Friday, 22 May 2009

20 Years with Lamacq

For approximately the 1000th time, I'm standing at the back of the Camden Barfly. I'm leaning on the bar watching I Heart Hiroshima doing their odd mix of angsty feelgood thrash. Perhaps they manage this dichotomy because whilst being out and out indie rock, they nonetheless come from Brisbane and can't help giving off a relaxed surfer aura. Or it might be that in between songs, the female drummer is relentlessly chummy.

I look around me at the young crowd and once again have to acknowledge that apart from Steve Lamacq who is standing just in front of me and Simon Williams who is to my right, I am undeniably the oldest person in the room. No, wait, hang on - I'm not! Who is that whispering in Steve's ear - it's Fruitbat from Carter From The Unstoppable Sex Machine! Blimey, maybe going to see the time-travel friendly new Star Trek film on Wednesday has warped me back to 1989.

Earlier the same evening, Steve and I had been drinking in his favourite pub The Ship on New Cavendish Street. He was chatting to NME Radar editor Jamie Hodgson and without either of us saying it both of us were thinking - this guy does the same job Steve was doing 20 years ago. That would be the equivalent of the two of us in 1989 meeting the guy who had given Led Zeppelin, Free or James Taylor their first NME column inches.

Also outside The Ship was up-and-coming singer Florence aka Florence And The Machine. I saw her perform in some Soho basement about two years ago with a lone guitarist (The Machine, I presumed). Even back then it was full of hipster A&Rs like Geoff Travis but I have to admit I didn't get it at all: her voice, which everyone was extolling the virtues of, seemed to work off a small portion of Amy Winehouse's range and the songs were circuitous bluesy dirges. But from what I hear of her forthcoming album, she's gone into a rich La Roux/Bat For Lashes direction and the voice now has really depth. And I'm not just saying that because she was very personable outside the pub. Although she was. I mean, she didn't need to be friendly to me, did she? - I am neither a legendary music DJ or an influential new band correspondent. I am merely the bloke who once spent a windy October evening at the Harlow Square on Steve Lamacq's birthday in 1990.

Looking back on the last 20 years that I've known the bloke they used to call 'the boy Lamacq' I now realise that without ever becoming what you'd call 'bezzie mates' we did share an awful lot of pop experiences. OK, so I missed that night at The Norwich Arts Centre when Richie Manic claimed to be 4 Real but we were together for much of Britpop, especially Elastica (although he bagged them for his label Deceptive over my label Scared Hitless) he followed and supported my first signing Five Thirty, and it was Ride that brought us together. It was for Ride that were waiting in the Harlow Square that night in 1990.

Steve was grumpy; possibly about being a year older, although there may have been some kind of romantic issue going on too. But once the band came on nothing mattered. Ride were a great live act obviously, but my point is that Steve's heart and soul have always been so wrapped up in music that it takes priority over everything else. Yes, he loves Colchester United and I've frequently found him reading Jeffrey Bernard books when he's waiting to meet me in the pub but most of his waking hours are filled with noise. A few years ago he wrote a piece in The Guardian about only ever having seen 14 films in his entire life. Now whilst he was probably exaggerating (for instance, the two of us definitely went to see Robocop 2 together when we were in New York for a music seminar, so that makes 15 already) I don't find it hard to believe that he couldn't find time to catch, say, a Bond movie on TV on Christmas Day - he would be too busy going through the demo bag to see if there was anything worth including on his Boxing Day show.

This obsessive behaviour makes him an easy target for ridicule of course and sometimes when I feel myself slipping into cynicism about the music business I ask myself why he bothers. But bother he does and regardless of him being a friend I think in the shallow modern world of celebrity presenters, he is a lone and necessary figure. Zane Lowe, Hugh Stevens, Colin Murray and their like are good on the radio - some of them better than Steve perhaps, but you know that much of what they play has been suggested by the producer or is dragged from the pages of the NME or Internet blog trawls. With Steve, you know he's hunted the stuff down and quite probably has had a pint of cider with the singer.

Of course Steve is a celebrity of sorts, but only by default of being good at what he does. I'm sure he enjoys being recognised in venues - and he always is and invariably comes out laden with CDs - but that's not what motivates him. Anyone who is out with him gets caught in the crossfire too. I came home with a Tapetheradio CD last night (very good by the way - a much more manageable and melodic Bloc Party). Out with him couple of years ago, whilst I stood patiently listening to an awestruck bass player tell him how he should really listen to Track Two of the demo, the guitarist from the same band took pity on me, "You done been doing this long?" he asked. "Sorry," I looked up, "Doing what?" The guitarist gestured at Lamacq , "Being his bouncer."

I won't go on because it will look like he's paying me for this. Actually that's an idea, perhaps I should ask him... No, I will simply finish on this: A few years ago an old A&R friend of Steve's was staying on his couch after his marriage had broken up. One afternoon after Steve had gone through his demo bag, he gave the guy a CD to listen to saying he thought it was pretty good and might cheer him up. Fast forward several years and Steve's mate is now managing the band, who have become rather successful and are supporting AC/DC on their current world tour. Normal friends would have tried to help him meet a new woman or get a job; Steve did what he does best, he found him a band.


  1. Lovely post there Ben. I have met Steve a few random times at gigs and what a top man he is.Wish there was a few more of the likes of him around.

  2. Steve Lamacq and Simon Williams...aye!!! Hats off...still doing it...

    5.30 blimey that's a blast...didn't the Honey Smugglers play with them?

    I don't Ben with your writing, you remind of bits of my life I had forgotten...

    Great Blog xxx


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