Fat Cat Records
Unlabel and The Forum gave us our first gigs, before Ash even. The very first Charlottefield gig was at the Forum, supporting The For Carnation – it was Jay, me and Mark Davidson on loan from Cove on drums.
I had (and still have) a Marshall JCM 900 and a 2×12. It’s since been modified. I always played a Telecaster except for the first couple of years when I had a Fender Jag which used to fall to bits. Coloursound Tonebender for Fuzz initially, replaced by a custom built Dannysound fuzz with a voltage sag feature, alas later stolen from backstage at Brighton Concorde. You can hear that pedal on all the records from Stand Up onwards.
Our first gig as a four piece was at The Bull & Gate in Kentish town. We were first on, on a bill of unknowns. Ash said if we were still playing first on at the Bull & Gate a year later, he was out. So that made us all approach things a bit differently.
I remember some of the gigs round then being pretty good. We played at Fort Rox in Newhaven at an all-dayer headlined by British Sea Power and you could tell from onstage that it was just sounding massive through this huge PA. I remember doing ‘Snakes’ and feeling like I was gonna blow up. Another time we played the whole album live on a balcony in Kensington Gardens.
Jay left in 2003 because he didn’t want to tour and the rest of us did. I still miss making music with him. He’s a lovely man.
Touring on the whole was pretty good. There are some uncomfortable memories… a couple of us in the band could be quite temperamental (I include myself in that) and didn’t necessarily cover ourselves in glory all the time. Especially after a few drinks, or too much weed. Paranoia definitely crept in from time to time.
Opening for Battles was cool in that we played to some people who’d never heard us before. We did it twice, once in London at Barden’s, and once in Leeds at the Brudenell. I was sitting at the merch table on my own after we’d played in Leeds and a bloke came and sat next to me and told me a joke. I forget the joke. We got chatting and it turned out he was Mark Bell of LFO. Lovely man. I was very sad to hear of his passing.
Some highlights: Ten days with Cat On Form (at their invitation) round the UK. We really started to gel as a band. I hardly knew them at the time, but Ash had played drums with them on a few dates. It was a good pairing. They seemed like a pretty serious bunch of young men but there was quite a lot of laughing going on.
“Yeah we did face away from the audience quite a bit. Less so towards the end – we’d kind of be sideways on, so we could still see each other. It had a lot to do with nerves initially I think, and then maintaining eye contact, and sometimes just pure stubbornness.”
Spain with Picore (again, at their invitation), twice. First was a long weekend in 2007. They got in touch with us via Myspace because Pablo had picked up ‘How Long Are You Staying’ in the record shop he worked at, on the strength of the cover. They met us at Zaragoza airport and took us to Libi’s apartment (“Hotel Picore”) for a huge lunch, then down to their practice space so we could get used to their amps. They treated us like family from the off.
We did a week together in Spain on our final tour a year later. We were going for lunch in Getaria in the Basque when Cristian asked me if I’d play on a couple of songs on their next LP. Pleased and proud to say that relationship is ongoing. Those guys are some of the finest you could hope to meet.
UK with My Disco. We’d met Ben in Ireland when he was living there, playing as Blarke Bayer, just before he moved home to Australia to form the band. It was their first trip to England as a band. ‘Nother bunch of absolute chaps. We did six or seven days, starting off in Brighton opening for Don Caballero.
UK with yourcodenameis:milo. I think it was their last tour. There were two guys in the band who were into us and had invited us along, but it seemed like the rest of the band were pretty unsure as to why we were there.
It was our one and only time dealing with The Agency, who knew full well we were on the tour but neglected to tell any of the venues or promoters. So we were squeezing onto these bills, rarely getting paid, and begging floor space off the audiences. All of which actually made for quite a lot of fun. In Glasgow we ended up totally lucking out and staying with the guys who went on to form United Fruit, who were having a party for someone’s birthday, and cooked us a massive full Scottish in the morning. In Liverpool we nicked an ironing board from the dressing room, which became our merch table.
Milo’s tour manager was pretty good to us. I think he took pity on us. What was weird was we were playing these quite big (for us) venues, that :milo had obviously been filling on earlier tours, but they were mostly at least half empty. Bristol Thekla for one. Playing in this big empty ship belly. Freezing bloody cold
Another highlight was travelling the UK with John The Van driving us… John’s a lovely man. He took the scenic routes between gigs which turned out to be a bit of a winner. I remember this one village we drove through, near Bath I think, that looked like paradise. He’d play jokes like going out at six AM before anyone was awake and leaving his boiler suit spread out on his mattress, as if he’d evaporated where he slept.
He tried to blag us into Duxford Air Museum because he knew I’m a big fan of that stuff. Made out he was our manager and we were looking for somewhere to do a photo shoot. Didn’t work, but thanks for trying John. Wore a boiler suit all day, helped us load in, then he’d disappear for a few hours to check out the town or whatever, and reappear at gig time dressed in suit and hat, with buttonhole if I recall correctly. Back into the boiler suit for load out. I think he was having fun.
Half the first LP was a radio session we did in a day for a guy called Lawrence Buckley on Reverb FM, which at the time only broadcast one month per year I think. At the time it was the best recording we’d done so we scrapped an LP we’d nearly finished and went back to the studio we’d done the radio session in to record again.
We didn’t do many takes of things – not complete ones anyway. There were a lot of good takes that Ash would just stop half way through for no reason the rest of us could fathom. So you’d be on tenterhooks just hoping to get to the end of the song. Once we’d got something down, there was rarely any question of doing it again, even if the song was, for example, far too fast. Recording was always like that.
That’s me saying sorry to Ash at the end of ‘Weevils’, for drawing out the feedback. He was looking bored.
The Clipper video was made by an animator and filmmaker Katarina Athanasapoulou. She was a friend of Ash’s (he did music for a few of her films, notably this one) … she came to our practice space to film us. She was super nice.
‘Can’t Stand Up’ was recorded at the Exchange in London, where they briefly had a recording studio as well as the cutting rooms. We did ‘Stand Up’ there too but the engineer fucked up the mix and we couldn’t get back in to re-mix it quick enough, so we re-recorded it on an eight-track in our practice room and put that out. ‘Can’t Stand Up’ is one of the best things we recorded. They had a lovely plate reverb there, you can hear it in the mix.
What Are Friends For?
Being on FatCat was kind of problematic, basically because one of the bosses wanted us on the label and the other did not. We were the red-headed stepchild. The feeling at the time was that they are spending a lot more money on certain bands that were nowhere near as good, when they could have spent a lot less than that on us and we would have got a better record for it.
When we handed in ‘What Are Friends For’, all one of the label bosses said about it was “I was expecting something more pop”, and that was that. And because the label was distributed by PIAS, who didn’t give a flying fuck about us, our record was barely actually available. People up and down the country would write to us or come up to us at gigs and say that they couldn’t even order it in at their local record shop. I think most of the copies of that LP that got made just sat in a warehouse for years before it got burned down in the riots.
But a few of the people at FatCat really did care about the band and tried to help us.
The artwork was all done by our friend Walker. If you’re having difficulty tracking him down that’s probably the way he likes it… I did a solo gig in Hastings a few years back and had some stuff out on the table, including the CD of ‘What Are Friends For’, and a guy came over and asked where we’d got the artwork from. Because a friend of his had found the actual original on Dungeness beach and had it on his living room wall, and they used to sit around and make up stories about the person that made it. They’d decided that he lived in a house with no natural light and never saw anybody and just stayed in making these carvings in order to go out and leave them for people to find.
The “church in Norwich” was actually Purple Studios which is a converted church hall. I’d recorded there years before and remembered it being good. And we could just about afford it for five days! There was a mic left in the room for guide vocals that was recording all the time, which we ended up using in the mix on the drums on all the songs on side two – you can really hear it on ‘Broken Bell’. Lovely sounding room. Lots of wood. A band called Navigator did an LP called ‘Nostalgie’ there which sounds great.
“Pacifically fades out in tribute to the work of Gary Fadeout who used to do all the fades in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Gary’s story is long, debauched and a bit sad. It would be great to hear that he’s working again but alas that looks like it will never be the case.”
‘What Are Friends For’ has got most of our best tunes on it. I think I’d change a couple of lines, some of the production, and I wish a couple of the songs hadn’t ended up quite so fast.
I’d spend ages on the lyrics. Countless drafts and re-drafts… usually they’d change a bit (or a lot) between first live performance and final recording, and even sometimes after that. Touring was always good for working on them. Like, “I’m not comfortable singing that, it’s got to change”. I’ve still got some of the notebooks and scrapbooks I used…
Alex Hancock still performs as Songs Of My Lap, you can find his stuff on Bandcamp. He was a regular at the Forum in Tunbridge Wells and an early member of Unhome. After he stopped singing with them, he and I were going to start a band. I got as far as writing a few instrumentals, then he joined Rebus, which was when Jay and I started Charlottefield. One of the instrumentals later became ‘Broken Bell’.
Having him sing on a track was something we’d wanted to do for ages… when we were recording that last LP, I at least didn’t know it was our last (I think Ash did), but it was kind of a tying up of loose ends. Some of the songs we’d been playing since Jay was in the band. So it wasn’t supposed to be that our last ever song was sung by someone else (actually I think Ash wanted ‘Freehand’ to be the last song on the record), it just turned out that way.