Saturday, November 25, 2006

My Fantasy Band

Spiritualized - Medication (Live at the Albert Hall)
Lupine Howl - Sometimes

Along with picking your own England football XI (or whichever national team you support), choosing your fantasy backing band is a classic drunken pub conversation. I haven’t had it for a while, but the last time I did, I think I went for Loz from Ride on the drums, Alex from Blur on bass and Jimi Hendrix on guitar. It would have to be a simple 3-piece really, though if I were being clever, I would probably get Aphex Twin to tinkle the ivories. However, if you actually stop to think about it that would probably be an awful band, and not just because I might want to front it and play guitar (I play three chords badly and can’t sing). Nope, it’s just bad because it wouldn’t really work, their styles don’t suit each other and if you were to start getting really anal about it, despite picking musicians with fairly minor egos compared to most, there is bound to be a clash of personalities.

It’s a terrible idea really, even in practice, when you look at the actual supergroups that have been formed over the years - Velvet Revolver. The Power Station. Temple of the God. Zwan!!! I mean, really… OK, so there’s the odd exception – Cream and Crosby, Stills and Nash perhaps. Electronic had their moments. Mike ‘µ-Ziq’ Paradinas and Richard D. James did combine to great effect on the ‘Mike and Rich’ album. But generally, supergroups don’t work. Which is why, if I actually had to recruit three musicians to form a band with, I would look no further than Sean Cook (bass), Mike Mooney (guitar) and Damon Reece (drums). Names you’ll know I’m sure, but perhaps not those that would be instantly recognisable to the majority of the population. Individually, they were all involved in various projects (Mooney was Julian Cope’s guitarist for a while), but collectively they met as members of Spiritualized. Cook joined in 1992, while Mooney and Reece were recruited in 1995. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that during the time the trio were in the band, Spiritualized became fabled as the greatest live band on the planet, and ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’, arguably the best Spiritualized album, was recorded and released. As an engine room, the axis of Cook, Mooney and Reece was second to none. I was lucky enough to see Spiritualized live during this period and I witnessed a performance of immense power and virtuosity. It actually knocked me off my feet at one point. I’ve posted ‘Medication’ from the stunning Albert Hall concert that was released as a double live CD in 1998.

Much has been written about what happened next so I won’t go into too much detail, but Cook, Mooney and Reece were acrimoniously dismissed from the band in 1999. The short version is that the trio were sacked after threatening a strike in protest over salaries and appearance fees. New contracts of employment were drawn up between Pierce and the musicians, and the same contracts were then used to infamously fire them. Cook has always maintained that he and his cohorts weren’t fairly credited for the work they did, while Pierce remains unapologetic at how events panned out, and harbors the feeling he was being used by people who saw Spiritualized as their passport to fame. On a personal level, I don’t think Spiritualized have been the same since they left. Musically, Pierce has gone in a certain direction and I haven’t followed. It happens.

After their dismissal, Cook, Mooney and Reece formed Lupine Howl, with Cook assuming lead vocal duties, and the debut album ‘The Carnivorous Lunar Activities of Lupine Howl’ was released by Beggars Banquet in 2001. I’m sure Cook and Mooney would be the first people to admit that their time working with Pierce influenced their sound, but it would also be churlish not to believe that musicians of this calibre couldn’t have had some say in the direction of Pierce’s music. Pierce got to keep the gospel rock and the choir, but Lupine Howl claimed the dirty, demonic, psychedelic rock‘n’roll music and the album was proof of this. Sounding far more accomplished than a debut album has any right to (not surprising considering the time they had already spent playing together), and self-produced by Cook and Mooney, ‘The Carnivorous Lunar Activities of…’ was a good album, but perhaps too fragmented to be deemed great. Cook described it as “nine schizophrenic tracks” and though this lack of cohesion is a weakness, there are moments of breathtaking quality. ‘Sometimes’ is everything in one song – tripped-out space rock and ethereal folk, building to an effects-laden, harmonica-drenched lull before the surging psych-rock freak out conclusion, with squalling horns and wall of sound guitars. Live the band were awesome, enhancing the reputation they had earned while members of Spiritualized. I saw them a few times, the stand out being a performance at the Camden Underworld in 2001. It was a pummelling and relentless audio assault, packed with more heart-in-the-mouth moments than a trip to Alton Towers. I was completely blown away and if I’d had any hair it would have been standing on end. The reviewer from the Melody Maker tried to describe what he’d heard –

“Sounds like these inhabit a unique plain in your consciousness, attacking you from every direction, astounding you while at the same time hinting at possibilities still untouched by the music. Words can’t do it justice. It’s absurd. People around me are shaking their heads in disbelief. Songs like 'Carnival' and closing song 'Tired' are both epic, 10-minute emotional marathons that, on the most basic level, fill you with utter joy. Quite simply, this is the greatest gig I've had the privilege to attend this year.”

It never really happened for Lupine Howl. Despite some outstanding reviews, the press remained split into two camps - those who sided with Pierce and therefore Spiritualized, and those who were looking to the Spiritualized rebels aka Lupine Howl to carry the baton. I guess there were more in the former camp. Also, once the hype regarding the band’s origins had died down, perhaps there wasn’t enough substance to maintain a solid fan base. Whatever the reasons, despite one more album and no official word of a split, it does appear that Lupine Howl are no more and that unrivalled bass/guitar/drums combo are no longer playing together.

Lupine Howl website (hasn't been updated since 2004 but contains good information on the band)
Spiritualized website
Buy Lupine Howl from Amazon
Buy Spiritualized from Amazon
Sean Cook's new band The Flies at My Space