samedi, octobre 30, 2004

Seeds of content

'I know a lot about prog rock' ... Nick Cave

An acclaimed new album, a sold-out tour... don't be misled by his gloomy countenance, Nick Cave is sitting pretty at the moment. And he's full of surprises, finds Kathy Sweeney

Saturday October 30, 2004. The Guardian

He may not have a sports car and he doesn't order a martini, shaken or otherwise, but if they're looking to cast a new James Bond, Nick Cave should audition. Besuited and sitting in a Helsinki hotel, he gives off a certain secret-agent-on-holiday vibe. His quickness with an arched-eyebrowed quip, an old-fashioned courtesy and a certain familiarity with life's darker side make him a good fit. "Well, I don't plan to do any more acting, unless it's a small part, but I often see pictures of myself and think, yeah, I look just like Pierce Brosnan," he says drily.

He's here in Helsinki, a picture-book city known for its Baltic scenery and plentiful statues, on a small tour prior to his UK shows. Nick has plans for a statue of his own, to be erected in the town square of his home town of Warracknabeal, near Melbourne: a life-sized bronze featuring Nick sat atop a rearing horse.

"We found out it was going to cost an extraordinary amount of money so it was decided to make a film of the whole journey of this thing. We were going to make it in England, ship it to Australia, put it on the back of a truck, and dump it in my home town, which is an extremely small, ultra-conservative place. It's now been turned into a rehousing town for ex-cons who want to go straight, only nobody has gone straight, and it's turned into this strange lawless place," he explains, exhaling a lungful of smoke. "If they don't accept it we were just going to drive it out to the desert and dump it somewhere, Planet Of The Apes style."

Nick Cave, a source of civic pride? Is he serious? Apparently so, although his interviews often have a casual relationship with the truth. In the past he's told reporters that he was born with a tail, and now he's insisting that at sound-check they rocked. In a progressive way. "It's one of my darkest secrets, that I do know a lot about prog rock. Jethro Tull, Procol Harum, Moody Blues, all that stuff. We do a mean version of Locomotive Breath."

Since Nick's the one supplying the information, it's difficult to know when you're being led gently up the garden path. "I'm Australian - even we don't know when we're joking and when we're not." Quizzed separately, the rest of the band back his spectacularly unlikely claim.

The band are often portrayed as being in bad need of a good laugh, but despite an obdurate refusal to look on the bright side, as with Leonard Cohen's output, there's a streak of gallows humour running through Cave's work. Broadly speaking, he writes upbeat songs about death and miserable ones about love. Anyone who duets with Kylie and sings about caving her head in with a rock has an interesting funny bone. Then there's the comic-opera campness of the Murder Ballads album, with a death count of 37. It has to be said, if you find yourself in a Nick Cave video, wear shoes you can run in and get out while you have the chance: it's unlikely to end well for you.

The new album, Abattoir Blues/ The Lyre Of Orpheus, features visions of hell, of course, but also love songs and pastoral imagery alongside black humour. A double album, it's the first without guitarist Blixa Bargeld, and is their fastest selling record to date. A "micro-Seeds" consisting of Jim Sclavunos, Martyn P Casey and Warren Ellis decamped to Paris to help with the writing. "There were certain power-driven songs I wanted to do that I had in my head, but they needed other people to get them to work and, as it turned, out it was a fruitful thing to do."

Cave has a slight punching-the-clock approach to interviews, totally at odds with his demeanour before and after. He is a musician who enjoys only the work, and not the self-promotion that comes with it. Armed with a roll-up, his words are chosen painstakingly, in a way that suggests they may have been misconstrued in the past. This reticence is matched by his profound distaste for the music industry's celebration of itself.

When offered an MTV award, he was not so much uncomfortable as utterly demoralised, declining to "harness my muse to this tumbrel, this bloody cart of severed heads and glittering prizes". Adverts are unconscionable to him, a transgression he seems to regard as being on a par with putting cats in the microwave or murdering children. When Gap approached him, he responded with another letter: "Dear Gap, I might put on a pair of your jeans if you were to pay me $1bn, but even then I would have serious reservations."

His self-destructive past is well documented. In the late 1970s he was an art student playing in the celebrated but nihilistic band the Birthday Party, which he remembers as being "in a total state of disgrace". He became addicted to heroin and his habit continued throughout the 1980s and much of the 1990s when, in the early days especially, he often looked like something the Grim Reaper threw back. Having cleaned up when he met his wife, Vivienne Westwood model Susie Bick, with whom he has twins, he now leads an almost comically respectable family life, and is widely regarded as one of the finest literary songwriters around. "I'm a non-story," he claims, slightly disingenuously. "I'm happily married, with kids, I go to the office, and I work nine to five."

Right now, Nick wants to go sightseeing. Folded into a car, he requests Finnish folk songs from the driver, threatening to sing some himself and chats about politics and films. Nick's image of a spectral figure detached from modern life is not entirely accurate; he has little time for the current music scene, and doesn't watch TV, but he reads a newspaper, and knows what's happening in the world. The residents of Porvoo, a low-rise hamlet of ancient wooden houses and antique shops, are not sure what to make of the rake-thin man with jet-black hair and piercing blue eyes striding around purposefully. A sleepy, faintly forlorn place, like an out-of-season theme park, its residents stare with who-let-him-out-of-the-house looks. Some children even salute. He seems perfectly at ease with its Scandinavian oddness, and heads off for lunch at a snail restaurant.

The band love to eat. You name it, they've eaten it. Gathered round a dinner table after the show, they order their food carefully, trading appetisers and discussing local delicacies reindeer and bear along with kangaroo and snake. They quite literally love their grub. "Have you ever eaten insects?" Warren ups the ante. "I've had witchetty grubs," Nick enthuses gamely.

The "micro-Seeds" are a robustly congenial cabal, despite a reputation for tortured intensity. Dressed way past the nines in their trademark gangster-chic suits and colourful shirts, their snap-crackle dialogue gives them a certain Reservoir Dogs flavour - like the characters, you sense they'd all want to be Mr Black - and the results are very entertaining indeed. Topics covered include what to say to the Crown Prince and Princess of Norway, who came backstage after a recent show, acceptable stage garb for their upcoming tour (suits of course, but Nick wants sequins, no less) and merchandising (Nick proposes a Lyre Of Orpheus tea towel).

This easy camaraderie goes some way towards explaining their longevity. It takes dedication to keep a band together for 20 years, nearly three times as long as the Beatles. Especially when you consider they all have their own separate musical projects, along with the sheer impracticality of being scattered across three continents. As Jim puts it, "Fuck Benetton, we were global before it was fashionable." Nick thinks it's due to their work ethic: "We are men, we wear suits and we go to work."

In any case, it is the ace up the band's sleeve. As the audience shouts out requests during their live show the following day, it's obvious that, like Nick's heroes Elvis and Bob Dylan, they really do have lots and lots of songs. To have this kind of repertory you have to have been around a while. And they're not getting off the stage until they're good and ready.

"The fact that you're getting older is the interesting thing. Obviously, it involves a series of small humiliations as you go along. It's admirable if you can suffer that stuff and be dignified about it at the same time." This is easier said than done. Earlier, in a mesmerisingly awkward TV interview, Nick was presented with a pair of orange gumboots. "The whole thing was to see my response to that. I later found out the theme of this show was sexuality, which I wasn't told, so I'm left sitting there with a pair of orange gumboots in my hand. This is a sort of metaphor for my position in rock music." He may belong outside of rock, of celebrity, but all things considered, it's not a bad gig being Nick Cave.

· Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds' UK tour begins on Wednesday

Related article
18.03.2001: Rage has not withered him

CD reviews
15.08.2004: Observer Music Monthly: Abattoir Blues/ The Lyre of Orpheus
17.09.2004: Guardian: Abattoir Blues/ The Lyre of Orpheus
19.09.2004: Observer: Abattoir Blues/ The Lyre of Orpheus

Useful links
Nick Cave Online

vendredi, octobre 29, 2004

Trevor Horn

The artist of noise

Music produced by Trevor Horn provided the soundtrack to the Eighties - and now he's back. Fiona Sturges meets him

29 October 2004

"People don't listen to records in the way that they used to. I always had this idea that a record was like a journey. It led you somewhere, and by the end you felt like something had happened. Nowadays, records begin at the end of the journey and don't develop into anything. Pop songs start out loud and try to grab everything in the first 30 seconds."

Trevor Horn pauses, clearly concerned that he's coming across like a grumpy old man. "When I started in this job, I wanted people to listen to music in the same way that they watched a film," he continues. "I wanted to make records that could make you feel a range of emotions, that would make you stop and catch your breath."

Now, of course, this softly spoken 56-year-old is among the most sought-after record producers in the business, a modern-day Midas whose name alone can ensure a record is catapulted into the upper reaches of the charts. Lest we forget, this is the man who managed to turn the unwieldy prog-rockers Yes into a chart-topping proposition in 1983, with "Owner of a Lonely Heart". Having set out his songwriting credentials in the late Seventies with Buggles and their electro-pop classic "Video Killed the Radio Star", Horn went on to produce a host of era-defining artists, including Frankie Goes to Hollywood, ABC, Pet Shop Boys, Tina Turner, Grace Jones and Simple Minds.

More recently, he has sprinkled his fairy dust on albums by the Scottish seven-piece Belle and Sebastian and the Russian pseudo-lesbian duo Tatu. Far from being an anonymous technician twiddling knobs behind a glass partition, Horn has become a celebrity in his own right, a brand name synonymous with big-budget, multi-textured epics - think Seal's "Crazy", Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax" or Pet Shop Boys' "Left to My Own Devices". In the past quarter of a century he has pioneered new mixing techniques and rewritten the laws of pop composition. To quote the writer Paul Morley, Horn's co-conspirator in Art of Noise: "All contemporary pop utilising computers and samplers owes something to the innovations of Trevor Horn in the early Eighties."

Horn is sitting in a sleek apartment at the top of his labyrinthine studio complex off Portobello Road in west London. Rather like its owner, the studio comes with a distinguished pedigree. Before he bought it, in 1983, it was the headquarters of Chris Blackwell's Island label. It's where Bob Marley signed his record deal, where Queen made "Bohemian Rhapsody" and where the Horn-produced single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid was recorded.

An amiable man who has long since discarded the bottle-top specs of his Buggles heyday in favour of more understated rimless versions, Horn is full of stories about the Eighties glory days. So given is he to flights of nostalgia that he clutches a piece of paper with the word "Wembley" written on it to remind him why we are here. Over the years, Horn has rarely involved himself in the grubby business of publicity, but needs must, and right now he's got a gig to promote.

Produced by Trevor Horn is a one-off charity performance at Wembley Arena to mark 25 years in the business, a sort of variety show featuring a selection of his most successful acts. Coming in the wake of tours by Duran Duran, ABC and most of Spandau Ballet, the concert is tapping into a strong vein of Eighties nostalgia. "I felt a bit reticent about it at first," he confesses. "One of the good things about being a producer is that you can hide away; you don't have to come out and do lots of talking. But any misgivings I had about it, I've got over now because all the musicians were so keen to do it. The guys from Yes wanted to play on everybody else's songs because they're so sick of playing their own. The only person who probably won't do it is Holly Johnson [of Frankie Goes to Hollywood]. I think it's to do with his relationship with the rest of the band rather than not wanting to play with me. I'm sad he's not doing it, but it'll still be good fun."

Horn has been involved in music since he was a child, when he joined the youth orchestra at grammar school. Throughout his teens and early twenties he worked as a session musician, playing double bass on records by Tina Charles (with whom he had a relationship) and Shakatak, then a jazz-rock outfit. Among his first London gigs was the BBC's Come Dancing. "I played waltzes, foxtrots and quicksteps - the bass parts for that stuff were dead simple," Horn recalls. "If they did something modern, it was 'Let's Twist Again'. There were hardly any kids around who could play bass guitar and read music, so it was a good way to earn a living. I joined a few rock bands, but I found the experience frustrating, primarily because the other members could never play properly."

Disillusioned with his lack of success, at 25 he moved back to live with his parents near Leicester. At night he played in a house band at a local club, while by day he and a childhood friend set about building a recording studio. A year later, they opened for business. "They had these local songwriting competitions, so we put an ad in the paper. After a while we had some takers, and I started fixing up people's songs, hiring the musicians and so on. One day this guy called Bill Coleman, who used to play with Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon, said to me, 'You know that thing you're doing? That's called being a record producer.' I said, 'Well, that's what I want to do.' "

In the first few years Horn struggled to find his footing as a behind-the-scenes man. "It was a catch-22. I couldn't have a hit without a decent artist, and I couldn't work with any decent artists without having had a hit. I had come to the end of my tether and decided that if I couldn't find a good artist and a good song, then I'd bloody well have to do it myself. I had this track called 'Video Killed the Radio Star' and I knew it was too good to ignore. Me and Geoff [Downes] had had this idea for a group named Buggles. It was a crummy name, though in those days I didn't think much about packaging or image. I wish to God I had now."

"Video Killed the Radio Star" reached No 1 in 16 countries, and two years later the accompanying video had the distinction of being the first ever to be broadcast on the fledgling music channel MTV. "Sure, Geoff and I had these grand concepts, but we were completely naive about the world beyond the recording studio," Horn remarks. "The original idea was to make machine music - disposable pop that could be produced by a machine and made human input almost unnecessary. Little did we know how that would ring true later on. But we had no time to plan what we were going to do, and we were completely green in interviews. We were very earnest and sincere and thought everybody was nice, and then got trashed. Unless you're a certain kind of person, being a pop star isn't the fun it's made out to be. At least, it never really did it for me."

Among Horn's more questionable post-Buggles career moves was joining Yes as a replacement for the singer Jon Anderson. The band received terrible reviews on their 1980 tour, largely because of Horn's off-key singing. "It was tough," he sighs. "Doing a two-hour show at Madison Square Gardens in front of 23,000 people, singing someone else's songs - not the easiest thing in the world. Anderson had one hell of a voice, and it was extremely high. It was impossible to imitate. My problem was that I didn't know when to admit defeat." After eight months, he quit.

When he worked with Yes again in 1983, it was as producer of the album 90125, which spawned their biggest hit, "Owner of a Lonely Heart". By that time, Horn had left his pop career behind and was working full time as a producer. After four singles with the girl-boy duo Dollar, he went on to work with ABC, the group behind such quintessential Eighties classics as "Poison Arrow" and "The Look of Love". In 1983, he and Paul Morley founded the record label ZTT, the first release on which was "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. After being banned from the Radio 1 playlist, the song shot to No 1 in the charts and sold more than a million copies. Six months later came Frankie's second single, "Two Tribes", which went gold in seven days and stayed at No 1 for nine weeks.

The lyrics of "Two Tribes" may have been written by Holly Johnson and co, but the Cold War theme was cooked up by Horn and Morley. "Morley got hold of a bootleg copy of the four-minute-warning tape that the radio stations were meant to play in the event of a nuclear attack," he remembers. "It's pretty chilling stuff - it ends by saying, 'The last voice you will hear is mine.' We wanted to use the tape, but instead we got Patrick Allen, who read on the original, to come in and redo it for us. When he first read the script, he said, 'You know that when I did this I had to sign the Official Secrets Act, don't you?' We were, like, 'Oh, does that mean you won't do it?' And he said, 'What the hell. Why not?' "

Horn's output slowed down in the Nineties - his biggest success was Seal, the soul-pop artist who had several hits in the UK before decamping to the US. Recently, however, he has been enjoying something of renaissance. At his daughter's insistence, Horn listened to Belle and Sebastian's 1996 ballad "Stars of Track and Field", which led him to produce their latest, critically acclaimed album Dear Catastrophe Waitress.

"It doesn't matter how big or famous somebody is; if they haven't got the material, it's not worth doing," he reflects. "If they're completely unknown and have something that blows me away, I'll do it." His work last year with Tatu brought him his first No 1 hit in almost a decade - the single "All the Things She Said" shifted nine million copies worldwide - not to mention some unexpected controversy.

"When I first heard them, they reminded me of [the German synth-pop band] Propaganda - they had that same Euro-techno thing. But it was a shame the way they were marketed. I think their manager was a little sinister, and went overboard on the whole lesbian thing. It's sad, because it meant that no one took their music seriously."

Though he's not ready to be put out to pasture quite yet, Horn is already looking to cut down his workload and spend more time at home with his family. As he points out, 25 years isn't bad going for a jobbing session musician, and you're only as good as your last hit. "One of the realities of being a record producer is, however clever a record you think you've made, if nobody wants to buy it, it doesn't mean a thing. People don't hire me because they like me, or because I'm famous. They hire me to do a job, and if I don't do it I'll be fired just as quickly as anybody else."

'Produced by Trevor Horn', featuring ABC, Art of Noise, Belle & Sebastian, Buggles, Pet Shop Boys, Seal, Yes and others is at Wembley Arena on 11 November (020-7543 1389;


BUGGLES (1980)

Horn met the keyboard-player Geoff Downes in the mid-Seventies, while playing bass with the disco singer Tina Charles. The duo formed Buggles, and a year later, Horn had a major hit on his hands with "Video Killed the Radio Star", one of the precursors of the new synthetic pop.

ABC (1982)

As New Wave turned into the more listener-friendly New Romanticism, Horn seized his moment, releasing a string of ruthlessly commercial but inspired pop confections. Taking a Sheffield outfit, Vice Versa, he transformed them into the polished croon-and-synth hit-machine ABC. The band enjoyed success with The Lexicon of Love and the singles "The Look of Love" and "Poison Arrow". Sustaining it without Horn, however, proved somewhat harder than abc.


The Liverpudlians came to Horn's attention when they appeared on the music show The Tube and signed for his fledgling ZTT label. He overhauled their sound, and the debut single "Relax", a dance-pop number with a suggestive lyric, went to No 1 in the UK in January 1984 after being banned by Radio 1. The band released a trio of million-selling singles and the hugely successful Welcome to the Pleasure Dome. By 1986 and the release of Liverpool, the magic was gone.


Horn's collaboration with Belle and Sebastian, Dear Catastrophe Waitress, put him back in the spotlight. The marriage of Horn's burnished production and the mild-mannered indie popsters' trademark whimsy proved not to be the catastrophe that the admirers of both camps might have feared - Horn brought an upfront sound and a new clarity to the band's usual lo-fi strategies.

TATU (2003)

Two teenage girls, Tatu had a huge hit in their native Russia with their paean to schoolgirl lesbianism, "Ya Soshla s Uma [I've Lost My Mind]". Trevor Horn was one of the producers brought in to work on 200km/h in the Wrong Lane, the English-language remake of their album. Knowing when to leave well alone, Horn retitled the hit "All the Things She Said", but otherwise stuck close to the original.

jeudi, octobre 28, 2004

When good rockers go bad

The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre were best friends. Then they agreed to be filmed for a documentary

By Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent

27 October 2004

This year, there has been a mini-explosion of rock-music documentaries. We've seen Janis Joplin shrieking her way through "Piece of My Heart" in Festival Express, the punk rockers The Ramones wreaking havoc in New York's underground music scene in End of the Century, and the members of Metallica confronting their inner demons in Some Kind of Monster. Those are not just movies for die-hard fans. Nor are they real-life counterparts to This Is Spinal Tap whose main appeal lies in the opportunity to marvel at the magnificently pompous antics of hairy men with big guitars. As their enthusiastic reception at various festivals (Sundance, Slamdance, Rotterdam, Edinburgh) attests, the so-called rockumentaries are being taken very seriously by critics and audiences alike.

The rock-doc with the best reviews of all is about two US indie bands. Ondi Timoner's Dig! (a grand prix-winner at Sundance) follows the wildly varying fortunes of The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. The former have headlined music festivals in Europe. Their best known song, "Bohemian Like You", was used in a Vodafone advert. The latter, though heralded as geniuses by the British singer-songwriter Genesis P Orridge, of Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle fame, are more obscure.

Why should a general audience be interested in yet another film about the antics of would-be rock stars? The answer is that Timoner has happened upon a story with universal appeal. Dig! has all the standard ingredients that come with the genre (brawling, drug addiction, mindless hedonism), but Timoner's trump card is her main protagonist, Anton Newcombe, who founded The Brian Jonestown Massacre in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district in 1990.

Newcombe is a throwback: a musician who looks as if he rightfully belongs in the Californian music scene of the psychdelic Sixties. He is obsessed with Charles Manson and dresses in a style which evokes memories of both The Beatles on their consciousness-raising trips with the Maharishi and of The Monkees. He thinks nothing of wearing roller skates, kaftans and fur hats. He plays every instrument, from the guitar to the sitar. He is charming, charismatic and writes beguiling music which sounds as if it comes straight from the summer of love. He is also a raving egomaniac who sooner or later alienates almost everyone he works with and whose gigs frequently degenerate into mass brawls. In other words, he is the kind of combustible and contradictory personality that any documentary thrives on.

When she first encountered Newcombe in the mid-1990s, Timoner was in her early twenties. She had recently graduated from Yale and had a hankering to make a film that "deconstructed" the music business. Her intention was to film 10 up-and-coming bands. In the event, her documentary was hijacked by Newcombe. He was close friends with Courtney Taylor of the Dandy Warhols, whom he regarded as an ally in his messianic, if ill-defined, bid to reinvent the music business. ("He was longing for that Sixties camaraderie he'd read about in books about The Beatles and the Stones," Timoner says.)

Dig! plays like an indie band version of Amadeus, with Newcombe as the tambourine-wielding Mozart and Courtney Taylor of the Dandy Warhols (also the narrator) as the Salieri-figure. Newcombe's songwriting is never in doubt, but (as his former manager puts it) "he is so horrible in so many ways."

Timoner recounts how in 1996, she filmed The Brian Jonestown Massacre at their most important gig yet at the Viper Lounge in Los Angeles. Dozens of record company execs were in attendance, drawn by the huge buzz then surrounding the band. All the BJM had to do to secure a record contract was play a half-decent set. Timoner watched with bemusement as Newcombe lost his temper (he was always furious when someone missed a note) and the band proceeded to brawl among themselves before storming off stage.

As the years passed, it became apparent that Newcombe and Taylor had radically different visions. The Dandy Warhols wanted success, even if it meant kowtowing to the record company bosses. They signed to Capitol, and their songs were soon receiving saturation coverage on both sides of the Atlantic. "Anton became very, very angry with them," Timoner recalls. "[He was] jealous, definitely, but he also felt they had betrayed his ideals."

Newcombe, meanwhile, wasn't ready to compromise for or with anyone. We look on with horrified fascination as he experiments with drugs ("Heroin makes Anton evil," one onlooker observes), picks yet more fights with band members and spectators, and abuses his colleagues.

"He can be so charming. He is such a compelling figure. I loved working with him," Timoner says of him, but then remarks that his behaviour often went beyond the pale. "It was very sad and frustrating for me... I am not a doctor to say he is schizophrenic, but he definitely has major mood-swings and self-medicates with alcohol and drugs." The irony is that he was always the one with the real talent. Even Taylor acknowledged the fact. As Timoner says: "Courtney is such an egomaniac, but the saving grace is how humble he is about Anton. No matter what, he keeps saying this guy is incredible."

Dig! was largely self-financed. Timoner spent close to eight years filming the two bands and paid her bills by directing commercials and pop promos between times. Realising that the documentary was turning into "the Shoah of rock", she called a halt to shooting and began trying to winnow down her footage to feature length. The film, when it finally surfaced in Sundance, was rapturously received by almost everyone - with the very notable exception of Newcombe himself, who called it a "Jerry Springer-esque" vilification.

Post Dig!, Newcombe continues to make music. Timoner has recently accepted a commission from Chris Blackwell (of Island records fame) to direct a film about the history of Jamaican music. The two old friends remain in touch - albeit through lawyers. Newcombe has agreed to contribute a commentary track to the DVD, but they're unlikely to be working together again any time soon. "I would love for him to love the film... I still love Anton," she reflects." I've just spent enough time with him in my life."

'Dig!' is showing, as part of the London FIlm Festival, at the Odeon West End, London WC2 (0871 224 4007) tonight, 9pm

mercredi, octobre 27, 2004

The Donnas

The Donnas and Simple Plan Go Dual

By Paul Cashmere

26 October 2004

Warner Music Group will release four dual discs this week including Simple Plan's 'Still Not Getting Any' and The Donnas 'Gold Medal'.

A dual disc is a double sided disc with CD on one side and DVD on the other.

John Esposito from WEA Corp said in a statement "DualDisc offers music consumers a wider array of options to enhance their experience with our artists. Limited only by the artist's imagination, DualDisc's unique audio and video features give our artists a broader palette for creative expression. We are excited that two of our most anticipated new albums this fall will be released on DualDisc."

The Simple Plan album will feature the entire album on the CD side and 20 minutes of excusive, behind-the-scenes 'making of the album' footage on the DVD as well as a photo gallery, lyrics and bonus material as well as the entire album again in 5:1 sound.

The Donnas' "Gold Medal" DualDisc, the DVD side features each track available in 5.1 Surround Sound and high-resolution stereo. It also features The Donnas' "Fall Behind Me" music video in Surround Sound, a 15-minute "making of the video" piece and a lyrics section for the album.

Warner Music will also release The Grateful Dead's 'American Beauty' and Trapt's self-titled album in the format on November 23rd.

mardi, octobre 26, 2004

John Peel passes away

John Peel OBE, legendary Radio 1 and Radio 4 presenter, has died suddenly on holiday in Peru.

It has been confirmed that John died from a heart attack last night - he leaves behind his wife Sheila and four children.

The veteran broadcaster had worked for Radio 1 since its launch in 1967.

Radio 1 Controller Andy Parfitt said:

"John Peel was a broadcasting legend. I am deeply saddened by his death as are all who work at Radio 1."

"John's influence has towered over the development of popular music for nearly four decades and his contribution to modern music and music culture is immeasurable."

"Hopeful bands all over the world sent their demo tapes to John knowing that he really cared. His commitment and passion for new music only grew stronger over the years."

"In fact, when I last saw him he was engaged in a lively debate with his fellow DJs over the state of new music today. He will be hugely missed."

BBC Director of Radio & Music Jenny Abramsky added:

"John Peel was a unique broadcaster whose influence on Radio 1 could be felt from its very first days. He nurtured musicians and listeners alike introducing them to new sounds."

"His open minded approach to music was mirrored by his equally generous approach to his audience when he went to Radio 4 to present Home Truths."

"He had a remarkable rapport with all his listeners. Everyone at BBC Radio is devasted by the news. John is simply irreplaceable. Our hearts go out to Sheila and his children."

Tributes have already started pouring in from artists and music fans around the world - we've got a place for you to add your own

We also have a messageboard where you can share your memories of John. For advice on how to cope with bereavement go to One Life's help pages. John Peel

John Peel Dead at 65

By Paul Cashmere

27 October 2004

John Peel, one of the world's greatest music radio DJ's, has died while holidaying in Peru. He was 65.

Peel was the BBC's longest serving radio presenter. He started at BBC1 in 1967 and was the first radio presenter to play New Wave and Punk.

The list of artists he introduced now reads like a who's who of classic rock. U2, Roxy Music, T-Rex, Rod Stewart, Blur, The Sex Pistols and T-Rex are some of acts who were first introduced to a UK audience via Peel's program. He was first in the UK to play Nirvana, White Stripes and the Velvet Underground.

Pulp was discovered by Peel. A young and unsigned Jarvis Cocker handed him a demo and he played it on his radio show. They were signed soon after.

The Smiths were another of his discoveries. Their first recording was a Peel session for the BBC. New Order were another band who recorded a Peel Session and later released the tapes on CD.

After announcing his death, the BBC played his favourite song 'Teenage Kicks' by The Undertones. They were another one of his favourite bands. Former lead singer Feargal Sharkey, who later became a successful solo act, went on the BBC today and said he was "single most important broadcaster we have ever known".

Peel is survived by his wife Sheila and four adult children.

'He was the most important person in British music since the birth of rock 'n' roll'

By Andy Kershaw

27 October 2004

It was like I had been hit by a hammer. Jenny Abramsky, the BBC's controller of network radio, called me and said: "I've got some bad news for you, and I think you ought to sit down." As soon as she said that, my mind just raced and in a flash, before she had said it, I thought "Peel's dead".

John had died of a heart attack, in Peru, aged 65. It was like being thumped. If I were a 16-year-old kid tonight in a band, dreaming of making it big, I would be thinking my chances were far less than they were yesterday. This is a huge cultural loss. John Peel was the most important figure in British music since the birth of rock'n'roll. Full stop. He is more important than any artist because he was the enthusiast who discovered so many of those whom we think of as the big figures of pop over the past 40 years.

Everyone was talking yesterday about how John was the only surviving member of the original Radio1 line-up. His legacy is far bigger than just having been a veteran DJ. It's not the longevity - it's what he did. He was forever championing bands and being ridiculed for being weird. Those bands became mainstream, from Pink Floyd to The Clash.

I consider myself lucky to have known him and to have been his friend. But I was also hugely fortunate, right at the start of my career, to have been put in an office with him and John Walters. What better education? What better comrades when you are starting out?

Since my early teens, John Peel had been my great musical influence. He shaped my tastes as a kid, giving me a breadth of enthusiasms. Then suddenly, blow me, I was sharing his 10ft by 10ft office space, having to sit on an upturned litter bin as there wasn't a third chair. It was the summer of 1985 and I had arrived at Radio 1 as a rather wild young thing. At first, I think Peel saw me as some kind of threat.

Once he realised I was a huge admirer and that we shared many of the same tastes, we became big pals. We had a lot in common. We enjoyed a breadth in music that covered everything from punk to country, reggae to African.

We used to go together to Stern's African record shop, just behind Broadcasting House in London, and buy piles and piles of records on spec. We'd come back to the office and have a wonderful afternoon finding out what we'd bought, like a couple of kids in the playground swapping bubble-gum cards - even though there was a 20-year age gap between us.

We would go to the TT races in the Isle of Man together. I remember John stood in the drizzle with an Eccles cake in one hand and a cup of red wine in the other. He was like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, stood behind a dry-stone wall in the corner of a field.

John was immensely good company. He was avuncular and protective. He was also the most natural broadcaster I have known and he taught me to talk to listeners as though you're talking to one person.

The last time I saw him he looked absolutely worn out. We went to a café near Radio 1 and I said: "John, you look terrible." He said: "They've moved me from 11pm to one at night and the combination of that and Home Truths (his Radio 4 show) is killing me." He felt he had been marginalised.

Since we heard the news, people have asked me: "What was John Peel like away from the microphone?" I'll tell you. He was exactly the same as he was when he was in front of it.

Short, fat, inept - and a hero for our times

The untimely death of John Peel has robbed the nation of one of its most influential moral and musical figureheads. Robert Hanks celebrates his extraordinary legacy

27 October 2004

The grief that many people will feel today about the death of John Peel has a personal dimension usually absent from the deaths of public figures. Though his eclecticism and devotion to beating the bounds of popular music - not to mention some cautious scheduling - meant that his Radio 1 show never attracted vast audiences, those who did listen loved him dearly.

A great deal has been said over the years, and will now be said again, about the bands he championed and his influence on the shape of popular music. Rather less has been said about what he would have been horrified to think of as his moral influence.

But over at least three decades he mattered to his listeners not only because of the records he played, but because of the way he talked between the records (it is important that for Peel it always was between records: it would have struck him as a gross discourtesy, to band and listener, to talk over the music).

He had a dry, slightly hesitant delivery, as if he half-expected any second to be pulled up and told off for talking nonsense.

He mocked himself constantly - for being short, fat and bald, for being unreasonably enthusiastic about Liverpool FC and The Fall, for supposed incompetence as disc jockey, husband and father. He seemed baffled that anybody would think he was worth listening to, and perpetually grateful. People who spent their adolescence tuned into Peel's Radio 1 show received an extensive education in modesty, kindness and gentle sarcasm, and learned that an appreciation of the music of rebellion and hate doesn't necessarily preclude grace of manner and tolerance: that being nice was kind of cool.

Or perhaps it worked the other way around: that only nice people were attracted by him in the first place.

The fact is, I have never met a regular John Peel Show listener I didn't like. (I was only ever an irregular myself.) His sly, undercutting wit allowed him to get away with things that in other DJs might have been rebarbative. He lent credibility, through his voiceovers, to dozens of so-so television documentaries and commercials (though it was reported that he wouldn't advertise any product he didn't use).

In later years, as a grateful nation showered honours on him - OBEs, Sony awards, the NME Godlike Genius award - he showed himself a sentimentalist of almost Dickensian proportions, bursting into tears at the drop of a statuette; but nobody minded.

His devotion to hearth and family, and particularly to his wife Sheila, "the Pig", was a running theme.

It was Sheila who, in 2001, insisted he have a blood test after years of feeling unwell, only for him to discover he had Type 2 diabetes. He had put down the classic signs of the disease - tiredness, a constant need to urinate and blurred vision, to ageing. He said that he was relieved at the diagnosis.

And, after years of being the music fan's friend, he found a new outlet for the more homely side of his nature in a Radio Times column in the early 1990s, John Peel's Family Album, in which he rambled amusingly about his four children, and the friendly contempt with which they treated him.

Although the column ran for several years, the Family Album tag was dropped - apparently at his children's behest - and he rambled amusingly about anything that caught his attention.

It was a logical progression from this to presenting Home Truths, the Radio 4 show in which ordinary people tell the nation the stories they usually save for the pub or the family. Peel had to link material that was sometimes banal, sometimes excruciatingly intimate.

Listening to him delivering his scripts, with a fluency strangely unlike his Radio 1 manner, it sounded as if some stopcock had been released, as if he had been waiting all his life to give free rein to his domestic side. For some fans, it seemed like a comedown - what was the man who discovered the Undertones and Pulp doing introducing an anecdote about parrots from Doris of Bexley Heath? But other fans, who had left him behind to discover the delights of domesticity on their own account, were delighted to encounter him again, and he gained a whole new fan base.

It is worth remembering all these people when Peel is referred to as a "cult" DJ. Take into account, too, the length of his career- people who started listening to him in their teens now have teenage grandchildren.

Now try to reckon up the numbers of listeners who will be mourning him today. Such widespread affection made him unsackable; but over the years, Radio 1 kept nibbling away at his slot.

Peel is gone, but his influence will live on - for, you hope, a very long time.

Tributes to a legend

Andy Parfitt

Radio 1 controller

John Peel was a broadcasting legend. I am deeply saddened by his death as are all who work at Radio 1. John's influence has towered over the development of popular music for nearly four decades and his contribution to modern music and music culture is immeasurable.

Jarvis Cocker


It would be absolutely impossible to write a history of the past 40 years of British music without mentioning John Peel's name. He was one of those few people about whom you could truly say that the world would have been a much different place without him.

Feargal Sharkey

The Undertones

In the autumn of 1978, something happened that was to change my life forever; John Peel played "Teenage Kicks" on the radio for the very first time. Today, it just changed again, forever. We have just lost the single most important broadcaster we have ever known.

Jo Whiley

Radio 1 DJ

John was simply one of my favourite men in the whole world; as a music fan and presenter he was simply an inspiration.

Damon Albarn


John Peel's patronage was for me, like countless other musicians, one of the most significant things that happened to us in our careers. The world is going to be a poorer place with his sudden departure. I will miss him deeply. I want to send my heartfelt sympathy to his lovely family.

Gaz Coombes


I was fortunate enough to meet him and play a session at his home. I remember we had a great conversation about Elvis that day. He was the first to play our debut single "Caught By The Fuzz" on radio, which I know brought us to people's attention. He was a big influence to so many.

Alexei Sayle


It was always great to listen to John. He was a crucial figure for music and he often thought that the BBC were trying to sideline him. The station went through various controllers who were not always keen on having an individual, distinctive voice, which John Peel was.

Bernard Sumner

Joy Division/New Order

If it wasn't for John Peel, there would be no Joy Division and no New Order. He was one of the few people to give bands that played alternative music a chance to get heard, and he continued to be a champion of cutting-edge music. Our thoughts are with his family.

Janice Long

Former Radio 1 DJ

I just can't believe it. You never thought John Peel was going to die. He made an incredible contribution to British music. When I arrived at Radio 1, he took me under his wing. He was totally passionate. He was passionate about football and music. More, he was passionate about his family.

Tommy Smith

Liverpool FC

He was an avid supporter, and was very passionate about football. I met him once and he talked about nothing else but the team. Liverpool people are proud people and we feel connected to those who go on to become famous. He will be missed.

Michael Eavis

Glastonbury founder

He was at Glastonbury as a kid in 1971. He had this incredible ability to pick bands that would succeed, and in a funny sort of way, he made them succeed. In 1983, The Smiths were his choice of band and nobody had heard of them. I went off to hear them and he was right

Elvis Costello


Like many others, I felt I knew him from his voice on the radio. He was the contradiction of every bad thing you could say about the radio. He had an open mind about all types of music. He was a great man, a fabulous curmudgeon, and he was as rare as the music that he loved.


1 Joy Division, Atmosphere

2 The Undertones, Teenage Kicks

3 Joy Division, Love Will Tear Us Apart

4 Sex Pistols, Anarchy In The UK

5 The Clash, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais

6 New Order, Blue Monday

7 The Smiths, How Soon Is Now?

8 Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit

9 The Smiths, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

10 This Mortal Coil, Song To The Siren

11 Robert Wyatt, Shipbuilding

12 Pulp, Common People

13 Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, Big Eyed Beans From Venus

14 Dead Kennedys, Holiday In Cambodia

15 Joy Division, New Dawn Fades

16 My Bloody Valentine, Soon

17 New Order, Ceremony

18 The Only Ones, Another Girl, Another Planet

19 New Order, Temptation

20 Joy Division, She's Lost Control

21 Wedding Present, Brassneck

22 The Smiths, This Charming Man

23 Sugarcubes, Birthday

24 The Fall, How I Wrote 'Elastic Man'

25 The Wedding Present, My Favourite Dress

26 Delgados, Pull The Wires From the Wall

27 My Bloody Valentine, You Made Me Realise

28 Joy Division, Transmission

29 Sex Pistols, Pretty Vacant

30 Pixies, Debaser

31 Belle & Sebastian, Lazy Line Painter Jane

32 New Order, True Faith

33 The Clash, Complete Control

34 The Fall, Totally Wired

35 The Jam, Going Underground

36 Stereolab, French Disko

37 Jimi Hendrix Experience, All Along The Watchtower

38 The Fall, The Classical

39 The Damned, New Rose

40 Tim Buckley, Song To The Siren

41 Beach Boys, God Only Knows

42 Velvet Underground, Heroin

43 Nick Drake, Northern Sky

44 Bob Dylan, Visions Of Johanna

45 The Beatles, I Am The Walrus

46 Beach Boys, Good Vibrations

47 The Sundays, Can't Be Sure

48 Culture, Lion Rock

49 P J Harvey, Sheela-na-gig

50 Pavement, Here

Jarvis strikes again

Harry Cocker

JARVIS COCKER has been signed to write the soundtrack for the fourth Harry Potter film.
As well as composing the music for Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, the former PULP frontman will make a cameo appearance.

Movie bosses were determined to bring in a trendy British musician to give the film a sprinkling of Britpop cool after the previous Potter flicks were scored by prolific American composer JOHN WILLIAMS — most famous for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, ET and the chilling theme from Jaws.

But new Potter director MIKE NEWELL wanted to make sure his movie appealed more to a generation of music-mad teens.

He asked DANIEL RADCLIFFE and the other young stars to draw up a shortlist of candidates. Jarvis bagged the job because of his reputation and professionalism.

He may even write the score under the name of his alter ego DARREN SPOONER — a goth-rocking punk image he invented for himself last year fronting a band called RELAXED MUSCLE.

Jarvis will be responsible for picking additional music for the film and has already chosen FRANZ FERDINAND to appear and write a track.

A source at movie giants Warner Bros tells me: “Everyone here is really excited about Jarvis being involved in Goblet Of Fire.

“He is a very talented musician who is a big fan of movies and knows exactly how they work. You may just think Jarvis is the bloke in specs who fronted Pulp but he is a man with many hidden depths.”

Jarvis, a dead ringer for an adult Harry Potter, saw Pulp splitting last year as an ideal opportunity to explore new avenues.

He studied film at Central St Martin’s in London and once said: “I think I’ll end up as a film-maker eventually. It’s just a question of when. You always wish that people you like knew when to give up, but they never do.”

He has some experience in the field, having composed music for 1995 film Wild Side.

Jarvis in Potter? It will be absolutely magic.

Giant Sand, Bush Hall, London

All over the musical map

By Gulliver Cragg @ The Independent

26 October 2004

The story of Giant Sand is a story of immense talent deliberately unfocussed. Conflicting impulses, relentless experimentalism and an addiction to irony have kept Howe Gelb's consistently interesting outfit on its toes for over 20 years now. The guitar-based music they produce is unclassifiable, but that never stopped anyone trying, and since Gelb is from Tucson and uses far-west riffs and themes, it has been dubbed "desert rock". Accordingly, once the band have slowly shuffled their way on to the stage and into a loose groove, the first line Gelb sings tonight is: "The desert is deserted." Such characteristic self-mockery lends an evening with Giant Sand a sense of enjoyable bonhomie, but it also adds an element of vague frustration.

The title of the band's latest album, Giant Sand is All Over the Map, sums up Gelb's entire career, and even without concentrating on that triumphantly varied record, tonight's set takes in reggae, full-on rawk, cocktail jazz, knee-slapping country, punk and drive-time balladry - often in the course of a single song. In a way, it's a virtuoso performance, and it's good to see the new line-up working together so well - Gelb had been hit hard by the departure of Joey Burns and John Convertino, Giant Sand's rhythm section for most of the Nineties until the runaway success of their side-project, Calexico, started taking up too much of their time.

The musicianship on display is hugely impressive, with the three Danes who now form the core of the band (Gelb divides his time between Arizona and Aarhus) providing excellent slide guitar, bass and drums. As a guitarist, Gelb is a master at playing the same melody in different styles, venturing away from it into noise territory, and then pulling the whole thing back. His instinct for sketchiness and unorthodox phrasing makes rock-outs that could reach stadium-sized naff-ness in other hands sound powerful and exciting - especially when another Dane, Marie Frank, takes over the vocals.

A second guest vocalist is Scout Niblett, Giant Sand's hand-picked support. In his role as the 'godfather of' (definitely a calls-on-your-birthday kind of godfather, rather than a mafioso) Gelb loves to nurture new talent, and Niblett is one of the most original voices around. A gawky Staffordshire girl in a wig, she accompanies herself on drums part of the time. Though she sometimes shouts in an annoying performance-art way, her exuberantly loud but cute singing - especially when she swaps the drums for minimalist guitar-playing - is captivating.

Gelb, meanwhile, seems to regard singing into either of his two microphones as optional much of the time. This particularly detracts from the languid, brooding songs that characterised the band's 2001 masterpiece, Chore of Enchantment, or "Classico", the stand-out track from All Over the Map - but those are better heard alone on a summer afternoon, than standing in a crowded room anyway.

That said, the band do blend the slower numbers well into a set that also features big guitars, frenetic riffing and outbreaks of jovial silliness. The more rocking, guitar-driven numbers tend to dominate the latter part of the set, suggesting that this might be the most natural idiom for the current line-up to play. But perhaps it is precisely the endless chopping and changing that makes Giant Sand so cool and original. It certainly creates a feeling of adventurous happiness. But it can also give the impression that Gelb has already lost interest in what he is singing about before he's even opened his mouth.

Reviewers often give this band three-star reviews, but it would be a travesty to suggest that they are mediocre. They are brilliant - it's just that they could be even better.

lundi, octobre 25, 2004

Manic Street Preachers

Sublime and ridiculous

Trouble follows the Manic Street Preachers around like a mangy dog. Trouble, grief and political strife. And now their hotel-room door won't open! Strewth. Fortunately, Simon Price is on hand to settle things down as Wales's finest finally crack the code and open up. They've a new album to discuss, a new way of looking at themselves - and the lost Richey Edwards is seldom out of their thoughts...

'Formed in the Valleys, ner ner ner ... Inspired by Guns N'Roses and Public Enemy, ner ner ner ... Bloke went missing, ner ner ner ... Have I really got to read that shit again?" James Dean Bradfield draws on a Marlboro in Nicky Wire's Langham Hilton hotel room (against the non-smoking bassist's wishes).

The singer is speaking about his feelings at being required to approve a new press biography to accompany Manic Street Preachers' latest flurry of activity, but he might as easily be anticipating the rash of articles which will ensue, including this one. Despite dreams of being "free from our history" (on Everything Must Go, as far back as 1996), no band is as self-consciously shackled to history - its own, and that of the wider world - than the Manics.

Indeed, the last two Manics releases, Forever Delayed and Lipstick Traces, were a greatest hits and a B-sides collection respectively, their next-but-one is a remastered reissue of a classic album from a decade ago, and their imminent studio album, Lifeblood, is inhabited by spectres from the past.

If the Manics' self-reflexive fascination with their own story seems a little morbid, unhealthy even, it's understandable. Stepping back and viewing their career from the outside, they must be able to see a human drama with sufficient tragedies and triumphs to sustain a whole book. Yes, James, you really have got to read it again.

His reluctance to rake over the past is doomed, given their release schedule, but he's happy that the new album is receiving a relatively gentle push from Sony: "I don't want to make this album join the army if it doesn't want to," he says (ironically, for someone who has always looked as though he could have been a squaddie, if he'd made the minimum height requirement).

If the three Manic Street Preachers have altered as people and as a band, it's telling that the change is slight, gradualist rather than revolutionary. Bradfield surprises me, when the tape isn't running, by speaking of his high hopes for Gordon Brown. James remains an engagingly enigmatic mixture of the gentleman and the brute, always courteous but retaining a no-nonsense toughness (of which his tattooed bicep is a visual reminder). These days, however, he's increasingly confident displaying his intellectual side, once hidden behind an exterior of laddish bravado.

Sean Moore, the notoriously reticent drummer, has noticeably opened up and offers scattergun, off-the-record assassinations of several of the Manics' musical peers. He's even doing his part for the PR campaign (he's drawn the short straw today, doing phone interviews with Thailand and Canada), where once he'd have sat huddled over his Gameboy, or absconded completely.

Nicky Wire, to the horror of many female fans, is sporting a few days' growth of light brown beard. The former Glamour Twin has oscillated between glitter-and-tiaras and casual blokewear since the disappearance of his other half Richey Edwards, and is very much in one of his casual phases. He's still something of a fusspot and a hypochondriac ("the only working organ in my body is my brain"), fretting that James and I will set off the fire alarms with our ciggies and drench his room. Famously a motormouth with a poison wit and a sharp tongue, Wire has unexpectedly become a diplomat, half-jokingly coaching his bandmates with the pre-interview instruction: "Remember, no politics, and be nice!"

Beforehand, a little vignette speaks volumes about the different personalities in the band. We're outside Nicky Wire's hotel room, trying to get inside, but the computerised swipe card won't work, and the little light doesn't want to go green. "Let me try," says James, who proceeds to shoulder-charge the lock. After sheer violence has failed three or four times, Wire, who has been waiting patiently behind us, quietly says, "Shall I go down to Reception?"

Manic Street Preachers sprang into existence nearly two decades ago in Blackwood, a small town in one of Britain's most culturally deprived and economically depressed regions, the former mining valleys of South Wales. Politicised by the Miners' Strike, inspired by 10th-anniversary documentaries on punk, and seized by a desire to mix revolutionary rhetoric (yes, Public Enemy) with commercial rock (yes, Guns N'Roses), four bored teenagers formed a band containing a clearly defined "political wing" of university-educated best friends Richey Edwards and Nicky Wire (né Jones) - their musical talent was limited but their skill with a soundbite and a visual image was not - and a "musical wing" of singer-guitarist James Dean Bradfield and his cousin, drummer Sean Moore. Their intention was to launch a kamikaze strike on a sleepy music scene.

In a turn-of-the-Nineties musical landscape dominated by blissed-out bagginess from "Madchester" and soporific "shoegazing" from the Thames Valley, the Manics were a deliberate anomaly: as one writer put it, "a speed band in an E generation".

Their initial tinny attempts to replicate the up-and-at-'em sound of The Clash were of limited musical merit, but the press couldn't get enough of them. While they were almost universally derided by critics, editors knew that the Manics "gave good quote". They were gleefully anti-consensual - their third single featured a chorus which crowed, "I laughed when Lennon got shot" - and endlessly provocative (they described long-forgotten indie band Slowdive as "worse than Hitler").

They also gave good photo. An explosion of Paris '68-style sloganeering and Motley Crue-style make-up methods, "a mess of eyeliner and spraypaint", they injected glamour into a drab, dressed-down age. Perhaps unsurprisingly, to begin with their public profile far exceeded their actual popularity and sales figures.

In May 1991, the Manic Street Preachers provided their most infamous visual image of all. After a gig in Norwich, and frustrated by an interviewer's refusal to take them seriously, Richey Edwards took out a razor and hacked the inscription "4 REAL" into his forearm. He'd been a habitual self-harmer since schooldays. The resulting gory photograph from the NME's Ed Sirrs remains one of the most iconic in rock, and is retrospectively - rightly or wrongly - viewed as a foreshadowing of what would become of Edwards himself. Having outraged the indie world by "selling out" to corporate giants Sony, the group hilariously vowed to sell 20 million copies of their debut album, headline Wembley Stadium, then split up. It didn't quite work out that way. Generation Terrorists, 1992's ambitious yet flawed double album with a polished classic rock sheen, arrived at a time when, ironically, commercial rock was uncommercial. It sold respectably, but the accompanying tour began not at Wembley but at Northampton Roadmenders. Its successor, Gold Against the Soul, met the zeitgeist halfway - a blend of Bon Jovi and Nirvana - and the lyrics, particularly in songs written by Edwards, switched from the political to the personal, dwelling on themes such as insomnia, the impossibility of love, and the trauma of becoming an adult.

Meanwhile, Edwards' gaunt appearance betrayed his growing dependency on alcohol and the beginnings of anorexia; and his self-cutting, often performed onstage, was becoming more frequent. By the time the band's third (and greatest) album The Holy Bible arrived in 1994, Edwards' mental state had deteriorated badly. The album addressed unimaginably grim themes, from genocide to self-harm. In July, following a two-day cutting and drinking binge, he was admitted to psychiatric hospital in Cardiff and, later, The Priory in London, forcing the band to play festival dates as a trio.

Edwards rejoined the band for their autumn tour, culminating in three memorably intense pre-Christmas shows at London's Astoria, and his health seemed to be improving. However, in February 1995, on the eve of a promotional trip to America, Edwards vanished from a London hotel room, leaving only cryptic notes and parcels for his bandmates. His car was later found near the Severn Bridge, prompting many to assume that he had committed suicide. From that point on the trail went cold - although spurious sightings and conspiracy theories have continued to stimulate the Manics' constituency.

When they re-emerged in 1996, almost topping the charts with A Design For Life, there was a sad irony to their sudden success. Here they were, at the height of Britrock, finding a mass audience at last, and Richey Edwards, who'd craved it more than anyone, was not around to enjoy it.

But success grew. With Nicky Wire now their sole lyricist, the group achieved their first number one hit in 1998 with "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next" to go with the multi-platinum soft-rock-dominated album This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours. The first number one of the new century was theirs too. "Masses Against The Classes" followed up the largest indoor gig in British history, when they played to 70,000 at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on the eve of the Millennium. Then 2001's Know Your Enemy built on the groups' newsy profile: the Manics went where no western band had been before. They played Havana's Karl Marx Theatre, met Fidel Castro.

At the time of writing, it's looking as though a hat-trick is on the cards. "The Love of Richard Nixon", a single with a typically provocative title, is number one as we go to press. It appears to be another case of sympathy for the devil. "The main thrust of the song," Wire explains, "is the idea of being tarnished with a certain part of your life forever. With us, people might think of Richey's disappearance, or 4 REAL.

"With Nixon, people will always associate him with Watergate and being a crook, not the fact that he was the first president to go to China to build up relations. Or the way he de-escalated the arms race with the Soviet Union - quite admirable things. Whereas Kennedy for instance, when you analyse it, he was the first president to put troops into Vietnam. He sanctioned the Bay of Pigs - besides his moral disaster zone of shagging everything in sight."

"If you take someone like JFK," agrees Bradfield, "Bay of Pigs was undeniably American imperialism, akin to what Reagan was doing with the Contras. There were the assassination attempts on Castro. He forced the Soviet Union's hand with the missiles in Cuba, and everyone knows Bush stole the election, but JFK stole 'his' election. Now, if you put Nixon next to JFK, I would probably be so liberally wet that I'd go with JFK."

Wire, who has watched Oliver Stone's Nixon twice or three times a year since it came out, continues: "There's always been a ridiculousness to Manic Street Preachers. Not humour, not funny-ha ha, but a question of 'Do they really mean it?' But there's probably more empathy [with Nixon] than I should admit. Nixon wasn't a good president, but he wasn't George W Bush. He was a brilliant man, and not all Republican presidents have been. I do think he's a fascinating character, particularly in today's climate. He probably ended the Vietnam war. Whatever you think his reasons were - and conspiracy theories abound - he signed off at the end of it ... If Radiohead are Kennedy," he smiles, switching to soundbite mode, "then Manic Street Preachers are Nixon: the ugly duckling who had to try 10 times harder than anyone else. Paranoid megalomaniacs."

"The Love of Richard Nixon" is atypical. Lifeblood, is an uncharacteristically insular, apolitical record, its inner sleeve adorned with a quote from Descartes: "Conquer yourself rather than the world."

"Fifteen years ago," Wire grins, that quote would have been 'Conquer the world, and fuck yourself.'" At a time like this, it seems strange that the Manics, of all people, are shying away from making great political statements. "I think there are great statements to be made," adds Bradfield, "but I don't think there are great statements to be made with music. One of my favourite bands is The Clash and one of my least favourite albums is Sandinista. When they became an internationalist politics band, I don't think it worked that well..."

"I just think the worst thing we could do at this moment," reckons Wire, "would be writing an anti-George W Bush song. When it gets to the level of Green Day doing them, there's no point. I couldn't bear to be associated with Bono, Chris Martin or Damon..." Bang on cue, on the hotel TV, Bono appears on the news gladhanding Mr Blair. "I think politics has been reduced to such a trivial level, and we're trying to grapple with complex issues.

"I couldn't dumb down my politics, which I think you have to do at the moment. It's all about single issues. You know - Make Trade Fair, blah de blah... I'm not saying they're bad things, but they're too bleeding obvious. I'm an intellectual snob, I guess, when it comes to politics. I do think a song like 'Freedom of Speech Won't Feed My Children' was a prophecy. It said everything that needed to be said about American foreign policy. And I'm really bitter about the fact that it needed a war for everyone else to become political. How pathetic is that?"

Lifeblood is a subdued, mellow, melancholy, quietly lovely affair, with few of what the singer calls "the slashing chords of James Dean Bradfield", and much use of synthesizers, pianos and, apparently, digital drums. Bradfield thinks it sounds like "Fleetwood Mac played by the Cardigans"; Wire thinks it's "a mature record ... elegiac pop." Bradfield speaks of "a passionate coldness, a compassionate coldness." Wire says, "This album is clean, not a dirty album. It's cold sex, not warm sex. It's dry sex." The initial sessions were recorded in New York with David Bowie's sometime producer Tony Visconti (Wire and Bradfield are both fans of Bowie's late Seventies output, from Low to Scary Monsters) and mixed by Goldfrapp's engineer Tom Elmhirst.

Visconti's trick, Bradfield says, was to "de-school" the band and encourage them to "take four steps back".

"Which sounds a bit stupid, like he's some kind of zen master in the corner, but he did a bit of a David Carradine number on us. With young engineers, they all wanna be Nigel Godrich. You ask for a drum sound, and they put the lead mic through a dustbin, and put the sound of the dustbin through a squeezy Fairy Liquid bottle, and say 'You've got a drum sound - that's genius man!' But there was none of that. Visconti put four mics on the kit, and 10 minutes later we had a drum sound. And whenever I'd be thinking, 'It's gonna take about 10 more takes to get it right,' he'd say 'That's great!' and I'd be like 'NO!!! You can't cut me off like that!' He made me realise that for the past four years or so, I'd been trying to get past the first and the second idea, to get to the third idea. And maybe we've got to an age where the first idea is good again."

Wire's lyrics, often given to prolixity, are deliberately pared down: "He's left a gap for the music to be more important," says Bradfield. It's the first time, he says, that the band have admitted to themselves that they actually enjoy playing together as musicians. So much so that they've been breaking self-imposed musical rules, and trying things which would once have been taboo, like slap bass (Wire tried to think "Ashes to Ashes", not Level 42) and harmonica (Bradfield tried to think "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out", not The Alarm).

The nearest thing Lifeblood has to a radio-friendly anthem - what Wire calls "the Football Focus factor" - is "Empty Souls", a piano-led track which Bradfield likens to The Associates. One line, however, jars, and may upset the programmers: "Exposed to a truth we don't know/ Collapsing like the twin towers..." Even from a band like the Manics, who have never been shy of using such words as "holocaust", "rape" and "apocalypse" metaphorically, is this one simile too far?

"It depends if you like us as a band, to be honest," says James. "As soon as I read the lyric, I realised it was about the incomprehensibility of death. I've never comprehended it when I've been faced with it." (James's mother died of cancer in 2000, the subject of a rare Bradfield lyric, "Ocean Spray".) "How do you ever find a path back to being positive again? And not being completely negative and nihilistic about everything that's left?"

Doesn't the casual use of the twin towers image cheapen 9/11? "It's meant to do the exact opposite," Wire maintains. "It's meant to show the enormity of death. The twin towers is the defining image of our generation, the ultimate symbol of death, and how incomprehensible not only that, but ONE death is. It's not a statement about terrorism or politics. But it's meant to be poetic, metaphoric, and in no way is it meant to be callous. We recorded an alternate version with the line 'collapsing like a dying flower', but it just didn't have the same impact ... The conclusion I've come to is, confronted with something like 9/11, as a society we find ourselves incapable of taking in the true nature of death."

Mortality and loss are recurring themes on this record. "This album is about death," Wire explains, "the 'trivialisation' of death. People talk about the sanctity of life, but I think the sanctity of death is as important. If someone wants to grieve for 10 years, and just sit in the corner and refuse to do anything, I think it's fair enough. I think we're victims of it ourselves, suffering delayed grief from 10 years without Richey. We've always been kind of, 'Come on, sod it, let's play Brixton Academy, he'll come back!'" The smile is bittersweet this time. Wire's eyes well up whenever he discusses Richey for more than two sentences.

Inevitably, Lifeblood, like every album since his departure, is haunted by Edwards, and at least one song ("Cardiff Afterlife") is directly addressed to him. One wonders whether Wire will ever exhaust or exorcise the topic, or whether the Richey songs will always come. "This one came in a big moment," he says. "There was a splurge of two or three pages of vitriol which I had to edit down. Our albums have always been infused with bitterness, and for the first time ever, there might be a bit more love than hate. So I had to edit a lot of the bitterness out." Bitterness towards people who try to claim Richey as their possession? "A little bit that, but also a little towards Richey himself. Which isn't fair, because a lot of it is driven by people outside. "It is about reclaiming something- 'I kept my silence, your memories are still mine...' The idea that he's a friend first, not the rock myth."

The specific pain of the Richey situation, like any unexplained disappearance, is the impossibility of closure. "It's the dangling man syndrome," Wire says. "You've got hope on the one side, and clarity or closure on the other. And sometimes you want closure, but to get closure you have to kill hope." And have you done that? "No. I don't know why. It's probably not healthy, because I have to have definites in my life - it's the kind of person I am. Doubt is not good for me. But until I find proof..." His voice trails off. He says something inaudible.

The last spate of Richey Edwards stories came in 2002, the seventh anniversary of his disappearance, when he could legally be declared dead if his parents wished it so. "The family chose not to," says James, "and I don't blame them. But that's not a decision taken by us or anything. And it's not a decision I'd like to take."

"There was cheap and nasty stuff in the papers," Wire recalls. "'The family can get his money now...' As if they would. It was the last thing on their minds." For the record, Edwards' songwriting royalties continue to be paid into a bank account which remains untouched.

As for "proof", there have been one or two close calls. "We were driving to a gig in Copenhagen once, and you get a phone message through saying they've found Richey's feet in the river." The decomposed feet in the Severn turned out to belong to some other unfortunate soul. In any case, they were wearing trainers Richey would never have deigned to wear. "Exactly. Diadora or some crap that Robert Smith would have worn. I know we always laugh and we're blasé, but it really does make you shudder, stuff like that."

The Holy Bible is due for reissue in December, with the usual DVD extras. The album most associated with Richey's troubles, is bound to stir up... "The question of whether he's still alive?" James interrupts. No, but... a certain amount of picking at the scab, as it were.

"Well, if anyone's picking at that scab, when they're past a certain age, they're necrophiliacs, for want of a better word. And I do want the album to be celebrated, because it's something which didn't reach its audience. It's just like I was saying to my dad - if all the people who told me they loved The Holy Bible had bought it, it would have sold more! And it's good to be proud of it, because it seems to have been inextricably linked with an era... You're made to feel you should forget it and move on.

"Around that album I really felt we were the perfect band. Even the photos backstage, we look really amazing, and without looking like we're trying. Richey wasn't sucking the breath out of his body and going like THAT." He sucks in his cheeks. "Just natural and cool."

For Wire, the motive for the reissue is purely artistic. "You know me, I enjoy the process of marketing, but I just wanted to show how brilliant Richey's lyrics are. Grace by Jeff Buckley and Definitely Maybe [Oasis] have had 10th anniversary editions, and I think it deserves to be in that company. It's fallen off the critical radar a bit."

A decade since his disappearance, I wonder whether the Manics still, consciously or otherwise, seek Edwards's theoretical approval for everything they do. Bradfield admits that, "Up until a year ago, the answer would be 'probably': I used to get the Essence of Richey to do a 'spellcheck' on everything." But times have changed. "I feel, to this day, incapable of going to the places that he went," adds Wire. "I was always scared of being irresponsible - he went to brave places. But I don't think he could do what I've done: be married for 11 years, have a baby daughter, clean the house..."

Wire is quietly firm about keeping his home life and pop life separate. "There's a poet called Elizabeth Jennings who says. 'True love is always quiet'. You see that all the time in showbiz, don't you? Proclaiming undying love for a month, then they're shagging someone else. Having a child just gives you even more moments of joy, I guess. Five minutes' joy a day is enough for me. I think we expect way too much out of life..."

Never much of a party animal to begin with, Wire's small talk is about cream teas in Abergavenny, not cocaine binges in London clubs. Another thing he feels incapable of nowadays is glamour. Eyeliner is out, the light brown beard is in. "We can't project sexiness any more. It's not possible for us to do." Because you feel too old? "When you've got a band like Franz Ferdinand doing it better... the word 'mutton' comes to mind! I still think you can make brilliant records, but you can't have the whole package." Yet the musical half of the package, it seems, still has legs. "We were in Germany the other week," says Wire, "and we reckoned we could do another album next year in Berlin. We felt really good about ourselves. When you're on a roll, it's the right time."

Formed in the Valleys, ner ner ner ... Guns N'Roses and Public Enemy, ner ner ner ... Bloke went missing, ner ner ner ... Made a load of brilliant records. End of story.

'Lifeblood' is released on Sony Records, 1 Nov. 'The Holy Bible' is reissued in December

dimanche, octobre 24, 2004

Tim Booth

James Frontman Goes Solo

By Paul Cashmere

24 October 2004

Former James frontman Tim Booth will make his solo debut in the USA in January 2005.

Booth left James three years ago, shortly after the release of their 'Pleased To Meet You' album, effectively ending the group.

Their hits included 'Sound', 'Sit Down' and 'Laid'.

Booth took the last three years off but recently went back into the studio to record his album 'Bone'. In that time, he dabbled in acting, writing and the occasional DJing.

'Bone' is described as "seductively poppy and a bit dancier" than pervious James records. "There's some dark lyrics on there," says Tim, "but ultimately, I'm an optimist. I like my happy endings."

The release of the album means Booth is back on the road. He recently toured the UK and Europe and performed at T in the Park.

KOCH will release the record in America on January 25. It is already available in Australia and the UK.

More news ==> Undercover

samedi, octobre 23, 2004

Luna's no mo'


James Gregory reports:

Breakups are a bitch, and no more so than to the music-obsessed. Jesus, my dad still gets misty when you mention The Beatles. Well, after 12 years and seven studio albums, Luna frontman Dean Wareham recently announced that the quartet will be severing musical ties in early 2005, and while the band's website offers a handy list of explanations for the breakup-- both factual and facetious-- Pitchfork recently spoke with Wareham to get a more personal account of the impending split.

"It's an interesting question. People are always like 'why?,' Wareham laughed. "I'm still doing interviews with people who are asking me why did Galaxie 500 break up. You know, that's just what bands do, and I think that is sort of the basic reason. You start a band, it's not going to last forever, and at a certain point you've got to stop... unless you're Metallica, or R.E.M., or the Rolling Stones, where they're not just bands, they're like multi-million dollar corporations, and if they were to quit then all sorts of people would stop making their huge paychecks. We've been around a long time, and I think it's different in your twenties than when you hit forty. In your twenties you don't have a care in the world, and you're out there sleeping on someone's floor, but you're like, 'Hey, isn't this great!' And after awhile..."

The breakup (or disbandment, as Wareham prefers) appears relatively gossip-free, as Wareham noted his desire for the group to part ways before their personal dynamic began to show signs of stress. "I know I wanted to stop while we still like each other," he said. "You start a band often with your friends when you're young, and to think that you're going to be able to maintain a close friendship, and also be in business together, and travel together-- the whole thing is just a tall order. This is the only art form where you're expected to collaborate with people like this year in, year out. I mean maybe if you make a movie it's very intense for three months, but to spend this much time together, it's a bit like a marriage, except you never asked to get married, you just started a band together."

Meanwhile, Luna has readied a slew of official farewell-related activity. Most notably, October 26th will see the release of their final studio album, Rendezvous, produced by Bruce Goggin (Pavement, The Lemonheads, The Ramones) for Jetset Records. Asked if the recording sessions had any sort of Abbey Road-esque last album vibe to them, Wareham replied, "I think we knew when we were making this record, it was in the back of our minds. I think the record is ultimately very very relaxed sounding, but that can be deceiving. There's never a theme before you make the album, and I'm not usually aware of a theme until I start doing interviews and people are asking me about it. Then I realize that songs I didn't think were about me probably are, and they're more revealing than you think."

Wareham noted Goggin's contribution in crafting the overall sound. "Bryce thought we were a really good live band, so his whole thing was, 'I want you all to set up in a room together and get a good take, and we'll work on it and try to keep all the instruments.' Which actually is sort of the way we made the first couple Luna records, but we've gotten away from that. It's sort of a rock 'n' roll cliche, as people make more and more records they get more and more complicated in their approach, and they take longer and longer in the studio. And then you get to a point where you're just like (in mock Nigel Tufnel voice), 'We've gone back to basics on this.' The word producer means different things to different producers, and I think Bryce, his idea of a producer was, 'Get the band sounding as good as they are. I want to make them sound like Luna.' So that was his aim with this, to get a quintessential Luna record."

Also on the horizon for Luna is a long farewell in the form of a world tour, which kicked off in Japan last week, and will see the group hitting the U.S. and Europe this year before returning to the States for their final shows in early 2005. "We're also making a documentary movie about the tour," Wareham added. "A friend of ours is a filmmaker, Matthew Buzzell... It'll be a lot of live footage, and we're not quite sure what else. Some scripted things, comedy bits. We haven't really done it before and I think it's important that we're trying to capture it. The live show disappears, unless you capture it somehow."

As far as Wareham's plans for his post-Luna future, he has a few minor projects in the works, but is focusing on remaining band duties before committing to any major announcements. "Well, there's nothing recorded right now, but I'm going to keep making music. I'm not going to make a solo record right now. I'll make another record with Britta [Phillips] like I did last year. I'm also talking about making a record with Maggie Chung, a Hong Kong actress who I recorded a couple songs with. I don't know, I could write my memoirs, because I used to, you know. I was writing them for the website for a while, for the tour diary, and putting a lot of work into them. And finally it occurred to me no one's paying me for this, this is hard work."

vendredi, octobre 22, 2004

Travis: When the going gets tough...

Once they were one of Britain's hottest bands, but Travis slipped out of the limelight after misfortune struck. Now, they tell Alexia Loundras, they're back - and out to prove that their success was no fluke

22 October 2004

Fran Healy is beaming, as are his bandmates, Dougie Payne, Andy Dunlop and Neil Primrose. The four-piece have just played a gig and are rushing on adrenaline. But it was not a festival set, or even an arena show. This gig was on a completely different scale, and the band had to displace a Big Issue-seller to play it: Travis have been busking.

But hang on, now. While the record industry may be licking the (real or imagined) wounds inflicted by internet downloads, Travis have not fallen on hard times. On the contrary, they seem to be doing all right. The band are in Sheffield, where in a few hours they'll play another packed-out, intimate show on their sold-out tour. And, 10 minutes ago, the band's laid-back street performance raised £240 for The Big Issue. Hemmed in by the swarming mob, Travis laughed, joked and aired their hits, encouraging the crowd to sing along. All around, mobile phones captured the moment. The lad next to me was beside himself: "Do you know who this is?" he shouted down his phone as the band tore into "Driftwood". "Travis - Travis are playing in the street!"

With two UK No 1 albums, eight million worldwide record sales, an Ivor Novello songwriting award and 15 hit singles under their belt, a free gig by one of the best-selling bands of the Nineties in the middle of the high street is a little unexpected. "At first no one believes it's us playing," says the bassist Payne later: "There was one guy in Newcastle who walked past going, 'They're not bad - they even look like them.' "

Travis claim they're not busking for the publicity - Healy says the surprise lo-fi show is about doing something "on the hoof and exciting" - but they are about to release a greatest-hits collection, Singles. Although it is a complete Travis retrospective, the band insist it's no parting salute. Nearly a decade after forming at art college in Glasgow in 1995, Travis say their ambitions are still right on track. "When we came down to London in 1996, we planned to make 12 albums: three sets of four, like a triptych," says Healy, before apologising for his band's art-school pretensions. "This singles collection represents the first four records - volume one."

Singles includes their debut single "All I Want to Do Is Rock" first released on the band's own Red Telephone Box label before they were snapped up by Independiente in 1996; the breakthrough hit "Why Does It Always Rain on Me?"; and "Flowers in the Window". It also features the darker numbers off last year's 12 Memories, but it manages to feel cohesive.

Travis agree: "It's like a family reunion, where songs from all our albums get to meet for the first time," says Healy, "And it's funny," adds Payne. " 'Tied to the Nineties', which we've never been keen on because we thought it was throwaway Britpop, really, turns out to be actually the most fun at the party!" But, more than that, Singles marks the end of a chapter, and reminds us that they nearly didn't make it this far.

Two years ago, the band almost collapsed under the weight of their own success. "Think of Travis as a potted plant," says Healy, sipping red wine from a plastic cup. "If it gets really, really big too quickly it becomes top-heavy and the stalk can no longer hold the plant. That's what happened to us." Travis didn't intend to be huge. Two years after their well-received but under-selling 1997 debut, Good Feeling, Travis released their follow-up, The Man Who, to mixed reviews. But it was a classic slow-burner and, 13 weeks after its release, became a No 1 album. Almost overnight, Travis went from being just another indie-band to the biggest group in the country - and tabloid fodder. Their songs undoubtedly struck a chord with the nation - but it takes more than a cracking album to make a band as big as Travis. While Healy claims that they were just lucky, Payne is closer to the truth: "As Mark Twain said, 'The harder I work, the better my luck gets.' And we worked our balls off."

Between 1998 and 2002, Travis toured constantly: "You've got to strike while the iron is hot," explains Healy. "You'd be daft if you had the energy to do it and you said, 'Nah, can't be bothered.'" Travis's third album, 2001's insipid The Invisible Band, was squeezed out in a bid to keep the band's momentum going and debuted at the top of the album charts. But Travis was running on empty. "Without realising, we were all drifting apart," says Payne. "We weren't communicating and at times you found yourself thinking, 'What's the point of this - what would life be like without the band?'"

They didn't have to wait long to get a taste of what that might be like. In the summer of 2002, their drummer, Primrose, dived into a swimming pool and broke three vertebrae in his neck, coming within millimetres of being paralysed. "I think our luckiest day was the day of Neil's accident," says Healy. Payne agrees: "It was like someone going, 'You think you don't want to be in this band, eh? Right then, we'll take it away.' That's when we realised that we really wanted to be in this band - together."

Shaken up, Travis retreated in on themselves. Says Payne: "Up until then, Travis had always been like a house with all the doors open to everyone. But after that, we stopped. It was like drawing the curtains and saying, 'I'm not coming out - I need a night off.'"

Travis re-emerged with12 Memories, the band's darkest and most emotionally eloquent record to date, only to find they had faded from favour, usurped by Coldplay. Travis admit they're disappointed that 12 Memories didn't do better but, says Payne, "the most important thing about that record was that it was made at all."

Primrose's accident may have put Travis's priorities in perspective but their ambition has not been dampened. For starters Travis say they regret not having had the chance to enjoy the height of their fame more. "It was like being in the eye of a hurricane," says Healy. "All this madness was happening around us but in the middle of it, where we were, it was the quietest place of all." Shaking his head in disbelief, Payne says his abiding memory of Travis's first-ever arena show was losing a PlayStation tournament on the tour bus later that night. "If we've learnt one thing," says Payne, "it's to take a bit more time to look around. Appreciate what's happening when it's happening. We can't control how big we are, but I think we're ready to be as big as we were again."

But is it not conceivable that Travis have peaked? "If I thought we'd peaked, I'd stop," adds Healy convincingly. "If you don't think you can do any better, why would you keep trying? We started our band because we wanted to make the best record we could possibly make. I believe we've still not made our best record."

The band have already started working on their next album and can't wait to get back in the studio with their long-time producers Nigel Goodrich and Mike Hedges, and, for the first time, Brian Eno, whom Payne affectionately describes as a phenomenal and inspiring "musical accident". "Writing a great song is like an addiction," says Healy. "When you manage to write a song that's a bit special, it makes your hairs stand on end. For me, there's nothing that comes close to the moment when a song comes through."

Travis's confidence is genuine, but it's unlikely the band will ever re-scale the giddy heights they enjoyed with The Man Who. Still, their passion and vigour are undeniable; hence the busking and the tiny club dates. "These shows are like a test," says Dunlop. "We don't have the huge banks of lights and massive PAs to take the focus off us. We're relying on the euphoria of just getting up and doing it."

Now, as the band prepare to take to the tiny stage, Payne adds: "You don't judge a person by how they are when things are going their way. You judge them by how they are when things are going against them." And for that reason alone, Travis are a force to be reckoned with.

'Singles' is out on Monday on Independiente

Jim Jarmusch: Blowing in the wind

His new film celebrates his love of cigarettes, but Jarmusch is still happy in smoke-free New York

By Leslie Felperin

22 October 2004

I think the film director Jim Jarmusch is the only person I've ever interviewed, man or woman, whom I don't just admire, but would actively like to be. He seems to have a pretty sweet gig going. His life is probably not overly endowed with riches, nor necessarily a bed or roses - artists must struggle, after all - but it's still damn enviable in other respects.

For starters, if you were Jim Jarmusch, you'd get to live in New York City, wear a lot of black clothes, and be revered as an indie-movie maverick hero who's never sold out, even after taking a few Hollywood dollars to make films like Night on Earth or Dead Man. Hell, just having been the guy who directed the masterfully laconic and deeply influential Stranger Than Paradise would be good enough for me.

Plus, you'd get to be a smart, funny, so-laid-back-he's-almost-prone sort of guy, with a groovy bouffant of prematurely grey hair. And the final topper is you'd have just about the coolest friends on the planet, judging by the talent working for scale or just doughnuts on his latest, Coffee and Cigarettes.

An endearingly patchy assemblage of 11 black-and-white shorts, some comic, some wistful, some just weird, in which pairs or threesomes of people share coffee and cigarette breaks, the film's line-up includes Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Steve Buscemi, Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan and musicians Iggy Pop, Tom Waits. Some have collaborated with Jarmusch before, like Waits (Down By Law) and Buscemi (Mystery Train). Others, like Murray, have long been friends.

"I knew almost everyone already," Jarmusch explains to me in a Venetian hotel garden, just after the film has premiered. "Cate Blanchett I only met once a year or two ago and we had tea in New York. Because I like her chameleon-like quality as an actor, I wanted to meet her. And then I called her and asked if she wanted to do this and she did. Everyone else I knew except Steve Coogan, who I'm a big fan of. I called him up and somehow tricked him into doing it as well."

I ask Jarmusch about the long gestation of the project, which began in 1986 with a short featuring a jittery Roberto Benigni sharing a cup of Joe in a café withSteven Wright. After that, he made a few more, including the one with Iggy Pop and Tom Waits riffing on their own personas, and the first three dribbled out as shorts, until Jarmusch decided to start holding on to them with an eye to making up a feature in pieces.

In the end, themes, motifs and even lines echo across seemingly unrelated segments, creating a skew-whiff coherence. But his plans to shoot one a year went awry, and several were made in 2002 and 2003. "Now I want to make some more, and in another 12 years I'll have another instalment ready," he says deadpan, perhaps joking or entirely serious.

I ask if the rivalry theme, hilariously executed in the Steve Coogan-Alfred Molina segment, evolved as part of the work. "I think it's just a theme of human nature that you have little resentments running through, you have... you know, little rivalries," he says a bit haltingly. "I'm not sure where ideas come from because I'm not an analytical person. I'm not good at answering questions about where this comes from or why I did that. If I knew I probably wouldn't have done it, so I probably just do them intuitively. But all my work is intuitive to a large degree."

Maybe this is why there's such a strong sense of coherence running through his oeuvre; and, while the self- financed Coffee and Cigarettes is in some ways Jarmusch Lite, a sampler of sorts, it shares not only cast and crew with his other films but resonates richly with them. PhD theses could be written on the significance of smoking in Jarmusch movies. It goes back as far as his first feature Permanent Vacation, in which the lead characters re-enact the scene in Rebel Without a Cause when Natalie Wood replaces a cigarette in James Dean's mouth the right way round. Think also of the Japanese tourists played by Masatoshi Nagase and Youki Kudoh in Mystery Train, doing Zippo tricks and chuffing away constantly.

Jarmusch is passionate on the subject of tobacco and lights up in every sense when the subject of the bar-ban on smoking in New York is raised. "It's a powerful drug, nicotine, as is caffeine, as is alcohol, and these are drugs that are treated in different ways, in different cultures," he says. "Like, tobacco is a sacred drug in Native American culture. How many people die from doing stupid things from drinking alcohol? But does that mean it should be outlawed?

"I don't think any drugs should be outlawed, they should be decriminalised. The reason crime is involved in drugs is because drugs are illegal so people can't get them, they become junkies, they start robbing people. Anything you use for yourself, I don't understand why there should be laws saying you can or cannot do that. It's absurd to me. Are drugs sometimes very bad for people? Yeah, certainly. They sometimes kill people, but then so does driving cars, or emissions from cars or factories. The whole world is toxic..."

Is directing a kind of drug too, given that it is addictive, expensive and can be hazardous to one's health. "Well it can be, as can money or sex. But again, I'm not judgemental. It's not good or bad, it's just there," he says and surprisingly links this thought to the movie. "I like the idea of coffee breaks, like this little situation of people having coffee, and smoking together, as something outside of the daily routine. And it's a drug! They get to use drugs, and take a break to get some stimulation from a drug. I like that as a device for a little conversation."

Jarmusch has more of a miniaturist's or a lyric poet's sensibility than that of a feature film-maker in some ways. His films are often accused of lacking plot, when what's really going on is an attempt to grasp a certain mood, to fix a point in time that feels imbued with ineffable feeling. It's this which makes his work, for all the Americana on display, seem more European or Asian, and not just because he often features non-American characters. Those long takes where people do nothing much in particular, the silences, the languor, may all seem random, but they're the product of a quite formalist imagination, despite Jarmusch's insistence that he's an intuitive film-maker.

I ask if his attraction to short films and long scenes springs from a desire to push the boundaries of cinema. "Yeah, I think of cinema as more like poetry, in that literary forms are so wide as a variety," he says. "You could write a novel or you could write a poem that's two lines long. But cinema is restricted commercially. The film must be under two hours because we can then get six screenings in a day instead of five, and we make more money. And I'm like, 'Shouldn't the film be as long as it wants to be?' So I like to have the idea that the film is free and the form is a little more free than that. I love form and I love structure, but I want the content to fit, the form to support the content and not the other way round."

In Coffee and Cigarettes, two characters discuss Paris in the 1920s, the golden age of modernism. Which era would Jarmusch choose to live in if he could go back? "New York in the late Seventies," he says, perhaps remembering a time when he studied literature at Columbia went to film school and was in a band.

"That's when I first lived in New York and it was so amazing. Anything seemed possible. The city was really dangerous, there was an economic crisis. There was the blackout, the Summer of Sam, the beginning of punk rock, the beginning of hip hop, the beginning of a new generation of underground film-makers and artists, Jean-Michel Basquiat... It was also disco, and excess, and that whole scene. Yeah, it was a lot of wow, a lot of weird things compared to today."

And how does it feel now about the city, especially after September 11? "Well, I've always loved New York because I thought of it as being not part of America, like a separate country. I used to love the graffiti in the Lower East Side that said 'US Out of New York!' September 11 was a huge traumatic experience for us, certainly for New York. It was very traumatic. And certainly I think the current American government probably hate New York. It probably represents everything they hate. It's a bunch of Puerto Rican, junkie, crack-head transvestites. They probably feel fine if it gets blown up.

"NY is always changing. It's not in a very interesting state right now, but it's still full of crazy, wonderful people. It's still NY, but it's more and more for the rich, and about real estate and controlling everyone and you can't smoke. It's like Eddie Izzard said, 'What will be next in bars? No talking, no drinking?'"

How does he feel when other people's films get described as "Jarmuschian". "It seems really strange to me," he says, almost shaking his head in horror. "I try not to be aware of my influence. I don't like historicising things. I've been horrified by them historicising the 'punk rock period', looking back, that kind of stuff, and it freaks me out because I just see it as all just one big ocean with new waves coming. Waves break off another way and they're exactly the same thing. I don't like it when they number the waves, like that's wave number 237. 'No, it's not, it's just part of the ocean, shut up,' I want to say."

It's time for one last question, and while the one I'd most like to ask is, "Can I have your life please?", instead I ask does he always wear black, as he is doing today. "No, not always, no!" he declaims. "I wore blue yesterday. I wear blue, black, even grey! It's a thing I have that started as a teenager, when my fashion role models were Hamlet, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Zorro. And that really disturbed my mother, too. When I was 15 or 16 she was like [slightly nasal voice] 'Why are you always wearing black? It's so morbid and funereal!' And I was like, 'Try and say that to Johnny Cash, Mom!'"