In the pub with Pete Wiggs and David Best

Saint Etienne and Fujiya & Miyagi have both had new albums out this year, so it’s only right that we put together a feature for both bands. We did a proper interview with David Best around the release of EP2 last year though, and we did something fairly extensive with Pete Wiggs when Words and Music came out, so this time round we thought we’d try a different approach. What if we went to the pub and just had a chat? No more boring interview questions that they’ve been asked a thousand times already, and more of an insight into what they’re really like coming out through the topics that came up naturally. So a couple of weeks ago we sat down in The Urchin to chew the cud about being big in China, getting trick-or-treated by Gomez, rotting whales, Twin Peaks, Columbo, Bowie, Aphex Twin and gout:

IMG_0766eesOn Festivals:
David Best: We’ve just played Glastonbury
Pete Wiggs: We played last year – It was raining.
DB: It’s the first one I’ve been to where it wasn’t raining. In a few weeks we’re playing a Festival at the bottom of Mount Etna, alongside Air, which is quite nice, then another one the week after. Then we’re playing Liverpool Psych Fest, which I’ve never been to. The line up is nuts so I’m quite excited about that.
PW: We’re doing Port Eliot Festival, down in Cornwall. I’ve been going to it the last few years. The first couple of times I took the wife and kids, because I heard it’s a good family one, then last year I couldn’t make it and the wife took the kids without me because she liked it so much! We’re playing this year and we’re all going again. It’s really nice. We’re doing Green Man as well, I’ve not been to that before.
DB: We’re hopefully going to China in the New Year. This Chinese band wanted us to do a remix, and they’re really good – kind of post punk. I suggested doing a swap and it’s snowballed from there. I wanna be big in China! There’s a label based there who are interested in reissuing our stuff. I love going to places I’ve never been to, and I love the idea of going to China.

On fellow Brighton & Hove musicians and journalists:
DB: I saw Steve Mason once. There’s some really good conker trees on Pembroke Crescent, and it just so happened that I was looking for conkers with my sons and he just walked past us. When we started, one of the bands that we were into was the Beta Band.
PW: He’s really nice actually, we’ve made friends since we’ve moved down here. He DJs sometimes at the Coopers Cask. I met him at one of those.
Brighton Music Blog: Do you ever see Simon Price?
PW: Hardly ever, actually. I occasionally see him at gigs, he’s easy to spot. I was in Brighton once, and I couldn’t tell – I think it was him without his horns on and I didn’t want to say hello because he didn’t have any make up on. It probably wasn’t him at all! Do you know Tom from Gomez?
DB: We almost shared a studio with him, but I’ve never actually met him.
PW: He’s a lovely bloke – I met him through Steve Mason. I met him in the pub and then about two weeks later it was Halloween, and I’d been out trick or treating with the kids. I came back and they went off somewhere else so it was just me in the house on my own with vampire gear on and there was a knock at the door and I’d only got two sweets left, it looked really dodgy, and it was Tom and his kids!

On Hastings:
PW: A friend of mine who lives here is just about to move to Hastings.
DB: The old town of Hastings is really lovely. Me and my girlfriend were thinking of moving there years ago, when we first had our kid. It was really lovely. But the new part is just rubbish.
PW: It’s quite Brexit
DB: I didn’t really want to bring my kids up there. We’re spoiled because Hove’s so nice, with all the parks and beaches.
PW: When I was a kid in 1976, we were staying with my grandparents in Hastings and they had this sideshow on the beach that was a blue whale. It was a like a cross between something out of League of Gentlemen and David Lynch. There was these two characters who had decked this area off, you know down by the tall black fisherman’s huts, the very creepy old bit. And they fenced it off and they got this articulated truck, and they ushered you in, you paid money, and it was literally a whale on the back of a truck, covered in tar to stop it going mouldy. Just a dead whale, with flies on it. I’m still quite impressed by it though.

On Twin Peaks:
DB: Talking of David Lynch, have you been watching Twin Peaks?
PW: No, not yet.
BMB: I read that interview about you and Twin Peaks in the Quietus which was hilarious.
PW: We were kind of obsessed with it when it first came out in the nineties.
DB: I loved it at the time, but I was a bit worried – how was it going to work? But it’s AMAZING. It’s just staggering.
BMB: I got really, really excited about it coming back. We’ve got Virgin at home, with something like a thousand Sky channels. Brilliant – I’ll be able to watch Twin Peaks! But what’s the one Sky channel we haven’t got? Sky Atlantic.
PW: We’ve got Now TV for those things, cos you can watch it on that. But our kids are a bit older and we tend to watch telly with them, so we haven’t watched Twin Peaks yet.

On writing lyrics:
BMB: Do you still write in those between albums?
DB: I don’t really write music so much, but I always try and write words. So if someone says something I write it down there and then into a note on my phone. I have them by month so I have July words, then I print them off. I’ve got this folder. But also I went through the whole of Columbo and took things from that. I love Columbo – it’s so well written. So I’ve got a big folder of eleven seasons of Columbo. I’m quite interested in Kojak, but the box set is a bit too pricey. I’m waiting till it goes down to twenty quid.
PW: You know record lists, from record dealers? We used to get sent these soul ones, on paper in those days, and we’d bring them into the studio to go through the titles “Oh, that’ll do” and take lines from them
DB: I got bang into Northern Soul and a lot of old soul ballads about six or seven years ago, that’s all I used to listen to for two or three years, but the titles are great, it’s true. I’ve nicked some too.
PW: “Let me slightly rephrase that”
DB: Not even that!
PW: Lyrics are my least favourite bit. I normally leave them till last and hope the others do them. I only wrote lyrics to two of the songs on the new album, and the odd word here and there.

On Aphex Twin:
PW: He did a remix for us way back in 94, and we went around to his flat in London. It was great because he totally lived up to what you’d expect. You went in and there were keyboards all over the floor with wires hanging out, and circuit benders. I didn’t know what that was at the time, but he’d been doing it, and massive speakers which were ridiculously loud. I did actually think “poor neighbours”. We ended up going to watch the fireworks display with him round the corner.
DB: My mate Jordan, who was the Railway Raver on Rephlex, used to go around to his house and play Pong. Jordan’s lovely but he’s the loudest person ever so he’s the last person you’d want to lose to Pong to because you’d never hear the end of it. Apparently Richard James had had enough of him but couldn’t get out the front door because his flatmate had taken the keys so he climbed out the window to get away from Jordan’s gloating. He’s created his own mythology, with all these things he does or doesn’t do. He said he dreamt Ambient Works II, didn’t he?

On major world events:
PW: There’s normally a Saint Etienne gig or recording when any of these big events happen so we expect the worst. We’ve had a few – The day of the Brexit vote we were in Scotland doing a gig and in the morning we had a really sombre breakfast. We went in thinking it was going to be fine. Most elections it’s happened too.
DB: Remember when there was this craze for doing mash ups? Me and my mate did Pied Piper and Axel F on what turned out to be 9/11. I bunked off work – I was working at Amex at the time and I threw a sicky so we could do it. My mate’s flatmate was going “You’ve got to see what’s going on on telly. It’s insane”. And we were like “We’ve just got to finish this”.

On kids:
PW: Bob’s just had his first kid. Late starter. He’s about a year old I think. Bob’s eighteen months older than me, so he’s 52, 53. He’s going to be knackered, especially if he has any more. Now, me and Sarah are like “now you understand”
BMB: Are your kids at the age where you’re influencing their music tastes yet?
PW: I did used to put one of our own records on in my youngest’ s room because it made her go to sleep but they’re both doing piano lessons and that’s the only thing we make them do. They’re much better than me already. They’re both really good. My older boy doesn’t practice but my daughter will just do it. She’s got an amazing memory. She can’t necessarily read it but she’ll remember whole pieces. It’s lovely to hear as well. My son listens to music though – I don’t know what it is half the time. I know what he likes – the stuff we both like is Daft Punk and stuff with vocoders on.
DB: My youngest loves David Bowie. If we sing along to David Bowie and I sing, he’d be like “Daddy, I’m David Bowie”. And if my eldest sings along he says “Daddy, I’m David Bowie, aren’t I? He can’t be”, so I say “You’re both David Bowie – Have you not seen the Blue Jean video? There’s two of him”. And then today before I came out, we invented a game where we had to say the first line of a Bowie song and we all had to guess what it was. It was brilliant.
PW : I feel like I’ve failed in that respect. My son really likes Coldplay. Since he’s liked them I don’t dislike them as much now.
DB: It’s hard to dislike what your kids like.

On gout:
DB: I get gout sometimes. It came on after I went for a drink with Chris who runs Bleeding Hearts Recordings. Some people say it’s worse than childbirth. I haven’t said that – I don’t think it is, but it’s excruciating. I was drinking lots of fizzy pop at the time, so I just stopped all that and I haven’t had a problem in a year or so. Booze is the trigger. Everyone has different triggers – It can be things like asparagus and mushrooms and bacon. For me I always drank too much coca cola, and then if I went out for a drink, I don’t drink too much, often I would suffer. We did a show in Italy once and I had an attack the day before and I had to be wheeled through the airport, and I had to sit on the stage like I was John Lee Hooker. And it was the only show that my mum had come to so I couldn’t cancel it. The funny thing was that it was in an amphitheatre for Nike, and there was these runners, and the finish line was to the left of the stage where I was with my gout-y foot.
BMB: You did that track / mix for Nike – Different Blades from the Same Pair of Scissors.
DB: Yeah – it was tied in with that so it was around that time. And there was Carl Lewis backstage, and I was just there with my gout. It’s not a nice thing. You can control it by taking better care of yourself. But there’s also a correlation between your Uric acid levels and (this is so pretentious) your creativity. “I’ve got to not get gout but push it as far as I can so I can get my songs out”.
PW: Let’s hope it doesn’t come on when you’re on tour in China.
DB: Gout in China. That could be my autobiography.

Home Counties Fujiya

Home Counties by Saint Etienne and Fujiya & Miyagi by Fujiya & Miyagi are out now.

Weekend Gig Picks

Last weekend’s gig pick post was all about quality not quantity, and we promised we’d be back this week bigger than ever. We’re still not scrimping on quality but we’re probably featuring more gigs this week than we ever have done.

IYESWe’re going to kick things off with a couple of gigs happening tonight. Normally we treat Thursday as the start of the weekend, but when two of favourite bands are playing we’d be fools not to give them a mention. IYES play their first ever headline show at the Prince Albert, which we’re very excited about. We’ve been huge fans since we first heard Lighthouse at the end of the year, and they haven’t disappointed since. Best of all it’s a free gig! Elsewhere, down at the Blind Tiger, Brighton Music Blog favourites The New Union are supporting Let’s Buy Happiness.

Thursday night is where we normally start our weekend gig round up, and the weekend proper is starting strong with Calico headlining Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar. Support comes from 900 Spaces and Blackwell, and it’s four pounds to get in. Meanwhile, Normanton Street are playing at the Mesmerist.

PawwsOn Friday some more of our favourite bands are supporting at the same gig. Pawws are supported by the fantastic GAPS and Dog in the Snow (as well as Saint Savanna, who are local and new to us). And it’s a free gig – Green Door Store, you do spoil us. There’s also a free gig at the Blind Tiger, headlined by Transformer, with support from Eagles for Hands, whose new EP we love.

Saturday night’s big gig is the Physics House Party taking place at Sticky Mike’s. As well as the awesome Physics House Band, AK/DK, Alphabets Heaven and Suffer Like G Did are also playing. Over at Fitzherberts, Speak Galactic and Soft Arrows are playing at a night called Ruff Stuff, where Owen from Speak Galactic and some of his old bandmates from Cinemascopes are unveiling a new project called Merlin Tonto.

EsbenRounding off the weekend nicely at Sticky Mike’s, Esben & The Witch play the Brighton leg of their national tour promoting Wash The Sins Not Only The Face. At the Green door store, there’s an event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Gram Parsons early death in 1973, aged only 26. There’s loads of local bands getting involved – the list includes The Self Help Group, Dollboy, and Amy Hill plus various members of Laish, The Repeat Prescriptions, Super U, The Standard Lamps, Woodland Blue, The Pooh Sticks, Lolly & the City of Flies, Redlands Palomino Company, Englemann Spruce, and Lost Dog. Get there early enough and you’ll also get to see Pete Wiggs from Saint Etienne DJing before the live acts.

Saint Etienne / Casino Classics

Despite appearances, 1996 was a good year for Saint Etienne. Although it was two years since Tiger Bay came out and another two years before they would release Good Humor they weren’t resting on their laurels. I would regularly see them DJing at the Heavenly Jukebox at Turnmills, alongside the likes of The Chemical Brothers. It seems kind of crazy to think that you could go clubbing where the Chemical Brothers were residents, but remember that Dig Your Own Hole didn’t come until 1997. If it wasn’t the Chemical Brothers headlining the night, it would be David Holmes, or Richard Fearless from Death in Vegas, or Jon Carter from Monkey Mafia, or Andy Weatherall. Only in retrospect can I see just how stellar the line ups were.

Saint Etienne have had one foot in the charts and the other on the dancefloor ever since Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley decided to cover a Neil Young song because they hadn’t yet written any songs of their own. The 7″ version of Only Love Can Break Your Heart is a Balearic classic, but Andrew Weatherall’s Mix of Two Halves (a nod to the fact that Saint Etienne are named after the football team rather than the French town) was the first of dozens and dozens of remixes which were as good, if not better than the original.

In 1995 the limited edition run of Saint Etienne’s first best of, Too Young To Die, came with a bonus disc of remixes which went down a storm. The following year this bonus disc got a full release with an extra cd. Casino Classics hit the shelves and featured remixes by The Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin, Way Out West, Underworld, Monkey Mafia and Death in Vegas. Where the first disc was previously released mixes, the tracks on disc two were brand new unreleased remixes. Some were remixes of tracks that hadn’t even been released, and tucked at the end of the compilation was a remix by Broadcast, who at the time had only put out one EP and had yet to sign to Warp records.

Over the past three years, Saint Etienne have slowly been reissuing remasters of all of their old albums, and it’s now Casino Classic’s turn. Where each previous reissue has included an extra disc of material, the deluxe reissue of Casino Classics comes with two discs of additional material covering some of the best remixes since the original release all the way through to the release of London Conversations – the remastered Greatest Hits which kicked off the reissues. On the new version we’ve gained remixes of tracks by the likes of Paul Van Dyk, Faze Action, Tiesto, Aim, Add N to X and Hybrid, as well as US-only remixes of Only Love Can Break Your Heart and Nothing Can Stop Us by Masters at Work. There’s also some more remixes from the older days which weren’t included on the original Casino Classics including Pete Heller’s piano house take on Kiss and Make Up which only ever came out on 12″ over twenty years ago. Completing the circle, things finish with their Cola boy remix of The Method of Modern Love – the last single from the period covered. Cola Boy was another project that Pete and Bob were involved with in the early days of Saint Etienne, who only released two singles in 1991.

It’s hard to know where to start with recommending tracks from this compilation. I’ve already mentioned the Andrew Weatherall remix of Only Love Can Break Your Heart, and the Broadcast take on Angel. David Holmes remixed Like a Motorway before he got the funk, and is an amazing thirteen minute acid-techno wig out. The Monkey Mafia remix of Filthy is a big beat classic. The Faze Action mix of Sylvie is ten minutes of brilliant Latin house. Cool Kids of Death mixed by Underworld has been slimmed down by four minutes from the original to be able to fit more tracks in, but you still get more ten minutes of it. Their foray into drum’n’bass – when PFM remixed Down By The Sea is also reduced by half, but across the four cds (and the bonus downloads), you get a monster 54 tracks. It’s astonishing for any band to have that many remixes in the first place, let alone so many over so many years of such consistently high quality.

Casino Classics is out on Monday 12th November. On the same day, there’s also a deluxe reissue of Sarah Cracknell’s solo album Lipslide. Saint Etienne get a mention because Pete’s a Hove resident these days, but since Sarah isn’t a Brightonian I won’t be writing about what a great single Anymore was, or about how Summer Song (previously issued as a Saint Etienne song on the fan club only Boxette) is one of the absolute very best things to have come from the Saint Etienne camp, or about the mystery of multiple inclusions of some songs at the expense of the lilting acoustic bossa nova of b-side Oh Boy The Feeling When You Held My Hand (which you can buy as an mp3 from Amazon here). Oh wait, hang on…

Saint Etienne play the Concorde 2 on 13th December

Album Review: Words & Music by Saint Etienne

Music’s always been a big deal for me. One of my earliest memories is looking at the cover of my mum’s copy of Sergeant Pepper, slightly baffled by all of the characters on it. Growing up, I always had my walkman with me along with an extra pair of batteries in my pocket just so that I was never left stranded in silence. When I was old enough to have a bit of spare cash, I’d cycle to the record shops of Croydon and Epsom doing my best to fill the gaps in my ever increasing New Order 12″ collection. At uni I got involved with student radio, and then when I went and got a job, Monday lunchtimes would draw to close with a game of “Who?” – the inevitable reaction from my older colleagues as I went through the brand new releases I had gone and bought as early as I possibly could – 7″s by Kenickie, Bis or Comet Gain, Stereolab albums on coloured vinyl, the latest cds on Heavenly or Warp Records. Throughout my twenties, my summer holidays were festivals. Over the years I built up a soundtrack to my life – tunes which can instantly bring back memories of blue skies or broken hearts. So, music is important – If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this, and you wouldn’t be reading it. It’s especially important to Saint Etienne. They’ve been making records for over twenty years now, during which time they’ve also turned their hand to music journalism, DJing, running record labels, writing songs for other people, film-making … You name it, they’ve done it in the music industry, which is how they’ve ended up at the point where Words & Music is the natural album for them to make. Opening track Over The Border will send shivers down the spine for anyone music really matters to, lyrically encapsulating exactly how it feels for music to grow up with you.

The very first thing I read about the album was a comment from someone on Twitter saying that Saint Etienne had made a pop record. Of course it was pop, I thought – they’re a pop band, after all. The gist of next comment I read was that they’d made the record with Xenomania, and it showed. That didn’t concern me either. The lead single, Tonight, reminded me of Action, which the band released ten years ago, and my girlfriend said that reminded it her of He’s on the Phone, from all the way back in 1995. The perception from some quarters seems to be that Saint Etienne should only be allowed to make retro pop, but the truth is that they’ve always had a bit of disco in them – They even worked with Kylie on a version of Nothing Can Stop Us.

While some of the tracks have been sprinkled with a bit of pop magic from Richard X and other Xenomania alumni Nick Coler and Tim Powell, old hand Ian Catt who’s been involved with the production of Saint Etienne records since day one is also on board. Outside of the disco pop of the potential singles, the pastoral folk of I Threw It All Away could be a Vashti Bunyan cover, and the acapella of Record Doctor harks back to Goodnight which closed Tales From Turnpike House seven years ago.

For me, the most interesting tracks are those that hark back to classic St Et but that are informed by all of the new lessons they’ve learned from their new chartbusting friends. Last Days of Disco has radio friendly electric piano verses, but two minutes in has a great breakdown which brings in some shamelessly synth strings. Popular, one of the more upbeat tracks on the album, does some fancy things time stretching vocals. Still Saint Etienne, but still moving forwards, which for a band so far into their career is no mean feat.

While it’s been a good few years since the last Saint Etienne album, the band have been busy being Artists-in-Residence at Royal Festival Hall, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of their seminal debut Foxbase Alpha by playing the album live in it’s entirety and having it remixed by Richard X, reissuing remastered versions of the rest of their back catalogue, remixing a new generation of bands and quietly sneaking out a Christmas album. Here’s hoping there aren’t so many distractions for the band between now and the next album.

Words and Music by Saint Etienne is released on Universal Records on 21st May 2012. And if you’re wondering why I’m writing about Saint Etienne who are so associated with London on Brighton Music Blog, read my interview with Pete Wiggs here.

Words & Music by Saint Etienne, Conversation by Pete Wiggs

The premise of Brighton Music Blog is nice and simple – write about bands from Brighton. So what am I doing interviewing Saint Etienne’s Pete Wiggs? The band have a greatest hits called London Conversations, and London Belongs To Me from Foxbase Alpha came 19th in Time Out’s 100 best London songs last year. Surely I can’t be branching out so soon? Don’t worry. The blog is still dedicated to Brightonians – Pete Wiggs is a Hove resident these days, so I caught up with him over a pint or two at his local to talk about moving away from London, his new album, and making remixes for a new generation of artists.

Saint Etienne on Brighton Beach (photo (c) Elaine Constantine)

It’s funny because even now we still do interviews where people ask me my favourite London haunts. I’ve been down here for four years now. I still feel like a tourist now and again here. We’d always intended to move down here at some point, and now I can sometimes go a couple of weeks without going into London. I suppose it’s easier with internet – you can bat things around. Continue reading