For my first ‘archive’ post, here’s my first published interview for the Big Issue In The North, Earl Brutus. Conducted in 1997 during the ‘Britpop’ musical bull market, just as the band put out their second album on Island Records.
“Pop music is wasted on the young” snarls the voice over the phone. “With all these pathetic New Wave bands hovering around, we couldn’t sit back and grow old gracefully! It’s impossible, when you know you’ve got something to offer”.
Jamie Fry of Earl Brutus talks about pop music with the knowledge of his thirtysomething years, but the unbowed spirit of someone half his age. The ‘something to offer’ is a raucous press-gang of sweaty, spangled guitar and the old-school modernity of programmed beats. Come Taste My Mind, the next single, is as good an example as you could wish for.
“I suppose it’s quite arrogant really. It’s about being fiercely ambitious and ultimately having nothing….about having a perception of yourself that’s completely wide of the mark…but it’s all done in good spirit, as everything is in Earl Brutus”.
The single has a bruised, head-spinning makeover, courtesy of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s William Reid. Fry is clearly delighted with the result.
“It’s a pop song. The whole point is to put yourself in someone else’s hands and let them do it, and not be mixed by committee, not have twelve people sitting the desk, levelling everything out”.
With the possible exception of Shin-Yu, the band’s safari-suited “human ornament”, Earl Brutus have accrued a strong musical heritage in bands as diverse as World of Twist, Clock DVA and Jo Boxers. A more image-conscious group might have covered their tracks, but Fry sees their mongrel pedigree as an advantage. Their age and experience (“We didn’t fight a war, we were too young for the Beatles….which is great”) also puts them in opposition to the narrow membership qualifications for pop stars.
Unlike younger bands, Earl Brutus draw on an idiosyncratic pool of influence. As well as the bilious energy of punk, another archetypal 70s group inspires them. “Kraftwerk were the ultimate pop group for me; four blokes dressed immaculately, looked brilliant, stood brilliantly…their songs are so simple and yet they have so much emotion in them”.
Fry sees part of the band’s function being to dig up their own roots for others to see, although one name on his list could give the overly fashion-conscious an embolism. “Gary Glitter made some absolutely brilliant records in the early 70s…” [this interview took place just as the first rumours about Glitter were starting to emerge. AM] and the stack-heeled stomp of the troubled glam grandad pounds through several Earl Brutus songs. Their gigs begin with the sound of a musical compass spinning crazily, wedging the likes of Glitter up against Tricky or Bowie’s Laughing Gnome. Is this their own private school of cool?
“As you go through your revivals, you might find a nice pair of jeans or a Fred Perry to wear, but it doesn’t mean you’ve got to buy the Parka, the scooter, or the beads and flowers” says Fry. “You just scavenge your way through the best bits”.
Much of Earl Brutus’ growing reputation comes from their live performances, where their gleeful demolition of their equipment and derisive puncturing of their audience’s cool leads some to believe they’re up for a fight, an idea that Fry is quick to deflate. “If it takes a few pyrotechnics and a few pints of lager, and a bit of shouting down a mic to get people excited, then it’s a reflection of the miserable world we live in. We’re into destruction, but we’re not into violence, in the slightest”.
An example of their ‘spirited chaos’ happened at Reading Festival, courtesy of two ’”total grunge merchants” from Seattle.
“We went on at two in the morning after the festival” he says, “and these two guys got on stage and started smashing our gear to pieces. The guys lost it, but in a kind of good way”.
If this sounds like a tiring occupation, Fry seems prepared to “do a Bowie” and stay in for the long run. “I wouldn’t be surprised actually if we were 50 and still kicking around. I think we provide a service and until a group as fired and full of life as ours is comes along, then we’ll have to carry on anyway”.