Bush Hall is easily one of West London’s best kept secrets. Over the years, REM, The Who and, er, Chris Rea have all crept into the confines of this ornate little ballroom virtually unnoticed. This of course means nothing to mockney newcomers The Rifles as Clash is sat on their pokey tour bus on a drab May Monday afternoon. “I’ve never heard of it,” shrugs bassist Rob Pyne. “Milburn (up and coming Sheffield band) have played here before. But it’s the first I’ve heard of this place.”
It’s funny to think that less than two years ago the same London four-piece were performing to a packed out sweatbox otherwise known as the Notting Hill Arts Club just two miles down the road without a record deal, a celebrity following and any hit singles. Armed with a bunch of half formed mod-bopping pop anthems, Rob, singer Joel Stoker, guitarist Luke Crowther and drummer Grant Marsh, blew away the competition that night.
Eighteen months later, The Rifles have not only signed to Red Ink (a new division of Sony BMG), they’ve also bagged two top forty hits (‘Local Boy’ and ‘Repeated Offender’) and attracted a celebrity following that includes the likes of Radio 1’s Zane Lowe, Soccer AM’s Tim Lovejoy and mod-rocking forefather Terry Hall.
“People started picking up on us when we got a bit of recognition off Zane Lowe,” explains Joel as he sparks up a cigarette. “He played our demo (‘Peace And Quiet’) about a year and a half ago now. And then we did the last live session of 2004 on his show, which was great. We were a bit nervous on the way there but once we got there and that, it was a right nice place and we had a couple of beers to calm us down.”
Before long Lovejoy got on the bandwagon after he got his hands on a copy of ‘Local Boy’ and the boys found themselves in the thick of a comedy sketch with the show’s charismatic barman Barry Proudfoot. Lovejoy took such a shine to the band that it wasn’t long before he invited them back on his show for a chat on the sofa. “That was scary, man,” pipes West Ham fan Rob. “We were really nervous cos it was the first time we’d ever done anything like that. And you had a crowd in the studio watching yer. It ain’t just the people on the telly. It was fucking harsh man!” To make matters worse they had to show off their silky skills in the Sky car park, for a series of spotkicks.
“We all missed,” laugh the whole band.
Rob: “I put mine in orbit.”
Joel: “It was the pressure and all with the telly.”
Rob: (laughing) “The team that were on before us were smashing the ball in. Then we come on and we were just shit.”
Luke incidentally was christened ‘Robin Hood’ on the show because he constantly wears a trilby hat. From then on fans were chanting his nickname at gigs to the point where they even named a song after the guitarist. Ironically though Luke, hates football. “It is a good thing for us because it’s brought more people to gigs and stuff,” he says. “It’s a laugh. But I have to admit, sometimes it can be a bit aggravating when it’s just all about that. It’s more of a football thing and I don’t give a shit about football.”
With a record deal in the bag, the band expressed an interest in working with a certain Ian Broudie (The Coral, The Zutons and The Subways) who soon caught a glimpse of the mod rockers during a rain-drenched performance at the Wireless festival last June. “We were lucky cos we were in one of the tents and it started raining so everybody came in to see us. It was so heavy though that the water kept seeping through and hitting me on the head,” laughs Joel. “He saw us there and he said he’d like to do the single ‘Local Boy’. From there he said he’d like to do the album.”
It’s funny to think that less than two years ago the same London four-piece were performing to a packed out sweatbox
What followed was a pain-staking six months of studio swapping which forced the band to set up their recording equipment in five different locations. “It seemed to take forever,” says a frustrated Joel. “We did it in loads of different studios and the whole affair was quite drawn out. Some sessions were harder than others. It really was up and down because it was completely different each time we went into a different studio.”
During those sporadic sessions, the title of their debut ‘No Love Lost’ was getting more apt by the minute. But The Rifles soldiered on and the result was a 36-minute belter crammed with 11 mod-anthems that Preston from The Ordinary Boys couldn’t even dream up if he was locked up in the Big Brother house for the rest of his life. Sleazy stompers like the groupie gobbling ‘She’s Got Standards’, the Jam-esque siren sounding ‘Narrow Minded Social Club’ and the album’s pop bursting stand out track ‘Peace And Quiet’, are songs that will constantly invade your stereo for months to come.
Later that afternoon, Clash eventually retires to the pub while the band tune up for tonight’s performance. An hour later, Rob and Grant join us for a few beers. Conversations come and go about music and it later turns out that Grant grew up in Chingford playing in bands with Bloc Party guitarist Russell Lissack and Matt Derham, bassist from the brilliant up and coming Fields. The plot thickens when Joel turns up an hour later and tells us that he once played in the same local football team as David Beckham, all be it a few years below the England captain. Four hours later, the band take to the stage for a blistering 45 minute set.
Going by this performance, it’s unlikely The Rifles will be playing venues this small for much longer.