Thursday, 19 May 2011

Suede in Brixton... and other stories

As the new Artmagic EP, featuring my cover design, launches this week, I’ve been rifling through the cuttings archive – and have found the very first mention (inauspicious though it is) of my artwork in the national press.

The date was 1999 and Suede were interviewed in Select magazine. Guitarist Richard, my best friend from school, mentioned in response to a question about art that he liked my stuff. Fairly innocent, right? The following month Q Magazine picked up on the story and used the quote about him ‘only liking pictures by his mate Pete’ as the punch-line for a snidey story.

On the subject of Suede, Richard is having a busy week. Last night (as mentioned in yesterday’s post) he launched Artmagic’s debut EP at the Brixton Windmill. Then tonight, Friday and Saturday he and Suede will be celebrating the imminent release of deluxe editions of their albums by playing a three night residency at Brixton Academy.


Looking at the above 1993 flyer I can see that Saturday's gig will mark exactly 18 years to the day since Richard and I went, purely as adoring fans, to see Suede Mk I play a gig at the Poole Arts Centre on their first UK tour. The first stirrings of what would eventually become depressingly known as ‘Britpop’ were reaching the provinces. Bands rarely came to Poole, so this was our chance to get a firsthand glimpse – our first live gig and we loved it. Metal Mickey became my favourite song, and Richard devoted himself to learning all their guitar licks. Typical teenage fans.

A year later we were saddened to learn that Bernard Butler had quit the group. None of my classmates could see how Suede would possibly keep going. “Not”, my friend Mike memorably quipped, “unless Richard replaced him!” Oh, how we laughed. A few weeks before, Rich had entertained us all during a free period by demonstrating his guitar skills. He was note perfect on every Suede track.

I clearly remember (the odd events of that summer 94 being etched on my memory) that Richard told me he was thinking of sending a demo tape to the Suede fanclub. They’d put out an open call for replacement guitarists and Rich didn’t see why he shouldn’t have a crack.

“You might as well!” was my advice – and I thought little more of it.

During the summer hols, Richard called to announce that he’d received a letter from the Suede fanclub requesting some original material. He popped a copy of our band TED’s demo tape in the post. Next thing I knew he was going up to London for an initial audition.

This alone was weird for me. Think about it. My best friend, latterly my songwriting partner and bandmate, was just nipping up to London to audition for a Mercury prize winning chart-topping band I loved. No-one else knew this but me and his family. I was fit to explode with the news.

Richard was typically nonchalant after audition number one – he came back with a copy of the new unreleased Suede album and told me he’d been asked to learn all the songs. His parents were on holiday in France, he’d stayed back for the audition. He didn’t seem fussed though, he just wanted to drink tea, hang out and watch Magazine videos – I couldn’t fathom his nonchalance.

The following Wednesday he went up to London one more time, and returned with the weirdest news. He’d been offered the job.

I vividly remember a week or so later, sitting on my own on the school bus en route to the first day of the upper sixth form.

“Where’s Rich?” people enquired, knowing that we were rarely seen apart.

“Ermm… Well, he’s quit school to be the lead guitarist of Suede, actually!” I giggled.

“Fucking shut up Pete, stop talking fucking crap!”

I got the ‘fucking crap’ response for about a fortnight, until the news was officially announced by a somewhat non-plussed headmaster in our school assembly. The following day, news crews descended on the school and I was forced to endure the humiliation of being interviewed on BBC South Today. Later that same night Richard made his debut on Top of the Pops, miming to ‘We are the Pigs’.

I got my own chance to meet the band a few weeks later when I went to stay with Richard. During a day-long NME cover shoot, I sloped off for fish and chips with Brett and Matt. I was super-awkward in their presence, but they made pleasant attempts to chat with me.

“We’ve got a launch party next week for the new album”, ventured Brett, “are you coming?”

“Gosh no I couldn’t possibly”, I said, visibly outraged at the prospect, “It’s a school night!”

I turned out to be an occasional, mostly very awkward, spectator on some of the odd goings on that went on in Suede-world over the years. The most memorable scene took place on a different occasion, again when I was in town staying with Richard. Brett summoned him via a repetitive drugged out answering machine message to come over to his flat straight away. We wandered by to find Brett and his mate Alan bouncing off the walls after an all-nighter on various substances. The place was a tip, the curtains were drawn and my eyes watered in clouds of cheap incense smoke. Brett made us sit down and watch a rehearsal video of ‘Beautiful Ones’ (then entitled ‘Dead Leg’). When the tape ended he commanded me to rewind it so we could watch it again.... And again.... And again.

After a good hour or two of this, Brett decided we should retire to his ‘writing room’ (a cupboard, basically) and make a new version of this video. Brett (by now shaking and glistening with sweat) pushed us into the cupboard and foisted a video camera on Alan.

“You’re the director” he barked, “Pete, you’re the lighting guy.” Richard grabbed a guitar and started playing. I stood there trying to look nonchalant. After running through ‘Beautiful Ones’ another dozen or so times, Brett turned on me in genuine rage.

“Fucking hell Pete! You’re a fucking shit lighting guy!”

A year or so later, in summer 96, Suede’s first album with Richard, ‘Coming Up’ was finally released (and, no longer a schoolboy, I finally got to attend an album launch). Most of the tracks were co-written by him, and it went on to be the biggest seller of their career, yielding five top ten hits. It’s easy to forget, I think, what a big risk the other band members took in signing an unknown seventeen year old. So many other great indie bands (The Stone Roses and The Smiths being two obvious examples) could not survive the departure of their guitarist let alone better their previous successes the way Suede did. I’m just saying...

9 comments:

  1. These posts are really a pleasure to read. I usually have very little patience for anything written on the internet (I don't know why) but with your blog I can quite happily read right an entire post before I even realise I've done it.

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  2. Thomas R. Helgesen10 June 2011 at 03:02

    Thank you Peter for posting this! :-) I've been a Suede fan since the mid-90s and it was very interesting to read more about how Richard joined the band. He definitely deserves more recognition! (He was absolutely brilliant during the Brixton gigs)

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  3. Again, thank you so much for posting this. It was a great read. Richard is a great musician who definitely deserves more recognition than he actually gets.

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  4. Great post, Peter. The man needs to write a book about what life becomes when your teenage dream comes true. Or, you ghost-write it for him. :)

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  5. Thanks for the lovely comments everyone! Glad you enjoyed reading this! He's a clever lad....

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  6. What a great reading.
    Ricahrd is for me the best musician I ever listened! I'm so glad that he joined Suede

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  7. hi pete, I google for past few days after suede played in asia gigs. you wrote some of the most treasure moments about suede and Richard. I hope you don't mind we link your blog to HK suede fan page with full credits entirely belong to you of course! Thank you very much! tiwtter_liza@HK

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  8. That's fine! Thanks for letting me know about that and glad you liked my blog-post!

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