Dreaming of the Starlight: 1

If you were to look at what was once my record collection, became my CD collection and now in the digital age is ascending to a higher state of MP3, you'd find that a large proportion of the music has female vocals. Perhaps not as large a proportion as there should be, but I suspect that is merely a reflection of the sexual inequality that is still as rife in the music industry today as anywhere else. However, if you were to look at a list of my favourite bands, the top ten as it were, you would find that they almost all have female vocals.

This is no coincidence. To me the sound of a female voice is so much more pleasant than a male one, a woman singing has a cold, clear, and above all coherent beauty that is such a long way from the fake american accented drawl of so many male artists. This is a personal preference of course and there are exceptions to every rule. But on the whole... Yes, I know what you're thinking, but it wasn't that either. When I first started getting into music as a hormonal adolescent, liking the girl was as important as liking the music, but this wasn't unconditional. I did have to like the music. However, it may be the case that my preference for female vocals was set back then.

I may be projecting, assigning qualities to my favourite artists that I'd like them to have, but what increases my enjoyment even more than simply female vocals is when the songs are written by women as well. The difference of mindset, the feeling that more thought has gone into the lyrics, to the sounds. Exceptions to every rule, yes. But.

It was a combination of these preferences that propelled Lush to the top of my internal band chart back in the early nineties. Not only did their songs boast female vocals but 99% of the time were written by one of two women songwriters whose songs were different enough to be able to distinguish them (Miki's spiky and Emma's swirly) but similar enough to belong to a coherent wall-of-melodic-sound oeuvre. These songs sounded like the inside of my head, chords and riffs resonating as if being played upon neurones bathed in a dark red wash of intracellular fluid. Above all it was the overall sound that mattered the most here; a lot of the time the vocals were given no more precedence than any other instrument. As a result it was a long time before I could be certain of putting song tiles to songs, although I had my favourites. This one or that one. The one with the thing.

There were men involved too; Chris and Steve (the latter of whom left in 1992 and was replaced by Phil) who were all very much part of the band's identity and strength. You did still get the impression that it was Miki and Emma that were driving though, which was a breath of fresh air. Lush had a modern feel of gender egalitarianism without the band ever having to adopting a self-consciously "feminist" stance (their final album "Lovelife" was indeed a commentary of the battle of the sexes but managed to do so without preaching).

The story begins, as all good stories do, with a sense of dissatisfaction. A mood. A grumpy mood. In retrospect I was having a good time but was beginning to get exasperated by the weekly dance at the Slimelight and felt like doing something different to take my mind off it. Something. Anything.

I used to buy the Melody Maker religiously in those days. As I worked in the West End I used to walk down to Argyll Street at Tuesday on lunch time where there was a news stand that used to get the latest issue in earlier than anywhere else. There was already something Lush-like about those lunchtime walks because on more than one occasion I'd spotted Miki (once carrying her guitar down Oxford Street, once coming out of Rymans). Seeing someone from one of my favourite bands pop up in my lunch break like that out of the blue put a bit of shine on the day. I never said hello or anything, I was afraid of breaking the spell.

On this particular Tuesday when I was feeling somewhat disgruntled with my lot, I saw in the Melody Maker that Lush were about to embark on a short tour of the UK to support their new album "Split" an album which amongst other things was being promoted by having a London Taxi painted to resemble the sleeve (a taxi which I also used to see during my West End lunch breaks and which once nearly ran me over).

The album wasn't out yet, but had been preceded by two singles which had, rather oddly, been released simultaneously. Miki's "Hypocrite" (a frantic bouncy self referential paradox "I know you think it's wrong - and maybe you're right but this is my song") and Emma's "Desire Lines" (an eight minute ambient spacefaring lament which precisely halfway through engages its star drive).

The tour was taking in only a handful of venues around the UK and was due to start only the next week.

Sod it, I thought, I've got leave coming to me, I've always enjoyed all the Lush gigs I've been to up until now, why not indulge myself?

I booked the time off and mentally prepared myself for a hitch around the country. I had seen them several times before; the first occasion had been a day festival in Crystal Palace alongside James, All About Eve and The Cure. After that I'd made a point of seeing them whenever they played in London if I could. But this tour was the first time I was going see them outside the capital. The first date was at The Leadmill in Sheffield. I knew this venue of old having not only watched Indians in Moscow play there a full decade before but just the previous year had seen Die Cheerleader there (only to come down with a migraine during the support act Voodoo Queens).

At the time I was sporting one of my "signature" looks - bright red hair. As it happened Miki also had bright red hair. This was a coincidence.

Hitch-hiking was still the order of the day and as such I found myself standing down at the root of the M1 in Brent Cross on the morning of 4 June 1994 with my thumb out.

The first car I got picked up by was one crewed by a couple of scary looking but nevertheless friendly rockers. The guy in the passenger seat did all the talking, he was (I seem to recall) bald but with a small beard and moustache. They were on their way to Castle Donnington for the Monsters of Rock festival, they told me, and were going to set up a stall there selling tarantulas. Their stock was in the back of the car apparently.

I peered over the back seat. They certainly weren't shitting me. There, stacked up in myriad plastic tupperware boxes punched with air holes, crouched more hand-sized spiders than I liked to think about. I don't know what the collective noun for large spiders is but a Nightmare of Tarantulas fits the bill nicely. What would happen if we crashed? I imagined the swarm of eight legged monstrosities emerging from the wreckage to the shock of the emergency services like something from a cheap horror film...

Luckily we didn't crash and I was dropped off at the junction in plenty of time to hitch the remaining 50 miles to Sheffield. I don't recall the details of my final lift but like so many were in those days it was very probably a sales rep. Most of them wanted to talk about my hair and none of them had heard of Lush. Sometimes they would try and engage me in conversation about music but on the whole this never worked as their tastes only seemed to stretch as far as Rod Stewart or Van Halen. One chap did confess to being quite keen on Oasis although they were, he opined, basically just ripping off The Beatles.

The Leadmill was a child of the industrial revolution and lurked in a side street as if hiding from the law. I remember it as being a vast barn although I am sure that if I went back I'd find it was smaller than I remembered. These places usually are except for when you remember them as being very small in which case they turn out to be actually larger (the memory not only cheats but is a barefaced liar). The stage was very high.

I have no idea why the UK leg of the tour was so short but as a result the gigs felt full of concentrated Lushness. I stood at the front and drank in the experience, savouring my favourites and sipping interestedly at new songs that I wasn't yet familiar with but was looking forward to getting to know better when the album was released.

Afterward I chatted in the bar with some of the local gig goers before eventually the venue closed and I was turned out into the warm summer streets. I didn't have anywhere to go and from past experience I understood that the best thing to do was remain in the city centre. I'd taken some speed earlier and as a result wasn't particularly in a hurry to sleep even if I could have found somewhere. Eventually I found a seat in a corner of the coach station and dozed fitfully for a couple of hours.

It was going to be a long six days.

It was going to be fun.

Next time...
Hitting the Hut that belonged to King Tut

many thanks to Mick Mercer for permission to use his Lush photos


forkboy said…
For many years after my intro to Lush I found myself almost instinctively drawn more and more to women fronted bands and artists.

I soon realized, not unlike you, that it was really the women doing something new and different. I found male-based bands to be... well.... dull.

I thank Lush (and my then-girlfriend who introduced me to Lush) for opening me up to a whole new world of really great music.
callen said…
I'm an Angeleno and back in 90-91 I'd read NME every week trying to catch up with what I felt was the most interesting place on the planet -- both musically and culturally -- the UK. I remember reading about the likes of Ride and Lush and then at long last, I heard Ride's "Kaliedoscope" for the first time on KROQ while driving home late one night. It was like a bomb exploded in the front seat of my car, I had to have the album, I ran to Record Trader in Reseda the next day and bought a copy. I played it till the tape broke.

When Ride came to L.A., I bought a ticket immediately. They were playing at The Roxy on Sunset on a now legendary double-bill with Lush. In my crowd, you still have great bragging rights to say that you saw that tour.

I got to The Roxy early and was stunned to see Ride, en masse, walking down the street. It was like some scene out of The Monkees or something -- they were walking down Sunset, clearly reveling being in L.A.'s rock mecca. They looked like a proper gang who really liked each other.

I lined up against the Roxy and waited to get in. A giant tourbus pulls up and out comes Lush, in the proper order -- singer, guitarist, bassist, drummer. I just remember this shock of red hair, followed by a drop-dead gorgeous brunette, then two dudes.

Sound check commences. I'm leaning against the club, and the wall is VIBRATING and THUMPING. I think, "Should have brought some earplugs."

I remember Ride's set, they came on first, but it was tainted by this bodybuilder wearing a Reni hat who was high on something and clearing himself a large space in the pit with use of shoulders and fists. We stood well away, watching indignant, weedy shoegazer kids get sucked in and spit out with great force. All I really remember about the set was that the crowd was surprised to see Andy Bell step up to sing, and Lol Tolhurst strangely tossed his snaredrum forward during "Drive Blind".

Wasn't too keen to stick around for Lush after that, but doing so changed everything for me. What a great band. They really captured the zeitgeist, didn't they? Such pretty, rich, swirly sound. I became a convert that day. The fact that they were fronted by two very attractive women was quite the bonus. I developed an immediate schoolboy crush on Emma Anderson. It's strange to go moon-eyed and start sighing over someone you have never met and never will meet, but that's how things happen when you're 20. I seem to recall she was not the happiest-looking person that night -- hungover? Homesick? Bewildered by her singer's pop-art breast-accentuating lycra jumpsuit? I guess I'll never know . . .

Walking out after the show, I was stumbling down Sunset and wondering why, since I'm a teetotaler and don't touch drugs. I looked towards my date and saw her yelling at me, yet I could barely hear her. Thanks to the combined forces of Lush and Ride, I was deaf and punchdrunk! It wore off after about a day, but man . . . When I reminisce with friends who also saw the tour, the answer is invariably, "Oh, you mean the LOUDEST SHOW EVER?"

Also can brag that I saw Lush play their show at Union Square in San Francisco a year or two later. I had moved up there and had the day off and went in. The square was packed and we stood on the corner (literally) of Stockton. I was delighted to see photos from the show pop up on the Internet a few years ago, and I think there's a youtube video of it. Sort of an Shoegazing/Alternative Woodstock that I wear with pride.

The past few years after I heard that Lol Tolhurst and Phil King were playing with the JAMC I secretly hoped that somehow, some way, Ride and Lush would reform and replicate their tour -- Lol could do double-duty and play for both bands! There is little doubt that it would be a smashing success, but I doubt either will ever reform.

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