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Gene

+ {The Go Hole} + {Spin} + {Martin Rossiter}

Their foundations lying within indie acts The GO HOLE and SP!N, Britpop stars GENE rivalled the likes of retro-politans SHED SEVEN and CAST to win an imaginary battle of the bands to join the ranks of OASIS, BLUR and PULP. However, always the best-man never the groom, GENE seemed forever and a day to be trying to impress the NME or Melody Maker, who’d championed them initially, but who’d forgotten to support them when several singles and a handful of albums zoomed in and out of the charts like some er… “Olympian” athlete. With Martin Rossiter’s effete tales of bedsit angst, alienation, despair and SMITHS-style musical approach, GENE polarized opinion.
Formed not in Watford, England (where Martin resided), but in London, summer 1993 saw the singer join fellow Welsh-born Steve Mason (guitar), Matt James (drums) and Kev Miles (bass), who’d all constituted early-90s combo, SP!N. Drummer Matt Wrigley – as he was previously billed – had played in The GO HOLE trio, alongside vocalist/guitarist Lee Clark and Bristol-born bassist John Mason, although only one single (`Flight Of Angels’), surfaced in 1987.
Adding John’s brother Steve and switching monikers to SP!N, there’s was a shoegazing “spin” on The STONE ROSES and RIDE, exampled on a couple of singles (`Scratches In The Sand’ and `Let’s Pretend’) from the swaggering IN MOTION (1991) {*5} set. Put back a few months while the brothers recovered from injuries sustained in a motorway accident (on 23 March), which left them shattered and unable to continue, bassist/soundman/tour manager John Mason was forced to give up. His berth filled by Kev Miles for third 12-inch EP/single, `Hot Blood’, Lee would also depart stage left to record demos with Andrew “Snake” Newton.
As 1992 was a write-off in terms of productivity, the remaining members were impressed by a certain Martin Rossiter (singer Martin T. Falls in the group Drop) at a gay club. Handed a business card which stated “Soothsayer to the Stars”, all they could do was call him up; he was in fact the great-nephew to sit-com Rising Damp/Reginald Perrin star-turn Leonard Rossiter.
GENE was the chosen moniker for the quartet and, with NME journos Keith Cameron and Roy Wilkinson championing them from their healthy position of record label bosses at fledgling Costermonger, it seemed at last the band were on the up. Limited to a significant 1994 copies (the year of its release), their debut 45 `For The Dead’ (b/w `Child’s Body’) sold its initial run within a week and prompted a second single, `Be My Light, Be My Guide’, to bless them with their inaugural chart breakthrough.
Buttressed by the Top 40 platters, `Sleep Well Tonight’ and `Haunted By You’ (the latter song the first to be licensed to Polydor Records), the Top 10 OLYMPIAN (1995) {*8} album, confirmed them as rightful winners of the NME’s Brat Award for “Best New Act”. Fans found much to savour in the record’s grooves; the vitality of recent singles – though not their earliest few – giving way to a more reflective, downbeat ambience that characterised much of the album. It spawned a further single in the Top 20 title track, whilst the aesthetic and indebted to MORRISSEY/SMITHS-esque cover shot (a still from Ingmar Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal), and songs like `London, Can You Wait?’ et al, gave rise to further rip-off accusations.
Tested further with a re-vamped `For The Dead’ hit from the “Hatful Of Hollow”-forged odds-
and-sods compilation, TO SEE THE LIGHTS (1996) {*7}, GENE were stretching the boundaries to its limits. Still, it proved how much fans were missing The SMITHS, despite the inclusion of re-treads of BACHARACH-DAVID’s `I Say A Little Prayer’ and LENNON-McCARTNEY’s `Don’t Let Me Down’, among radio sessions, live slices and B-sides.
Depending on what side of the pool one eye-balled GENE from, the fist-pumping `Fighting Fit’ and the yearning `We Could Be Kings’ premiered their proper sophomore set, DRAWN TO THE DEEP END (1997) {*6}. It was also produced by former ADAM & THE ANTS cohort Chris Merrick Hughes. A game of two halves, the first was soaked in hits (including killer cuts `Where Are They Now?’ and `Speak To Me Someone’), the second drowned in a frozen tide of melancholy, cliches and reflection.
A busy few years were ahead for perhaps one of Britain’s most underrated groups, and it started with the release of 1999’s peculiar REVELATIONS {*6}. Becoming a father had obviously changed bi-sexual Rossiter’s outlook on things, and on the way he wrote, as most songs on the album consisted of warm melodies, sweeping vocals and poignant lyrics. Although not a patch on the “Olympian” material, tracks such as `The British Disease’, `Mayday’ and singles `As Good As It Gets’ (#23) and `Fill Her Up’ (#36), displayed the band’s ability to compose effective solid songs (helped by the fact Hugh Jones stepped in to produce the Top 30 album).
The following year, GENE packed their bags to play a handful of low-key shows at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, resulting in their debut for Contra Records, RISING FOR SUNSET (2000) {*6}, a recollection of those live dates. The band, as tight as ever, gracefully strolled through tracks such as the aforementioned `London, Can You Wait?’ (accompanied by a horde of sing-a-long Americans), `Where Are They Now?’ and `As Good As It Gets’.
The latter song title was appropriated for the name of GENE’s “Best Of…” package, while later in the year, they issued LIBERTINE (2001) {*6}, a sweeping, string-laden orchestral based set that surprised fans and critics alike with its touch of delicacy. The group cared less for the SMITHS indictments on belated minor hit, `Let Me Move In’ (and others), instead they embraced classic psych in `A Simple Request’, STYLE COUNCIL/JAM-soul on `O Lover’ and cod-reggae for `We’ll Get What We Deserve’.
As the post-millennium climate had turned a tad cold, so too did their once-proud fans. After a show in which they supported MORRISSEY-endorsed acts at the 2004 Meltdown Festival, it was time for GENE to pop back in the bottle; although they’d briefly re-form from time to time. MARTIN ROSSITER would continue as a solo act, noted at least for one studio set so far, THE DEFENESTRATION OF ST. MARTIN (2012) {*6}; tracks reviewed and aired on Jo Whiley’s Radio 2 programme.
In their time as Britpop contenders, GENE covered `Autumn Stone’ (SMALL FACES), `Wasteland’ and `A Town Called Malice’ (The JAM), `Nightswimming’ (R.E.M.) and `Dirty Old Town’ (EWAN MacCOLL), while MARTIN ROSSITER covered `27 Strangers’ (VILLAGERS), `Turn Out The Light’ (Sweet Sweet Lies), `If I Was Your Girlfriend’ (PRINCE) and `Too Little Too Late’ (JoJo).
© MC Strong 1996-2003/GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2016

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