We Have Re-Entry
Submitted by: Samantha Hand
WE HAVE RE-ENTRY
...to the big time. Two years and four months after the departure of you-know-who, the crew of Britain's slinkiest starship recount the whole nail-biting tale. Hold tight...
story by DAVID CAVANAGH
photos by SIMON FOWLER
It was Monday 30 May 1994. Inside Master Rock Studios, in the North London district of Kilbum, three members of Suede - Brett Anderson, Mat Osman and Simon Gilbert were wondering why they hadn't seen their guitarist for five days.
The album they'd all been making the follow-up to their No 1 debut LP of the previous spring had been designed as an ambitious audio journey that would take Suede and their listeners to new places. It would include an introductory piece, an orchestral finale and quite a few compelling detours along the way. It was to be the sort of album that people would still be talking about in 20 years. But the recording process had become a divisive affair. A scission between guitarist Bernard Butler and the rest of the band – first detectable on a tour of America in October 1993 - had chewed through much of Suede's spirit. By the fourth week of May, Bernard was now almost completely estranged from his bandmates, many of his guitar parts had been recorded while the others were absent from the studio.
In the supercool Suede world, punches are never thrown; disputes are settled more surreptitiously. On Wednesday 25 May. Butler had taken two days off to get married, without inviting anyone from Suede. He returned to Masterock on the Friday to collect his guitars, without talking to anybody, and drove away from Kilburn and out of the band.
By Monday, the others still hadn't ascertained the precise lie of the land. Had Bernard had enough of the group he'd joined in 1989? Or would he materialise, frowning, later that day? They busied themselves in the meantime by overseeing The Kick Horns (a three-piece brass section) adding their contributions to 'New Generation', 'This Hollywood Life' and 'We Are The Pigs'. As the hours passed, with no sign of Bernard, it began to dawn on everybody that they had seen the last of him. The mood now turned festive.
To mark the moment, the three remaining members of Suede, augmented by the Kick Homs, played a spontaneous version of bossa nova favourite 'The Girl From Ipanema'. Simon Gilberts video camera recorded the event for posterity.
In the days that followed, the news of Bernard's departure was relayed to very few people, on a need-to know basis only. (Meanwhile, the remainder of the guitar-playing on the album was undertaken by Brett Anderson and an unlisted session musician.) A legal document was drawn up to extricate Butler from his commitments to Suede, which led to a formal parting of the ways on 2 July. At the Phoenix Festival a fortnight later, rumours spread backstage thar Suede (who were not on the bill) had had some major problem in the studio.
Finally, on Monday 18 July, the story was confirmed by a Suede press release. The band's manager, Charlie Charlton, placed "guitarist wanted" adverts in the music press shortly after.
"IT WAS JUST A CASE OF THE OPPORTUNITY ARISING AND I might as well do it. It wasn't as much of a child's dream as people tend to think..."
Richard Oakes has a small glass of Diet Pepsi on the table in front of him. At 19 years of age, he has decided it would be advisable to cut down on his alcohol intake. He has a self-mocking, spluttering laugh and his speech yields to feyness, in line with the Suede house style. He refers to the group's fans as "the kids”. His earthbound self-confidence and apparent lack of vulnerability suggest that Richard acquired, much earlier than most people, the personality that would see him through the rest of his life.
The following day, Brett Anderson will have many kind words to say about Richard. He has found him to be a valuable addition to the band and a quick-witted writing-partner. Still unwilling to discuss Bernard at any length - although, unlike Simon, he does mention the ex-guitarist by name - Brett is nevertheless as buoyant as your correspondent has seen him in four years. Sitting in the London offices of Nude Records, he speaks honestly and unpretentiously about Suede's ups and downs over the last two years: the protracted tour for 'Dog Man Star', on which Richard was blooded; the year of deliberate withdrawal-from view that followed; the induction of a fifth member, keyboardist Neil Codling; and the desire to make an album that would reflect the current, unanimously cheerful, outlook of the personnel.
The culmination of all of these forces has been 'Coming Up! While generally not as powerful as the two albums they did with Bernard, 'Coming Up' has the unmistakable flavour of continuity, as well as a clear intent to meet non-Suede fans halfway. Richard, entrusted with the chief songwriter's role, has gone for simplicity and directness, coming up with the sort of tunes which, as he himself says, a busker could play. "Richard's contribution to the record has been a revelation to me," Brett says. "The way we used to write in Suede before he joined was quite formularised and separate. With Richard, there have been so many new ways of working."
In fact, the writing on Suede's first two albums was non-collaborative; Bernard would give Brett finished pieces of music to put words and a vocal melody to. Richard's arrival has introduced Brett to the pleasures of co-writing. They have therefore spent a lot of time together in the last year.
"He's always been strangely mature and capable, ever since I've known him," Brett says of the young guitarist. "He's unfazed by the whole business of being in a band. He's not interested in any of the trappings. Most musicians get titillated by somebody saying they're great. Richard's very removed from that."
In August 1994, when the call went out for a new Suede guitarist, Richard was on school holidays, with one last year of studies ahead of him before A-levels. Beyond that, he had resigned himself to university, the same route taken by his elder sister and his parents. Having learned through the music press of Suede's vacancy, Richard sent the band a tape from his home in Poole, Dorset.
Upstairs at Nude Records a week or so later, Brett was listening to a tape of My Insatiable One', a Suede B-side from 1992, when Simon Gilbert walked in.
Assuming the tape was an early Suede demo, Simon said: "I don't remember this."
“No, this is a guitarist," said Brett. "He's 17."
Although Suede were the first band that Richard had ever seen in concert, he was by no means a stargazey disciple. In fact, his principal love was the punk music of 1976-77. His favourite band was The Clash - as was Simon's. He liked Suede for musical reasons, and had never given a thought to Brett's lyrics.
Nor did he have much awe for the man he would be replacing. Bernard was later to surmise that Oakes was the guitar-playing Suede fan who'd been hounding him with fanmail in the past. But Bernard's got his wires crossed somewhere. The only letter Oakes was ever likely to write to Suede was the one which he included with his tape. Simon still keeps a copy of that letter. The gist was: I'm great. Let me join. You'd be foolish to say no.
AT MASTEROCK THAT AUGUST, WITH 'Dog MAN STAR' A tweak away from completion, the black comedy of 'The Girl from Ipanema' had given way to the realisation that life could now get tough for Suede. "When Bernard left, a lot of people lost confidence," Brett acknowledges. “A lot assumed we were over. Maybe they went on to different music."
The most immediate hurdle for Suede to negotiate was the British tour, the first leg of which was scheduled to begin on 25 October (a fortnight after the release of the album). They had to get a guitarist who could play the songs from 'Dog Man Star' and 'Suede', who appealed to them as a person, and who could become their principal writer of music. Of 500 applicants for the job, six were given auditions. Richard was one of these. He walked into the studio one day in August, shook hands with everybody, played 'Heroine' with the band, and was tacitly accepted as Bernard's replacement within minutes.
"There's a telepathic link you get when you're playing with musicians on your wavelength," Richard says, in a pub close to Nude's offices. “After two songs there was a look in their eyes - and there must have been one in mine...."
Even at this early stage, he was fully aware that he would be expected to deliver as a writer; to come from nowhere to co-write a follow-up to 'Dog Man Star' with Brett.
“I was completely up for that," he says flatly. "I want to write the album of the '90s with this band. I knew exactly how much pressure was going to be on my shoulders. I knew my life would change. I just wanted to make sure that I didn't."
"He just had this absolute confidence. Not the kind of confidence that's trying to bluff. It was the confidence of being good."
This is Mat Osman, the band's co-founder, who joins us for a drink. Like Richard, Mat is avoiding alcohol this afternoon, although for a more legal reason. He has a 1977 Mercedes parked outside, which he has recently bought.
At his second audition, Suede discovered that Richard could also play piano. Simon videoed him playing 'The 2 of Us, and he was asked to join straightaway (“He just said, 'Hmm, I suppose it's better than school'," remembers Simon). He telephoned his school to inform them he wouldn't be returning for his final year, and moved to London to rehearse for the tour. 'Dog Man Star' was released on 10 October. Richard, who had turned 18 on 1 October, made his live debut with Suede in Paris, followed by his first British gig, at the YMCA in London's Tottenham Court Road. Nobody can recall him being nervous.
RICHARD'S UNVEILING AS SUEDE'S NEW BOY WONDER, which inevitably became a media event, coincided with an unparalleled display of boostering from Brett. In a series of interviews Intended to promote 'Dog Man Star', he nonchalantly guaranteed a radiant future for Suede and insisted, on next to no evidence, that Suede were now stronger than ever.
Everyone wanted to see if this was true, and the British tour in October and November took on the aura of a voyeurs' freakshow.
In a move that was seen as unavoidable - but which proved controversial - Richard duplicated Bernard's guitar parts onstage note-for-note. Nobody in Suede was thrilled by this. For one thing, it meant that the new line-up could not properly be judged until they started playing new material. For another, it was as if Suede were playing cover versions of their own songs. Richard's choice of guitar was especially unfortunate: a red Gibson, the same guitar Bernard played.
It was a difficult situation. The previous line-up of Suede was a foreign land to Richard - he and Bernard have never met - but this sensation of a band in limbo, a band umbilically connected to a man they no longer discussed, would linger with outside observers for almost two years - until the release of Coming Up' in September 1996.
"I wanted the band to carry on," Brett now explains. "And the only way to convince people that we still existed - because loads of people thought we'd split up-was to tour the record." After seven months, the tour concluded with a show at the Albert Hall in London in May 1995. The band had experienced frustration, on an almost daily basis.
"I get annoyed, looking back, that I was viewed as prize cattle," Richard says. “I was judged purely on what I looked like and the sound that came out of my amp. For me, it was just a case of promoting the album, getting it out of the way."
“We were pissed off with everything." Brett says categorically. “Pissed off with the strange, inbetween stage we were at. Pissed off with being forced to tour a record irrelevant to the line-up."
When they returned from the first of the two European tours (the one with Manic Street Preachers) in December 1994, they began playing around Britain with an intensity approaching violence. Richard had now started to move. Brett stomped around in hypothetical platform boots, looking like a livid Bryan Ferry. As far as he could understand, the band had now been "counted out" - forsaken by the rock press. When one journalist, prompted by an accusatory quote by Damon Albarn, asked him if he was on heroin he grew defensive and distant. This was not an outwardly happy Brett Anderson.
There were, however, two things to take comfort in. Firstly, the four Suede members had become good friends on tour. And, secondly, Richard had started writing.
“Richard was in a weird situation," argues Mat. “Look at bands who are very young: Supergrass, Ash. You give those bands leeway, because it's their first record and they're 17. Richard was never going to get that. He was expected to write an album that was better than 'Dog Man Star', for a start. We were happy to give him as much time as he needed. We were quite prepared to write an album and throw it away."
Within weeks of joining, Richard had written some music that would find its way on to Comin Up' (as 'Picnic on The Motorway). Soon he wrote a B-side with Brett, entitled Together, which wound up - along with another Anderson/Oakes song, Bentswood Boys' - on the New Generation' single, Suede's only record release of 1995.
Aside from the frustrations of playing nothing but pre-Richard material onstage every night, the spirit in the band was now rather pleasant. Richard, after a brief spell of introversion, had attuned himself to the Suede sense of humour, and he and Simon would bang out old Clash songs at soundchecks. The four men began to enjoy their own company. Never great ones for socialising (for a London band, they're hardly ever seen at gigs), they left for a tour of America in February 1995 and, unlike the previous line-up, were still good friends at the end of it.
"We tend to agree about things," Richard says.
Mat: “There have been instances of us all going shopping individually and buying the same LP. And everybody picking out the same track."
In April '95, Suede embarked on the second leg of the European tour for 'Dog Man Star'. By now they were thrashing out the songs. It was all attitude and anger, and it was compelling to watch.
Then, something occurred unprecedented in Suede history: they made pals with another band. "It was weird to find out that they were straightforward, nice people," says Alex Lee, guitarist in Strangelove, who supported Suede in Europe for those six weeks. “You wouldn't have expected it, if you'd read those histrionic articles about them? We had an excellent time with them."
On the final night of the European tour, Suede and Strangelove played one of each other's songs. The bond was strong enough for Brett and Richard to sing backing vocals on Strangelove's second LP. The two bands reconvened for a couple of English dates in May, by which time Suede's patience with their setlist was almost exhausted. Previously, before a Suede gig, the hall would echo to Prince's "Around the World In A Day'. Now the PA blasted out all of 'Never Mind The Bollocks' and when Brett took the stage, he had fire in his eyes.
SIMON GILBERT'S FAMILY COMES FROM STRATFORD UPON Avon, the Warwickshire market town that was also home to Simon's cousins, the Codlings, who lived on an affluent close not far from Simon's estate. Neil Codling, nine years Simon's junior, was a pupil at the King Edward V school, a big leap upmarket from the local high which Simon had attended. In October 1992, Neil left for Hull, to study English and Drama at university.
There are stark differences in the upbringings of many Suede members, made starker by the fact their personal lives are seldom discussed in the band. (The various parents, for example, don't know each other.) Although Brett is of the belief that "the families take a back seat; our friends are our family", his own childhood has once again become an issue on the 'Coming Up' promo trail.
Railing at what he sees as the faux-breadline chic of other bands, he reiterated that, growing up in Haywards Heath, in Sussex, he was very, very poor.
"I'm not sure why he's started talking about that again," says Mat, who was Brett's best friend as a teenager. "He was certainly poor for Haywards Heath. It's classic suburbia - and he lived in one of the only council houses. Perhaps he feels that the situation we're in now as a band is like the situation he was in as a kid."
"There's a tendency for people to think that Suede are a music-business thing," Brett himself explains. "Or a load of art students having a surreal romp. I just wanted to remind people that it's all completely real. That is very important."
Since Suede is a family, it behaves like one. Most of its business is conducted behind closed doors. And Simon is more secretive than most. For instance, for almost four years he didn't tell the others that his cousin Neil was a musician.
Neil saw his first Suede gig in Birmingham in 1992. Crucially, he also attended the Phoenix Festival on 14 July 1995, the day that saw Suede begin to twist free of the clutches of Bernard Butler's muse, and move on.
For this last high-profile Suede performance of the 1994-95 period, there were two new songs in the set, 'Young Men' and 'By the Sea', which would hopefully indicate to the happy sun-drenched Phoenix campers that, while Oasis, Blur and Pulp had all leapfrogged Suede in terms of column kilometres, the band were not some flavour of '94.
Brett: "Look, I would have been really cynical if I'd been watching Suede at some festival in July '95 and we were just playing a load of songs off the first two albums. I'd have thought, 'That's it."
Already, Brett was giving considerable thought to the next Suede album. He pictured it as a precise pop bulletin, with none of the Gothic claustrophobia of its predecessor. Privately, the band foresaw a completed new album by year's end.
Yes, it would mean disappearing for several months, but Suede didn't have a problem with that. The feeling of isolation from the British music scene was now at its most acute.
Just before they took the main stage on that Friday night (after Bob Dylan), there came an intervention from the sky. It looked as if nature was saying it too preferred Bernard Butler.
Brett: "The second the intro music went on, the heavens opened. I thought, 'Oh my God, everything's ganging up on us'. So I decided, 'Right, the only way to get through is to whip it up.""
This display of "whipping it up" not only closed the door on a difficult 14 months, but also scored them much-needed respect: under a hiding from the elements, they hadn't bottled out.
The regrouping that followed Phoenix took place in seclusion. From here on (aside from recording Elvis Costello's 'Shipbuilding for the War Child album), all points led to the next LP Suede saw out the summer as a four-piece envisaging a brash, upbeat album to come back with.
At that time, Brett lived in an upstairs maisonette off Ladbroke Grove. It contained Alan (Brett's flatmate of five years), some antiques, and a converted room which Brett had had soundproofed. This home studio was a small room with no air-conditioning, where Brett would work every day. When he wrote, he would pace the flat thinking of ways to describe his small circle of friends. He wanted to make a record that was partly about them. There's only about five of them, and one of them works in a chip shop.
"I suppose they're part of this weekender culture," Brett says. “These are people who do day-jobs, but on their time off they're the most extreme people I've ever met. They'd put anyone in the shade, the number of drugs they take."
Each day, Brett would rise at midday. He would later quit cocaine for five months and expound in interviews on the benefits of a coke-free diet. Talking about drugs now, he is cautionary: they've been good for me, but don't feel you should do what I do - and I'm not telling you what that is.
"I would never lie to anyone and say, 'If you drop acid you're going to write 'Strawberry Fields Forever," he says. "That's complete fiction. The connection that some people have between drugs and creativity is nonsense. But there's a certain feeling that drugs can give you, that you can let seep into your work sometimes, I think.”
After some breakfast, he would watch a spot of afternoon TV, and then, who knows, perhaps take a stroll in the Notting Hill sunshine.
Mat: "I'd bump into him on the street, standing there with his dictaphone, getting run over. He's the worst traffic hazard in West London - a man desperately trying to remember something he's just thought of, in the middle of the A40."
Gradually, the half-remembered wordplay and borrowed expressions shaped into the seedily glamorous shorthand that Brett was striving for. He had also written the music for two songs, 'Lazy' and 'By The Sea'. Richard, too, was moving into place. He was writing in a glammy, abrasive style that not only suited the band's frame of mind, but also indicated the kind of music Richard wanted to hear Suede play.
Not far from Richard, in White City, Mat (who doesn't write songs) tended to spend his days in his local Austrian bar. Whenever the band got together, they would listen to music, their own and other people's. Saul Galpern at Nude would send Brett records from his collection, selected at random; Brett remembers being sent Motorhead,
Cowboy Junkies and 'Tanx' by T Rex, which became a sort of sonic target for the new album (Brett: "We wanted a record so 'pop' that it could almost be a Greatest Hits").
Mat: "We were never those museum-y type people with a torch to bear for some obscure 1960s San Francisco band. I was always a radio person myself, taping stuff off the Top 40."
Then a really bad thing happened. That October, Simon made one of his periodic visits to Stratford Upon Avon to see his mother. He had always had mixed feelings about the town; at the age of 12 he had become an overnight punk. He dreamed of moving to London and joined a series of bands: one of them, Dead To The World, appeared on one of the Crass label's 'Bullshit Detector' compilations when Simon was 14.
On his visit home in October, Simon and his cousin Paul (Neil's brother) were attacked and severely beaten by about 15 men who had seen them emerging from the town's only gay pub. It was Simon's first experience of violent homophobia since coming out in 1993.
"I wanted to defend myself," he remembers, "because it was somebody attacking me for what I am. I thought, 'How dare you?' But faced with 15 people, you can't."
An X-ray revealed Simon's injuries to be mercifully slight. His cousin needed stitches.
In November, with Simon back in London, Suede declared themselves ready to begin recording. Having sent out feelers for new producers - Brian Eno, REM's gifted switchman Scott Litt – and found them all to be unavailable, it was resolved to continue with Ed Buller, who had overseen the two earlier Suede albums. But two areas would be off-limits: the melancholy and delicately layered, multi-guitar architecture of 'Dog Man Star. With luck, the record would be in the bag by Christmas.
DRESSED HEAD-TO-TOE IN BLACK, NEIL CODLING HAS THE voice of young middle-class English leisure: everything's kind of strange, but then again not really, and, I'm sorry, who are you again? You could write a song about this pleasant, nebulous fellow and it would go like so: he smokes a cigarette and he looks a bit like Brett. Aged 22, Neil has been a Suede member for almost a year. Not one of them can remember asking him to join.
A month or so before they began recording 'Coming Up', Suede booked rehearsal time at Dave Stewart's studio, The Church, in North London's Crouch End. Neil, who had by now graduated with a 2:1, had moved to the capital and was living round the corner. Knowing him to be Simon's cousin - and a Suede fan – they allowed him to be present as they demoed songs.
Mat: "We're quite insular as a band. We don't even allow people to hear tapes of us playing. But Neil was... pretty clued up. I don't even know how we knew that. Almost from the way he looked and the way he talked."
Neil would video the odd rehearsal, disappearing occasionally to sign on. They liked him a lot; Brett, for one, found him hilarious company. For a Suede fan, Neil was not shy of offering criticism, which they invariably found spot-on.
One day, when the band were rehearsing 'By The Sea' (a piano-led song), Richard, the pianist, decided to try some guitar. It was now time for Simon to announce his cousin played the piano.
Mat: "He just sat there and played it. Great. He could just do it."
Whenever Neil turned up at The Church thereafter, he was invited to play with Suede.
Brett: "I remember when I actually decided for myself that he was going to be in the band. We were sitting round at my house: there was me, Alan, Neil and, I think, Richard and Simon. We were off our faces, listening to these demoes, and Neil started playing along on the guitar. He could do all these intricate little licks from 'Abbey Road'. All of a sudden this guy, who I didn't know, emerged as this great bloke with the same opinions on music and life as me."
Neil was invited to play keyboards on the album sessions, which began in November. This arrangement dovetailed neatly with the band's desire to make a more democratic record than before (ie. every member playing on every song).
Mat: "With the last album, we had four songs finished and the rest in bits. We put them together in the studio. With this album, it was like doing the first one. We had a complete set of songs ready."
They can recall only two problematical songs. One was the snarling 'Film Star', which was recorded at too quick a tempo and had to be rethought. The other was 'She', a number which Buller pictured as a sweeping, luscious, John Barry-esque number with a vibraphone. Brett's vision of She' was harder and more mechanical, At Christmas, the band took a break. Brett went on holiday to Barbados. As far as Brett was concerned, the album was practically finished. There were simply a few loose ends to tie up in January.
But any thoughts of an imminent release date were soon forgotten.
Back in London, as 1995 began, Brett suggested Neil try writing a few songs. Neil quickly came up with two pieces ("Starcrazy' and 'The Chemistry Between Us') that floored the others.
Mat: "His first demoes were incredible. The demo of 'Starcrazy' was almost as good as the record, and he did it in three hours after one of his two-day fasts, shaking in this tiny room."
Richard then wrote 'Trash', which the band earmarked as the album's first single. And so they kept on recording, re-jigging the tracklisting and chucking out songs as they went.
The first that Suede fans knew of Neil was when he lined up with the band onstage at London's Hanover Grand for their annual fan-club show, in January. That night, they played an entire set of new, unreleased songs - the first time this had happened since 1992. (It was also the occasion, incidentally, for an unaccountable bout of pre-gig nerves from Richard.) This one duty negotiated, Suede returned to the studio. They continued recording for a further four months.
The album was finished in May, and, for all its new positive vibrations, 'Coming Up' was still a Suede record; still adhering to the Brett agenda of bored city-trash getting wrecked in the dark hours. There were more drugs per square inch than on any previous Suede album.
Brett: "I think that was probably subconscious. I always try and put that sense of a rush' into the songs. Kind of almost as if you're listening to them on E. You know that real... (blows cheeks out, gets overheated) 'Pheww, fuck me, that is brilliant."
Above all, 'Coming Up' is the record that a five-piece makes when it's getting on incredibly well. Richard, everyone seems to agree, is the band's best musician, able to play to a much higher level technically than he has done on 'Coming Up'. Neil himself is said to be not far behind. Mat, who was always very anti-muso in the past, claims to have learned a lot from watching Richard and Neil.
Most of the band anticipate a three-pronged songwriting front (Richard, Neil and Brett) on Suede's records in the future.
Mat: "Both Richard and Neil are very ambitious. They both have a hunger. I think there's definitely some strange new places to go."
"There's a certain type of music which I think we play well. It doesn't necessarily mean it's the best thing in the world, but no one else does it better. There are certain things we can't play very well.
I do get quite jealous when I read about these bands who say, 'It didn't sound the way we wanted, so we tried it as a calypso or a bossa nova.' That's not really us."
Wherever the “strange new places" are to be found, the trip will not be a tense one. The realignment of the band may have thrown the precarious chemistry that made the early records sound so intensely, frighteningly beautiful - but at least, as Neil says, "there aren't two people you wouldn't leave in a room together". This line-up doesn't factionalise (or write songs "by post”, as Richard says pointedly). It's a gang - and the gang feeling was a major factor in Brett's and Mat's decision to form a band in the first place.
The only talk of turbulence on the horizon these days comes from Richard, and it's maybe not anything to get alarmed about.
"I'm going to have a big change," he says decisively, "between now and the next album. That's how the music will change. You can't stand still because things get stagnant. It's inspiring when there's turbulence."
Relax. It's alright. He's only talking about moving house.
Aides de camp
Producer of all Suede records and ex-member of The Psychedelic Furs
"When I first put their demo on, it was like, 'Jesus! This is exactly what I've been waiting for! I hadn't heard anything like it for years. The first time in the studio they were like a real gang. they just wouldn't shut up, playing Stones songs. For 'Metal Mickey' the atmosphere was more fraught, mainly because they were being hounded 24 hours a day by record companies. The further down the line, the more distant Bernard seemed. His ideas drifted away from what the others wanted.
"The 'Dog Man Star' time was the worst. Bernard had just lost his father and was permanently stoned and couldn't understand why these ten-minute epics he had written, one of which was 'You Do (later recorded in cahoots with McAlmont), were unsuitable for Suede. He basically held the band to ransom for over a month, publicly stating that he didn't want to be part of the band. Finally, he just left with a message to leave his guitars outside the studio door for him to pick up. Now, with Richard and Neil, it's like the early days again.
It's like Suede are a proper band again.
No explanation needed
“Brett and Mat were very cool, in their own world, when I first met them. I had a big pile of songs already written, but they were rejected on the spot and it took about six months for Brett to come round to working with them. He's very closed in, very difficult to get at. It took a long time for him to trust me and trust my music.
"That American tour after the first album was just ridiculous. I'd turn up five minutes before we were due onstage, stick on that fucking red shirt and out we went. I was walking out of the venues before the audience most nights. But my old man had just died and there was some serious shit going down at the time. I was getting cornered by record company people, asking. 'Why don't you like Brett? He's so nice.'
I just wanted to go home.
"At the moment I just want to work. I want a band, but they have to be very versatile and hard workers, people with a lot of trust. I'm not very good at expressing myself, so people don't tend to trust me until they hear it coming out of the speakers."
'80s indie perv-intellectual and early Suede fan
"I first met them at a Jesus And Mary Chain party around late '91. I was chatting up some barmaid when this dark-haired girl appeared beside me, shyly waiting to talk. She turned out to be Justine Frischmann, who was in Suede at the time. She was gushing, rather pleasantly, about how she and Brett loved my band and asking for support slots. I was intrigued... alright, I fancied her, so I followed her into another room, but she started snogging Brett, so I went back to my barmaid.
*They invited me to a gig at the Camden Falcon and I took my video camera so I've got a tape of Suede playing to 20 people, but most of it is of Justine's breasts! They had the baggy, post-Madchester look. Brett was singing through a loudhailer, trying to be Mark E Smith.
"In the early days, Justine did most of their PR work, giving me tapes and asking for advice. I sent Brett a long letter saying they should make Justine the lead singer and be more specific with their lyrics. It was all 'These are the times of your skin-tight village ways'. I don't know whether it was anything to do with that, but Brett did sharpen up his writing."
Nude Records chief
"It was a promoter who first put me on to Suede. I got hold of Bernard's number and had a tape sent with a rough demo of 'The Drowners' on it but, to be honest, it didn't move me. It wasn't until I saw them at the New Cross Venue in early '92 that they made sense - they were fantastic, but the place was full of A&R people. The band's dirty white shirts had me thinking. Jesus! they're Roxy Music.'
"Most people had seen them before and dismissed them as post-baggy. But I came away from the gig pretty depressed, thinking I'd never sign them with all the interest going on. Turns out that when I rang Bernard on the Monday morning. I was the only one to call. I met them...
“As far as Bernard went, he was very passionate about the band, but he felt he couldn't articulate himself well enough in interviews, whereas Brett became somewhat of an expert on it. That caused some friction.
“One thing I would like to point out is that Bis weren't the first unsigned band to play Top of The Pops. It was Suede! When Metal Mickey came out, they had no contract with me. Suede are still my favourite band ever."
Multiple media award-winner and Suede PR since the off
"I first met Brett when he came into the office and left this long letter. Three pages about the songs, dissecting them in fine detail. Bear in mind this was before they had any press at all. That was the level of commitment he had, and still has.
"Suede were the band that I was waiting for all my life. The first time I saw them was the Camden Falcon when everyone was just picking up on them. They seemed to have got good really quickly without anyone noticing. Because they were so spectacularly awful in the early days, it was a massive shock that they arrived in '92 fully formed.
"As soon as that 'Best New Band In Britain' front cover came out it got ridiculously busy. Same when Bernard left. That happened over a month before I released the statements. By no means were they friends at that point, they weren't communicating at all. That summer was a low. Brett was looking very ill and then the drug rumours started - which, incidentally, were total rubbish. But they got through it all and came up with a stunning new album. And that's me talking, not the PR!"
Longtime Suede admirer and large-scale influence. Obviously
"Suede. Still one of the great British bands of the '90s, they have the enviable knack of taking the rather pathetic fumble of a quick fuck under the pier and extracting those few golden moments that many years later convince oneself that for one brief flickering moment, one was as inspired as Romeo, or in some cases, Juliet. The poor things are bound to be an institution by the year 2000. Dame Brett, anybody?"
Suede roadies of long standing
Peter: "From the early days the fans have been superb. That first tour after the release of 'The Drowners' was rammed-Bath Moles, Southampton Joiner's Arms ... all packed. The stages were two inches tall and all Brett had to do was lean out and he'd come back with no shirt. That was part of the show, until he got tired of losing his clothes. We had a few high-speed getaways in the van, people hanging off the side. There was one night in Belfast when the Army had to be called in...
"As far as riders go, olives are essential. Brett was always a wine man, but he's off alcohol at the moment. Simon loves his Guinness, Mat will drink anything, and Richard's a bit of a newcomer to this drinking thing, but he enjoys his cider."
Kimble: "I've rescued Brett from the crowd a few times. You follow the mic lead 'til you find him. The fans aren't dangerous - all they want is a piece of Brett's shirt. People are allowed backstage within reason: Suede are very good with their fans, lovely lads that they are."
First Suede manager, dismissed around the time of the debut album
"A girlfriend of some ents.secretary gave me a tape in '91, which I loved. At the time, I was managing Spitfire who pulled out of a gig at Queen Mary College. so Suede stepped in at the last minute. They were so special, Brett was a star from day one. I took this tape home over Christmas and in the meantime they were offered a deal by this tiny company for £500, which was a joke. I went straight up to the band and told them they were worth much more than that, so eventually they asked me to manage them. From then on it went mad, it was like immediate fame.
"I split with them about a week after the first album came out and I'm still not sure what happened. Mat came into the office one day and announced that they had got another manager. At the time, things were very tense.
My relationship with Bernard had deteriorated to nothing and it had got to the point where someone had to go. It wasn't going to be Bernard, so it had to be me."