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Interviews Tommy, Franny and Jamie - March 1998 - Top MagazineJames McNair
It's the last day of Space's British tour and backstage at the Shepherds Bush Empire frontman Tommy Scott, guitarist Jamie Murphy and keyboard player Franny Griffiths have joined me for a relaxed climb up Mount Chatmandu. Franny's lying on a voluminous sofa, and Tommy's dark eyes twinkle as he answers questions. It soon transpires that, unlike most bands, this lot have a sense of their privileged position.
FRANNY: (lying on a voluminous sofa) It was a real triumph for us when 'Avenging Angels' became our biggest hit so far, because we really didn't know if we'd be accepted again. It's not as though we've been away 10 years but it feels like a comeback because of what's gone before.
Franny's alluding to the events that made 1997 such an annus horribilis for the band. Such was the stress factor that Franny developed an ulcer, while Tommy lost his voice. Jamie, still only 22, simply lost it completely and had a spell in psychiatric care being fed anti-depressants and milk. Ironically drummer Andy Parr - who had seemed fine at the time - became a latent casualty and has been replaced by Leon Caffrey, a long-term friend of the band. With a pop goldmine under their belts in the shape of the new album, Tin Planet, they can afford to be philosophical about all this. For a time, however, it seemed as though Space had reached the final frontier.
TOMMY: I was terrified that my voice had gone for good. I'd been hypnotised, I'd had cortisone injections up me arse and I'd even been treated for cancer, just in case. The worst thing though, was that I'd just written 'Bad Days' which I was really proud of, and I was thinking, 'Shit! I'm going to have to let Jamie sing this!'
To cut the proverbial long story short, the doctors eventually discovered that one of Tommy's vocal chords had become paralysed due to extreme stress. Oddly, however, after four or five surgeons had poked and prodded, it was a Liverpudlian psychic named Billy Roberts who finally restored the singer's troublesome tonsils to their former glory.
TOMMY: He even predicted the exact date my voice would come back, and God strike me down, he was right.
Spooky truths aside, further investigations reveal that the reported story about a suitably gutted Jamie watching the others performing 'Dark Clouds' on Top Of The Pops was in fact a myth.
JAMIE: I had other things on me mind, mate. I'd actually forgotten the single was even out.
So at what point did you realise that you wanted to get back into the band, then?
JAMIE: As soon as I stopped drinking and the anti-depressants started working.
Listening to Tin Planet, it's certainly a striking case of triumph in the face of adversity - a far more mature-sounding record than the band's platinum-selling debut, Spiders. It's crammed with great pop singles and Tommy's increasingly twisted - but always intriguing - lyrics have succinctly captured much of the madness and sadness of last year. The seasoned eclecticism of the record is its biggest strength. From the Ennio Morricone-esque grandeur of 'Begin Again' to the Midnight Cowboy-inspired 'Bad Days', Tommy's contention that listening to the record is like watching a series of widely contrasting movies rings true.
Somewhat inevitably, many listeners have homed in on the poptastic new single, 'Tom Jones', which features Tommy duetting with Catatonia's Cerys Matthews. With Cerys shaping up to be one of this year's "It" girls, it's a collaboration that might seem calculated but in fact the two bands have been friends for some time.
TOMMY: About four years ago, Catatonia gave us a support tour when we couldn't even get arrested.
FRANNY: And that gave us the confidence to believe in ourselves as a pop band and we bonded from then on in. Although the duet's (gloriously overblown) intro gives me goosebumps every time they play it live, I wasn't convinced when Tommy first presented the song.
TOMMY: But that was understandable. At that stage I still hadn't plucked up the courage to ask Cerys and you thought it was going to be a duet between me and Yorkie! (Yorkie, it should be explained, is Space's session bassist and while I have never heard him sing I can confirm that in the glamour stakes he's an extremely poor second to Miss Matthews.)
But what about the line in the song where Cerys sings "And I still want to cut off your nuts"? Won't such a Bobbit-like admission trouble the censor?
TOMMY: The only people who might cut it out are the radio editors. That happened to us with 'Avenging Angels' actually. One station chopped out the Noel Coward bit in the middle because they thought it was too weird.
The mention of the man who sang 'Mad Dogs And Englishmen' prompts me to quiz Tommy further.
How on earth did a young Scouser come to be influenced by someone like Coward?
TOMMY: It was supposed to be more like the seedy cabaret sound of Berlin. You know, Marlene Dietrich stuff. But because I'm not a woman it comes out sounding like Noel Coward when we put that radio effect on me voice. I do like him, though - he's sound.
A knock on the door from the band's press officer signals the end of the interview but before Space trot off to dinner I squeeze in one last question.
Given that there are at least five potential hit singles on Tin Planet, did they realise that they'd spawned a monster?
TOMMY: The thing is, we can't recognise a single when it's staring us in the face. Even 'Female Of The Species' was supposed to be a B-side originally - that's how much I know.
FRANNY: I think we've grown up - we've had to - and you can hear that on this record.
JAMIE: My personal opinion is that this is the best fucking album that anyone's going to get out of us.
Perhaps it's a little pessimistic to claim that you've peaked at 22, but then Space have learned to take nothing for granted.
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