THE MUSIC – THEIR REAL LEGACY
Biased? Most definitely. Self-indulgent. Probably, but in my eyes at least, the imminent demise of Yorkshires’ finest The Music is a truly sad moment worthy of a few (hundred) words.
In 1999 it was a pretty miserable time in British music, the second wash of the Britpop tidal wave was washing out and radio was back to (FILL IN GAPS HERE) . On a rainy night in West Yorkshire as a favour to my old bosses, in my guise as a plodding publicist for indie bands and therefore token “music industry insider”, it was with a heavy heart that I took my place on the judging panel of a Leeds City Council sponsored Battle Of The Bands with the deftly titled “Bright Young Things”. As far as I remember, my two fellow judges were a Regional Radio dee-jay and a prominent local businessman who did something vaguely creative like design cafe bars or publicise the local Art Gallery. What I definitely do remember was that the host was ex-Radio 1 stalwart and probable future I’m A Celebrity contestant Bruno Brookes, but back to him shortly.
I sat uncomfortably on the balcony in full view of expectant parents, friends and families, threatening looks daggering towards me asÃÂ their beloved trundled through predictably naive derivations (?) of the latest mainstream indie rubbish, nodding my head politely out of time like one of those dogs in the back of your uncles’ car, ÃÂ waiting for the evening to end whilst struggling to determine who irritated me the least. It was, after all an under-18’s contest – I had expected nothing more.ÃÂ
Next up were a bunch of kids who looked like they’d literally wandered in out of the multi-story carpark next door. They had no regard for fashion, I mean, ÃÂ clearly. ÃÂ One held a fretless, headless bass (a criminal act soon to be righted), and by his choice of axe, ÃÂ the lead guitarist had probably been mentored by the shop assistant in the music shop in the indoor market. ÃÂ The drummer looked slight and dishevelled behind his kit and the singer was one of those pesky skinhead kids who looked like he would offer to mind your car for a quid. I took a deep breath. Things were going to about to get a bit Northern Uproar weren’t they?ÃÂ
Were they fuck.
With a wail of feedback, the band eased into “The Dance”, a song that would, within 18 months end up opening headline slots on stages all over the world, and winning the very public love of the likes of Perry Farrell, Dave Grohl, Chris Martin, Josh Homme, ÃÂ Bono and so many more. Guitars wailed melodically, ÃÂ and the drums and bass kicked up a groove that could only have come from a place of absolute naivete, it was different but infectious, disorganised but so fucking RIGHT and it was a hell of a noise. A bit taken aback really, we all were, the 3 musketeers on the balcony, glancing at each other as the singer started this kind of tribal dance, like a morph of Bez and Michael Jackson dropping to his feet and performing some sort of balletic twirl before launching into his first vocal. And the voice just soared. Fucking hell. Where the FUCK did that come from.ÃÂ
I quickly scurried around gathering information, one eye and ear on the stage, the others grabbing what i could ; ÃÂ they were from Kippax, a mining village outside of Leeds, they’d been a pain in the arse in the trials, pissed off a couple of local promoters and only got to the final because they took the biggest crowd to one of the heats. They’d known each other since the sandpit, were barely 16 and not yet out of school. Some of the other bands in the competition finished with a cover song, others with their ‘best’ song, this band, Insense (I KNOW I KNOW) stuck up an aural middle finger and finished with an epic instrumental that was like Mogwai cage fighting with Joy Division (“The Walls Get Smaller” if you want to know). At that moment, they were the best fucking band in the world and they were easily the best unsigned band in Britain. Not my words, the words of Uncle Steve Lamacq when he played their demo for the first time on Radio 1 a few short months later.ÃÂ
Now this all might sound a bit over the top, but just to explain myself a little, cutting a long story short, ÃÂ obviously they won the competition, and I was thankfully able to beat off the advances of the one and only Bruno Brookes (yes, really) and persuaded the band and their extremely terrifying parents to let me and a couple of my work type cohorts manage the newly christened The Music, and along with them (Tony Perrin and the late, great Rob Partridge) I have until this day. So yes, this blog comes from a place of great bias, but fuck it, I was there, and they were fucking great.
The next 3 years were a blur. Insane. The lads finished school whilst they rehearsed twice a week in a local working mens club. They had no form, no structure – no great reference points. NME? What the fuck is that? Steve Lam-who? ÃÂ Whilst I was used to meeting bands who asked you which record pluggers you worked with and quoted lyrics from either the latest NME Cover Stars or obscure Neil Young albums – I remember communal sniggering when I went up there bearing gifts of CD’s like “What’s Going On”, “Songs In The Key Of Life”, “Harvest” and “Curtis”. They didn’t LISTEN to music, they fucking MADE it. They had no idea what they were doing, and that was what made them so fucking special.ÃÂ With an unintentionally brilliant bassist schooled in rock and fast cars, the boyracer type of course (side note – another of the artists I work with Mike Skinner, of The Streets, always said that said bassist Stu should have been in his band, he is now…) ÃÂ and a drummer obsessed with Leftfield, Orbital and dance music in general, they continued to make these bursts of pure musical energy, an absolutely schizophrenic brew of youth, prodigious amounts of skunk and a complete lack of rules or vision. No-one really spoke, they just got stoned and played. Sometimes they’d forget to press record on the tape player and 15 minutes of magic would be gone forever. ÃÂ Every so often they’d record a ‘demo’ as you did back then, in a studio – always exciting for a band in pre-garageband days, and one day they decided on a whim to record a track they’d written the night before. That was “Take The Long Road And Walk It”, within weeks it was being played on Radio 1, a hastily assembled ÃÂ£150 video was all over MTV and they were meeting labels at the same time as completing their GCSE’s.ÃÂ
Back to the self-indulgence now and one of my first and biggest personal regrets regarding The Music. One of their most avid suitors and the first to see the band was Anthony H Wilson. Wilson saw it straight away and we spent many an hour with him and his brilliant right hand man Warren Bramley (now guiding Wu Lyf to anarchic domination) – the politics of it are boring, but we never signed with Factory 3 as it would have been. Maybe things would have been very different if we had. Deep breath.ÃÂ
The Music signed to Hut Recordings, a subsidiary of Virgin Records, home to a great A+R man in David Boyd who had signed and guided the careers of the likes of The Verve, Gomez, Placebo, The Auteurs, Smashing Pumpkins and others. They set about touring the country, building dens (i kid you not) out of upturned beds in travelodges up and down the motorways of Great Britain as they studiously ignored London but played to everyone who wanted to see for themselves whether there was something actually happening here (The NME had declared them ‘the most important band since Oasis and Capitol Records had now signed the band for the USA too). Building an audience the old school way with an incendiary live show that reached out to people they could well have been at school with. People like them.
A few miles down the motorway, in Liverpool, there was something going on. A similarly aged bunch of guitar wielding hash monsters were causing a stir with their heady mix of psychedelia and typically razor sharp scouse pop tendencies. The Coral were/are fucking ace. It was so obvious – the way they held their guitars, the way the singer literally looked like he was Lee Mavers’ nephew or something, 2 great guitar players, songwriting genius, every gig was some sort of happening – were they the Beatles to our Stones? We all thought so. A few people will cackle at that statement, and understandably so, maybe neither of these bands went anywhere close to fulfilling their potential, whatever that may have been – but the point was, suddenly here were two YOUNG, BRITISH BANDS making music that was unique, exciting, timely and was connecting. A couple of legendary co-headlining gigs took place in Leeds and Liverpool, both bands ended up on magazine covers and the radio and suddenly British alternative music had a jolt in the arm again. It was an incredibly exciting time. Things seemed POSSIBLE again and they hadn’t for a while.ÃÂ
The Music made an eponymous debut album. The artwork/marketing campaign was brilliant – each EP had its own coloured circular print – the album was a multi-coloured merging of all of the EP coloured circles. We kept the first 3 EP’s “non chart eligible” , so that when we did finally go ‘for the charts’ we’d get in there pretty high. We did, and The Music went on Top Of The Pops. A bunch of scruffy 17 years olds from a Yorkshire mining village without a care in the world, on the nations favourite. The album sold loads – here, in Europe, in America, Australia and especially Japan where they were the biggest band since the last biggest band from England (probably Oasis). Before they even understood what it meant, these kids, fresh from school were headlining at Brixton Academy, Blackpool Empress Ballroom, the 2nd Stage at Reading, playing support to the likes of New Order, Oasis, Coldplay, U2, Incubus, Foo Fighters and others in arenas and stadiums, wowing Lollapalooza, Coachella, Big Day Out in Australia and treated like superstars in Japan, where their track “The People” is seen as a genuine alternative radio classic. At the same time, The Coral were making their fantastic and hugely influential (eponymous, of course) debut album and causing similar excitement wherever they went. British music was, it seemed, ready to explode again and these two bands were the obvious torch bearers.
I’d take up too much time and too many words to REALLY go into what happened next. But suffice to say, neither band was quite the same again after these initial assaults. Whatever it was, and believe me I could bore you for hours with it, something messed with the chemistry and magic they both possessed at the outset and maybe the people around them (myself included) lost sight of what lay at the heart of their uniqueness. ÃÂ Goals changed, responsibilities and context altered perceptions of what they were there to do and what they should do next. In the meantime, the world moved swiftly on – ÃÂ The Strokes and White Stripes came along and didn’t just get through the doors, they kicked the shit out of them allowing others to flood through in their wake (go and pay your respects Franz Ferdinand, Messrs Doherty and Barat, Mr Turner, Flowers and all the Fratelli/Kasabian/Bloc Partys of this world etc etc etc etc) until the gatekeepers recently realised those doors needed re-fixing and replaced them with bigger, nastier ones built out of industrial strength “urban pop”. The Music suddenly found themselves miles out of the zeitgeist, were pushed and pulled all over the world by cash-hungry record labels, shoved swiftly into recording studios to chase some mythical/non-existent ‘momentum’ and never quite delivered or recovered as a band. There’s been moments for sure, glimpses of that chemistry on the records, live shows that will live forever in the memories of those present, but it was almost like someone took away the map but still expected them to find their destination, or perhaps more pointedly, people gave them a tonne of maps instead of leaving them to try their best to chart their own journey as they had when they begun….either way….
My point is here, that there was a time just as the new millennium came upon us, a time quite like now, when it felt like the idea of a REAL young British guitar band (not one whose mummy and daddy own half of London… ahem), sauntering in and shaking things up seemed a million miles away, and whilst the nation was in the midst of a post-britpop hangover, sick of the 2nd rate chancers that chased Oasis and Blur down that particular road, The Coral and The Music came along and, whether many actually realise it, or if they do, will ever admit it, were the hair of the dog that we needed, oiling the hinges on that door that The Strokes and The Stripes used so effectively. In some ways they were sacrificial lambs and have spent the best part of a decade trying to recover from it. The Coral may yet still produce the classic they’ve threatened for so long, but for The Music, whilst individually still in their mid-twenties the possibilities are boundless, as a band the journey ends neatly where it began later this year with a farewell gig at Leeds Academy ; home of, the one and only under 18’s West Yorkshire Battle of The Bands – The Bright Young Things. It sold out in minutes when it went on sale last week, myself and many others will struggle to choke back tears that night and a band that promised so much and made so much possible will move on. But they will, I hope, one day, realise, as I hope others will too, what a fantastic ride they had and how many lives they touched, directly and most of all, indirectly.
I did say it was probably self indulgent……