Tuesday 11th April, 2000 – The Camden Palace, London
“You compromised my credibility!”
“Jesus Christ,” I remember thinking. “She’s a bit obnoxious.”
I was 20 years old and standing on the steps of the Camden Palace, handing out flyers for my debut gig as a lead guitarist. I was excited, nervous and utterly convinced we were going to be massive. We were called Lovekyn. Tonight had been brilliant. Andrew – the singer in the band – knew one of the DJs at Feet First so had got us on the guest list, and we’d spent the night mostly hanging in what he assured me was the ‘cool’ bar, a slightly emptier room towards the top of the venue that was well away from the dancefloor. I liked a good dance, but Andrew was right. We needed to be up here. We had to be cool. I was slightly in awe of Andrew. He was a little bit older, a lot better dressed and a fuck of a lot more confident than me. I felt utterly clueless.
Throughout the night, a girl had kept catching my eye. She was tiny with short red hair, flared jeans and what looked like a massive strop on. I wasn’t allowed to try and chat her up, as Andrew had a girlfriend and didn’t want to be left on his own. And besides, I had to focus: remember, we were there to promote our band. We would not become massive playing to an empty room.
The end of the night came and we rushed out to make sure we were on the steps to catch everyone we could. Eventually, the red-haired girl came out of the club. I was ridiculously nervous, but Andrew wasn’t paying attention so I seized my chance. I presented her with a flyer and we got talking. Her name was Helen. At some point one of her friends joined in the conversation, a big, pale girl with big black hair, caked-on red lipstick and a black and white dress with an off-centre target pattern pointing at her hip. She was terrifying and loud and rude and very, very drunk. I couldn’t be bothered with this, so was grateful when Andrew joined in – he could distract her. I mostly ignored their conversation until I heard her ask Andrew who our influences were.
“The Verve, The Charlatans and Eric Clapton,” he said.
“Eric Clapton?” I interjected. “Fuck off are we influenced by Eric Clapton. He’s fucking shit.”
Andrew seethed while I tried to regain my footing, but the friend then proceeded to slag off every band or club or whatever either of us said we liked. At some point she started banging on about feminism and a dominatrix friend. Being naive boys from the suburbs this was new territory. We knew what a dominatrix was, but we’d never met anyone who actually knew one. Eventually the scary friend got bored and wanted to leave, so I took Helen’s phone number and Andrew and I started walking back to Charing Cross to get our respective night buses. I was buzzing. Andrew was angry. I had slagged off Clapton and therefore “compromised” his “credibility”. Whoops. “You compromised my bloody credibility by saying we sounded like Eric Clapton!” I retorted, and we bitched and sniped at each other all the way to the bus stop.
Helen and I started going out and The Friend became an intermittent part of my life. Every now and then she would rock up hammered with some new random madman she’d met on her way to meet us, and demand that we change whatever plans we had and come wherever she had decided we should all go on a whim. This was in the days before everyone had a mobile phone, so if you made a plan to meet someone you had to stick to it as there was no way of contacting each other once you’d left the house. I thought she was crazy, she thought I was boring. We were total opposites. Deborah was an only child, I have a younger brother. She was brash, loud and outgoing, I was quiet, introspective and repressed. She would happily talk about her sex life in front of an audience and seemed utterly comfortable with who she was. I was years off either of those. She was completely independent. I still lived at home with my parents.
Lovekyn played a series of gigs to a diminishing group of supportive friends in all the typical low-level venues that sound amazing in principle (“The Kings Head in Fulham! Where The Verve got SIGNED!” “The Rock Garden! Suede played there!”) but are basically just shitty back rooms in pubs across South West London. Eventually the dreaded Artistic Differences started to rear their ugly head. Andrew and the other guitarist had gotten heavily into U2, so suddenly we weren’t just Verve-lite, we were Verve-lite featuring The Edge. My angsty, 20 year-old tastes were changing. Helen had introduced me to Air and loads of cool French electronic pop. Primal Scream’s XTMNTR and Radiohead’s Kid A had led me to The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks, Boards Of Canada, Aphex Twin and The Chemical Brothers’ Surrender. I was reading Julian Cope’s Head On and became obsessed with The Teardrop Explodes. Bar the copious drug consumption, I took Cope’s attitude as a way of life. THIS was the music I wanted to make. And I couldn’t fucking stand U2. They were planks; it said so in Head On.
On my 21st birthday, my parents bought me a PC loaded up with music software like Acid, Fruity Loops and Cakewalk. I was suddenly able to make the sounds I was listening to from the comfort of my bedroom in my parents’ house. I started writing little instrumental electronic pieces and overdubbing countless layers of sub-My Bloody Valentine guitar, pushing the PC until its CPU could handle no more. The more I made, the more confident I got. I would record rough mixes of ideas onto minidisc and listen to them obsessively on my commute to and from work, puzzling out where they could go next. The PC allowed me to realise anything I could imagine, so I would start with four-bar loops that would become long multi-tracked epics that would evolve over their five to eight minute durations. There was only one problem: I couldn’t sing for shit. I had no idea how to use my voice. After playing the demos to friends, who were encouraging, I played them to Andrew. He was not.
“I’ve always had this idea, yeah, where you have the proper band, but you also have like a side thing with the same members, but you do the more experimental, dance-y stuff under a different name.”
I didn’t understand why we couldn’t do both in the same band, so I started cheating on Lovekyn. I decided to see other singers, replying to adverts in the NME and Loot. I would have clandestine meetings with complete strangers in dingy pubs all over London, where armed with my minidisc player I would play them my ideas and have a chat about influences and so on. I was emboldened as they all seemed to like what I was doing, but without fail every single person I met was a plank. Then Helen made a suggestion.
“Why don’t you try writing something with Deborah?”
This didn’t sound like a particularly good idea. But then Helen pointed out that Deborah was grade 8 on piano. Suddenly, I was interested. I knew I would need a keyboardist, and Helen assured me that Deborah knew her stuff. I wasn’t sure, but I guessed there was no harm in trying.
Deborah came to a Lovekyn gig. She spent the bulk of the show making sheep noises at us, but was very complementary to me after and we agreed to try and write some stuff. After a couple of false starts, we finally hooked up and started writing.
The session was amazing.
I can’t remember how we started, but ideas just started bouncing back and forth openly in a way I’d never encountered before. No idea was out of bounds. At one point she played the piano part of Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings into my computer and I used this to trigger a kick drum pattern. We built up an epic Krautrock instrumental over the beat, swapping instruments, chords and melodies. Deb wrote a synth part, I wrote a massive chugging bassline and did a bad Kevin Shields impression, and we were done. We’d written a massive Krautrock epic in my bedroom and we were both bouncing off the walls. This, finally, was it. This was the music I wanted to make.
After months of frustration and stockpiling, the time came for me to leave Lovekyn. It was a sad day. The drummer and bassist also quit straight after, so I instantly invited them to join my new project. Drummers and bassists are hard to find, and Paul and Ian were brilliant and I was quietly ruthless. Deb and I got moving immediately. We would write one day and audition singers the next. Without fail, each and every one of them was awful. The worst were the ones I met on Loot. One chap was a gawky Indian fellow who loved Suede and told me all about how he was trying to write lyrics with veiled sexual content. What this actually meant was that he wrote awful, explicit songs about rape and wanking. After a number of meetings with complete idiots, Deb suggested I meet a friend of hers from uni who would be coming to live in London. I met him in a bar in Covent Garden for a drink. His name was Leigh Swinn and he was fucking cool, so he was in.
Deb, Leigh and I wrote based on new ideas and my little stockpile for a couple of weeks before booking a rehearsal session with the drummer and bassist from Lovekyn. I was psyched. The big day came, and Paul, Ian and I were super-punctual. Deb and Leigh, however, didn’t turn up.
Another session was booked, but Ian and Paul were unenthusiastic. To them, being late to rehearsal was bad enough, but not even turning up to rehearsal was a sin of the highest order. I was annoyed, but I was so convinced this would be brilliant that I talked them round. We had a couple of sessions, but they were fraught. I was stuck in the middle: Ian and Paul would get annoyed with Deborah and Leigh’s lateness, Deborah and Leigh would get annoyed with Ian and Paul’s lack of desire to discuss and experiment in favour of a heads-down, shrug-shoulders-and-get-on-with-it attitude. Most annoying of all – especially to Deborah – was the presence in the studio of Ian’s fiancée Zoe.
Ian and Zoe had been together for seven years and were to marry that summer. Zoe would come to rehearsal, sit in the corner and read wedding magazines. Once we would finish playing a song, she would hold up a magazine and ask Ian what he thought. The final straw came when we were discussing the structure of a song that had turned from an electronic disco number to a sub-Cure dirge. Zoe piped up with her opinion. Deborah snapped.
Trapped in the middle, with Leigh and Deborah unwilling to work with Ian and Paul and vice versa, I had a choice to make.
“Well.” I thought. “Drummers and bassists are hard to find…”
Hear Lovekyn by clicking here
The first song Deborah and I wrote together can be heard here:
And here are two of my early demos. 586 would go on to sound absolutely nothing like this! (NB: This is a good thing)