a strong song. It’s definitely one of the best on the album.

On Different World, I was channelling Burt Bacharach and Dusty Springfield – that’s sort of where I was coming from. Whether I succeeded or not, I don’t know…

I can definitely hear that.

MJ: It also has a strong and simple lyric.

Sad, which has a soul feel, is one of my favourite songs on the record. It has Mick Talbot on keys, which gives it a slight Jam and Style Council vibe. The chorus is great…

MJ: My niece, Olivia, who is still at school, sings backing vocals on it. She stepped up… she loves musical theatre. She’d never been in a recording studio before and it was really good fun. She came up to London and it was a great day – she sang on two tracks, Sad and Snowy Peaks.

‘On Different World, I was channelling Burt Bacharach and Dusty Springfield – that’s where I was coming from. Whether I succeeded or not, I don’t know…’

The last song on the album, Fireships, starts off stripped-down, but it soon builds and turns into an epic…

MJ: It’s a song about a breakup – I’m wallowing in self pity. Many people will understand that. I really do like the end section – it’s probably my favourite bit of music on the album. I’m a real sucker for an anthemic song that builds.

It’s a nice way to close the album. The whole record feels like a complete piece of work – 10 songs, bang-bang-bang and no messing around. It works well on vinyl too  – five songs on each side. Like the old days. I think too many acts make albums that are overlong. Ten or 12 songs, at a push, will do me just fine..

MJ: I agree – you don’t need to outstay your welcome. Put them on another album or an EP. I think 10 is about right. It felt good for this record. I don’t think I put even the best songs on there but it’s the 10 that worked at the time. I know I have some other really strong songs.

Let’s talk about recording the album. You made it at Stephen Street’s studio, in Latimer Road, West London, but do you also have a home studio?

MJ: I have my drum kit and guitars in my office, but the only thing I record on [at home] is my phone. I went to proper studios to record the drums – not at Streety’s because he doesn’t have a drum room.

Steve Mason and I tend to send things to each other via WhatsApp – he recently sent me an absolutely brilliant riff that’s really bluesy. I love it!

Steve, Kev and Mick all came to Streety’s studio in Latimer Road – Damon Albarn does his Gorillaz stuff there upstairs – we saw him around. He was nice. I haven’t been in that world for so long.

How did it feel being back in it?

MJ: It was really nice, but there were times when I felt a bit shy being back in a recording studio.

How was it working with Stephen Street?

MJ: He’s a real grafter – he puts a proper shift in and can put his hand to anything. He works his arse off until about six o’clock at night. I remembered that from when I worked with him in the Spin days – we were signed to his record label.

‘I’m basically a wine merchant who’s putting music out’

He took the demos for my album – he went through everything and picked what he wanted. Some we rerecorded completely. Streety produced the whole album, but it’s not a big-budget production – I couldn’t afford that.

Perry from Pendulum plays guitar on the record…

MJ: He’s a mate and is a super talent. For someone who is quite a metaller, he can play so much – he can shred it and go super-fast, but he was a session musician for many years, playing on so many different records, like Natalie Imbruglia.

Matt James performing at Shanklin Theatre, Isle of Wight. Picture by Embracing Unique with Laura Holme.

The album’s available on vinyl and digital. Any plans for a CD version?

MJ: Not at the moment – I’m basically a wine merchant who’s putting music out. I don’t have any management, but everyone’s helped out and stepped up. I feel that it’s very early days.

I think the album will be a word of mouth record…

MJ: Musically it’s strong enough to win over new people. Some Gene fans will be supportive but they’re fans of Gene – they’re not fans of me. They might wish me well, but they like to hear Martin singing! [laughs].

I’ve got to find my audience – I’ve drawn a line in the sand and I’m making my way back. Every little thing that comes in just cheers me up. It’s not like I’ve just been signed by a major label and they’re saying, ‘You’ve got to do bloody well, mate, or you’re out on your own…’ It’s a nice feeling – let’s see where it goes.

Breaking The Fall is out now on vinyl and digital (Costermonger Records)

https://musicmattjames.bandcamp.com/

https://musicmattjames.com/

https://gene.tmstor.es/

‘We were Britpop before Britpop’

The Kynd
The Kynd

What did you do during lockdown? Well, if you were ‘90s indie band The Kynd you reformed, decided to put out your long-lost third single and rerelease your debut album, from 1999, in a deluxe version with a bunch of extra tracks.

Not only that, but they’re also heading back into the studio to record the second album they never had a chance to make.

“We’re wondering if we’re going to break a record for the longest time between a debut album and a follow-up,” says guitarist Danny Tipping. “Even The Stone Roses only took five years…”

Lockdown has given us more time to reflect on our lives. Some of us have used it to embark on a nostalgia trip, whether that’s reconnecting with old friends over Zoom, or digging back into our record collections – or searching streaming services – to listen to music from our youth.

I’ve been indulging in the back catalogue of anthemic indie-rockers Gene – my favourite band from the ‘90s – but, sadly, I no longer fit into that skinny T I bought after a gig at the London Astoria in 1996…

Twin brothers Danny and Tristan Tipping, and their friend, Paul King, from Buckinghamshire, have taken things to the extreme – they’ve used their downtime to resurrect their ‘90s indie band The Kynd.

Back in the day, DJ Gary Crowley described their sound as “a gorgeous slice of Bucks beat.”  The group played shows supporting the likes of Hurricane #1, My Life Story and The Bluetones. Ride guitarist and future member of Oasis, Andy Bell, produced their debut single, Egotripper, which came out in 1996.

This month sees the release of their long-lost third single, Get What You Deserve, and the reissue of their 1999 debut album Shakedown, in a deluxe, repackaged CD version, with seven extra tracks. Oh and they’ve also reformed to play some gigs later this year and record their unfinished second album.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, they’ve given Say It With Garage Flowers an interview to tell us why they’ve decided to get back together.  So, over a socially-distanced pint outside a bar in Chesham – not far from where the band grew up – I have a chat with guitarist Danny, who is, er, one of The Kynd.

“We’re excited,” he says. “It’s been really fun…”

Q&A

I’ll be honest, even though I’m a veteran of the ‘90s indie scene, I hadn’t heard of The Kynd [Paul King – vocals, Danny Tipping – guitar, Tristan Tipping – bass, Bradley Hills – drums] until a few weeks ago. I’ve known you and Tristan for a few years, because of your Americana label, Clubhouse Records, but you’ve never mentioned the band before…

Danny Tipping: We didn’t talk about it for ages, because we did it so intensely during the mid-‘90s that when it all came to an end, we were all done with it.

How did the band come together?

DT: We were schoolmates – when we were 14, Paul went to the same senior school as Bradley and us at Chalfont St Peter.

We were all into music and our dads had all been in bands – like everyone does, we kept talking about being in one. In our last year of school, everybody else was forming either punk or metal bands. We decided not to do that – we played ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll, like Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran, and we had turns-up and wore Converse. It felt quite rebellious. We were called Walk, Don’t Run after The Ventures song, which was one of the first things I learnt to play.

And then you became The Kynd and went indie…

DT: Once we stopped playing the rock ‘n’ roll stuff, we were done with covers and we started writing together. There was a lot of good guitar music around in the mid-‘90s – more and more guitar bands were getting into the charts and we were all listening to grebo, like The Wonderstuff, and we liked The Smiths and The House of Love, and a lot of the shoegazing stuff and the Thames Valley scene. We liked Blur and I loved Gene, and Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub.

‘We played ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll, like Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran, and we had turns-up and wore Converse. It felt rebellious’

The demos we did in ‘92/’93, before we recorded Shakedown and did the Egotripper single with Andy Bell of Ride, were – without being wanky about it – Britpop before Britpop, because we were into The Who, The Kinks, The Stones and The Small Faces.

We’ve always been into classic ‘60s pop and we got lumped into the Britpop thing – we were playing at mod nights, like Blow Up. A lot of the people there weren’t strictly mods, but they were into a mix of indie and ‘60s pop. You could play in packed student unions from one end of the country to another – and that’s what we did, for about four years.

We were headlining university gigs and we were the perennial support band on that circuit – we supported anybody you care to mention. We had a pretty decent following – we had singles come out and we got some radio play, but we only got a smattering of press. We got a good review in Kerrang! once and we were mentioned in the NME and Melody Maker.

Do you wish you’d been more successful?

DT: I was never bitter that we weren’t bigger – we did it for a living, but we never really took off. My one regret is that if we’d known what we were doing, we’d have got the second album out.

How did you hook up with Andy Bell of Ride, who produced your first single, which came out in 1996?

DT: We played at the Marquee with Corduroy for a Small Faces tribute gig, raising money for the Ronnie Lane Foundation. Andy was there and we met him – he’s a big Small Faces fan. Ride were just finishing their Tarantula album.

We did our first single, Egotripper, with him, for a London label called Go-Go Girl/MGR, and then we did a follow-up single [World’s Finest] and an album.

‘I was never bitter that we weren’t bigger. My one regret is that if we’d known what we were doing, we’d have got the second album out’

We were supposed to release a third single, Get What You Deserve, but it never came out. It was our anthem – it’s one of our best songs – and we were building up to it. There was meant to be a trio of singles.

And now Get What You Deserve has finally come out this month, as a digital single. It’s a great, anthemic pop tune, but with some very vicious lyrics – it’s a revenge song…

DT: Yes – it is. Paul wrote the words – he says it’s the nastiest song we ever wrote.

The title is quite Morrisseyesque…

DT: Paul’s a big fan of The Smiths.

It reminds me of the Longpigs…

DT: It’s funny you should say that – other people have said that too. Paul’s really into the Longpigs…


Your debut album, Shakedown, is being released on April 23, as a deluxe, repackaged CD version, with seven extra tracks…

DT: The album has been out of print – you can buy a copy from Japan for 45 quid! We reissued it digitally in 2015, but people wanted to get hold of it physically, and, because there’s a bit of a ‘90s nostalgia trip going on and people have started to get interested in the band again, during lockdown we thought we should do something for this year, as it’s the 25th anniversary of the first single coming out. We talked about doing a gig and then we decided to put out the third single, and do a proper CD release of the album, with extra tracks, so that people who do want it don’t have to buy an expensive copy off Discogs.

So, you’ve gone from lockdown to Shakedown

DT: Yes [laughs].

Did the first album do well when it was first released?

DT: It sat on the shelf and didn’t come out until 1999 – by that time, we’d already moved on and we were playing a set of different songs, as we’d kept on writing and writing. We’d demoed the second album before the first one had come out – we’d lost some momentum. Our last tour was 1999.

And then, before you’d had a chance to make the second album, you split up…

DT: Yes – and before we were supposed to tour Japan and the West Coast of the States… We’d just had enough – everything took so long. We’d been doing stuff together for 10 years.

So during lockdown last year, you started listening to your old stuff…

DT: We all went through our boxes of tapes, CDs and MiniDiscs and we started to relearn our live set. Paul found the demos we did for the second album and so we listened to them too – there’s some good stuff. It’s been really fun.

We’re also going to go into the studio, record our second album in July and put it out on vinyl before the end of the year – depending on how things pan out. We’re going to be true to how we would’ve done it in 1999.

With the release of Get What You Deserve and the reissue of Shakedown, we’re clearing the decks for what comes next. We’re wondering if we’re going to break a record for the longest time between a debut album and a follow-up. Even The Stone Roses only took five years…

Is there a third album planned? Three of The Kynd?

DT: That would be amazing – that’s what we should call the trilogy of singles.

 

The Kynd’s debut album, Shakedown, has been repackaged and reissued on CD for the first time in 20 years. It’s out on April 23.

The limited edition, individually numbered package features an eight-page lyric booklet and seven bonus tracks, including B-sides, demos and rarities.

You can order it here: https://thekynduk.bandcamp.com/

For more info: https://linktr.ee/TheKynd

The Kynd will be playing two headlining gigs later this year at The Water Rats, in King’s Cross, London (Friday June 11 and Saturday June 12) – both shows are sold out.

They will also be on the bill at the Speakeasy Volume One festival at Bucks Students’ Union, High Wycombe: Dec 11-12, alongside Space, Thousand Yard Stare, My Life Story and a DJ set from Louise Wener of Sleeper.

Tickets are available here.

 

‘I would like to be remembered as the guy who never gave up’

14368800_10154173303429822_1657228209304201025_n-1
Hurricane#1 – the 2017 line-up

Watch out – there’s a storm coming! Hurricane#1 are back with an epic new single – What About Love? – and their “pure rock and roll” album, Melodic Rainbows, is due out later this year.

I spoke to frontman Alex Lowe, who reformed the band in 2014, following a battle with cancer, to find out why only the strongest will survive…

Well, blow me down – it’s 20 years since ‘90s indie-rockers Hurricane#1 released their debut single, the anthemic Step Into My World.

Signed to music mogul Alan’s McGee’s label Creation Records in 1997, the band was formed by guitarist Andy Bell after the demise of shoegazers Ride.

Andy Bell was joined in Hurricane#1 by singer/guitarist Alex Lowe, bassist Will Pepper and drummer Gareth “Gaz” Farmer.

In 1997, I was working as a music editor on a South Coast listings magazine. I fell in love with Step Into My World when I was sent a promo cassette of it by Creation’s press officer. With its big, guitar-heavy, stadium rock sound – Andy Bell channels Neil Young – and a killer chorus, it became one of my favourite songs – and it still is…

A few weeks before the single came out, I was sent to interview Hurricane#1 at The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth, where they were supporting fellow Creation label mates, punk-poppers 3 Colours Red.

Backstage before the gig, I sat down to chat with the band members. I got on with all of them really well, but I was particularly drawn to Alex.

A former boxer, the Scottish frontman had a cool, tough-guy look, a wicked sense of humour and a great, raw and soulful singing voice that sounded like Faces-era Rod Stewart.

Before the interview could begin, Alex insisted that there was someone missing who needed to be there.

“Where’s Jack?” he asked, adding: “We can’t do the interview without Jack.”

“Who’s Jack?” I asked, naively.

“Ah – here he is,” said Alex, producing a litre bottle of Jack Daniels and pouring us two glasses…

Hurricane+1
Hurricane#1 – the original line-up

Since that day in 1997, when Alex and I first met, we’ve remained great friends.

Speaking to me in August 2017, he reminisces about our initial encounter: “I will always remember that. Oh – we had fun in those days. I loved every minute of it,” he says, laughing.

“They were great days – very special. I just can’t believe it was 20 years ago. Where does the time go? It was a great scene to be part of – music meant something back then. I just don’t feel like there is anything around anymore…”

Hurricane#1 split up in 1999 – Andy Bell left and joined Oasis and Alex embarked on a solo career. Sadly, in 2013, Alex was diagnosed with cancer, but he overcame his battle with the disease –  well, as the title of the 1998 Hurricane#1 hit single says, “Only The Strongest Will Survive” – and, three years ago, he reformed Hurricane#1 – albeit with a new line-up.

Alex is the only original member in the current reincarnation – he’s joined by Carlo Mariani (guitar), Chris Mullin (bass) and Chris Campbell (drums).

Hurricane#1 are about to unleash their fourth album, Melodic Rainbows, in the UK. Released in Japan late last year, it’s the follow-up to 2015’s pop and country-flavoured Find What You Love and Let It Kill You and is a much heavier record than its predecessor – it’s a big, noisy rock and roll album, with dirty guitars and a whole lot of attitude.

There’s also a stand-alone single due out later this year – the epic What About Love? – and some live shows planned for September, including Beano On The Sea in Hastings (Sept 8-10) and the Shiiine On Weekender (November 10-13,Butlin’s Minehead Arena).

I asked Alex to tell me more about the band’s plans for the rest of the year…

alex guitar new
Alex Lowe, recording Hurricane#1’s new single

 

Q & A

How are you doing?

Alex Lowe: I’m feeling good at the moment – it’s great to speak with you again, as it’s been a while. There’s great stuff happening in the Hurricane#1 camp – lots going on, with a new single, album and gigs.

You’ve just signed a record deal with UK indie label Strawberry Moon Records? How did that come about? 

AL: I can’t actually remember to be honest – ha ha! It’s just one of those things that happens when you are least expecting it. They got in touch and that was that really – it was very quick and informal.

h1 cover new

You’re gearing up for the release of a new single What About Love? When’s it coming out and what can you tell me about it?

AL: I think we are looking at a September/October release. I wrote it very fast, while I was sat at the kitchen table – the cat was staring at me, over a glass of JD…I was aiming for a big, anthem-type song – something people can sing along to and remember quite easily. We recorded it at a studio called RSD in Scotland.

You’ve given me an exclusive sneak preview of the song. It does have a big sound and you play guitar on it, don’t you? The solos remind me of those on Step Into My World…

AL: That was intentional. I wanted to get back to that early sound of Hurricane#1 – that epic feel. I played all the guitars on it, as Carlo was ill at the time – we needed it done quickly.

‘I wrote the new single very fast, while I was sat at the kitchen table – the cat was staring at me, over a glass of JD’

Will the single be on your new album, Melodic Rainbows?

AL: No it won’t – we have decided not to put singles on the albums, but just do entirely different tracks, like The Beatles did.

melodioc rainbows

The album has already been released in Japan. When can we expect it to come out in the UK?

AL: We are looking to release Melodic Rainbows very soon – maybe October. We do have 50 Japanese, signed limited edition copies available from our label Strawberry Moon Records.

Why did you release the new album in Japan first?

AL: We got an email from a label interested in releasing it, so we thought they could be the guinea pigs for the release, so we gave it to them and they put it out.

We recorded the album in Scotland, in a town called Turriff – my friend Steve Ransome engineered it. It’s a great place to record, as it’s in the middle of the Highlands and there’s no one around to bother you.

‘I wanted to get back to that early sound of Hurricane#1 – that epic feel. I was aiming for a more pure rock and roll album’

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new album. It feels more full on and ‘in-yer-face’ than its predecessor, Find What You Love and Let It Kill You. Some of the songs have got dirty, loud guitars and big beats. What were you aiming for with it? 

AL: I was aiming for a more pure rock and roll album – a guitar album that was full of noise – and I think we accomplished that pretty well.

Carlo is a fantastic guitarist – all the band are great players – but I wanted him to shine through and he did. There’s some special playing on there from all the guys.

The opening track, I Wanna Kill You, is very noisy – it’s garage rock and roll. Is it about your battle with cancer?

AL: It was about killing cancer – nothing else. A lot of people thought it was about killing people! It’s not – it’s about killing cancer.

Liz Don’t Cry is an old song – I can remember you playing it to me years ago. What can you tell me about that song? It reminds me of R.E.M…

AL: Yeah! I remember when I had just written it and I played it to you on my acoustic guitar. It’s an old song reworked and it’s one of my favourites.

It’s actually about a next-door neighbour I had named Liz – she had just lost her father and I saw her crying in the garden, while she was hanging out washing. It was very sad to see.

‘Nobody knows how to speak anymore, or relate to each other in the non-cyber world. It’s very depressing to see sometimes’

The song LOL is Hurricane#1 goes dance-pop! What’s that all about?

AL: It’s a piss-take of the internet and mobile phone generation and all their vocabulary, like LOL and PMSL – all that nonsense. Nobody knows how to speak anymore, or relate to each other in the non-cyber world. It’s very depressing to see sometimes.

You worked with Danny Saber (Black Grape, The Rolling Stones, The Charlatans) on the new album. How did you hook up with him?

AL: I met Danny through a friend – Mark Millar from the blog XS Noise. He let Danny hear a new track of ours – Danny loved it and wanted to work with us.

Looking back to the late ‘90s, do you wish Hurricane#1 hadn’t split up when they did? Could you have made at least one more Hurricane#1 album?

AL: We could have done loads more albums and we should never have split up – it was ridiculous. Nobody had faith more than me in the band and nobody worked harder. It was very sad when we split.

When, in 2015, you played a Hurricane#1 comeback gig in Brixton, with your new line-up, Andy Bell and your former live keyboard player, Nick Moorbath, turned up to watch the show. How was it seeing them again?

AL: It was good to see Andy – he was a changed man, much more open and friendly. Nick has never changed – he’s still the same as ever and always up for something. It was great to see them at the show.

‘We could have done loads more Hurricane#1 albums and we should never have split up – it was ridiculous’

Are you still in contact with Andy? He played ‘backwards’ guitar on Think of the Sunshine, from your last album, didn’t he?

AL: I am still in touch – yeah. We text now and again, or tweet. He played on Find What You Love and Let It Kill You – he actually played on two of our tracks, one of which we didn’t use for the album. We might stick it out as a single or a bonus track one day.

This September, you’re playing some gigs, including Beano On The Sea in Hastings, with some other Britpop bands, including The Bluetones, Cast and Space. Are you looking forward to it? Do you stay in contact with many of your friends from ’90s bands?

AL: It’s going to be a blast! We can’t wait to get back on stage and blow the windows out! It’s great seeing all my old mates from The Bluetones and Space – they are all great guys and fantastic bands.

You were supposed to release a solo album earlier this year – the first single from it, Coal Trains, came out a few months ago.What’s the latest on the solo record? When’s it being released?

AL: I will be releasing a solo album, but I’m not sure when because we are so busy with Hurricane#1. My last single was all over the radio. I think it’s had around 12,000 downloads, so it’s looking great.

What music – new and old – are you listening to at the moment?

AL: You know me, mate – it’s The Stones and The Beatles and lots of Americana stuff as well. Townes Van Zandt and Johnny Cash….

There’s a Hurricane #1 documentary being made. What can you tell me about that?

AL: We’ve been filming footage for a brand new documentary and we are urging fans who’d like to be in it to send in small clips of them speaking about the band. There will also be a few rock and roll stars in it, as well as some old friends and colleagues.

‘It’s going to be a blast! We can’t wait to get back on stage and blow the windows out!’

As we said earlier, it’s been 20 years since Hurricane#1 started out. What would you like to be doing in 20 years’ time?

AL: Just to be alive I think. I have lost so many friends over the last three years that I just want to survive and to be able to look back and say I gave it my best shot.

So, how would you like to be remembered?

AL: That’s a tough one, but I think I would like to be remembered as the guy who never gave up.

Hurricane#1 release their new single, What About Love? later this year, followed by the album, Melodic Rainbows. For more information, visit their Facebook page or go to Strawberry Moon Records.

The band will play at Beano On The Sea in Hastings (Sept 8-10) and the Shiiine On Weekender (November 10-13, Butlin’s Minehead Arena).

 

 

 

‘I’ve always enjoyed revenge…’ [Martin Rossiter – February 1999]

Back in early 1999, Gene were about to release their third studio album, Revelations – their most political record yet.  When I spoke to frontman Martin Rossiter, he was feeling betrayed by Tony Blair and New Labour and out for revenge…

Gene’s thumping new single, As Good As It Gets, is a brutal attack on Tony’s Blair’s New Labour.

Over thundering piano, Hammond organ and in-yer-face guitar, frontman Martin Rossiter sings: “We’ve been bought, we’ve been sold, but at least we’re not old. When red became blue, hope denied – our dreams swept away with the tide.”

As the National Health Service fails to cope with the influx of OAPs suffering from flu and has to create makeshift mortuaries to deal with the ever-growing number of fatalities, the song is more relevant than ever.

It’s also the first single from Gene’s third studio album, Revelations –  a record which has far more of a political agenda than the group’s previous releases. Several of the lyrics deal with Blair’s failed promises and highlight that New Labour has well and truly sold us down the river…

“It’s a record that’s not afraid to speak its mind,” says Martin, adding: “but there’s more to it than that. The important thing to remember is that there are other songs on the record, but, certainly, politics is something we’ve never been afraid to talk about.”

Indeed. Last year, Martin cropped up on the BBC’s Newsnight, taking part in a political debate.

“Yes,” he says. “I’m just a media whore.”

‘I’m like Santa Claus armed with a machete’

Two of the songs on the latest album Mayday and The British Disease – are calls to arms that urge us to recognise the new enemy, rise up and storm the gates.

“Both of those songs are perhaps lyrically more optimistic than As Good As It Gets – they’re saying that change can be created,” says Martin. “I have my own little army of helpers. I’m like Santa Claus armed with a machete!”

415YpqezHnL._SY355_

 

Revelations is an album which attempts to capture the dynamic, punchy sound of Gene playing live. It’s definitely more ballsy than its predecessor, Drawn To The Deep End, but it still veers between the band’s trademark, swaggering indie-rock anthems [Mayday and In Love With Love] and epic ballads [You’ll Never Walk Again and Angel]. 

On some songs, Martin seems to possess more vigour than ever before, such as the wonderfully-titled The Police Will Never Find You, in which he, shockingly, threatens to take a Stanley knife to someone’s face and smash their kneecaps with a hammer!

“Aren’t I awful?” he says, coming over all Kenneth Williams. “There’s always been a little bit of grit and gristle in my lyrics. I’ve always enjoyed revenge and I’ve always enjoyed imaginative uses of bicycle D-locks.”

One of the highlights of Revelations is Fill Her Up. It celebrates the joys of drinking and contains several bizarre musical influences, including rockabilly, Cossack chanting and El Mariachi brass.

“It’s a Polish-Mexican hybrid,” says Martin. “It’s a very geographically confused song – it doesn’t know where it fits in. If you get a map of the world and plot out the various influences, you actually end up in Slough.”

 

Revelations was recorded at Rockfield Studios, in Wales – the home of the piano that Queen’s Freddie Mercury played on Bohemian Rhapsody.

“It still has the stains to prove it, ” says Martin.

So did he use it on the new album?

“What? The stains or the piano? The piano is all over the album – all the piano that you hear has Freddie’s sweat on it.”

‘The piano you hear on the album has Freddie Mercury’s sweat on it’

Can we expect Martin to be sitting behind the old Joanna when Gene head out on tour later this month?

“No, because I don’t want to become Bruce Hornsby – that’s a frightening thought.”

Gene are a band who are in their element when they’re playing live…

“I’m always amazed why people are surprised by that,” says Martin. “They come along and they think, ‘oh my God, instead of whipping out poetry, you’re more likely to whip out your knob!”

It’s fair to say that Gene haven’t really achieved the critical acclaim and commercial success that they so richly deserve. How does Martin feel about that?

“We’re human and we want to be successful. Our drummer, Matt, has his little dream of being able to walk out at Walthamstow dog stadium.”

He adds: “We like the songs – we love them. After a while, they cease to become ours and they exist independently of us. We want them to do well.”

So will Gene be able to survive in this current, post-Britpop climate?

“I think there’s life in the old dog yet,” says Martin.

What does he ultimately want to achieve with the band?

“I’d like to lead them and make them realise that I’m far more important than they are. I’d like to rule them with a rod of iron.”

The original version of this article was first published in Splash! magazine in February 1999.

 

 

 

‘I’d rather see us in the charts than Gina G’ [Richard Hawley : Oct ’96]

richard-hawley_show_info

Before Richard Hawley found fame as a solo singer-songwiter, he was the guitarist in Sheffield indie rockers Longpigs. Back in October 1996, I spoke to him about the Sheffield music scene, the Longpigs’ debut album, The Sun Is Often Out, and touring America…

Imagine the clumsy and naughty fumblings of a young boy…

“My father said I couldn’t touch it, but I got it out one day and he came into the front room and I was playing with it – I was only six,” says Richard Hawley of Sheffield band Longpigs.

That was the day he first played his father’s guitar.

“He said, ‘do you like it, then?’, he showed me some chords and that was it,” says Richard. “When I opened the guitar case, it looked like a spaceship. I didn’t give a shit whether it caught rhinos, or made tea for me mum – it was what I wanted to do with my life. It was a good job it was a guitar and not something that you caught rhinos with, ‘cos I’d ‘ave had a bit of a job finding rhinos round ‘ere.”

longpigs_promophoto

 

Sheffield may not be known for its rhino population, but it has become a breeding ground for Britpop acts such as Pulp and Babybird.

“Sheffield’s never been famous for anything except steel and Joe Cocker,” says Richard. “The thing that’s beautiful about the city is that you can isolate yourself really easily – you don’t have to be part of a scene. There’s us, Pulp, Babybird, Blameless… That’s a pretty eclectic bunch, really. Just recently, Sheffield has kind of popped its head up again in popular culture. Pulp and Babybird have been knockin’ around for a long time and we’ve been going for three years. Sheffield seems to be a city that produces old men of rock.”

Longpigs have had a pretty tough few years, due to a string of unfortunate events and record company wrangles, but they now seem settled and comfortable and things are finally looking up for them.

‘There was a very dark period where we all nearly got killed in a car crash and we lost our record deal’

“We’re appallingly contented,” says Richard. “There was a very dark period in the past, where we all nearly got killed in a car crash and we lost our record deal. The company closed down in the UK after spending so much money on Police Academy 93 or whatever.

“In retrospect, all those things were quite cathartic. What was important to us was sticking together and making music. We believed that what were doing was good. I’m glad we did. I’d rather see us in the charts than Gina G.”

 

The band released their debut album, The Sun Is Often Out, earlier this year. The songs range from indie rock and pop to torch song ballads, folk and modern blues.

“Crispin [vocals/guitar and main songwriter] fancies himself as Cole Porter. He comes along with his nice songs and our job is ruin them. That’s it, really,” says Richard, who has also recently turned his hand to songwriting.

“Me and Crispin are co-writing stuff and that will probably flourish. It’s still mainly Crispin writing the songs. His twisted outlook on life is definitely something I couldn’t do.”

This December, Longpigs will be shutting themselves away to write new material for their second album.

“We’re looking forward to the next record,” enthuses Richard. “God knows what it’s going to sound like – it will just happen.”

Longpigs have recently returned from a tour of the US and also played in Canada with The Bluetones.

“We don’t hope to break America – we want to mend it,” says Richard. “The two main exports from the US are the beefburger and rock and roll. I definitely prefer rock and roll.”

 

The original version of this article first appeared in Splash! magazine in October 1996.

 

‘Britpop’s dead – it’s a rotten corpse lying on the floor’ [Sleeper: Feb ’98]

sleeper_95.jpg

Back in February 1998, it looked like it could all be over for Britpop band Sleeper. Their last few singles had hardly set the world on fire and some of their gigs had been cancelled, due to a lack of interest. But despite all this, when I spoke to frontwoman Louise Wener, she was adamant they weren’t splitting up… In fact, they called it a day a month after this interview…

Are Sleeper well and truly down the dumper?

Last month, rumours about the band’s demise appeared on the internet, and in the NME, a representative from their US record label hinted that there was tension between frontwoman Louise Wener and drummer Andy MacLure, who is also Louise’s boyfriend.

The rumours come as no surprise, though – Sleeper’s last two singles, She’s A Good Girl and Romeo Me, barely dented the Top 40 and two of the dates on their current tour were cancelled due to poor ticket sales.

Despite this, Louise is adamant that Sleeper aren’t about to disintegrate…

“We haven’t got any plans to split up. The press are evil little shits – that’s my response to the rumours,” she says, talking to me on the phone from London.

“We’ve got various problems with our American record company, but it’s not as bad as some people would have you believe.

“Things appear on the internet all the time. The thing about me and Andy splitting up was utterly made up by the NME. I was angry about it for half an hour, but I’ve got used to things like that.”

‘We haven’t got any plans to split up. The press are evil little shits – that’s my response to the rumours’

So, there are no plans for a Louise Wener solo album, then?

“I’ve done 10 solo albums already,” she jokes. “No. I’d have to fight it out with the other pop star called Louise. I wouldn’t know what to call myself. Send your answers on a postcard…”

So is the current mood in Sleeper a healthy one, then?

“Yeah – it is. We’re making plans for the next thing we do, which will probably be quite radically different. We’re pretty up about it – we’re still relevant.”

I ask her if she’s disappointed by the poor performances of the band’s recent singles and the lack of interest in their gigs.

“It was kind of our turn,” she says. “Every band goes through up and down phases. It’s just life and you have to get on with it. We think that we made a really great album [Pleased To Meet You]. You have to go forward with your own belief in what you do. Things just go up and down – that’s the nature of most bands’ careers.”

Ironically, Sleeper’s latest album, Pleased To Meet You,  is their best yet. Although by no means a classic – and it could hardly be described as a massive departure for the band – it’s more eclectic than their past offerings.

She’s A Good Girl touches on soul, Romeo Me is all-out, Pretenders-style guitar pop, Firecracker is Alvin Stardust-esque glam, and Breathe and Because of You are haunted by the ghost of trip-hop.

Does Louise think that Sleeper should’ve overhauled their sound more dramatically to fit into the current post-Britpop climate?

“Britpop’s dead – it’s a rotten corpse lying on the floor,” she says. “I think it’s good that it has gone and that everything’s changing. It’s really interesting to see what’s going to happen next. That’s why music’s exciting.

“Maybe we didn’t change enough to go with it. We kind of thought we’d come back and everything would be exactly the same. Maybe we lacked some foresight.”

Pleased To Meet You did see a big shift in Louise’s lyric writing. No longer was she penning observational songs about commuters and office workers – instead she addressed more personal issues.

“I couldn’t keep writing about other people, ” she says. “It [observational songwriting] was the essence of what Britpop was about, but that kind of life is alien to me now. It’s not something that belongs to me anymore.”

‘We might just get an Uzi and kill a few people’

This month, Sleeper are heading out on a national tour and, after that, there’s going to be some serious rethinking on the musical front.

“Me and Andy are planning to go and live in America for six months to write and do some other stuff,” says Louise.

“Whatever happens next, it will be quite different. It will be a good thing. We’ll be shaking ourselves up a bit.”

So what can we expect?

“We might just get an Uzi and kill a few people.”

 

The original version of this article first appeared in Splash! magazine in February 1998.