Hamish MacBain explains why he’d rather watch a documentary – or read a book – based on the story of the little guys, rather than megastars like Foo Fighters or Muse.
Of all the press releases that have filled my inbox this week, one stands out as the least expected. It proffers not the next gig by some unfeasibly cool new band, or a reissue of a ‘classic’ album, but Between The Lines, a 240-page book, out in February, about a band called Haven.
Most likely, you don’t remember them. Having relocated to Manchester from Cornwall, they arrived at the turn of the century plying over-emotive Verve anthemia (fashionable at the time). They caught the eye of Johnny Marr’s manager Joe Moss and signed a major label deal. Marr guested with them, there were numerous buzz gigs and then a big ballad single, ‘Say Something’, that made Number 24. The album came out shortly after that, at the start of 2002, didn’t sell much, they got dropped, soldiered on a bit, split up. That was that.
I emailed the only friend I knew who might remember them. “A fuckin’… book!” he fumed. “What next? A documentary on King Adora?”
Next day – I swear this is true – another email arrives, detailing, yup, King Adora: The Documentary, also out in February. Incredible. For those who don’t remember this lot, they were an attempt to satiate fans of the early Manics, when the Manics were dressing like an M&S advert. They wore make-up and girls’ clothes, and had songs about anorexia (‘Big Isn’t Beautiful’). Their ‘big’ single ‘Bionic’ made Number 30 in 2001, the album came out shortly after that, didn’t sell much, they got dropped, soldiered on a bit, split up. There was a 2010 reunion for two small gigs, around which the film – film! – is hooked.
My initial reaction to both of these projects was to scoff at people dedicating what must be years of their lives to documenting such tiny corners. I mean, everyone loves the odd ‘Where are they now?’ piece, but books and films are for much bigger subjects, surely? Ones that might actually be of interest to more than a couple of hundred people?
A day passed. I started wondering, more and more, what the content of these two projects would be. I watched the trailer for the film. “I think,” muses the guitarist over some over-emotive X Factor montage-style music, “everyone was a bit fed up of playing rubbish venues and feeling like we weren’t getting anywhere.” You don’t say!
As well as a biog, the Haven book is described as “a critique of the demise of the music industry which has arguably lost its way, shrivelling under conservative conglomerates and allowing little room for innovation, creativity or true excitement”. Now play that Haven song above and see if you reckon they were shafted out of megastardom… or just not great.
Both of these bands had every opportunity they could wish for: a record deal, great support slots, hype, loads of press, TV appearances… The bottom line, the brutal truth, is that their songs were, barring a select few souls, met with indifference by the public. They weren’t good enough. You can but-but-but about the evils of the music biz, timing, whatever, and bands do. Only a gutsy few will admit that they just were not good enough. Most think their moment is about to come, that the day is just around the corner. The blind faith arising from a small venue of devotees screaming their words back at them makes them believe they are still onto something. If either band read this, they will say “fuck the NME” or whatever. Because they are right. Everyone else is wrong.
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Thing is, this is brilliant, BRILLIANT subject matter for a book or a film. Put a camera in front of Matt Bellamy in a backstage corridor in some arena, you’re gonna get the whole “it’s just an amazing feeling” schtick. Same for any successful band. In fact: have you ever watched a film/read a book about a still-successful musician from the last 20 years or so, and really felt you’re getting inside their head?
But these guys will give you it all. They glimpsed what could have been, didn’t get it, and are now destined to spend the rest of their lives being defined by what was a couple of years of their lives. It’s hard to turn your back on it, to admit defeat. So they don’t. Someone rings up and says they want to do a book or a film, they think, ‘Wow, we meant something!’ and spill it all. Look at Anvil! The Story Of Anvil – a better piece of work than that Foo Fighters film could ever be, because it’s about the indefinable what-could-have-been, rather than what was, and is.
So I guess what I’m saying is that you can count me in for Between The Lines: A History Of Haven, and King Adora: The Documentary – with bells on. Keep ’em coming, I say. Viva Brother: The Musical? You’d go, wouldn’t you?
This article originally appeared in the January 14th issue of NME