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Swervedriver

Loosely associated with the shoegazer scene, SWERVEDRIVER were lent a bit of crusty credibility via Adam Franklin’s dreadlocks and stoned-versus-grunge vocals, while their music was tighter and more melodic than many of their contemporaries. Sadly, as the 90s came to a close so did the band’s journey. But then, like so many outfits of the day, SWERVEDRIVER re-formed in 2008, even though the frontman (who’d led TOSHACK HIGHWAY in the meantime) was still involved in two other outfits, ADAM FRANKLIN & BOLTS OF MELODY and MAGNETIC MORNING respectively; the latter with INTERPOL drummer Sam Fogarino.
Formed Camden in London, via the city of Oxford, guitarists Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge had first sown the seeds of the band in 1984 when they played in Shake Appeal, alongside Adam’s older brother Graham (vocals) and Paddy Pulzer (drums); bassist Adrian “Adi” Vines was added in 1987, prior to the low-key release of the quintet’s only single, `Gimme Fever’. Inspired by the Detroit City scene of the late 60s (MC5, The STOOGES, et al) and the similar sounds of the nearby British Leyland car factory, a fresh musical identity was needed in an ever-changing music world; this came through listening to newer American acts, mainly on the SST imprint.
Not too happy with Adam being given the added role of lead singer, both Graham and Paddy sought out other musical pursuits, while the drum-kit was placed in the hands of Edinburgh native Graham Bonnar, who upped sticks after leaving post-punk act The Shattered Family.
Naming themselves SWERVEDRIVER, the 4-piece prepared a demo for Mark Gardener (of RIDE), who, in turn, passed it on to his boss at Creation Records, Alan McGee. Highly impressed, the impresario signed them on his return from Los Angeles.
With four songs already brushed up and ready to spin out from the pressing plant, an EP led by `Son Of Mustang Ford’, was unleashed in July 1990. Alongside other cuts, `Volcano Trash’, `Kill The Superheroes’ and `Juggernaut Ride’ (best described as “a chronium-plated of automobile romanticism”), each track was aired on the John Peel Show, while that November, a minor hit EP, `Rave Down’ (b/w `She’s Beside Herself’, `Afterglow’ and `Zedhead’) received adulation from NME journalist and Radio One DJ, Mary Anne Hobbs. When A&M came calling to take on the American side of their contract, there was certainly room for optimism when their third EP on the trot, `Sandblasted’ (b/w `Flawed’, `Out’ and `Laze It Up’), also hit the lower regions of the UK chart.
Featuring all three lead tracks and six others, their debut Top 50 set, RAISE (1991) {*8}, was compared to DINOSAUR JR., MY BLOODY VALENTINE and SONIC YOUTH, however a tour slot in support to The WONDER STUFF raised a few eyebrows and question marks. Basically driving songs that could probably transport one to the moon if need be (best examples `Sci-Flyer’, `Lead Me Where You Dare’ and `Deep Seat’), SWERVEDRIVER were lauded as Britain’s “great white hopes”, even from the metal world! A second Top 75 entry, `Never Lose That Feeling’, was another exclusive release, but things were at times tense.
A subsequent Stateside tour alongside SOUNDGARDEN took its toll and eventually led to Bonnar quitting (he was soon part of BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE); his berth taken by Jez Hindmarsh. The band duly returned home and were soon another man down when Adi decided he couldn’t cope, although SKYSCRAPER were prepared to take him on a number of years later.
A follow-up SWERVEDRIVER album, the well-named MEZCAL HEAD (1993) {*7}, was produced by Alan Moulder, who’d previously worked with the top-rated SMASHING PUMPKINS and the aforesaid RIDE. Unfortunately, his Midas touch didn’t quite work this time around when the record only mustered up a highest position of No.55. Vicious guitar licks and swirling – as ever – vocals and harmonies, the dynamic `Duel’ (expanded from their Top 60 single), `Blowin’ Cool’ and the belatedly-delivered follow-up 45, `Last Train To Satansville’ (its B-side a cover of The VELVET UNDERGROUND’s `Jesus’), bludgeoned through to great effect.
When bassist Steve George was finally elevated to full-time member prior to a one-off 45, `My Zephyr (Sequel)’, for Flower Shop Records (in 1994), the delay of their third album EJECTOR SEAT RESERVATION {*7} caused them much consternation. Pushed back a whole year until July 1995 by the overwrought executive producers at A&M, the group’s frustration led to a complete communication breakdown and an inevitable exit, while back home at Creation Records they were shown the door after the set failed to register a chart position. That aside, the album’s horizontal muse could well be what irked their bosses, the other reason the obvious reference to BACHARACH & DAVID’s “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” on `How Does It Feel To Look Like Candy?’. If titles made good songs, then `Bring Me The Head Of The Fortune Teller’, `Son Of Jaguar `E’’ and the glam-rock title track could’ve been candidates, but it was in `The Birds’ and the flop 45 `Last Day On Earth’ that emphasised the grace and danger of this set.
Cast out into the big wide world of underachievers, 1997 re-addressed their lack of backers when three different ones sanctioned singles: `Why Say Yeah’ (for Echostatic; but split with Sophia), a cover of The WHO’s `Magic Bus’ (left in the can by A&M in Britain; split with The Happy Campers) and `93 Million Miles From The Sun (…And Counting)’ (for the Sessions imprint). In the midst of all this productivity, Franklin and Co were again shunned by their new masters at Geffen Records; the sacking of their A&R representative prompting the cold decision to shelve the release of their fourth album.
Thankfully, with a few tweaks here and there, New York indie Zero Hour were only too happy to push out 99th DREAM {*6} the following February (1998), but by missing out of essential timing and promotion, SWERVEDRIVER couldn’t claw back their days in limbo. Bolstered by the independent success of their `Space Travel Rock’n’Roll’ EP (which also featured the lead-off title track), the British release came courtesy of Sonic Wave Discs. Unashamedly softer and lilting in places (described as ARTHUR LEE fronting The BEATLES), other highlights included `Up From The Sea’, `Expressway’ and swansong single `Wrong Treats’; the latter’s B-side had a cover of T. REX’s `Chateau In Virginia Waters’.
Possibly one of the unluckiest indie bands of the 90s, SWERVEDRIVER once again found themselves knee-deep in shark-infested waters, their fates sealed and their moments in history almost wiped clean.
As previously stated, Adam seemed to be the only member active on the ground; TOSHACK HIGHWAY (named after the two-pronged Liverpool F.C. attack force from the 70s) delivering an eponymous set in 2000, and a split EP under one of his other nom de plumes, `Magnetic Morning’ (2003). Dropping out in 2006, the following years saw ADAM FRANKLIN & BOLTS OF MELODY fire in a string of sets: `Bolts Of Melody’ (2007), the solo `Spent Bullets’ (2009), `I Could Sleep For A Thousand Years’ (2010), `Drones & Clones’ (2013) and `Black Horses’ (2013).
SWERVEDRIVER were back on course for a reunion tour of North America from April to June 2008 (`The Hitcher’ single was issued to coincide), while an expectant Britain let them parade their wears not long afterwards. First casualty was Hindmarsh, whose place was filled briefly in 2011 by the returning Bonnar. Other outsider commitments led to Bonnar moving over for former Bolts Of Melody drummer/percussionist Mikey Jones. Three years on and the motor was still running for SWERVEDRIVER, the only problem was that they’d material raring to fly but no record label. Where had we heard this one before?
In the meantime, their first single for six years, `Deep Wound’ (coincidentally, the embryonic moniker of DINOSAUR JR.), popped up on the small TYM label in the States. Another taster from their long-awaited comeback album, `Setting Sun’ (b/w a re-tread of TELEVISION’s `Days’) was released in the fall of 2014 by US sponsors Cobraside, while the set itself, I WASN’T BORN TO LOSE YOU (2015) {*7} – also released in Britain by twilight label Cherry Red – revived the group in one fell swoop.
Shoegazer sounds were still circulating through the airwaves one way or another under various guises, so the 17-year absence of one its progenitors was hardly likely to prove stuffy. Probably with two fingers pointing in the air to their former masters A&M, Creation and Geffen, the record received high praise from even the NME, who were content to endorse, for once, an old-hat genre or band from the 90s. Franklin’s sunny-day drive-bys and the sweet smell of Californian beaches were spread thickly on the set’s other dream-pop beauts, `Autodidact’, `Last Rites’ and `Everso’, and, who knows what wil prevail for this group who hadn’t lost their mojo despite breaking a few mirrors.
© MC Strong 1996-2003/GRD // rev-up MCS Mar2015

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