Play up and play the (indie) game

When White Lies burst onto the indie music scene in 2009 with their chart topping debut album To Lose My Life… the phrase ‘jumping on the band wagon’ sprang punningly to mind.

Following in the wake of 80s influenced ‘brooding’ bands such as Interpol and Editors there was really nothing that marked out the West London trio, apart from their appalling attempts at lyricism ‘There’s a part of me that still believes/ My soul will soar above the trees.’ So the album went to number one, so what? It was nothing but the music industry’s latest coup of selling thousands of copies of an album to people who already own it, only with a different cover and title.

This is where I have to admit my personal connection to the band. I went to school with them. Before they were White Lies they were Fear of Flying. And before that they were called (embarrassingly) The Flow. That’s when I first encountered them. They were playing the school band night. The dizzy heights of Glastonbury were still but a school boy’s dream. And I didn’t like them then either. But then I was never one to go with the flow…

This year, perusing the Old Latymerian, the self-congratulatory news letter my school sends out to its most reluctant former pupils, I came across an article describing how the band of some ex-students, going under the name ‘Born Blonde’, had just been signed to Mercury. One of them, Josh Lloyd-Watson, was even in my class. A few years after Fear of Flying had gone onto bigger and better things I had even shared a stage with these blonde fellows. First White Lies, now this. It got me wondering, when did Latymer Upper School – London’s most expensive independent school – become such a hotbed of indie music? Is it simply fate’s sense of humorous incongruence that the sons of baby boomer lawyers and bankers (the least rock and roll generation in history) should grow up to spit into microphones for the listening pleasure of thousands? Was Latymer more brimming with creativity and imagination than I realised at the time?

I wracked my memories. There was a yearly guitar competition. I remember one year going to the final. Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland (another member of ‘Born Blonde’) were both competing. Josh chose to perform ‘Under the Bridge’, and Tom chose ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Not only is ‘Stairway to Heaven’ a cliché song to play, it is such a cliché that my complaining about it is in itself cliché.

No, these were not imaginative, adventurous kids, they were unoriginal and boring. And now they are looking at a major record deal. I wondered how they had changed since I knew them, so I youtubed Born Blonde. One result, a stylised live video of a song called ‘Signs of Fear’. Well, obviously, I didn’t like it. Go and watch it. I mean anyone can put on aviators and a white t-shirt, strum a few chords on an acoustic guitar and pretend to be The Verve, but aren’t you fifteen years too late for britpop? I suppose it’s due for a revival – everything I hate gets revived sooner or later.

So, why have two unoriginal bands that went to the same school both been picked up by the industry? Coincidence? Or is it something more like privilege?

I’ve already mentioned Latymer’s extortionate fees, and those of course go hand in hand with great facilities. If you were in a band you could make a professional quality recording for free in the music technology department. That’s your first advantage over the hoi polloi. The second advantage is connections. Also in that class with Josh and I was a boy named James Street, son of Stephen Street. Stephen Street is a music producer, best known for his work with The Smiths and Blur. It was he who produced the first Fear of Flying single. Back when Josh and Tom were playing under the name L-Shaped Room (I know!), their demos were pushed Stephen’s way. I’m not trying to detract from what these boys have achieved or say anything so crude as shit rises.

I’m just saying perhaps you could send your kids to Latymer – they might meet the son of someone famous and maybe in a few years a stuttering Jools Holland will introduce them. That is, of course, if you have fifteen thousand pounds a year going spare.

In other news the second White Lies album came out last month. It’s probably okay if you like that sort of thing.

Toby Lloyd