Andy Roberts reaquaints himself with the punk pidgin-French world of Leeds' very own twisted firestarters: les Flames!
It's cup final day and in a small Leeds pub, a smattering of unsuspecting punters are watching Arsene Wenger's Arsenal holding off the challenge of a spirited Southampton. Little do they know that in a quiet corner, two Gunners fans by proxy (given the team's strong French influence) are holding court once again.
"Oui! Bobby Pires - c'est magnifique... he is a brilliant French international." Says one. "I don't like the English captain though - the one with the ponytail" says the other, looking disparagingly at David Seaman. "They need another Frenchman, like Barthez. There's not enough foreigners in the Arsenal team!"
It's nearly a year since we sampled the unique joie de vivre and je n'ai c'est quoi that makes up the infectious world of Gallic upstarts les Flames! a band with more va va voom than a whole garage full of Renaults. Today for sanity's sake alone we arrange to meet up with just Rene (guitars) and Henri (le grand bouche) rather than the whole clan. Things have moved on rapidly for the band since we last spoke: key supports with big name acts, NME showcases, a new record deal and a new Belgian drummer has joined the ranks.
"Oui, Antoinne met with an untimely accident with a dog." Explains Rene. Henri continues, "It was so unfortunate we had to bring in Jean-Claude van Flames!, he's the Brussels Mussel. He's a distant cousin of Stella Artois and grew up hitting cans of that very same lager with twigs. Now he's with us."
Riiiiight... Maybe talk of their new label might elicit a more straightforward response. We try coaxing the details of their split with Manchester indie Valentine Records and subsequent signing with top Leeds label Wrath Records.
Henri: "Wrath are considerably more organised than our previous label bosses - who never properly put a record out for us but claim to have discovered us - when really it was our good friends Whiskas and Neil who did. Every other band they signed have split up."
"Thanks to Wrath we have a pop single out in all good record shops right now called 'Mutley, 1 From Essex' backed by 'Professional Stalker'" says Rene. "If you join up with the Wrath Super Sevens Singles Club for just £18 at www.wrathrecords.co.uk, you'll get a copy of our next single - a split 7" with Little Japanese Toy. Our song on the split single is 'Commitment To Excellence'".
Henri: "That song signifies how far we have come in the last twelve months. Before we were a hard-drinking shambolic state onstage. We realised we couldn't continue like that so we came up with the Commitment To Excellence. It is a way of life and it has ten points. The main one is: 'never go onstage when drunk'. Second is the symbol of the Commitment."
The besuited singer rolls up the right sleeve of his jacket to reveal a black sweatband. He then purposefully raises his arm to place the wrist and sweatband against his brow as if to signify toil and dedication. Rene quickly copies the action, as if acknowledging the salute. Some of the other eight commitments seemingly include: no White Russians before playing, no drugs ever and the wearing of homemade les Flames! t-shirts for days on end. Groupies are certainly not off the menu. This whole new doctrine comes from hard-bitten experience.
"We even used to get completely totalled the night before important gigs and that would have a very negative impact on our shows. Like when we went to London to see The Queen. The night before we stayed up drinking wine and playing humorous games with The D4 then we couldn't get up the next day." Says Rene.
"Then we got on the nice bus," continues Henri, "which we crashed within ten minutes of picking up. When we got to London we all felt terrible. I walked in the venue and puked. Then we played a shocking showcase gig to this huge crowd of A&R people. I got them to shout 'Vive les Flames!' three times though. Nicole's bass broke as soon as we went onstage, my head was pounding and we should've smashed the place up. It was a shambles."
les Flames! made a recent return to the capital, to make amends by headlining a show at the Dublin Castle's Club Fandango night. Before that, the band played dates in Leeds at The Cockpit supporting The Briefs and a trip to Middlesbrough on Bank Holiday Monday to play Middlesbrough Music Live. It's a place where the band allegedly have a large and rabid following.
"The people of Middlesbrough are very close to our hearts because our town in Provence is twinned with Redcar." Explains Henri. "So you could say I was born in Provence - or you could say I was born in Saltburn - it amounts to the same thing. Monday will be like a homecoming gig, just a thousand miles away."
"The people of Middlesbrough are magnifique. They don't appreciate that we aren't quite huge, yet they treat us like the rock stars that we are. They give us lots of roadies, money, get us on great bills and generally idolise us."
"Middlesbrough Music Live was absolutely brilliant because we played with some of our favourite pop turns like The Darkness - the best band in the whole world, Junior Senior, Steve Harley, and Reef who are awful and I got to shout 'Beef!' - I mean, 'Boeuf!' - at them."
The interview carries on for long after Arsenal have lifted the cup, taking in all kinds of topics including politics, religion, reality TV, the Leeds scene and a certain amount of vitriolic cynicism at BBC Radio One's 'One on the Road' initiative. The pair of Frenchcore fiends even brutally force us to host an impromptu pop quiz (Henri wins). What is clear is that where last time around les Flames! were shamelessly jumping on the garage rock bandwagon, nearly a year on and they have now established their own sound and following and have no need for the NME's stuttering 'New Rock Revolution'.
"We're so much heavier and harder than any of those bands - the bands we're now being compared to are The Parkinsons and 80's Matchbox B-Line Disaster and old punk stuff." Says Henri. "Yeah like Sham 69 and The Ramones." Rene agrees. "We're not part of the garage rock thing at all because we don't sound like AC/DC or a grunge band like The Datsuns or The Vines. We're just too rock for them."