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Luke Haines

+ {The Auteurs} + {Baader Meinhof} + {Black Box Recorder} + {The North Sea Scrolls}

Fascinated by all things celebrity and glam, the po-faced and stroppy LUKE HAINES has had more than his fair share of the limelight since his days as butler-musician to David Westlake in 80s indie combo The SERVANTS. Best-known for his stardust-to-dust stretch in the 90s as brainchild of glossy-garage Britpop outsiders The AUTEURS, the cynical HAINES subsequently carved up further flamboyant escapades in BAADER MEINHOF, BLACK BOX RECORDER and a raft of solo albums; and who could forget his one-off “trial” in 2012 with Irishman CATHAL COUGHLAN as The NORTH SEA SCROLLS? Everybody, but the already initiated, it seemed!
God loves a trier, and English gent LUKE HAINES – to many a “Godlike Genius”, to others a “classically-trained pianist” – had the marmite effect on a buying public who’d room for only two brooding Britpop braggarts… OASIS.
Born 7 October 1967 in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, the man that would be Britpop king, LUKE HAINES, instigated tips-for-the-top The AUTEURS in Southgate, London, in early 1992, augmented by then-girlfriend Alice Readman on bass (also ex-SERVANTS, albeit in dribs and drabs) and drummer Glenn Collins (ex-Dog Unit, ex-Vort Pylon). Whether there was any truth to the rumour they’d signed to Fire Records, it was almost immediately dispelled when Virgin Records offshoot, Hut, lodged more than an interest after being given obvious pointers by the much-impressed NME.
Described as a latter-day RAY DAVIES, or by The FALL’s Mark E. Smith as “alright, but a bit STEELY DAN”(!), indie chart-surfing was kicked into gear with inaugural single, `Showgirl’. The subsequent addition of cellist, James Banbury – at first only as an auxiliary – produced an extra dimension to the standard guitar/bass/drums approach on The AUTEURS debut album, NEW WAVE (1993) {*7}. With a sound characterised by the barbed and aching lyrical complexities of yer man Luke, encouraging critical reception was matched by a Top 40 placing and a nomination for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize. Although missing another “Showgirl” (the opening track here), the record offered a third-person insight into the cryptic and irony-fuelled world of Mr. Haines. Mistrust, cynicism and revenge all played their part in tracks, `Starstruck’, `Junk Shop Clothes’, `American Guitars’ et al, although when the SUEDE-esque `How Could I Be Wrong’, failed to generate singles success, maybe the hype had come unstuck underneath all the media greasepaint.
Much was made of Luke’s fallout with Matt Johnson while supporting THE THE on a UK tour, and while The AUTEURS were duly given short-shrift by their headliners, it was hardly a time for Haines to be alienating his already-established peers. Not counting acoustic sides for the Rough Trade Singles Club (twining LP tracks, `Housebreaker’ and `Valet Parking’), the quartet’s third 45, `Lenny Valentino’, stalled one place outside the Top 40; relating to Luke’s “Rudolph Valentino” attire depicted on their aforementioned set’s cover shot, comedian Lenny Bruce added to the taciturn singer’s fascination with the silent star.
Another favoured subject of the controversial frontman was the unfair British societal system, `The Upper Class’ one of many preoccupations on the band’s Top 30 follow-up set, NOW I’M A COWBOY (1994) {*8}. Collins had now made way for Barney C. Rockford (ex-OUT OF MY HAIR), while with Banbury elevated to full-time member, The AUTEURS musical range was allowed to stretch outside the barriers laid down by Britpop. While they tweaked at glam-rock retro-ism, killer indie-pop dirges such as `New French Girlfriend’, `A Sister Like You’, `I’m A Rich Man’s Toy’, the very THE THE-like `Underground Movies’ and second Top 50 single, `Chinese Bakery’, injected star-appeal asides usual suspects BLUR and PULP; and with OASIS waiting in the wings, insecurity and commercial fruits continued to outweigh their London-centric critical appeal. And it was hardly a time for a remix set, THE AUTEURS VS U-ZIQ (1994) {*5}, while that long-awaited difficult third album (AFTER MURDER PARK {*7}) materialised in 1996 when Britpop sucker was already suffering under a maelstrom of post-grunge “American Guitar” acts.
Coincidentally produced by the ubiquitous Steve Albini, this atmospheric offering combined Luke’s downbeat tales of intrigue, with grinding organs, discordant guitars and mournful strings to often hypnotic effect. Stalling at No.53, and of course as ever AWOL from the American charts, the singer/guitarist/pianist had taken brave attempts at writing the wrongs by verse on controversial subjects by way of `Child Brides’, `Unsolved Child Murders’ and the minor hit, `Light Aircraft On Fire’.
Despite garnering further plaudits and, after a clutch of final gigs, Haines wound up the band, subsequently releasing an album under the pseudonymous moniker of BAADER MEINHOF (1996) {*5} – first mentioned on the previous set’s bleak `Tombstone’ track. Shockingly named after the German terrorists and augmented by low-key affiliates James Banbury and Andy Nice (cellos), Justin Armitage (violin), Kuljit Bhamra (percussion/ tablas) and Gary Strasbourg (drums), the self-indulgent mind-set of Haines proved pretentious to the max. If the quality of the songs had over-compensated (the title track among the best-in-show alongside `There’s Gonna Be An Accident’), then maybe there was indeed an excuse for literally detaching many of his acolytes.
Duly taking rest-bite, 1998 saw Luke team up in the more melodic BLACK BOX RECORDER, with two former members of folkies, Balloon, co-scriber John Moore (ex-Expressway/JESUS & MARY CHAIN drummer) and John’s then-girlfriend, Sarah Nixey. Signing a major deal with Chrysalis Records, it was indeed a different but still sardonic Haines that took a relatively shying backseat to let singer sultry Sarah take most of the spotlight on debut, ENGLAND MADE ME {*7}. But in terms of critical and commercial returns, Luke had put even more space between himself a disillusioned and confused public. Neither of the accompanying gloomy, sad-sack singles, `Child Psychology’ (banned by the BBC) and the title track (its B-side a cover of The Dodgems’ `Lord Lucan Is Missing’) would return the moody mainman to earlier heights. A FLYING LIZARDS-meets-SAINT ETIENNE type version of ALTHEA & DONNA’s `Uptown Top Ranking’ (or for that matter, a bonus re-“wimp” of JACQUES BREL’s `Seasons In The Sun’), had to be heard to be believed.
Implored by Hut Records to stretch out The AUTEURS curriculum vitae by one further effort, Haines discarding previous projects to reincarnate his old outfit with Readman, Rockford and Banbury. 1999’s comeback set, HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE THE BOOTBOYS {*6} included their nostalgic look back to 70s glam-rock in the shape of minor hit single, `The Rubettes’ (extracting bits from the yukky “Sugar Baby Love”), `Your Gang, Our Gang’ (fusing a soon-to-be disgraced GARY GLITTER with “Grease”) and er… `1967’ and `Johnny And The Hurricanes’.
The turn of the millennium saw the return of BLACK BOX RECORDER again; THE FACTS OF LIFE (2000) {*7} hitting the Top 40 after its title track made it all the way into the Top 20. A well-received comeback for Nude Records shimmered with SAINT ETIENNE-esque riffs along with jazzy piano trills that would be more at home in a 50s noir film, even a second 45, `The Art Of Driving’ (complete with its BOWIE B-side, `Rock’n’Roll Suicide’), hit the charts.
The ever prolific LUKE HAINES set about creating his own solo sojourn on two albums released almost simultaneously: the soundtrack to CHRISTIE MALRY’S OWN DOUBLE ENTRY (2001) {*6} and THE OLIVER TWIST MANIFESTO {*7} were enterprising to say the least. The former was based on a novel by B.S. Johnson, while the latter veered towards a slightly more electronic sound with HAINES’ predictable angst directed at wrong-doers all over the world. Surely not!
Given the oft-missed sub-title, “(Or) What’s Wrong With Popular Culture”, the OTM set enlisted a chamber-pop string posse (including Banbury) and a drummer (Tim Weller) to enhance this enterprising project of sorts. From its first lines on `Rock’n’Roll Communique No.1’: “Don’t expect me to entertain you any more than you could entertain me”, at least HAINES was prepared for any “Luke”-warm response to his usual sneer at the globe. In `Christ’, `England Vs. America’, `The Death Of Sarah Lucas’ (a modern artist still living and in vogue!) and `What Happens When We Die’, fans had plenty to mull over and discover.
At first glance, HAINES was an unlikely candidate to be given such a high-profile film soundtrack commission, although the man really seemed at ease, taking song compositions rather than contemplating a film “score” proper. Also a highlight from the OTM set, `Discomania’ (with opening line: “They’re having sex to the Kids In America” – a reference to the KIM WILDE hit) set the tone nicely, a very PULP-meets-PET SHOP BOYS piece. The usually nasty HAINES got all squeaky clean and festive for the hymnal, `In The Bleak Midwinter’ (accompanied by the Winchester Cathedral Choir), a song both effective and spiritual nevertheless.
`How To Hate The Working Class’ carried all the hallmarks of a modern-day classic, highlighting the clever phrasing of Luke’s lyrics, in particular when he gets down to “I need a holiday in Heaven” and “Let’s start a party of our own”. A different class, indeed. The similarly-themed instrumental, `The Ledger’, fitted the film like a glove, as did follow-on piece, `Bernie’s Funeral – Auto Asphixiation’. Track 6, `Discomaniax’, was given the moody, orchestral/string treatment, a treatment less bombastic than the opening cut. The ENO-esque `Alchemy’ was probably his closest stab at typical film music, while the haunting `Art Will Save The World’ (held up banner-like by HAINES on the cover) was also of that ilk.
HAINES’ disruptive and cynical being got into full flow via his fuzz terrorist re-working of NICK LOWE’s `I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass’. A masterstroke indeed. Another barbed lullaby, `England, Scotland, Wales’ (a national anthem of sorts!?) name-checked Winston Churchill and George Orwell, while managing to keep a beat similar to VISAGE’s early-80s gem, `Fade To Grey’. The contrasting and thematic `Celestial Discomania’ and the upbeat rave mix of `Essexmania’ close out the album in perfect post-millennium aplomb.
Probably elongating the BLACK BOX RECORDER one album too far with PASSIONOIA (2003) {*6}, One Little Indian Records were the third imprint to expect returns from the dextrous trio. Featuring a tongue-in-cheek sleeve-shot of a lifeless body floating in a pool (recently the British tabloids had covered a conflicting story involving the death of a homosexual man at TV celeb Michael Barrymore’s house party), Luke, John and then-wife Sarah Nixey had not lost their sense of provocation that had endeared critics to their cynical nature a few years back. A full-blown dream/dance-pop record in many respects, rather than just observational indie, SAINT ETIENNE’s wicked stepsister best described English culture-themed dirges, `The New Diana’ (the effect of our post-death Princess on paparazzi-baiting uber-models), `Andrew Ridgley’ (the forgotten half of WHAM!) and what would always allude BBR: `Being Number One’.
Wrongly passed off as a compilation set with a twist, 2003’s DAS CAPITAL: The Songwriting Genius Of Luke Haines And The Auteurs {*7}, was in fact a fresh recording with the singer/multi-instrumentalist’s revised chamber-pop backing band. A prize trophy for the majority of listeners, the recordings stripped away the fancy neo-glam-rock veneer of each song in turn and, as a result, stretched new life and hidden possibilities for `Future Generation’, `Satan Wants Me’, `Starstruck’ and their once-great 45s.
After pronouncing “Luke Haines Is Dead” on a career-spanning retrospective boxed set in 2005, many pundits had thought the balding, designer-bearded Londoner was suggesting retirement as more than just an option. However, the man-in-white was back in the swing of things for OFF MY ROCKER AT THE ART SCHOOL BOP (2006) {*7}. Showing he’d lost none of his sardonic celebrity sleight-of-hand, albeit in suave and sophisticated aplomb, `Leeds United’, `Freddie Mills Is Dead’ and `Bad Reputation (The Glitter Band)’, were targets addressed this time around.
By 2009’s set for Fantastic Plastic Records, 21st CENTURY MAN (2009) {*7}, a record poking a bit of futile fun at VAN DER GRAAF’s `Peter Hammill’, German film icon `Klaus Kinski’, and on the dubious sleeve – one surmises – SCOTT WALKER, Luke held no barriers for celebrity; for lucky record-buyers, a double-CD was packaged with the “Achtung Mother” free set.
Having published his own memoirs by way of Bad Vibes: Britpop And My Part In Its Downfall, and treated to author Tim Mitchell’s autobiographical insight: Truth And Lies In Murder Park: A Book About Mr. Luke Haines, the camera obscura was turned back on the singer.
Further tales, memoir-style, were unearthed on 2011’s Post Everything: Outsider Rock And Roll, while preceding a film documentary (Art Will Save The World) in paean to the man, 9 ½ PSYCHEDELIC MEDITATIONS ON BRITISH WRESTLING OF THE 1970s AND EARLY ‘80s (2011) {*6} made a certain JULIAN COPE seem almost sane.
After another flight-of-fancy in THE NORTH SEA SCROLLS (2012) {*6} – a psychedelic, fictional fun-folk “live” concept narrated by Andrew Mueller with FATIMA MANSIONS’ Cathal Coughlan also at the wheel – 50-something singer-songwriter HAINES was at least trying his hand at something completely different, albeit without the Monty Python-esque effect.
Settling down at alt-punk twilight home, Cherry Red Records (who’d signed everyone from The FALL and BIG COUNTRY to The BLOW MONKEYS), ROCK AND ROLL ANIMALS (2013) {*7} put his mischievous idolatry to the test. Another idiosyncratic concept set, more or less in awe of Beatrix Potter, this time involving a fox (punk JIMMY PURSEY), a wise old cat (the ultra-cool GENE VINCENT) and a badger (NICK LOWE; in lieu of his bonnet no doubt), HAINES had either “lost-it” big time or there was more to his harmless tongue-in-bum-cheek humour. What the mighty Sweet Gene might’ve made of the set had he been living was one factor, but with the former SHAM 69 punk-rocker and a new wave legend still of this world undisclosed, Luke’s future limitations seemed boundless and too ridiculous to imagine. Still, if one stripped away all the nonsense, the ROGER WATERS-esque “Passion Play of sorts” was enhanced by the title track, `Three Frenz’, plus respective idol odes, `From Hersham To Heaven’, `Gene Vincent (Rock’n’Roll Mums And Rock’n’Roll Dads)’ and `A Badger Called Nick Lowe’.
NEW YORK IN THE ‘70S (2014) {*7} was exactly what it said on the tin, singer-songwriter HAINES’ re-imagining the Big Apple when the CBGBs played host to the punk and new wave scene. Here he swoons over his classic idols by way of `Alan Vega Says’, `Drone City’ (also cloning SUICIDE), `Jim Carroll’, `Dolls Forever’ and `Lou Reed, Lou Reed’, the latter pastiche timed to perfection for the tribute trade. Sex and drugs and rock and roll, the seedy side of the city is recycled and celebrated here by a man who once boasted “England Made Me”.
Yet another concept, `Adventures In Dementia: A Micro Opera’ (2015), a 6-track EP/mini-set dealing this time with a Mark E. Smith impersonator fictitiously crashing his caravan into skinhead Ian Stuart’s car (he of Nazi punks SKREWDRIVER), one was initially hooked. Running in at under 15 minutes, it’s way short of a conventional album, but not short of ideas and characters; Peter Cook and Baddiel & Skinner get a nod. From `Caravan Man’ to the title track, HAINES’ skewered vision will be recognised by his fanbase, but Johnny Foreigner might have to fork out spondulics for an indie music map.
Defined by its “Maximum Electronic Rock N Roll” sticker on its sleeve, 2015’s half-hour exploration of industrial/krautrock on BRITISH NUCLEAR BUNKERS {*7} was HAINES at his paranoid, playful best/worse (delete as appropriate). The final chapter – hopefully! – to his psych-folk trilogy, here he examined the London capital under a post-apocalyptic blast. Armed with his own arsenal of explosive analogue sounds (provided by The Cat – his mono/duophonic Octave-designed metal machine), the woofers and tweeters were turned to an annoying, glitch-y 11 on the ducking-and-diving `Bunker Funker’, `Camden Borough Council’, the Mark E. Smith-cloned `Mama Check The Radar At The Dada Station’ and the KRAFTWERK-like title track. Take cover immediately.
Tagged as his first non-concept album in six years, LUKE HAINES’ SMASH THE SYSTEM (2016) {*7} also managed to name-check a dearth of pop culture, political and cinematic renegades. From `Black Bunny (I’m Not Vince Taylor)’, `Marc Bolan Blues’ and the back-handed homage to `The Incredible String Band’, to the mad-box re-stirring of `Ulrike Meinhof’s Brain Is Missing’ and `Bruce Lee, Roman Polanski And Me’, the noodling/needling “Cosmic Man” columnist was never short of running up a hornet nest’s of rumblings for Cherry Red Records to run their thumb over. Concluding the set with the Floydian/Freudian `Are You Mad?’, anyone who could fit in darts icons Eric Bristow and Bobby George to his lyrics was cool by anyone’s standards.
In a different direction, magazine Electronic Sound (issue 24) presented the meta concept that was the 10-track FREQS (2016) {*5}, utilising his trademarked frequency 43 Hertz.
Apparently in awe of Airfix model kits and metal soldiers (i.e. `The Subbuteo Lads’ et al) in a surrealistic under-the-bed playground of Lilliputian proportions, than recalling inhaling airbags of certain substances (one imagines), Luke’s I SOMETIMES DREAM OF GLUE (2018) {*7} had its roots in some irreverent third-party childhood. The binding concept that breezed through HAINES’ unadulterated mind-set was a tad disturbing, if not surprising, but one could almost hear a hybrid of pagan-folk (CURRENT 93 et al) and PINK FLOYD’s “The Final Cut” on the short-and-sweet, sardonic ditties from `Angry Man On Small Train’ to `We Could Do It’ (via `Solvents Cure The Ego’ and `Everything’s Coming Together For The Summer’). Any music fan with intolerance to “Glue Town” should avoid Luke’s literary world unequivocally.
Linked in cosmic spirit, at least, by ROBYN HITCHCOCK (whom the acerbic Luke admired from afar), former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck was lured into HAINES’ lair for the hands-across-the-ocean indie rock collaboration of BEAT POETRY FOR SURVIVALISTS (2020) {*7} – a poignant title under the current climate. And augmented by Peter’s pal Scott McCaughey (of The YOUNG FRESH FELLOWS, The MINUS 5 et al) on keyboards/bass, and Linda Pitmon (of STEVE WYNN’s Miracle 3) on drums, what this pair made of the former AUTEURS man’s counter-culture revelry was anybody’s guess. Then again, Buck-Haines ditties like `Andy Warhol Was Not Kind’, `The Last Of The Legendary Bigfoot Hunters’, `Apocalypse Beach’ (a radio station that just plays DONOVAN Leitch) and possibly `Jack Parsons’ (the occultist rocket scientist no less), pitched perfectly the pair’s diverse delights.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS // rev-up MCS Jun2014-Mar2020

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