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Idlewild

An indie-rawk institution in their native Scotland (and the UK in general), despite having relatively limited appeal on foreign shores, IDLEWILD were probably their country’s answer to FUGAZI, or even PAVEMENT at a push. Several hit albums down the line and a raft of equally brief chart-piercing 45s, frontman Roddy Woomble and Co modulate and see-saw between angular and edgy post-grunge or brooding, bittersweet ballads.
Formed December 1995 on a night out in Edinburgh, singer Roddy Woomble and drummer Colin Newton found they’d a penchant for US-based noise veterans, while the softer aspect of Roddy’s songwriting brought about their moniker – its title referring to the quiet retreat in the book, Anne Of Green Gables. The night on the tiles also yielded its two other band alumni in guitarist Rod Jones and bassist Phil Scanlon, while only a month later (mid-January to be exact), IDLEWILD played their inaugural gig at the capital’s Subway Club.
The erstwhile students whittled away their revision time with ramshackle rehearsals, eventually channelling their frustrations into a debut single, `Queen Of The Troubled Teens’. Famously financed by a student loan (and issued on producer Jamie Watson’s Human Condition imprint), the track was championed by Radio One’s Steve Lamacq, the DJ duly rescuing the teenagers from eternal toilet gig hell and setting in motion the mechanics of A&R overload. A follow-up `Chandelier’ single appeared on the Fierce Panda outlet, while an acclaimed Paul Tipler-produced mini-album for Deceptive Records, CAPTAIN {*6}, kick-started ’98; with attendant 45, `Satan Polaroid’, the 6-track EP became their final, fully-fledged indie releases prior to a deal with Food/EMI.
Somewhere along the way, the band swapped Scanlon for Bob Fairfoull, and began to coax some melancholic tunefulness from the blizzard of sound and fury that characterised their youthful approach. `A Film For The Future’ announced their major label arrival in fittingly convulsive style, the first of many minor hits which have cemented the band’s reputation as one of Scotland’s most talked about and possibly most dedicated sonic abusers. Their highly anticipated first album proper, HOPE IS IMPORTANT (1998) {*7}, reached No.53, and the band’s steady rise proved that noisy guitars had never gone out of fashion; e.g. their respective sales-ascending 45s, `Everyone Says You’re So Fragile’, `I’m A Message’ and the Top 20, `When I Argue I See Shapes’.
By its name alone, 100 BROKEN WINDOWS (2000) {*8}, might’ve been a purveyor of noise – perhaps, but surprisingly enough, the quartet turned the screeching guitars down for this commercially orientated release. Third spawn, `These Wooden Ideas’, unveiled another slightly stylish side to the band that was as bright as its subject matter; `Roseability’ paid homage to poet, Gertrude Stein. Still, with its angular edge intact `Little Discourage’ found IDLEWILD adopting an R.E.M.-esque style (c.1995), while a new-found maturity in the use of melody over mind-fuck – this set could make ears bleed if played at the correct volume – was in evidence on `Actually It’s Darkness’ (another Top 30 hit) and `Idea Track’.
IDLEWILD further toned it down for their next release, the bleakly entitled THE REMOTE PART (2002) {*8}, a Top 3 album which flirted with a lot of influences; examples stemmed from the Top 10, Britpop-inspired anthem, `You Held The World In Your Arms’, to the punk-y R.E.M. “Murmur”-era led `American English’. The same formula – as witnessed on their previous LP – remained with `I Never Wanted’, a soft, heartfelt acoustic number penned by Woomble, Jeremy Mills and soon-to-be member Allan Stewart. While further Top 30 fruits came by way of `Live In A Hiding Place’ and `A Modern Way Of Letting Go’, highbrow stuff found its way into the mix on a bit of poetry by Edwin Morgan for finale medley segue, `Scottish Fiction’. In such a short space of time, IDLEWILD had become Scotland’s hottest property premier rock bands – recognition they’d been striving for since their musical birth.
Holing up in the Highlands, the group expanded to a quintet, although without DEGRASSI-bound Fairfoull, who was replaced by both Gavin Fox and guitarist Allan Stewart. IDLEWILD spent much of 2004 crafting 4th set, WARNINGS / PROMISES (2005) {*7}, a rootsier record which went Top 10 nevertheless, and spawned three hits, `Love Steals Us From Loneliness’, `I Understand It’ and `El Capitan’. On an even folkier note, RODDY WOOMBLE busied himself with a solo project following an amicable parting of the ways with Parlophone Records. “My Secret Is My Silence” was a long way from his IDLEWILD trappings, while it marked the first in a series of sets that kept him in this folky field.
Sanctuary Records (through Sequel) were only too happy to draw in IDLEWILD for the band’s follow-up set, MAKE ANOTHER WORLD (2007) {*6}. The 5-piece had made a conscious decision to turn up the volume for a “loud” record. Produced by stalwart Dave Eringa, and introducing ex-ASTRID bassist Gareth Russell (for Fox), sales were unsurprisingly down, while attendant singles `If It Takes You Home’ and `No Emotion’ (although Top 40), virtually stiffed.
With a “Hope Is Important” re-vamp tour from the previous year, and Sanctuary/Sequel going down the Suwannee River, Cooking Vinyl Records made available IDLEWILD’s sixth set, POST ELECTRIC BLUES {*7}. Although originally self-released to their loyal fanbase (numbering 3000), and performed in its entirety at Dingwall’s in London, the record’s glowing transitional tracks shined courtesy of Celtic-roots-like cuts, `Younger Than America’, `Readers & Writers’ and the romantic/reflective, `Take Me Back To The Islands’. In just over a decade, IDLEWILD had managed to come full circle like some modern-day WATERBOYS – a group also from Edinburgh, incidentally.
Over the course of these times, the Idles have covered: `When The Ship Comes In’ (BOB DYLAN), `Rescue’ (ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN), `Everything Flows’ (TEENAGE FANCLUB), `I Found That Essence Rare’ (GANG OF FOUR), `Winter Is Blue’ (VASHTI BUNYAN) and `Lookin’ For A Love’ (NEIL YOUNG).
While IDLEWILD were taking a long, hard-earned rest from the limelight, both WOOMBLE and Jones had been busy with side-projects, the former in his folk capacity, and the latter as journeyman with The FRUIT TREE FOUNDATION (a mental health charity group/band) plus The BIRTHDAY SUIT; all combos releasing albums.
Just over half a decade since IDLEWILD came forth from out of their er… Highland retreats, album eight EVERYTHING EVER WRITTEN (2015) {*8} sparked renewed interest in the band. Roping in Lucci Rossi (keyboards) and Andrew Mitchell (bass/guitar) to compensate for the departure a year earlier of Messrs Stewart and Russell, the reconvened Top 20 quintet rake West Coast America for melody and inspiration. Sprawling, yes, but in a sense willing to explore avenues such as power-pop (`Collect Yourself’), country/folk-rock (`Come On Ghost’), classic-rock wig-outs (`(Use It) If You Can Use It’), among others, Woomble, Jones and Co create something memorable rather than just throwaway rawk-pop. Worth listening to a number of times to perfectly gauge the all-new, coming-in-from-the-cold IDLEWILD.
© MC Strong 2000-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2013-Feb2015

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