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(Deer Shed Festival 2013 flavoured!) The House of Love – A Retrospective

 
By on Thursday, 18th July 2013 at 1:00 pm
 

One of the great mysteries of popular music is exactly why fate chooses a particular band to become legendary – treated with holy reverence by great swathes of the listening public – when the vast majority either tread the boards for years to an enthusiastic but small fanbase, or disappear completely after a promising start, to the notice of, well, nobody. The example that springs to mind is The Stone Roses – only one-and-a-bit decent albums, a singer that couldn’t really sing, but they are quite justifiably worshipped by those whose lives they entered and changed forever, generating countless spin-off books, photography exhibitions, and finally a feature-length documentary.

It has to do with timing, of course, and geographic location – if you wanted to become a legendary band in the mid-‘80s, Manchester was where you had to be from. The story of The Stone Roses is inextricably intertwined with that of James, The Smiths, New Order, The Hacienda – the Manchester musical family tree can be extended almost without end. So were The Stone Roses great and just happened to be Mancunian, or were they Mancunian and therefore automatically revered as part of that zeitgeist-defining scene? Would they have become the legend they have had they been from Swansea?

All of which rumination brings us to The House of Love. By any reading they are contemporaries of The Stone Roses, having formed in 1986 and released their debut album just a year earlier than them in 1988. The Stone Roses even supported them at an early gig. But in comparison with the Roses, their legend has been largely overlooked. Chiefly comprising singer and songwriter Guy Chambers and guitarist Terry Bickers, the story of The House of Love contains all the essential elements for a classic rock ‘n’ roll narrative arc including a promising start with a signing to Creation Records with Alan McGee proclaiming, “One of the great Creation bands… they could have taken on anybody live.”

But then they began to shed peripheral band members like confetti. Heavy drug use was rife, particularly during the mixing of the first album – with everyone high on LSD, band members and friends alike all had a go on the mixing desk, with predictably disastrous (and no doubt expensive) results. The better-than-fiction endgame came with Bickers ranting in the back of the tour bus, setting fire to banknotes (the KLF would later take this incendiary protest to its logical conclusion and burn a million quid). He was unceremoniously dumped at the nearest railway station, and one of the two personalities which made up the marrow of The House of Love was out of the band for the next decade.

The essence of The House of Love’s achievements are crystallised in their first two albums, neither of which has an official title. Both albums are strong in songwriting terms, the debut coming wrapped in a charmingly naive period production style, which is just as well – the effects and recording flaws are part of its charm. ‘Salome’ is an enormous, anthemic thing, with a sneering, supercilious vocal (“I love the way she cries”), ubiquitous driving guitar work and an enormous solo. ‘Love in a Car’ is a mysteriously circular, quiet-loud affair with a whispered, oblique lyric. ‘Man to Child’ proves they were equally as at ease with balladry, delicate acoustic guitar fluttering around a lyric so poignant you can just about taste the tears. And not forgetting ‘Christine’, the song that kicked the whole affair into gear: an anthemic slice of post-punk, proving that the guitar drones of shoegaze could be put to good use in the context of proper songwriting.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHwjxpkGdck[/youtube]

A couple of years later came what has become known as The Butterfly Album, featuring a significant bump in production values whilst keeping the trademark effects-heavy guitars, and a more coherent running order with a proper beginning, middle and end. In the opinion of this writer it represents the pinnacle of THoL’s output. From the moment a couple of minutes in when ‘Hannah’ shifts up from being a wash of slow-burning guitars into its keening vocal refrain, it’s clear that the band have progressed in every area since their first record. ‘Shine On’ should live in the pantheon of perfect pop songs forever – the enormous chorus that emerges before the one minute point yet doesn’t outstay its welcome, the lyric manages to reference the band name yet still make sense, the song itself ends just after three minutes but the band stretch it out into a stunning downtempo outro: unforgettable from the very first listen. ‘Beatles and Stones’ is a beautiful major-chord reminisce about the power of heroes to give one’s life meaning and succour, and even dares to evoke a little Beatles-esque nostalgia with a string-laden middle eight. But before the pastoralism gets too much, there’s a trio of upbeat ditties, including ‘Hedonist’, which neatly summarises Oasis’ whole career in its 3 and a half minutes, down to their penchant for mid-tempo riffing, guitar feedback, and even Liam’s vocal sneer. If Noel Gallagher had realised that someone had released a song that had already set out every decent thing that Oasis would achieve, he could have saved himself a lot of bother. Twelve tracks, and not a duffer amongst them.

Two fine albums then, at a time when the world was eager for a decent British guitar band. So why aren’t they revered for their achievements like their contemporaries? Part of the answer is the band’s implosion into drug use, depression, and personality clashes. But something else pertains: they simply didn’t fit the media narrative of Manchester, or, more accurately, “Madchester”. They were perhaps too good, too competent as musicians and songwriters, too focused on what made good music, to realise, or even care, that what the world and its press wanted was the propagation of a particular scene. Without doubt they must take a great deal of the responsibility for their drawn-out downfall upon themselves. But one cannot escape the conclusion that, despite the internal disagreements, The House of Love still deserve greater credit than that which history has deemed theirs to claim. So there we have it. The House of Love – the best pre-Britpop era band not to come from Manchester.

The House of Love’s latest album ‘She Paints Words In Red’ is available now on Cherry Red Records. The only place to see the band live this summer is at Deer Shed Festival this weekend in North Yorkshire, for which a handful of tickets are still available. The House of Love performs on Saturday.

 

Preview: Deer Shed Festival 2013 (Part 2)

 
By on Thursday, 27th June 2013 at 9:00 am
 

We’ve already previewed the extensive small- and big-kid friendly activities available at Deer Shed Festival 2013, but what of the music? Featuring full 2 days of music (Friday evening, Saturday all day, and Sunday afternoon), and a smattering of stages, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill enormo-fest, and is all the better for it. The entire card is quality, but here we run down some of the highlights of Deer Shed 2013’s music offering…

Friday night sees a clash-tastic triumvirate of triumphant talent. Edinburgh festival favourites Tubular Bells For Two take over the In The Dock stage all night – for those who haven’t heard, TBFT are Aussies Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts, who have taken it upon themselves to recreate Mike Oldfield’s multi-layered masterpiece Tubular Bells in its entirety, complete with a home-made set of the eponymous melodic percussion. An inspired booking, and a rare opportunity to catch TBFT in the fresh air.

Gaz Coombes proved with his diverse work with Supergrass that he’s one of the finest songwriters of his generation; his solo album ‘Here Come The Bombs’ superbly reinforced that reputation. He’s just put out a new double-A single: ‘One of These Days’ is a typically bittersweet string-enhanced 4 minutes of slow-burning goodness, marking an intriguing move into gentle electronica stylings; ‘Break the Silence’ is a more upbeat synth-led stomper with hints of Supergrass’ superb 2004 orphan release ‘Kiss Of Life’. Which all bodes well for the second album which is rumoured for imminent release.

In a fairer world, Gaz Coombes would be the highlight of the evening. But if Coombes’ star is still developing, Edwyn Collins’ is a full-on supernova. There’s no need to go over the old ground of his medical history (if you need the details, see here), suffice to say that Collins’ personal story is as remarkable as his music. His 2010 LP ‘Losing Sleep’ gathered my Writer’s Choice for a Mercury nomination that year; this year’s release ‘Understated’ continues his output of smart pop-soul, hinting obliquely at his trials, but mostly simply affirming the human condition in matchless, witty style. A true legend, revered warmly by industry and fans alike, and a great way to wrap up Friday night at Deer Shed.

Saturday afternoon is folky and soulful. Tynesiders and Craig Charles favourites Smoove and Turrell (John Turrell is the male voice of Charles’ Fantasy Funk Band) are perfectly timed to get the crowd into a groove; Zervas and Pepper soundtrack dreams of shimmering open plains and dusty roadhouses; To Kill a King purvey that keening, yearning folk-rock sound that has such broad appeal these days that will surely make them a highlight of the day for many.

Elsewhere, Spring Offensive bring their suave Oxonianisms to the In The Dock Stage. If you like atmospheric, emotive guitar music, and wish you had seen Radiohead live before they released ‘The Bends’, the Spring Offensive are not to be missed. Neither are The Phantom Band, whose sound genuinely defies classification. There’s detailed multi-movemented arrangements, pepperings of atonality, a touch of ‘Green’-era R.E.M., and even the hint of properly heavy guitars on occasion. Very difficult to describe, which means that they’re very clever indeed. Worth being acquainted with beforehand, but will reward the effort live.

Darwin Deez has a lot to live up to – the punditry casually bandy around names like Beck, Prince, and Hendrix whenever he’s mentioned. Yes, Deez displays a loose, carefree obscurantism that Beck would be familiar with, but there’s little evidence of the epic sweep of Prince, or indeed of Hendrix’s Stratocaster majesty. Perhaps his live show will answer the doubters. But most excitingly of all, Saturday night finds The House of Love on the main stage. Surely the most underrated band of the pre-Britpop era, The House of Love’s self-titled meisterwerk contains future echoes of The Stone Roses, James, and both Oasis and Blur, and without whose influence British pop music would surely have taken a different, and undoubtedly inferior, path. Despite such achievements, in comparison with their peers they remain relative unknowns, with founding member Guy Chadwick carving a second career fitting sash windows. The story of the band is no less remarkable than their music, featuring personal acrimony, heavy drug use, mental problems, countless spin-off side projects, and the inevitable ritual burning of banknotes – enough to fill a decent book, one would imagine. Will The House of Love find their final redemption in their reformation and release of new material? Will Deer Shed be where it all finally comes together? One waits with bated breath.

After the excitement of Saturday night, Sunday is wind-down day. The Unthanks bring to life the North-East’s history of heavy industry and hard living with ‘Songs From The Shipyards’, and band-of-the-moment Public Service Broadcasting (who we caught last month in Newcastle) offer a similarly historical yet rather more lighthearted take on this island’s history with their audiovisual tour-de-force. On the main stage, we have chilled-out ambience from AlascA, knowing ensemble wittiness from Moulettes, and the acoustic finale belongs to the avuncular King Creosote, who has a challenge on his hands to match the vertical, punch- and love-drunk ambience of last year’s Cherry Ghost set.

If it had escaped your notice, this is just part of what’s on offer at Deer Shed Festival this year. Take a look at my Part 1 for a roundup of the crazy catalogue of activities to lose yourself in. Tier three tickets are still available from from the official Web site – but probably not for much longer!

 
 
 

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