‘It’s been a long time since I was able to start a year and say: ‘I’ve got some new music coming out’ – it feels very special’

Matt James

 

Matt James, former drummer with ’90s anthemic indie-rockers Gene, has launched a solo career, and in February this year he will be playing his biggest show yet – a charity gig at Shanklin Theatre on the Isle of Wight, as part of a tribute night to my dad, show business journalist, John Hannam, who died in September last year.

In an exclusive interview, he tells me what it’s like to be starting out on his own, teases his debut solo album, which is due out in July and was produced by Stephen Street (Blur, The Smiths, Morrissey, The Cranberries, The Pretenders, The Rails) and explains why he’s excited about visiting the Isle of Wight for the first time…

“I suppose that means there’ll be no returning hero moment with the Islanders lining the streets and waving palms,” he muses. “That’s what happens when I go to Guernsey and Sark…”

Q&A

Hi Matt. How’s it going?

Matt James: It’s going great currently, thanks. I’ve been lucky enough to be pretty healthy the past couple of years, when so many people haven’t, or have been affected in other ways. I moved from London to the country in 2015, which may have had something to do with it…

Thanks for agreeing to play my dad’s tribute concert – it’s great to have you on the bill. It means a lot to me, as Gene were one of my favourite bands and my dad liked them, too – in fact, he actually interviewed you before a gig at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth. I used to get him to talk to bands that I liked, and he enjoyed music by a lot of bands that I was into….

MJ: It’s a pleasure to do the show for you. My sincere condolences for your loss. I know what it’s like to lose your dad. Thanks for asking me. It’s great that John opened his ears to your taste. I’ll definitely be doing the same with my kids. These things should work both ways, no?

Poster design by @tica_attica

The gig is in Shanklin, on the Isle of Wight. The South Coast was good for Gene, wasn’t it? You played Portsmouth, Southampton and Brighton several times. I was at most of those gigs, but you never made it across the Solent to the Island, did you?

MJ: We always returned to towns that liked us. There are mini music businesses and communities in every town, and you have to keep being good and pleasing them to preserve their loyalty.

I’m not sure why we never went to the Isle of Wight…Maybe the community there wasn’t up for us, or more likely I would think that our agent felt that we were covering the south by doing Portsmouth and Southampton. Anyway I’m really very excited about coming to the Isle of Wight now.

Have you ever visited the Island before?

MJ: Nope – I’ve never been there, which is rather strange, as I’ve travelled the UK extensively. I suppose that means there’ll be no returning hero moment with the Islanders lining the streets and waving palms? That’s what happens when I go to Guernsey and Sark… ahem. Joking aside, it’s time to put the Isle of Wight in my treasured memory bank.

Maybe you could play the Isle of Wight Festival as a solo act? That would be great…

MJ: I would certainly love to play the festival if they would have me. It always looks amazing on the TV. I’ve just booked my ferry for your show and that gave me a tinge of excitement. If I was returning to play the festival, they’d need to tie me to the boat to stop me bouncing off…

Shanklin Theatre, which is the venue for the gig, is lovely. You should feel right at home there, as you like a bit of old school showbiz and glamour, don’t you? Gene always had a sense of drama to them…

MJ: Yes – we loved old theatres and treading hallowed boards.  That’s why we featured the Royal Albert Hall on the artwork for our second LP [Drawn To The Deep End].

My mum was an amateur opera singer and I can remember being a small boy and hiding in huge curtain folds, looking out at her singing live. I internalised that very deeply. I’ve been lucky enough to play in some smashing places in my time, but it’s been a while. This will only be my fourth solo gig –  and on the biggest stage I’ve done so far.

‘I have made a stand for creativity, and I also wanted to tackle some tricky subjects. It’s what my life was missing, and lockdown gave me an unexpected opportunity’

Let’s talk about you ‘going solo’. After Gene and your next band, Palace Fires, broke up, you started a career in the wine industry, but now you’ve become a singer-songwriter. How is it being a solo artist? To quote a Gene song, are you, ahem, fighting fit and able?

MJ: It’s been a long, long time since I was able to start a year and say: ‘I’ve got some new music coming out’.

I’m sure you can imagine that it feels very special. I have made a stand for creativity, and I also wanted to tackle some tricky subjects. It’s what my life was missing, and lockdown gave me an unexpected opportunity.

I’ve loved being a wine merchant and still do, but, if I’m honest, music is what I’m best at. Even when wine folk ask me about it, I always say: “I like wine almost as much as music!” I missed it so much, but I did need a long break.

You’ve released two great digital singles as a solo artist so far: A Simple Message and Snowy Peaks. Your debut song, A Simple Message, has a political message and a Gene-like sound – it’s down to the organ and the country-rock guitar – and the second, Snowy Peaks, is an anthemic love song. What can you tell us about those tracks? What inspired them?

MJ: I decided as I was starting from scratch as a solo artist that I would share quite a few tracks from the LP before releasing it, to give me a long build. There are three more songs to go before the LP is released in July and that feels right.

A Simple Message was the first one and, if I’m honest, it’s the one that’s most like Gene on the LP. For those people that know Gene, it has a Long Sleeves For The Summer-type jazzy drum shuffle and Steve Mason-esque guitar, although Steve [Gene guitarist] isn’t actually on that song – it’s me and Perry [Peredur ap Gwynedd] from Pendulum.

I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea making it the first release, but, in hindsight, it has worked out really well. It’s a decent song, in my opinion, with some understated charm, and I remembered that’s what worked for Gene with our first single, For The Dead.

The song is about how populist politicians rely so much on simple messages that are often completely inadequate instructions for people that need to determine quite complex and important issues.  I think it was Joseph Goebbels that called it ‘the big lie…’

Snowy Peaks is a simple love song I wrote for my other half – it was the first song I wrote for the LP, but it’s been through quite a few versions. I like what I ended up with, but now I’m trying to work out how to play it live on my own, so I’m changing it yet again.

Steve Mason plays guitar on Snowy Peaks, doesn’t he?

MJ: That’s the fella! Steve was a fan of the song and he kept me on my toes by getting me to try and improve it. He sent me off to write more bits when I thought it was finished.

I love writing with Steve – we are obviously quite long in the tooth in that department. He plays on four songs on the LP and Kev [Miles – bassist] from Gene is on five, which feels good. I was very careful not to make the LP ‘Gene without Martin’ [Rossiter – singer], though, so there are other people on it, too.

You’ve also been recording with keyboardist Mick Talbot (Style Council, Dexys Midnight Runners), who played with Gene…

MJ: Yes – Mick plays on five or six songs, and I was very privileged to have him involved. What a legend he is and what a talent – not to mention he’s so nice and made us all chuckle with his quips and stories. Having him in the room with Kev, who is also a master of comedy, made the proceedings such a fun time.

‘Stephen Street has been advising me since I first started writing and learning to sing for the first time. He is someone who I trust implicitly not to bullshit me, but to also be nice enough to actually listen’

Mostly it was me and [producer] Stephen Street working, but when people showed up it changed the vibe and provided some injections of energy and goodness.

Stephen has been advising me since I first started writing and learning to sing for the first time. He is someone who I trust implicitly not to bullshit me, but to also be nice enough to actually listen. With so many people releasing music and vying for attention these days, it’s so hard to get anyone to listen or take you seriously – especially when you’ve been round the block like I have. That’s where I’m so lucky that I have a past and some music mates.

I’ve known Stephen for 30 years. He ended up producing the LP after initially aiming to do just a few tracks. We got some momentum though and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

I didn’t – and don’t – feel under any pressure at all to be successful. It really was just the pure joy of making music together. Hopefully that shows on the record. Now that it’s made, I’m chuffed if people want to check it out.

 

‘I don’t feel under any pressure to be successful. It’s really just the pure joy of making music together. Hopefully that shows on the record’

How and where did you make the album?

MJ: I wrote the record on my iPhone using GarageBand. I have a garden office and I worked in there.

I wrote 20 songs for it and 10 have made the LP. After it was written, we went to various places to do the drums and finally ended up at Stephen Street’s studio, The Bunker, which is a room he has at Damon Albarn’s studio in Latimer Road, London. It was nice to be in that kind of environment again. Damon came and said hello – he was nice.

We ended up using some of my original demos, as they just had a unique vibe that didn’t need to be recreated. It’s a nice mix and match of demos and new recordings, but Stephen is a master at mixing, so he polished it up very well.

 

There’s a new digital single, High Time, coming out on February 4 – just before the Isle of Wight gig. What can you tell me about that song?

MJ: Yes – February 4, which is just before your gig, so you can learn the lyrics and sing along. The song is about however much you try to control your life, it still throws dramatic unexpected events at you that can be good or bad, but have the power to swerve your life journey…

The song references a terrible road accident I was involved in 1991, with the lads from the band Spin, and also the random event of meeting Martin Rossiter a few months later in the Underworld [in Camden] completely by chance. That time it had a good outcome.

We were actually out with Stephen Street that night, so that’s another interesting link. There’s a mild religious element to the song too. I’m not an overly religious person, but I’m not an atheist either.

So, the album’s coming out in July…

MJ: Yes – July 2022 is my big moment. There are 10 songs – five on each side. I am making some vinyl…

It will be released on Costermonger Records, which is the old Gene – and one other band, Brassy-associated label, started by music journos Keith Cameron and Roy Wilkinson.

I always thought it was an amazing label name and I was sad when Gene stopped using it and changed to Polydor. They had signed us of course, so it wasn’t an option to use Costermonger anymore. Keith and Roy won’t be involved right now though, other than they are mates with trusted musical ears.

‘The album will be released on Costermonger Records, which is the old Gene label. I always thought it was an amazing name and I was sad when Gene stopped using it’

These days, with digital releases, a label doesn’t mean quite as much, unless you are in a stable of acts, but for the vinyl I wanted a label name with gravitas. I’m honoured that they’ve allowed me to resurrect it and start those catalogue numbers again. COST11 is coming soon – I’ll save the LP title for now… Who knows there may even be other acts on the label one day… it comes from a place of friendship but it’s mainly just me at the moment and Mrs James, who helps with the artwork.

I have had some help from the guys at Demon too, who did the Gene re-issues [in 2020], and some PR pals will be helping. It’s all very informal and fun – I’m loving it. I would say that eight of the 10 songs on the album could be singles – it’s that kind of record.

The fourth and fifth singles will have B-sides that are not on the LP. We consider those to be perhaps the best chance of piquing the interest of people who don’t know anything about me. Erm, so that’s nearly everybody!

Finally, we should raise a glass to my dad. Can you recommend a decent, affordable red wine?

MJ: Absolutely. I’ll bring one with me to the gig. If it’s a red, I love Bordeaux, something like Clos de L’Oratoire Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe. Chin-chin and all due respect to John for his great life achievements.

Matt James’s new single, High Time, will be released digitally on February 4. You can pre-save it here.  His debut solo album is due out in July this year.

Matt will be appearing at Sunday Night at Shanklin Theatre – a tribute to John Hannam: Sunday February 6 2022: a night of live music in memory of legendary Isle of Wight journalist and broadcaster, John Hannam, who died in autumn 2021.

The gig will feature My Darling Clementine, Matt James (Gene), Andy Strickland (The Loft, The Caretaker Race, The Chesterfields), Matt Hill, Brian Sharpe, Bobby I Can Fly, Chris Clarke, Amy Bird, Bob and Bertie Everson.

Proceeds will go to the British Heart Foundation and the Wellow Ward, St Mary’s Hospital. Tickets are available here. 

Sunday Night at Shanklin Theatre – a tribute to John Hannam

John Hannam – photo by Craig Sugden.

This is the first blog post I’ve written since September. For those of you who don’t know, my dad, show business journalist and broadcaster, John Hannam, died that month, following a short illness. He was 80. 

Following his death, I decided to take a few months off, to deal with family matters and try to come to terms with his untimely passing. However, in true entertainment tradition, the show must go on, so today I’m updating Say It With Garage Flowers with some news that also acts as a tribute to my dad’s extraordinary career and his wonderful legacy.

On Sunday February 6 2022, I am staging a charity concert in honour of my dad. It will take place at Shanklin Theatre, on the Isle of Wight, where my dad was born and bred and spent his life.

Dad loved the Island – he made a name for himself there and was never lured away by the bright lights of Fleet Street, or national radio, although his great reputation was known all over the UK and across the world.

During his amazing life – almost 50 years of it spent interviewing stars of stage and screen, as well as local people – he decided to stay on the Island, with his family and friends. Shanklin Theatre was a venue that my dad was very fond of – it’s where we held the wake for his funeral in November – so it’s very fitting that the tribute concert will take place there.

‘On Sunday February 6 2022, I am staging a charity concert in honour of my dad. It will take place at Shanklin Theatre, on the Isle of Wight, where my dad was born and bred and spent his life’

As a nod to the showbiz TV series, Sunday Night at the London Palladium, I’ve called the concert Sunday Night at Shanklin Theatre – A Tribute To John Hannam. The line-up of performers will include national and local musicians who dad liked, admired and supported – most of whom he interviewed at some stage during his career.

My Darling Clementine
Photo http://www.marcobakker.com

So, who’s on the bill? Headlining the night will be British husband-and-wife country duo, My Darling Clementine – Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish. Last year saw the release of their fourth album, Country Darkness – a project which saw them collaborating with Elvis Costello’s keyboardist and right-hand man Steve Nieve (The Imposters/ The Attractions) and reinterpreting some of Costello’s country and country-soul songs.

Also performing on the night will be singer-songwriter, Matt James – the former drummer of ’90s anthemic indie-rockers Gene.

Matt James

Earlier this year, Matt launched his solo career with his debut single, A Simple Message. The follow-up, Snowy Peaks, is released digitally on December 10, and there’s an album planned for next year.

Also on the bill will be another Matt – singer-songwriter, Matt Hill, a folk and Americana artist from the North of England, whose latest album, the politically-charged Greedy Magicians II  – Return of the Idle Drones, came out earlier this year.

Matt Hill

The consumer magazine Hi-Fi+ called Matt, ‘A very gifted songwriter and a master of telling stories.’

Local Isle of Wight musicians, or those with a connection to the area, will also be performing on the night. There will be appearances from Andy Strickland (The Loft, The Caretaker Race and The Chesterfields); professional singer and actress Amy Bird; reformed ’80s band Bobby I Can Fly; Chris Clarke, who was the bassist in UK Americana act, Danny & The Champions Of The World and runs Reservoir Studios in North London; local guitar legend, Brian Sharpe (The Cherokees) and, finally, local duo Bob and Bertie Everson.

Tickets are available here and cost £10. Proceeds will go to the British Heart Foundation and the Wellow Ward, St Mary’s Hospital, Newport, Isle of Wight. Doors open at 7pm.

John Hannam

My dad loved music – of all different styles. Thanks to him, my sister Caroline and I are both big music lovers too. I have fond memories of him playing music in the house when we were growing up.

Through my dad, I got my passion for ‘60s music. For Christmas, birthdays and Father’s Day, I always used to buy him albums by current bands and artists that I thought he might like. Luckily, he always did – usually because they sounded like ‘60s acts he’d got me into in the first place…. I shall really miss our listening sessions and chats about music.

John Hannam meets Duane Eddy

Dad got me into legendary twangy guitarist Duane Eddy – one of dad’s musical heroes and also one of mine.

In 2018, Dad and I were lucky enough to be invited to see Duane play a gig at the London Palladium. We sat in on the sound check – it was basically our own private Duane Eddy gig – and then we watched the show and met Duane backstage.

It’s a night I’ll never forget, especially as when I shook Duane’s hand, he said to me: “This night is all about heroes.” I was with two of mine, and dad was with one of his. It was truly special.

Let’s make Sunday Night At Shanklin Theatre: A Tribute To John Hannam a night to remember too.

Please email me – hannamsean95@gmail.com – if you need any more information about the concert.

https://mydarlingclementinemusic.co.uk

https://musicmattjames.com/

https://matthillsongwriter.com/

Tickets here.

Sunday Night at Shanklin Theatre – a tribute to John Hannam: Sunday February 6 2022.

A night of live music in memory of legendary Isle of Wight journalist and broadcaster, John Hannam, who died in autumn 2021.

Featuring My Darling Clementine, Matt James (Gene), Andy Strickland (The Loft, The Caretaker Race, The Chesterfields), Matt Hill, Brian Sharpe, Bobby I Can Fly, Chris Clarke, Amy Bird, Bob and Bertie Everson.

Proceeds will go to the British Heart Foundation and the Wellow Ward, St Mary’s Hospital.

‘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’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!”

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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.