The Mystery Jets have been earning critical hosannas ever since they sprang out of the illustrious Eel Pie Island with their biscuit-tin-bashing rock. Despite largely being so god damn young – three members are 20, one 21 and one ‘slightly older’ – the band has existed in one form or another for more than a decade. So, needless to say, they have a barrel-full of road stories and tales of starting out practising in a boat shed all with lead singer Blaine’s dad Henry in tow.
Clash joins the jubilant lads in an Italian eaterie an hour before they are due on stage. Blaine and Kai have been arguing about whether it is better to have mulled wine or smoke sheeshas on tour. “It’s all about absinthe,” declares Kai. “It’s a real artist’s drink of choice. If you overdose, it’s a pretty rock and roll way to die! It’s way more cool than heroin, everyone dies of heroin – who dies of absinthe?” In as comical a restaurant as this, where the wine is served in shot glasses, Kai continues to tell us about how the Bloomsbury set of writers used to get drunk like dogs before midday and write masterpieces in the afternoon. They are good company to have a drink with. You drink and they talk – about music and evolving into a band in, according to Blaine, “bloody suburban” Twickenham.
“It’s beyond anything I could have imagined.”
Drummer Kapil passionately describes the staring match he had on the bus in Twickenham earlier that day. “He was watching me…he was about twelve years old,” he says in his thick Wembley twang, “and I was like, ‘I was like you when I was young’,” then, with genuine outrage, he recalls how the hoodlum raised his hoodie down to his nose and made a screwface. “He was literally twelve! You don’t do that when you’re twelve,” and adds in an American drawl, “I’ll slap you upside your head boy!” Bassist Kai jumps in, “In Kensal Rise, you wouldn’t even do that,” he says. “Gun out, bang. Oh yeah, we don’t mess around with looking. It’s dead or alive.” He then accuses Blaine of being a ‘rude boy’ and claims that he mugs and bullies the others all the time. Blaine smiles, and looks on quietly to the increasingly lairy discussion. He is saving his voice for the performance – he has a sore throat. To soothe it he orders some hot water and the mother of all medicine – some beer.
Coming out of Twickenham is something the Mystery Jets are proud of. Eel Pie has been exposed as the forgotten music sanctuary of the 60s and 70s that played host to gigs from The Who and the Rolling Stones amongst others. But even earlier than that, the island was a holiday destination to Victorian English society. Kai says, “Recently I read that going back about 150 years, it used to be like the poor man’s holiday, rather than travelling to the sea, they’d go to Eel Pie!” and mocks a Victorian gentleman saying ‘isn’t this nice?’ “And then a dead body floats past…” he continues. Kapil then mysteriously reveals “They never had dead bodies in the 1800s,” and Kai, shocked, responds, “Course they did! Your mother dies, you’re not gonna spend £200 on a funeral, you’re gonna push it in the Thames. Do you know what I mean? When you can spend all that money drinking.” Cruises used to take scores of leisurely Victorians around the Island. Kai then describes how Henry saw a huge, violent bird with horns dive into the water and swallow a whole eel without chewing on the island. And Blaine adds, “You know what? A friend of ours, but this is sort of hush hush, saw a crocodile [in Eel Pie]. About a metre long, it was a pet crocodile that someone had obviously got for Christmas – you can get crocodiles from Harrods – he saw it in the moonlight. It came along and sat on the bank, kind of flicked its tail and went back away.” No wonder an island as mythical as this spawned an outfit like the Mystery Jets.
At the end of the dinner, when Blaine is still worried about how to coax his throat into action for the gig, Henry tells him he has some Lemsip in his pocket. The towering presence of the silver-haired guitarist and Mellotron player is vital to the band dynamics. When the Harrison boys moved to Eel Pie, Blaine, Kai and Will aged seven and eight were guided through the island’s history. Henry oversaw the impressionable youngster’s early attempts at song-writing and exposed them to his record collection of Pink Floyd and Mozart. Will describes the first instruments he and Blaine played, “Blaine had this plastic electric guitar, and it came with this tiny battery-powered amp, and we started playing around. And we didn’t have a drum kit, so we played on pans and pots instead.” Ten years later, The Mystery Jets have emerged with ‘Making Dens’, an album of complex and ambitious music incorporating demonic chanting on ‘Zoo Time’ and ‘weird percussion’ all over.
Henry, who harboured dreams of emulating his musical heroes, gives hope to failed musicians everywhere, originally he played in a band in the 60s. “It was Beatles-style music,” he recalls. Playing a mixture of covers and original material, “we lasted for about two years and then we actually split up when I left school. So it never developed beyond that. I always felt frustrated by that, I wanted to go further and it never quite worked out.” This is his self-confessed Second Coming. The crowd at the sold out gig venue later raucously shout ‘Henry! Henry!’ Jerry Springer-style whilst he takes a minute to blow kisses to them, and giving them the thumbs up before he walks off stage. The dream of being in a band may have taken years to realise, but he says it is living up to it – “It’s beyond anything I could have imagined.”