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Idiot Son - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 24 / 9 / 2004

Idiot Son - Interview


Idiot Son have just released one of the small indie albums of the year with the melancholic and thoughtful 'Lummox'. Frontman Andy Thompson talks to John Clarkson about the album and why the London roots of the band have proved so important

Like most stereotypes, the concept of the underacknowledged musician pummeling night after night at his art is not entirely without grounding. Andy Thompson has been there and done all that. He has hung around with his band mates in practice rooms and garages. He has recorded demos, and he has grabbed at whatever opportunities to play gigs that he can. Over the course of the last 20 years, he has played with many different bands, including punk groups, political pop outfits and jazz acts, but while his passion for making music after two decades remains undiminished, he, however, now adopts a different course. His current group, Idiot Son, only meet up occasionally. They play together even less, an average of just three shows a year. It took them until 2000, two years after they first got together, before they put out ‘Sunflowers’, their first and to date only single, and it has taken them another four years since then to release their debut album, ‘Lummox’. Thompson says on Idiot Son’s website www.idiotson.net that the recording of the album took so long, a duration of three years, that the album’s producer, Tom Aitkenhead, who married during its making, didn’t even know his wife when production on it began. Progress has undoubtedly been slow, but it has been rewarded with rich dividends. The equally gently-paced and unhurried ‘Lummox’, which has been released on the band’s own Poppycock label, is one of the best small indie releases of the year. Thompson’s shimmering, solitary acoustic guitar starts and ends most of its eight songs. In between the other four members of Idiot Son-cellist Jonathan Brigden, guitarist Bob Broadley, bassist Chris Taylor and drummer Mark Lloyd- have created a hazily lush and melancholic sound. The Trash Can Can Sinatras, Aztec Camera and the Blue Nile are all acknowledged references. ‘Lummox’, however, is far more than simply a mere imitation of some of Thompson’s favourite bands. It is very much its own record, both in its semi-orchestral arrangements, which at various points on the album are swelled further with guest appearances from strings sections and trumpet and French horn players, and also in Thompson’s wry vocals which paint a wistfully grey picture of London and tell of a series of lives and loves that have failed to work out. “In my early years I played with bands that did live in each other’s pockets” reflects Thompson who was brought up twenty miles East of Leicester in the small Midlands village of Empingham, but who moved to London in 1989. “It was good in a way, but that was with very provincial acts before I came to London. We had very little else to do, so we were with each other a lot. In London everyone has more things going on, and it is a lot harder to meet up the whole time. A lot of people comes to London for the sole purpose of spreading themselves around, whereas if you’re living in the countryside and you just happen to form a band with friends it is far easier to have that culture of being with each other more hours than not.” Idiot Son first began when Thompson put up a poster in the Royal College of Music inviting similarly-minded individuals to join him in forming an “acousticpopjazzything.” Thompson had previously spent time fronting Fetch, a cod jazz outfit, which, when it began to shed its members, he converted into an acoustic solo project. “Fetch had run its course” Thompson recalls. “We had done all the London small venues. I wasn’t ultimately happy with what I was doing at the time, so I took a little time off, and then gradually felt the need to go back out with an acoustic guitar again, and played a lot of places like the Troubadour Club where you can turn up with your guitar and do a couple of numbers. That is probably the hardest thing I have ever done because I have always kind of hidden behind the rest of the band. I don’t see myself as the particulary musical one in any project. I usually have people around me to do it for me, but from that I gained some more confidence. I started writing again and thought ‘Let’s see whose around’ and decided to put a new band together.” "Jon, the cellist, was the first one to answer the advert. In fact he was the only one to answer the advert, and fortunately he put me in touch with Bob, the guitarist, and Mark, the drummer. They had known each other from before, and had been at college together.” Most of the members of Idiot Son play in other groups as well. or have other associations with music. Bob Broadley is currenly studying at the Royal Academy of Music. He fronts as well his own group, the Bob Broadley Quintet, in which Mark Lloyd also plays drums. Jonathan Brigden, who is classically-trained, runs his own small music management company and session agency as a day job. Thompson meanwhile plays drums with theatrical jazz pop outifit Copenhagen, whose second album ‘Sweet Dreams...’ is due out in October, and also does session work with Port Friendly, a Danish art-rock duo. The Canadian-born Chris Taylor plays in indie band Citrus with his twin brother. He is also again a session musician with Port Friendly, and was recruited by Thompson into Idiot Son when they both backed the duo at a London show. “I think that the reason why Idiot Son has had such longevity is that we don’t see each other on that regular a basis” says Thompson. “ We certainly don’t over work ourselves. There is no real pressure and when we do get together we really enjoy it. What happens with the song writing for Idiot Son is that I will have the initial concept and probably put the bass and the guitar together and then I’ll bring Bob in and he’ll put his bit on the top. The others will then add their contributions later. I am fortunate to have three people in the band, Bob, Mark and Jon, who actually write music, because I am very slow in that respect. I have every faith in them, and seeing them put the flesh on the songs can be really beautiful.” London serves as the backdrop for almost all the songs on ‘Lummox’. The opening song, ‘Buttercross’, tells of a former girlfriend of Thompson’s, who leaves her boyfriend for an older man only to find herself in turn dumped for someone else. It also charters in parallel her and Thompson’s own continued rocky friendship as he weaves a path through his adopted city, flat-flitting in Camberwell, Hampstead Hill, Loughborough Junction, Kensington and Portobello, and moves on from location to location. (“Kensington, I confess I had a peak under your dress/Came to call and stayed too long”). The unfortunate protagonist of ‘Camomile Street’ loses self-belief and then his relationship becomes strained while, as his partner thrives under the humdrum of city life, he instead falls victim to it (“I can trust myself to get you down”). The equally hapless narrator of ‘The Long Run’ is forced into accepting his ex is better off with her new love (“You were always better than the crowd in which you run”). The again autobiographical ‘The Daily Grind’ meanwhile tells of Thompson’s relationship with an over-achieving school friend, a pattern which is continued as they both grow up and settle into the monotony and routine of work and early middle age (“I would pale/You would shine/I would pale/You would shine”). “I think that everyone in London must have a London song in them somewhere” says Thompson thoughtfully. “I have lived in places all over North London and now I am a devotee of the South of the river and live in Brixton and am happy there. I have this love/hate thing with London. I am not really a great socialiser, but at the same time I need the interaction with people, and I need to be around them and to witness them. I will quite happily sit in the pub on my own with a beer and just watch. That’s what you have in London. You have got more stories than you could ever tell. You just draw on things, and in that sense it is a London album as most of it has been written while I have been living in London.” Only the last track, ‘Summerhouse’, breaks out of the metropolis. Partially inspired by Thailand where Thompson has spent a lot of time, and written when he was still with Fetch, it tells of an old man, who, rather than wait for his body to break down, kills himself by walking calmly into the sea. While its subject matter is bleak, the character of the old man has a harmony with the world and nature that does noty exist for the other characters on ‘Lummox’. Removed from the turmoil of the city, the song points at a softer, kinder version of reality. “The vision I have of that song is of someone who is living in a little pebble-dash, fishing cottage, being ignored by all the locals because he has been there for generation after generation” Thompson enthuses. “People see it as a sad song. especially the last verses which are basically about the character giving himself up to the waves, but at the same time he has reached a perfect point in his life where he thinks 'Well, this is it. I’m quite happy to go now. Thank you very much'. He has found happiness and piece within, and before his body claps out entirely, he decides it better to walk into the sea, and to just let the water pour over him.” “I honestly thought that maybe recording this album would be maybe the final ferrreting out of music” he continues laughing. “ I thought that this would be it, the final exit for me as well, but then a week after I had commited these songs to tape and come out of the studio I had written another album. Then I didn’t write another song for three or four months. I tend to write in fits and starts. At one point I took nine months off. I had finished one job. I thought ‘Now that I have finished my day time job, I am going to concentrate on making this happen.’ And for nine months I didn’t write a song. I haven’t written a song now for a couple of months, but I know that one day I am just going to pick up the guitar again and I will.” ‘Lummox’ has been earning good reviews since it came out at the end of August. It has received airplay on BBC’s Radio 2 , and the group also recently completed a session for Radio 6. With enough material now for a second album, Thompson plans to take the band back into the studio soon. “A lot of the stuff on ‘Lummox’ has been written for a few years now and it’s been great to put it down and to finally get out” he says. “The new stuff will maybe come together a bit more spontaneously” “Hopefully it won’t take years this time” he concludes with a last laugh. Whether that happens or not remains yet to be seen. Idiot Son have, however, proved on the evidence of ‘Lummox’ that they are more than worth the wait. The lower three photographs that accompany this article were taken by Bob Stuart and orginally appeared on his website www.underexposed.org.uk

Picture Gallery:-
Idiot Son - Interview

Idiot Son - Interview

Idiot Son - Interview

Visitor Comments:-
134 Posted By: Wendy Barker, Great Casterton on 29 Aug 2008
Hi Ratty Wendy and Michael Barker here - hope you ok we would love to talk to you. Our boys are in a band (Ben 18 lead guitar and Sam 13 Drums) currently doing a cover of in my home - would love for you to see/hear them. Give us a call if you get this.

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