‘Any singer-songwriter who says they’re not influenced by Bob Dylan is lying through their teeth’

Alex Lipinski

I first heard West Country singer-songwriter Alex Lipinski in November this year – he kindly invited me to the launch of his new album, Alex, at the Pretty Green clothes store in London’s Carnaby Street.

With his brother Adam on guitar, he played acoustic versions of several tracks from the record and I was really impressed – so much so that I bought a copy of the album on vinyl. Since then, it’s been on heavy rotation on my turntable and is one of my favourite albums of 2017.

Recorded and produced by Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre at his studio in Berlin, it’s a raw and bluesy album and it sounds like Bob Dylan meets The La’s.

Dealing with the darker side of life, the songs are stripped-down and lived-in – the moody Dandylion Blues has a cool organ and electric guitar groove over which Alex warns of ‘dark skies on the rise’ and tells us that he’s ‘got to keep on keeping on’.

The folky strumming of Carolyn lightens the mood, but those dark skies soon return with Hurricane – one of my favourite songs on the album. Recalling Heartbreaker-era Ryan Adams and Dylan circa Blood On The Tracks, it’s a stunning country ballad (acoustic guitar and harmonica) that’s a vicious put-down of an ex-lover: “You had it all worked out. All you do now is scream and shout, spilling worthless words from your mouth.”

I spoke to Alex to find out how the album came together, what it was like working with Anton Newcombe, and to see what his plans are for 2018…

Q & A

Hi Alex. It was great to meet you a few weeks ago, when I saw you play at Pretty Green, in Carnaby Street. Thanks for inviting me. I really enjoyed the gig.

Alex Lipinski: It was good to meet you, Sean – we had a really cool night at Pretty Green. It was a nice, intimate space to showcase the new songs and the guys there looked after us.

How does it feel to have the new album out there? It’s your second album – your debut, Lonesome Train, came out seven years ago. Why the big gap between albums?

AL: It’s a good feeling to finally have this album out. After Lonesome Train was released, I was working on the follow-up album, then I started a project with Bonehead [Oasis] called Phoneys & The Freaks, so that kind of took over for a year or so, then by the time I was ready to start the second album, I was working on a new bunch of songs that I felt were stronger. That was when Anton Newcombe contacted me…

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How did you come to work with Anton?

AL: He saw a live video of one of my songs and contacted me saying he wanted to produce me and put my next record out.

We met a couple of times after Brian Jonestown Massacre gigs and discussed the direction. He had in mind these old ‘60s folk recordings, in essence, capturing the songs as stripped-back as possible – the bare bones – letting the voice, the songs and the performance come through.

We recorded the album in about eight hours in Anton’s studio in Berlin. My brother Adam [guitarist] joined me in Berlin and we set-up in Anton’s studio one night, sitting facing each other, with a giant RCA mic in the middle – the same one they used on the old Frank Sinatra recordings.

“We set-up in Anton Newcombe’s studio in Berlin one night, sitting facing each other, with a giant RCA mic in the middle – the same one they used on the old Frank Sinatra recordings”

We bought some beers from the local shop, went back to the studio and recorded a couple of takes of each song, all live with no click track. We added some minimal overdubs later, but the nucleus of the record stemmed from that one night in Berlin.

Anton’s a pleasure to work with. He would give us enough space to let us do our thing, but he’d also suggest things that I would never have thought of, and taught me how to accept perfect mistakes. He’s also arguably the funniest person I’ve ever met.

Are you pleased with the new record?

AL: Yeah – I’m really pleased with it. Going into the recordings, this was the kind of album we wanted to make – the collection of songs work well together.

Some of the songs had been hanging around for a while, whereas a few others were a lot more recent. I think Carolyn may be the oldest song on the album. The lyrics on some of the older songs evolved over time to the point when we recorded them.

When I first heard the album, I described it as ‘Bob Dylan meets The La’s’. How do you feel about that description?

AL: It’s funny you say that because quite a lot of people have come up to me and said a similar thing. I guess it’s the kind of juxtaposition of both British and American influences you can hear in the songs.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on your album. Hurricane is a highlight and it’s one of the darker songs on the record. What can you tell me about it? It’s a heartbreaker and it doesn’t pull any punches… 

AL: From what I remember, Hurricane was written very quickly. It’s one of those songs where you pick up a guitar and everything – the lyrics, melody and chords – all seamlessly fall together in about 30 minutes. It is really lucky when that happens. I guess you can say it’s pretty autobiographical. Everything I felt I needed to say about that particular situation is in the song.

Dandylion Blues is one of my favourite songs on the album. What’s the story behind it? It’s another dark song, isn’t it? I like all the depressing songs on the album. I’m not sure what that says about me…

AL: Dandylion Blues stemmed from the groove and the lyrics followed to suit the moodiness of the track. Again it deals with the darker side of things. The lyrics in the verse especially are quite seductive and almost manipulative. It could be interpreted as two people having a conversation, or it could be seen as the voices within someone’s head.

The album is quite a dark record and it’s raw and bluesy – a lot of the songs deal with the darker side of relationships and life, don’t they?

AL: Throughout the album, I think there’s an underlying theme of exploring the darker side of relationships and life in general, which completely works with the nature of these recordings. Capturing these songs in their rawest form gives them a greater power because the song and the performance are laid bare.

Like me, you’re a huge Dylan fan, aren’t you? He’s a huge influence on you, isn’t he? What do you like about him? Do you have a favourite Dylan album – and why?

AL: I think any singer-songwriter out there who says they’re not influenced by Bob Dylan in some way is lying through their teeth. His work is embedded in popular music in so many ways it’s difficult not to be influenced by him in some shape or form.

My brother gave me copies of Blonde On Blonde and Blood On The Tracks when I was 14 and it sparked a fuse and changed the way I listened to music – it opened my mind to a mystical world. I couldn’t pick a favourite record; it changes on a daily basis. The trio of Bringing It All Back HomeHighway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde are pretty hard to beat. The lyrical content on Freewheelin’Another Side of Bob Dylan and The Times They Are A-Changin’ is untouchable.

“Throughout the album, I think there’s an underlying theme of exploring the darker side of relationships and life in general”

Can you tell me some of your other musical influences?

AL: I’m the youngest of four and I grew up in a house where music always seemed to be playing. My parents grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, so it was generally always rock ‘n’ roll – mainly The Beatles and Elvis Presley. Those early rock ‘n’ and roll records and ‘60s British bands had a huge influence on me from the start.

This developed into singer-songwriters, as I grew up and started taking songwriting and lyrics more seriously – specifically people such as Springsteen, Neil Young, Dylan and Ryan Adams. Wilco are one of my favourite bands over recent times. The musicianship in that band is incredible. Richard Hawley is another of my favourites.

You grew up in Weston-super-Mare, in Somerset. How was that? You then moved to London… That must’ve been a big change for you – all that musical heritage to explore…

AL: I had a great time growing up in Weston. It’s a small seaside town and as a kid I enjoyed living by the sea. I was a bit of a daydreamer – I had these great visions and big ideas of getting out and making a footprint in the world.

Growing up, my life was completely absorbed by music, and the music I listened to would take me to a different world and spark my imagination. I think growing up in a small town can give you that hunger and desire for something greater, which is a good thing.

I lived in London for five years, which was great. I knew had to get out and start playing. The 12 Bar Club on Denmark Street was my first point of call and I used to regularly play there. It’s a tragedy that venue no longer exists. And, of course, all the rich history that London had was amazing to an impressionable 19-year-old.

Where are you based now?

AL: I turned 30 last month and I’m currently living back in the West Country. The last year I lived in London I was pretty much out all the time, having too much fun, and I wasn’t as productive as I wanted to be. I moved back to Weston, where there’s not a great deal happening, and I’ve been far more productive. It’s a strange mind-set but it works creatively.

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Alex Lipinksi and his brother, Adam, at Pretty Green in London

It’s almost the end of 2017. How’s the year been for you? What are your plans for 2018? Can we expect another album and, if so, what’s it going to sound like?

AL: 2017 has been a productive year and I’m glad this album has seen the light of day. We’re in the process of booking dates for next year and the plan is to be on the road for most of it. I’m currently working on demos for the next record, which I’ll be recording with my full band.

Finally, what music – new and old – have you enjoyed this year?

AL: I tend to go back when searching for new music – there’s so much to discover. There’s a great Dion album produced by Phil Spector – Born To Be With You – that I heard recently and it’s amazing. Scott Walker’s Scott 3 and Scott 4 are both late discoveriesI was also late to the Big Star party, but what a band.

To be honest there hasn’t been a great deal this year that’s really excited me. I thought The Shins album was really good and the new War On Drugs record is phenomenal.

Alex by Alex Lipinski is out now on A Recordings.

http://alexlipinski.co.uk/

 

 

‘It feels good to finally have a solo record out – it should have come out years ago…’

Sophia Bye Bye

UK singer-songwriter Sophia Marshall has just released her first solo album, Bye Bye. Formerly one half of Americana duo The HaveNots, from Leicester, Sophia decided to go it alone in 2015.

Bye Bye is a strong, confident and varied debut record – from the killer, radio-friendly guitar pop of Losing You, to the gorgeous, late-night, organ-soaked country of  Flares, the jaunty, ’50s rockabilly of Missing Piecethe edgy and disturbing, trip-hop-tinged Hey Al, Woah! and the sea shanty Drunken Sailor.

I spoke to Sophia to find out how the album came together…

Q & A

Hello Sophia, but I should really say ‘Bye Bye’… How does it feel to have your first solo album out there? Was it scary going it alone?

Sophia Marshall: It feels good to finally have a solo record out – I feel like it should have come out years ago. It’s actually not too scary going it alone, as, funnily enough, I have managed to surround myself with even more influential musicians and confidants, which is very different from previously being in a duo.

Are you pleased with the record? 

SM: I’m really pleased with it, considering it was mostly done on a shoestring, pulling in favours. I like to think we did well. And I’m proud to have worked with some wonderful musician friends, including Andy Jenkinson, who produced the album. He breathes life into my ideas. And lets me try silly things.

Did you have a big pool of songs to dip into? How did you decide which ones made the final cut? It’s quite an eclectic album – pop, country, rockabilly, a sea shanty and even a bit of trip-hop…

SM: At first, the songs were recorded fairly sporadically. I only really wanted to get polished versions of some old songs down. There was no real deadline set initially, but. at the start of 2017, I decided it needed to be completed and officially released. Conveniently, I was inspired to write some new songs, which were added to the list.

Where was the album recorded and what was the process like? Was it an enjoyable record to make?

SM:It was partly recorded at Andy’s home studio, definitely all mixed there, and partly recorded at The Paddocks Studios, [in Melton Mowbray] – a place I once lived and worked.

Normally, I demo the songs on my own before taking them to the band, or sometimes just Andy, to see how they can be developed. It’s the people who make the process enjoyable. It was great working on my own material, but, at the end of the day, the people around me inspired and encouraged me, which is a real blessing.

Let’s talk about some of the songs. Losing You is a big, guitar pop tune – very instant and infectious. Where did that track come from? It sounds like your shot at getting on the Radio 2 playlist…

SM: That’s a fair comment. Radio 2 airplay would be splendid. Losing You was actually on the never released, third HaveNots album, Weakender.

Liam Dullaghan [from The HaveNots] and I wrote the song in a slow, acoustic fashion, but I had wanted to pump some indie-pop/ folk-rock life into it for a long time. My new bandmates helped me to do exactly that. I also added the middle eight, which I guess came from some Britpop musical influences of my teenage years.

‘Flares was written by candlelight, under the influence of red wine, on an acoustic guitar’

Flares is one of my favourite songs on the album. What can you tell me about that track?

SM: What can I tell you about Flares? It was written by candlelight, under the influence of red wine, on an acoustic guitar, in a house I had been in for less than a year, after a huge chapter of my life had ended. I was finally switching my focus from looking backwards to looking forwards.

When we came to record it, I had been listening to Frazey Ford’s Indian Ocean. Obviously I had listened to it non-stop when Sarah [Marshall – Sophie’s sister] and I were backing vocalists for her on that first album tour of the UK, but it wasn’t until about a year later the album stopped feeling like homework and I could enjoy it for all that it was. So I think there’s a sprinkle of Frazey in Flares.

Missing Piece is very ’50s/ rockabilly-country. Where did that track come from? 

SM: It was originally written in the same vein as a Camera Obscura song called Fifth In Line to the Throne – a lot slower and ballad-like, but I think this changed around the same time I decided to shake up Losing You. I guess I was fed up with the melancholy sound of things for a while. It’s about the realisation that you don’t actually mean all that much to a person who had once made you feel like a huge and special part of their life.

Hey Al, Woah? is one of the darker songs on the album – arguably the darkest. It features the lines: “You can’t go around saying shit like that to girls”, and “you should know no means no”…

Where’s that track coming from lyrically and musically? It’s very personal – a disturbing and edgy song, with shades of ’90s trip-hop. It has echoes of Martina Topley-Bird, who sang with Tricky…

SM: It was a very late addition to the album – a very new song. I spent a lot of time with a songwriter who loved Portishead. I think the feel of Hey Al… comes from that, but, lyrically, it was inspired by a person who I had exhausted my every effort of politely saying ‘no’ to. I’m not easily intimidated, but the psychological disturbance got to me – something snapped. I started worrying that the next girl may find his approach threatening…

Earlier this year, you played live in the basement of The Green Note in Camden, supporting  US singer-songwriter Chris Mills – you did two nights in a row. I went to both shows – they were great. Chris has been a big help and influence on your career, hasn’t he? He worked with you in The HaveNots. Aren’t there some unreleased songs from the recording sessions you did with Chris?

SM: Chris has always been a great help and, indeed, a great influence on me, musically. There is a whole album of HaveNots songs still unreleased, which Chris Mills produced.

Losing You, as I mentioned earlier, was one of them, and, actually, also Beauty Sleep, which I used on my album. I just didn’t want those songs to go to waste after all the hard work Chris and the team in Chicago had put into them. But even before that, Chris had helped Liam and I get over to tour America and release our first album Bad Pennies over there, too. Chris has a great heart and is a great songwriter.

Full Band Promo Pic

How did you launch your new album? Didn’t you do a six-hour, live-streamed house concert tour of the Midlands? How was that? You’ve been touring with Case Hardin, too. What was that like?

SM: I did more than a six-hour tour! It was more like 12 hours and it was a great, Challenge Anneka-style adventure. Pulling up at my old music college where I met Liam, racing off to a coffee shop near where I live now, and then over to a music shop in Nottingham, where I have a habit of drooling over all the acoustic guitars.

Then we started running behind schedule, when another Leicester venue performance at Firebug was late, which made us late for our Melton Mowbray appearance, to the point where the venue’s owners apologised, but said they couldn’t put us on, as the main band had arrived. But, as we walked off, people who had been waiting ran after us and managed to set up a last-minute gig at a bar down the road. Then we stopped to eat and catch our breath before an intimate. live-streamed performance of Flares, while we waited for the Simon and Garfunkel tribute band to finish at The Musician, so we could serenade people out the back of the bus while they left the gig.

We had a handful of shows with Case Hardin and Samantha Parton and Jolie Holland (The Be Good Tanyas), who were all so nice to catch up with again after years of being out of the scene myself. We also opened for The Sadies in Bristol and we had a sold-out show with Eilen Jewell.

What music – new and old – are you currently listening to?

SM: I’ve been enjoying the Samantha Parton and Jolie Holland album Wildflower Blues. The title track is my favourite. I also made a point of revisiting the Tom Petty album Wildflowers, which I thought was a good one to follow that. Also Mountaintop Junkshop, who are from my hometown.

Finally, what are your plans for 2018?

SM: I’ll be catching up with admin, checking the festivals and, hopefully, starting work on some new material. We have gigs in March 2018 and I’m working on a monthly, free download EP, having a bit of fun with some pop songs.

Bye bye, Sophia…

Sophia Marshall’s album Bye Bye is out now: http://www.sophiamarshall.co.uk/

 

‘I love this record – I think it’s my best’

 

Martin_Carr_32__Credit_Mary_Wycherley_

Picture of Martin Carr by Mary Whycherley

Martin Carr’s latest album, New Shapes of Life, was written in the aftermath of Bowie’s death and is a wonderful collection of electronic-tinged, honest and reflective, futuristic-soul songs, but making the record took its toll on his mental health. We spoke to him to find out more… 

When we last chatted to former Boo Radleys songwriter Martin Carr, back in 2014, he’d made The Breaks – his second solo album under his own name.

One of our favourite records of that year, it was full of instant, warm-sounding, lush, guitar pop songs influenced by Simon and Garfunkel, Love, Ennio Morricone and Barry White.

Martin told us at the time, “I wanted to make an immediate sounding record that I could stand up and play on my acoustic guitar”.

Fast forward three years and we’re in very different territory – Martin’s latest album, New Shapes of Life, is much more electronic than its predecessor. The title track has a streamlined funk-soul-jazz-pop groove, Damocles is synth-heavy, frenetic, dramatic and cinematic, and A Mess of Everything is a stately song with a big, swelling, gospel-tinged chorus. There’s also a gorgeous, spacey, piano-led ballad called Future Reflections, while Three Studies of the Male Back melds a galloping rhythm with siren-like sounds.

“I really didn’t want to play anything. Most of the music is stuff I sampled and fucked with and then played it back on a keyboard. I don’t think I picked up the guitar once,” says Martin.

Asked what he thinks of The Breaks now, he tells us: “It’s fine. I don’t listen to indie guitar music any more – I haven’t for a long time, so once it was done, I was bored of the whole thing. I didn’t really enjoy playing it live beyond the ‘getting drunk and playing music with my friends’ element. To me it sounded like an old man playing old man’s music for old men.”

‘I don’t listen to indie guitar music any more – I haven’t for a long time’

Written in the aftermath of Bowie’s death, New Shapes of Life wasn’t an easy album to make. In fact, the process was seriously detrimental to its creator’s health: “I had pushed and pushed until my mental wellbeing had begun to suffer – I became paranoid and anxious. I was talking to myself and waving my arms around until I finally broke down, told my family and called the doctor.”

Now on medication, Martin is in a much better place: “It feels like making this record was the end of that part of my life – now I’m on the other side of the glass, where everyone else is. I still don’t fit, but I’m fine with that.”

Q & A

When we chatted in 2014, you said you’d never made a record that sounded like you, but with your new album, you’ve said this is the first one that does. What’s changed?

Martin Carr: There are a couple of reasons – the first one being that I now have my own space, where I can shut the door, create and think. I’ve never had that before – I’ve always been relegated to the corner of a room, or in a cold, damp studio space where nothing ever sounds the same. Somebody I don’t know personally lent me the money to build a studio in my house and I will be forever grateful. I’m hoping to record and mix the next one myself there.

I wrote and recorded it at home. I would have a melodic idea, which I would play with until I had the start of something, then I would write a lyric and find a melody. I wrote and recorded at the same time.

The other reason is that I knew what I wanted to do before I started. Normally, I wait until I have enough songs to make an album and then I do it, so there is no real cohesion, whereas this time I knew the themes I wanted to explore and the sound I wanted to make.

I was very strict with myself – especially lyrically. So much of my stuff is unlistenable to me because of the lyrics. This time I made sure I was happy with every line and every word.

How did you approach the new record and what did you want it to sound like? It’s very different from The Breaks. It’s more electronic and it feels like it has more of a common thread than its predecessor…

MC: My starting point was listening to Bowie for a couple of months after his death – Heroes and Low, Station To Station and Blackstar – as well as Scott Walker and Leonard Cohen.

There was no sonic template in mind, though I was listening to a lot of soul music – Philly, Northern, Motown – along with the Bowie stuff. I wanted to change the way I sang.

I spent more time trying to find a voice I could use. My natural voice is much lower than the one I normally use. I can get right down there, but I normally go for the top of my range, which is why it can sound reedy and thin.

I don’t know how much Bowie figured musically – he was more of a guide. For me, art is self-expression and nobody expressed themselves as beautifully as David Bowie. I was trying to write songs for other people but getting nowhere – you have to do so much more than come up with a song nowadays. They need finished tracks and my production chops just aren’t up to it.

You’ve been very honest about having personal issues while writing and recording the new album. Was it a difficult record to make?

MC: I think it was a combination of an intense period of work and how deep I was digging internally. The more I wrote and recorded, the more erratic my behaviour became. I was paranoid and anxious, waving my arms about and ranting to myself. I kept at it though – once you’re under a creative spell, you don’t want to change anything. Once I’d finished, I got the help I should have asked for years ago and now I feel great. I love the record – I think it’s my best.

‘The more I wrote and recorded, the more erratic my behaviour became. I was paranoid and anxious, waving my arms about and ranting to myself’

Musically, it doesn’t sound like a dark record, but, lyrically, it’s honest and confessional. Damocles feels like it was written about your anxiety. What can you tell us about that song?

MC: That was the last song written for the record, I was in full breakdown mode and just wrote down what was happening to me. I was in a manic state – I couldn’t think straight and I couldn’t sleep.

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A Mess of Everything has a big, anthemic chorus. Where did that song come from?

MC: A lot of the album was inspired by art. I was describing things in paintings that I identified with. That came from a painting of a fisherman alone on a boat – behind him on the shoreline are his family. He feels pressure to provide, but his nets are empty.

Three Studies of the Male Back has one of the best opening lines of a song we’ve heard all year: ‘Holy Moses, I’m stoned as a goose and I’ve talked all day…’ What inspired that song?

MC: Again it’s a song inspired by a painting. Three Studies of the Male Back is a painting by Francis Bacon, who has long been one of my favourite artists and who took on extra significance last year. The colours and the twisted reality… I felt like I was in tune with them.

What music – old and new – are you currently listening to?

MC: Oddisee, Four Tet, Michele Mercure, Sleaford Mods, Strange U and Tanika Charles.

‘If bands are getting back together to make a bit of money then I don’t have a problem with that, but it’s not for me’

So, what’s next? Any gigs coming up?

MC: I’ve got a Tapete show in London this month [November 18 – The Lexington, London] and I’ll be touring properly in February/March. It’ll just be two of us, with a few amps and various machines.

A lot of other bands from the ’90s/ Britpop era have reformed? Any chance The Boo Radleys will ever get back together? What do you think when you see contemporaries of yours on the reunion circuit?

MC: I don’t have any desire to do that, I don’t see the point. Yes it would be great to get on a big stage again and make a huge noise in front of a lot of people, but I can’t see a time when that could happen. If bands are getting back together to make a bit of money then I don’t have a problem with that, but it’s not for me.

 

New Shapes of Life by Martin Carr is out now on Tapete Records.

Martin is playing at The Lexington, London on November 18, as part of a Tapete record label showcase event. 

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

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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 had a thing about losers and the downtrodden…’

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Pete Fij and Terry Bickers

Miserablist indie duo Pete Fij (Adorable and Polak) and Terry Bickers (The House of Love and Levitation) are back with a new album – We Are Millionaires.

The follow-up to their 2014 melancholy masterpiece Broken Heart Surgery – which was Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite album of that year – it’s another brilliant collection of cinematic, late-night laments for the lost and the lonely.

Like its predecessor, it’s full of deadpan humour and dry wit. With influences including John Barry, The Velvet Underground and Lee Hazlewood, and lyrical nods to movies The Third Man and The Birds, it’s like a soundtrack to an imaginary, downbeat, British, black and white kitchen sink-drama-meets spy-film – part Hancock, part Hitchcock – but this time around, there’s even some optimism.

“I like to think of this album as sunshine with showers – the last album was pretty heavy drizzle,” says Pete…

Q & A

Congratulations on the new record. It’s one of my favourite albums of the year so far, and its predecessor, Broken Heart Surgery, was my favourite record of 2014 – I described it as one of the greatest breakup albums of all time. How do you keep making such brilliant albums? What’s the secret?

Pete Fij: I don’t have a formula or secret. Some of it is about finding a genuine voice that is truly yours. I’m getting better at self-censorship and confidence of trusting my judgement of realising when a song is of a quality that I’m happy with. I don’t tend to record any song I’m not sure about. As a result there’s very little wastage – we wrote and recorded nine songs, which is the album. There are no bonus tracks or discarded songs.

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The title track of the new album has a line that references the first album, doesn’t it?

PF: Yes – it is a reference to the first album. We Are Millionaires [the song] is a little about the journey me and Terry tried to make on this album – we made a conscious attempt to be a little more upbeat than Broken Heart Surgery, but it was hard to fight our natural default setting of melancholy…

One of the lyrics in the song We Are Millionaires refers to your love of downbeat movies and a beat-up hero who never gets the girl. Do you like to wallow in melancholy? Are you at your happiest when you’re unhappy? Do you feel like an anti-hero?

PF: I’ve always enjoyed films with a darker twist, with an undercurrent of sadness. My favourite James Bond film is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – the ending where Bond cries as he holds his dead wife in his arms was always one of the strongest images in the entire canon of 007 for me. I’ve always had a thing about the losers and the downtrodden – it could be argued that by wallowing in the beauty of defeat, I perhaps haven’t helped my career, but we are who we are.

We made a conscious attempt to be a little more upbeat than Broken Heart Surgery, but it was hard to fight our natural default setting of melancholy’

As you sing on the title track, “If this melancholy that we share was common currency, we’d be millionaires…”

Please never cheer up – I don’t think I could bear it. It makes for great songwriting. Saying that, Waking Up, on the new album, is one of your cheerier numbers – it’s a positive song, isn’t it? It’s a beautiful track – the morning sunshine after a long winter. It reminds me of Spiritualized…

PF: Waking Up is an attempt at being upbeat, but the final refrain, “It’s been a long cold winter”, kind of harks back to darker times. Even when looking forward to brighter times, I don’t seem to be able to keep from looking back to darker moments. I like to think of this album as sunshine with showers. The last album was pretty heavy drizzle.

A recent magazine review called you and Terry, “the indie duo scripted by Galton and Simpson”. I’m saying you’re like Hancock-meets-Hitchcock. How do you feel about that description?

PF: It sounds like we’re being compared to a couple of cocks! Both Hancock and Hitchcock had a darkness and a humour running through their work, which is what gives it depth, and I’m glad that people pick up on the humour of my lyrics. I hope it takes the edge off it becoming relentlessly depressing.

How did you approach this record? Did you suffer from ‘difficult second album syndrome?’ What was the writing and recording process like?

PF: We experimented with a fuller band sound with a couple of tracks – we recorded Let’s Get Lost and Love’s Going To Get You with drums and a full band set-up, but it just didn’t quite work. It sounded very polished, and ‘adult’ but it kind of lacked a heart, so we reverted to our previous set-up.

Thereafter it was pretty straightforward, and quite similar to how we’d worked before. Basically, I’d write the songs and present them to Terry, who would add his parts, and we’d work on some of the arrangements together.

We tend to record in short bursts – four-hour sessions, in part due to time and budget constraints. We did maybe 30 sessions like that over a two-year period. We don’t believe in rushing things! Having extended time between sessions does give you the chance to reflect and it kind of avoids going down too many dead ends.

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Terry Bickers and Pete Fij

The new album feels like a close cousin of the first one. You haven’t gone all experimental on us – it’s a natural progression…

PF: Broken Heart Surgery was definitely more stripped-down and bare than We Are Millionaires. Some of the songs on this album have over 60 different layered tracks – there are loads of tiny textures on this record, even though it’s not ear-screechingly loud. It’s a more expansive sound than Broken Heart Surgery.

‘Hitchcock’s The Birds gets referenced on the album, and when I sing, “we both love black and white movies, inhabit a monochrome world, where the beat-up hero, never seems to get the girl,” I’m thinking of the fantastic last scene in The Third Man’

You often use film references in your lyrics, so I’m saying that this album is a sequel that’s easily the equal of the first one – it could arguably be better than its predecessor…

PF: Films are a massive part of my life and they always seem to crop up in my songs – Hitchcock’s The Birds gets referenced on the album, and when I sing, “we both love black and white movies, inhabit a monochrome world, where the beat-up hero, never seems to get the girl,” I’m thinking of the fantastic last scene in The Third Man.

That leads me nicely to my next question. One of my favourite songs on the album is If The World Is All We Have. Is it your attempt to write a Bond song? It has an exotic, dramatic and cinematic feel…

PF: I wrote it about 10 years ago, originally as a failed attempt to enter the Eurovision Song Contest. I recorded the song way more uptempo with a female vocalist – it sounded like a cross between Madonna and Depeche Mode, with a nod to John Barry, but then Andrew Lloyd Webber got fast-tracked as the writer for the UK entry that year, so the song got shelved. I always thought it was strong, so I dusted it off and we slowed it right down to make it more Bickers and Fij-esque and it worked pretty much straight out of the bag. Underneath our melancholic surface, a lot of our tracks are actually pop songs.

‘There are a few things on my musical bucket list that I realise are highly unlikely to ever happen – write or record a Bond song is one of them, appear on Top of the Pops is another’

Would you like to write a Bond song? The last few have been poor, haven’t they? I think you guys should do the next one…

PF: There are a few things on my musical bucket list that I realise are highly unlikely to ever happen – write or record a Bond song is one of them, appear on Top of the Pops is another – there are two good reasons why that’s not going to happen…Writing a song for Eurovision and appearing at The Royal Albert Hall are the two on my radar that while unlikely are not entirely impossible. On the subject of Bond themes, I’d argue that the Adele song for Skyfall was pretty good.

The first song on the new album – Let’s Get Lost Together – is about a relationship, as is the whole record, to be fair, but it strikes me that it could be about you and Terry and your working relationship. Is that a fair comment? Musically, it has a bit of a Velvet Underground – third album – feel…

PF: Yep – It’s a bromantic love song to Terry, and it’s about us. I wanted to channel the spirit of Nancy and Lee’s Jackson, where they bicker and wisecrack between themselves, though you know there’s still a spark underneath the barbed comments.

The first single, Love’s Going To Get You, is about being unable to escape from the inevitability of love, but would you say it’s more about the downside of love? I get the feeling that it’s more pessimistic than optimistic – or is that just me being cynical and knowing you and your penchant for melancholy? 

PF: It’s about being a passenger in love – how it takes over and you are powerless. It originally ended with the repeated refrain “Cupid’s a sniper”, but we thought that was just too dark – even by our standards.

You’ve got some gigs coming up later this year. What can we expect?

PF: Small attendances! Aargh – there I go again with this loser shit. Positive Pete, positive. Stadiums with laser shows.

Finally, if We Are Millionaires is the sequel to Broken Heart Surgery, can we expect the third in the trilogy? If so, what will it be like?

PF: I don’t know – I mentioned to Terry that I’ve never made more than two albums with any musical project – both Adorable and Polak made two albums before splitting, so making a third album with Terry would be uncharted territory. I’d love to do an album with proper orchestral backing…. and then play it live at The Albert Hall!

• We Are Millionaires – the second album by Pete Fij/Terry Bickers – is released on July 21. For more information, visit https://petefijterrybickers.bandcamp.com

Pete Fij and Terry Bickers are also playing a few UK gigs:

July 22 – St Paul’s Art Centre, Worthing

August 29 Backroom at The Star Inn, Guilford

August 30, Rialto Theatre, Brighton

August 31, Aces & Eights Saloon Bar, London

September 1, Aces & Eights Saloon Bar, London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From cover with love…

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I love James Bond and I love indie-pop, so when I was sent a copy of the new compilation album Songs, Bond Songs – a 26-track collection of Bond songs covered by contemporary US indie-pop acts, I had a licence to be thrilled…

The brainchild of criminal mastermind and executive producer, Andrew Curry, it’s an exciting journey into the world of soundtrack songs from both official and unofficial 007 films.

Things get off to an explosive start with Lannie Flowers’ rip-roaring, ’60s-style garage rock-style version of the James Bond Theme; there’s an outrageous pop-punk take on Thunderball by Jaret Reddick; a gorgeous acoustic rendition of For Your Eyes Only by Freedy Johnston that’s better than Sheena Easton’s version; a funky, yacht rock Never Say Never Again by Minky Starshine and a cool, loungey The World Is Not Enough by Fountains of Wayne side-project Look Park.

I tracked down Andrew Curry to his secret underground lair and got the intel on his latest devious plan for world domination…

Q & A

How did the project come about? Why did you decide to put together a Bond songs tribute album?

Andrew Curry: I had done two compilations prior to Songs, Bond Songs. The first one – Drink A Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rock – paid tribute to the soft hits that were so prominent on America’s AM radio stations in the late ‘70s.

The second – Here Comes The Reign Again: The Second British Invasion – focused on the early years of MTV, specifically the British bands that came to dominate the American charts for the first few years of the ‘80s.

For this compilation, I wanted to expand things a bit. Rather than focus on a brief period of pop music history, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could find a concept that could cover a much wider time period. And so Bond music seemed to fit the bill perfectly. I can look at five or six decades of music rather than five or six years.

Are you a huge Bond fan? Which are your favourite Bond films and songs? And which are you least favourites?

AC: I am a Bond fan, though perhaps not quite as enthusiastic about it as I was in my youth. I grew up with Roger Moore as my Bond, and while I know it’s far cooler to choose the movies of Connery or Craig as one’s favourites, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Moore era. Not to mention that I think the songs from the Moore years are, as a group, the best of the franchise.

So while I’ll concede that some of Moore’s films haven’t aged well, I’ll sit down and watch Moonraker or For Your Eyes Only any time they come on. But as it happens, my least favourite Bond film also stars Roger Moore. In A View To A Kill, he just seems so completely disinterested.

As for the music, I’ve been so inundated with it while working on this project that I’m not sure I can pick favourites anymore. But as I said, the Moore years were formative for me, so songs like Live and Let Die, Nobody Does It Better, and For Your Eyes Only were biggies for me growing up. Of the more recent songs, I think Adele did a nice job recalling the Shirley Bassey era with Skyfall. My least favourites? Well, the less said about Madonna’s Die Another Day, the better.

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Andrew Curry

‘My least favourite Bond song? Well, the less said about Madonna’s Die Another Day, the better’

How did you choose which acts to work with and how did you get them involved?

AC: As with my previous projects, I made a list of musicians I wanted to work with, and went about contacting them. Social media makes things far easier than it might have been a decade or so ago.

As for the song assignments, I went to some musicians with definite ideas for which track I wanted them to do.

My wife insisted to me that Freedy Johnston had to do For Your Eyes Only. I loved the idea of hearing Jaret Reddick take a stab at Tom Jones. Having Lisa Mychols do a Lulu song seemed too perfect to pass up. But for the most part, once the musicians had signed on, I’d give them a list of available songs, and let them choose the ones they wanted. People who chose early got a far longer list of songs to choose from!

Do you have a favourite song on the album?

AC: I know I’ll sound dodgy saying this, but I really do like all the songs on the record. But I will say that there were songs that I wondered about when the assignments were being carried out.

Could someone take a song that I didn’t have much use for and turn it into something interesting? And I’m delighted to say that the answer is a resounding yes. A few examples (among many) –  the original Moonraker is the least of Shirley Bassey’s three Bond songs, but Gary Frenay has turned it into a terrific Travelling Wilburys-esque number, complete with Orbison-styled vocals.

I’ve already mentioned that Die Another Day, with its lame overuse of Auto-Tune, is my least favourite Bond song, but in the hands of Big-Box Store (aka Joe Seiders of The New Pornographers), it’s terrific.

Some of the acts have been pretty faithful to the original versions, but there are also some very different interpretations, aren’t there? It’s a very varied album….

AC: It is, and that’s always what I strive for. People ask how much input I have in the direction a musician takes with a song. I’m always emphatic that once musicians sign on, how they approach their songs is entirely up to them. And almost without fail, that has meant that I’ll get a handful of songs that stick closely to the original and another handful that completely re-invent the source material.

I prefer the Freedy Johnston acoustic version of For Your Eyes Only and Zach Jones’ dramatic take on All Time High to the original versions by Sheena Easton and Rita Coolidge. Do you agree? I think they’ve managed to reinvent some dull, MOR ballads into something that’s much more interesting…

AC: I really love those two versions. And you’re right about the originals. They were released at a time when softer ballads were more in fashion. Freedy’s For Your Eyes Only is stripped-down, just an acoustic guitar and his vocals, and the world-weary way he approaches the song just works. It sounds like a track that would fit comfortably on some of Freedy’s early records. Zach went in a different direction than Freedy, in that his version has a full band. He hasn’t really altered the melody all that much, but he’s given it a soulful quality that Rita Coolidge’s original version couldn’t possibly approach.

I think that in recent years, the quality of Bond songwriting has gone downhill. As the films have improved, the theme songs have got worse. Would you agree?

AC: I think some of the recent songs are decent. I already mentioned Adele’s Skyfall as one example. I always thought of that song as a conscious effort to return to the lush, orchestral Bond songs of the Connery years.

I will say that I was pretty surprised that Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall from Spectre actually won an Oscar. But I’ll also concede that nostalgia will always play a role in which tracks are my favourites. So it’s unlikely that any of the newer ones will ever hold the same place in my mind as, say, Live and Let Die. But if my kids decide to make the follow up to this record 30 years from now, they might just say, “You know, these new songs can’t hold a candle to Sam Smith.”

‘I was pretty surprised that Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall from Spectre actually won an Oscar’

Any plans to do a live show with some of the acts doing the Bond songs?

AC: It’s a far-flung group, so there are no plans at the moment. It would be terrific fun, though.

James_Bond_(Roger_Moore)_-_ProfileWith the recent death of Roger Moore, it’s rather timely – and poignant – to be talking about Bond….

AC: Moore was always my Bond, and he’s who I always think of when I picture the character. He added a bit of camp to the part, which I know some people can’t stand, but which I always appreciated. The opening helicopter sequence in For Your Eyes Only has always been a favourite. It’s silly and over the top, but also completely entertaining. Just like Roger Moore.

Which contemporary artist – UK or US – do you think should write and record the next official Bond song?

AC: This is always a fun game to play. I have a dear friend who is a bigger Bond fan than I am – he even designed the album art.

As I started putting this together, we talked about all the musicians we were surprised never did a Bond song. Sade seems like she was built in a lab with the express purpose of recording a James Bond theme song. Seal had to have written Kiss From A Rose with hopes that it would be in a Bond film, don’t you think? It’s all I hear when I listen to that song.

‘Does Harry Styles have the gravitas to pull off a Bond song? Doubtful’

As for contemporary musicians, I’m pretty ignorant of the most popular acts these days, but I hope they’ll stay away from guys like Ed Sheeran. Does Harry Styles have the gravitas to pull it off? Doubtful. It’s a shame we’ll never hear what Amy Winehouse might have done with a Bond song. Good or bad, it probably would have been pretty interesting.

Any plans for another project? 

AC: I’m in the very early stages of planning for the next one. It’s merely a concept at the moment. I can’t reveal it here just yet, but I will say that it won’t be nearly as many songs as my previous compilations, each of which had more than two dozen songs. A nice album of 10-12 tracks sounds like heaven right about now.

Andrew Curry will return…  

To stream, download and buy Songs, Bond Songs, please visit https://currycuts.bandcamp.com/ .

‘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 nob!”

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.