Five Go Mad
30 January 1993
Submitted by: Inge Klinkers
5 GO MAD
They said it would never happen. But it did! Five of today's hippest and happeningest pop bands - take a bow, STEREO MC'S, THERAPY?, RIDE, BELLY and SUEDE-all took an alternative version of one of their best-loved tracks from Radio l's Mark Goodier show, and gave it to Melody Maker. And now we've given all five tracks to you! If that wasn't enough, your caring, sharing Maker then proceeded to invite Rob of the Stereos, Andy Therapy?, Andy Ride, Tanya Belly and Brett Suede to celebrate this momentous pop event in a swanky photo
studio in the snazziest part of town. Glam slam story
by PAUL LESTER. Pics: TOM SHEEHAN
SAYING HELLO TO THE "FIVE Alive" bands is hard.
It's hard saying hello to Rob Birch of Stereo MC's because he looks distracted, even disturbed, and he's got a reputation for being a bit of a space.
It's hard saying hello to Tanya Donelly of Belly because she's so small and so beautiful and she's hungover from "The Word" party the night before.
It's hard saying hello to Andy Cairns of Therapy? because, in a Melody Maker live review two months ago, I strongly suggested his group should disband.
It's hard saying hello to Andy Bell of Ride because he takes his gorgeous Swedish wife to one side of Tom Sheehan's photo studio and the newly-weds huddle together on the floor.
And it's hard saying hello to Brett Anderson of Suede because, well, he's Brett Anderson of Suede and the entire indie nation is not worthy to lick his brown moccasin shoes.
Still, hard or not, I persevere, and this despite the threat of brutal physical punishment and complete personal humiliation.
I persevere because every star in this Class Of ‘93 constellation has kindly donated a previously unavailable live track to The Maker and I believe you, the readers, should be told what the creators of this cornucopia of Utopian hip hop/hardcore/dreamrock/sugarfolk/glampop bliss are like.
And so, one by one, I lock them in the interview chamber for 20 minutes, leaving the others to get stuffed (caviar, quail's eggs, the usual), get high (mind your own business) and make friends.
("Five Alive" track: "Step It Up")
STEREO MC's Rob Birch is spacey and funky. Like his band's music. He is rolling a joint and rolling his eyes, patiently explaining why he writer, singer and loose-limbed dancer with England's premier exponents of mellifluous hip hop soul, keeps getting compared to Johnny Rotten.
"It's mainly because he's ugly and bony," says Birch of the one-time nemesis of "straight" society, running his tongue along the edge of a cigarette paper in a dressing room adjacent to the photo studio. "And when I'm onstoge, I'm pretty ugly and bony myself."
Rob Birch does possess a certain gnarled charisma and hunched, Dickensian glamour, it's true. Similarly, the Stereos, despite being the last word in laid back, jazzy cool on record, generate the sort of excitement when they play live that some astonished observers haven't experienced since 1977.
"I'm quite pleased that people think we're the most energetic and
exciting thing to happen to music since The Sex Pistols," says Birch, a fog of grey smoke billowing from his mouth. We try and push ourselves to the limit. That's what our gigs are all about."
Of all the Five Alive bands, Stereo MC's are geographically speaking, closest to the heart of indie - they live near Camden, the epicentre of alternative rock. Musically, however, they are the furthest removed from the Falcon/Underworld/White Horse spirit.
"I'm so far removed from that music, never really get the opportunity to hear it," grumbles Rob, blinking through a haze of smoke. "I have heard of Suede and Ride and the others, l just haven't heard their records. I don't know much about indie, I'm afraid."
Birch has, at various points in his life, been a fan of The Clash, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Nowadays, he loves reggae, punk and soul for what he describes as their "groove, vibe and
emotional force". Does he believe yer run-of-the-mill indie act can have those qualities?
"They can do, definitely," he says, teetering on the edge of his stool. "But a lot of rock music is dead. Groove wise, it's dead, vibe wise, it's dead, and emotionally, it's dead. It's just not
inspiring and it doesn't break any new ground.”
The dizzy Stereo MC has already admitted he isn't familiar with the music of Suede, Ride, Belly or Therapy? But are there any decent guitar records he has heard recently?
"Magazine had a song quite liked," he recalls, stroking his ginger goatee and collapsing forward onto the dressing room table.
Magazine split up in 1981.
Stereo MC's new single, "Ground Level", is released by Island on February 8. The band play the Town & Country Club on February 5
("Five Alive" track: "Nausea")
THERAPY?'S Andy Cairns is down-to-earth and in-yer-face. Like his band's music. The good-natured singer/guitarist, who once put the dead skin of a tarantula in his mouth for a Maker photo session, is sitting in a greasy spoon up the road from Tom Sheehan's studio, patiently explaining how Therapy?, Ireland's premier exponents of sampladelic hardcore savagery compare to their Five Alive peers.
"What we do is... darker, really," he says, choosing his words carefully as he dips his block goatee into a mug of cappuccino. "We haven't got the same kind of showbiz glamour or sparkly effervescence. We cater for people who like putting on their headphones and blasting out music really loud until they get everything out their system and feel exhausted.
The subject of glamour was hardly the primary concern of "Nurse", Therapy?'s recent album of extreme noise terror, yet the first thing Andy Cairns admits to today is a certain
trepidation about meeting the likes of Belly, Ride and Suede. Tucking into a slice of toast, he tells me he's afraid he'll be blinded by their dazzling stellar aura. Seriously.
"Therapy just aren't in the same vein, but people like Brett and Tanya are soooglamorous," he sighs, butter melting in his mouth. "Some people have a certain panache and glamour, like Brett, or even Morrissey, that others just don't. Tanya is incredibly glamorous
But Brett, well, Brett's the most glamorous person in pop.
“In their time, Ride were quite glamorous," he adds, but at the moment it's Suede's turn. In a year's time, it'll be someone else. But right now they're so current, what with all the Seventies revivalism and the idea of bringing back flamboyance to pop. Suede capture all of that. Plus, apart from some great songs, they've got somebody who all the boys want to be and all the girls want to go out with."
Glamor not, Therapy? must attract at least some of Suede, Ride or Belly's crowds, so eclectic is a typical indie punter's taste. But can Andy imagine a Therapy? fan going to a Stereo MC's gig?
"Of course," he nods, tearing at the toast with his teeth and veering off at a tangent. "People misconstrue our music, you know. Some people go, 'Oh, they're EMF/Jesus Jones because they use samplers and dance rhythms', some go, 'they're Ministry/Nine Inch Nails and others say, they're Nirvana/Mudhoney.'
"But," smiles the friendly guitar terrorist, "they all miss the point, because we honestly listen to everything from jazz to pop, from John Coltrane to, um, Jimmy Osmond."
One day soon, Therapy? will record a free-form, experimental bebop version of "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool".
To whet your appetites, on March 8 Therapy? release the "Short Sharp Shock" EP on A&M
("Five Alive" track: "Ride On Time")
RIDE'S Andy Bell is confident and vulnerable, determined yet little boy lost. Just like his band's music. I have taken him to one side of the photo studio to pose the question I thought I'd never dare ask.
"Do I think Suede have usurped Ride's position?" repeats the thin young man in the even thinner red jumper, climbing onto a chair in the dressing room, all bloodshot eyes and trembling lips.
Will he laugh will he cry? Will he use his skinny arms to thump the living daylights out of me? Wait for it...
"Nah," he pauses for dramatic effect as my heart beat enters the Dial 999 zone. Then he just grins and says, "We were usurped long ago."
A humorous response! Thank goodness for that. Then it all pours out. About how, for the last two years, Ride have been trying to get over their first two years, how they're finally getting back to normal after all the craziness and how it's nice to be getting a little bit less attention in this, The Age Of Suede.
"We had a pretty mad first year as well," he reminds me, "but, you know, as soon as the first flush of media madness was over, it was like, I'm glad that's out the way, now we can get on with being a band."
Andy tells me he's looking forward to the Charlatans/Ride venture in March - "There'll be some serious male bonding going on," he says. "Joint showers? Maybe" - that Ride are unlikely to pursue a glam, Seventies direction for their next album ("It'll be the same, only better") and that, in his warped-but-considered opinion, The Best New Band In Britain in 1992 were - The Beastie Boys?!?
"By miles," he tells your aghast reporter. "Their new album is f***ing brilliant."
What about Therapy?, Belly, Stereo MC's and S***?
"It's all right listening to those people occasionally," says Andy, twitching on his seat. "Problem is, when you're in a guitar band you don't really want to hear loads of other guitar bands."
Fair enough, so music-wise you don't particularly rate those groups. But do they score highly on your Glam-o-Meter?
How about you when you look in the mirror, do you think, "My God, you're handsome"?
"No," replies the droll young bassist, "I think, 'My God, you're spotty".
Ride are currently rehearsing new material for release later this year. The joint dates with The Charlatans will be in March
("Five Alive" track: "White Belly")
BELLY'S Tanya Donnelly is sharp and sweet, caustic and cute. Just like her band's music. In these Riot Grrrl times, when hormones must be put on hold and any expression of aesthetic and/or platonic) admiration for a member of the opposite gender usually provokes a major sexual-political row, obviously I am unable to proffer any information whatsoever vis a vis Donelly's physical appearance.
But it's probably okay to inform you that (a) she is wearing a baggy cream silk blouse and black legwarmers ("I look like a Sixth Grade art teacher today"), (b) she fetchingly holds her hand over her mouth when she coughs (winter cold and all that) and (c) she keeps slapping the dressing room table so as to kick-start my voice activated tape recorder (the others thought she was spanking me).
Anyway, Ms Donelly proceeds to explain that White Belly" is "a transitional song, about moving from one part of my life to another". She also reveals her growing desire to give birth ("I'm actually at the stage where I'm looking forward to the pain"). These semi-serious declarations aside, Tanya is all infectious giggles and toothsome grins, nothing like the enigmatic songstress of "Star", Belly's debut album of bitter bubblegum pop.
"Sometimes I go into a different world," whispers the softly spoken guitar poetess, adding, "I'm easy to talk to, but I'm probably not that easy to get to know."
Finally, Tonya tells me she thinks Brett is the epitome of pop star cool, and I tell her that Andy Therapy? thinks she is the epitome of pop star cool. "I'm not usually glamorous, but I do have glamorous moments," sighs the indie Greta Garbo. "When was my last glamorous moment? Seven-thirty pm, Saturday June 25, 1982."
Ask a stupid question...
Belly's "Star" is released this week on 4AD
("Five Alive" track: "Moving")
SUEDE'S Brett Anderson is androgynous, bright, camp, dramatic, edgy, flash, gauche, horny, intense, jumpy, kissable, louche, mannered, nervous, overwrought, panicky, quaint, rampant, strange, terrified, undernourished, vain, winsome, extraordinary, young, zippy. Just like his band's music.
Today, however, Brett is few of these words. Today, Brett Anderson of the proverbial Best New Band In Britain is mostly wan and withdrawn, pale and hungover. Wandering dazed and confused into the interview room, he admits to his ignorance of the Ride, Belly, Therapy? and Stereos oeuvres but does agree the presence of so-called indie pop in the charts (these are all Top 30 acts!) is A Good Thing.
"Music is definitely getting healthier," says King Narcissus, one eye on yours truly, the other on the wall mirror behind me. "It's good to see the sort of left-field bands that normally get written about in The Melody Maker in the mainstream. Anything but f***ing U2," he gently spits toying with his hair.
I ask the Seventies stylist whether he considers the Five Alive summit to be a pinnacle-of-pop encounter as historical as if, say, Bowie Bolan, Ferry, Glitter and Quatro had collided in a photo studio 20 years ago.
"Er, no," is his curt reply. “We're just a random collection of individuals."
But don't you think that, to Joe (Quentine?) Average Indie Kid, this must seem like a spectacular meeting of five quasi-extraterrestrial beings?
Again: "Um, no. That idea of pop razzmatazz," Brett continues, lurching out of monosyllabic mode, "is just an idea. It's a very Sixties and Seventies view of the pop dream of a time when
it was like, say, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney going round to each others' houses. Suede actually don't go out that much. And we're not that into razzmatazz. It's all a bit vacuous."
Brett looks rather sad at the prospect that, as Suede's music press front covers increase in quantity, the quality of his life might deteriorate. Does he get recognised down at the
local deli more often these days, then?
"Yes," sighs the indie Noel Coward, exquisitely bored by the question. "I don't mind when I'm in a razzmatazzy mood. Just as long as i'm not in a curlers-in mood."
Suede's third single, "Animal Nitrate", is released on February 22 on Nude. The band's feverishly anticipated debut LP is due to be released in late March/early April
SAYING goodbye to the "Five Alive" bands is easy. Because they're stuffed to the max with sandwiches, crammed to the gills with wine and pleased as punch with all the brand new rock'n'roll friends they've made, and whose houses they can now go round to for afternoon tea.
And so, as our pop star chums head off arm-in-arm into the London night, l elicit five tearful parting shots.
"Just rise up and get on a train of thought, man," he mumbles, staggering out the door.
"I thought today was going to be like the smelly punks on one side and the glam children on the other," he winces, wine bottle in hand, but it wasn't. Basically, everyone here realised you're born and then you die, no matter how glamor crap you are. So they all just mucked in.
"Not only that," beams the anarcho-rocker, "I picked up some really good tips on How To Pose."
"Bye-bye!" chirrups the Thames Valley titan, dashing off to see appropriately enough - Woody Allen's "Husbands And Wives”.
"May this moment be the worst of our lives," she toasts with a wobbly left handful of lukewarm Liebfraumilch.
And Brett Suede?
"This is the happiest day of my life," lies Mr Succulent Glam Charisma, still exquisitely bored pulling up the collar on his fake fur coat and heading off to catch the bus home.
MM's Five Alive tape was compiled from sessions originally recorded for the BBC Radio 1 FM Mark Goodier Show.