DISPATCHES FROM THE MADHOUSE PT 1

Greetings Asylum Seekers…

June 2009. The press phase of Operation WRPLA has begun, and what a glorious sight it’s been. Across the U.K, newsagents have found their shelves filled with an NME cover boasting images of a surrealist tea-party, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In Metroland, commuters have found their broadsheet diet of fear’n’famine interrupted by our favourite psychedelic street casuals name-checking everyone from Silver Apples to Charles Bukowski and Tangerine Dream.

Across Europe, meanwhile, websites have been blanket-bombed with terrace tales and lysergic quips. It’s been the journalistic equivalent of Abbie Hoffman putting acid in the water-supply; a napalming of normality to rival the Tet Offensive.

Oh, and the alternative, out there in the real world? Fat-cat MPs face up to having their hands in the till, the recession rolls on and a promising teenage footballer called Jahmal Mason-Blair gets tragically killed in a street scuffle in East London.
It’s enough to make you feel a bit like R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: “Jesus – I must be crazy to be in a loony bin like this.”

Or, as the band put it in forthcoming single ‘Where Did All The Love Go?’: “Gotta see the signs of a real change coming/Take another sip of this hobo’s wine/ And get yourself a million miles from this concrete jungle.”

All of which brings us neatly to this week’s events, a catch-up with Serge on the making of the video.

Look after each other out there, brothers and sisters.

There’s Hope for Everyone

Elliot Palm
Consultant Narcologist
West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

Where did you shoot the video for Where Did All The Love Go??

Serge: We did it last Wednesday on a soundstage in Wembley, all in one day. You know how these things are – they always take longer than everyone expects. Some bright spark booked it in on the day of the Champions League Final. Inevitably, we missed it. But it was well worth it.

What was the thought process behind the video?

Serge: It came from an idea from a video director we know called Charles Mehling. It’s a surreal circus with us playing in the middle of it, based on one of those old ’60’s American variety shows. It’s all seen through the eyes of a couple of kids who sneak under the canvas walls of a large tent set in an abandoned warehouse and see the madness taking place. It’s a constant bombardment of images and ideas, total overload. We wanted it to have a disorientating feel so you’re not sure what’s coming next, like when you’re jet-lagged and you’re more receptive to things. Stylistically it’s inspired by (’60s’ auteur) Kenneth Anger in films like Scorpio Rising, Busby Berkeley and French cabarat. It’s very surreal- there are Black Panthers in it, a knife thrower with a Union Jack cape, pigs painted with Euro signs, the lot! It was another one of those Spinal Tap moments. I’d be standing there next to a Hells Angel and a belly dancer and a donkey would walk past!

The lyrics of Where Did All the Love Go? seem particularly apt at the moment..

Serge: Yeah, we wanted to get that over in the video too. Kids are constantly bombarded with images these days, it inevitably leads to a lack of innocence. Any kid with access to a computer is one click away from seeing almost anything. It’s a totally different experience to the one I had growing up as a kid, where the world ended with the school playground. Y’know, what happened to the days when kids were happy messing about with their mates and playing British Bulldog? At the same time, it’s a pop single; it’s got an uplifting disco feel – you could play it in a club. And it’s quite sexy in places.

It’s been great hearing Fire get so much radio airplay in the last few weeks..

Serge: Yeah, it’s been a real surprise. It sounds weird between the rest of the stuff they play, but then I think the rest of the music on there is mental!

Fire isn’t a traditional radio record either, but people seem to be ready to accept it from us. Maybe because we’re on the third album. We’re the polar opposite of those bands who have one big radio hit and their fans don’t know anything about them, but it’s already made a real difference at gigs. When we played the Great Escape in Brighton the other week the reaction to Fire was insane. It made me realise the power of radio. The best thing is that it feeds into the rest of the songs, so the whole set becomes supercharged. We can’t wait to get out there.

While we’re on the subject, how did the video for Fire come about?

Serge: We did that with Wiz in South Africa. We wanted to get the look and feel of small town America, and it was easier to shoot over there than go to the States. We filmed it in this small town a hundred miles outside Cape Town. A totally mental shoot. There was a school next door , so there would be two hundred kids watching us, queueing up for autographs. The whole idea is that we’re stealing the music back from the people who are out to ruin it – I think we all know who we’re talking about. Wiz is a genius at drawing people’s personalites out on camera – he did it brilliantly with Tom on the Empire shoot, and he did it again with Fire.”

How was recording ‘Later’ with Jools Holland last week?

Serge: “Really good. The last time we did it we were in the middle of touring Empire and we were totally exhausted. None of us were particularly happy with it, so we were determined to really put in a performance this time. We got three gospel singers in for Fire and it really worked. We did Underdog and Fast Fuse which really clicked. Sometimes you can try as hard as you like, and no matter what you do, the spark doesn’t come, but we nailed it.

Any memories from this week’s NME cover shoot?

Serge: Marian Paterson (NME photo editor) suggested the idea of a cross between the sleeve of The Stones ‘Beggars Banquet’ and ‘Alice In Wonderland’ and it was exactly what we wanted – something out of the ordinary. I like the fact we’re referencing a scene from a book published in the nineteenth century, surrounded by cherry tarts. For me that’s what being in the band is all about; not just showing up, but taking it to the extreme edges of what it’s capable of. It means we can keep people guessing visually.

The reviews so far have been great, but I’m increasingly interested in how people perceive the band-and this record- thirty years from now. I don’t want to look back on the band and think, we were just another group who never did anything too risky. I want to say, I was that bloke who was on the cover of the NME wearing a white suit, holding a rabbit! (laughs).If it leads me to a nervous breakdown, so be it…

Next Week: Serge tells us what it felt like to play main support at the 50,000 capacity Oasis /Kasabian ‘super-gigs’ at Manchester’s Heaton Park…..

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