Ed Harcourt is a busy man. Back in London for two shows that finish off his UK tour there are faulty microphones to be adjusted, a beloved wife who has suffered an automobile breakdown en route to the venue, sleep deprivation to combat, friends to guest list, and a journalist to talk to. The man appears, rakish in a velvet jacket and clutching as many bottles of beer as he can carry, and we head down to Regent’s Park from Cecil Sharp House, the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, where he will play in two hours time. Summer is finally here and an inane game of softball, played by high-fiving finance buffoons, provides the backdrop and no small measure of amusement.

Charming and open, Ed nevertheless sports a pair of Ray-Bans. Late night? “Yeah, the crowd were amazing up in Leeds last night, we had a really good time,” he confirms. “Blind drunk and we had to set off back for London at five in the morning. Been feeling awful all day but now I’ve had a drink I feel great.” And why wouldn’t he? Now an ecstatically-married man, to violinist Gita, the prolific Ed has a new album, his fifth in six years, ready to delight his devoted fanbase with.

“‘The Beautiful Lie’ is my show-off album,” says Ed. “I recorded 30 songs split into two distinct sounds and then had to choose which to release. One lot was done on eight-track and tape machine, all moods and psychedelic sounds and the other was chamber-strings and piano… baroque ‘n’ roll if you will. A lot of the songs that were left off I was disappointed didn’t make it but as a collection of songs I think it flows pretty well sequentially.”

The album sees a return to the simplicity and elegance of his debut ‘Maplewood’ but with the added element of storytelling, a more outward looking perspective, in places. “It is a mish-mash of narrative mixed in with more personal songs, open letters to people really. ‘You Only Call Me When You’re Drunk’ is directed at a good friend of mine who literally was like that. ‘Good Friends Are Hard To Find’ was a tribute to a friend in a band who I was really worried about. With songs like ‘The Last Cigarette’ I’m getting into the idea of creating characters and stories.”

How does it compare to previous albums? “Much of the material on ‘Strangers’ was attributable to the woman who is now my wife. The excitement and anticipation of falling in love again. The track ‘Let Love Not Weigh Me Down’ was all about how love is obsessive and it can fuck you up if something terrible happens. This is much more dreamy and weirder, harking back to ‘Maplewood’.”

‘The Beautiful Lie’ features collaborations with BJ Cole and Graham Coxon and over the years Ed has played the hired gun role himself many times. “BJ Cole has played live with me on many occasions over the years. I met Graham through Danny Goffey [drummer with Supergrass] and saw him at a few different parties; we got along like a house on fire. We did Jonathan Ross [radio show] last week – he played on my song and I played on his. Ross said Graham’s song sounded like John Cooper Clark meeting Elton John… either an amazing or horrific meeting of minds.”

I never know where I’m going – I do everything on a whim, impulsive and spontaneous.

“I’m a bit of a musical whore really. I’ve done sessions for Cat Stevens and Ron Sexsmith. I record with people all the time – it’s how I live. I’m like a sponge in that I suck up inspiration from everything around me. It’s not conscious but when I come to write it’s obviously been stuck somewhere in my brain and it can resurface come out in a song. Writing for me seems to come from a higher power and feels otherworldly. I’m constantly working on ideas but I never know where I’m going – I do everything on a whim, impulsive and spontaneous. I think that is always the way when you create anything.”

A recent meeting with musician Owen Pallett, who plays as Final Fantasy as well with the Arcade Fire, clarified Ed’s thinking about the risks of consuming music as a commodity. “We played together in Germany recently and swapped albums, his is called ‘He Poos Clouds’. I put it on and thought ‘this is a load of shit’. But when I put it on again it was better than I thought actually. I put it on during dinner and really listened. It is an amazing piece of work but I hadn’t appreciated it straight away maybe because of a mood or lack of concentration or any number of things. People need to live with music; it is very lazy not to respect someone’s music enough to listen properly. We live in the least patient time in human history… it’s all about immediacy.”

I ask if Ed thinks he will maintain his bountiful rate of creative output. “I don’t think so,” he replies. “I’ve calmed down a lot and it’s quality not quantity that counts. I’ve written loads of songs I consider absolute shit and hopefully no one will ever hear them. It’ll be okay as provided I don’t die they won’t ever be put out on some terrible anthology.” In the event of an untimely and premature demise would he and his music be posthumously “massive” along the lines of Nick Drake or Jeff Buckley? “Yeah, probably. It would be tragic because I wouldn’t be there to stop my music being put on a fucking car advert or a rom-com soundtrack. I’m planning on sticking around though, life’s just too exciting to miss.” Ed Harcourt might not know where he’s going but it’s a journey worth taking with him.

If ¡Forward Russia! frontman Tom Woodhead could sum up the past year, he would undoubtedly uses his two favourite adjectives, ‘weird’ and ‘amazing’. Over the course of our conversation, the slight, polite Yorkshireman can’t help but repeatedly describe life in such terms. Rising from the ashes of two highly respected Leeds bands – Les Flames! and The Black Helicopters – ¡Forward Russia! have taken their experience of playing the toilet circuit and burst into the musical conscience without nuzzling up to industry players. It doesn’t mean it’s been any less tiring though as Woodhead takes another bite of his well-deserved pub grub.

“It’s pretty weird at the moment, but because we’re on tour all the time we’re quite sheltered from everything. You get caught in a bubble so you don’t know about everything that’s going on.”

Not that Woodhead and cohorts, Whiskas (guitar), Rob Canning (bass) and Katie Nicholls (drums) should be in hiding. Their debut album, ‘Give Me A Wall’, has been released to rave reviews; its title hinting at the visceral determination that drives their music. Plus, they’re currently the band to name-check thanks to the business ingenuity of Whiskas, who having been one of the most visionary promoters on the Leeds music scene, now has his own record label, Dance To The Radio, to add some foundation to the ¡Forward Russia! empire. Clearly, Tom played his cards right by ending up in a band with the ubiquitous guitarist.

“Well I always thought it would be quite cool to be in a band with Whiskas because you don’t have to do as much work on him to get things done. He’s kind of obsessed with the organisational side of it, so you don’t have to do all that stuff that everyone else hates.”

Diplomatically, he balks at any suggestion that his bandmate may be a bit of a control freak. “Hmmm. There’s more than one way of looking at it. You could call him a control freak or just say he pays attention to detail.”

Whiskas’ passion to keep the band in control of their destiny is admirable, but having his younger sister on drums does occasionally cause the balance of power to shift. “Whiskas used to be a lot more protective than he is now but he’s resigned himself to the fact that Katie doesn’t listen to him most of the time. Anyway, she brings a lot of it on herself,” Woodhead says teasingly. “The brother and sister thing only really comes in during times of stress and they start calling each other by their full names. When you hear Katie calling Whiskas ‘Sam’, then you know something’s up.”

¡Forward Russia!’s DIY experience of the music industry hasn’t always been plain sailing. The main difference between letting everything fall apart and their plans coming together is the clear vision and self-belief that the four share.

“There’ve been little mistakes. A lot of stuff has been delayed but I think that happens to most bands anyway so to be honest, I would have liked a little more time around the recording of the album but beggars can’t be choosers,” he laughs.

The band may not be living the high life just yet – both they and Sheffield’s The Long Blondes undertook a recent NME tour in a van rather than an impressive tourbus. With only each other to rely on, they’re pretty astute when it comes to realizing that life on the road is what you make it.

“When you’re a band like Boy Kill Boy or The Automatic, for some reason, the label doesn’t mind just throwing money out the window. The amount of money that Boy Kill Boy has lost on this tour could probably feed a third world nation for a year.”

“But the NME tour was good fun. We got on really well with The Automatic and became really good mates. It’s a weird thing because the crowds are split almost down the middle. There are kids who come to see us who are fans and there’s a large proportion of the audience who come out of curiosity, so the crowds can be really weird or really amazing depending on what city you’re in.”

The brother and sister thing only really comes in during times of stress and they start calling each other by their full names.

Considering Whiskas’ guitar and Katie’s drums bounce against the walls like shards of glass and Tom yelps as though he’s just been dangled from a suspension bridge, it’s difficult to imagine ¡Forward Russia! appealing to a mainstream crowd. But whilst the sophisticated time signatures imply a certain amount of musical education is needed to be a fan, there’s also plenty of danceability and tormented guitar muscle which has won them legions of fans under the legal drinking age.

Tom looks philosophical. “I think there’s a lot of bands like us because indie is a lot more of a popular culture thing than it was five or six years ago. But I’m pretty impressed that we’ve got so many young people into music that maybe isn’t Razorlight or whatever. We’re on first name terms with quite a lot of people that we see around the country and they post on the forum on our website so it’s really nice to have that connection.”

Have you ever experienced anyone staring at you with starstruck awe?

“Erm…well…I dunno,” he blushes. “It happens occasionally but you just put it to the back of your mind or you end up with a massive ego.”

When I inquire as to who is guilty of the most self-congratulatory behaviour, he cheekily replies, “Rob probably has the biggest ego. Once in a while you just need to slap him around the head and tell him ‘You’re not a rock star yet boy – not until you write the next ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay’.”

Blossoming from a scene that doesn’t consider take stadium tours, Ivor Novello ceremonies and Brit Awards to be a rite of passage, word is spreading internationally about this hard-working, self-sufficient bunch tagged as the forerunners of the scene misguidedly known as New Yorkshire.

“I’ll be relieved when the phrase dies down. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard invented by some guy at the NME for a joke and people actually use it in regular conversation now. We got an email from these promoters in Finland who wanted to put us on in Helsinki and they said ‘we know the band is from New Yorkshire…’” he chuckles.

“I think they thought we actually live in a place called New Yorkshire.”

The New York Dolls gave the five-year countdown to punk’s much-vaunted 1976 Year Zero. Hailed as the missing link between the Stones and the Sex Pistols, they railed against overblown rock tedium and, most vitally, were teenagers representing the punk ethic that anyone could form a band. Their naturally outrageous image combined gutter glamour with pimped-up hood. The Dolls were like explorers with no map, plotting no strategies, just pursuing their passions to an unreachable Promised Land.

After exploding out of New York to much acclaim in 1972, the Dolls faced a music business and public which simply wasn’t yet ready to handle their noise, image or rowdy gang mentality. The group went on to dissipate and self-destruct, leaving others to clean up. After the Dolls had gone, the raucous, screaming sperm they had ejaculated into an unprepared world kick started the punk revolution. Meanwhile, some of the Dolls paid a higher price than anyone could have dreamed as Billy Murcia, Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan and Arthur Kane all passed away over the years.

By the time they reformed in 2004, the New York Dolls were being hailed as originators, trailblazers and even martyrs of punk rock. But the world that the Dolls re-entered is different from the one they left in 1975. Punk rock is now feted by the media and a fixture in posh department stores. Its original shock has devalued over time but its reverberations are felt everywhere. This time, the Dolls have nothing to prove but they are about to unleash a startlingly great new album called ‘One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This’. A magnificent rock ‘n’ roll record, the like of which hasn’t been seen for years. Who’d have thought it?

When Syl leaves the room, David Johansen, Staten Island rooster of cool, leans over to the recorder and says, “I love that guy.”

The future New York Dolls came together around 1971 when school friends Sylvain Sylvain, Johnny Thunders and Billy Murcia started jamming together in the latter’s parents’ basement in Queens, New York. Arthur Kane was recruited after Thunders spotted him and early guitarist Rick Rivets trying to steal a Harley Davidson on Bleeker Street. David Johansen came in as charismatic frontman, playing mean blues harmonica and writing vivid ‘screeds’ of lyrics.

In early ’72, the Dolls moved to a Lower East Side loft, worked up songs like ‘Personality Crisis’ and ‘Frankenstein’, threw wild rent parties, then secured a residency at the Mercer Arts Centre, which exploded into a seismic trash-culture melting pot. They became darlings of the Warhol crowd, got Bowie taking notes and were described as “cute” by Lou Reed. In the early 70s, such raucous guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll went against the grain of interminable soloing and stadium extravaganzas. The Dolls got lumped in with the glitter movement spearheaded by T. Rex and David Bowie, albeit whacked through a turbulent New York street blender, which had absorbed everything from The Stooges to The Shangri-Las.

Alongside Johansen’s starlet caterwauling, living hair explosion Johnny Thunders careered through his bastard mutation of Page and Cochran licks, while corkscrew-locked Sylvain churned out riffs and cooked up the crowd. Arthur Kane was the quintessential ‘living statue’ bassist sporting his unique combinations of sparkly pantyhose and ballet tutus, while Jerry Nolan whipped up a pile-driving synthesis of Gene Krupa and Animal from the Muppets. “It’s what we all brought individually which really made the band,” says Sylvain. “Each person brought something totally unique.”

After being taken under the wing of managers Marty Thau and his business partners, the Dolls found they scared off US record companies. Their ill-fated first trip to the UK to support The Faces at a Wembley Arena charity gig ended in tragedy when drummer Billy Murcia died at a party after being force-fed coffee to revive his downered-out form. The Dolls already had a rock ‘n’ roll death to their name but former Phantom Lord Jerry Nolan – the only Doll to have run seriously with a New York gang – joined and, finally, a deal was clinched with Mercury Records. Pomp-rock prodigy Todd Rundgren produced their first album, providing a neutered version of their live set, but it still pissed over the competition for sass, attitude and expansively-belting tunes. ‘The New York Dolls’ is now hailed as one of the classic debuts, but when it appeared in mid-1973, it didn’t stand a chance in straight mainstream America, who couldn’t get past the dragged up cover. But teen classics like ‘Looking For A Kiss’ and ‘Jet Boy’ still managed to catch ears and change lives, especially in the UK, where it was eagerly gobbled up by the likes of Mick Jones and Morrissey.

The Dolls hit the UK at the end of that year and mortified somnambulant host Bob Harris on The Old Grey Whistle Test, while stirring the kind of furore which would later greet the Pistols on the Bill Grundy Show. I saw them play the Rainbow Room restaurant of London’s Biba department store in December 1973 and was knocked sideways by the sonic splendour and spangled spectacle. It was like everything you wanted from a rock ‘n’ roll band, blown up into a gloriously chaotic cartoon.

After the marauding European tour, the smack began to take over with Thunders and Nolan, while Kane saw the world through the bottom of a bottle. The second album was produced by George ‘Shadow’ Morton, mastermind behind the Shangri-Las, but was pole-axed by his limp mix. ‘Too Much Too Soon’ did nothing to elevate the Dolls’ status and, as they carved a trail of excess and unreliability around the US, they found themselves cast onto the eternal bar circuit.

At the end of 1974, Malcolm McLaren, who’d fallen in love with the group during the ’72 visit, offered his services for a career resuscitation. He helped them out and, at the band’s request, knocked up red patent leather threads. The Dolls were having a laugh, but McLaren homed in on the red angle and they started performing in front of the Communist flag while Johansen read Mao’s manifesto. If America had a problem with the drag, it was positively mortified by the new red makeover. But the controversy it sparked acted as a useful dry run for the group McLaren was putting together back in London. His stint with the Dolls gave him the impetus to ram the nascent Pistols up the British public’s nose to become the most reviled and persecuted group since the Rolling Stones.

In April ’75, while the Dolls were touring dives in Florida, the pressure cooker blew when Johnny and Jerry’s smack supply dried up. After a major row, they split back to New York and formed the Heartbreakers. Although David and Syl assembled another line-up to gig sporadically, the New York Dolls as America’s latest teen sensation were over. By now a Bowery bar called CBGB’s was playing host to Dolls-influenced groups like The Ramones. Six months later, the Sex Pistols would make their live debut. The former Dolls members took off on solo outings with varying success, sometimes crossing paths, until Johnny Thunders died in April ’91 in New Orleans. Evidence points to robbery and murder. His grieving soulmate Jerry Nolan succumbed to bacterial meningitis and pneumonia the following year.

It took old fan Morrissey to stir the Dolls into reforming. Curating the 2004 Meltdown festival, he phoned Johansen and persuaded him to get the group back together. Sylvain jumped at the chance, declaring, “The Dolls left me, but I never left the Dolls!” Arthur had never got over the split and lived for the day the group would reform. He had converted to the Mormon faith after quitting booze in ’91 and took leave from his job at the Mormon Family History Centre on Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, to come to London.

The unenviable Thunders position went to New York guitarist Steve Conte. When Johansen asked advice from guitar players he knew, they all said Conte. “He’s a feeling person, not a guitar dick. That’s important.” David’s long-time collaborator Brian Koonin took keyboards, while Libertines/Dirty Pretty Things drummer Gary Powell joined up in London.

June 16 – the first New York Dolls gig in nearly 30 years – was one of those magical nights. The years hadn’t taken away any of Johansen’s camp blues-man charisma or Syl’s full-tilt enthusiasm, while Arthur just stood basking in the realisation of his lifelong dream. They played a blinder and the warm emotion of the night led to a second show and festivals.

Triumph turned to tragedy on July 15 when Arthur unexpectedly died. While the others stayed in England for a festival appearance, he had returned to Los Angeles, saying he felt unwell. He arranged a medical check-up and was diagnosed with leukaemia. Two hours later he was dead.

Arthur had been accompanied on the UK trip by filmmaker Greg Whiteley, who turned the footage into a poignant epitaph called New York Doll. “When you see that movie you can see that for his whole life, Arthur was waiting for the New York Dolls to get back together again,” says Sylvain. “He was so sick, poor thing. It was like mind over matter.”

David and Sylvain were faced with the decision of whether to continue. They decided to go for it while they continued to have fun. Former Hanoi Rocks bassist Sam Yaffa joined up, while Brian Delaney, who’d drummed at the first Meltdown rehearsals in New York, replaced Powell. As the new Dolls played the US, David and Syl started planning an album.

“It’s a great fucking band,” David enthuses. “We were in the Dolls first, which was like a democracy where everybody had an equal say. Syl and I then went on to have bands where we said, “Well, here’s what you’re gonna play”. That’s all different now. It’s a BAND and you have camaraderie and all that kind of stuff. The most important thing really is how a band fits together and gets along, y’know? It’s been a long time so it’s important that the people all have an affection for one another that’s natural. Everybody’s bringing something to the table. You never know what’s gonna happen. It’s always great but it’s always different. It’s exciting like that. We’ve carried that right into the studio on our new album.”

“We’re natural beasts in having to play live,” says Syl. “We could’ve lived on without even making a new record but David insisted. He said, “Sylvain go back, try and write a couple of new songs.”” The group signed with Roadrunner Records and started recording in January with Jack Douglas, who’d engineered the first Dolls album. Backing tracks were recorded live and the new group found itself combusting gloriously. This time, the production caught everything with crystal clarity and the Dolls finally made the album of their dreams.

In true Dolls style, nothing was planned. “It happened very organically,” said Johansen. “Most of the stuff that we do, it comes up and we just do it. It’s not like we go, [strokes chin] “What if we put on a dress?” It’s like, “Hey, this’ll be a laugh, let’s do this!” and it happens instantaneously. We’re not really planners. But then I think other people look for cues and grab ideas from people who are spontaneous. The majority of people are very self-conscious and don’t really have that much spontaneity.”

There is no denying that Thunders, Kane and Nolan are irreplaceable, larger-than-life characters. Some can’t even entertain the idea of the Dolls without them. This has to be looked upon as a new group keeping the original Dolls’ spirit alive. It warms the soul to see the two surviving members laughing and swapping jokes in the knowledge that they have finally made that killer record. The album steers quite ecstatically through widescreen girl group pop and reflective ballads to the expected gung-ho rockers.

“That’s where we made our only mistake – We made a rock ‘n’ roll record!” sniggers Syl.

When Syl leaves the room, David Johansen, Staten Island rooster of cool, leans over to the recorder and says, “I love that guy.” Later, I ask Syl how he feels about David. “The one thing about David is how fucking funny he is. I have such a good time with him. I missed that through the years when we didn’t work together. I lost my best friend and my funniest friend. There’s more than just music between me and him. It’s much more than that.”

In 2006, the New York Dolls are more than just a memory again. One day it will please us to remember even this? Do it now!

So the meek will inherit the Earth? On the eve of their Second Coming, Razorlight have set their sights even higher. Welcome back the kings of confidence.

It’s a warm sunny Friday afternoon and Clash is in a working men’s club in a leafy corner of Bethnal Green in London’s East End. We’re certainly not here for the décor, as quaint and faded as it is. No, today we are here to witness the making of the video for Razorlight’s welcome return to the spotlight, ‘In The Morning’, the first single and teaser for their new and long-awaited second album.

As we arrive, those already present are divided up into three rooms: the main room, where all the cameras and crew are working and filming; the extras room, where all the assembled dancers, extras and friends can mingle and find escape from the heat of the day; and the band room, where the stars of the show relax in the intimate surroundings of friends and colleagues. Carl Dalermo chugs on a lunchtime beer while challenging all around him for a game of pool. Björn Agren casually tries on various shirts from the rail of clothes for their selection in the corner. Andy Burrows is running excitedly from room to room with his little brother in tow, eagerly darting from friend to friend and wrapping his arm warmly around each one’s shoulders. Johnny Borrell is sitting in the corner, his hair being styled and make up applied as he stares into the mirror. He is resplendent in white, a dazzling presence that beams with confidence all day.

A banquet of pizzas, sandwiches and salads is laid on for the band room, and most of it is devoured or picked at throughout the day. At times, everyone vacates the room to go and watch proceedings in the main room – like when the baby-faced Graham Coxon-a-like with his shoes nailed to the floor contorts his body in the most flexible dance moves known to man, much to the delight of the attending females. This limited movement dance owes its origins, as Björn tells Clash later, to their slightly sozzled drummer. “It was at the Shepherds Bush gig,” begins the genial Swede, “everyone got really drunk backstage before the gig and everyone started dancing around really stupidly. Then Andy goes, “Hang on, why don’t we just dance where you don’t move your feet – it will look really silly”. Then we kind of had the Razorlight silly dance for a couple of weeks, then someone said, “Why can’t that be the video?””

After the dancing, it’s time for the band’s performance. Miming proficiently to the track, Andy’s drums come crashing in first until joined by the funk workout of Björn and Carl. Johnny leaps up from stage left, plugs in his guitar and steps to the microphone in time for his entry. This repeats again and again, but the energy of the four’s conduct never dwindles. The song is relentlessly contagious and always manages to light a spark with every take, while director Scott Lyon is worryingly unstressed by affairs. Finally, with a gap in their schedule, Björn and Carl take the opportunity to venture outside into natural sunlight and break some bread with Clash.

You kept yourselves busy after the first album, going everywhere and doing everything. Do you like that constant work?

Carl: Yeah. Being in this business, if you’re not busy things are probably not going too well. It’s good and bad. Of course I just wanna sit in my flat and watch DVDs with my girlfriend and stuff, but also of course I wanna do something with my life and what we’re doing now is perfect. So really the busier the better.

Björn: Yeah. What else is there to do? But that’s the thing, if you want to have some sort of platform to release music from for the next ten to fifteen years you’ve got to do the work when you’re still in your twenties, while you still physically can do it. That’s the idea at least. If we put five years of work into two years then hopefully we can chill out a bit more after that.

Surely though you relish the days off?

You’ve always got to make a brave record, and I always will.

Björn: Of course you always relish the days off, but I’m really good at not getting too stressed about things. For a while there, at the beginning, I tried to get some sort of gauge on what it is we were actually doing, like ‘what are we actually doing here?’ And after a while I realised it was completely pointless and I just gave up, just like ‘Fuck it. This is all a bit of fun. I’m just gonna enjoy it, have a good time and try to put some good music out and then not worry about what it means or what I’m doing’. You start thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is like living the dream, but then should I stop wanting for more? Or maybe this isn’t what I want…’ All that philosophical life stuff. So my attitude to life for the last couple of years is to roll with the punches. You have to be able to laugh at life, especially if you’re doing what we’re doing. It’s not real life. Real life is getting up in the morning, going to work, coming home from work, going to the pub and getting drunk – that’s real life; that’s normal life. What we’re doing here, I don’t know what it is.

How is the band working together as a unit?

Carl: I think we work together pretty well, it’s just a fucked up relationship you get when you have to be together all the time. When we’re rehearsing it’s fine, but when it’s not then it’s like work needs to get done so there’s always this pressure and it fucks up so you get tired of each other and you fight or whatever but, you know, it’s fine. I’m not scared of facing the next year and a half on the road with the other three.

Is Razorlight democratic?

Björn: Is it democratic? I dunno. I don’t know if anything is truly democratic. We all put our opinions in and then who comes out winning in the end is different. It depends on who shouts the highest and who makes the most fuss… which is always Johnny! (Laughs) But I think it’s more of a band album this one than the last one. We play a lot better together, but that’s what a year and a half of solid touring does to you. And of course Andy is a huge part of that as well.

You can hear that in the dynamics of the new songs; there are more intricacies. The first album had its loud bits and quiet bits, but this one seems to have more ups and downs.

Björn: I know. It’s quite funny, but that’s the kind of thing you learn as a band. It just kind of happened that way when we started playing the new songs. It’s really telepathic between the four of us; there’s nothing thought out or anything. With all the songs we just kind of went in and Johnny said ‘Here are the chords and this is the arrangement’, and then we just played it around for one day and all of a sudden you get all these little parts and crescendos and waves. Everyone in the band has got a really good feel for music, so there’s not one unnecessary note on the entire album. It all does something. If it’s a tiny little guitar chord in one bit, it adds to it. We just have really good taste, all four of us, and it really works. That’s the thing, there’s never been any instance where we’ve been like, ‘Look man, that fuckin’ bass line, it’s just cack. What are you doing? Fix it.’ Everything that everyone played fits. I’m actually surprised with what I’ve written for the album. I look back at it like, ‘Did I actually write that?’ There’s quite a few things where I’m thinking if someone else in a fuckin’ band wrote that and I heard it, I’d be kicking myself for not coming up with it first.

‘In The Morning’ has been going down a treat today, nobody is bored of it yet! That’s representative of the reception the new songs have had at recent live gigs – people seem to like them already!

Björn: Yeah, it’s great. I love it when my hunches are right! (Laughs) But I just had this gut feeling ever since we wrote them, like ‘This feels really good. I really like this’. And then of course you’re hoping that everyone will like it as well, then that’s the jackpot. The band like it, people like it, the record company like it, the manager likes it… And it’s great. It seems like every gig we’ve done where we’ve played the new songs it just seems really seamless. I really don’t notice which ones are the new ones and which ones are the old ones, apart from the fact that I don’t have to look at what I’m playing as much as on the old ones! I’m just really happy.

Back inside and work hasn’t stopped. Noel Fielding from The Mighty Boosh has turned up, looking majestic in black with the most impressive white platform boots ever seen this side of the 1970s. He’s not appearing in the video, he’s just here for moral support and to play table tennis with Johnny’s brother – he will later lose. Johnny, meanwhile, hasn’t had a spare moment since he got here – late, as usual. (“I delayed by an hour and a half today and I arrived twenty minutes before him,” laughs Björn. “The last time, I stalled for two hours and I arrived at exactly the same time as he did!”) It’s difficult to pin him down for a second, let alone enough time to catch up on the last two years of success and excess. With hope fading of a brief encounter and with angry locals demanding entry into their club in only a couple of hours, Clash leaves them all to get on with it and marches off into the evening with ‘In The Morning’ resounding endlessly through our merry minds.

A week later and it’s a splendid Sunday afternoon. Basking in the heat in a North London beer garden, Clash is nursing a godawful hangover in the company of Andy Burrows and his ice-cold pint. We idly chat in anticipation of Johnny showing up; inspired by a Sunday paper’s supplement, we discuss the individual coolness of The Beatles, concluding that George Harrison was always the coolest.

Andy’s not quite the new boy anymore (he replaced original drummer Christian Smith Pancorvo upon the release of debut ‘Up All Night’). He sits here today an integral part of the band – on the new album he has played right-hand man to Borrell, providing creative input on half the tracks including first three singles ‘In The Morning’ (and its B-Side, ‘What’s It All About’, written with friends aged 13), ‘America’ and the bracing ‘Fall To Pieces’.

Eventually Johnny strides over to our table, a little flustered. He’s parked his scooter outside and some kids are apparently trying to nick his helmet. Putting his keys on the table he returns outside to sort the situation out. “He’ll scare them off,” assures Andy. Upon his return he is noticeably more relaxed, his precious vehicle unharmed. On his way to the interview, it transpires, he got caught up in a mod rally where one rider nodded to him in a bid of alliance. Taking one look at his ‘England’ tattoos and the poncey hair drier he was riding, Johnny thought better than responding and sped off into the distance, leaving the baying pack in his dust.

In person, Johnny defies the arrogant tag he’s been lumbered with by lazy journalists; he’s at once charming and open, self-deprecating and bold. Above all else, he believes in Razorlight.

Are you ready for everything to kick off again in Razorlight world?

Andy: I can’t wait to get to the stage where I’m ready! (Laughs)

Johnny: Actually we’re in a very good space right now because the record is like just about totally finished. In three days it will be finished and we will be mastering it, which is…

Andy: Really exciting.

Johnny: …and somewhat terrifying. (Laughs) But that’s a good feeling! But the thing is, then obviously we’ve got touring coming up and TV and all that kind of stuff. What is it? When you’re not making a record it’s touring, TV and interviews. That’s all you do.

Andy: I love TV when we’re playing.

Johnny: I love the fact that we’ve been on TV. I like going to the pub after you’ve been on TV.

Andy: What’s not good about TV is idents and confession boxes and stuff like that when the band run off and leave me to do it. That was funny.

Johnny: That was a test. That was a test of your worth.

Did you pass?

Andy: Did I pass? No one saw it. No one gave a shit! (Laughs)

Johnny: It was like everyone else just said no. Sometimes you just have to say no to things.

Because you can’t be bothered?

Johnny: The thing that is weird at the moment is there’s so much information around with millions of TV channels and the Internet, there’s just loads and loads of stuff. The thing that I just get worried about is that there’s too much information, you know? I’m sure the Rolling Stones did loads of interviews but you sort of only remember like the big ones. You just get wary of too much stuff. It’s like this single’s coming out, so it’s like ‘We want four B-sides’. Fine, that’s what we’ve done in the past and I like that because it’s like a whole EP if you’re that interested. Then it’s like there’s an exclusive for iTunes and you’re like ‘Okay fine, that makes sense, I understand’, so it’s like 5 B-sides. Then you’ve got some exclusive video content for iTunes and then ‘Oh yeah, and if you’ve got any video stuff that you can stick on the album to make it a deluxe album so there’s an extra DVD on it…’ And you’re like…

“I thought we finished it a month ago?”

Johnny: Well yeah. What you want is you want ten tracks. This is our record: ten tracks. Listen to it. Or don’t. So I do get worried about that. You don’t want to go on every fucking TV show because that’s just like…

Andy: Overkill.

Are you worried about overkill?

Andy: No, we’ve got a good song. I’m not worried about it at all.

Johnny: I just think sometimes it’s a shame that bands can’t just be like one black and white shot, ten songs and who the fuck are they? I think, more than most, we do try and retain that sense of mystery, because I just think it’s better that way. You can go down the whole tabloid route and do all that kind of stuff and sell your soul if you want, but what’s the point?

Have you guys faced any criticism over decisions you’ve made or things you’ve done?

Johnny: I like criticism if it’s constructive in any way. You’re gonna get it right sometimes and sometimes you’re gonna get it really right and sometimes not so right, you know what I mean? It’s hard to take something in – I mean like on the last record, whatever criticism there was I seriously doubt if I noticed any of it. It’s kind of hard to when you’re selling shit loads of albums, you’re going round touring the world having a great time and you’re 25 years old and you’re on top of the world. It’s like, ‘Oh that guy doesn’t like my band? Well fuck him!’ And I still feel like that you know, because it’s like… fuck him! (Laughs)

When you were writing this album, was the writing spread out over the last couple of years or did you take time off specifically to sit down and do it recently?

Johnny: The thing is, the whole time we were touring that record I was writing all the time and I always do, that’s just how I am really. In fact the only time I don’t write is probably the month immediately following finishing a record, and I’m feeling in that sort of space right now; I feel exactly like I did after the first one. But almost immediately after that, once you start touring there’s just so many ideas around you can’t really help yourself, you know? So this record, I would say the ten songs on this record I reckon four of them were probably written on the road, and then the next four were written when we got into the warehouse and then maybe the last two were written in the studio.

Andy, you must have relished the opportunity to finally get your own signature sound on record?

Andy: Yeah. The last two years have been so exciting but I can’t deny that getting to this point has always been a massive, massive, huge goal for me personally, and I guess for the band as well. It was quite weird, because I came in as soon as they’d finished the first one, which was a really weird time to come in. It was almost like a session drummer. So it feels quite amazing to be here now, to be finally almost at the end of this album.

Johnny: It was a pretty amazing thing when that happened really. The point was we could never ever have toured with a session drummer, ever. We were sitting in a beer garden in Angel and Christian said he was leaving and I was like ‘Fine’. It was not unexpected and it was not the end of the world, but it was in the sense that we had a tour coming up, like the first tour for ‘Up All Night’ a week later. We wouldn’t have done the tour without a drummer; we wouldn’t have done the tour with a session drummer, because I just can’t do that. So it was very much a case of whoever we got in would have to be a full-time member of the band immediately. Which is quite a thing in a week, you’re gonna have to get very fucking lucky for that to happen. But the thing is, you get a feeling about people. I reckon this is right with people in bands; you kinda get a feeling about them when you first meet them and you can just see whether that person is gonna be in your band or not in a way. So that was an amazing thing because the band just would have split up, absolutely.

Andy: We both got very lucky that week.

You’ve also had an active part in song writing on this album, haven’t you? That’s a bit of a step up…

You have to be able to laugh at life, especially if you’re doing what we’re doing. It’s not real life.

Andy: Me and Johnny on tour and stuff are always either hanging out or playing guitar. I think that’s what we have most in common. I mean, obviously he’s always on it and I like buggering off to go drink beer and stuff, but we do have that in common in that we’re both music all the time. Music, music, music all the time, and I think it’s quite a similar taste in music we’ve got, but we’ve also got a totally different musicality.

Johnny: Well, you’re a musician for a start! (Laughs)

Andy: But it’s nice, it’s where we meet, it’s why we get along and it’s great. There’s been a couple of songs that we’ve written together and the rest of it I’ve just been involved.

Johnny: The thing is, I’m a very driven and determined songwriter, but I do like collaborating and I do collaborate. I think people probably get the wrong impression about that. Like, if I was just a songwriter and was a solo artist or something and I just wrote a song and came and sat at the piano then that would just be being a solo artist. But obviously it’s a band, which is why it says ‘Razorlight’ on the front, and to turn the songs into Razorlight music is a collaborative process. I mean, I don’t sit there and write Björn’s guitar parts for him; that’s why he’s in the band and that’s why everybody’s in the band, because what they bring instinctively is the right thing. That’s the point of Razorlight with the music, was to have four people taking it in different directions, and that crossed over from Christian to Andy just in different ways. Christian took it in a different direction and Andy takes it in a different direction and you can see it in the sound of the two different albums.

When you’re writing together, Andy, do you sit there like, ‘We’ll put a drum solo in there…’?

Andy: No, HE’S more into me doing drum solos that I am!

Johnny: (Laughs) I’m DETERMINED to get a drum solo in the live set… in the next week!

Is that an excuse so you can wander off, maybe get a drink or something?

Johnny: (Nods and laughs) Well, drum solos are fantastic, right, because if you’re a musician and you’re in the audience and you see a drum solo, you kind of like switch off and you go, ‘Here’s the drum solo’, or you can appreciate the drumming; one or the other. If you’re not a musician but you wanna pretend you are, you sort of pretend to be really into it and like cheer at certain bits and stuff like that, and if you wanna get a drink you go and get a drink. The best thing is when you get to the end of a drum solo everyone fucking goes mental. I love your playing so much. I think it will be really great. But the other thing is, I never ever get a chance to actually stop and look around, and I would love it during a gig to just have a moment… Because we don’t have any guitar solos… That’s the thing; in this band it’s like I’m singing or I’m running around and jumping off something or I’m singing.

You could take a moment to sneak into the crowd and see what the band look like on stage.

Johnny: I really like going out front, but it would be great to just, like… You know how Bowie had costume changes? So Mick Ronson would do those long guitar solos, which is where the solo from ‘Moonage Daydream’ came from because he had to write a long solo and it’s fucking brilliant. He did this guitar solo so Bowie could go off, do a line, get a little something off Angie and put some new clothes on. And I’d love to have that.

Do you feel comfortable in the frontman image that you portray or people portray you as?

Johnny: What would that be?

Well, for instance, being misquoted in interviews because people want to set you up to say something controversial.

Johnny: That’s just part of the gig, you know? I don’t like being misquoted in arguments let alone in print, you know what I mean? I just don’t like being misquoted. It’s not anything that keeps you awake at night. And who am I to say? People are perfectly entitled to make their opinions of me when they sit down and do interviews with me. Whatever, you know?

And on stage, as the person at the front?

Johnny: But on stage, for me being a frontman is what happens when you’re on stage, yeah totally. I fucking adore that. I think that’s the only thing I can actually do. I’ve never had a problem with that. I like that; I really like that; I like being on stage. As a frontman you get moments, really, that I suppose nobody can understand. You really do get moments where it’s just so beyond good, you know? Just really moving moments.


Johnny: Yeah, fuck, as well, totally. Yeah absolutely, but the thing that you really do as a frontman with big crowds is you’re a conductor and you’re just conducting people when to go and when not to go. If you look at the greats like Freddie or someone like that, that’s where it’s at, you know? But everybody has their own way of doing it. That’s the great thing; there’s different kinds of frontmen. I always liked the Iggy/Mick thing more than the Liam stand still sort of thing. Those gigs when we first started touring ‘Up All Night’, the only thing I had going through my head when I was onstage was… I remember watching Iggy a long time ago and just being like, ‘I don’t know what the fuck he’s gonna do next’, the whole way through it, and that was all that was going through my mind during those gigs all the time. So if I ever get to watch one of them back I’ll probably look like a fucking idiot, but that was the point.

Were you involved in the production side of recording of this one too?

Johnny: We are. This one, I really wanted to work with a ‘producer’ producer, so this is why we’re working with Chris Thomas. And it’s been interesting, because he’s an ego maniac and a control freak and so am I. (Laughs)

Andy: So it’s never really calm for us three! (Laughs)

Johnny: No but, you know, you have to be. But the thing is, on the first one it was like John [Cornfield] was a fantastic person for sonics and sounds and he left me to all the arrangements and stuff. And on this one I just worried that if I did that again, especially with the success the band had had, it would be too easy to make mistakes that I shouldn’t. You know, like Yes Men mistakes, you know what I mean? You could start going off on it and really think it’s a great idea to write a song about your cocaine habit or something like that, which I really didn’t want to do. So I’ve tried to just keep myself honest; that was my main thing with getting Chris in, but he’s just brilliant. He really does have The Touch and I can’t really explain it, but he makes records sound like records. Some of the mixes he’s done are just phenomenal.

He makes Razorlight sound like Razorlight?

Andy: Yeah. I occasionally catch ‘In The Morning’ on the radio or walk past something where it’s coming from, and it doesn’t sound like anything else. I don’t mean it’s like, ‘What the hell is making that sound?’

Johnny: It’s not like ‘I Am The Walrus’ in 1968.

Andy: No, yeah, but it sounds like, I think, a band set apart. I like what we’ve done with this record. I don’t feel we’ve gone where a lot of people would maybe feel safe going, where we would feel safe going; it feels like we’ve made a bit of a, you know, ‘Let’s sound like Razorlight’. When you get asked that question, ‘Describe your music’, it’s like, it sounds like Razorlight. I want people to go, ‘We sound like Razorlight’ as opposed to us trying to describe our sound.

Johnny: I just always want to make a brave record. A journalist said something to us in Germany the other say, he said, “It’s very strange. For us, we would have expected you to come over here wearing leather jackets, be really arrogant, give us an album that was more of the same of ‘Up All Night’ and then fuck off’. And it was like, ‘What have you got?’ And we’re like, ‘It’s an album of songs’. I don’t know. You’ve always got to make a brave record, and I always will. The next one will be a brave record and the one after that will be a brave record. It’s always good to shit yourself before you put something out.

When your first album was released in 2004 there were a number of strong debut albums also put out. With all the attention on you all to follow that, it would seem that the second albums will be the making of you. Do you feel any of that pressure to meet those expectations?

Johnny: That kind of pressure is something I don’t often think about though I know that it’s there, right? And one of the great things I feel about when we came out is that I do genuinely feel like we have some kind of extended family around us. Because you can meet people from other bands who were all coming out at the same time and you’ve got a common experience. Because there were about ten bands that released good debut albums then and, you know, for the first year you kind of all stare at each other and go, ‘You’re a cunt’. ‘No, YOU’RE a cunt.’ ‘No, YOU’RE a cunt’. And you sort of size each other up, because that’s what you do; it’s like kids on the first day in the playground. And then after that you kinda get a bit more like, ‘Oh okay, right. I can see what’s going on’. But that kind of pressure, I don’t feel that second album pressure because whatever pressure I feel, I feel because when I look back at my career I wanna be able to love and respect all the music I’ve made. So that’s just the pressure, you know? You just wanna make great albums every time, because that’s what separates great bands from good bands or whatever. If you can make a great album every time, and if you can keep doing it, sooner or later the fuckers have got to give in and accept that you’re a great band.

Having seen and heard the new songs live, they already to me sound familiar – in the best way. There’s the epic beauty and landscape of ‘America’, the passion of ‘Can’t Stop This Feeling I’ve Got’; they sound like you’ve been playing them for ages and that people will love them immediately.

Johnny: Yeah, but give them a year! Give them a couple of months, because I KNOW that they’re gonna get so good. Not in a way that we should have done on the record, because it’s stuff that we can’t do on record. But I KNOW that they’re gonna get so good.

Andy: But the thing is, ‘Up All Night’ is an amazing record, but when we play live it becomes something completely fucking different. It’s not that the record is not as good or that the live show is better, it’s just that they’re two different things, and I’m looking forward to that on this record.

Johnny: Fundamentally, the point of playing live is to make something happen. Last year when we were touring so much, there was only two things I could listen to. One was Van Morrison live in 1976 when he was doing the Caledonian Soul Orchestra thing, and the other thing was Fela Kuti, some live stuff, because every time they went on stage something different happened. They were making something happen. For me, that’s just gotta be the point of playing live, because otherwise what are you doing? You’re just turning up and playing the record. You see bands and they play to the click track and it bores me shitless. I think there’s room for it and I think on this next record we probably will do more stuff where it’s just a bit more solid, but you’ve gotta have all the stuff in the set where you don’t know what’s gonna happen next.

The new songs all went down very well with the crowds.

Andy: Yeah, they’re quite instant…

They’ve got big choruses.

Andy: Yeah… not an intentional sit down, ‘Let’s write an album with big choruses’, it’s just the way that we felt.

It’s anthemic.

Andy: Yeah, it is.

Johnny: Is it?

I think so.

Johnny: Well I’m glad, I take that as a compliment.

It’s true. I saw the Shepherds Bush gig and after the new songs I thought, ‘That’s a really good song’, then a couple of weeks later after you played Dundee it became, ‘That’s a fucking GREAT song!’

Johnny: I think Razorlight songs always take like three listens and after that they’re there. On first listen you’re probably like, ‘That’s really good’, second listen you’re like, ‘Shit, actually that IS really good’, and third you’re like, ‘Wankers!’ (Laughs) Records turn into what they have to turn into, you know? And this record’s been turning into what it’s had to turn into.

There’s a significant destiny for Razorlight; the scale of this album – in sound, production and vision – should rightfully raise the stakes for a band hungry for greatness. The songs are as big as their appetite, their impact as sharp as their bite.

Excusing himself from the table at the end of the interview, Johnny gets up to go to the bathroom, not before planting his black sunglasses over his eager eyes. Confirmation, if it’s even needed, that this band’s future is bright as hell. Wankers!

The man of Steele returns. Life as a pop visionary and trippy romanticist hasn’t been easy for Luke, frontman of Antipodean dreamers The Sleepy Jackson. He’s been written-off as some kind of megalomaniac, born-again Christian preacher man; a pastiche merchant with severe problems of keeping a band together for longer than 20 minutes. Certifiable dribbling loony-bin material, basically. His response is an album that promises to readdress the balance and close some gaping wounds, as well as delivering an experience akin to “1930s in the future”.

The delirious kaleidoscopic pick ‘n’ mix of The Sleepy Jackson’s last LP, 2003’s ‘Lovers’, had both gnarled hacks and indie kids numbed to fuck by ‘Room On Fire’ up in arms. A stylistic trolley-dash down the Yellow Brick Road, it loaded-up on bow-legged dustbowl country, wonky glam and crooked folk songs, shot-through with the kind of widescreen melodies Brian Wilson wrote before hiding in his tepee. The slobbering response left Perth boy Luke somewhat bemused. “In high-school I was pretty chilled-out, just recording on my 4-track,” he says. “It was kind of a hidden mystery to everyone, like that Tom Waits thing, ‘What’s he building in there?’ So once we got on tour it was like, ‘well, hello!’ It was like hearing one of those lines… ‘rock and roll makes dreams come true!’ Parties with big-breasted Hollywood babes and busting beer… it was pretty crazy for the first couple of years, it was kind of a struggle.”

Scumbag scribes attributed Luke’s turmoil to an alleged stranglehold over the rest of the band; a dominance that would make Captain Beefheart seem like Rachel Stevens. In excess of 30 musicians have flirted with the group; Luke’s brother Jesse was supposedly sacked, while Justin Burford and Rodney Aravena left to concentrate on a side-project. Luke, however, sees it as an issue of those around him not sharing the same bare-bollock enthusiasm. “A band like Kings of Leon, it’s a blood band, they’re together. But when you meet someone and you’re playing music it’s not always the same levels of passion. The guys left – they’d lied to my face for a month. They’d had another band going; they were trying to use my name to get signed. Music’s the most uplifting thing and I’m trying to be a minister, but it kind of gets screwed.”

His retort this time is the panoramic and shimmering new LP, ‘Personality’. Though not as madcap as his debut, it’s a far more cohesive work, stuffed to the arse-end with gossamer pop songs. From the hymnal first single, ‘God Lead Your Soul’ to the elegiac future-folk of ‘Miles Away’ through to the ‘Raspberry Beret’ stains on ‘I Understand What You Want, But I Just Don’t Agree’, it’s undoubtedly the year’s most elaborate and rich pop record. “It’s all about creating our own world,” notes Luke. “It’s bigger and more frenetic…the lyrics are full-on, but if the melodies were dark I think it would’ve been confusing. ‘Lovers’ was nice, but I wanted this to be about everything in my life. What’s good about it is that it’s real. It’s a piece of art; everything we’ve been through has been thrown into this record in the strongest way I thought to represent it.”

Understandably, a great slab of this concerns the fallout with his accomplices. “It got me fired-up,” says Luke. “Some songs are a bit on-the-edge, like ‘Devil Was In My Yard’… the whole ‘devil’ thing; it’s not them; they’re good people that I play music with, but their minds had been arrested… the main thing was what the slightest hint of success had done to these people. There’s trials and tribulations in the lyrics (but) everyone in life gets thrown every single day; someone’s gonna die or someone’s gonna rip your face off. You can’t get through life without these things. It’s not like you’ve gotta wait for them, you can’t go looking for the devil – you’ll certainly get it.”

Music’s the most uplifting thing and I’m trying to be a minister, but it kind of gets screwed.

To those more accustomed with songs detailing the heady delights of after-hours kebab shops, the idea of a man making a Walt Disney-on-acid opus – seemingly beamed-in from another galaxy – may seem ludicrous. Luke, however, doesn’t come across as self-consciously outlandish, and instead seems fuelled by the superficial evils of popular culture. “The quote I’ve been saying in interviews is ‘brainwashed is death, washed pure is life’,” he notes. “It’s gotta be simplified – don’t think in the past, live for today; not what you have but who you have. It’s not about singing about ‘my lovely lady lumps’. It’s like the digital world is becoming all these bizarre churches; what does that machine do; can’t you talk to me? Why do kids need mobiles to send text messages in schools? Why do things where people send a text and have a tarot message back? You don’t talk to someone – you talk to a computer; it tells the future. This stuff is really happening! Things have been heating-up, people have been getting more cut-throat; that’s what’s so dangerous about reality TV. It’s amplifying morons to become ministers. That War of the Worlds stuff is so real, and people don’t realise.” It’s safe to say that Celebrity Love Island isn’t a staple in the Steele family household.

Despite Luke’s propheteering and abhorrence of contemporary life, it appears that he now has found some contentment; a sense that reflects in ‘Personality’. Once a living checklist of the rock and roll cliché – drink problem, penchant for malice to instruments – the death of two close friends helped him to find faith in ‘him upstairs’. “You talk to any good minister or preacher, and they’ll have been through it… I’ve talked to these guys; one was the biggest alcoholic and had a car crash… Johnny Cash and that; they’re not some happy chappies. I did a lot of stupid stuff and I’ve learnt something. You talk to any of those old blues guys about their whole journey and they’ll say one thing; you gotta pay your dues.” With the dues well and truly paid, hopefully Luke can get on with creating albums as stratospherically cosmos-shagging as ‘Personality’.

It’s too early for this, and yet here we are at10am, in what looks like your average, slightly scummy beige room. Except in one corner is a rectangle of crackling astro turf. On it sits a small paddling pool, a beach ball, and a plastic bucket and spade. Bunting is strung up on the walls to add a celebratory feel. Completing this peculiar faux seaside scene are three rickety, striped deck chairs, each cradling one Young Knife, resplendent in their usual tweed and tie uniform, looking suitably sleepy. It’s quite a different scene from the last time we saw them playing to a rabid crowd at the London Barfly many, many months ago. They might look like mild mannered geography teachers, but believe, when they hit the stage spittle will fly, glasses will fall and their neatly pressed shirts will become very sweaty indeed.

Henry Dartnell (singer/guitarist), his brother bassist/singer House of Lords (that’s Thomas Dartnell to his mum) and drummer Oliver Askew are the latest in the British rock canon to immortalise and dissect the everyday with a slightly sardonic twist. Take their flagship tune ‘Weekends And Bleak Days (Hot Summer)’, which perfectly encapsulates the numbing futility of a dead-end job and everything that sucks about working during the summertime. With its taut, repetitive guitar line and Henry’s clipped vocals, the song certainly owes a debt the jerky, minimalism of post-punk acts like Gang Of Four, but the three-piece are far from brazen copyists. Songs like ‘In The Pink’, ‘Tailor’ (an eerie ode to the dying art of a clothier), and ‘Another Hollow Line’ temper the jagged edges and falsetto yelps with the melancholy beauty of The Kinks and hints of Pavement’s off-kilter, lo-fi loveliness.

It seems the brothers Dartnell have been preparing for their time beneath the bright lights since they were six-years-old, when they first discovered the joys of amateur dramatics. Henry took the lead role in ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and House played “a fucking tree wearing a massive sheet of green paper”. (Years later, Henry scooped the role of Dracula with House as his henchmen Ghengis.) Having met Oliver in their teens and under the questionable influences of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Pop Will Eat Itself and the Senseless Things et al, they formed an ill-fated ‘grebo’ band. Once their original singer joined the navy, Henry took over on vocals, roped in his brother and The Young Knives were born. But it wasn’t until they finished university that the band finally became a viable option. As Henry puts it: “If you live in London you see people who are in bands and think it’s feasible, but if you live in the Midlands you see people in the pub who sell drugs, beat people up and work in factories. There aren’t many popstars round there.”

Lucky for us that they decided to give it a crack, moving to Oxford and releasing one mini-album, ‘The Young Knives Are Dead’ on local label Shifty Disco. This in turn, hooked the tastemakers at Transgressive Records. Time to meet the boys…

Gang Of Four’s Andy Gill produced your debut album. Were you at all worried by the negative production experience The Futureheads had with their first album?

He was jabbing the bread knife at me shouting, ‘I’m going to fucking kill you.’ The doctor said we should never be alone together.

Henry: Wary, but we didn’t really know the facts behind it and my opinion is that they were not pushy enough to get their own way.

So you’re saying you have bigger balls than the Futureheads.

Henry: Yeah. They probably didn’t like something and then went away and mumbled about it, which is understandable because you’re a bit in awe of someone like that. It was a good process because it made us think about the songs and which parts are really important, which are the ones that we won’t let him touch. It’s mainly him encouraging us to come up with new ideas – ‘Is this a bit too stupid? That idea is a bit rubbish.’

House: Of course he comes up with some dreadful ideas!

Henry: Oh yes. He didn’t like the album title, ‘Voices Of Animals And Men’.

House: He sent Henry a message saying, ‘Why don’t you call it: ‘Pure Heavenly Rain’?’ He thought there was something ironic in it.

Henry: I replied, ‘That’s probably the shittest album name! NO!’

Henry and Oliver met at school in the swashbuckling sounding town of Ashby-de-la-Zouche. What did you two bond over?

Henry: We met in an electronics technology class. We sat at the table with only two girls and flirted with them the entire time!

House: Did you get a kiss off the girls?

Henry: I didn’t, but there was one girl Jenny Rees, she was a bit of a goer. She had the biggest tits! When I was 13, she was amazing. Ooh, she got me all over-excited. There was one party once and she said, ‘If you’d have gone I would have definitely got off with you.’ And I was like, ‘What!’ [Henry splutters eagerly] ‘When’s the next party!?’

House of Lords, last time I met you down the pub you had recently spent the night sleeping in a public toilet.

House: It was just after a sold out gig at the Oxford Zodiac. Someone said, ‘Come back to ours’, so I went back to with these two girls. At about 5am I walked out, went 100 yards down the road, realised I’d left my bag, turned back and I had no idea where I’d just come from. So I ended up sleeping in a public toilet. I tried chucking stones at Oliver’s window, but he didn’t wake up. Anyway, there was that time that you were locked out of your house and you had to book a hotel.

Oliver: Yeah exactly! I didn’t sleep in a toilet!

Henry: You booked the hotel next to your house! You handed in your home address, ‘Yes, yes I do live just next door.’

House: I woke up at about 7am and went to Londis for about an hour because I was so fucking cold. I looked at everything in great detail. Checked all the E numbers. They were like, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘I’m not sure I’m just looking.’ They made me leave in the end, but I bought some margarine.

Margarine! That’s not even anything you can ingest on the spot.

House: Oh, I was too hungover. And anyway you can never have too much margarine.

Would it be fair to say you’re into DIY ethic?

Henry: I do sometimes go to B&Q on a Sunday.

When was the last time you did some DIY?

Henry: I’ve done quite a lot recently because I’ve just moved into a new house. I do have a drill. I am a real man. But yes, we do like the DIY ethic, mainly because we think our ideas are much better than anyone else’s, so if we do it ourselves it will be brilliant.

House: Yesterday we were doing this B-side about a train, I went ‘Woo Woo’ like a rockist scream mimicking a train and the guy who was recording it hated it! He liked it later on, but that’s the thing, if you do it yourself you don’t have to go through the discussion of whether you’re allowed to make the train noise your record.

We do like the DIY ethic, mainly because we think our ideas are much better than anyone else’s, so if we do it ourselves it will be brilliant.

So House of Lords. I hear you’re a bit of a ladies man.

House: No! I’ve just got the one lady now.

Okay, so before that you were the band stud?

Henry: There was a point during the last tour when you became very charming. You seemed to be able to chat quite freely with lots of women and invite them all back to the van. You’d have seven or eight girls sitting there. And then you’d demand a kiss off all of them! You had a way with the words. It wasn’t like he was slagging it about.

Oh, no, not just sticking it in any hole.

House: I wasn’t sticking it in ANY hole.

Henry: It was more wooing and entertaining. We were in that club in Bath and he was dancing next to some girls, chatting. He walked off and a couple of girls followed him like he was the Pied Piper. Then he walked past us again and there were six girls in tow, all in a single file line!

House: I was very impressed with myself, but basically they wanted some free t-shirts.

I’m particularly fond of the video for ‘The Decision’ with the cannibalistic farm couple. How did you decide which member of the band was going to get devoured?

Henry: House of Lords has the most meat on him. He’s value for money. Oliver would be such a pain in the ass to eat, you’d be picking around the bones for hours.

What small things make you disproportionately happy?

Henry: My willy! [cackles]

What sort of sibling relationship did you have when you were kids?

Henry: We used to fight all the time about nothing. I used to get quite violent. I had the top bunk and once I engineered this bucket of water over the door. He saw me do it and slipped through. I was so angry and I took this broom and smashed it down on his head. Like, ‘If you don’t get wet I’m going to fucking smash your head open! Those are the rules.’ He was crying in the corner then he got so angry he ran downstairs and I could hear him going through the cutlery drawer. I locked myself in the toilet and he was jabbing the bread knife at me shouting, ‘I’m going to fucking kill you.’ And I thought, ‘Fuck! He is!’

I pushed him to the edge. Then the doctor said we should never be alone together. One time I also smacked him round the head with a metal bar. My mates were over and I was like, ‘Watch this!’ I did it and they all went, ‘Fucking hell’ and I was like, ‘That’s cool isn’t it?’

What would you say are the prevalent themes on the album?

Henry: Death and mediocrity. They’re character driven. I do like people-watching.

House: While you would overhear a conversation on the bus and maybe discuss it later, he’ll mimic the voice then and there and go on some tirade!

Henry: It’s not that I hate all people. People are really interesting, how they deal with things quite apart from how I would deal with things.

What was the inspiration for ‘Loughbrough Suicide’?

Henry: It’s really about somebody who is pathetic, someone who is always threatening to kill himself to show everyone. It’s not saying, ‘Isn’t this guy an idiot.’ It’s kind of about people going to therapy and them saying, ‘It’s so good, I love going to therapy.’ But basically you’re paying someone quite a lot of money to sit there and let you talk about yourself and for them to be interested, which we all like. It’s a bit like prostitution, therapy. We’ve got interviews to talk about ourselves and we don’t have to pay for it.

How about ‘In The Pink’?

Henry: That was inspired by Oxford a bit. When you’re trying to be creative and artistic a lot of people claim you have to be very depressed and angst-ridden and to have had lots of tragedy in your life. As if there’s some merit to suffering.

And the title?

Henry: ‘In The Pink’, as in not being very well as opposed to any smutty connotations. I didn’t even think about it! Do you think we should get some merchandise emblazoned with the phrase?

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery in everything but the music business, where it generally means that you’ve just missed out on a big wad of cash. Marc Collin, for instance, the man behind Nouvelle Vague, is fuming gently that the current TV ad for a big multi-national company is soundtracked by a winsome girl singer covering an old new-wave song.

“It’s very near, but it’s not us,” sighs the man who thought he’d cornered the market in winsome girl singers covering new-wave songs. “We’ve not done so many ads. Maybe two or three in France, two or three in England, one in America…”

Still, that isn’t bad going for what is, essentially, a novelty project made good. The cream of early-Eighties post-punk performed by a series of gamine ingénues in a bossa nova style, Nouvelle Vague probably wouldn’t work if Collin weren’t French, but that helps, somehow. He’s now onto his second album, ‘Bande à Part’, after the self-titled debut became a cult hit over here, then the States. The ad royalties were just an added bonus.

While generally described as either a collective or a duo, Nouvelle Vague is really Collin’s baby, and quite a departure from his usual output. The Paris-based producer was part of the fertile French Touch movement in the late Eighties, which also spawned the likes of Air and Alex Gopher, and went on to become a major player on the influential Parisian club scene. He then dabbled in film scores, wrote and produced tracks for the likes of Beth Hirsch, but now finds his schedule dominated by a side project.

The roots of the idea would appear to be in language – ‘Nouvelle Vague’ and ‘bossa nova’ are both translations of ‘new-wave,’ in French and Portugese respectively – but Collin insists that’s just an odd coincidence. In fact, as a huge fan of post-punk, his prime objective was to prove how strong those old tunes were, by placing them in the unlikeliest of settings.

“All these post-punk bands, maybe they only knew one or two chords but they also wrote beautiful songs. No one ever says that, as they are talking about the haircuts, the attitude. When we did the first album, I thought if we could touch all the people that were into post-punk, that would be a good thing. I didn’t expect that a younger generation, especially in America, would really like it. They only know one or two of the original songs, and I don’t think they went back to hear the originals after. They just love the way we are doing the music.”

Guitarist Olivier Libaux was Collin’s chief collaborator on both Nouvelle Vague records, closely followed by a clutch of talented young French vocalists. These were selected partly for their sensuous, very un-snotty voices, but also because they’d never heard the original songs either. Even they weren’t particularly interested in going back to the source, after recording was complete. “I think it’s a bit strange,” says Collin. “But when you know a song you don’t want to know that it’s a cover. The first time I heard the original of ‘Tainted Love’ I went ‘Gaah!’ as I really thought it was a Soft Cell song. I was very confused.”

With a marketing budget as minimal as the album’s acoustic instrumentation, it was good old-fashioned word of mouth that spread the Nouvelle Vague sound, and sales of the first album have passed the 200,000 mark now. You can understand its appeal, certainly for those who remembered the songs from their initial incarnation, but have perhaps relaxed a tad these days. Edgy old classics in an easy-listening style, it became just about the perfect wine bar record.

If people want to listen to those songs in a swimming pool with a cocktail, it will not work at all.

Collin is faintly appalled by that suggestion though, and for this second album planned a radical change of tack, adding more electronics and a darker edge. He then had a change of heart, however, after some gentle persuasion from pretty much everyone he knew, and returned to the original blueprint. Hence ‘Bande à Part’ is still very Nouvelle Vague: 14 more new-wave anthems, from Echo and the Bunnymen’s ‘The Killing Moon’ to Blancmange’s ‘Waves’, all given a quasi-Brazilian or cod-Caribbean makeover, with just the occasional deviation from the laissez faire norm. Then, of course, you notice the lyrics…

“What’s strange with Nouvelle Vague, you can consider that it’s chill-out, easy listening, but if you listen carefully its not the case,” says Collin. “If you take [The Clash’s] ‘Guns Of Brixton’ on the first album or on this one [Bauhaus’s] ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’, it’s very dark. If people want to listen to those songs in a swimming pool with a cocktail, it will not work at all.”

That depends, of course, on the cocktail. Collin and co will be getting well acquainted with hotel pools soon as they head to the UK, Europe and the States on tour. On stage, again, the atmosphere will be fairly sedate, no obtrusive axe solos or random hip-hop interludes to spoil the mood. So has he come across any of the original artists on his travels, and what do they make of him turning their angry young anthems all light and sunny?

“We met Mick Jones in Sweden, he was very happy. We met Neville Staples from The Specials in Seattle, he was happy also. We got feedback from Martin Gore and Vince Clarke [Depeche Mode], the guy from the Dead Kennedys. But I heard that Peter Hook, of Joy Division, when he heard our version of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, he didn’t recognise it.”

Well, he is getting on a bit.

“We never tried to be old school,” the distinctive baritone voice of Jurassic 5 MC Chali 2na echoes down the phone line. “That’s just what we did then”.

“Then” was in 1992 when Los Angeles’ Jurassic 5 emerged with an acclaimed debut EP featuring the now classic song ‘Concrete Schoolyard’ that promised to take hip-hop back to its roots of “original beats / real live MCs / playground tactics”. Now, one of the most popular alternative rap groups are set to release their third full length album, ‘Feedback’, that sees them take a significant step away from their signature old school sound. There’s the Boney M meets dancehall of ‘Brown Girl’, a soulful collaboration with US rock star Dave Matthews on ‘Work It Out’, while ‘Gotta Understand’ is a glitzy LA take on the East Coast sound.

“The sound is bigger and it comes from us learning how to use our equipment better,” laughs 2na. The group’s DJ and main producer NuMark sees it as a growing process for the band. “As we say, we can’t stay size medium forever.” But it’s not just Jurassic 5 who have grown, so too has hip-hop. Once derided as a short-term fad and attacked on issues of sample theft, violent lyrics and graffiti, hip-hop is now a global cultural phenomenon whose methods and motifs have become part of the establishment and reap vast economic rewards.

“My son doesn’t know life without hip-hop,” says 2na. “It’s the music that his parents listen to so he’s got a different perspective on it. I saw hip-hop as a liberating force. Growing up in Chicago where there was always shootings and drug-related violence, hip-hop felt like a secret society that showed me a whole other world. Now you have ad firms using graffiti to sell products, but we used to get arrested for that.”

A lot had changed even by the early 90s when 2na moved to LA and started rapping with Marc 7 and DJ Cut Chemist as Unity Committee. Regular performers at the city’s now legendary Good Life Café, they teamed up with another popular crew Rebels of Rhythm, composed of NuMark with MCs Zaakir and Akil, to form Jurassic 5. By then the old school sound of their debut EP with its rough samples and rugged breaks was so at odds with the pervasive style of highly produced gangster rap they were a breath of fresh air. They followed this with a full-length album ‘Quality Control’ that established their popularity not only amongst hip-hop fans but with an alternative rock audience as well, though they were not without their critics. Their adherence to the old school template was derided by some people while their positive life-affirming outlook and socially conscious lyrics have been mocked by bling-touting hip-hop rivals.

Both these issues are tackled on ‘Feedback’. ‘Where We At’, featuring guest vocals from Mos Def, is a blistering assault on their critics born out of “anger at how people perceive us”, according to 2na. “Too many people in hip-hop are doing it just for the money and not necessarily because they love the sport. It’s like people playing basketball as a way out of the ghetto, instead of just super-duper loving it.”

The album also completes a process begun on their second album ‘Power In Numbers’, that has shifted their sound into new areas. “We wanted to try every idea that came to mind,” explains NuMark. “We recorded about 35 songs for the album – some of them were like the old J5 stuff, other stuff went too far the other way.” There was also a change in the internal dynamic of the group as ‘Feedback’ doesn’t feature any significant contributions from Cut Chemist, who took time off to concentrate on his own solo album. Instead the record sees a number of guest producers like Scott Storch and Salaam Remi, who produced the Fugees album ‘The Score’, add a commercial edge to their songs. There is a risk the group might alienate their old fans but NuMark insists it’s not something they can allow themselves to think about. “We respect our fans, but we don’t cater to them.” 2na agrees, “We are artists so we can and will change at any moment. We aren’t scared to be different.”

We are artists so we can and will change at any moment. We aren’t scared to be different.

Another new feature is a more contemplative approach to their lyrics, with songs like ‘Baby Please’ and ‘End Up Like This’ talking about love and personal issues. “We haven’t touched on an introverted type of project before,” say 2na. “Don’t get me wrong, a song like ‘Contribution’ [from ‘Quality Control’] is born from our past experiences as children in single parent households and uses that to discuss the social issue, so there is personal in the political. But on ‘Feedback’ we wanted to show our human side.”

It’s a theme that Chali 2na is looking to pursue on his long-mooted solo project ‘Fish Out Of Water’. The record was due for release this year but has been put off while the group embark on a world tour to promote ‘Feedback’. “We felt it was more important to make the foundation of Jurassic 5 solid before we do solo work. My album will come out when it makes the most sense.” After Cut Chemist’s possible permanent defection from the group could ‘Feedback’ be their last album? “We were happy for Cut when he told us he was doing his album,” says NuMark. “My gut feeling is he probably won’t be back. But we’ll go on. I don’t have a solo album in me at the moment. I’d like to at some point but right now I’m not inspired.”

So Jurassic 5 will be around for some time yet, and if they continue to grow and evolve as they have on ‘Feedback’, they can ensure they won’t become hip-hop dinosaurs.

On the 2nd of July 2005, under the beautiful Pont Du Gard viaduct in Provence, France, Jeff Mills, one of the most popular and legendary techno DJs and producers of all time embarked on one of his most daring and progressive performances to date.

Famed initially for his DJ pseudonym The Wizard on Detroit’s WLBF station, Mills is credited as one of the founding fathers of the modern day techno sound through his partnership with ‘Mad’ Mike Banks in creating the legendary Underground Resistance label. This label exuded individuality and emotion and galvanized a generation into feeling the power of electronic music. He went on to start his own Axis imprint, generating incredible worldwide success and spawning offshoots like the dancefloor friendly Purpose Maker label. And all the while he has DJ’d over the world, topping the bill at every electronic event imaginable, showcasing a simply unmistakable thunderous sound and an instinctive quick-fire DJ style.

However it is the phase he entered post-millenium that has sown the seeds for this new project. In 2000 he composed a soundtrack to the classic Fritz Lang movie ‘Metropolis’, which ignited in him a passion to look beyond the dancefloor. He wanted to see how he could apply electronic music within other musical territories, to challenge the boundaries within which electronic music was being held by a now stale scene containing little or no true innovation and holding increasingly less respect throughout the wider musical world.

Last year’s performance in France was the culmination of his new ideas. Fourteen classic Mills techno productions were arranged by young composer Thomas Roussel and performed by the 80-piece Montpellier Philharmonic Orchestra with the aim to successfully re-interpret contemporary sounds in an authentic classical music environment.

Today people’s lives are almost like an absurd form of escapism where they don’t want to know anything that’s going to disturb their peace or state of mind.

The results were aired live that night in 2005 and are now to be released on a truly inspiring DVD and CD entitled ‘Blue Potential’. Mills chatted with Clash in a central London hotel about his aims for this project and his views on all the work he has undertaken.

How did the ‘Blue Potential’ project come about?

I’ve been working on this for quite some time, since shortly after ‘Metropolis’. People were suggesting that I should work with an orchestra in either a performance or production. I think through ‘Metropolis’ people could visualise more vividly what it would be like to have techno represented through classical music.

How did you set about achieving the balance between electronic and classical sounds?

I don’t know if we achieved it but we wanted to find the perfect balance between the two genres. We had hoped that it would fall on that very thin line between. Before the performance I purposely did not pre-programme the drum machine, I did it during the performance. I thought this way it could actually sound like a drummer would. I listened to what the orchestra was doing and thought I’d attempt to create this huge jam session with 80 musicians. Working with an orchestra is a massive task. You have to balance it so that each individual part can be heard, no matter how little the sound.

Do you think people who are classical music fans will see the parallels between electronic and classical music?

Um, typically what we’ve found so far is that people who listen to classical music are strict and draw lines between what’s appropriate and inappropriate. Most of the people in classical music feel that this project is not classical enough. On the other side some electronic people feel that it is not electronic enough. So it falls in between. However, I think that’s exactly what is important with ‘Blue Potential’, it raises questions as to what it really is. It’s not one track, it’s 14, it’s something that you really have to think about.

Why is it called ‘Blue Potential’?

Well, ‘Blue’ meaning the sky or space and also ‘Blue’ meaning the water, the depth of the ocean and the sea. It deals with the subject of where we as humans can find the greatest answers of who we are and why we’re here and where we’re going. By looking at space and by looking in the depths of the ocean we will probably find the most answers. We have done a good job of excavating the ground and the places we live on to find artefacts to tell us of our history. But I don’t think this is as informative as what you will find in sea and space. ‘Potential’ means the chance of what we can discover when we actually look a bit deeper into our world.

Do you think music becomes stronger if you are looking deeper into the world and trying to communicate a message rather than simply making a certain type or genre of sound?

Making music has very little to do with the equipment and the nature of the sounds, it has more to do with the amount of emotion that the person actually has. If the person who makes it is full of emotion for people marching and standing up for what they believe in then you can transfer this emotion to sound and it can be a truly powerful form of communication. I think we get too caught up in titles and names, to the point that if you are a certain type of person you can only listen to a certain type of music. I think we sometimes forget that it’s just music.

Do you not think that musical boundaries are blurring and changing now? People and tastes are diversifying.

No I feel it’s the opposite. In the music media industry it seems that the media can’t navigate and keep balance between all the styles that come out. It seems that they must let one style die before another can surface. There is so much music that is relevant historically, and there are so many new styles surfacing all the time, but the media seem intent on only talking about the newest and most popular thing.

Yes, but this probably describes the industry itself and not the people who listen to the music…

Yes, true, but there is not much consideration given by the media to the electronic musician who is trying to make himself a career, a career that can last 80 years. That I think is interesting. Maybe it’s because of the editors, or the advertisers who help provide the things that suit the lifestyle created through working in this culture. How many pages are in the average magazine? I feel that there could be a lot more that are actually informative. Out of all the interviews I have done I’ve rarely been asked the single most important question, ‘Why do I do what I do?’

I would have thought that’s the whole point in an interview…

A few years ago I had had it. I thought I am gonna display the kind of things that journalists should be asking me but don’t. So I went to a psychiatrist. I had the doctor ask me things about who I am and I printed these things in the sleeve notes of the ‘Lifelike’ compilation CD on Axis. People could then be able to see what type of person would be able to create music like this. The journalists for so many years had failed to unearth this type of personality.

Making music has very little to do with the equipment and the nature of the sounds, it has more to do with the amount of emotion that the person actually has.

But a lot of artists are not interested in giving across personality.

Well if you are going to the jungle to do a documentary on the lion, you don’t ask the lion if you can do a documentary on it, you just do it. Good journalism is where the interviewer can be tactful with a person who doesn’t want to be revealing and just get it out anyway. If I sat down and made a life affirming album about the status quo of the world, say a Marvin Gaye ‘What’s Going On’ type of album and I knew that the media would do what it could to inform people about what I had to say in the music then I would feel more compelled to want to communicate the message as well.

Going back to UR is a perfect example of what you are saying. That felt like a real movement, an insurrection for change where those within really had something to say and those who were listeners truly understood and believed.

The situation in the world is a lot worse than it was in 1988 when we started UR and started making music with a message and I’m perplexed by this. Why are people consuming, accepting and just getting on with their lives? It’s soulless. Today people’s lives are almost like an absurd form of escapism where they don’t want to know anything that’s going to disturb their peace or state of mind.

When you met Mike Banks and started UR. Would you say that this was one of the most significant meetings in your life that would shape what you’d go on to say musically?

Yeah, we both had a common interest in house music. I was playing a lot of house and was getting quite into it and Mike’s band wanted to get deeper into making house. I went with Mike to a couple of parties and we kept in contact, started sharing equipment and ideas, and the relationship grew.

How would you describe your personalities? What made the overall team great?

We grew up in a very similar way. His mother and father were teachers and most of my relatives were teachers, I think we’d both developed more vivid ways of explaining things, using the method of fundamentals to be able to describe a particular type of subject. I think that comes from upbringing.

Mike in our recent interview said you were a firm friend and UR operative. Would you agree with this?

Yeah of course. We communicate a lot. I help out wherever I can. I think though, when I left we both realised it was the most logical thing to do based on the structure of the company and also the industry. It just didn’t support the lifestyle of two Afro-American men.

Was that because each individual was strong enough to be an entity on his own?

Well, that was actually secondary. It was more fundamental really. We were both living at home with our parents at the time we were doing UR and that was a situation we wanted to change. We both wanted to create something that we could both live off. We didn’t have the knowledge and resources to do it from one company. But we knew it would be possible if we separated and one of us left to start another company.

Are you doing any work with Mike now?

We’re discussing something. A very special idea in Paris.

A lot of people describe you solely as an international DJ – does this annoy you? And with new projects like ‘Blue Potential’ are you trying to push your career in new directions?

No I still consider myself a DJ. I do whatever it takes to be able to get where I need to go and to be able to allow people to do what they themselves need to do.

So the big question must be, why do you do what you do?

I think that most people want to be better. I think that sometimes they have trouble finding the parts of their personality that will allow them to do that. Some people sit at home and watch soap operas all day so they can find it, some people choose sports, some people spend time going out at the weekend amongst 1000 people lost in a crowd listening to music. And if I can help produce that motivation in any way, whether it’s DJing or producing or writing text then I’m more than happy.

Jealousy is a terrible thing ain’t it? One minute you’re flying. The next, some bitter bastard comes along and snatches it all away from you like a high school thug who’s made off with your dinner money. And so it goes for The Futureheads. Since their six year formation at the Sunderland City Detached Youth Project, the north-east four-piece have scored three top 20 hits, shifted a quarter of a million album sales worldwide, hitched a ride on Dave Grohl’s private jet and caught the eye of every celeb from Noel Gallagher to Hollywood bad guy Dennis Hopper.

After fleeing to a farmhouse near Scarborough, Barry (lead singer) and his brother David Hyde (drummer), guitarist Ross Millard and bassist David ‘Jaff’ Craig recorded their second album ‘News And Tributes’, in less than six weeks before taking the record on the road for a low key tour of the UK. Then, just when everything was running smoothly and The Futureheads were preparing for a secret headlining April return to London, some bastard went and ruined it all by pulling the plug during ‘Decent Days And Nights’.

“I just thought sabotage,” rants Barry. “I thought one of those fucking pricky London bands had turned our gig off. I thought ‘you fucking bell ends!’” Well, er, hang on a minute that wasn’t actually the case. It later turns out that the blame didn’t actually lie with some back-stabbing southern wannabe rock stars. Instead it was all down to a dodgy fire alarm that just happened to go off at the wrong time. So all is forgiven then, eh? It was only a 10-minute delay after all Barry. Er, not quite. “That gig was the most inebriated audience I’ve ever played to in me life. They were all hammered,” Barry snaps. “You go and try and smash people over their heads with your music and it’s a sledgehammer when they’re that rat-arsed. I just thought I might as well not have bothered.”

Fair play to Barry; you can’t help but admire his passion, his honesty and his no-nonsense attitude. He’s as outspoken as Johnny Borrell and Liam Gallagher. The only difference is he ain’t doing it to massage his ego or sell shitloads of records. He just tells it like it is.

So power cuts and conspiracy theories aside, how are you finding life back on the road?

We’ve had a great time touring. People are getting into the new material but it’s still a little early for the new album yet. It hasn’t been out for very long and it’s the type of album you need to listen to a few times and get your head round a bit. Some fans that have seen us play live recently must have thought, ‘eh?’ Because it doesn’t sound like us playing. The sound of the new album is quite different.

Have you had any hiccups since Camden?

Nah we’ve been fine to be honest. Saying that though, one of our fans had a bit of a hiccup last night. She was right at the front and as soon we kicked off the set this fucking idiot elbowed her in the eye accidentally and she ended up in first aid for the whole gig. We went round afterwards to say hello to her cos we felt so sorry for her.

I believe the title track ‘News And Tributes’, is based on the 1958 Munich Air Disaster in which 23 Man United players were killed in a plane crash. Why did you choose that particular tragedy?

Ross is a massive Man United fan and he’s supported them since he was a baby. Basically he put that idea forward not really knowing that it was gonna turn out on the album in the way that it did. That is one of the songs that shows a real difference between the first and second album. That one and maybe ‘Face’ are songs that are very different. Basically if you like those songs, you’ll like our second album.

Did you find the band were under more pressure to record the second album?

Not at all. If anything, it was much easier. The first album was a total nightmare to be honest because we had to record the bloody thing twice. We recorded with (Gang Of Four’s) Andy Gill at first but we didn’t like it so we had a bit of a nervous breakdown and ended up working with Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, White Rose Movement) and he kind of salvaged the album with his work. So it was this really kind of drawn out anti-climatic experience. The second album though we got done in five weeks. We didn’t rush ourselves and we worked at this nice pace but we got so much done. It was really invigorating to go up on the farm with (Blur and Doves producer) Ben (Hillier) and record it. It was so easy. It just came together like a dream.

Was it a real challenge working with Ben?

He was great. He was very relaxed and very well prepared with equipment and stuff like that. He had me walking through a courtyard at 3 o’clock in the morning in the fog so he could record the sound of me walking. That’s what happens with ‘Yes/No’ at the beginning, you hear some footsteps walking through this gravel and that’s me walking along and I’m going through all this amp with a bass drum beat coming through. He blends that in with the actual sound of the drums. Stuff like that he’s well up for experimenting with and I love that because you wanna feel like you’re a bit of an adventurer when you’re making an album. He had this really great balance of getting a really pristine sound and a really messy sound.

Just going back to your earlier days, do you find it strange that it took your cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds Of Love’ to break into the mainstream?

I don’t find it weird that we released a cover version that made it into the Top Ten, I just find it annoying. People who like us because of that song probably wouldn’t like our other music. They’re not really fans of our band. They’re just fans of that song. We’d done that song for years so it wasn’t a marketing ploy or anything. I wasn’t surprised when it did well cos people love that sort of shit. Ah well fuck it, that’s just how it goes.

There’s more to the world than some fairly fortunate individuals. It’s kind of living in a dream world to me. It’s a morbid waste of time.

You picked up quite a celebrity following after that. How did you feel about that at the time?

It’s always an awkward engagement when you meet someone who’s famous. You kind of don’t know what to say. We met Dennis Hopper at a show in America and he knocked on our dressing room door. I opened the door and he said (adopts American accent): “I think you’re fabulous!’ I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ We stood there with him for people to take photographs and then we were just like, ‘OK bye’, and he kind of just sloped out. It’s sad but it’s also weird that we live in this celebrity fixated world. It’s so annoying that the development of mankind has ended up with like living in popular mainstream culture. But there’s more to the world than some fairly fortunate individuals. It’s kind of living in a dream world to me. It’s a morbid waste of time.

You must have been loving it though when Foo Fighters invited you on their private jet up to T in the Park last year?

(Laughs) Yeah it was pretty mad as you can imagine. Sitting next to Taylor Hawkins on a private jet during take off while this fucking Scandanavian supervixen is giving yer beer relentlessly. I was like ‘Christ what is going on here?’. It was amazing. It was just one of those rare experiences when you’ve met someone who is a bona fide international superstar like Dave Grohl and he’s one of the loveliest people you could ever meet. You don’t have to kiss his arse. His nature is so kind of graceful and respectful. If he wanted to be, he could be the biggest prick of all time. But he is one of the best musicians of the past 20 years and he’s still a nice fella. He hasn’t been corrupted by anything.

It must have seemed like a million miles away from the early days when you and Jaff were working in Kwik Save?

That was the last job I had about three or four years ago. Because me and Jaff both worked at Kwik Save, it was really difficult for us to get work off at the same time. That just became a nightmare so we both left cos we got offered this two week European tour in Germany. That was a really important tour for us cos that was the tour when we decided to cover ‘Hounds Of Love’ and Dave joined the band. Peter Brewers from Field Music was the original drummer but he was in another band called the Electronic Eye Machine at the time. He really wanted to concentrate on that so we brought Dave up to do a gig and he nailed it.

Was the lowest point for you as a band at the time when B-Unique pulled a record deal half an hour before you were due to sign?

That was difficult like but we got signed within the space of six weeks after that anyway. Still there was a point when we thought this is never gonna happen and I was absolutely gutted but then we just had a big chat about it with our manager and ourselves and we just thought, ‘fuck it, this is nothing. It’s just a record deal that’s gone wrong. These things happen’. Looking back I’m glad that it happened now because after that, that label went bust anyway.

When did you find people started picking up on the Futureheads?

I think when we did the NME Tour in 2005 we were flying by that point. We did play the shit out of all those bands (Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs, The Killers) we were on tour with. The Killers changed their set list depending on how well we went down. If we went down really well they would come out with all their hits. So we were fucking fighting for it. We were really proving ourselves and we did blow seven tanks of shit out of those bands I think. That gave us a lot confidence and we realised our contemporaries particularly in a live sense, were slightly behind us.

Your new album went straight into the Top Ten when it was released. You must have been pleased about that?

To be honest I don’t really care that much about stuff like that. It’s only truly remarkable to anybody if you’re right at the top in a phenomenal way. People want record breakers. At this point we’re not really that type of band. We make quite aggressive music and in the climate we’re in there is a very conservative machine at work, especially radio. It is really fucking conservative. I think we exist kind of in the face of all that really. We try to do something unique and that isn’t really encouraged that often these days.

And there you have it. The Futureheads in a nutshell. No nonsense, no bull shit, no compromise. They’re doing it all on their own terms.