From Dublin to London via Berlin, My Bloody Valentine have taken the scenic route to success. John Robb retraces their footsteps on the way to becoming the biggest band on Creation
AND IT’S about bloody time too! The arse end of this god-awful decade finally saw that lethargic shaggy dog, My Bloody Valentine, snarl into confident, postman-chomping action.
The belting single, ‘You Made Me Realise’, the one that finally expressed those streaks of genius glimpsed long before, kicked several years of records that had timidly knocked on heaven’s door joyfully into a cocked hat.
It was the turning point in a topsy-turvy adventure for the four-piece. Only months before its release these pop wizards nearly bit the dust.
“Before we signed to Creation, we were so fed up that we nearly split the band,” murmurs guitarist and singer Kevin Shields, the band’s most eloquent spokesman.
“’You Made Me Realise’ wasn’t even planned as a single either – we were originally going to hide it on the B-side. It was Alan McGee who told us that it was a Perfect A-side.”
BORN IN New York, Shields was shunted over to Dublin by his Irish parents 20 years ago. Ironically, with the current craze for all things American, staying in his birthplace would have helped him succeed in the crazy world of showbiz more than mere talent.
“I should wave my passport around, or speak with a New York accent – that way we might get a little more respect,” he mutters cynically.
My Bloody Valentine are at the thin end of the wedge. After the classic ‘You Made Me Realise’, they’ve followed up with the corking Isn’t Anything album. It shows a confident group, boldly striding forth out of bed into the late afternoon.
The introverted, personal leanings of the LP are linked to either firebrand amphetamine anthems or lush, well-crafted slices of pure pop.
“We thought that we’d make an LP that was easy to play live. We really didn’t want to put out anything that was too shitty. The songs on the record are about things that mean something to us. I can’t write Crass-style protest lyrics. I can only write about things that I know about.”
My Bloody Valentine sputtered into action at the beginning of the ‘80s, in the fair city of Dublin. Kevin and his manic, drumming cohort Colm O’Ciosoig were coerced to play in a small local punk outfit called Complex. The band soon folded but the pair formed My Bloody Valentine. Suffocated by Dublin’s small town atmosphere, they split and, instead of opting for the time-honoured trail down to London, they left for Berlin, Colm doing a stint as a bus conductor in Dublin to get the necessary dough to finance the sojourn.
“We had a really good time in Berlin. The obvious thing for most Irish bands is to go to England, but Europe seemed a much better option for us. We had read about The Birthday Party living out in Europe and that inspired us,” explains Colm.
“Europe seemed a lot more open, and it was definitely the financially better option. We got £100 per gig, even though we were totally unknown. If we’d been trying to get on in England, we would barely have been scraping fifth on the bill.”
“It wasn’t the first time that the McGee/Mary Chain axis had hovered outside their door. I was supposed to audition for them,” says Colm.
“I thought it might be fun if I got the job, you know, free travel to Japan and all that. But I realised I wouldn’t be able to do it. Their songs were too slow! I would have failed the audition miserably, so I didn’t bother to turn up.”
Their European adventures included the release of their debut mini-LP, for the German Tycoon label, called This Is Your Bloody Valentine, a record that saw the group wandering around in an early Doors period – more goth than wrath. But even at this early stage, there were enough deft touches to promise a healthy future.
Post Berlin, the rockin’ gang split for Rotterdam and remained there long enough to release their Geek EP which was the first effort to really showcase their melodic, ‘60s-influenced sound.
FINANCIALLY, THE group moved to London. The 1986 Brit scene proved a tough egg for the barely unpacked new arrivals to crack.
“The convoy squatting people were about the only people that seemed interested in putting us on – we couldn’t even get on the bill at a tiny club like The Enterprise in London.
“And when we eventually picked up a bit of a following, we were too rough and noisy to play there anyway.”
By now, there were signed to the Lazy label and cut their breakthrough singe, ‘Sunny Sundae Smile’. The record charged up the indie charts, putting the Bloody Val’s collective foot into the door.
Due to a condition that meant touring was out of the question, their original vocalist at the time. Dave, left and singer-guitarist Bilinda Butcher joined to flesh out Kevin’s patented guitar sound and cajole more of his melodies to the fore.
The mini-LP they released at the time, Ecstasy, was so badly produced that it left several classic songs mugged like defenceless grannies on a cold inner city night. Not surprisingly, disillusionment set in and the combo considered splitting up. Only the sudden sighting of ginger-mopped Alan McGee swooping down from Brighton saved their badly-stitched pants.
It wasn’t the first time that the McGee/Mary Chain axis had hovered outside their door.
“I was supposed to audition for them,” says Colm.
I thought it might be fun if I got the job, you know, free travel to Japan and all that. But I realised I wouldn’t be able to do it. Their songs were too slow! I would have failed the audition miserably, so I didn’t bother to turn up.”
Colm’s frantic drumming is about the best on the scene. Live, his flailing arms and hair instantly remind one of Keith Moon before he picked himself in alcohol and tiresome pranks. The rest of the Vals look on with confused admiration as their sticksman Moby Dicks his way through the set.
“Technically, I’m not very good – so I have to play very hard,” he lies.
“In the studio sometimes, when we hear the drum tracks on their own, they sound like somebody falling down the stairs,” laughs Kevin.
THE MOVE to Creation, coupled with the eventual unveiling of their previously hidden power on the last two singles and LP, has given them fresh hope.
“Creation treat us really well. They’ve really helped to bring us up to this level and at the moment, with The House Of Love leaving, we’re the biggest band they’ve got.”
My Bloody Valentine sound almost bemused by this hard fact. But why not? Their pop noise blasts have won them fans from both the anorak mob with the ‘Byrds were a punk band’ mentality, right through to the Sonic Youth art-noise generation. Strangely, they feel that they have to apologise for their melodic streak.
“We’ve tried to make up unmelodic songs, but we just can’t do it! We can’t make so-called unmelodic music. Your limitations give you your identity, I suppose. We seem to be doing things the wrong way round here – most bands start off wild and mellow out, but we started off quiet and got harder as time went on.”
My Bloody Valentine can stand on their own two feet – although somewhat groggily in the face of the credibility test onslaught which critically gauges them against their US contemporaries.
“We attempt to do different things. We have surprise things like ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’ – US bands tend to have a very consistent sound that they rarely alter.”
But the worst things in My Bloody Valentine’s world (other than Neighbours) at present seems to be the rehearsal room microphones.
“They smell like shit,” moans Kevin.
“They always smell like pepper, really strong. Some of them really stink,” adds Bilinda, whispering into the straining tape recorder. “We had one at the last rehearsal studio that just wouldn’t work at all. So we gave it to the guy to cleanout and he unscrewed the top and all this stuff just fell out. Yeuch.”