Thanks so much to Laura, Davey, Julian, Fred and Danny for this amazing and thorough interview!! We are celebrating here at Cloudberry, alongside the Strange Idols, the release of a fabulous retrospective CD by this amazing London-based band. If you missed them the first time around, when they released a string of jangly pop hit singles, this is the moment when you can catch up and discover a band that were on top of the wave just before Indietracks and our little indiepop explosion happened. On this new CD, which will be released on the 25th, you can find all the singles, their B sides, and many unreleased tracks. The CD is aptly titled “Idolatry” and you can order it from the label website. Now prepare some tea, sit down and enjoy!
++ First of all thanks so much for the interview, and also for this fantastic release, “Idolatry”. I’m really proud of it! So, how are you doing? What have you been up to since the demise of Strange Idols? Involved with music at all?
Laura: Thanks Roque. We are all so happy you’ve put this CD out.
After Strange Idols I joined an all-female Alt choir called Gaggle. I was in Gaggle for two and a half years. I left just after we finished recording the album in 2011. I had some great experiences, but ultimately I wasn’t really into the music & it was becoming very consuming time-wise. I could no longer commit. Now, I D.J. and host a weekly radio show on Ntslive, called ‘Launette’s hour‘. Iʼm an obsessive vinyl collector and love playing out and meeting fellow Music nerds (!) I mainly play Soul & Disco, but love Late 60’s & Early 70’s Acid Folk, Country, Psych & Rock. I’m not currently singing, but miss it madly & if I get some more free time soon I will definitely look into starting a project. I’d be happy to do bits of singing for other people too.
Davey: After I left the Idols, I started working with Jamie (first Strange Idols bass player) again. We wrote some demos and then made a band called Horse & Condor. Danny joined on bass about a year later and we gathered a rolling entourage of different musicians, playing shows across the country with changing line – ups. Horse & Condor was different, musically, to Strange Idols and gave me the opportunity to explore a more white soul / electronic sound that I was moving towards. That sadly came to an end in 2011. I had a brief stint playing bass guitar with Theoretical Girl and also played guitar with Goodnight and I Wish. I’m now working solo, making an electronic album under the moniker CS1(X), of which will hopefully be released online by the end of 2012. Oh, and Laura sings on one of the songs on it!
Julian: Of course, music is part of my life everyday. If I’m not hunting for obscure psychedelia or freakbeat singles I’ll be out playing records or helping friends with various projects. Since SI finished in 2008 I played guitar for Holton’s Opulent Oog, recording their second LP and touring it at gigs and festivals. I DJ regularly with John from Neils Children with whom I host a
night called the Broadcast Project.
Fred: Thank you so much for the chance to release this, it is very exciting. As for me I am living down in Bournemouth now (south England). Iʼm working with a new bad and a great producer working on an album thatʼs hoping to be released and go on tour next year some time. The band is called Broken Branches and will be well worth looking out for.
Danny: After Strange Idols split up my immediate feeling was that I never wanted to be in a band again! Very similar to how people feel when they come out of an intense relationship. Time is a great healer though, and after about 8 months I became involved with Davey and Jamie’s new project Horse and Condor. Jamie was the first bass player and forming member of Strange Idols that I replaced when he left the band – so it was a strange twist of fate that I would end up in a band with him after the Idols ended. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know him, and it gave me lots more understanding of where Strange Idols had come from. Horse and Condor split up in early 2011, and at that point I realised I’d spent many years in bands and it was time to concentrate on other areas of my life, like my day job, a career, and my other hobbies. That’s pretty much what I’ve been up to since then and its going pretty well thank you, Roque! I do miss the excitement and camaraderie of being in a band though. You soon forget about the bad or annoying bits….
++ Let’s talk about “Idolatry”. What can people, that have never heard Strange Idols before, expect from it?
Laura: Melodic pop.
Davey: I think the songs and the band will illustrate a three – year pocket of the musical climate in London between 2004 and 2007. There was a strong Post Punk revival emerging around that time; bands like Neils Children and The Violets were doing the more angular, abrasive Gang Of Four kind of Post Punk and bands like Hatcham Social and us were tapping into a more jangly, ‘Indie pop’ kind of Post Punk. There were clubs like Twee As Fuck! and How Does It Feel To Be Loved that were putting on a lot of shows in London, championing great bands that sounded both contemporary and like they could have come from 1984. I think there are some great pop songs on the collection that really were a part of the soundtrack to that period.
Julian: Poppy songs and interesting chord changes. Definitely no solos.
Fred: Well everything has been re-mastered so it will all sound a lot nicer, they can expect all the great songs we used to play, plus a few added new ones, demos and unreleased material.
Danny: Kind of melodic indie pop I guess played primarily on a standard format of guitars, drums, and bass. At the time we were associated with the ‘Twee as Fuck’ night. Now, there is an obvious irony in that name, but I hate to hear Strange Idols described as ʻtwee’. I think if you saw us live, the way we played was far from ‘twee’. However our overall sound was not exactly ‘dangerous’. The important thing for us I think was just making good songs. For me, I feel one of the characteristics of the music was a slight undercurrent of the melancholy in amongst the largely saccharine sound.
++ In this release there are many unreleased songs! Care to tell me a bit about them? Two of them were supposed to be in a fourth single, why didn’t it get released properly?
Davey: From what I remember, the cracks were starting to show within the band around the time we were due to release He’s Out Looking For Love. It’s a shame in retrospect, but I’m personally really glad that it’s going to see the light of day, because I think it’s a strong pop song. Intentions, Sometimes, Say Anything and X-Ray Vision show another side to the band – how we were evolving, musically. There was another great song from that period – towards the end – called Stargazing. Unfortunately we never got round to recording it, but there is a live version up on Youtube. I felt we were really starting to understand our strengths and weaknesses with those later songs – developing what we could do well as a band.
Julian: Yeah we had a fair bit of unreleased stuff knocking around in the vaults and it was fun to put this together and listen to it all again after a few years had passed. The last single didn’t come out because the band broke up, simple as that really. We had it all mixed and mastered and ready to go. It actually sounds pretty good even if I do say so myself.
Fred: As with any band there are always a few songs and recordings that never make it to the final press. When Idols sadly came to an end we were writing some fantastic stuff and two songs had been recorded for the 4th single. I think time and money sadly got in the way and for many reasons it didn’t get to press. I am so happy now that this is no longer the case and we can release them in this new CD.
Danny: Two of the songs I’m really excited about being on there are ‘X Ray Vision’ and ‘Say Anything’. These have always been my favourite recordings. These were recorded not long after It’s No Fun, and unlike the other records I had done with the band, which were all in London, these were recorded in Cornwall in Julian’s friend Neil Halstead’s studio. The early recordings before I joined had all been done there. Neil used to be in Slowdive and was part of Shady Lane records with Jules. Neil was a surfer, and so am I, so I immediately felt we had something in common. His place was in the countryside surrounded by fields about a 10min drive from the beach. I was in my element: it was beautiful! I had had spent 4 years living in that part of the world at university and I really missed it. It was the end of the summer, August if I remember correctly, and we all drove down there and camped. Despite a terrible nights sleep in the tents I managed to get everybody to come to the beach with me at the crack of dawn the day we were due to begin recording. I had a surf and everybody had a paddle about in the ocean. I feel this put us in a more relaxed mood than we usually were at an expensive London studio where time is money, and I think that comes across in the recordings. It was also all recorded on tape, through a vintage desk – no digital, no beat detective, pretty much recorded as we played it live. ‘Say Anything’ was due to be the B – Side for the last single that never got released.
++ Let’s go back in time; when and how did Strange Idols start? What was that spark that made you all be involved in music?
Laura: I moved to London at the same time as David – we knew each other from our hometown of Eastbourne. We’d bonded a couple of years before over a mutual love of the (better side of) Britpop. Also, bands like Belle & Sebastian & Hefner. (Although I seem to remember only ever listening to The Who in his car!) We both went to Art school. We lived together briefly then started to explore London, on our own little separate paths…in 2003 I met Julian. We fell in love. I introduced Julian to my old pal David as I knew they’d get on – even if only on a musical level. They got on very well indeed & a few months later had started what was to become Strange Idols, with another guy they had both just met – Jamie (I wasn’t to join in on vox till a few months after that).
At that point, it was clear we had all come from a similar background of loving quintessentially English pop. ‘Indie kids’. We’d escaped the small towns & suburbs in search of like-minded individuals.
Davey: Laura and I had moved up to London, from Eastbourne, to start at the same art school. We never really spoke to each other about forming a band, but I always knew that moving to London and going to art school was a sure recipe for meeting like – minded musicians, and probably Laura was thinking the same thing. Laura introduced me to Julian and we clicked instantly. He told me he ran a small record label. I bought a four-track tape recorder and microphone with my first college grant and was making little demos in my bedroom, after school. I remember texting Julian one night, asking if he’d consider releasing my songs on his label, to which he replied ‘Need a guitarist? Let’s form a band!’ So I guess I kind of did get to release my music on his label after all! Ha!
Julian: The band started when I moved to London and Laura introduced me to David. Dave in turn had met a Scottish fella called Jamie who was, and still is, as obsessed with music as we were. We bonded over Pulp, the Zombies, SFA, Aztec Camera and the like and were soon making our own music.
Fred: Well for me I joined when the band had already released their 1st single. The drummer and bass player at the time decided to leave. I was simply replying to an ad I saw at College (Drum- Tech). We met up and had a jam, they all seemed to love my playing style and we all got on super well. Danny then joined shortly after me, and the IDOLS were back on the road.
++ How did you all meet? How did you know each other? Were you involved in bands before?
Davey: Before I met Julian I met Jamie. He contacted me through pre – Myspace Friendster (remember that?), saying that he’d moved down from Scotland to London to get into the scene and that he liked my taste in music. Jamie was, and still is, a walking music thesaurus. It was Jamie that coined the name, Strange Idols. He said he met this guy who wrote his own material and would I like to come along for a jam and see what happens? I had been in several bands previously: one in Eastbourne, called The Candys, which ended in disastrous and acrimonious circumstances, and another, called The Answer, which I joined when I first moved to the city. That lasted five minutes. The other members of The Answer were Kele Okereke and Liz Neumayr, who both went on to form Bloc Party and the wonderful Ladyfuzz, respectively. After these failed collaborations I thought I’d just make music by myself and see what I could come up with. I wasn’t too interested in getting involved with another band, but Jamie was persistent and so I eventually went to the rehearsal studio. Neither of us clicked much with the other guy, but Jamie and I got on like a house on fire and we stayed up that night til the early hours talking about music and listening to Richard Hawley.
Julian: See above. I wasn’t in any serious bands before, aside from the usual garage band thrashing in my teens.
Fred: I was in a few bands before, mainly college bands and one band back in Bournemouth when I was a teenager. That all ended when I went up to live in London and then met and started playing with the IDOLS.
Danny: I had no connection with the members of Strange Idols before I joined the band. I moved to London for work in about 2001 after a stint of travelling. I good friend of mine from Norwich was the drummer in a band called Kaito who were pretty big on the alternative music scene at that time and it was through them that I had my introduction to the London band scene. The landscape in the early 2000’s was a bit different: there was that media – driven NME new rock revolution going on and The Libertines and those sort of bands, basically lots of music where there was a tendency for greasy hair, and sweating on stage. When I heard the demos for She’s Gonna Let You Down Again and Berlin in 2005 it came as a refreshing change. I basically met them though Myspace, and through Julian’s perseverance in seeking a new bass player. It was purely coincidence that I turned out to have been born in the same town that Laura and David were from. I think that helped us get on with each other from the start, we immediately had something to talk about, a common ground, and it helped me to understand a bit about them. I was always impressed at how well dressed they all were.
++ I guess the band name is pretty obvious, no? Comes from Felt. But is there a longer story to it? Also, what other bands would you say influenced you? And did you consider any other names?
Laura: Like I said before – we were all kids of the Britpop generation. Julian & I certainly had a massive love of late 60’s / early 70’s music & I personally had ‘written-off’ the 80’s as a decade entirely- until Jamie started playing us bands like Orange Juice and Joseph K. Admittedly, it took me longest to come round to this sound (as I was still burying my head in the dreamy world of Donovan)! Then I started to listen to other bands from the C86 scene & could hear all the 60’s references. You can’t help but fall in love with the melodic, jangly pop of these songs. The frivolity, the romance, the humour & even that familiar charity shop-style
the musicians adopted.
Davey: Yeah, Jamie introduced us to Felt and suggested we take the name Strange Idols from their third LP: The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories. I think before that we played our first ever show in Jamie’s flat, in Old Street, and we called ourselves Ragtime Princes. That was just Jamie, Julian and myself playing. I can only just about remember some of the songs we played that night, none of which graduated into Strange Idols material. Jamie forgot to press record on the minidisc player before we started, so those songs are lost forever, I guess. Laura was in the audience, sitting on the sofa! Regarding influences, there were many! Bands like Blur, Pulp, Hefner, Suede, those were especially important for me, Julian and Laura. But in terms of the initial reference points for the early Idols, definitely that period between 1979 – 1984: Felt, Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Postcard Records and Cherry Red Records. With the later material, I think Julian and I were trying to mould the band into a cross between ‘Fleetwood Mac meets Altered Images’…
Julian: Oh, we considered many other names that are too embarrassing to print here. I think our first gig as a three – piece (Jamie, Dave and I) was under the name the Ragtime Princes. Don’t ask!
++ How was the scene back then in London? Were there any other like-minded bands? What were your favourite venues?
Laura: Back then we weren’t aware of any other bands influenced by this sound. We used to get put on some very strange (& inappropriate) bills. After a while, we started to play with bands like Bricolage, The Long Blondes, I’m from Barcelona …& then got slotted in with the ‘Twee as F*#k’ gang in London. Suddenly there was a new Indie pop scene in London. We were slightly resisting being lumped into a scene of any kind, as people then assume things about you and you get ‘typecast’ in a sense. But it was nice that some promotors seemed to ‘get us’ eventually! It was nice to be part of something, I guess. We liked playing The Buffalo Bar. We also enjoyed White Heat at Madame Jo Jo’s, The Garage, oh, & Shepherds Bush Empire – that was at the end of our career & felt exciting to play a venue like that – with decent sound!!!
Davey: It definitely felt like a ‘scene’ was emerging. We played with Hatcham Social on quite a few occasions – they were always really good. I remember we played a show with them in Camden, it was the first time they played Penelope (Under My Hat) and I remember thinking it was such a great song: an instant single. That’s when I personally felt that something was happening, like a collective musical consciousness, or at least that a lot of the bands then were reading from the same page. Theoretical Girl and the Equations, Electricity In Our Homes and Fanfarlo had just started around that time, too. It was always a pleasure to play the Buffalo Bar: it’s quite a small venue and always seemed to attract good crowds, particularly the aforementioned Twee As Fuck! nights.
Julian: When we first started gigging there were very few like – minded bands and we were always playing with shitty Libertines style bands. Then it slowly changed as we discovered promoters like Ian at HDIF and Sean at Fortuna Pop who put us on decent bills with some great bands. Bands wise: Bricolage were good to play with and the Long Blondes. Favourite venues in London? We always seemed to be playing the Buffalo Bar, a good little venue but so dependent on a decent sound engineer. I suppose Shepherds Bush Empire was the plushest venue we played.
Fred: I loved playing in London: the crowds were hard to please but always got a good turn out. One place we played a few times was Buffalo Bar down Highbury & Islington. White Heat at Madam Jo Jo’s in Soho was always a special place to play as well: a big venue with equally big vibe! There were a few like – minded bands: The Organ (from Canada) were good to play with. You also had 1990’s and Hatcham Social – who we also played with. My favourite band to play with had to be Neilʼs Children though: their music was very different to our own, we just kept finding ourselves on the same bill as them.
Danny: London is London, there are all sorts of scenes going on at any one time. I suppose the first time you actually feel part of a ‘scene’ as an aspiring band is when you actually get put on the same bill as another band that has a similar or complimentary sound to yours. That’s no easy task when you start out. There are more than enough shite, lazy promoters out there. At first you will take whatever you can get. I have to say though, we were lucky to have Julian in the band, he worked tirelessly to try and get us good gigs. He was pretty well – connected. I guess that moment came along for us when the How Does It Feel To Be Loved compilation came out. I think that was the first time we really felt like part of something – albeit something fairly modest in the grand scheme of things.
++ Your first releases were on Shady Lane Records. Who were they? And how did you get to release with them?
Laura: Over to you, Jules!
Julian: Shady Lane was a label I had started a couple of years before SI with Neil Halstead. We released several LPs by Coley Park (psych misfits) and a Canadian folkie called Justin Rutledge. It was really good fun for a while but an easy way to lose lots of money! In fact we were all set to release Ariel Pink’s debut EP but due to his craziness, and our organisation, it never happened. I still have a shoebox full of his cassettes and early mixes for us.
++ But your last single came out on Modern Pop Records. So, same question; who was behind this label and how did you strike a deal with them?
Laura: That was Brandon, of Neils Children. As a band, we became very close with him. We discovered he was a fan of what we were doing & he then offered to record us. He then released a single on his label – Modern Pop Records.
Davey: Modern Pop Records is owned by Brandon Jacobs – the drummer of Neils Children and the creative force behind his solo project Goodnight and I Wish. He heard It’s No Fun! and liked it so he got in touch with us and we started touring with Neils Children. Then Brandon asked if we wanted to put out a single on his label. I think he had to sell one of his drum kits to pay for the special pressing of the white vinyl!
Julian: That was Brandon from Neils Children’s label, he was a huge champion of the band and a great help. He just got what we were doing and started helping us out. He is a really talented songwriter himself and we played together a few times with his solo project called Goodnight And I Wish.
Fred: So this came through our contact with Neils Children. Modern Pop Records had been started and, as with everything in the music biz, itʼs about who you know and we know Brandon, the owner, very well. They had a lot going for them so it made sense to put it out on Modern Pop Records.
++ And there was of course the Japanese release on the Rallye label. A mini-album that seems very hard to find, I donʼt think it’s even listed now on the label site! So yeah, how did this release come about? How did the Japanese get in touch? And why didn’t you get to tour there! It would have been fantastic!
Laura: We’d still go! I reckon an offer of a Japanese tour would get us to reform 😉
Davey: I would have loved to have gone to Japan… I don’t think Rallye really had the money then to pay for a band to go over…
Julian: They just got in touch and wanted to put out this mini album we had ready. They offered us a tour at the time, but the hitch was we had to pay the airfare to get there and no one had the dough. Shame – that would have been fun.
Fred: I had very little to do with this release, but I would of loved to have gone over there and toured. It all come down to money, at the time we were putting everything into the band and didn’t have a penny to our names so being able find the money for as all to fly out there just simply was not going to happen. Who knows? Maybe one day.
Danny: We would have jumped at the chance to play in Japan. I seem to remember at the time we even talked about buying our own tickets if Rallye could have organised the shows and accommodation. The reality was though, any money we had we ploughed into our recordings. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
++ Let’s talk a bit about the releases. The first release was ʻDoors’ with ʻFailed Attempt at a Love Songʼ as the B side. I think it is a great debut. It makes me wonder what was the creative process of the band, and if it changed at all during the later stages of the band. How do you think the band and its sound evolved from this singe to the fourth unreleased single?
Laura: I think we gained confidence. We weren’t afraid to aspire to making pop music. We wanted to break free from being another under-achieving indie band. We wanted to make music to dance to, with a gentle nod to our influences.
Davey: Absolutely, the band definitely evolved in terms of Julian and I writing more for Laura to take control of the vocal duties. The tracks on the collection are pretty much arranged chronologically so you can hear that transition in writing from the first single right up to the fourth. I think we thought that there weren’t many female fronted bands in the pop scene at that time, so we thought we could fill that hole, but then it transpired there were lots of bands doing that: The Long Blondes, Love Is All, Lucky Soul… Julian and I used to joke about being like Blondie. Trying to write hits for our own Debbie Harry!
Julian: I think we got better and better really, through the usual route of playing loads of gigs and learning how best to work with each other. David and I wrote the songs, we would each write separately and then get together in one of our flats, sit in the kitchen, knock back a lot of wine and thrash it about. Then we would take that to the band in the rehearsal studio, usually very excited, convinced we had a major hit single on our hands. Hours of messing about resulted in a SI pop song. Towards the end of SI we had perfected the process to an extent, in terms of how well we played together. One of the last songs we wrote was called Stargazing, it was a definite progression and marked an interesting path to future sounds I think.
++ The second release is the fabulous, and my favourite song, “It’s No Fun”. It is such a proper pop song! Super catchy! Should have been a big hit. As it’s my fave, I want to ask; what’s the story behind this song?!
Laura: Ask Davey 😉
Julian: INF dates from phase one of the band and actually I was listening to an early version of it the other day on a CD from a rehearsal in Kings Cross. It had a Dave guitar solo thing at the beginning! A really fun one to play live, itʼs got a really nice groove to it and the vocal interplay is perfect. That one was Dave’s baby really, you will have to ask him what its about!
Davey: Lyrically, it’s about a relationship that is very quickly going down the drain. I was going through a particularly bad break up with my then girlfriend. I had been to see the band Vincent Vincent & the Villains play a show in London one night, when Charlie Waller was still playing with them, before he left to form The Rumble Strips. They were so good live; Mark and Charlie had such a great onstage chemistry. They had this song called Blue Boy and they shared vocals with beautiful, melting harmonies. It blew me away. I remember thinking to myself ‘if this is the competition in the London music scene then I had better pull my socks up’. I went home that evening and stayed up all night writing It’s No Fun! I knew that it was important for Laura to be doing more in the band than just singing backing vocals, so I purposefully wrote the song so that we could share the verses. Laura sings from the point of view of my ex – girlfriend regarding the relationship. My ex was from New Zealand and she’d introduced me to the Dunedin bands of the early 1980’s: The Clean, The Chills, The Verlaines, all those bands from Flying Nun Records. I think Cloudberry would dig quite a lot of them. So musically I think it shares something with those groups. But when I brought it to the rest of the band that’s when it really tightened up, got made concise. Danny really nailed the bass line on that, and we gave Fred a CD of New Order to get him to play the drums that way. I remember saying to Brian (producer) when we recorded it ‘make the drums sound like The Smiths!’
Fred: Now this is where Danny and I came into the band. This song was great to play, it was one we spent ages in the practice studio – we spent a lot of time with all our songs, really. We would write a song, then break each bit down to try and improve it, play it fast and super slow, get it tighter and tighter. Then once we had completed the song we would break it down again, getting really nic picky. We worked hard like that but it worked well. For me It’s No Fun worked so well because there are so many hooks in it! Both the guitar lines, the bass line and you could even argue the opening drum into is a hook. And of course: the two vocals playing off each other got the mind tingling a treat.
++ Also, for this song you recorded a video. How was that experience? Would you have liked to make more videos? If so, if you had to pick another song of yours, which one?
Laura: I think music videos are important. It gives a band a visual identity, beyond record sleeve art. We had a fun evening making the video – it wasn’t very planned & we had zero budget! I’d have liked to do videos for ALL our songs! Particularly She’s Gonna…
Davey: Making that video was fun. It was shot in the underground chambers of a big, eight storey building on the corner of Shoreditch High Street and Bethnal Green Road, called The Tea Building. It was built in the 1930’s and was a tea and bacon factory, with a biscuit factory behind. It’s all restaurants and art galleries now. I had a solo exhibition of paintings at a gallery which is housed on the ground floor and one day I went down to the chambers and thought it was great, all brick work and metal girders, set out like a labyrinth: perfect for a pop video! A music video film – maker did a story board for a video for She’s Gonna Let You Down Again, but unfortunately it never got made. It was going to be set in The National Gallery with each band member representing certain famous masterpieces, but moving in and around – and coming out of – the pictures. Laura was going to be the Mona Lisa and I was supposed to be the guy pulling his head off in Munch’s The Scream…
Julian: That was made in the basement of the Tea Building on Bethnal Green Road one evening. Yeah, pop videos are great – especially in the Youtube era, I am glad that we made
Fred: This was the complete opposite to the song, (FUN)! Haha. We had a fab time shooting this. We did it in the basement of an old Tea factory. Danny got a few guys from work to bring down all the gear one evening and the rest of us brought all our instruments. I don’t think we had much in the way of a story line so it was a matter of doing as much as possible and hoping there was enough good stuff to make the edit. I know Danny worked hard on that, but I must say he did do a good job!
Danny: Ha! I can’t help but laugh, but for me the experience of making that video was a bit of a nightmare. Basically, I made that video with the help of some colleagues from work. My day job, both now and while I was in Strange Idols, is working in TV post production, so it made sense to use what resources I could gather to make us a video. I had enough experience at the time to know that any attempt to work on a project you have an emotional or personal attachment to should be treated with extreme caution. Jules, Laura and Davey had a strong idea of how they wanted to present the band and I did not want to be custodian of that. My way round this was to organise everything and ask my colleague at work to shoot and edit it, this way I thought I could have enough influence but still not be ultimately responsible should it go tits-up. It was made on zero budget. Davey found the location, and I borrowed the cameras and the lights from work. We had two cameras on set and a portable CD player that we played the song on as we mimed along. We had one evening only to use that space, and it was organised so quickly we hadn’t even taken the time to draw up a storyboard or think properly about what we were doing. All we knew is that we would set up some lights – pretend to play, film it, and see what happened. When I saw what had been shot I was frankly horrified. My colleague started to put an edit together and I very quickly didn’t like what I saw, so despite what I’d promised myself at the start I took it off his hands and decided to finish it myself as I already felt a massive responsibility for it. There’s a reason why it’s black and white and deploys that stylistic approach of simultaneous scenes with the frame, because that was basically all we could do to make the best out of what we had. It’s hardly Michel Gondry, but there you are. I shat myself the first time I showed it to the rest of the band, but they knew me well enough at that point not to hurt my feelings. I still occasionally work with the ex – colleague who shot that video and we lovingly refer to the shot on the first verse (where Davey walks towards the handheld camera whilst signing and the rest of the band are all wandering about behind) as the ‘walk or shame’, because it was such an embarrassing thing for us to do at the time. Sorry about that guys.
++ The last single had “She’s Gonna Let You Down Again” on the A side. This is perhaps your most known song: I even got to dance to it last time I was in London! I think it’s because it was included in the How Does It Feel compilation “The Kids at the
Club”. Did you appear on any other compilations? Did you go often to How Does it Feel?
Laura: No, not that I know of. Ian (HDIF) was a big supporter of us from the start. We went quite often & now he often asks me to DJ at his sister club ‘Great Big Kiss’. It (HDIF) was like the ultimate Indie disco for grown – ups. Fun!
Julian: HDIF is great, I remember when Jamie and I discovered this club in London playing all the music we loved, we were so excited! I still go along from time to time. It was good to be on that compilation, it captures a moment in time and some of the other bands on it are fantastic.
Fred: Yeah, that was a real honour being put on that compilation and I donʼt think we ever did get on any others. We used to pop down to How Does It Feel a few times: itʼs an interesting place to go.
++ Which would you say is your favourite song of yours? And why?
Laura: I really liked all the stuff we were doing just before we split. It’s a shame we never got to record them. I do love Sheʼs Gonna… It’s a strong pop song. Well done, boys!
Davey: I really like I Got Love and am glad it’s finally going to get heard. It was one of the early Idols songs, before we really discovered what we did best as a band, but I like it for nostalgic reasons. I really like the drums on it. But my favourite is probably He’s Out Looking For Love. Laura’s vocals are sublime and the trumpet solo (played by a guy called Adrian) I just adore. So bitter sweet.
Julian: As mentioned above: an unreleased and unrecorded one, called Stargazing. It pointed at a direction that we could have gone in and was great to play live.
Fred: Oh, thatʼs a hard one, if I have to choose one I would probably say Berlin only coz I think it was the most fun to play. Itʼs a darker song and there is a lot about it. The ending was just brilliant as well: the way it turns into the disco beat hook, we used to string this out for ages live and the crowed would go wild dancing to it. Was a great song to play.
Danny: Hard to say. It’s No Fun is great song, but it was a really difficult one to play well live, when we did it was a great feeling. When it went bad we couldn’t wait to get to the end! I guess for me maybe Say Anything – I found that a really interesting song and I loved the changes in it, less straight out pop than the others.
++ Did you ever consider releasing or recording an album? Or did you always think of yourself as a singles band? I ask because these days most bands go straight to the album after one single, or none at all!
Laura: We had our 20 year plan. If all had gone smoothly we’d have been heading to LA now to record our 7th concept record by now 😉
Davey: I think we all would have loved to have made an album, but it never became an opportunity. All the singles we put out were released independently, often with recording or pressing costs paid for out of our own pockets or money pooled from playing paying shows. In this respect, I think we’re all really grateful to Cloudberry for giving us the chance to release the album we never got to make, really. But it is definitely a collection of songs and singles – hence the title – more than an album with a musical journey. It’s interesting to wonder what kind of album we would have made, given the chance, back then.
Julian: Would have loved to have made an LP. That is my one major regret that we donʼt have an LP to slot into the collection. It was simply a matter of money and time really. That’s why itʼs so nice that this CD is coming out, at least it collects all our singles in one place.
Fred: No, I think we would have gone for an album and toward the end it was possibly on the cards, I would of liked to anyway, but I guess it is one of those things that never got round to happening. Although I would like to argue by doing the singles we did of just killer songs was a lot better than trying to produce an album that could of taken away from that.
Danny: We always aspired to record an album. I certainly felt that it was the cornerstone, the benchmark, of being a real band. If we had of had the opportunity to do it we all would have given 110% and could have produced something really good. I’ve still not completely given up on that dream to this day…
++ I always loved the aesthetics of your releases, so I want to ask, who did the sleeve artwork for them?
Laura: Davey! Art school wasn’t a waste after all!
Davey: I did. Julian and I would usually come up with an idea and talk it through together then I’d make them at home. The sleeve for Doors was made of Plasticine clay, carefully sculpted into letters and placed on coloured card. It’s No Fun! is made from potato cut printing. She’s Gonna Let You Down Again was made using photography and Photoshop. The handwriting was done on card and then scanned in. All very D.I.Y. (I should mention that another girlfriend helped me to make the last two, with her technical expertise in photography, Photoshop and patience with cutting potatoes!)
Julian: We all felt the band should have a strong visual identity and wanted our artwork to look like the music sounded. David was largely in charge of making the art work, being an art school graduate he had the tools necessary to do it. My favourite artwork is for our debut single.
Fred: Haha. I think that would have been Laura and Dave’s imput mainly, there.
++ What about gigs? Which were your favourites and why?
Laura: I loved Sweden, Barcelona, and Shepherds Bush Empire. Nottingham sticks out too…The better the on – stage monitors, the happier the singer! Paris was fun – great hospitality……! We always had a really excitable, friendly crowd abroad.
Davey: Supporting I’m From Barcelona at Brixton Jamm in 2007, I think. That was good. The place was packed, maybe 200 or more in the audience and they were a really good crowd. I remember desperately needing to have a wee halfway through our set. As soon as we came off stage I ran to the toilet and was in the cubicle when I heard two guys come in and one said to the other “You know a band are good when you’re dying for a piss, but you don’t want to miss their set”. That was sweet, to hear that. I’m From Barcelona were fantastic that night. There seemed to be about twenty people in that band. They were like a cool Polyphonic Spree. At the end of their set they invited us onstage with them and we all sang their hit We’re From Barcelona, in a drunken, anthemic sing-a-long. That was fun.
Julian: Favourites? Well I guess playing in Sweden was a highlight for me, I love Swedish bands like Radio Dept and Jens Lekman so to go to the country where all this great music originated from was fun. That, and playing in Madrid at Nasti Club: a fantastic place run by a Spanish guy called Chema who really ‘got’ the band and looked after us well when he booked us.
Fred: Oh, again a hard one. All the Europe gig were great gigs in their own right, the crowds are just so much more up for it. I donʼt know if it’s the fact that booze is so expensive out there and gigs are on so late that you have to be pissed up for before you go out, or they just loved our music, but what ever it was we had fun.
Danny: I loved playing live. It has always been the most rewarding part of being in a band for me. The gig with I’m from Barcelona at the Brixton Jamm sticks out in my mind. It was on the same day we got the singles for It’s No Fun back from the printers and it was the biggest crowd we had played in front of at that point. Another one was a really intimate gig at a student union in Malmö in Sweden. We stayed for two nights in the same building we played in, all together in a little room in the basement with bunk beds. We joked at the time that it was a bit like being the Beatles in Hamburg. Everybody there was so kind to us, the crowd really got into it and danced right at the front when we played. It was also the only ever foreign trip that we came back from in credit! If I remember correctly after all expenses were covered we each had £20 left over. Happy days!
++ You played some other countries in Europe too. So which was your favourite if any, and what crowd was your favourite? Any cool anecdotes to share from those trips?
Laura: Being the only sober one – I should remember most. However, as I always went to bed first I think I missed all the fun. Dan has a good Barcelona / sausage anecdote 😉
Davey: There’s a great nightclub / venue in Madrid called Nasti Club, which is run by a lovely guy called Chema Garcia. He’s really got his finger on the pulse with a lot of great music that is up and coming around England and America and books those bands to play his club, usually just before they get signed or make a commercial success. We played there twice and it was always a pleasure. The club was always pretty much packed out and the bands would go onstage quite late, around midnight, so the audience would be in really good, drunken spirits and always gave a warm response. The last show I played with the Idols was at Nasti Club. Even though I had decided to leave the band then, and the others knew it was my last show with them, we had a really great night. We were really tight, live, by that point. That was one of my favourite shows with the Idols. After the show, me, Danny and Fred stayed up all night in the club dancing, drinking and doing other things, until half an hour before we had to be at the airport to go back to England. Danny has an hilarious anecdote about harassing a poor, unsuspecting Spanish lady at Madrid airport with a chorizo sausage…
Fred: Italy was probably the most packed out venue I have ever seen: we were the headline act and by the time we had to go on we were fighting though the crowd to get to the stage and once we started banging out the first few chords they certainly didn’t disappoint. I will never forget the time we were in a Spanish airport. Danny had gone off to find something to take back with him. He later comes wandering up to Davey, puts a big Spanish sausage in between his legs and says “take a look at my sausage”, while poking him in the back. To his horror, a girl turns around totally shocked at just being sexually harassed by a big Spanish sausage, Danny’s jaw hits the floor with embarrassment as he realises he’s just totally mistaken her and sees us all sitting on the next bench up about 50 yards away falling into fits of laughter. He than ran over to us as quickly as possible to try and hide. To make things worse she was then on the same flight as us.
Danny: Every trip we played abroad was special. As a small unsigned band like we were, when we had the opportunity to go abroad and play, it was because somebody generally liked our music and was willing to put time, effort and money to get you out there. We were always treated better abroad than we were in London. The shows we played in Madrid at Nasti Club were particular favourites. I guess the others will expect me to tell the sausage story at this point: It was our very first trip abroad. We had played Milan in Italy first and then flown over to Madrid to play Nasti. I think we were all a bit swept away by the whole experience. We were due to fly home early the morning after the gig and in Spain you play late, like midnight, which we were not used to – coming from London. We played the show and went on to party afterwards. Even Laura got drunk that night which was unusual. After 4 days of Euro travel I think we were all feeling a bit ʻrock and rollʼ. The next morning at 6.30am after about an hours sleep we only just managed to get up in time to get the taxi to the airport. We were in a sorry state of affairs indeed. Things started off badly when we first went to the wrong terminal. With time against us when had to negotiate a hectic crowded passenger bus whilst carrying all of our equipment and bags, all with massive hangovers. When we did arrive at the correct terminal the queues were obscene. Laura was going greener by the minute and had to rush off to be sick about 30 secs before facing customs. Eventually we arrive at the departure gates with about 20 minutes to spare. I had some Euros left in my pocket and I was determined to take back a local souvenir. There was a gift shop on hand and I found a nice looking chorizo ring. I paid with the last of my Euros and the shop assistant handed me the chorizo in a plastic bag. I was so please with my purchase as I exited the shop I wanted to show it off to the others. I scanned across the departure lounge in my hungover haze and saw what I thought was David sitting on a seat reading his book. I walked over to Davidʼs side, leaned over and spoke into his ear ʻlook at my sausageʼ, whilst simultaneously pulling forth the chorizo from the plastic bag near his face. To my horror the alarmed face of a strange girl turned around to face me. I was so ashamed I could barely speak. I mumbled a hurried ʻsorryʼ and backed away. The rest of the band, who had been sitting a few seats along, were now in fits of laughter having seen this whole thing happen. I nearly died. It turned out she was on the same flight and I bumped in to her later while waiting for the toilet. She gave me a very unpleasant look and who can blame her. A memorable end to a memorable first trip to Europe. Iʼll never live that one down.
++ And you played the first Indietracks, when it was much smaller. It seems like it was magical from the photos and from what I’ve read. I’ve only been to the last three and they were fantastic, though I would always love to have been at the first. Did you camp? How was that experience?
Laura: We camped – like troopers! It was a great weekend. Some really great bands and the perfect audience! I enjoyed the bouncy castle.
Davey: That was a great festival experience. Cats On Fire were very good, I remember. We did camp. Laura loved it! She always enjoyed roughing it a bit, on tour.
Julian: Yes we camped at a nearby campsite! It was really good fun: we played either just before, or after, Cats On Fire, which was great, I love that band. The whole festival had a lovely atmosphere and was in the perfect setting of the railway museum.
Fred: Yep we did camp and we stayed for the whole event. It was a good time. The gig went well and Iʼll always remember looking around the old steam engines and going for a ride down the track :).
Danny: Indietracks was quite magical. I had no idea what to expect and it was really refreshing to find this niche little music festival, organized by genuine enthusiasts. I think Laura would rather not have camped, but we had no money for hotels! I remember the whole experience being a bit like a school trip, the camping, the fact that it was in a heritage railway museum, and to top it all off they had a bouncy castle – amazing! We enjoyed ourselves when we played and the crowd seemed to, too. That was also one of the few gigs we played with Adrian, our some-time trumpet player, so we had the full sound on-stage.
++ It seems in a band there’s always one member that is crazy about instruments or recording gear. Was there someone in Strange Idols like that? What kind of guitars did you use though?
Davey: I played a Fender Telecaster Thinline mostly. I used to customize the scratch plate by spraying it different colours. The guitar I used in the It’s No Fun video was a pink paisley Telecaster, which belonged to Danny at the time. Julian used his faithful Gibson Epiphone 335, but he had a second guitar – a Fender Jaguar. When we recorded It’s No Fun at Bark Studios, Brian had a Jaguar in the studio that we used on the tracks – he told us it once belonged to Maurice Deebank of Felt, so there was a bit of excitement and magic in the studio when we heard of that! Danny used a beautiful, 1980ʼs Rickenbacker 4001 bass.
Julian: I got more and more into guitars as the band went along. By the end I had a nice little guitar set up and sound but to be honest I am not a huge tech person. I just know what I like and what looks cool!
++ So what other hobbies do the Strange Idols gang have aside from music?
Laura: Um, well – food! I’m a Chocolatier! Also, I’m passionate about history – particularly the 70’s. I collect vintage clothing, Antiques and curios. I love Film, Architecture, photography, gardening, preparing food & reading.
Julian: Well, I collect vinyl and books. Moving flats is getting more and more difficult as the mountains of records and books soar.
Fred: I’m really into football and almost any sport. I also volunteer as a special constable: I just want to give something back to the community I grow up in.
Danny: Surfing and travelling are the two great loves of my life. The two go hand in hand really. I really feel lucky to have had the opportunity to travel abroad with the band. Itʼs a completely different experience to going as tourists, and itʼs a great experience to share. The everyday realities of trying to make ends meet in London and be in a band at the same time all momentarily disappear when you get on the plane.
++ I gather that not all of you are from London, right? So how did you end up there. And what would you say is your favourite thing about London!
Laura: I hail from the Sunshine coast, like David! We both migrated to the city to live out the Art School dream (for me, this reality was a massive disappointment) My favourite things about London are: The green spaces , Parks, The Canal, the Southbank, the variety of incredible buildings – general architecture, the music – there is always something going on – we are spoilt.
Davey: S&M café in Spitalfields for a quality bangers and mash, followed by a pint or three of bitter and some artist – spotting in the Golden Heart pub. It’s the simple things in life.
Julian: I have lived in London for ten years now. My favourite places in London are Soho, Hampstead Heath, Kew, Portobello Road and the London Library.
Fred: I first moved to London in 2005 to study at Drum-Tech. To start with it was just for one year but I got involved with the IDOLS and ended up staying four. I just loved the fact that so much was going on all the time. No matter what your thing is, it is bound to be happening somewhere every night.
++ And if say, you were having to give a tour to a visitor, which places would you say you can’t miss out? And what about the meal? Would you invite them some proper English meal or not? English ales?
Laura: Hampstead Heath, Kew Gardens, Soho by night, a stroll along the Southbank at sunset. To eat? Perhaps tea? & cake!
Davey: London is a magical city. For me, it was the history it is steeped in that attracted me to it. Reading about all the bands from the 1960’s onwards who gravitated to London to go to the art schools and meet like – minded people to form bands. It’s pretty much what everyone still does. If you want make a band and you come from a provincial seaside town you move to London and enroll at art school! But there is so much to absorb in that city: great galleries, great venues, great parks, pubs, places of interest. Some people develop an unhealthy obsession with London – I did. It can literally be a love affair. I’m taking a break from it right now for that very reason. London and I have had a ‘lovers tiff’. Mostly, I think the best thing about the city is the people. You can meet people from all over the world when you live in London, people you wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity to develop friendships with. ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’.
Julian: I would say the London Library is a must for any visitor. In terms of food I think Food for Thought in Covent Garden is a 70s throwback that never disappoints!
Fred: West End, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the Royal Gardens. To eat, it would have to be Traditional English Pie and local ales: if youʼre coming all this way why try anything else? (And I do love an ale!)
++ So, let’s wrap it here, by now I hope people do know well the Strange idols! One last question though, looking back in time, what would you say was the biggest highlight for the band?
Laura: Hard to say. Maybe recording our first single? I can’t really remember – but it must have been a big thrill!
Davey: Playing Shepherds Bush Empire supporting The Bluetones was a highlight for me. I loved their debut, Expecting To Fly, when I was 16. Had it on cassette and wore it out playing it so much. So doing a show with them and then watching them play all their hits from over the years was quite magical.
Julian: Probably recording our second single with Brian O’Shaughnessy (Go Kart Mozart producer) and using Maurice Deebank’s old Fender Jazzmaster to record some guitar parts! And recording a session for Marc Riley on BBC6 Music, which went out live, nerve racking but
Fred: Oh, so many to choose from but I guess many for any musician its walking into a HMV record store and seeing your music up on the shelf for sale. It is about the music after all.
++ Thanks a lot again, anything else you’d like to add?
Laura: Thanks so much for showing us some love!
Davey: Thank you, Roque, for your support and all your efforts with this release and for giving people the chance to hear more of the Strange Idols. And keep up the great work with Cloudberry Records!
Julian: Thanks so much for putting this CD out, itʼs nice to know that people liked the music.
Fred: Just a massive big thank you to you, Roque, and everyone at Cloudberry Records for all the hard work you have put in!
Danny: Thank you so much, Roque, for putting this retrospective album out. I can genuinely say that the experiences I had as a member of Strange Idols were some of the best of my life, and itʼs been a pleasure revisiting them in the process of getting this release made.