British Fiction: Twilight's Lost and Dreaming of Modern Peacocks
Whilst at school, Kay Wilkinson would spend most of her free time teaching the guitarist of her band, Diverse, how to play power-chords. The band was chiefly a high-school project, yet it enjoyed a four-year run of gigs and musical talent honing. The band only went on to split up as individual members ventured off to University. The music consisted primarily of Kay screaming her words over the top of frantic guitars and she now freely admits that the dissolution of the band was 'probably for the best'.
Guitarist Dan Watts and drummer, Alex King speedily grew tired the 'prog-rock' outfit they were part of and deciding that there was more to life than playing to forty-year old ELP and Yes aficionados, they decamped. They left two former band members to continue living the astral-dream on their relocating to France.
When Matt Clark's former band members went from being idle Saturday musicians to deciding to quit their day jobs with the intention of conquering the world and elsewhere on a shoe-string budget of eight-hundred pounds apiece, he decided that enough ambiguity was enough. Without further prompting, he packed up his Candy-apple Fender bass and Big Muff distortion-peddle and bade his farewells. Soon after, Watts and King approached him with an offer to try out as a three-piece and it was an invitation that Clark greedily accepted.
Nine months later and with notes still resonating in the air, the trio agreed that the sound was right and all that was needed now was a singer.
Nursing a monumental hangover, Kay Wilkinson puts distance between herself and the world by hiding behind a pair of heavily tinted sunglasses. Being one of the most gifted young female singers around means little to her right now; she only offers a weak smile when her band mates tell me that of all the auditions they held, Kay was the standout best. In fact, Kay was the first to try out and she delivered her performance with such conviction and aplomb that the band concedes to wasting their time by holding further auditions.
Kay, naturally modest, doesn't offer any comments; she prefers to sit in silence and hold onto the glass of ice-cold orange juice for dear life.
The driving April showers force us out God's kitchen and away from idyllic views of the river Aire and Kirkstall abbey, surrounded by its verdant meadows. Now we repair indoors and into a cramped corner of the Bridge Inn's basement room. My tape-recorder struggles to catch the interview. The sounds of pool-cues crashing against the stone floor and live football on 32-inch plasma TV all vie for attention.
This being the band's first interview, I didn't need to act sheepish around asking how they came about choosing British Fiction as their name. It was a question that Alex King was happy to answer.
"It comes from a poem called Scottish Fiction by Edwin Morgan... it's basically about Scottish identity and the poem just sings with pride and individuality. We wanted a name that people would remember and one that would mean something to each of us. In the end, we all agreed that it was right for the band. It was a clear favourite."
In the group's infancy, they flirted with some unfortunate monikers, Pigeon Dungarees and Modern Peacock being two of the more memorable ones. Modern Peacock is something the band have still to get out of their systems and indeed, one of their songs has it as a working title and it may yet be unleashed on the world.
Pride and individuality is prevalent throughout British Fiction and they regard their music and their audience with a respect that necessitated in nine months of playing together and intense rehearsing before they released their sound. British Fiction couldn't seem father detached from the adolescent ideals of learning their instruments on stage and simply waiting to see what happens on the night. Dan harrumphs at the idea of performing a song to an audience that was written only the day before.
Matt Clark also offers an abrupt opinion.
"Well, you wouldn't promote a chocolate bar if it tasted like dog-shit, would you?"
"Sure, there'd be a market for it, somewhere," Dan added, "but like any good product, you hone it to perfection, you make it as good as you possibly can at the time and that's what we strive to achieve. We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't believe in ourselves and our product."
British Fiction are reluctant to pigeonhole their sound. They don't claim to be alternative or emo or grunge, rather they will forge a brand of their own.
"The bigger a genre becomes, the more diluted it will get," Dan says. He will allow that British Fiction is a rock group because of the electric guitars and the volume, but that is as far as he will go to pin the group down to a branding.
A perennial pet hate of this author's is that a band or indeed any artist will claim to be original. Sure, an artist or musician can make a genre or style his own, but can he be completely unique? Matt goes to the bar to buy pints of good, brown beer and I ask Dan what his thoughts were.
"I'd say that what we are doing is good; damn good, but I wouldn't say that British Fiction's music is ground-breaking; it really isn't. But then you can ask yourself, what do you have to do to be different? Perhaps for British Fiction to do so, we'd have to produce a piece of music, which would be no more than, say, the sounds of a distant heartbeat with Kay screaming why me! why me! over the top. And I think if you were to come up with a piece as avant-garde as that, then you'll probably end up finding that it is, well, abstract bollocks, to put it bluntly."
If you fancied taking on British Fiction, you'd have your work cut out; the music of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nine-Inch Nails, Radiohead and even Celine Dion(!) would have to be ingested in large quantities before you could even begin, but like a lot of accomplished musicians, three members of British Fiction have their roots in classical music. In his early teens, Matt Clark sang front-line choir until his voice broke and he was catapulted to back-line. Dan Watts cites a whole range of classic music from medieval to baroque to neo-classical as his inspiration and musical guide. Kay started out as a classically trained pianist before early band-members cajoled her into singing.
But things came about a little differently for Alex King.
"At the Drive In; Relationship of Command -- that was a real creative inspiration for me. I used to listen to the album in my car; it was a horrible old thing that only had one working speaker and of course the album was recorded in stereo, so what I was hearing was a version of the record with all the fat trimmed out of it. I was being drawn to these really great, but really simple melodies and drum parts and then later on, when I bought a better car with a working sound system I thought god, where are all these guitars coming from? All of a sudden the album didn't seem quite so pure and innocent anymore.Listening to it in full stereo kind of ruined it for me."
I've since given it a go; I've disengaged one of my speakers and the music certainly does carry a certain austere charm about it, which adds fuel to the old adage that less is generally more.
One thing that strikes you as odd about the members of British Fiction is just how damn casual and down to earth they all are. I mean, I never had them down as vulgar reprobates with a penchant for hard drugs and violence, but I thought they would have at least some degree of competitive edge about them.
Usually, a sure-fire way of fuelling bravados in bands and promoting controversial comments is to bring up the subject of rivals and how they intend to outdo them.
"We don't have any," Matt says matter-of-factly, "we don't compare ourselves to anyone and we don't consider anybody to be rivals of us. All we want to do is give our sound to the audience and it's up to them to like it, or otherwise."
Gee, thanks for making my life as a journalist that bit harder.
"No, the topic of rivals and competition is not something that ever really occurs to me," Dan tells me.
He's sincere, I believe him.
"As soon as you start comparing yourselves with other bands and trying to better them, that's when this whole thing stops being fun. All four of us are in here to enjoy ourselves, that's all. You have to remember; this is just a game."
Boy, this is getting worse!
At the time of writing, British Fiction's gigging past reads as follows: played two shows, headlined both of them. And that's with three other good, established bands on the same bill.
Matt, Dan and Alex are fresh into their thirties; gigging and playing to an audience is nothing new. Kay, on the other hand, is only 21 years old. Perhaps headlining at such an early stage has its down sides. Was there any sense of bypassing the necessary learning curve and a subsequent moral backlash?
"No." She pauses for a second, she tickles the silver bar that runs through her left eyebrow as though it were animate - as though it was a very much an essential biological component.
"No... no, not really."
That's right; she's just as cool and calculated as the rest of her band.
They tell me that they'd much rather be traveling Europe, playing Florentine and Parisian bars, selling their records to men and woman who speak not a word of English, than stay at home and bid for mainstream success.
There's no wonder they've got a song named, The Diary of a Charming Man; I'm sure Jacques Brel would posthumously approve of that one.
OK, the afternoon's winding down, the beer's run dry and I've asked all the questions the band care to answer. But I fancy asking just one more. An acid question. One that should goad the band into saying something daring and rakish. Here goes...
"The industry is a quagmire of 'popcorn' thrills with bands making the grade for their uncanny ability to become an overnight sensation, only to slip away unnoticed as soon as the next swaggering bunch of Braggadocios with fancy hair and low-slung jeans come along. So, if it could lead to a speedy fame and fortune, would you be willing to dumb British Fiction down?"
A resounding and emphatic 'no' rings out from the four-corners of the table.
And that was that.