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04 September 2015

Flying without wings



I’ve been lucky enough to play in some of my favourite record shops over the years: Amoeba, Fingerprints, all the Rough Trade shops, that massive HMV on Oxford Street that’s now a Sports Direct. And this weekend I get to add another one of my favourite record shops to that list. Union Music Store in Lewes. And I’m terrified.

The shop itself isn’t terrifying at all. Far from it. Stevie and Jamie and Emma are all lovely and it’s just a shop full of records. And I’m not afraid of records. No, I’m just scared because I won’t have a microphone and Adam won’t have his guitar plugged into an amp. And I know this sort of thing shouldn’t frighten me because I go through my whole life without being amplified, but somehow if I haven’t got a microphone in front of people it feels a lot more like I’m giving a talk. And I’m terrified of giving talks. At college I was so nervous about a presentation I was doing on Women In R&B that I came up in a weird rash all over my body and felt light headed and feverish in the days leading up to it. The talk ended up being more of a mumble and I remember not being able to answer a question about why I thought Right Here by SWV could be seen as political and empowering for women in a post feminist society. As soon as the talk was over the rash went away and I felt completely normal again. So that’s how nervous I get about doing talks. But this weekend at Union Music I need to try and remember it isn’t a talk, even if there probably will be some talking. It’s more of a sing. And I’m nowhere near as nervous about sings as I am about talks.

I can’t remember the last time I really sang without a microphone at a show though. It was probably when I was eight or nine in front of the mirror and a stuffed toy audience, into a hairbrush. Maybe I’ll take a good hairbrush along to the instore to sing into just in case. Although they’ve probably got professional ones there.

Anyway, we’re playing at 3pm at Union Music Store in Lewes and it’s going to be a lovely intimate acoustic show and I was practicing with Adam for it yesterday and it sounded genuinely really quite special. I just hope no one asks me about why I think Right Here by SWV is political and empowering for women in a post feminist society.


28 August 2015

A birthday for destroying things




... because when you were nineteen

didn't YOU ever want to create something beautiful and pure
just so that one day you could set it on fire
and then watch the city light up as it burned?
Didn't you want to do that every day of your life?


It’s my birthday today. Always a happy day. Well, not always. Twenty years ago it wasn’t. twenty years ago my favourite record label in the entire world chose my birthday to announce that it was ending it all, and it felt like my whole world had fallen apart. The label was called Sarah. Just Sarah. The “records” bit was often added after it, but really they were just called Sarah, and they placed adverts in NME and Melody Maker announcing that the next record they released would be their last. On my birthday. And it broke my heart.


Nothing should be forever.
Bands should do one single and then split-up,
fanzines finish after one flawless issue,
lovers leave in the rain at 5am and never be seen again -


It wasn’t as if pop music hadn’t broken my heart before. Wham!, The Smiths and Talulah Gosh had all split up by then, and it had been really really upsetting at the time, but there was always something left afterwards. There was always a Faith or a Viva Hate or a Heavenly. It was never really over, but this was different. This time it really felt like the end of something. And not just for Sarah, but for me. This was the record label I’d always imagined myself being signed to, the only label I’d ever wanted to be on, the only record label I’d ever actually loved. This was my dream, and it was over. On my birthday twenty years ago I realised that I would never have a record released on Sarah Records. There’d be no train journey to Bristol in the rain to sign a record deal on a napkin in a café by the harbour. No champagne with Matt and Clare and hanging out with Harvey Williams afterwards. Not a seven inch. Not a ten inch. Nothing.I would never be Sarah anything. It was a crushing blow.


Habit and fear of change are the worst reasons for ever doing ANYTHING.


The weird thing is, I don’t think I was even in a band in 1995. It had been three or four years since my childhood band, Graham’s Crayon, had played their last show, and The Boy Least Likely To wouldn’t release a record for another eight years, but still it hit me hard. I obviously hadn’t given up music!! I was just taking a little time out. I’d be coming back and when I came back I’d need a label situation to be in place. The end of Sarah meant I’d have to totally rethink my imaginary plans.


Stopping a record-label after 100 perfect releases
is the most gorgeous pop art-statement ever
and says more about pop-music than any two-part digipak
limited-edition coloured-vinyl
grimly authentic lo-fi ten-track EP
(or any other marketing gimmick)
ever will.


Matt and Clare had started the label in 1987 and run it from the garden flat they shared, and now eight years and eighty seven 7” inch singles later it was all over. Along the way they’d released some of the greatest pop singles ever. I’m In Love With A Girl Who Doesn’t Know I Exist by Another Sunny Day, I Fell In Love Last Night by Heavenly, The Autumn Store parts 1 and 2 by The Field Mice, All Of A Tremble by St Christopher, George Hamilton’s Dead by The Golden Dawn. Twenty years later and all these singles still sound as precious and incendiary to me as they did when I first heard them. I didn’t like every record they ever put out, but when you’re in love with someone that doesn’t matter. When you’re in love with someone, you love everything about them. Even the things you don’t like.


Sarah Records is owned by no-one but us,
so it's OURS to create and destroy how we want
and we don't do encores

We want to burn in bright colours and go pop,
to be giddy, impulsive and silly,
to kiss people in new places -
- and dare to tear things apart.

The first act of revolution is destruction
and the first thing to destroy is THE PAST.


I loved Sarah for a lot of reasons, but sometimes just because they hated the same things as me. Anti-capitalist, anti-macho, anti-serious. They were romantic and idealistic and feminist and socialist and they seemed to enjoy annoying people as much as I did. It was the mid nineties, the height of Britpop and lad culture, and just being sensitive was implicitly political. Every time I do anything I can hear a voice in my head reading out the sleeve notes to the records that Matt and Clare used to write for every release. Sarah is there in everything I do. I think of them whenever it happens to go right and I blame them a little bit every time it goes wrong.


like falling in love

it reminds us we're alive


Twenty years later and I’ve made singles and albums of my own. We’ve put them out ourselves on our own label and I’ve sat in my own garden flat and folded sleeves and hand stamped hundreds of my own 7” singles. I’ve had my own terrible reviews in NME and been derided and misunderstood and overlooked. I like to think I would have fitted in perfectly on Sarah. Because twenty years after they stopped even being a label, it’s still the only record label I ever really want to be on. Even if they did ruin my birthday.




16 July 2015

it's a start




I guess it was about this time two years ago. I was sitting in my friend Caroline's front room with my wife, Sarah, and we were listening to Billie Jo Spears and drinking some weird coconut flavoured gin that Caroline had got free from her work. I was probably being really boring and going on and on about how much I loved country music and how it was the only music I ever listened to anymore. Caroline was telling me how much she loved Blanket On The Ground and how she'd grown up listening to all these incredible country records, but how she didn't really listen to country music at all anymore, and I remember thinking that was odd. And a bit sad too. I started talking about how I'd always wanted to make a country album and I just remember them both seeming to be really excited about the thought of it. I guess it was them being excited about it that made it happen. I think whenever you make a record you have to always imagine someone listening to it and liking it. And whenever we were making this record I tried to imagine them.

Two years ago, The Great Perhaps, the fourth album by The Boy Least Likely To, had just been released, and like all the records we'd made it had taken longer than we'd hoped and it had taken it out if us. I don't think either me or Pete were in the mood to start making another album straight away. So I started writing for something else. Something closer to all the country records I'd loved and been listening to. I took the words to my friend Adam and we started to write the songs that make up most of the album. I wanted to write some songs with my brother because we hadn't written any songs together since we wrote My Tiger My Heart and Sleeping With A Gun Under My Pillow, so I gave some words to him too. Then we got Rob Jones involved. Mainly because for years now I've been roping him in to record with me and telling him that I'm going to make three or four albums a year, and although we'd done lots of recording together, I'm sure he'd given up on me actually finishing anything at all. I knew he could make whatever little things we were coming up with sound like an actual record that people might want to listen to. And we needed that.

We drove down to Kent every couple of weeks to record and I made country compilations for everyone to listen to, but I'm not sure if Rob ever did. We talked about the record sounding like a cross between Johnny Cash and Bananarama, and we talked bout it being "country music for girls to dance to", but really we just meant country music for Caroline and Sarah, who are both girls, to dance to. I think it was Simon Davey, who mastered the first single, that came up with the description "country music for people who don't really like country music", and we kind of liked that, but kind of hoped that people who did like country music liked it too. Otherwise what were we doing. I think we've made a country record that's true to ourselves, to who we are and where we come from. My favourite records are always the ones where someone set out to make something particular but allowed themselves to fail a little. The magic is in the failing. It's what makes records sound unique and human. I'm not interested in making a perfect copy of something that someone else has already made, even if I did know how to.

And now it's two years later, and the album comes out tomorrow. And I'm really excited just to have made it. It's got twelve songs on and a sleeve and a booklet and the names of the songs even come up when I play it in the car. It's an actual real thing that you can open and hold and turn around in your hands. And it all started out as just a silly idea we had on a Saturday afternoon after drinking some weird gin.


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