The French Connection
Red. White. Blue. When I look at you, it ignites deep within me. The fires of passion that consume my swelling bosom. Lit by the masterful hands of our ancestors, who journeyed where others couldn’t dare. Conquering the open souls of under-developed civilisations with learned minds, fearless hearts and a cultural constitution that banished the wicked but embraced the willing. Red. White. Blue. The colours of home. The Bastille-on of pride. Vive La France! Hang on. Don’t go, oh stout British fellows. I repent. To the queen and her land of hope and glory!
So close, symbolically, physically and – hang on to your fists Rebekah Wade – culturally. Yet so far. The bad blood of les enfants terrible stains the hem of Mother Time’s all-encompassing cloak. Agincourt, Waterloo. Even the Olympic Games. Is it only Renault that is trying to find some common ground between the squabbling siblings? Thankfully not. “Story One, they’re from Nottingham. The singer sounds like an interesting bloke. Classically trained. Half French, half English. Story One, see what you think.” Cheers Mr editor, I think I will.
Armed with Disposable, Story One’s debut EP and six, un-mastered tracks from their forthcoming album, I try to develop a friendly understanding. The ghost of Jeff Buckley leaves misty footprints throughout much of the band’s material. Although not as vocally aerobic as the late American, Tom Evans has the power to cast enchanting shadows across rocky skies. Tales of love, war and urban alienation are painted with a deft tongue, giving words room to breathe. Guitar, bass and drums shift time and texture, adding unseen dimensions to the emotional vignettes. This may be the opening chapter but there are no loose-shouldered welcomes. Story One can simmer with a beautifully acerbic intensity.
On the phone, Evans is charming, disarming and open. “Barney (Barratt, guitarist) and I met in Nottingham five years ago,” he begins. “I always thought we’d be an acoustic duo, I wanted to be Dylan. But then I met Gerald (Youna, bass) and realised the sound could be bigger. I was working in Paris. I didn’t know anyone when this guy asked me out for a drink. I got there and met Gerald and his girlfriend and then another couple who were sitting with us. Suddenly I realised, ‘it’s not just a drink, he’s asking me out!’ So I spent as much time as possible talking with Gerald as it was pretty intense. And it turned out that we had so much in common.” Like Evans, Youna is the product of an Anglo-French partnership.
Barratt and drummer, Mike Woolf soon joined the two young men in Paris, completing Story One’s restructured, sonic landscape. “We don’t want an over-produced first record,” continues Evans. “We’re working on a sound, we’re always working on it. We want it to be quite raw, with enough space for the violin to come across and create an atmosphere.” But what is the sou…sorry, have I not mentioned the violin? “The most common reaction seems to be, oh my god, what is he doing,” comments Evans. But we’ve got it sounding massive with big delays and reverb; it just flies in a large room. My whole family are classical violinists, but I took a slightly different approach. I learnt using a Japanese method where you try and tune your ear to the violin, learning how to create notes and pitch, because there are no frets. I find it a very singing instrument, it seemed natural to sing and play, my two voices.”
Evans is not using the violin to level the land or make out like a Kennedy. It’s been his chin rest since he was three. In the band biography he states, “It comes as naturally to me to use it as a lead instrument as most rock musicians would use a guitar. The thing is, the violin as a lead instrument hasn’t been explored like a guitar has.” Mournful, lamented, haunting. Easy adjectives. And whilst at times the triumvirate weave a thread through the fabric of Story One’s sound, they don’t cut the whole cloth. On Delhi Funeral, Evans’ violin sends apocalyptic spectres down the Ganges, as if intent on confronting Willard himself. And on a cover of Grandaddy’s AM 180, Evans stretches what was once a melodic Casio refrain into a sonorous, escalating cacophony.
Other modern artists join Grandaddy on the Story One stereo. “We’re all fans of stuff like Elliot Smith, Radiohead and Elbow,” says Evans. “Bands that try to find their own sound. Apart from that there’s Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky. We’ve all had musical training but we’ve not tried to go into any particular style. It’s all about the song, rather than, you know, we want a 12/8 section here and a bit of guitar wank there. For us it’s about the emotion, being attentive to what the song needs, finding a voice without over doing it.”
After winning a new band competition in Paris, organised by French rock magazine, Inrockuptibles, Story One returned home, to Nottingham, where it hasn’t always been easy. “Nottingham has a weird music scene,” believes Evans. “There’s no cohesive, sort of art scene, it’s very splintered. Metal’s very popular but you can be struggling indie-wise. It’s also odd that it’s difficult if you’re not pure Nottingham. There’s a strange attitude, a lot of very cynical people. It hinges on one or two promoters and if you’re not in with them or the crowd it can be very difficult. It is a strange city, a melting pot of madness. Our music comes from experience and imagination but the city is definitely a backdrop, like This Town. Nottingham can be the same as every city; it can get you down. But we love the place. Our lives are there. And there’s a lot of good music being made.”
Story One finish their gigging year in Nottingham, playing at The Social on December 7th, two days after they release Beggar’s Belief as a single. It’s been an eventful year for the band, included gigs at Johnny Depp’s Viper Rooms and three months in a French chateau, recording their debut album, which is due for release in February 2006. Jim Birkett, the son of former Pogues producer, Chris, has been at the helm. “We walked into a bar in Nottingham and there’s this 21 year old dressed as a Duke,” Barratt has previously commented. “A long purple satin gown, black leather gloves, chain mail and we thought, who the fuck is he?”
The return to France to record the album was at the behest of Birkett, whose family castle lies in St Cibard. “It’s a weird place,” comments Evans. “A very isolated existence, which is great because we can get 15 hour days in.” But not hours spent on the treadmill. “I’ve never understood bands who say we’re always writing, we spend about five hours a day and we’ve got 70 or 80 songs already,” reveals Evans. “It’s a ridiculous statement. Having that moment of inspiration can be a rare occurrence. In rock and roll it’s all been done and trying to be original can be tough. It comes from somewhere though, something you see or read can start it and then you spur it along.” United under red, white and blue skies, Story One could travel far.
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- June 12, 2006 / 9:31 pm