Thursday, 31 October 2013

Features: Why the Leeds wrestling scene is on the up

Professional wrestling is becoming increasingly popular in Leeds. Jon Cronshaw spoke to the wrestlers and their fans to understand what wrestling means today.

Many people over the age of 35 have fond memories of watching Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks perform on Saturday afternoons.

Fans knew that the matches were fixed, but they loved the larger-than-life characters and wacky storylines.

Today, some of the UK’s brightest and strangest young wrestlers are based here in Leeds.

And with the world’s largest wrestling company WWE heading to Leeds for the first time next month, it’s predicted that Leeds will become a popular destination for wrestling fans.

Hoping to capitalise on this growth is professional wrestler Sebastian Carter who wrestles under the name Seb Strife.

The 30-year-old grew up watching American wrestling, and although professional wrestling is dismissed by many as being a fake sport, Seb believes that the word ‘fake’ is an unfair one.

“It’s not fake in the sense that you can’t get hurt – it does hurt, we do punch each other,” says Seb. “It’s predetermined – that’s how I prefer to see it.”

“I’ve had three knee surgeries and about six concussions – that’s not fake to me,” he adds.

Seb is currently working to set up his own wrestling company in Leeds called A.C. Promotions.

“I’m currently in negotiations with a couple of venues in the city centre at the moment, but I’m hoping to pull in around 400 people for the first show,” says Seb.

“You can go for the first time to a wrestling show, especially one of the smaller British shows, and have the time of your life. They have a couple of drinks and they absolutely love it.”

One of the elements that draws people to professional wrestling is the larger-than-life characters, but few turn heads as much as Priscilla, Queen of the Ring.

Priscilla is the drag queen alter-ego of 25-year-old Leeds University Classics graduate, Ollie Burns.

“I wear women’s clothes, that’s the long and short of it,” says Ollie.

“I love that moment when I step through the curtains, and it all goes silent.

“Then either everyone cheers and starts laughing, or everyone boos,” he says.

Ollie has wrestled throughout England for over a decade, and for him the criticism of wrestling being fake misses the point entirely.

“I personally see wrestling as a sport with a pantomime twist,” he says.

“People aren’t stupid – I don’t think you can promote it as a real sport anymore.”

The risk of injury in professional wrestling is very real, but Ollie didn’t bank on being attacked by a riotous crowd at an event in Leeds last December.

“We were in a room of people who really weren’t happy that I was there, and some kids who really didn’t understand what was going on,” says Ollie.

“The kids had bought a load of inflatable hammers, and when I went out of the ring they set on me. There were fists and feet flying at me – I never knew that an inflatable hammer could be so painful.

“I was knocked on the back of my head, which made me woozy – it was a genuinely scary moment,” he says.

Simon Sandison, 28, is a PhD student who teaches English Literature at Leeds University, and regularly wrestles under the name Simon Valour.

For Simon, the most important element of professional wrestling is the ability to tell compelling stories.

“I’ve never been in the same shape as some of the other pro wrestlers, so I wanted to make my character a rough and ready kind of everyman,” says Simon.

“One of the beautiful things about pro wrestling, one of the reasons why I love it so much, is that it can accommodate so many different characters and stories.

“Wrestling rewards difference – it’s the variety that makes it so interesting.”

Although based in Leeds, Simon regularly wrestles for companies based in Stockport and Wigan, and believes that Leeds will play a part in the growth of British wrestling.

“The wrestling scene in Leeds has been dormant for a long time, but that seems to be changing,” says Simon.

“You’ve got the WWE heading here for the first time, there’s a new promotion bringing some big names to the Cockpit – so things are looking up.”

Appearing on the bill at next month’s Tidal Championship Wrestling show at the Cockpit is the top star in British wrestling, El Ligero.

The 28-year-old masked wrestler is one of a handful of full-time wrestlers working in the UK, and lives in Roundhay.

El Ligero wrestles regularly across the UK and Europe, and he takes wrestling incredibly seriously.

“Even though we know the results of the match, and even though it’s usually safe, if you’re going to be any good you have to train like you’re a professional athlete,” says El Ligero. 
“I train in the gym four days a week, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and my diet’s probably what most people would see as quite boring.

“If people are paying money to see a show, the last thing they want is to see some out of shape guy in a T-shirt and combat trousers trying to wrestle – it looks bad,” he says.

“My gear is always good, I’ve got my own music, and whether I’m performing in front of 50 people or a few thousand, I always try and do something exciting.”


Sarah Canfield and Craig Stevenson are a couple who love to watch wrestling.

The world’s largest wrestling company WWE puts on 12 major shows a year on pay-per-view, including their annual wrestling extravaganza, Wrestlemania.

As the shows are aired live from America, the couple book the next day off work to watch the events live.

“We do that with every pay-per-view,” says Sarah, 33. “Elimination Chamber tends to fall around our anniversary – so that’s what we do for our anniversary,”

“My work just thinks it’s hysterical – they just think I’m cute and weird,” she adds.

Craig, 39, grew up watching wrestling, and has fond memories watching British wrestling as a child.

“I remember when I was younger watching World of Sport on a Saturday with Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, Mick McManus and Dickie Davies.

“I’d also watch the WWE stuff – or WWF as it was back then – but then fell out of watching it until about five years ago.”
Craig and Sarah both love wrestling as a form of entertainment and don’t care that it is predetermined.

“You are aware that Eastenders isn’t really a gritty documentary?”says Sarah.

“It hasn’t presented itself as a real sport for a long time now,” says Craig. “It’s athletic rather than sporting, and there are plenty of forms of athletic entertainment that aren’t sport.

“There’s a mixture of athleticism and artistry with wrestling, and that’s what I like about it,” he adds.

Sarah wasn’t a fan growing up, and only became a fan of wrestling in the last four years, but believes that she is probably the biggest wrestling fan in Leeds.

Colin Cox, 33, has been a big wrestling fan since childhood, and as well as watching all of the main WWE events, he is also regularly attends British wrestling shows across the north of England.

“One of the things that draws me to the British wrestling scene is that the only way you get to see it is live and in person,” says Colin.

“It’s a lot a fun – you can really let your hair down, have a few drinks and make up stupid chants with your mates.”

For Colin, there’s a lot more charm in British wrestling than the American imports.

“You don’t get a raffle or El Ligero in WWE,” he says.

“A lot of British shows have a lot of humour and a very tongue-in-cheek. There’s a pantomime element that creeps in – it’s great.”

This article was published by the Yorkshire Evening Post on October 29, 2013.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Art: Capturing the Brontës - An interview with Charlotte Cory

A surreal portrait of the19th century is the focus of Charlotte Cory’s latest exhibition at the Brontë Parsonage Museum. Jon Cronshaw spoke to the artist about her work and lifelong passion for the Brontës.

Artist and novelist Charlotte Cory’s latest exhibition creates a surreal world where Victorian men and women become anthropomorphic animals.

But rather than being drawn or painted from the artist’s imagination, the images are made by using computer technology to seamlessly merge early photographs with images of taxidermied animals.

“There’s a parallel between taxidermy and photography – they’re both about preserving a likeness,” says Charlotte. “So there seems to be something very natural about merging the two together.”

“Victorians would go into a studio and almost be clamped into a position for a photograph.

“I think the idea of a person having to stand still for three minutes for these early photos almost makes them look like stuffed animals,”

“There’s always been something quite disturbing about photographs. It’s weird when you look at old photographs, it’s even weird when you take a photograph and see what you look like,” she says.

“The language of photography is quite violent and vicious – ‘snapshot’, ‘capturing’, ‘seizing’, ‘shooting’. So there’s a sort of violence about grabbing an image.”

The images used are taken from some of the earliest photographic portraits whose sitters’ identities have been lost in time.

“There’s nothing sadder than an old photograph that’s lost its provenance,” says Charlotte. “These are discarded photos that I’m giving a new life to – it’s creative recycling.

“I always felt sorry for discarded old photographs. They’re all of somebody – somebody who went to a studio and posed for these images.

“One day I started messing around with old photos, and just merging other things into Victorian photographs, and that completely took over my art practice.

“When you take away the face from an old photograph, you’re forced to look at the body language and the other objects in the picture that the sitter chose to be photographed with,” she adds.

“People tend to laugh at them initially, but then they start to think about what the images mean, and about what they leave behind, and suddenly they find them quite sad and rather profound.”

The original photographs are around half the size of a modern postcard and were known as Carte de Visite – a name given to them in 1854 by their French inventor André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri.

As the price of a having a photograph taken became affordable, by 1859, a craze dubbed ‘Cartomania’ swept Britain, and saw families lining up to have their portraits taken.

“When you think about what it must have been like back then – for the first time ordinary people could leave a picture of themselves as they were on that day that will exist after they died. That must have been very strange,” says Charlotte.

But perhaps as intriguing as the show itself, is Charlotte’s lifelong passion for the Brontës – from their novels to their own life stories.

“It seemed quite amazing that the alternative 19th century I’ve been creating over the years should find itself in the Parsonage,” says Charlotte. “It’s extremely exciting.”

Charlotte read her first Brontë novel, Jane Eyre, as a 10-year-old girl and has been fascinated by the Brontës ever since.

“It took me 18 months of bullying my parents to take me to the Brontë Parsonage,” says Charlotte.

“We went on the way to the Lake District from London, and I’ve never forgotten it – that was in July 1967.

“I just remember walking round and being absolutely mesmerized by everything,” she says.

“Our family had been bundled into this VW camper van, and I remember they were waiting for me in the car park telling me ‘hurry up, hurry up’, but I wanted to look at everything and read all the labels carefully.

“It’s a place that’s lodged in my mind. I went back years later and realised that it had informed so many of my tastes and interests. I realised that I’d never quite got over that experience,” adds Charlotte.

This article was published by the Yorkshire Post on October 18, 2013.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Art: Intro to East Street Arts Open Studios 2013 catalogue

The open studios concept is always an intriguing prospect for artists and audiences alike. It’s a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between creator and consumer that is often lacking in a traditional gallery setting.

These are working spaces – the studio is where artists spend their time thinking, creating and making – they are not exhibition spaces. But equally, they are more like homes than workplaces. The studio can often be a reflection of the artist’s personality, their interests and values. Just look at how they are arranged (or not) and you will see that the artists are comfortable and have the space and inspiration to create and make.

How the artists respond to the challenge of opening up their studio is of equal interest to the work itself. Do the artists turn their studios into polished exhibition spaces to showcase their work, or do they simply allow the visitor to get a glimpse of how they work on a day-to-day basis? These are both extremes, of course, but they illustrate one of the most interesting and exciting aspects of open studios – you don’t really know what to expect. Perhaps you will find a series of finished works or maybe just some notes on a computer screen or scribbles on a sketch pad: either way, it offers a fascinating insight.

What is central to the open studios concept is that it’s an opportunity to meet the artists. The audience are encouraged to talk to the artists and understand what it is they do. But it is also beneficial to the artist to see how people engage with their work, and see first-hand the questions their work raises – it is the dialogue that makes the event so rewarding for everyone involved.

So much of our experience of art is through means where the artists themselves are largely absent – perhaps only present as a name or signature style. Whether it is a piece of art hanging on a wall, a digital animation on a computer screen, or a sound installation – we are given the chance to meet and engage with the creator rather than just the objects, installations and happenings that they exhibit.

So take the opportunity to speak to some interesting people and enjoy the unique experience. Take in the art, and feel inspired that so many artists are busy creating such a diverse range of artworks in Leeds.

This introduction was commisioned for the East Street Arts Open Studios programme in October, 2013.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Music: Interview with Portico Quartet

New-jazz outfit Portico Quartet have come along way since their 2008 Mercury Prize-nominated album Knee Deep in the North Sea.

Their latest record Live/Remix saw the group moving into the realms of electronic music, while still retaining their jazz sensibilities.

"We're always trying new things, and making changes is a good way to keep things creative," says saxophonist jack Wyllie.

"I guess the kind of music we've all been listening to has filtered into what we're trying to make.

"For the next album, we're doing a lot of work on computer which is a completely new process for us, " says jack.

"It's less about jamming stuff out and more about playing around with the production."

The group became associated with percussive instrument, the Hang, which gave the group's sound a unique metallic quality.

"Moving away from the Hang was quite an important step for us, " says jack.

"We became defined by it so heavily that it became really quite frustrating for us.

"Being defined so much by an instrument drove us to want to change things, and bring in new sounds to do the role.

"The instrumentation has definitely become more about electronic sounds and their relationship with acoustic instruments, " adds jack.

It is in the live arena, however, where Portico Quartet are at their most comfortable.

"We evolve our songs when we play live, so they always end up much stronger than on the record," says Jack.

"The improvised jazz element will always remain."

This article was published by the Yorkshire Post on October 18, 2013.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Music: Interview with Echo and the Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant about his new project, Poltergeist

Will Sergeant can be credited for coming up with some of the most iconic guitar riffs of the 1980s as part of Echo and the Bunnymen, but his new band Poltergeist draws its inspiration from German Krautrock.

“It’s something I’m doing in tandem with the Bunnymen,” says Sergeant. “The Bunnymen are still going, but we haven’t done a lot lately.”

The dynamic of Echo and the Bunnymen has changed drastically over the years, and the band is a source of frustration for Sergeant.

“There’s quite a lot of stress in the Bunnymen, so it’s nice to be able to call the shots,” he says.

“In the early days, we’d just go into a room and jam, and just see what came out. Nowadays Ian [McCulloch] just presents me with the songs and says ‘here you are, play some guitar on that’ – it’s c**p really.

“I don’t get any creative satisfaction from the Bunnymen stuff any more,” he adds. “I was driven to forming Poltergeist because the Bunnymen had gone so weird. It just feels like I’m a session musician nowadays – without Poltergeist, I’d probably top myself to be honest.”

The new project has given Sergeant the creative outlet and freedom that he so craves.

“We don’t want to have to stick to the verse-chorus-verse format, because that’s what we have to do in the Bunnymen,” says Sergeant. “We’re trying to do something that’s a bit different, and a bit more open-ended. We can do anything with this project because we’re not governed by any preconceptions about what people expect.”

“If we wanted, we could do a 40-minute ambient nose flute solo if we really wanted, you know? I just like that aspect that we can take it anywhere.”

For the project, Sergeant reunited with former Echo and the Bunnymen bassist, Les Pattinson. Pattinson left the group in 1999 and stayed away from the music industry for a decade.

“He was treated really badly by various members of the band,” says Sergeant. “He’d just had enough. I never fell out with him, so we always stayed mates. So it’s been really good, he’s just got straight back into being Les on the bass.”

This article was published by the Yorkshire Evening Post on October 17, 2013.

Music: Tales from the Wedding Present - an interview with David Gedge and Lee Thacker

Biographies are as much a vital part of rock music history as electric guitars and amps that go up to 11.

Formed in Leeds in 1985, The Wedding Present have been captivating audiences for almost three decades. And now they have started to tell their story – in comic book form.

“I’ve always been a massive comic book fan and this is a comic with me in it,” says front-man David Gedge.

“I’ve been into comics my whole life, there’s just something about medium that’s always appealed to me – I think it’s the combination of the word and image.

“I remember my dad used to bring me Marvel and DC comics home from work, and just thinking ‘this is brilliant’. Then I got into all the British comics and the graphic novels in the 80s,” says Gedge.

The comic, entitled Tales from the Wedding Present, brings together a range of stories about life on the road.

The project was started by group’s former bass-player, Terry de Castro. In 2007, de Castro started doing research for a traditional biography of David Gedge and the band.

“She did quite a bit of research, interviewed my parents, that kind of stuff,” says Gedge. “It didn’t have momentum for some reason and just fizzled out – which I thought was a real shame.

“I contacted a friend of mine who’s a comic book artist, and asked if he’d make a comic book out of the research that had been gathered. I sent him all the stuff and he started turning it into short stories to do a comic book,” adds Gedge.

Comic artist Lee Thacker has been a fan of The Wedding Present since he first heard them on the John Peel show in the mid-80s.

Today, the Birmingham-based artist balances comic writing with his career as a primary school teacher.

“I’ve probably seen them every time they’ve played locally over the past 25 years or so. I’ve always been a fan, always followed them, and I think I always will,” says Thacker.

“The band used to do their own self-published fanzine back in the late-80s called Invasion of the Wedding Present.

“Fans used to contribute artwork to it and comic strips – so I got involved way back then. I had a few comic strips published in that and David really liked them,” he says.

“David got in touch saying that Terry was writing a biography about the Wedding Present, and they wanted some of the stories illustrated. I illustrated about five of the stories, but then nothing really came of it.

“In 2010, David came up with the idea of doing a comic book based on the stories that he’d sent me in 2007,” adds Thacker.

The comic is a part-time project that both Gedge and Thacker really enjoy doing.

“We’re hoping to do two or three issues a year. We’ve just finished the fourth issue and Lee’s done a really good job,” says Gedge.

“We’re not like Marvel or anything like that, we’ve just been selling them at gigs and on the website, but I think it’s brilliant.

“I’ve been really excited about it, more so than the music to be honest.”

Each issue takes approximately four to six months to put together, from the scripting of the stories to producing the comic panels ready for printing. 
 “When we eventually finished the first Tales from the Wedding Present, I thought that was going to be it – I thought it would just be a one-shot comic,” says Thacker.

“We did a print run of 300 copies – they sold out really quickly, so we printed another 200 more.

“The fans really seemed to like the comic, so they sent a load more stories, and we’ve just finished issue four,” he adds.

“The style is very cartoony – I’ve had to make it very simplistic.

“Because I’m drawing real people, it’s a bit more difficult because I don’t want to insult them or anything.

“I’d really like to collect them into a book eventually. I think once we’ve done eight issues, we’ll release it as a book and see how it does. I think David’s goal is to do it for as long as we can really.

For Gedge, the comic genre is one that is often overlooked and underappreciated, and hopes that the adult storytelling within Tales from the Wedding Present will inspire fans to read more.

“In Britain, comics and graphic novels have always been looked down upon as an art form,” says Gedge.

“It’s like pop music in a way.

“I was amazed the first time I went to America, that there didn’t seem to be much distinction between a graphic novel and a traditional novel.

“Britain’s got some really important comic book writers and artists who aren’t that well know over here who are really famous in America. Things are starting to change a bit,” he says. “I think it’s a bit more acceptable nowadays to read a graphic novel.”

This article was originally published by the Yorkshire Evening Post on October 17, 2013.

Music: New Order's Power, Corruption and Lies - an interview with Peter Hook and Peter Saville

New Order’s Power, Corruption and Lies is arguably one of the most important albums of the 1980s. Jon Cronshaw spoke to some of those instrumental in its creation.

In 1983, New Order emerged from the shadows of the gloomy sound of Joy Division, and brought synthesizers and dance beats to centre stage.

While recording their 1981 album Movement, former New Order bass player Peter Hook says that the band were still reeling from the death of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis.

“Movement had Joy Division music with New Order vocals, but Power, Corruption and Lies was all New Order,” says Hook.

“What made Power, Corruption and Lies different from the earlier stuff was that we decided to do our own production.

“Martin Hannett didn’t have faith in mine or Bernard’s vocals, so they’re quite low in the mix on Movement.

“Power, Corruption and Lies felt like the first New Order album,” he adds.

Alongside the album, the group released the singles Everything’s Gone Green, Temptation and Blue Monday – tracks that never made it onto the album.

“We treated the albums and singles separately, which is why you didn’t find Love Will Tear Us Apart or Transmission on an album,” says Hook.

“We felt uncomfortable about charging people for the same track more than once.

“That’s standard now – you have all the different formats. Maybe we missed out, but there are more important things than making money,” he adds.

The single Blue Monday became the best selling 12-inch of all time and saw the group find a new identity as Britain’s more cheerful answer to Kraftwerk.

“There’s this weird circularity about it,” says Hook. “We were trying to emulate Kraftwerk, and they ended up trying to emulate Blue Monday.

“They went to the same studio where we recorded Blue Monday to try and capture the sound, and the equipment was quite old.

“They just turned around and left, they didn’t believe we’d recorded it there,” he says.

Prior to Power, Corruption and Lies, New Order and Joy Division’s album titles had been purposefully ambiguous.

“The album titles have always been important, and I think in the most part they read a bit like an essay,” says Hook.

“You had Unknown Pleasures, Closer, then Still when Ian died. Then you had Movement and Power, Corruption and Lies.

“The only one I hated, and still hate, is Get Ready. It was just me and Bernard voting on it, and we couldn’t agree. We ended up going for the lowest common denominator.

“When we were recording the album I was reading George Orwell’s 1984 – I was quite bookish before the drugs,” says Hook.

“On the back it had a quote from the Evening Standard which read something like ‘A startling novel of power, corruption and lies’, and I just thought ‘that’s the title’.”

The experience in the recording studio had become more democratic. Without the steering influence of Ian Curtis and producer Martin Hammett, the group were able to embrace new technology, and experiment with different ways of writing music.

“When we recorded the album we had a real workman-like attitude,” says Hook.

“We worked really hard on this album, trying to learn this new equipment, and trying to make it sound electronic and acoustic at the same time – it’s a standard in music now, but at the time we were breaking new ground.

“Bernard used to come in wearing a white lab coat, Hannettwas a bit like a mad professor, so I think he was trying to keep that alive,” he says.

“I’ve heard quite a few rumours about Bernard putting a tab of acid under his tongue each morning when we were in the studio – I can tell you that didn’t happen.

“Drugs in the studio don’t work – believe me, I know from my own experience. They just block creativity and make you lazy – there’s no way he could have worked as hard as he did if he was doing drugs,” he adds.

Employing the talents of artist and typographer Peter Saville, it was also the group’s innovative artwork that set them apart from their contemporaries.

“This is the album cover I’m most fond of, I also think that is the most important,” says Saville.

“It is probably the most personal album cover I’ve ever made. I can’t think of any that represent me so clearly.

“You have the front cover with its chintzy flowers – this represents where I came from. It reminds me of the decorations and furnishings from my mother’s home.

“The back cover represents the other extreme – where I was then – deep in coding and industrial design.

“It’s the extreme ends of who I am – it’s like when you see a pylon in the countryside, it’s the pastoral meets the industrial,” he says.

The artwork for the album’s front cover was found almost by accident while in the gift shop of the National Gallery.

“The album titles prior to this had been rather enigmatic, but with Power, Corruption and Lies there was no ambiguity. It’s a very dogmatic title, and brought to mind Machiavelli,” says Saville.

“I went around the National Gallery looking for a dark prince, and found a few that would have been suitable, but it dawned on me that the leap from Power, Corruption and Lies to Machiavelli was too obvious.

“I gave up for the day, and while browsing through the postcards in the gallery shop I came across an oil painting by Henri Fantin-Latour called A Basket of Roses,” he says.

“It was one of those chocolate-box images that didn’t seem hip at all, but I really liked it.

“My girlfriend at the time said ‘You aren’t seriously considering that for the cover are you?’ And I immediately jumped at the idea – what could represent these themes better than a chocolate-box image?”

“I think that the Power, Corruption and Lies cover is to New Order what the Unknown Pleasures image was to Joy Division.”

This article was featured in the Yorkshire Post on October 18, 2013.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Music: Interview with Suede

Formed in London in 1989, Suede brought a much-needed shot of drama and imagination to an indie scene that had become drab and uninspired.

Comprising Brett Anderson (vocals), Bernard Butler (guitar and piano) Mat Osman (bass guitar) and Simon Gilbert (drums), Suede shone a stark light into some of the grubbiest corners of urban life, tackling the seedier side of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

By the time Suede released their debut single The Drowners in 1992, they had already been declared ‘The Best New Band in Britain’ on the front cover of Melody Maker magazine.

“In the early days, no one was interested in us at all,” says Mat. “For a band who looked like an overnight success, we spent a long time knocking on the door.

“We couldn’t get on any bills – our faces didn’t fit and the music was very unlike anything that was around at the time.”

The four-piece played in the backrooms of pubs, sometimes in front of four or five people, and gradually built up a passionate following around London.

“The scene in London was very dull, and far removed from real life,” says Mat. “We liked the Bowies, the Kate Bushes, the Lou Reeds – all the quiet, but theatrical, overwrought music. At the time that was incredibly unfashionable.”

The band recorded their self-titled debut album in a church in Islington in 1992 with producer Ed Buller.

“Recording the first album was fantastic,” says Mat. “It’s a lot harder for bands nowadays, because the first 10 songs they write become their first album, and their first gig goes up on YouTube for posterity.

“We’d written hundreds of songs by that point, so going into the studio was just a blast,” adds Mat.

“We knew that the songs worked, and we knew they had this dramatic feel to them because we’d played them live a few hundred times.”

The album was an immediate hit and was the winner of the first ever Mercury Music Prize.

“It was strange,” says Mat. “We’d released this album and then looked around and saw that there were a million bands who’d appeared who looked and sounded a bit like us.

“London’s like that – once something gets big quickly, there are a million chancers on your tail.”

Instead of resting on their laurels, Suede recorded the ambitious second album, Dog Man Star. With its cinematic sound and epic song structures, it’s widely regarded as one of the best albums of the 90s.

“With Dog Man Star, there was very much a feeling in the band of ‘so you want to copy our sound – well, see if you can rip off this’,” says Mat.

“There’s a really interesting thing that happens with bands quite often when they aim for something that’s a bit out of their reach, they always seem fall into an interesting place – that’s Dog Man Star to a T.

“It falls into a really unusual place for a British guitar band if you look at the Britpop records around then which had suddenly become very cartoony,” he adds.

But during the album’s recording, rifts began to emerge and guitarist Bernard Butler quit the band near to the album’s completion.

“As great as it is to have a record like Dog Man Star in your arsenal, it wasn’t much fun to make. It wasn’t a particularly pleasurable experience,” says Mat.

“I think we could have dealt with Bernard leaving a lot better. We were too insular and too stupid to realise what a big deal it was.”

The band placed an advert in Melody Maker for a new guitarist to replace Butler. A young guitarist Richard Oakes answered the advert, and is still in the band today.

“I know everyone on the outside thought it was going to be the end of us,” says Mat. “But it was a really smooth transition – Richard came in and was great from the start.”

In 1996 Suede released their third album Coming Up, and added keyboard player Neil Codling to the line-up.

“The recording of Coming Up was one of my favourite times ever in the band,” says Mat.

“We were hidden away from everyone. We had all these songs that we were pretty sure were great, and everyone thought we were dead and buried.”

Cracks began to show with the band’s fourth album, Head Music. Although they saw tracks like She’s in Fashion reach a wider audience than ever before, it was regarded as their weakest record to date.

“The album is just a bit of mess,” says Mat. “If we’d have had more rigour and higher standards, it could have been such a great record.

“It was a difficult time. We weren’t very together and there were lots of drugs around. It was all very shifty and unfocused,” he adds.

In 2001, keyboardist Neil Codling left the band due to ill health, and was replaced by Alex Lee who filled in on keyboard and rhythm guitar.

The band’s fifth album, 2002’s A New Morning, was widely slated, and led to the band splitting a year later.

“We were completely lost as to what we wanted to be,” says Mat. “We all had different ideas about what Suede should be and all had personal things we were going through.

“It sounded like a Suede album that had been made by a committee – it was quite bland. We’re all quite ashamed of it.”

After the band split, the members went their separate ways. Anderson pursued a solo career, and wrote an album with Bernard Butler under the name Tears.

In 2010, Roger Daltrey from The Who asked Anderson if the band would reform for a performance at the Royal Albert Hall in support of the Teenage Cancer Trust.

“If it was anything else we wouldn’t have done it,” says Mat. “We were really nervous about it, but it was a cause we care about. If we hated it, at least Suede ended doing a good thing.”

“When we were about four songs in, I remember looking around the stage at the others and thinking we’re going to have to do this again,” he adds.

The band reformed with Oakes on guitar and Codling returning as the keyboard player. They also reunited with the producer of their first three albums, Ed Buller.

Earlier this year, Suede released their sixth album Bloodsports, which saw a return to form for the band.

“We threw away a lot of songs when we were writing Bloodsports,” says Mat. “We wanted to have the things we do well – the drama and the heart, but if it sounds like something we’ve already done before, what’s the point? It’s a weird balancing act.”

The band announced their new album by releasing the single Barriers as a free download as a gift to the fans.

“When we gave away Barriers before the release of the album, it was such a sweet moment,” says Mat. “We’d had the idea of releasing it as a free download, and two days later anyone from around the world could listen to it, and that’s an amazing thing.”

As for the future, nothing is certain with Suede.

“We’re all in the midst of writing – we haven’t stopped since releasing the record,” says Mat.

“Once the tour’s over, we’ll no doubt get back together and listen to what we’ve got and decide whether to make another record or to self-destruct again.”

This article was originally featured in the Yorkshire Post on October 11, 2013.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Review: Stewart Lee @ St George's Hall, Bradford, September 26

It’s no exaggeration to call Stewart Lee a comedy genius. No comedian in the past decade has questioned and pushed stand-up comedy to the limits in the way he has.

Like most geniuses, Lee’s ideas aren’t always palatable to mainstream audiences. And rather than shy away from, or seek to remedy this fact, Lee revels in alienating audiences whose main comic references are Michael McIntyre and Jimmy Carr, preferring a more daring audience.

Lee’s shows are about the art of comedy – about the way jokes are structured and delivered, like he is trying to work out what it means to be a comic and where comedy can go as a medium. The first half of the show felt somewhat flat, with a long, repetitive riff about TV animal rescue shows. In the second half, Lee was on top form, with many of his big laughs building to a crescendo as he guided the audience around a surreal path approaching something resembling a punch-line.

The show peaked with a hilarious rant that projected the logic of Ukip’s immigration policy into the distant past, complaining that the first fish to venture onto land was an immigrant who should have stayed in the sea. Throughout the show, it felt as though Lee was more concerned about perfecting the material for his TV show than performing a fully-realised live show. Lee has raised the bar so high on his recent tours that Much A-Stew About Nothing didn’t quite reach the level of brilliance he has in the past.

This article was published by the Yorkshire Post on October 4, 2013.