samedi, janvier 29, 2005

Jim Capaldi R.I.P.

Traffic star dies, aged 60

By Sherna Noah

Published : 29 January 2005

Jim Capaldi, the drummer with the West Midlands psychedelic-rock group Traffic, died yesterday aged 60.

Capaldi, who formed the group in 1967 with fellow Birmingham musician Steve Winwood, was suffering from stomach cancer. The band's most famous song was "Hole in My Shoe" which captured the psychedelic mood of the late Sixties. Capaldi also achieved independent success with "Love Hurts", a version of the Roy Orbison song, in 1975.

Around 25 million copies of songs written or co-written by the musician were sold in his lifetime. Among the most famous were his lyrics to the reggae anthem "This is Reggae Music".

Extrovert drummer, singer and songwriter with the rock group Traffic.

The British band Traffic were the first group "to get their act together in the country" when the founding members Jim Capaldi (drums, vocals), Steve Winwood (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Dave Mason (guitar, vocals) and Chris Wood (flute, saxophone) retreated to a cottage in rural Berkshire before making their recording début for Chris Blackwell's Island Records in 1967. Since then, many other groups have taken to renting a farm in the middle of nowhere to write and rehearse.

Bob Geldof

Lord of the Rats

Forget lifetime-achievement gongs and knighthoods - Bob Geldof's proudest of those Boomtown CDs, he tells James McNair

Published : 28 January 2005

Time is precious - particularly for Bob Geldof. The half-eaten Indian takeaway on the table; the way he gobbles down my questions; the letter in front of him that begins, "Dear Commissioner, before I leave on another extended trip to Africa..." - all of these betray his frantic schedule. I'd always assumed that Geldof's shamelessly grey hair spoke of his contempt for vanity. Today, watching him multitask between interviews at London's Soho House, I hit upon another theory: perhaps he simply can't find the time to apply Just For Men.

These are happy as well as busy days for Sir Bob. A recent BBC Radio 4 poll, regarding whom people would like to see admitted to the House of Lords, put Geldof on top. On 9 February, he will receive a lifetime-achievement gong at the Brit Awards. More importantly to the singer-come-humanitarian, it seems, is the fact that the six albums he made with the Boomtown Rats between 1977 and 1985 are about to be released on CD for the first time.

"I prefer the Rats over everything," he says, scratching at his blue pinstripe jacket. "I feel that it's my greatest achievement. There are maybe 10 bands in Britain, Ireland and America who managed to change the country a little bit, and we were one of them. In 1975, Ireland changed irrevocably. For the first time, 50 per cent of the population was under 25, so it was becoming a hugely young and over-educated country. The Rats helped to articulate that. We were six kids from Dun Laoghaire who helped to usher in modern Ireland."

While Geldof's claims for his former band might seem grandiose, the Rats are ripe for reappraisal. Recent times have seen The Strokes acknowledge them as an influence, while Geldof's pal Bono has said that the U2 newie "City of Blinding Lights" owes plenty to "Neon Heart", a track from the Rats' eponymous debut album. It was his grippingly frank, 2001 solo album, Sex, Age & Death, Geldof says, that first had critics thinking, "Jeez, maybe he wasn't a cunt after all". But it wasn't until a Boomtown Rats "best of", tentatively issued by Phonogram charted last year, that the re-release of the group's back catalogue was given a green light.

It was on Hallowe'en in 1975 that the Rats played their first gig. Geldof says that they predated Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones and U2 by two years, but in truth, The Undertones formed in 1975, too. What is clear is that, while the aforementioned bands were partly inspired by the English punk movement of 1976-1977, the Rats' early music owed more to gutsy R&B. Their first hit, "Looking After Number One", might have sounded punk in sentiment, but its B-side "Barefootin'" - a hit for the New Orleans soul artist Robert Parker back in the Sixties - told quite another story.

"It confused the British punks when we finally turned up here," says Geldof. "We kind of looked like they did, but were much more accomplished musically. Sting always said that the Rats and The Police flew the punk flag of convenience, but that's not true. The Rats had nothing to do with UK punk. The only punk band we got on with was the Pistols, because Johnny [Rotten/Lydon] was a Paddy."

If 1977's The Boomtown Rats was informed by Mother Ireland, 1978's A Tonic for the Troops reflected the group's relocation to London, and saw them make a calculated assault on the UK singles chart. Geldof says that "She's So Modern" and his Band Aid co-write, "Do They Know It's Christmas?", are the only two songs he wrote in a calculated attempt to dent the Top 10.

Ultimately, "She's So Modern" stalled at No 12, but the follow-up, "Rat Trap", about a guy whom Geldof had met while working in an abattoir in Ireland, reached No 1. "She's So Modern" was partly based on Geldof's then-girlfriend Paula Yates, but also alluded to the future TV presenter Magenta De Vine, then-NME journalist Julie Burchill, and an unnamed girl "who would lie on the floor with just her boots on and ask to be kicked hard. I couldn't do it, of course", says Geldof.

In his 1986 autobiography, Is That It?, Geldof talks of how Paula Yates would ask him to write an overtly romantic song for her. Much as he wanted to, he never felt able to, but he tells me that The Fine Art of Surfacing (a dark, 1979 Rats album dealing with the pressures of fame) was partly informed by Paula, and that "Fall Down", from 1981's Mondo Bongo, references her directly.

In 1986, far less 1981, Geldof could not have known that Yates would later leave him for the INXS singer Michael Hutchence, and that, by 2000, both she and Hutchence would be dead. Poignant, then, when Geldof says that, by 1980, Yates had become "an absolutely central" part of his life, and then quotes me a couplet from "Fall Down" that runs: "Not only cripples have a need for crutches/ And if they ever take me away from you I'd fall down."

But, ultimately, you didn't, I suggest. "I did fall down for a while when they took her away from me," Geldof replies, not missing a beat. Understandably, this is his shortest answer of the interview by far.

Difficult questions about Yates aside, you sense that chatting about the Rats is a welcome break for Geldof; time out, as it were, from his day job as politicians' nemesis. Asked if he ever heard what became of Mary Preece, the inspiration for "Mary of the 4th Form", he's ahead of me with a laugh: "Yeah, she became the PR to the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern. Us Dun Laoghaire kids go far! We played in Vicar Street in Dublin a couple of years ago, and there she was: still gorgeous and still wouldn't shag me. She's married, but I didn't feel that should be an impediment. I mean, I'm an international rock star, for fuck's sake!"

Besides increased fame, a knighthood, and the ball-and-chain of public expectation that he would do more of the same, Live Aid brought Geldof lifetime access to the great and the good. Even talking to him about a band he formed 30 years ago, however, one can't help but encounter more big names. When I ask if there's any truth in the story that "Rat Trap" was Geldof's "Bruce Springsteen tribute", his lengthy rebuttal riffs on the fact that the song owed more to "Van Morrison filtered through Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy. Now I know Bruce, of course, and I think he' a great guy and a genius," Geldof adds, "but back then I thought he was a twat with a ridiculous name doing romantic nonsense."

Elsewhere, a question about the Rats' appearance on Marc Bolan's self-titled, late-Seventies pop show triggers an earlier memory of Geldof interviewing Bolan while working as a journalist, and Geldof drops into a decent Bolan impression before painting a potent picture of the then-fading star: "I remember he had a pink feather boa that tragically and metaphorically kept shedding its feathers," he says.

The aforementioned Rats album, The Fine Art of Surfacing, also contained a brilliant pop-rock epic that spent a month at No 1 in summer 1979. "I Don't Like Mondays", partly about Brenda Spencer's casual shooting of her schoolmates in San Diego, brought Geldof to the attention of the US moral majority two decades before they tried to implicate Marilyn Manson in the Columbine massacre. "But my situation was the opposite," Geldof says. "No one was blaming me for what happened. Spencer later wrote to me saying that she was glad she did it because my song made her famous. Except it didn't. I didn't mention her. I wasn't interested in her - she's an idiot whose father had been buying her guns for her birthday. What I was interested in was the event and what it meant.

"The song is about amorality. You don't have to have a reason to live, and you, therefore, don't have to have one to die - I don't like Mondays, I don't like the taste of this mineral water - and... bang!

"When I go through US customs, people still go, 'Hey, Bob Geldorf [sic]! Tell me why you don't like Mondays!'. They assume it was a hit there, but it wasn't."

Our time together ebbing away, Geldof and I tie up a few loose ends. Yes, the "Lord Geldof" idea does appeal, but only because it would enable him to make powerful alliances with people of different political persuasions. "Actually, I think most of the people who voted in that poll were out to stop me making records," he says. "It's like, give him something else to do - just keep him away from the studio!" Has he kept in touch with his former band-mates since the Rats' split in 1985? "Pete [Briquette, bassist] I'm actually seeing in two hours. He produced Sex, Age & Death, and he's my mate. Fingers [Johnny Fingers, keyboards] wrote to me just before Christmas; and I saw Garry [Roberts, guitarist] about four months ago."

At that, Geldof's PR calls time, and I close by asking him whether rumours that he'll duet with Bono at the Brits are true. "Duet on what, exactly?" he laughs. "He'd sing me out of the fucking hall."

The Boomtown Rats back-catalogue is out on Universal on 7 February

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

vendredi, janvier 28, 2005

The Others

All tomorrow's parties

Inspired by The Libertines, The Others play for free and hang out with fans. Chris Mugan wonders whether it can last

Published : 28 January 2005

What links the zebra crossing outside Abbey Road Studios, the London Underground and Radio 1's headquarters? Answer: they have all been scenes of impromptu gigs by The Others. Dubbed "guerrilla gigs" by a music media hungry for bands breaking the mould, such events were not just for publicity, but were a symbol of the inclusiveness of a new generation of bands that have gravitated to untrendy parts of London: the East End beyond Shoreditch and New Cross. Just as The Libertines played gigs in their flats and the homes of their fans, so The Other's leader, the rabble-rouser Dominic Masters, organised gigs that were free and open to people of all ages.

But now the time has come for The Others to stay true to their ideals as they embark on their first major national tour and release their eponymous album. So Masters is sitting in The Griffin, a pub in London's trendy Shoreditch, discussing strategy as well as music. Despite his snarled vocals on singles such as "Stan Bowles" (a homage to the QPR fan and former Libertine Pete Doherty), the Bristol-born Masters speaks with a soft, West Country burr.

He is confident that this tour will show how bands can play decent-sized venues but still be on first-name terms with their fans. Part of the deal has been the arrangement of free after-gig parties for his fans, especially the hardcore fraternity - the 853 Kamikaze Stagediving Division, named after a numberplate that was stolen at a gig.

"I've spent the last seven days on the guest-list allocation for 12 or 14 dates. Martin [the drummer] is organising the parties. On previous tours, we just waited until after the concert and said 'Take us somewhere'."

From the start, his mobile number has been available on the band's website and flyers. He points out that he has only brought one phone out with him to see who is texting him every five minutes. Masters says he gets up to 160 texts and calls a day, and that is not hard to believe.

"You can't cut yourself off. You've got kids who phone up about suicides, cut wrists and far too much drugs or drink; no idea how to control their habits. If you don't stick with them, give them some kind of guidance... A kid phoned up who had been drinking Buckfast, something like whisky called Drams, and taking amphetamines. And he wondered why he was bleeding.

"I do my best to answer every phone call, every text message, but it does get to extremes now. There's no space in the dressing room, so I've got to try and be realistic: take 10 or 20 fans home, the ones that are under 18 or the older ones that have missed the last train. Or me, the roadie and our manager all make a valiant effort to storm the hotel."

Although Masters is attempting to maintain a sense of community, there is a danger of creating an outlet for irresponsibility. "There's not many fights. They know we're organised enough to stop playing. We do provide a crèche facility, and that's possibly why the fans behave in the way they do."

More contentiously, for such a young fan base, the singer and lyricist is open about his use of crack-cocaine and heroin, and espouses a view that drug use can be regulated via self-control. Masters has gained this position through experience, especially of some bad times, but other people might not be lucky enough to scrape through the dangers.

"All of these kids were doing drugs before I came along. I'm sure Pete [Doherty] has led many kids astray, and many bands before him. Led Zeppelin, The Clash, I don't know, even Fleetwood Mac have led fans to different things. I don't think my band... openly encourage people to go out and do it. It is about freedom of choice. It's like Pete says in his interviews, he doesn't get any kids asking him for his dealers' numbers."

Masters is also on hand to help bands he meets on the circuit. Just as The Libertines helped The Others by giving them support slots, now he looks for younger groups to guide through the treacherous waters of the music scene. Masters talks proudly about The Paddingtons and The Used, groups that have supported The Others that have gone on to being signed themselves, a third generation of this new punk scene.

It is tempting to think about bands such as The Others as a reaction against the limpness of previous UK bands and a desire to start afresh. Masters's inspiration, though, comes from one place only: The Libertines. In "Stan Bowles", Masters sings about watching Doherty looking after the kids who came round to his house.

"The Libertines looked after us, so now we return the favour by helping newer bands. It's as simple as that. These teenagers weren't there in '77 so it's their chance to have a bit of punk time." What is different with The Others, though, is Masters' extraordinary work ethic, something he sees as a working-class attribute. "A lot of bands mess it up, because there's too much to do and too much to comprehend. I don't get much sleep. If you want to get signed, you've got to work hard."

Unlike many artists, Masters is aware that he has a lot of records to sell to meet his advance and to continue paying the wages of people around him. No wonder, then, he says, that he needs drugs to take his mind off things, though he refuses to let them interfere with his work. "Sometimes when my brain is working on too many things at once, I cut off and do drugs, but I don't do drugs when I get up in the morning, I don't take them before interviews and I rarely take them before I go on stage. They tend to freak me out and a lot of those kids are only going to see me twice a year.

"I might go on a three-day bender, but generally I'm in on Monday doing seven hours of interviews or whatever. Have I ever cancelled a gig?," he asks, pointedly, comparing himself to Doherty.

Masters is certainly more thoughtful than he appears on record. His songs have a naive quality reminiscent of early punk bands, especially the raw openness of Alternative TV. "I can't write in any other style. I couldn't stand on stage and talk bollocks. I couldn't look into people's eyes."

On "How I Nearly Lost You", Masters sings from the point of view of someone watching a friend suffer from a drugs overdose. Here, the stark honesty of the song helps make it even more effective: "I put my fingers on your wrist/ To see if you are alive".

"That's the only one that I wrote the other way round. I say I'm putting my hands on someone, because I didn't want to glorify death. That was me! I nearly lost my life! God damn, how brave I am, when really it was self-induced."

Masters sees himself as representing a working-class point of view, albeit from a fractured home life. He counts as his peers the likes of Mike Skinner, and the lesser-known MC Skinnyman, who came out of prison to sing about "a council estate of mind".

"I'm a bit old-fashioned about the class thing. I do get people on class a lot better than any other way. If there wasn't kids like us doing it, what you're going to have is less strong role-models for kids to get out of where they're coming from. So what if your mum's on the social? I got two Es at A-level, but still got into university."

I wonder if there is pressure to carry on an interesting life just to have enough songs for another album. "We've only touched the tip of the iceberg,' he exclaims. "I've got plenty to write about."

There is one song that Masters has written with such incendiary contents that his label ordered him to take it off The Others' debut album."I've got to think about the wages of everyone who works for us, but once I've sold 40,000 records, then I can do what I like." Now that is a frightening thought.

'The Others' is out on Monday on Mercury

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

jeudi, janvier 27, 2005

Ten years of hurt

Richey Edwards vanished a decade ago, but his fans still hold out hope. Clare Rudebeck finds out why

Published : 26 January 2005

In 1995, the Manic Street Preachers were a relatively obscure Welsh rock band. But when their lyricist, guitarist and pin-up, Richey James Edwards, slipped out of the Embassy Hotel in west London in the early morning of 1 February, all that changed. Edwards was never seen again and thereby claimed his place in the pantheon of lost boys of rock'n'roll, next to Kurt Cobain, who had killed himself the previous year.

Beautiful, bright and troubled, Edwards wrote songs such as "Die in the Summertime", "Mausoleum" and "4st 7lb" (which explored his descent into anorexia). In doing so, he inspired the affection of boys who were lost and girls who wanted to save him. Ten years after his disappearance, there are numerous websites dedicated to his memory.

In the past decade, he has been reportedly sighted in Whitby, New York, Goa and the Canary Islands, but there is no concrete evidence about what happened to him. His car, a silver Vauxhall Cavalier, was found two weeks after he disappeared in a car park overlooking the Severn Bridge, a well-known spot for suicides. But no body has ever been found and his case is open, but inactive, at the National Missing Persons Bureau.

The band's three remaining members, Nicky Wire, James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore, continue to pay royalties into a bank account for Edwards. His family has decided not to apply for a death certificate, as they were legally entitled to do seven years after his disappearance. And his fans continue to swap theories about what might have become of the 28-year-old who drove from the Embassy Hotel to his Cardiff flat, dropped off his keys and credit cards, and disappeared without trace.

Vicky Reeks

Customer services agent, 30

I was very upset when Richey disappeared, but I never lay awake at night worrying about him. I think he's probably living a very peaceful life, far away from the pressures of the band. There have been various reported sightings of him over the years in Goa and the Canary Islands.

I got into the Manics in the late 1980s and Richey was my favourite band member. I had a picture of him after he had cut his own arm. I didn't find it distressing, but I do think he cut himself as a cry for help. I think he was probably extremely depressed. You could hear that in his lyrics. I don't think he committed suicide, though. He was such an intelligent person that I can't believe he would do it. Even 10 years after he disappeared, I haven't given up hope.

Richard Rose

Primary school teacher, 39, who founded the Manic Street Preachers fanzine, R*E*P*E*A*T, in 1994

I found out that Richey had disappeared when the deputy head of my school came up to me and said: "You haven't got him hiding in your stock cupboard, have you?" She was almost gloating because a lot of the kids that I taught were really into the Manics because of me. At the time I thought it was probably a stunt or that he'd just gone off to recover - to get his head sorted out.

Even when his car was discovered near the Severn Bridge, I didn't think that he'd killed himself. He had said categorically that he thought that suicide was a very selfish thing to do.

The longer he was missing for, the more upset I became. I'm not as obsessive as other fans but I thought about it a lot. A lot of other people I know took it a lot harder. One friend almost killed herself because his disappearance illustrated how she was feeling about life at the time.

I think people identified with Richey because he articulated the feelings they kept hidden. He wrote about suicide, male anorexia and depression. He could put into beautiful words what many people feel.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Richey's disappearance, I'm holding a gig to raise money for a missing persons helpline. Local bands will come along and play songs that he wrote the lyrics for. As for where Richey is, I have no idea. I just hope he's happy.

Seymour Glass

Singer and guitarist, 25, in the band Miss Black America, which is inspired by the Preachers

Richey Edwards wasn't a guitarist; he was a very glamorous lyric writer. His musical contribution was negligible, but he made people realise how important the words were. That was what made me want to start a band.

I'd love to think he's still alive. With the money he withdrew, he could have bought a fake passport. He could be anywhere. Perhaps he is in a monastery. Perhaps he found God.There's no way of knowing. I just hope he's happy.

He has inspired many people to write, and that's great. However, some see his lyrics as glamorising mental illness and suicide - and that really offends me. We're all drawn to that glamour of early decline, but I don't think that's how Richey intended his lyrics to be taken. He was more knowing. He wrote lines like: "I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer/ I spat out Plath and Pinter."

I've had problems with mental illness myself. It nearly killed me. I've got scars from cutting myself, and it saddens me to hear Manics fans talking about how fucked up they are. I've spent a lot of my life - and I think Richey spent a lot of his - trying not to be so miserable. I don't think Richey would have wanted people to use his lyrics as an excuse to give up hope.

To mark the anniversary, I'm doing a tribute gig. It's a good excuse to play old Manics songs. It's important not to get too po-faced about this. Rock'n'roll is supposed to be fun.

Anna Doble

Radio journalist, 25

I got into the Manics at school, just after Richey disappeared. It was the lyrics, largely written by Richey, that people were obsessed with. They appealed to shy, poetic teenagers - sensitive types.

Richey was a beautiful and talented man, but part of his appeal was that he was on self-destruct. Fans were waiting for his next move. They were in their bedrooms poring over his lyrics, enjoying the glamour and intelligence of them. In effect, they were spectators of his spiral towards suicide.

I now believe that Richey is dead. But, when he disappeared, I think he was just planning to escape; he wasn't suicidal. He was quite a home-loving boy, and I think he got cold feet about his upcoming tour to America. Before he disappeared, he was apparently reading a book called The Perfect Disappearance. And he was withdrawing money for a fortnight beforehand. He also left a box in his hotel room, covered in poetry - it must have taken more than an evening to put together. On the box, there was a picture of a house that looks German so, for a while, people thought he might have gone there.

I think he probably lived in his car for a few days. He didn't have his passport, so he couldn't have left the country. I think he probably committed suicide about a month after his disappearance. I don't think he could have evaded detection for 10 years.

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

The Beatles? No, thanks

The Quarrymen managed to let Lennon, McCartney and Harrison slip through their fingers. Nearly five decades after that mistake, they are releasing their first album. Tim Cooper reports

Published : 25 January 2005

Rod, Eric, Len and Colin. It doesn't have quite the same ring as John, Paul, George and Ringo, does it? But, back in 1957 and 1958, they all played in what would turn into the best-known band of all time. While one half of them became the Fab Four, the forgotten four drifted into normal lives with proper jobs, mortgages, wives and children.

Now, almost 50 years after they started out as a schoolboy group with John Lennon, The Quarrymen have made their first album, featuring songs they used to play with Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. After a reunion on the 40th anniversary of the 1957 show where Lennon first met McCartney, the original members - now all in their sixties - got back together and went on concert tours all over the world.

"It was Quarrymania in Japan," recalls the singer, Len Garry, 63. "When we got off the train, we were mobbed by screaming girls." When the drummer, Colin Hanton, returned to his hotel in Osaka, he met a gaggle of schoolgirls. "They surged towards me, asking for my autograph."

The Quarrymen were formed by a 15-year-old Liverpool schoolboy called John Lennon. In 1956, rock'n'roll was in its infancy. Bill Haley had started it with "Rock Around the Clock", and a sexy young Elvis Presley was dominating the hit parade. But Britain was in the grip of skiffle fever, popularised by a Scottish jazzman with a banjo. Bands were sprouting in tribute to Lonnie Donegan. "Skiffle was very simple, amateurish music. You could learn one or two chords and somebody could beat out some sort of rhythm on a tea-chest bass, and you had a band," says Hanton, 66.

It was an easy sound to imitate, spawning hundreds of new groups. The new sound was derided by the successful acts of the day. "Properly trained musicians never had a good word to say about skiffle," recalls Rod Davis, who played banjo in Lennon's original band. "Their view was that real musicians were being put out of work by fellows who couldn't read music."

Lennon, infatuated by Donegan and Presley equally, had just bought his first guitar. He roped in some friends from Quarry Bank High School: best mate Pete Shotton; Eric Griffiths, who also had a guitar; and Rod Davis, who had a banjo. As John, Eric and Rod learnt their chords, Shotton would bang out a rhythm on the washboard.

A fourth schoolfriend, Bill Smith, played the tea-chest bass - a primitive instrument peculiar to skiffle, made from a chest, a broom handle and a piece of string that made a rhythmic thrum when thumbed. They named the band after their school and Lennon decided he would be the singer.

Smith, whose father didn't want him wasting time on popular music, soon left and was replaced by Len Garry, who went to a different school - the Liverpool Institute - where his fellow students included Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Garry wanted to sing, but as Lennon had that job he took over the tea-chest bass. And Colin Hanton came in as drummer; he'd left school and was working as an upholsterer, but, crucially, he owned a drum kit.

For the next year, The Quarrymen learnt their instruments and taught themselves a repertoire of contemporary hits. They practised in each other's homes until they were ready to play in public, at parties, youth clubs and even a local golf club. "We would get 10 shillings [50p] each. We didn't play in pubs or anywhere that sold alcohol because we were under-age," Garry recalls.

The crucial date in the band's history is 6 July 1957 at the St Peter's church fête in Woolton, Liverpool. Paul McCartney wandered in as they were performing. Intrigued by Lennon's habit of ad-libbing his own lyrics, McCartney sought an introduction and was soon showing Lennon his own talent as a guitarist. The pair hit it off and McCartney was invited to join the band as a guitarist, replacing Davis. "I just drifted out," Davis says. "I played banjo and there was no real place for me in what was becoming a rock'n'roll band."

By now skiffle was being swept away by rock'n'roll, and The Quarrymen began to change their sound. "People quickly realised that the same three chords that worked for skiffle worked for rock'n'roll," says Davis, who won a place at Cambridge University after his departure.

Then Shotton left. "Pete never got much satisfaction out of playing the washboard," Davis recalls. Garry adds: "Pete always got stage fright. He was forever complaining about playing live. One day he moaned so much that John smashed the washboard over his head. And that was it for him."

Meanwhile, The Quarrymen recruited McCartney's schoolfriend George Harrison, then 14. As they now had four guitarists, it was suggested to Griffiths that he might like to switch to electric bass. Unable to afford one, he left the band, leaving the nucleus of what would later become The Beatles.

John, Paul, George, Len and Colin built their reputation in local shows, including a 1957 residency at the Cavern. Garry still blames the legendary venue for the illness that forced him out of the band in the summer of 1958, spending eight months in hospital with tubercular meningitis. "The place had no ventilation, so there was always condensation dripping on you."

By 1959, Lennon and Harrison (but not McCartney) had begun writing their own songs. The earliest known example is "In Spite of All the Danger", recorded that year. It's the first recording ever made by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, but did not resurface until it appeared on The Beatles' Anthology in 1996. That recording, now owned by McCartney, is valued at £100,000.

Soon after making it, Hanton packed away his drumsticks for good. "I was slightly older, with a decent job as an upholsterer, and I got a bit fed up. We were coming home on the bus after a gig where we'd got drunk and blown our chance of a residency, so I thought we were never going to go anywhere. It all got a bit unpleasant, the way drunken lads are. After I got off the bus, I never heard from them again. The next time I saw them was on the television in 1962 in a group called The Beatles."

Hanton, who still lives in Liverpool and works as an upholsterer, insists he has no regrets. He doubts the band would have gone on to greatness without the influence of McCartney. "I was never really serious about it. I think John and George became serious under Paul's influence, and Paul would have made it whatever happened."

Davis remembers bumping into Lennon in Liverpool around Easter 1962. "He asked me if I wanted to go to Hamburg and play drums. But I was halfway through my degree and my mother would have killed me if I'd given it up for 'that Lennon', as he was always known in our house."

How did the former members feel as they watched The Beatles' rise to superstardom? Garry admits to some regrets. "I felt a bit envious. I'd always wanted to do music and they were enjoying themselves doing that. But my envy faded, and I fell in love and got married and had kids - the usual thing."

Hanton says: "I've no regrets, because I was never serious about it. And we've had a good time in the last few years. I've ridden around in limos in Las Vegas."

Davis, too, insists he had no pangs at missing out. "I didn't like the music; I was more interested in folk and bluegrass. And they were trapped in hotels and couldn't do what they wanted. Their lives were stolen from them, in many ways. I've had a lot of fun in my life... and no one knows about it!"

'Songs We Remember' by The Quarrymen is out now on BMG Imports (k)

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

dimanche, janvier 23, 2005

Mercury Rev.

The incredible journey

Mercury Rev's new album of transcendent songs continues their climb back from rock oblivion. Kevin Harley meets them

As US rock's foremost symphonic romantics, Mercury Rev have earned the right to attach a sense of mystique to the strange routes creativity can take. Their career certainly suggests so: 10 years ago, any guess where it would lead them would surely have been way off target. Musically, too, they've always pursued the elusive and unpredictable, straining for a sense of something transcendent.

It feels right, then, to hear their singer, Jonathan Donahue, happily embracing open spaces ahead on "Across Yer Ocean", the second track on their sixth album, The Secret Migration: "And where we go from here is anybody's guess."

"I don't know that we've ever experienced it otherwise," Donahue says over lunch in London. "It seems to be the truest expression flowing through us: that not-knowing; that mystery. I don't know that it would be art in any other way if there wasn't the mystery of allowing yourself to observe where it's leading you, not trying to control where you lead it. You're not necessarily born with that patience. But with a few records under your belt, you realise that it flows a lot smoother, it's a lot truer to your imagination, when you're letting it do its thing and being a conduit for it."

From a youth tethered to an unruly muse, Mercury Rev have arrived at something sublime. Emerging from Buffalo in the late 1980s, the band gained a reputation for psych-rock chaos thanks to some wild live shows and off-stage excesses. Having toured their third album, 1995's rapturous but ill-received See You on the Other Side, made after the split with their popular but troublesome singer, David Baker, they went missing, presumed dead, as a band. On the back of the album's cover, Donahue, the singer-guitarist who replaced Baker on vocals, glumly loads a gun.

Then they did something amazing, emerging from their Catskills base, upstate of New York, in 1998 with the album Deserter's Songs. With an all-or-nothing approach stoked by the band's implosion, it swept up wondrous fragments from the history of American popular music to lend their unique experience a sense of great scope. Its centrepiece was surely "The Funny Bird", with Donahue's frail delivery of the lyric, "Farewell, golden sound/ No one wants to hear you now," in the thick of elemental guitars. We could have lost them, is the sense, but if the funny little band with the vivid name were going down, they were going to go soaring.

With All Is Dream, the follow-up to Deserter's, Mercury Rev proved they could grow as a band, by delivering a set of grandiose paeans to arcane imaginative processes as a rock album. That was a bold pitch, and they've done something similar but nicely fresh with The Secret Migration. It opens with Donahue offering an invitation on "Secret for a Song" ("We're going on a dark country ride") before swooping off through the sights and sounds of nature with a shamanic flourish. Warm and bright where Dream was shadowy and spooked, it's an album of pastoral lustre and of romance.

Chatting to Donahue, his old friend Sean "Grasshopper" Mackowiak (guitars, shyer than Donahue but with a warm, ready smile) and Jeff Mercel (keyboards/drums), their fascination with the idea of nature as a metaphor for the revelations of romance and creativity is clear.

The naturally charismatic Donahue puts a rich spin on the subject. "It's not original to Mercury Rev, the use of nature as metaphor. We can find it in William Blake, in Plato, in the Hindu Vedas. It's a process of revealment. On the surface, there's a boy-meets-girl aspect on the record. A thread of, 'Hey, the seasons are changing; gee, so am I.' But it's the deeper layers that, hopefully, awaken a universal thread that connects my experiences, Jeff's, Grasshopper's, with yours. We don't have to give the name of the girl or the bar where an event happened. What we're dealing with is something that subsumes that: the archetypes.

"We were just in Florence looking at Botticelli's Allegory of Spring. Beautiful painting, with the Fates and the Virtues and Mercury there. Everyone in the museum is going, 'It's such a beautiful rendition of the female form,' and this and that. But there's something deeper, another language through the use of allegory, that I enjoy exploring. Does this make it obvious for most listeners to jump into a Mercury Rev record? Probably not. But we don't make excuses for that." Pause. "We're not obvious people."

What does allegory excite in him? "What I enjoy is the mystery behind that, the wonderment, the bewilderment. The childlike fascination of, 'What's that, Dad?' 'It's a star.' 'What's it made of?' 'Well, carbon and nitrogen and collapsed helium.' Then the third question: 'Why is it there?' And the mother throws up her hands and says, 'Well, I don't know.' She has to give a story. 'At one time, God spread fairy-dust' - whatever you want to go with. It's that approach of the human condition to answers we know are within us: we have to start somewhere."

The album's enigmatic title hints at this. Donahue says: "The Secret Migration refers to that starting somewhere, that change of perspective. My use of lyricism, it's not in a heavy sense. It's not trying to be the second Walt Whitman. It's simply a valuable oral tradition, to try to express that mystery, to try to connect with people who might also be curious about these things."

"I wanted to call the album The Quantum Migration," he says, grinning, "but I understood this would send people for such a loop that I would go hoarse trying to explain. But The Secret Migration is close. It's not secret from the audience, only available to us; it means that within us, the only way to see yourself is reflected. Principle of light. You can't see it until it bounces off something. And those perceptions are always changing."

For Donahue, capturing the process of making an album is a key to The Secret Migration, implied in its fascination with travel, journeys, spaces to be charted - a lyrical trope that stretches back through Mercury Rev's career. The subtext is of forging fresh routes through music.

If each Mercury Rev album has marked another leap forward, another change of route, the band attribute that in part to a maturity that enables them to feed off each other and embrace happy accidents. "That's one of [the producer] Dave Fridmann's little sayings," Grasshopper says. "The happy accidents are the things that make it more human and open to discovery. You build on it or react to it."

"Whether they are actually accidents, though," Donahue says, "I'm not convinced. I think it has to do with your ability for perception. Whether it's been trying to nudge you, and you didn't recognise it, or tried to block it out. That unseen world within, without, whichever way you look at it, keeps knocking you over your head. It may be through your dream state. It may be through meeting someone over and over again that you realise there's some connection you have to follow.

"The songs work like that. They'll keep hinting until you open up to what they're trying to say, instead of trying to stamp your imprint on them. They don't take kindly to that, in general. Those unexpected sounds, those turns in structure or lyrics or melody, where you say, 'Gosh, that came out of nowhere...'" He shakes his head. "I'm not sure they do. I feel that it's always there; it's just down to your ability to subtly change your viewpoint and notice them."

Long-term followers of the band might agree. Deserter's took people unawares but, in retrospect, it's difficult not to see the seeds of it in See You. As Donahue says: "We couldn't have made Deserter's without See You. Most people didn't want to hear that. They would say, 'I didn't listen to that record; I just listened to Deserter's. When did it fall on you from the sky?' It didn't. It was a process."

On reflection, the troubles the band endured on the See You tour were part of the making of them. On top of playing to dwindling audiences, on one day from hell, their saxophonist was mugged, their van was broken into and their T-shirt seller left their merchandising takings - living expenses - in a cab. Some band members left once the tour was over, Donahue had a heroin-enhanced breakdown and Grasshopper retreated to a monastery.

But regrets? Never. "Well," says Donahue, shrugging, "you're the sum of your experiences. All your past girlfriends led you to the one you're with now. Was it easy to swallow at the time? No. Of course not."

"If you try to keep that childlike innocence," says Grasshopper, "going through those experiences toughens you up."

Donahue nods: "You learn to temporise. It's like steel: you have to keep putting it in the fire. Take it out, hammer it, it gets stronger. Part of the nature of that album was a trial by fire. There were a lot of burns, but when they healed... Now, man, we don't flinch. Now you can hold your hand right over the candle."

One of the great things about Mercury Rev is that, having survived, they know they have something too precious to waste. If Donahue talks of his band and their audience with a sense of near-awe, you can't blame him. "When people look deeper than the surface," he says, "that's what turns us on. That's what we got out of music when we were being" - pause - "impregnated with those other artists we listened to, with their imaginations and their perseverance.

"It doesn't mean we're saying the answer to the universe is in a Mercury Rev record. It's simply about exalting that mystery, that ability of the human condition to question and wonder. In the best moments, you can see that there are many people who are more than curious, more than just searching for something. That's the best part for me."

The single 'In a Funny Way' is out now and 'The Secret Migration' on Monday, both on V2. Mercury Rev tour the UK from 5 March

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

vendredi, janvier 21, 2005

Album: Low

Low : The Great Destroyer, ROUGH TRADE

By Andy Gill

Formed at the noisy 1993 high-water mark of grunge with the contrary aim of playing as quietly and slowly as possible, Low have, over the ensuing decade, helped establish the notion of "sadcore" alt.rock as a viable alternative to the brattish playpen tantrums of skate-punk that has been grunge's least rewarding legacy to music. Indeed, without Low's groundwork, it's debatable whether the likes of Smog or Bonnie "Prince" Billy would have found as responsive an audience for their comparably introspective work.

With The Great Destroyer, however, Low have finally broken out of their self-imposed reserve to produce an album that seethes with barely repressed rock power. The poise and hymn-like quality of their previous work is still present in the quieter passages of songs like "On the Edge of" and "When I Go Deaf", but here it's prey to bouts of Neil Young-style fractured guitar dynamics that shatter the songs' atmospheres. On the latter piece, it's as if Alan Sparhawk is trying to make himself go deaf - or turning up the volume because he's going deaf - when the climactic fusillade of feedback and distortion washes over the song. His equanimity at the prospect of deafness still seems perverse, equally alleviated by the compensations of vision and the relief at not having to write songs: "I'll stop scratching out lines".

That would be a shame, as Sparhawk writes peculiar songs, whose pleasant melodies conceal barbed intimations of a darker, more treacherous world - whether it's the short-tempered narrator of "Just Stand Back", or the mysterious miscreants savaged in "Everybody's Song": "Every day they torture us/ They say, nothing stays together/ Breaking everybody's heart/ Breaking everyone apart/ Singing everybody's song". There's an almost brutal swagger to the latter's tense, angular chording, as also to the clangour of ringing guitar distortion of "California", which furnishes Low's best chance of single success with its catchy reflection on a late life-change.

The trio's guitar-based style is broadened by the synth growl that powers the low-key trance-rock opener, "Monkey", and by the mellotron or string-synth pad underscoring "Cue the Strings". Elsewhere, it's hard to unpick the dense arrangements of tracks like "Just Stand Back" and "Step", which recall both My Bloody Valentine's curtains of guitar sound, and a modern, condensed, indie version of the Wall of Sound. A substantial part of the credit for this must surely go to producer Dave Fridmann, whose subtle touch previously helped sculpt the psychedelic excesses of those such as Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips into more commercially satisfying shape, a trick he effectively repeats here.

mercredi, janvier 19, 2005

Athlete Live

Athlete, Liquid Room, Edinburgh

By David Pollock

Published : 19 January 2005

Athlete's debut album, Vehicles and Animals, may always have been a rank outsider to win the 2003 Mercury Music Prize, particularly when set against such high-profile competition as Coldplay, Radiohead and the eventual winner, Dizzee Rascal. Yet with the follow-up, Tourist, due for release at the end of this month and a clearly staunch audience support for this tour, it seems they may at least be avoiding the wilderness that has swallowed up so many nominees before them.

Two years ago - shortly after their initial buzz had died down - it might have been easy to write the Deptford quartet off as paler imitations of their labelmates Coldplay and consign them to the "whatever happened to...?" file for future reference. In fact, they haven't beefed up their repertoire considerably since then; the two stand-out features being, as ever, the singer-guitarist Joel Pott's chiming, slightly effeminate vocal tones and Tim Wanstall's relentlessly cheerful keyboard sound.

Beneath it all, Pott, Carey Willetts, the bassist, and Stephen Roberts, the drummer, create music that's as polished as you might expect from people who have jobbed in bands for years, yet recognisably devised from the same equation that every one of their contemporaries uses. They're not as skyscraping or genuinely affecting as Coldplay at their best, but neither are they as formulaic as Keane - that's both a critical summation and an encapsulation of their mid-table status in the pantheon of sensitive young men with recording contracts.

But what such an ambivalent description can't explain is the overwhelmingly positive response Athlete received here from their sell-out crowd. It wasn't merely the Friday-night camaraderie of getting to go and see a band, nor was it kept in check until the customary end-of-set biggie. "Devotional" is one word that applied from start to finish, and the football terrace sing-alongs that resulted during established hits such as "El Salvador" and "You Got the Style" even seemed to rock Pott back on his heels.

At one point, he performed the song "Vehicles and Animals" acoustically on his own, yet had to give up and turn the mic on the bellowing crowd half-way through. Gig moments such as this are not common, and Athlete are just as rare a beast - the sort of band who could welcome hard-bitten cynics and sceptics to a show and send them home with grudging smiles of acceptance by the night's end.

Of course, no one will accuse them of being hugely innovative or original (excerpts from the new album such as "Wires" and "Twenty Four Hours" are resonant and pleasant but certainly more of the same). But then, you do hope that 2005 is the year they go on to establish themselves in their own right, beyond the perilous tag of "one-time Mercury nominee". On a cold and miserable Scotch night, they still succeeded in bringing genuinely warm smiles to the faces of their fans, and any band who clearly affects people so deserves to endure.

Tour continues 3 to 14 March (

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

The Chem's

The Chemical Brothers: Packing serious beats

The new album contains their most political moment to date. Even dance music can't ignore the real world, they tell Fiona Sturges

They may be the biggest thing in dance music since the mixer was invented, but you'd be hard pushed to spot The Chemical Brothers - aka Tom Rowlands, 33, and Ed Simons, 34 - in a crowd. It's probably a result of all that time spent indoors realigning his hard drive that Simons could easily pass for a computer salesman or a schoolteacher - almost anything, in fact, except one half of a world-famous dance duo. Rowlands, who has finally abandoned his long indie-kid tresses in favour of a more sensible crop, is at least vaguely recognisable in his trademark tinted specs, though he, too, retains the look of someone who could do with getting out more.

We meet at The Social, a central-London offshoot of the legendary Heavenly Social, the cramped basement club in central London where, 11 years ago, under the stolen alias The Dust Brothers, Simons and Rowlands famously demonstrated their disregard for musical boundaries as they mixed My Bloody Valentine into Grandmaster Flash into Love Unlimited. Their joyously eclectic approach to their art has stood them in good stead. Where other dance acts have foundered with each passing fad, the Chemicals have remained one of the few constants in an ever-changing scene, holding on to a fiercely loyal fan-base comprising ravers, rockers and everyone in between. Now Simons and Rowlands have sold almost seven million albums and had 13 chart hits in the UK, two of them No 1s. They also have the distinction of being the only British dance act ever to win a Grammy, with the 1998 single "Block Rockin' Beats". Their live performances, as popular in Melbourne as in Manchester, have gathered near-mythical status - their show at Glastonbury in 2000 amassed the biggest audience in the festival's history.

The pair met in 1989 at Manchester University while attending a lecture on medieval literature. Their field of study quickly became a source of mirth among critics in the early years, who struggled to take these mild-mannered, middle-class boys seriously. Even now, Rowlands and Simons admit they have something of an image problem. "The 'nerd' tag rather follows us around, though I quite like the fact that we don't fit into someone else's idea of what a dance musician should be," Rowlands remarks. "It was never about us, anyway; we never wanted to be rock stars. We're happy for the music to be bigger than us."

Still, it must be a relief, I suggest, that they have managed to remain anonymous. Not many multimillion-selling artists can still go to the supermarket in peace. Rowlands agrees, though Simons doesn't look so convinced. When I ask if he ever gets recognised, it's with an air of melancholy that he replies: "Only when we're together. And even then we have to be in a nightclub, preferably with a bag of records over our shoulders." The Chemicals are as surprised as anyone that they've lasted the course in such a fickle business. They're also the first to admit that, while they're not quite ready for the pipe and slippers, as they approach their mid-thirties, their desire to hang around in sweaty clubs has started to dwindle. "We DJ maybe six or seven times a year, but apart from that we tend not to bother," Simons says. "I wouldn't go to a club particularly out of pleasure now. We live more vicariously through DJ reports or friends texting us to say, 'They've just played your record, and the crowd loved it.'"

"Even in the early days, we didn't go to clubs purely as a social thing," Rowlands adds. "It was the music we were interested in. I think one of the reasons we became DJs was because we liked having something to do other than just stand around. We always liked the music but we were never very good at the small talk."

Rowlands and Simons use the word "we" rather a lot. Having worked together so closely for so long - for three years the pair were flatmates, though now they live two streets apart in west London - they've become like a married couple, tuned to one another's idiosyncrasies and with a spooky ability to read each other's thoughts. Also typical of a married couple are the times that they suddenly, and very vocally, disagree. When Simons remarks that he had imagined adapting their sound as they got older and crafting a less frenetic signature sound, Rowlands cries: "I never thought that! I'm still really excited by noisy records. Things don't suddenly switch off just because you've reached a certain age. There are mornings when I wake up and want to listen to a Ramones album. Other mornings, I might like to listen to Nick Drake. That's the same whether you are 17 or 37. For us to make an album that bears no relation to our past just because we're 10 years older would be totally wrong. "

Though Simons and Rowlands have "blistering" arguments in the studio, neither considers their close working relationship unusual. "It's probably significant that we were friends before we ever started to work together," Simons says. "And the fact that we do work together means we've got a lot to talk about, which helps."

The main topic of discussion right now is their fifth LP, Push the Button, which is released on Monday. In terms of beats, the album is business as usual, with Rowlands and Simons drawing on a range of genres, from rock and rap to Bollywood film soundtracks, to create a collage of propulsive anthems. The impassioned vocal contribution of the rising US rapper Anwar Superstar to "Left Right" brings one of its most powerful moments. Detailing a soldier's mounting disillusionment with his job, it's by far the most political statement the Chemicals have made. "In the Nineties, our records were very much about escapism and sensory deprivation," Simons reflects. "It used to be about turning away from the world, but now it feels like you can't keep doing that. People are much more politicised, and rightly so. We did think very hard about whether this was the right thing to do - saying something so explicit is a big change for us - but now we're very proud of it."

It's possibly a result of the changes in the dance scene as much as the political environment that the Chemicals have felt the need to adapt, though Simons isn't sure about the need to evolve. "I don't think music necessarily has a responsibility to reflect the times," he says. "Some of the best music has been totally out of its time. Dance music is always relevant because, whatever's going on in the world, people will always want to get together and dance. There was a period in the mid-Nineties when the dance scene turned into a massive industry, but that was really a blip. Now it's back to like it was in Seventies and Eighties, when lots of great house and hip-hop was being made simply for the love of it."

"It's not so much that dance music has collapsed," adds Rowlands; "it's more that it's become totally assimilated. It's not this separate entity any more. Take one of the big rock bands at the moment, like Franz Ferdinand - you can see they're completely influenced by dance, both in the sound they make and in the way they approach making music. It's not like in the Nineties, when a band would get a DJ to bolt on some shuffly beats. These are people that have grown up with electronic music, so it comes naturally to them."

Defending dance music is clearly something to which Simons and Rowlands have become accustomed. Their place in dance history may be assured, but, given the genre's plummeting popularity, their role in its future is a lot less certain. For now, though, they're content to continue making records, playing live and, on special occasions, making guest DJ appearances. As far as they're are concerned, they're in it for the long haul.

"To be honest, I've never imagined doing anything else," Rowlands says. "What will I be doing in 20 years' time? Well, I probably won't be dancing on a beach in Ibiza, but I can guarantee that I'll still be making music. I love that feeling when you create a sound that has the capacity to make a crowd go completely berserk. It's overwhelming. It's simply not a feeling that either of us is prepared to give up."

'Push the Button' is out on Monday on Freestyle Dust/Virgin. The Chemical Brothers play Manchester Apollo on 11 March and then tour to 29 May

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

dimanche, janvier 16, 2005


Young hopefuls going for gold

Athlete are full of unbridled cheer. And they've got lots to crow about, says Alexia Loundras

January. Cold, dreary and irredeemably miserable. Yet in a south London rehearsal studio, enthusiasm is winning the battle against apathy. Athlete are seemingly immune to seasonal blues. Practising for their sold-out tour amid piles of strewn musical gear, the Deptford four-piece are a picture of contentment.

Lost in their own creative zone, the band throw themselves into their songs with glee. Even their affable frontman, Joel Pott, sucking herbal cough sweets to suppress a clawing cold, can't hide his beaming smile. As the band down their toys for the day, he bounds over to say hello. His good humour is infectious and within minutes he's chatting about his family and showing off his yet-to-come highlight of the day - a small bottle of oily, yellow liquid. "My mother's potion," he smiles. Unscrewing the top, he tentatively sniffs its contents - eucalyptus. "I can't wait to get home and rub some of this on."

The band's cheeriness is entirely justified. Athlete are already happily ticking-off their new year's resolutions. Today, 28-year-old Pott finally passed his driving test - a feat he's understandably proud of - "even if it has taken three years," teases Carey Willetts, the bassist. But there's more. At the end of this month, Athlete realise another ambition with the release of their second album, Tourist, the excellent follow-up to their 2003, Mercury-nominated debut, Vehicles and Animals. Tourist is a lush landscape of an album, filled with depth and emotion. And its release is preceded by that of the heart-wrenching, lead single "Wires", which is likely to give the band their biggest hit to date. "Never, ever has so much gone right for us," says Willetts with a nervous laugh. Until now, the south London lads have only managed to dent the charts. Though singles from their first album were fairly well received by radio - and festival crowds from Glastonbury to Glasgow - the songs never really took off with the wider public.

Now Athlete are at the centre of a flurry of hype. "Wires" is all over the radio and all sorts of people have been clamouring for interviews, from the NME to CD:UK. So certain is their prominence in 2005 that they were even invited to perform at the launch of this year's Brit Awards despite not being eligible for any of the prizes. "All that's happening to us is so new," says Willetts, "that there's no way we can actually gauge what this feeling means, but it does feel fantastic."

Athlete have some idea of where they might be heading. This time last year, as they were rounding off their UK tour, the same sort of thing happened to their support band, then a little-known quartet called Snow Patrol, who were releasing a cracking song called "Run". "As soon as I heard 'Run', I knew that was the song that would break Snow Patrol - and it was," says Pott. "There was something so exciting about seeing their song rise and rise. Will the same thing happen to us? It's hard to say when you're personally involved. I get really excited by 'Wires' - it still gives me goose-bumps when we play that live - but who knows. We hope, we hope."

The potential significance of a first hit single is not lost on the band, but they have always tried to keep their expectations in check. Even after signing with their dream label, Parlophone, home of Coldplay and Radiohead, in 2001, the school mates never let themselves get carried away. They immediately applied themselves, touring relentlessly for the best part of two years. Slowly their exuberant live shows won over a steadily-growing following, while the moderate ripples of acclaim that greeted their debut upon it's release in April 2003 found them a few more fans. And yet the reception Athlete received at their 2003 Glastonbury appearance knocked them for six: "We were low on the bill so it was a real shock when so many people turned up and sang along to our songs," remembers, Steve Roberts, the drummer.

The band also hoped they'd be nominated for that year's Mercury prize, but stress that they didn't really think they would be. "We just felt we were the kind of band it could really help," says Tim Wanstall, the keyboardist. "We felt we had a record that could be appreciated by more than those who had it at that moment." The eclectic pop of Vehicles And Animals was duly recognised by the Mercury judges, giving Athlete some all-important publicity and a critical stamp of approval. And this, together with the triumphant festival sets of that summer, had an important affect on the band's album sales. Athlete ended up selling more than 250,000 copies of their debut album. "It got to a point where we could just sit back and enjoy what we'd done," says Roberts. "We'd achieved all we'd hoped to achieve and everything on top of that was the proverbial bonus."

And yet, with Tourist, Athlete are exceeding expectations once again, graduating from the promising melody-drenched indie of their debut to produce surging adult-pop. Swooning with strings and sprinkled with moments of Flaming Lips-like splendour, this record exists on a whole new plain. Tourist is packed full of potential hits. From its simmering title track to the explosively passionate "Yesterday Threw Everything at Me" and pounding gem - the album's high-point - "Half Light", the new record is bursting with graceful grandeur. And while Athlete's debut album was unlike anything else in the charts at the time, Tourist fits right in; it finds Athlete poised to take the baton from the likes of Keane, Embrace and Snow Patrol.

Athlete say they wanted to replace the little Casio keyboards of their first album with something richer, to make their second record a truly "big"-sounding album. But they are adamant that, far from jumping on any indie-ballad bandwagon, the inspiration for this sonic shift in direction came from within. "We started writing Tourist in 2003," says Willetts, "before we played Glastonbury, before we became a Mercury nominated band, before everything. And back then, it didn't feel like what we were doing was a safe bet at all. It felt like a really big leap. We were worried people wouldn't get it." Around him, Willetts' band-mates are nodding vigorously. "We didn't think, 'Right, because this is doing well we're going to do this, or because we love that album, we're going to do that.'"

"This is just the sort of album we always hoped we'd make," he adds. "We wrote our first record in a homemade studio that was falling apart. The idea of using an orchestra then was just absurd. But this time, the option was open for us to do it, so we did." Though certainly more streamlined and sonically richer, Tourist does indeed mark a natural progression, showcasing a new songwriting confidence that has allowed their songs to breathe. "Yeah, I think we are much more assured as musicians now," agrees Pott, unwrapping another cough drop. "We're no longer obsessed with putting little hook-lines or catchy melodies into every little space. We trust ourselves more and can keep things a little more open. And I love the sense of distance and intimacy that lends our songs. It gives us much more depth."

Pott is right. Tourist pours with soul that was previously lacking at times. But he also has his lyrics to thank. Another sign of Athlete's newfound confidence is the singer's willingness to open up. "I feel if people want to hear my personal stories, that's fine with me," says the frontman. "I'll be naked. We've always written about stuff we know - things we've been through - but this time I'm wearing my heart on my sleeve."

He certainly is. Mainly inspired by the band's endless touring - "being away and missing family, experiencing things and being desperate to share them," says Pott - Tourist is a bittersweet catalogue of lust and longing, so vibrant that listening feels like eavesdropping. For instance, the forthcoming single "Wires" is a cinematic account of Pott's rush of fear and hope as he bonded with his daughter, Zoe, now a bouncing two-year-old, after she suffered a seizure shortly after birth.

"Trading Air", meanwhile, is a real-life climax to a Hollywood-style love story. Written by Willetts and adapted by Pott, it recounts Willetts' decision to tell his old university love, who was engaged to another man, that he still loved her. "I thought it was the most evil thing to do," says Willetts, "but after six months of not eating and not sleeping, I had to say something." You wouldn't know it from the song but this tale has a happy ending: "She didn't speak to me for six weeks after I told her, but then I got a text saying her wedding was off! And so, woo hoo!" shouts Willetts still thrilled. After that, the bass player wasted no time and the two have been married nearly a year.

"I can just see it," groans Pott. "The headline for this is going to be 'breaking up marriages and babies in incubators'. People are going to get the wrong idea about us! We're not melancholic people. Really!" And they're not. In conversation, the band exude the same unbridled good humour that bursts from them as they rehearse. "Making this album, we've probably got on better than we ever had before," says Willetts. "And I think we've come up with better songs." Athlete can certainly be proud of their album. Though at times the subject matter is heavy, Tourist is still uplifting. Its soaring anthems are flooded with adventurous melodies, flushed with love and brimming with hope. Athlete are hardly the most rock'n'roll band around: though still shy of 30, three of them are married, two have kids - "We're desperately trying to keep Steve single so at least there's one of us!" Pott jokes. But as long as they can continue to write songs that inspire listeners, they'll be happy. "Our music has to connect with people," says Pott. "As long as we can continue to write songs that do that and satisfy ourselves creatively, that will be enough."

Well, there is one other ambition. Wanstall admits: "I'd love us to play Glastonbury's Pyramid stage at sunset." "That would be nice," Pott agrees. He looks like he can't wait. And, who knows, if "Wires" kick-starts Athlete's career the way "Run" did Snow Patrol's, he may not have to. For now, though, Pott has a simpler pleasure to attend to. Interview over, he's out of the door with a gleam in his eye and that small bottle of eucalyptus oil in his hand.

'Wires' is out on Monday, 'Tourist' on 31 January, both on Parlophone. Athlete tour the UK to Monday (

vendredi, janvier 14, 2005

Strawberry Fields no mo'

Children's home that inspired "Strawberry Fields" shuts its doors

Liverpool's Strawberry Field Salvation Army children's home gave notice of closure yesterday. The site, near John Lennon's childhood home, inspired Lennon to write the Beatles' psychedelic 1967 song "Strawberry Fields Forever," recently ranked Number Seventy-Six in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Released as a single with "Penny Lane" as the B side, "Strawberry Fields Forever" went to Number Two on the U.K. charts and Number Eight in the U.S.
The Victorian building on Beaconsfield Road currently houses only three children, with most now being placed with foster families. The home is expected to close within the next two years.

As a young boy, Lennon often played with friends on the grounds, near his home in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool. Lennon's aunt Mimi, who raised him after his father left and his mother moved in with another man, would take the boy to Strawberry Field to hear the Salvation Army band play during their summer celebration. Lennon wrote the nostalgic song on acoustic guitar while in Spain filming the satire How I Won the War. (British star Michael Crawford, his co-star, was the first to hear the tune.) He considered it one of his greatest achievements with the Beatles.

"Because of hang-ups and many other things, I would only now and then specifically write about me," Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970. "The only true songs I ever wrote were 'Help!' and 'Strawberry Fields.' They were the ones that I really wrote from experience and not projecting myself into a situation and writing a nice story about it, which I always found phony."

In 1979, Lennon donated money for the children's home to build a new wing, dubbed Lennon Court. And after Lennon was fatally shot in front of his New York City apartment the next year, the city -- with the help of Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono -- dedicated a nearby area in Central Park to his memory, naming it "Strawberry Fields."

The fate of the Strawberry Field building has not been determined. Its century-old, wrought iron gates have become a site of pilgrimage for Beatles fans, with visitors writing messages on the perimeter walls.

ALEX MAR, Rolling Stone (Posted Jan 13, 2005)

John Lennon used to hang out there as a youngster - he felt a kinship with the orphans, or so the biogs tell us. Lennon, as you may know, was abandoned by his mother and brought up by his Aunt Mimi - who was herself the inspiration for the song "Glass Onion". One evening she came into the kitchen where John was sitting doing his homework, and said: "you know what, if you ever get to be a famous musician, like, you should write a song called 'Glass Onion'. I don't know what it should be about exactly but it's a good name, don't you think?" And so the seed of an idea was planted.

Which leads us to consider other Beatles tracks and the curious stories behind their composition...



Inspired by a girl called Susan.

*From Me To You

The band had just watched an episode of the Chuckle Brothers, and were inspired by a scene in which Barry and Paul were struggling to get a wardrobe up some stairs.

*I Am The Walrus

Stemmed from an argument between John and Paul over fancy-dress costumes. In the end Ringo Starr stepped in and bagsied the cow costume, which he mistook for a walrus.

*The Fool On The Hill:

Celebrates a picnic which George Martin threw for the band on Primrose Hill. He made egg sandwiches, cup cakes and gooseberry fool. Everyone had such a lovely time that Paul decided to immortalise the occasion in song, which he originally entitled The Cup Cake On The Hill until John stepped in.

*Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da:

Written after McCartney dropped a spanner on his toe.


mercredi, janvier 12, 2005

Brit Awards

FRANZ FERDINAND lead the nominations for this year’s BRIT AWARDS.

This year’s ceremony, the 25th and named BRITs25, takes place at London Earl’s Court on February 9.

Franz Ferdinand have been nominated in five categories including Best British Group and Best British Album, while Muse have been nominated in four categories including Best British Rock Act.

Kasabian, Keane, The Streets, Jamelia, Natasha Bedingfield and Snow Patrol have three nominations each. The Libertines, Joss Stone, Lemar and Jamie Cullum are all also nominated, with two nods each.

Speaking about the nominations, singer Alex Kapranos told NME.COM: “We're pretty chuffed to be nominated for so many categories. It's a wee bit unbelievable if you think about what we were up to a year ago. It means a lot to us to have come this far with a small British independent label like Domino. It makes you realise that the rules are what you make them.”

The nominations marked a double celebration for Kasabian after their self-titled debut album also went platinum the same day.

Singer Tom Meighan said: “I wasn’t expecting that. I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus man. It’s wonderful. I can’t believe it. Our album has only been out four months as well. Hopefully we’ll win every fucker. No seriously though I think we’ve got a chance. We’ll see what happens.”

Guitarist Sergio Pizzorno added: “I can’t believe that, fucking hell. It just goes to show that you can be in a band, you can play the guitar and you can sell records. Rock ain’t dead yet. To be honest I didn’t think we stood a chance of being nominated because we came in a bit late for the nominations this year and a lot of other bands were further down the line than us. I thought maybe next year.”

The nominations for this year’s Brit Awards are:

* Jamie Cullum
* Lemar
* Morrissey
* The Streets
* Will Young

* Amy Winehouse
* Jamelia
* Joss Stone
* Natasha Bedingfield
* PJ Harvey

* Franz Ferdinand
* Kasabian
* Keane
* Muse
* Snow Patrol

* Franz Ferdinand - 'Franz Ferdinand'
* Keane - 'Hopes And Fears'
* Muse - 'Absolution'
* Snow Patrol - 'Final Straw'
* The Streets - 'A Grand Don’t Come For Free'

* Band Aid 20 - 'Do They Know Its Christmas?'
* Jamelia - 'Thank You'
* LMC vs U2 - 'Take Me To The Clouds Above'
* Shapeshifters - 'Lola’s Theme'
* Will Young - 'Your Game'

* Franz Ferdinand
* Joss Stone
* Keane
* Natasha Bedingfield
* The Zutons

* Dizzee Rascal
* Jamelia
* Joss Stone
* Lemar
* The Streets

* Franz Ferdinand
* Kasabian
* Muse
* Snow Patrol
* The Libertines

* Franz Ferdinand
* Jamie Cullum
* Kasabian
* Muse
* The Libertines

* Joy Division - 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'
* Kate Bush - 'Wuthering Heights'
* Queen - 'We Are The Champions'
* Robbie Williams - 'Angels'
* Will Young - 'Leave Right Now'

* Avril Lavigne
* Girls Aloud
* Natasha Bedingfield
* McFly
* Westlife

* Brian Wilson
* Eminem
* Kanye West
* Tom Waits
* Usher

* Alicia Keys
* Anastacia
* Gwen Stefani
* Kelis
* Kylie Minogue

* Green Day
* Maroon 5
* OutKast
* Scissor Sisters
* U2

* Killers - 'Hot Fuss'
* Maroon 5 - 'Songs About Jane'
* OutKast - 'Speakerboxxx/The Love Below'
* Scissor Sisters - 'Scissor Sisters'
* U2 - 'How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb'

* Jet
* Kanye West
* Killers
* Maroon 5
* Scissor Sisters

* Sir Bob Geldof

vendredi, janvier 07, 2005

Kaiser Chiefs

Leaders of the pack

Kaiser Chiefs could just be the next classic British band. But they already know that, they tell Charlotte Cripps

Published : 07 January 2005

There is nothing remotely childish about the Kaiser Chiefs' intelligent, indie art- school pop music brimming as it does with energy. But it is hard to take this five-piece band from Leeds seriously as they gather together like schoolboys in the foyer of a London hotel. They are wearing striped blazers with the arms too short and school ties reminiscent of Billy Bunter, but look far prettier. It appears as if they have rummaged through the lost property cupboard of a secondary school and come up with outfits that don't fit.

Kaiser Chiefs' singer-songwriter, Ricky Wilson, 24, has more edge than the others, even with his tweed cap and cheeky grin. "We are like everything you've ever heard but nothing you've ever heard at the same time," he says of their music, which sounds as if Blur has merged successfully with The Clash and Madness. "We are trying to be a classic British band. There has been one every decade for the past 40 years. In the Sixties it was The Beatles; in the Seventies it was Roxy Music; in the Eighties it was Madness; and in the Nineties it was Blur."

The band, formed in May 2003, are actually named after a football team in South Africa, in honour of its former star, Lucas Radebe, who now plays for Leeds United. They have been compared to many classic British bands - including The Teardrop Explodes, The Kinks and Wire.

"Pop's Rubik's Cube has finally been completed," Wilson says, in earnest, about all the different strands of classic British rock that have found their way into his music. "We are a bit like pop magpies fashioning a glittering nest in which to lay our pure pop egg," he adds, making sure I have written down his quote exactly.

"NME will come up with a term for this music. It has got to have the word 'British' in it, hasn't it? How about BritPap," laughs Whitey (guitar; real name Andrew White), who has an indie hairstyle like Blur's Damon Albarn, but looks as if he should be in The Specials, in his black suit and white tie, with cherry-red DMs.

"It's not deliberate, but the thing was that when we started doing this band, we thought about what we wanted to sound like and it was all the those classic British bands with our own sound. But with all the mish-mash of influences, 90 per cent of the audience will be happy," says bass player Simon Rix, curly hair falling over his eyes and looking as if he could be on a Just Seventeen poster.

"It's Peanut [keyboards - real name Nick Baines] who the girls go mad about," says Wilson, pointing at a sweet-looking Peanut - who looks a like a healthier version of the former Libertine Pete Doherty. Nick Hodgson (drums/ songwriter) is absent,missing the interview to be with his London-based girlfriend.

Less than a year ago, Kaiser Chiefs were an unsigned band. Now the boys, all aged 24 or 25, are set to be the band to watch out for in 2005. Helped up the industry ladder by more established fellow indie-band members who recognised the Kaiser Chiefs' talent, The Ordinary Boys were first to bring them into the fold and insisted that their record label, B-Unique, sign them up in August.

Franz Ferdinand also took the boys under their wing, as a support band playing in front of huge audiences both at Brixton Academy in November and Glasgow SECC last month for their homecoming gig. The band is to join the NME Awards Tour 2005 (starting 19 January) with The Killers, Futureheads and Bloc Party, which last year saw Franz Ferdinand at the bottom of the pile. They are off to Los Angeles on Sunday to play and then back again to New York in February.

So Kaiser Chiefs have every reason to be excited. For the past six months, it has been relentless progress. Their debut album, Employment, out in March, is bursting with heavily melodic hits including second single "I Predict A Riot", which reached No 22 in November.

"It is a song about the mentality of lager-fuelled fights after the pubs close on Friday and Saturday nights in Leeds and how frightening it is to get home without having a fist plunged in your face," says Wilson. The first single, "Oh My God", about feeling homesick and uncomfortable in one's own skin, is also to be re-released as a single in February and is already getting plenty of radio airplay.

"It is a lot of work being in a band - travelling all the time," says Wilson about the song. "It is about a feeling of being trapped that you can get in a band. You can also feel like a fish out of water, most of the time, because you are in unfamiliar places," he adds.

Wilson writes most of the lyrics with Hodgson. Now all newly polished and sparkling, their material has been given the magic makeover by the producers Stephen Street (Blur, The Smiths, Catatonia and Suede) and Steve Harris (U2 and Santana). "It is all going so well," says Wilson with an assured confidence. "We have gone through periods when we haven't felt so positive."

The band are delighted with the finished debut album, although they have yet to decide the running order. "Saturday Night" begins with the former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon revving up his motorbike, a Honda Hornet. "I remember when I first met Coxon," says Wilson in a hushed tone. "He said, 'I like your shoes.' Apparently, he said that to Damon Albarn when he first met him, too. What an amazing thing to first say to somebody when you meet them. I remember he then asked me how it was all going? I told him that I found being in a band hard work. The goalposts are constantly moving. When you get to the single, you are at the album - never appreciating anything - not grateful for what you do have - always looking ahead - and he suggested wisely that I enjoy every minute."

The band are all sitting drinking beer as we talk. They are tired because they all had to be up at 6.30am to get visas from the US embassy for their trip to California. "You have to queue up and get in there very early and then after we waited ages, we were missing one document and so we have to go back again tomorrow," says Peanut looking exhausted.

What was life like before the Kaiser Chiefs? "The band all grew up in Leeds and knew each other for a long time," says Wilson. "Peanut, Simon and Nick all went to school together since the age of 11 years-old," he adds. "But we have all known each other for years."

The tour manager, Mike Darling, explains the band's dynamic. "It is not like they are thrown together randomly. Their sound has evolved. The process of making music is natural for them because they have known each other for a long time. They are very comfortable with each other, but not in an over the top way like bands like The Monkees were."

They had all been in different bands before becoming the Kaiser Chiefs. "We were all united with a love of Sixties soul. It was a really good basis for all the music we do now," says Whitey. "That is because it is all about the melody and Sixties soul was exciting and inspired us all to move and dance. Now when we go in to the studio, Ricky or Nick might have a first line for a song - or an inspired moment while we play. But they never arrive with a finished song. We all mash it out together until we are happy."

Why is the album called Employment? "It is a classic British problem," says Whitey. "No, that's unemployment," says Rix. Wilson continues: "No, firstly it is called Employment because this is what we do for a living now. Also because we wanted a classic album. It sounds like the name of a classic album. Employment wouldn't be out of place in a box set with other great British albums by The Clash, The Beatles, Madness or Blur."

What jobs did they have before being in the band? "Whitey was selling rare Beanie Babies on eBay," says Wilson. His friend looks embarrassed. "I went all around Yorkshire and found about nine Beanie Babies and sold them for 50 quid each. I also was a temp in an office," says Whitey. Peanut travelled around fixing people's computers. Wilson had been an art lecturer at Leeds College of Art and Design for a year before the band formed. Hodgson was a DJ in Leeds. "Just over two years ago, Hodgson and I founded Pigs - an indie club night at Hi-Fi, a club in Leeds that we still run the last Tuesday of every month," says Wilson. Rix was a landlord of a pub called Joseph's Well in Leeds, where the band are to perform a tsunami benefit gig tonight. "We were doing a secret gig there initially, as a warm-up for the US trip, but when we heard the news we thought it was a good opportunity to raise money for the victims," says Wilson. "You can feel so impotent when you can't do anything."

The band hopes to help other struggling bands on their way up to the top. "At the moment I would help indie band. The Cribs who are the most underrated band ever. They have just released an album," says Wilson. "You have to do other people favours, like we have had done for us," says Rix. "It is also important that we keep changing and evolving as a band," says Wilson. "My favourite bands improve with age. Often it seems like a lot of hard work, but now it has been worth it in the end. Magic happens when the perfect lyric falls into the perfect melody."

Kaiser Chiefs play tonight at Joseph's Well, Leeds. All proceeds go to the Disaster Benefit Fund for the countries hit by the Asian tsunami. 'Oh My God' is out 21 February, and 'Employment' is out in March, both on B-Unique

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

jeudi, janvier 06, 2005

The greatest Brits?

The music industry plans to celebrate 25 years of the Brit awards by naming the greatest pop single to emerge from the UK, reports Matthew Beard. Fiona Sturges assesses the contenders

04 January 2005

The search for the greatest British chart single of the past 25 years was launched yesterday, pitting seventies icons such as David Bowie and Kate Bush against Eighties and Nineties groups such as ABC and Oasis and 21st century stars including The Streets and Coldplay.

A list of 25 tracks has been drawn up by music industry and media figures in a competition to mark the 25th award ceremony of the Brits, the annual celebration of the domestic music industry organised by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). Although the first awards ceremony was held in 1977, a five-year gap until 1982 means the Brits celebrates its silver anniversary this year.

Those artists who made the cut - which the organisers admit will provide a "controversial" winner - testify to the enduring appeal of the ballad. Those shortlisted include "Wuthering Heights" by Kate Bush; "Careless Whispers" by George Michael; Annie Lennox's "Why"; "Leave Right Now" by Will Young; "I Don't Want To Talk About It" by Rod Stewart and "Angels" by Robbie Williams.

The Bee Gees are represented with "Night Fever". Of the rock anthems since 1977, "Wonderwall" by Oasis and Queen's "We Are the Champions" are in contention.

The shortlist was announced yesterday by Davina McCall on BBC Radio 2 and will be narrowed down to five final contenders for the Brit awards nomination launch on 10 January. The final winner will be announced on 9 February at the 25th Brits. Voters will be able to register their preference via the internet, text or telephone from 21 January to 30 January.

Colin Martin, music editor of Radio 2, who sat on the panel, said: "British chart music is a massive part of our popular culture - and looking back at what has been produced since the Brits first began in 1977 has highlighted what a wealth of outstanding talent we have produced over the decades.

"Distilling over a quarter-century of hits to a list of 25 to be voted on by Radio 2 listeners has been one of the most difficult tasks I have ever shared in."

The BPI chairman, Peter Jamieson, said: "Brits25 is already lining up to be a very special show. This unique collaboration with BBC Radio 2 gives the British public their opportunity to select the very best song of the two-and-a-half decades the Brits has been running. The result is bound to be controversial."

The judges drew up a shortlist according to certain criteria. The songs, by British acts, must have first charted between 1 January 1977 and 31 December 2004. Re-releases and re-issues were not eligible and the recording had to reach the top 75 within the period. A maximum of one title per artist was allowed and the recording had to have been available on general UK-wide release

GOLDEN BROWN The Stranglers (Date: January 1982; Chart position: 2)

With its lilting harpsichord, "Golden Brown" was hardly characteristic of the early pub rock espoused by punk survivors, The Stranglers. And despite the song's rather enthusiastic references to heroin use, it turned out to be the band's biggest hit.

YELLOW Coldplay (Date: July 2000; Chart position: 4)

They picked up Radiohead's loud-soft-loud format and ran with it, and now they're filthy rich. Fans of the aforementioned Oxford band may still balk at singer Chris Martin's vocal histrionics though, as "Yellow" illustrates, there's no denying his skills as a master songwriter. Now with a celebrity wife in tow, his fate as a rock legend is all but sealed.

CARELESS WHISPER George Michael (Date: August 1984; Chart position: 1)

It may not be his best but it's certainly one of the former Wham! frontman's more memorable songs, and one that has provided the soundtrack for end-of-the-night school-disco snoggers for nigh on two decades. For that alone, it must take its place in the annals of pop history.

SACRIFICE Elton John (Date: June 1990; Chart position: 1)

There's really no excusing this tepid drivel. Elton may have assumed the status of a rock's grande dame (or is that panto dame?) these days but - let's be honest here - he hasn't written anything worth listening to since 1975. As for that fake American accent, put a sock in it, will you, Sir?

KISS FROM A ROSE Seal (Date: July 1994; Chart position: 20)

Combining soul and pop with a moody down-tempo dance vibe, "Kiss From A Rose" was one of those songs that wandered into the consciousness uninvited and stayed there for years. It was an instant classic and one which Seal found impossible to repeat.

UNFINISHED SYMPATHY Massive Attack (Date: February 1991; Chart position: 13)

Creators of the genre that became cringeingly known as trip-hop, Massive Attack's influence on the course of British music cannot be denied. While they seem to have veered off course in recent years, "Unfinished Sympathy'' saw the Bristol trio at the height of their powers.

ANGELS Robbie Williams (Date: December 1997; Chart position: 4)

It hurts to say it but this lovelorn ballad by the boy band singer- turned-national treasure Robbie Williams is an inescapably great work. For once Robbie's look-at-me winking and gurning plays second fiddle to some genius songwriting. This song also set the former Take That! man on the road to glory and a very lucrative contract.

WONDERWALL Oasis (Date: November 1995; Chart position: 2)

While Oasis's music was generally eclipsed by the schoolboy antics of the Gallagher brothers, "Wonderwall" at least serves as a reminder of why music lovers gave them the time of day. Your own feelings towards this song, however, will depend largely on your appreciation of Liam's nasal whine.

TRUE Spandau Ballet (Date: April 1983; Chart position: 1)

Spandau Ballet will be remembered as the quintessential Eighties yuppies whose insipid brand of neo-soul became the soundtrack for white sock and loafer-wearing Essex boy racers. "True" was silly then and is even sillier now.

LEAVE RIGHT NOW Will Young (Date: December 2003; Chart position: 1)

The first winner of the Pop Idol contest seemed doomed to be a one-hit wonder until this song - a heart-wrenching paean to thwarted love - shot to the top of the charts.

WHY Annie Lennox (Date: March 1992; Chart position: 5)

After her Eighties glory years with Eurythmics, Annie Lennox never quite lived up to expectations as a solo artist. "Why", from her 1992 album, Diva, may have kept her alive in the minds of her fans but the melody was vapid as boiled cabbage. A classic? Not even close.

LOOK OF LOVE ABC (Date: May 1982; Chart position: 4)

It was the debonair delivery of ABC singer, Martin Fry, combined with knob-twiddler Trevor Horn's pristine production that made this one of the songs of the Eighties. Hardly one for the history books but still a dance-floor filler for the over 35s.

HOLDIN' BACK THE YEARS Simply Red (Date: May 1986; Chart position: 2)

Unless you're rewarding sales, there can be little justification for the inclusion of any Simply Red song in any Best Of list. For their several million fans this is presumably a classic tearjerker, though for the rest of us it's nothing short of torture.

SLEDGE HAMMER Peter Gabriel (Date: April 1986; Chart position: 4)

Diehard fans of Peter Gabriel were rather sniffy about this unabashedly pop number, claiming he was at his best on more arty songs such as "Red Rain" and "Don't Give Up". It remains a serviceable pop song and had a terrific video.

HEROES David Bowie (Date: October 1977; Chart position: 24)

The title track from Bowie's 1977 album, reputed to be about two lovers living on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall, is commonly held up as one of the musician's masterpieces. Not even its terrible fate as a theme tune for a Microsoft commercial could diminish its beauty and staying power.

BABYLON David Gray (Date: July 2000; Chart position: 5)

To his fans he's the next Jeff Buckley but for the rest of us he's just a poor man's Coldplay.

Manchester's David Gray gets full marks for effort - it took him five years of punishing tours just to get a record contract - but sadly his songs (yes, there are others) just don't make the grade.

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS Queen (Date: October 1977; Chart position: 2)

It may not be the most sophisticated song from the Queen back catalogue, but the wilfully bombastic "We Are The Champions", appropriated by football fans and politicians, has become one of rock's most recognisable anthems.

NIGHT FEVER The Bee Gees (Date: April 1978; Chart position: 1)

This relentlessly catchy track from the film Saturday Night Fever not only revived the careers of the brothers Gibb, staying at the top of the charts for two months, but came to encapsulate the romance and excitement of the late Seventies disco era. If this doesn't get your hips swinging, you're clearly made of wood...

I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT Rod Stewart (Date: April 1977; Chart position: 1)

Fans of the original written by Crazy Horse's Danny Whitten weren't exactly enamoured of this cover version, and it's not hard to see why. Alas, it's not a patch on Stewart's other solo songs such as "Handbags and Gladrags", "Maggie May'' and "The Killing of Georgie".

LOVE WILL TEAR US APART Joy Division (Date: June 1980; Chart position: 13)

The Manchester band that spawned a nation of kohl-smudged, crushed velvet-wearing goths still have a lot to answer for. Recorded a few months before the tragic frontman Ian Curtis committed suicide, Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was an instant classic and is still regarded by many experts as the greatest pop song ever made.

FIELDS OF GOLD Sting (Date: June 1993; Chart position: 16)

Just when we thought he'd been forgotten about, up pops the tantric god with another best-selling dirge. Like most of Sting's solo works, "Fields of Gold" is of course sanctimonious tripe but, alas, it's the kind of sanctimonious tripe that flies off the shelves and straight into lists like these.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT The Jam (Date: February 1981; Chart position: 21)

A Jam classic, this acoustic lament sees Paul Weller brooding over the trials of early-80s working-class life. The lyrics, reportedly written in 10 minutes after a night in the pub, take in quintessentially English themes such as weather, smog "breathing in petrol" and nights indoors "not eating your tea".

LONDON CALLING The Clash (Date: December: 1979; Chart position: 11)

An insistent call to arms, the title track to The Clash's 1979 album was a brilliant fusion of pop, rockabilly and reggae. It's sheer urgency (sample lyric "London calling to the imitation zone/Forget it, brother, you can go it alone"), makes it easy to see why critics and fans regard it as one of the decade's best.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS Kate Bush (Date: February 1978; Chart position: 1)

This otherworldy debut single, inspired by Emily Bronte's windswept love story, set a staggeringly high standard for the teenage prodigy first discovered by Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour. While naysayers dismissed it as a novelty record, record buyers were mesmerised by its unabashed melodrama, and rightly propelled it to the top. Still a favourite.

DRY YOUR EYES The Streets (Date: July 2004; Chart position: 1)

It seems inherently wrong, given the originality of his music, that Mike Skinner, aka The Streets, has missed out on winning the Mercury Music Prize for past two years. A genius in the making, Skinner sings about real people and real life and his music has been a much-needed shot in the arm for British pop.

©2005 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd. All rights reserved