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Interviews Tommy, Franny, Jamie - 1998 - Total GuitarSam Richards
The approach may be haphazard and the guitarist a loon, but the hits are always big. Sam Richards crosses the final frontier and finds Space to be a very confusing place indeed...
Egoism. Capriciousness. Hyperactivity. Instability. All qualities we seek - nay, demand - from our pop stars in order to prevent the music industry from being monopolised by the likes of Boyzone. On a scale of one to Ronan Keating, Jamie Murphy is well into minus figures.
Unfortunately, he is also Space's guitarist and the man we had hoped would enlighten us today. Living up to his intergalactic band name, he exists in a gravity field all of his own and his interpretation of what constitutes an interview is rather different to most.Throwing himself gleefully around the room, it is less than ten minutes before he has made a run for the exit. Exemplary petulant pop star behaviour, but about as useful to TG readers as a hairbrush at a Krishna convention.
However, before Jamie departs, he does share with us his views on possible alternative career options - "I'd be drawing the dole for the rest of me life, 'cos I'm right lazy and I can't do nothing" - and his favourite Liverpool bands. Or rather, his least favourite Liverpool bands, because according to Jamie, "all bands that have ever come from Liverpool are shit." Obviously.
The quest for pure sanityWe are left facing the apologetic countenances of Tommy Scott, Space's singer and chief songwriter, and Fran Griffiths, the band's Mr Technology. Together, they are the anti-Jamie - amenable, chatty and thoroughly modest - which only goes to prove that a certain yin/yang tension within a group can often aid creativity.
As I wonder what steps to take next, it's not without reason that I suspect some relief on Tommy's part at Jamie's absence. "If he was still here," whispers Tommy, conspiratorially, "I probably wouldn't be able to tell you the truth. The fact is that I played most of the guitars on the new album..."Jaws all over the country drop spontaneously at this revelation of a possible band rift. But of course it's not like that at all. There is rarely cause for tension, as it's accepted that when in the studio, whoever's around will play whatever's at hand. Tommy and Jamie have both played everything."We're not precious," muses Fran.
"In fact, we don't give a shite.""I actually write a lot of the songs on guitar," Tommy continues, "so it makes sense for me to play them. But it's good to have Jamie's angle on things 'cos I like my jazz chords and Jamie loves to stick his distortion on and play straight rock 'n' roll."Unfortunately, Jamie doesn't look like returning and with him travels the knowledge of his extensive guitar collection.
Tommy doesn't "go for all that shite" and claims that owns only one guitar, a Fender Coronado. Not because he likes the sound it makes, mind. "It's purely 'cos it looks like the guitar Elvis had. I bought it in an antique instrument shop in LA when Fran got a Mini Moog. Later, I found out that it's nicknamed the Vietnam guitar 'cos they gave them away as an incentive for people to sign up as a GI in the '60s. I start getting these imagined flashbacks when I play it, heheheheh!"
Tommy is equally unfussy when it comes to amps. He struggles to recall the names of the Vox AC30 and Fender Pro Reverb used for recording the album, and admits only choosing a Jazz Boogie because the name made him laugh."To be honest, I prefer to put my guitar straight into the desk and I use pedals or the desk's own effects. Sometimes all this snobbery about amps is a load of bullshit. For instance, the AC30 I used was crap!" Fran: "People think that if they use the same equipment at The Beatles, then their music's going to sound to the same. But it's all about the vibe created on the day."Tommy: "Jamie's a sucker for all that shit. He's got his twin Marshalls and his six million effects on stage, but he's living the whole lifestyle, bless 'im."The new LP we speak of is Tin Planet which finds Space propelling themselves into galaxies new, refining and fine-tuning their art.
The wonderfully unhealthy collision of styles is still head-on, but this time with less of the exasperating wackiness that made listening to Spiders such a trial. The insidiously catchy Avenging Angels, its spy theme slickness interrupted by a stoned George Formby, is a good measure of what to expect, namely the unexpected. Even calypso...Tommy's greatest achievement so far is the multi-dimensional Ballad Of Tom Jones where black comedy and essentially optimistic sentiment are reflected in the emotional power of the music. At other times, as in Unluckiest Man, Tommy emulates his crooning heroes by pitting the desperate pleading of his assumed character against the incessant cheeriness of the showtune accompaniment.
With such variety, one wonders just how Space arrive at a musical consensus."We instantly know what each other will like," insists Fran. "It's an automatic thing..." he trails off, accepting that there are no words to describe an inter-band chemistry that accepts Fran's love of house music alongside Jamie's preference for loud rock and The Prodigy, and Tommy's obsession with Sinatra and '50s movie soundtracks. From musical conflict, Space mould an odd type of harmony.
Female of the SpeciesThe success of Female Of The Species left Space under no pressure to reproduce the same formula, largely because there was no formula. Originally played with a straight beat, it was Fran's idea to stick scratching samples and a hip-hop swing underneath the track. They duly despatched drummer Andy to the basement, and using the minimum of studio technology (ie one microphone), merely bunged a load of delay on the resulting loop. Voilà: from Sinatra parody to worldwide chart success in one take."We're not a band who sit down and discuss what style we're going to attempt next," says Tommy. "We're just trying to get down what goes on in our heads, which are probably filled with images from old Spaghetti Westerns and cartoons and shit like that.
We never made music to be popular, but a lot of people liked what we did."With influences so unusual and out of step with contemporary trends, Space are not, and never will be, a cool band. Unorthodox eclecticism is their trademark, and when I accuse them of being musical magpies, they shrug a collective 'so what?'Space's attitude towards instrumentation is also unusual.
While every Verve wannabe band is spending big money on orchestration for those authentic string sweeps, Space prefer to rely on their hard drive. "It's a risk," concedes Tommy eventually. "But, get this - we like the sound of synthesised strings as opposed to real strings. I don't think it takes away from the feeling behind the songs. We got an offer from the Liverpool Youth Orchestra to work on the album, but we decided not to go for it. We would probably have just sampled and messed around with what they played anyhow!"Space have already coped with a year of catastrophe when Jamie suffered a breakdown and Tommy's vocal cords packed up, convincing him he would never sing again.
Sitting here casually discussing their imprecious attitude towards music making and their belief that 1998 will be the year that Space graduate into the pop major league, you'd never know.
Some bands wouldn't be able to cope with a Jamie in their ranks, but as long as Fran and Tommy's feet are on the ground, they're quite happy to let their miscreant guitarist wander around with his head in the clouds. After all, Jamie is the encapsulation of what everyone wants from their pop stars. Even if he is a bastard to interview...
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