Upstairs at the trendiest celeb-boozer in town, Dub-infused London five-piece Radar are relaxing in the early summer sunshine. In between taking the piss out of the barman’s moustache and dreaming of World Cup glory, frontman Callum Johnston recalls the bands humble beginnings.
“We used to do hard rock/rap funk, but then I started doing some singing; I used to be a DJ originally,” he says, himself a multi-instrumentalist, “that’s how I got into music with the first band we were in together [when] I was just scratching.”
The scratcher-turned-frontman is referring to Spectrum 311, the band’s previous incarnation who spawned the excellent 12” ‘Lying Eyes’ in 2003.
“Spectrum 311 was basically just me, [guitarist] Barney and [drummer] Steve‚” he continues. “We’d started doing some gigs and we had one single out called ‘Lying Eyes’, which had remixes by Juan Maclean, Simian and Oscar Fullone – so that was kinda cool. Although it was more dance based, but that kinda broke down.”
Following Spectrum 311’s demise, it took the addition of a bassist to really bring things together.
“We signed up Tom [Wilson, bass] and became more of a band. As Tom was playing bass, everything took on more of a live feel to it. Although it was still electronic sounding, we kinda cut up everything live, rather than using backing tracks and samples.”
Their excellent debut single ‘Lunacy’ reflects this shift. Like a lounge version of The Dead 60s, Radar ooze coolness, with the track feeling distinctly jammed‚ not pieced together. And as Callum continues, you begin to sense that the full-length record was made in the same laid back manner.
“The album was great fun to do,” says Callum. “We recorded it with Dan Carey; he’s a freelance producer – he works with loads of different people. He’s like a mad scientist, but he’s cool as fuck!”
“You go to his studio and there’s lots of space, but the place is a total mess. If you try to get to the piano then you’ve got guitars all over the floor and they’re thousands of pounds each and you’re trying not to tread on them. But he’s a genuine mad scientist genius.”
“I dunno whether our overall sound is English or just London as a whole.”
Having initially tried to record the album in San Francisco (which was “very cool but too hip-hop and un-English” according to Callum) the band returned to Blighty, believing that the record could only be recorded in England. But how do they think the London vibes scuffed off onto their sound?
“We are surrounded by London all the time and that has its own knock on effect,” says Barney. “The Specials have been more of an influence on me than Madness ever were. I mean, I’ve been into the The Specials for a long time but they weren’t from London, they were from Coventry, so I dunno whether our overall sound is English or just London as a whole.”
“I’d say it’s English‚” says Tom. “I think it’s a part of England which it’s representing, and I think it’s probably quite rich in London, but in all the main cities I think it’s kind of echoed through.”
Regardless of origin, from Primrose Hill to Coventry, Radar should register a big blip this summer.
By JJ Dunning