Monday, 11 December 2017

Christmas Tour 2017!

Christmas just isn’t Christmas without some Saint Etienne live shows.

So, we’ve decided to visit a few places around the UK we didn’t reach on the Home Counties tour plus a couple of different venues in places (London and Manchester) that we did. We’ll be playing a selection of songs from Home Counties alongside hits, misses and festive favourites. Tickets are on sale now via the links below.

We’ll be announcing some special supports over the coming weeks so stay tuned for news of those and get your party boots ready for one of the following:

Thursday 30th – Holmfirth – Picturedrome – Tickets

Friday 1st – Glasgow – O2 ABC – Tickets

Saturday 2nd – Manchester – Ritz – Tickets

Friday 8th – Bristol – SWX – Tickets

Saturday 9th – London – Shepherds Bush Empire – Tickets

Sunday 10th – Bexhill – De La Warr Pavilion – Tickets

Thursday, 21 September 2017

2017 American Tour Promos

Bloody lovely...

Jenga, Bouffant Hair and Pop'n'Roll: The 405 Speaks to Saint Etienne's Sarah Cracknell

Two years after the release of their critically-acclaimed album Words and Music by Saint Etienne, the trio have teamed up with First Third Books, an independent publisher specialising in high-end music photo-biography, to present a collection of photographs spanning their time-honoured career, bound in a rather fetching hardcover.

Doron Davidson-Vidavski

15 May, 2014. Photography by Rachael Cassells

It's rather rewarding being a Saint Etienne fan. True, Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs and Sarah Cracknell are not hugely prolific as far as studio albums are concerned but they do keep fans' interest piqued with special editions, reissues, films and vinyl odds'n'sods. Two years after the release of their critically-acclaimed album Words and Music by Saint Etienne, the trio have teamed up with First Third Books, an independent publisher specialising in high-end music photo-biography, to present a collection of photographs spanning their time-honoured career, bound in a rather fetching hardcover.

Photographic nostalgia is the watchword for this monograph but there's also various tidbits of fact and anecdote thrown in for good measure. You'll even find a foreword by Lawrence (a.k.a Felt's Lawrence Hayward), who poetically and eruditely sums up the band's charm in 455 words. Here's a sample nugget: "The brown stuff we drink is a right murky brew - it helps us to work and see the day thru - NORF LANDAN is where we made our mark - to be more specific Tufnell Park." It's rather lovely.

The book is out next month but you can pre-order it now, which is probably a sensible course of action, seeing as the Deluxe Edition has already sold out and the standard one is limited to a run of 1,700.

We got Sarah Cracknell on the wire for a telephonic stroll down memory lane and heard a bit more about this project and how it came to be.

What have you guys been up to since Words and Music... came out a couple of years ago?

Well, we toured that record quite a bit, going all over the place, really, and more recently we've worked on a film with Paul Kelly called How We Used To Live. It's got footage of post-war London, lots of rare colour images from the BFI National Archive and Pete did the music for it. Ian McShane narrated it. And also Bob has had a book published [Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop] which he's promoted on a book tour.

How did the idea for the new photography book come about?

First Third did a similar book on Felt, whom I love, and I thought it was such a good collection and then the opportunity came for us to do a similar thing, which we thought would be a great idea. We all met up and brought loads of photograph - I have so many - well, we all do, really, and we just sat down and sifted through them and picked the ones that ended up in there. It's funny because sometimes we'd struggle to remember where a particular photo was taken or - with some of them - I'd entirely forgotten them being taken in the first place. But someone would always have some recollection and say - oh, well, actually this one was taken at London Zoo or in Malmö or wherever.

Speaking of Malmö, there's a few photos of you guys from the Good Humor sessions in Sweden and you talk about staying up late playing Jenga in Malmö.

[Laughs] Yes, that's right...

People imagine the rock'n'roll lifestyle as one laden with drugs and alcohol, rather than, well, you know... playing Jenga. These images show a different aspect of life in a band.

[Still laughing] Yes, I think what you see is just how much fun we do actually have together. And it's not just the three of us, there's other people who come with us on tour and it's that feeling of camaraderie and genuinely enjoying what we do.

So would you say that touring for you is pleasure rather than a chore?

Oh absolutely, it's a great adventure and also I always try to go out and explore whatever places we are visiting because, well - you know, I used to worry that I might never get to visit some of those places again so there's that thing of wanting to make the most of the opportunity.

The book mentions your first visit to Japan which, by the sounds of it, could have gone better...

Oh, yeah, I don't think they were very happy with us. We were supposed to be doing PAs but the promoters were actually expecting us to do a three hour set and there was the expectation that the whole thing was going to be done completely live, whereas there's always a pre-recorded electronic element to our live shows.

One of the standout shots in the book is from the session you did with Pierre et Gilles for the Etienne Daho collaboration in 1995. What was that like?

It was amazing but I really did feel sorry for Bob and Pete. We'd all arrived at the studio only for them to have to sit around for hours while I was having my hair and make-up done, which took hours! They gave me very bouffant hair. And, you know, they spent quite some time setting up the shot, there was a lot of attention to detail. There was no taking lots of different shots trying to get the right one, it was just one pose, one shot, but a lot of preparation beforehand. And after all that poor Bob and Pete ended up hidden in the bushes [laughs].

Is there a particular image from the book which you are fond of?

Let me think. That's a really difficult question. Ummm... I have fond memories from the shoot we did for the NME -

The one with the trouser suit and Bob's Estonian flag top?

[laughs] Yes. You know, it was a big thing for us to be in the NME, it was something we were definitely striving for and so that was quite a big thing for us. We felt like we'd made it.

One of the most exciting parts of the book for any Saint Etienne geek like me is the end bit where you've listed all your discography with photos of the artworks, even for the rare fan-club only releases.

Oh yeah!

It's noticeable how you've consistently had a very particular aesthetic and a passion for design in your artwork.

Yes, I think it has always been important for us to make sure that everything was thought out. It's not just about the music but also about how you present it and the imagery and even the fonts you choose for the artwork and we've always been very conscious of that.

I think my favourite artworks were for 'So Tough' and the 'Avenue' single cover. Do you have a favourite?

Which one is the one with the cat on it?

Do you mean 'I was Born On Christmas Day'?

Yes, that's the one. I also really like the one for 'Join Our Club' with the green waves. I think that was inspired by an actual soap bar or detergent packaging.

The Deluxe edition of the book comes with a limited 7" single which has two previously unreleased recordings. The A-side is a song titled 'Pocket Call' - what can you tell us about this track?

We went to Sweden to work with the guys who write and compose for the Melodifestivalen. It's a sort of pre-Eurovision song competition on Swedish television, where they choose who they're going to send to the Eurovision song contest to represent Sweden. We did some recordings with them and this was one of the songs they had, which they didn't feel was quite right for the Eurovision but we absolutely loved it and thought it would work for us.

Is this something you did a while back or quite recently?

No, this was a few months ago.

So, can we deduce from this that there may be a new Saint Etienne album in the offing?

No, not really. These were just some sessions that we did without it necessarily being songs for an album. We are not planning a new album as such, yet, but it was good to record some new stuff together again.

So what is next for you guys after this book?

We are actually going to do a gig in Sheffield next month with a screening of How We Used To Live. We'll be doing the soundtrack live together with Debsey and some other musicians. It's part of the Sheffield Doc Fest, where we had Finisterre screened as well. I think Bob is also going to be DJing and we're going to do a Q&A afterwards. It's kind of daunting playing the soundtrack to the film but also quite exciting.

The book, Saint Etienne, is out on First Third Books on 3 June. It is available to pre-order here.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The Telegraph - Sarah Cracknell on her daily routine, touring and her love of birds - 12-12-2012

Saint Etienne singer Sarah Cracknell talks to Tim Burrows about her daily routine, the band's recent tour to America and how walking through muddy fields is good for your soul.

Sarah Cracknell, 45, joined the band Saint Etienne in 1991 to sing vocals on their third single, Nothing Can Stop Us. They released their eighth studio album, Words and Music by Saint Etienne, in May, and began a British tour in Edinburgh on December 11. An expanded version of their 1996 album Casino Classics is out now ( Cracknell lives in rural Oxfordshire with her husband, the band's manager Martin Kelly, their two sons, Spencer, 10, and Sam, eight, and their rabbit, Cookie.

Home We've had the house for over 10 years – the oldest bit was a damp shell when we bought it. It was built in 1635 or something. It took a long time to do up while we were living in London. I remember coming down here with my kids a few times when there was no running water and no bathroom. It was challenging, a bit like camping.

Routine I'm quite lucky as I have a double life. When I'm here, which is most of the time, I get up in the morning, have two cups of tea before I get the kids up and make their packed lunches and take them to school. Then I go and see friends, go swimming, go for walks. But when I'm working it's a completely different thing.

Picture This picture (below) of me with my dad [Derek Cracknell] was taken on the set of [the 1969 film] Battle of Britain. It is extremely special to me as he died just before I joined Saint Etienne. He worked in the film business with people like Stanley Kubrick and I spent a lot of time on sets. My parents would take me out of school and I would go on location, because he used to go away for a long time.It just felt normal.

Walking It's one of the nice things about living in the country – I've got a friend who I go trudging off with quite regularly. We usually go for six hours, and it's quite vigorous, through muddy fields and over stiles and up hills. Regardless of whether it's beautiful weather or a bit drizzly, it is really good for your soul.

Birds You are really aware of the seasons out here. I love it – sometimes you can't hear a car, nothing, which I like. You become a bit of a twitcher as well. We get tons of birds in our garden – woodpeckers, jays and red kites.

Touring Our recent American tour was amazing – they hadn't seen us in a while so I think they'd been storing up their enthusiasm. But being on tour for weeks on a sleeper bus is grim. You're all in bunks, it's grimy, and you get so shattered. Every time the bus brakes I'm always convinced we are going to crash because we had a bit of a crash once in the past. We were approaching Calais; Spencer was a baby and I had him in the bunk with me. A car cut up the bus, which went over on one set of wheels and everyone started falling out of the bunks. Now I fear the worst – it's not good for sleeping.
Band memories I've got a box of Saint Etienne stuff in a lock–up somewhere, but I've hung on to some things at home. This sign (pictured below) was made for the first ever Mercury Music Prize, for which we were nominated. This feather boa (pictured below) is around 15 years old and is a bit threadbare. I wear boas on stage all the time; I don't know – I suppose I wanted to add a bit of glamour. I had visions of arriving on stage on a crescent moon hanging from the ceiling, wearing gold lamé, if we ever became hugely famous. But that's how I started, wearing a John Lewis feather boa.

Clothes When I was a teenager I used to circle jumble sales in the local paper and come back with bin liners full of clothes. I have collected 60s clothes ever since. I think I suit shapes from that era. I got this coat (pictured below) from one of my backing singers, Siobhan – she is now one of Prince Charles's PAs.

Souvenir Recently I was at a wedding and was on a table with Chrissie Hynde. I was saying I hated touring and being away from my children and she was like, ‘No, man, this is what you do, they’re not gonna hate you for it.’ Some people find it easier, but it makes me really anxious. Our two-week stint in America was the longest I’ve ever been away from them. I cried on the plane on the way out. Thank God for Skype. I often bring souvenirs back for the kids, like this wind-up Martian toy (pictured below). I found it in Oregon in an old-fashioned toy shop. It’s a little bitof Americana.

Drama I went to Italia Conti [Academy of Theatre Arts] for a year. I begged my parents to let me go, so it took a year for me to confess that I absolutely hated it. I felt like a fish out of water. It was all about kicking your legs in the air and doing show tunes. I wanted to do drama. Then, from the age of about 15 I was in bands. In 1988 I went to a drama college and came out wanting to act, did a few fringe plays but then met Bob [Stanley] and Pete [Wiggs, her Saint Etienne bandmates] through a mutual friend. It was a surprise because I thought I had put being in bands behind me. If someone had said to me we'd still be going in 20–odd years, I'd have laughed.

First records I think the first time I got into the way a record sounds was Rock On by David Essex when I was about eight – it's such a bizarre record, really out there and forwardthinking production–wise. It made me really excited about things sounding new and different. I liked glam records by bands like T.Rex and the Sweet because the sound was so unusual.

Instruments There are quite a lot in the house – they're mostly Martin's. I got this Wurlitzer Butterfly Grand (pictured below) in a music shop in LA. I was lucky getting it back here. A friend has a company that transports stage equipment and he was transporting the stuff for Riverdance to England. He smuggled it in and delivered it to my door.

Nights in Martin and I do that DVD box set thing – we're on series four of Breaking Bad. It's addictive. We did the same with The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood and Mad Men. We usually watch two episodes in a row, but Martin always tries to push for a third.

The original article is here

Noisey - Rank Your Records: Bob Stanley Expertly Appraises Saint Etienne’s Eight Full-Lengths - 01-06-2017

Cam Lindsay
Jun 1 2017, 3:00pm

The founding band member (and noted music critic) ranks the output from the long-running British pop act.

In Rank Your Records, we talk to artists who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.

Bob Stanley is a songwriter and producer in Saint Etienne, one of England's greatest pop acts of the last quarter-century, but he's also a renowned author and music critic. He's had bylines in The Guardian, Mojo, NME, and Pitchfork, written liner notes for countless reissues, and in 2013 published Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Modern Pop, a deeply engrossing summary of the last 50 years in pop music. Without exaggeration, he is a national treasure along with the likes of Sir David Attenborough, Delia Derbyshire, Chris Morris, and Peppa Pig.

Being such a detailed music historian, Stanley seemed like a perfect fit to rank the records he's made with his mates Pete Wiggs and Sarah Cracknell as Saint Etienne. However, when I mention their new one, Home Counties, is the group's ninth so far, he stops me. "Wait, isn't it our tenth?" he says with a laugh. "I thought this was our tenth album. I need to stop saying that in interviews!" Considering their discography features a number of compilations, fan club-only exclusives, and countless singles, it's a forgivable mistake.

Like almost all of their previous albums, which would be eight, Home Counties follows their tradition of a particularly English theme. This time they chose to write about a day in the life of the area in which they grew up, what they call "this doughnut of shires that ring the capital." Says Stanley, "It's the suburbs and beyond, where people have to commute to London in order to get to work. It's quite conservative and not thought of as anywhere particularly creative, which is inspiring because the end result of growing up in a place like is us, Depeche Mode, the Rolling Stones, the Stranglers, acid house. We all came from Home Counties. Living there gives you something to kick against. People definitely think it's uncool to live there."

Noisey phoned up Stanley and got him to put his albums in order of favourite. He did such a good job we think he should turn it into his next book.

8. Foxbase Alpha (1991)

Noisey: Why is this your least favorite?
Bob Stanley: I think just because it's such a scrapbook of ideas. There's no real unity to it. There are songs on it that I like. I can understand why it could be a fan-favourite, because I think we sound enthusiastic. But I think we sound more enthusiastic than accomplished. Some songs I'm quite proud of, others have quite obvious and clunky samples. Things that other people like about it I likely find rather embarrassing.

"It did what we intended by not sounding remotely like what we saw as indie in 1991." How bad was indie music that year?
Well, there were a few things going on, and it felt like the most interesting stuff was being sidelined. There was this professional indie-ness that was starting to surface, whereas in the previous years, you had this Manchester thing, which was about taking the music to as many people as you can, much like the dance scene. This was people being curmudgeonly, like the Wonder Stuff going, "Who wants to be the disco king?" Why would anyone write a song like that? What kind of miserable life have you got where you want to write about people having being rubbish? Ned's Atomic Dustbin, they were another example. They were bloody awful. So there was the lot of that, stuff like Carter USM, people using terrible puns, and making records that sound very scratchy. They haven't dated well either. Not that many people are fond of them, unless they were 15 at the time and had this kind of residual liking for them. History has recorded them as dreadful. It was all very grey t-shirt. Not that we were the most glamorous people in the world. When you make pop records, you've got to dress up a little and spend time on your artwork.

The original idea for Saint Etienne was to have different vocalists sing covers. What changed?
It was only initially about singing covers because we hadn't written any songs of our own. But the reason why Sarah became a permanent singer was because we got on very well, her voice suited our music perfectly, and we had similar reference points. It just really clicked. Originally, we followed the Soul II Soul and Massive Attack models, where they had different singers on their records. Soul II Soul were kind of the blueprint, but then they started doing all of their songs with Caron Wheeler, so it made sense. If you find the singer you get on with, and her voice suits the music, you carry on with her. So it was as simple as that, and we're still best mates today!

7. Finisterre (2002)

Finisterre is now 15 years old, which is kind of the least optimum time to listen to a record, when I think about an old record. There's nothing wrong with it. A couple of songs could've been stronger. A song I wrote called "Action" was pointed out to me as sounding like a particular Beach Boys song, which I hadn't intended to do, and it does, so I was a little embarrassed by that. I won't say which, because I don't want to get sued. That was the first album we did quite a bit with Brian Higgins of Xenomania, which worked out really well. He's a very odd man, but also very talented. My favourite song is the title track, which we did with Ian Catt. We hadn't worked with Ian in quite some time, so that was nice.

This album was London-themed. The band said, "We all felt an urgency to breathe new life into London." What did you mean by that?
Wow, that's interesting. That's what we said? I dunno. That was a time when the Iraq war was happening, and there was a massive demonstration in London with two million people, which was the biggest demonstration ever in the country—and it still didn't do anything. So it felt like kicking back at something. Obviously, given the situation now and then, I'd swap it in a heartbeat, but it felt very disappointing that we got the Labour government for the first time in a half-century and they started out promising only to fizzle out quickly. And then lead us into a horrific war and unbalance the entire Middle East. Lyrically, I suppose it was about direct action. I suppose there was too much apathy in London, sort of as this hangover from Oasis and the Cool Britannia thing. Maybe that's what I meant. Again, 15 years is a weird gap because you can forget things or things don't fit together properly.

Finisterre was also a film, specifically about London. 
Initially, the idea was to do a DVD that went with the album, where each song would have a video. Up to that point we'd done videos like everyone else, where it was slightly out of our hands and the budgets were relatively ludicrous and money you'd rather spend elsewhere. So we just said to the record company, "If you just give us 20 grand, we'll do videos for the whole album." Instead they gave us 20 grand to do the video for the first single and then said, "No, no, you can't do any more." Because we started doing this with Paul Kelly, it just became a film in its own right. The film came out a year after the album and I'm really proud of it. That stands up in its own right. It looks very of its time, because London has changed so much since then.

6. So Tough (1993)

Again, this is me thinking about albums where I'd like to subtract a few songs and switch them with something else. Last time I listened to it, I felt it sounded a bit thin. One of the odd things about that was we went to clear the samples we put in between tracks, and it was almost impossible to clear any American samples. The only thing we could was Rush let us use the sample from "The Spirit of Radio." They were very kind and said, "We can't imagine why you'd want to ruin your very beautiful song with a horrible guitar sound." It was quite funny.

This was the first album you made with Sarah completely on board. How did that change things for you and Pete?
Me and Pete had a flat together at this point, so we came up with ideas at home in the studio, and then Sarah would bring her own ideas. We were probably less than generous on that album, and should have given Sarah more songs. She had a song called "Paper" that was a B-side; it was really nice and should have been on the album. The idea was to do what we did with Foxbase Alpha, just make it more complete by linking it through with film samples and bits of dialogue. The production with Ian Catt and our songwriting methods were pretty much the same. It was a top ten album at the time, which seems quite amazing now. And we had our first major hit, "You're In A Bad Way," which got us on Top of the Pops. That was obviously a big thrill.

What inspired you to link each song with dialogue from your favorite films?
Some of our favorite records, like the Monkees' Head soundtrack had bits of dialogue from the film, The Who Sell Out, which had fake ads and radio jingles, and a lot of hip-hop, especially the Daisy Age stuff like De La Soul.

What were some of the samples you couldn't clear?
I'm trying to think now. I do remember clearing the samples cost more than the album cost to record. Just because it was the period where people got wise to hip-hop samples in the States, and there were all of these huge legal cases going on. I think it cost about 30 grand just to clear the samples. Thinking back on it now, you'd think the record company would go, "Well, just don't use the samples!" It was a strange time.

5. Tiger Bay (1994)

Same thing really, maybe it wasn't quite as complete as it could have been. That was an odd one, because what normally happens when you finish a record is the label says, "We'll put it out in 18 months," and we're like, "What!?" But with this one, it was the other way around. We were about three-quarters of the way through it and then Creation said, probably because they were losing money hand over fist thanks to My Bloody Valentine's Loveless and had bands like Primal Scream in the studio. So it had to be rushed in the end, and to me that was my problem with it. There was a slight bit of antagonism in the group at the time, which is, I think, the only time that's ever happened. So that kind of sullies my memory a little. But, at the same time, I think the basic idea was to take traditional folk melodies and make an electronic album with them. On the whole, I think it worked out pretty well.

Were there many samples on this one?
Again, as I said, you react to the press you get, and we got some negative press saying we couldn't actually write any songs ourselves without relying on samples. So we decided to make an album that didn't have any samples at all. So that's what we did. Good Humor was the same.

You told Pitchfork, "We should have done something more commercial than Tiger Bay" and that "it could have done with a couple more pop songs." 
That's something we could have done. I think that's what people expected. We just had a couple of sizeable hits, and people expected an all-out pop record. Maybe Words and Music was the record we should have done in 1994. [Laughs] A lot of the stuff we were listening to then would have been dance music and Europop, so it wouldn't have been strange for us to do that. Instead, I had this stupid idea of making an electronic folk album.

The original album cover with the painting was an interesting choice.
Yes, I remember after a Suede gig, Brett Anderson kept saying to me, "What's that album cover all about? What's that album cover all about?" Like I was completely insane and made a terrible mistake.

Well, in North America we had a different album cover. It wasn't the painting but a portrait of the band. Why was that?
In Europe, there was another version with a different sleeve and a different tracklisting. We were getting dropped by Warner Brothers at the time and I think they tried to do what they could with it and messed it about. That was nothing to do with us. They got a couple of awful remixes done in America as well. Can't remember the guy's name. He did a version of "Like A Motorway" that was just horrible. It didn't sound like us at all. They also suggested we change the title to "Like A Freeway." And we said, "No, we're not gonna do that. I can't believe you asked us to do that." But in spite of that, I know it's the favourite album for a lot of people, and some of the songs work really well.

4. Tales from Turnpike House (2005)

I can't remember where we got the idea from where all of the characters live in different flats in this block. But it was nice to write some character sketches after Finisterre. It was much lighter, as you can tell from the album cover. I love the artwork. Pete moved back to Croydon, which is our hometown.

Turnpike House is an actual place, correct? 
Yes, it's where Paul Kelly used to live. To be honest, we just took the name. It was Pete's idea to borrow it. But it's not really about that block of flats. We were thinking it was a block of flats further out in suburban London. Turnpike House is in Islington. It looks a lot like the block of flats on the cover of the first Streets album.

To me this is your most under-appreciated album. It didn't get a very big push here in North America.
It came out over here on Sanctuary, who did an okay job. And in America it came out on Savoy, the jazz label, which was really bizarre. I'm not sure how that happened or if they thought it was a jazz record. Again, they messed around with the tracklisting in the States, which was strange because the running order is supposed to be 24 hours in the life of this block of flats. So it was quite important to keep the songs in order. [Laughs]

The album initially came with an EP of kids songs, Up The Wooden Hills . You began writing that, correct?
Ah, yes, that's true. I forgot about that! We did finish the kids album, it just never came out. There were a few other songs that were languishing, and we didn't use them as bonus tracks because we thought we'd finish it one day. What we wanted to do was release a hardboard book with a story about each song. We got quite a ways down the line, with Daniel Handler of Lemony Snicket doing it but we couldn't agree to terms with his agent. So it never came out, which was a real shame because instead we did nothing. His agent was Ally Sheedy's mum, which is quite impressive. [Laughs] So, yes, we did start out making a children's album, but then it turned into something completely different.

3. Sound of Water (2000)

We recorded it in Berlin. The thinking wasn't much beyond "doing a Berlin album." At the time, I was listening to a lot of electronica. What was happening in Britain was that bands like the Verve and Oasis had swallowed up indie and destroyed it. Pop music was interesting, like this post-Spice Girls scene of B*Witched, S Club 7, and Billie Piper, which was great bubblegum, but not something we could do without sounding like we were trying to be 15. So it kind of left us wondering, "What are we gonna do?" Plus, it was also coming out in the year 2000, so it felt like an important date. So we went to Berlin.

And you worked with To Rococo Rot.
We initially asked Kreidler, who were based in Dusseldorf. Stefan Schneider was in both groups, and he much more enthusiastic, but wanted to do it more as To Rococo Rot.

Were you into a lot of the post-rock stuff that was coming out of Berlin at the time?
Yeah, bits of it, and there was a lot of space rock going on at the same time. There was a lot of interesting non-pop stuff. I wasn't a big fan of Tortoise, because they were a bit too jazzy for me, but I liked Labradford. I was definitely more into the melodic stuff. A lot of the electronic stuff at the time was into glitch, and that really took away from melody. I liked Schneider TM and Boards of Canada, as well as little labels in the UK like Static Caravan and City Centre Offices, which is a brilliant name for a label. They put out these anonymous seven-inches I would get at Rough Trade and, quite often, they were terrific. We weren't really gonna compete with the pop acts, so we just decided to make a record that, well, probably no one was gonna buy! [Laughs] And our wish came true!

2. Words and Music by Saint Etienne (2012)

Like I said, it's probably the album we should have done in 1994 if we wanted to become rich and famous, but it's quite nice to do a straight-up pop record as we're all about to turn 50.

Why did it take so long to release a new full-length?
It didn't feel that long, I suppose, but it was such a long time, wasn't it? No real reason. Pete and Sarah both had kids. What the hell was I doing? I was writing, I suppose. We were making films and other work. We were artist in residence at Southbank, which was amazing. We did a bunch of fan club records, we just didn't do an album. It just didn't feel like seven years. That's all I can say. I was writing Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! when we started it, so it kind of made sense to write about the power of pop music, because that's what it was about.

How was writing an album about music different from writing the others?
It was maybe more difficult. I found it quite difficult to do the lyrics, because obviously I couldn't write them like a review or a book. They had to be lyrics, which is a completely different way of writing. I felt a bit self-conscious about that. As with Home Counties, once we got the theme for the album, all three of us started writing it fairly quickly. It's good to have a theme. We've all got slightly different writing styles, but they're similar enough that I don't think people can really tell who wrote what.

Also Xenomania had imploded, so the people there were all working independently. So we could record with them without feeling pressured. We also wrote with Rob Davis, who did Kylie's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" and Spiller's "Groovejet." He was a lovely bloke. The whole thing was about being in love with pop music, which is why we worked with so many different producers.

1. Good Humor (1998)

Why is this your favorite?
We'd done the first three albums, and then took a little break. When we got back together, we got a flat together in Malmö, Sweden, for six weeks. We'd go out in the evening and play pool. It was a really happy time, which I think comes across in the music. Tore Johansson was a great producer to work with. He was like a wise, old professor, even though he's only probably two years older than me. [Laughs] As we've done with Home Counties, it was great to use old, analog equipment. Not just using a specific vintage guitar, but feeding something through a knackered old cassette recorder to see what it does to the sound. That's a lot of fun. It was nice to experiment and change sounds. It was very liberating. There are a lot of reasons why this is my favorite album. It was the most enjoyable up until that point, and I have very fond memories of it.

Sarah described your time in Sweden to "like being in the Monkees."
It really was. We were just three people sharing a flat and playing Jenga. It was very wholesome.

I like this album because it was the English band that went to Sweden to make an album about America.
[Laughs] I've no idea why all of the lyrics were about America. I don't remember talking about it, but it just ended up that way. And in a cartoonish kind of way. Recording the album in Sweden, to the Swedes, was the worst thing we could have done. We got terrible reviews. Up to that point, we were very popular in Sweden too. It's funny how different countries can react like that, but obviously it destroyed our career in Sweden!

It had the opposite impact on America, where it became your best-selling album.
It's quite funny. Maybe we should have changed the title to "Like A Freeway" earlier!

Is it true that Good Humor's release was delayed because Creation wanted to focus on Oasis' Be Here Now ?
Yeah, quite possibly. It was finished a year before it came out. And like I was saying with Tiger Bay, there was quite a delay with Good Humor. It felt like we, didn't miss the boat, but the by the time it came out Tore had done Gran Turismo with the Cardigans, which sold zillions of copies. It's one of those things where looking back it didn't seem like an important thing, but it was quite deflating. You finish the record and have to sit on it for a year. Meanwhile you have no idea what will happen to pop music in the time in between. Apart from that, the actual making of it was a lot of fun.

Cam Lindsay is on Twitter.

Original article is here

BBC News - Bob Stanley on tracing the pre-history of pop music 03-02-2017

By Mark Savage
BBC Music reporter

3 February 2017  From the section Entertainment & Arts

Bob Stanley (left) lets his love of pop shine through in Saint Etienne, who turn 27 this year

Every time a rock star dies (and, let's face it, it's happened a lot recently) a few trusted books get grabbed off the BBC bookshelves for a hastily-written obituary.

They include classic tomes like the Guinness Book of Hit Singles and Colin Larkin's peerless Encyclopaedia of Popular Music, but they've been joined recently by Bob Stanley's Yeah Yeah Yeah.
Packed with anecdotes and insights (he describes Berlin-era David Bowie as "a silent movie ghost"), it reflects pop through the prism of the charts, rejecting the "rockist" perspective of most reference books.

"A film isn't necessarily more enjoyable if it's based on a true story," Stanley explains. "Likewise, a song isn't necessarily any better or any more heartfelt, or convincing, because it was written by the singer."

Although Yeah Yeah Yeah ends in 2000, Stanley had already come up with chapter headings for the next instalment, including the fantastic "Oops I Did It Again and Again", about the Swedish hit factory behind Britney Spears, Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake.

So it's a surprise to discover his next book won't deal with grime, crunk or EDM - but big bands, ragtime and jazz.

Called Too Darn Hot: The Story of Popular Music, it's an attempt to make sense of the 50-year period between the advent of recorded music and the birth of rock and roll.

"It's the classic case of, 'if you can't find the book you want to read, write it yourself,'" explains Stanley.

"There are plenty of books on jazz or the great American songbook - but some of those genres have forceful advocates, who see their music as the music of the era and completely ignore Broadway or Hollywood musicals. So I really want to tie it all together".

Bing Crosby revolutionised the sound of recorded music, thanks to his unique microphone technique

Last time around, Stanley was immersed in the music he was describing. He started his career at the NME and Melody Maker, before forming his own group, Saint Etienne, as the physical embodiment of his pop obsession - mixing 60s girl group harmonies with elements of folk, house, dub and northern soul.

His knowledge of pop's pre-history is altogether more sketchy.

"I'm really starting from a position of knowing nothing about the music, except for the standards which everyone knows," he says. " But learning things as I'm going is fascinating and terrific."

He recently discovered how Bing Crosby's intimate, laid-back delivery on songs like White Christmas was only made possible by the advent of electric microphones (previously, singers like Al Jolson were vaudeville "belters", screaming down the rafters in order to be heard).

"Nobody could have recorded a voice that soft before the late 20s," says Stanley. "And then in the late 30s, he [Crosby] funded the Ampex tape company, gave them thousands of pounds, and made the first pre-recorded radio broadcast.

"He said it was because he got fed up of going into the studio every day and wanted to play golf. But he speeded along recording technology."

Stanley's research has received a boost from the British Library, who have awarded him a £20,000 grant and a year's residency at the Eccles Centre - which houses the library's collection of American journals, newspapers and sound recordings.

"It means I'll have access to a lot more material in Britain than I thought," says the writer, "from early music magazines with amazing names like 'Talking Machine News' to wax cylinder [recordings] and people's diaries."

The advent of jazz torpedoed the careers of music hall stars like George Robey

The book's only in the early stages, but he's already uncovered a few surprising themes... including the fact that Britain was the dominant force in pop at the start of the 20th Century.

"America at that point just didn't have the confidence or belief in its own music," he says, referencing the story of Jerome Kern, who wrote standards like Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and A Fine Romance.

"As a young songwriter, he came over to England and went to see the music halls. Then he went back to America and passed himself off as English because that was the only way he could get his songs on Broadway," Stanley says.

"That changed very quickly once jazz came in. There are lots of [British] songs about how ragtime is a joke - 'my wife ragged herself to death' - but music hall got hit really badly by ragtime and jazz.

"As soon as it has the confidence, America becomes so brash, and everyone is cowed by it that it feels like Britain's doing a lame imitation of America until the Beatles."

Technology also plays a huge role in the story - particularly with the advent of radio in the 1920s.

"It's hard to conceive how it would have felt, if you were working on a farm in Iowa, to be able to hear a live broadcast of a big band from a ballroom in New York.

"That obviously affected what music people wanted to listen to, how it was recorded, how it was broadcast.

The sound quality of early records lacked the depth and clarity of modern vinyl - as actress Gloria Swanson apparently discovered

"Something else I wasn't aware of was that record players, like in the 1990s, were consigned to the attic. The quality on radio was so much better than on the 78s [the precursor to vinyl records], which always sounded like a man shouting into a tube.

"It was only in the late 20s and early 30s, when the recording technology improved that people started getting 78s out again."

Stanley's home in North London is littered with record players - a vintage Dansette and a 1948 gramophone join his sleek, modern turntable amidst the neatly filed vinyl and scattered baby toys of his new son, Len.

He says he intends to listen to the songs he writes about in their original format, whether it be wax cylinder or shellac discs "because they would have been recorded to be played on that format.

"It's like The Who's singles in the 1960s. They were made to be played on a Dansette and that's why they sound thin and strange on a CD.

"So what I want to get across is what it was like to live through that period and how people were listening to music, and what they were listening to."

Writing the book will have to be slotted in around his other commitments, including a film about the jazz musician Basil Kirchin for Hull City of Culture and a brand new Saint Etienne album, which is due in June.

Saint Etienne are due to tour later this year

Called Home Counties, it reflects the band's experiences of growing up in Surrey and Berkshire.

The songs tackle everything from the Enfield Poltergeist (a notorious hoax that made the national press in the 1970s) to the rail drivers' union Aslef, as well as "teenage parties and deceased pets".

Stanley says he may miss a few of Saint Etienne's concerts as he finishes Too Darn Hot - grimacing he recalls flying the 1,000-page manuscript for his previous book on a tour of eastern Europe.

"I want to get this one done faster than the last, because that was five years," he says. "I've got the structure sorted out, and I'm looking forward to talking to collectors.

"It's just a question of not wanting to go too far down the rabbit hole."

The Guardian - Bob Stanley: Soundtrack Of My Life 29-09-2013

Born in Horsham, Sussex in 1964, Bob Stanley worked as a quantity surveyor, record shop assistant and journalist before entering a Croydon studio with a childhood friend, Pete Wiggs, in the late 80s. After an aborted effort at an acid house track, they produced a cover of Neil Young's Only Love Can Break Your Heart, "four samples and a piano line", with vocals by Moira Lambert. Stanley and Wiggs released the track under the name Saint Etienne, borrowed from the French football club, and it was a hit. After using several vocalists on their debut album, 1991's Foxbase Alpha, they added Sarah Cracknell to their ranks, going on to produce seven more LPs, the most recent being 2012's Words and Music by Saint Etienne. Stanley, who continued his journalistic career while in the band, has just published Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop.

The first record player I ever had was a wind-up gramophone, a hand-me-down I was given by my parents. And they gave me their scratchy singles from when they were teenagers. One of them was FBI by the Shadows, an instrumental track. I would have been about five or six at the time and I loved instrumentals. I used to like listening to the incidental music that was on TV when the test card was on. FBI was formative for me. When you're a kid, you hear a noise, a complete sound. And in a way that's never really gone away. I became a big fan of film soundtracks, John Barry's especially. A love of instrumentals filtered through [into my later life].

I was lucky to be a 15- 16-year-old in the early 80s. There were a lot of people, post-punk, who were really going out on a limb. Eccentric characters, very individual, people like Adam Ant, Nick Heyward and Kevin Rowland. I remember doing homework in my bedroom, listening to Richard Skinner's show on Radio 1. Dexys did a live session in 1981 and I recorded if off the radio on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. One of the songs was Until I Believe in My Soul, which absolutely blew me away. It was the most intense record I'd ever heard. It didn't come out for years: they rerecorded it for Too-Rye-Ay in 1982 but it sounded different; I was disappointed. I kept this memory of hearing the live version on radio for 15 years, until they released it on CD [on The Projected Passion Revue in 2007].

Dexys were fascinating. Instead of doing interviews they put adverts in the press – essays, manifestos, "this is what we believe". That was formative for me, having a group you could believe in that much. Later [in St Etienne], we purposely never signed to a major label because we always wanted to be in control of our artwork, and to choose the singles. Dexys were the influence for that.

Around 83 or 84 I was working in a record shop. An Our Price in Epsom. The charts in the UK were getting quite stodgy and dull. Phil Collins was the biggest pop star in the country. It wasn't a great time for pop. When electronic music came along in the early 80s it sounded brand new – the sound of the future. This song by Hashim was the standout song for me. Entirely electronic, very atmospheric, with hard, crisp beats; it didn't sound like anything I'd heard before. Hashim [real name Jerry Calliste Jr] was just a kid, a teenager in New York, but what he created was very exciting.

I was 18 or 19 when this came out. I'd just finished my A-levels and was working as a quantity surveyor in Beckenham. It was really dull. One day the boss asked me to wash his car, and I thought, that's it, I'm gonna go and work in a record shop. This Smiths record was an escape for me. I must've played it 20 times when I first bought it. I even had a quiff at the time. A short-lived quiff.

When I was working in Our Price I couldn't play an instrument, but then records started being made that made me think I could do something myself. Samplers were invented. I was visiting a friend in Wallingford in Oxfordshire. A sleepy, country town. I went to a record shop and bought Everybody in the Place. This typifies the sort of music that was being made in Britain in the late 80s and early 90s. Very DIY, using samples. It encouraged me and Pete – Pete Wiggs, who I'd known since we were kids – to go into a small studio in Croydon with a pile of records and do something ourselves. We'd already tried to make an acid house record and it sounded terrible; now we did Only Love Can Break Your Heart. That threw us in at the deep end.

When I met my wife, my ex-wife, I was DJing in Liverpool. I played this Motown record by the Isley Brothers and she danced to it. She was the only person dancing. I started talking to her afterwards and that's how we met. That's a special song for me; we're still close, still good friends.

We were making records during the Britpop era, living in London, going to clubs, seeing these people in pubs… But it was strange, we never really felt like we were part of it. Some groups we did feel a kinship with. Pulp were one. Another was Denim, who never had any hits, but made a couple of albums. The song Council Houses, from their second album, was amazing. It mentions [Bauhaus founder] Walter Gropius in the lyrics. Incredible! That someone had the confidence to write a song about modern architecture with a really catchy chorus. Council Houses was witty and smart and it made me think we could do more with our lyrics. Like Jarvis Cocker, Lawrence [Hayward, Denim frontman] was a great lyricist, and he inspired us to try a bit harder. The title track from our 2002 album, Finisterre, was definitely influenced by Lawrence's writing.

I've just published a book [Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop] that I'd just started writing when I met my girlfriend, Tessa. The chapter was about pre-rock'n'roll music. I was listening to a lot of that at the time. Dickie Valentine was a British crooner – this song is very sweet, sentimental. Tessa and I whistle it around the house. I didn't know a lot about pre-rock'n'roll stuff before writing the book. But I realised while I was listening to it that a lot of it I recognised – from being really small and being at my grandparents', and they'd have Guy Mitchell and Frankie Laine on Radio 2. The music's double-edged for me now: it's childhood comfort music, and it's new and exciting, because early 50s music is really undocumented. They were million-sellers and No 1s – and nobody references them now. I find that interesting. I love digging into obscurity.

Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop by Bob Stanley is published by Faber (£20)

Interview by Tom Lamont

Original article here

The Times - Bob Stanley on writing his epic history of pop 13-09-2013

Click here to read an exclusive extract from Bob Stanley’s book

A few years ago I reviewed a DVD box set of Tony Palmer’s mid-Seventies TV series All You Need Is Love. An epic history of 20th-century popular music, it ended with the ambient drift of Mike Oldfield’s Ommadawn as Palmer gamely predicted the pop music of tomorrow.

By the time the series aired in 1977, punk rock was at its peak and Palmer’s prediction - his entire series, even - seemed a grand folly. How could it have been anything else? It was like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. Pop music by its nature is unpredictable and ever-changing, and I concluded that it would be a fool’s errand ever to attempt a written history; it would be out of date by the time it was published.

The day after my review ran, a publisher and a literary agent both got in touch to say I was wrong, that it could it be done, and that, as a pop obsessive, would I like to give it a go myself?

This was a challenge which dominated the next five years of my life, resulting in Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop. The narrative of how and why pop music developed hadn’t been attempted for decades, and Tony Palmer stood before me as an example of how deeply you can dig and still get it wrong.

I knew I had to avoid other pitfalls, too, which may not have been so obvious to writers in the Seventies and Eighties. There were snobberies and anti-snobberies at every turn - soul and R&B historians tended to be afraid of that dread word “manufactured”; the mod take on pop was basically a ranking of cool, scared of any mess; while the traditional rock history was largely suspicious of electronics, and even the intellect (with David Bowie as the key dividing figure).

The simplest way around this was for me to base my book on the charts, singles and albums, an engine of pop that dates back to the critical year of 1952. That was also the year when the first New Musical Express was published, and the first seven-inch, 45rpm singles were issued in Britain, with Al Martino’s Here in My Heart at the top of the first hit parade.

Where to end the book became apparent as I was writing a list of contents. The year 2000 had always promised to be a line in the sand and so it proved, though not necessarily for musical reasons - the first number one of the new millennium was Westlife’s cover of Seasons in the Sun, after all. But 2000 was the year iTunes was launched, with the iPod arriving a year later, rapidly ushering in the digital revolution and leaving the music industry – which had barely changed in almost five decades - in turmoil.

Since the dawn of the digital age great records have continued to be made, of course: the current number one act, Katy Perry, is a model pop star; Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines and Daft Punk’s Get Lucky will be party regulars for years to come. Pop lives on. Yet there is little sense of community, and it has become easy to stop caring about the Top 40. Pop has become less wantable.

We are in a state of what writer Douglas Rushkoff calls ‘present shock’: the past is now a constant, re-fashioned to our current tastes and needs, while no one talks much about how music will sound in the future – the sense of pop’s evolution and progression has gone. The feel and grain of the modern pop age, from the Fifties to the end of the Nineties becomes gradually harder to recall.

With Yeah Yeah Yeah, I wanted to capture how it felt to live through that era, through the bad and the ugly as well as the good. Context is crucial in understanding how and why pop developed, and can be easily lost in the digital age.

Most importantly, though, I didn’t want to write a dry history of “classic pop”, leaving it “sitting on its ass in a museum”, to quote Claes Oldenburg.

My opinion on who has been influential in pop may not chime without everyone else’s. No one in the world is going to read Yeah Yeah Yeah and agree with everything in it - not everyone likes Del Shannon or T Rex or the KLF as much as I do. But this is how the era felt to me, and how it has ruled my life, firing playground spats and pub arguments, filling my home with the iconography and detritus of pop music: posters, records, cassettes, biographies, ticket stubs, box sets, a lifetime of devotion.

I needed to get all this stuff out of my head and into a book, and the result was Yeah Yeah Yeah.

Original article here

"If You're Feeling Finisterre" - Yeah Yeah Yeah Magazine Interview 2003

"Cool For Cats" - Yeah Yeah Yeah Interview 2000

"Daho Anyone?" - Yeah Yeah Yeah Magazine 1999

Sarah Cracknell Interview - The Empire Strikes Back - Melody Maker Article 25-09-1993

I'm not convinced that photos is Sarah - looks like Dot Allison... although I might be wrong...

Sarah Cracknell at Manchester Gorilla 20-06-2015

A collection of photos I took on the day of a very fabulous gig at Gorilla in Manchester featuring Lady Sarah of Cracknell. A bit of a dodgy throat on her part did nothing to spoil the gig as it was a pleasure to hear the "Red Kite" material live. Lesson learned on my part - not going to get any good photos stood right in front of her mike stand. Bah. Bonus though of meeting Sarah beforehand, and she was as gracious as ever giving up time for fans, getting stuff signed and nabbing crib sheets from the stage afterwards. A grand day out. So forgive my indulgence...