"I believe we've got to be about being someone's favourite ever band. And that's not about selling so many albums, or fitting into a certain demographic, nor is it being cussedly out on a limb, it's more to do with contributing positively to a form of culture."
Incendiary interview The Long Blondes
Rather bizarrely, I found myself north of the River Ij, in a lovely old Toll house, elegantly furnished and painted a cheering cream and light blue; a place, one suspects, that is popular with the blue rinse brigade. Not that that mattered unduly. More bizarrely, the interviews are split into relays, with Dorian and Emma, the two Blondes present, playing a game of musical chairs between journalists. This meant that I was able to (able? had to...) ask the same question twice, what joy! First to bravely plunge into the pit of journalese with me was Emma...
As usual with the Long Blondes, talk invariably begins with the books you are reading, or the choice of tipple from the previous meeting. In this instance it was Emma's narration of her daunting experiences with champagne that allowed matters to be to be taken to a more cerebral level.
IN: You ever read Waugh's Put out More Flags? There's a bit in there where Alistair Digby-Vane Trumpington and his wife Sonia, whilst resting with their pug dogs in bed, drink black velvet from a silver goblet.
E: That's Guiness and champagne... Is it good?
IN: It sorts you out. Only take care to use a wide brimmed glass as the marriage of the two drinks creates a great deal of bubbling foam. Don't drink it at gallery openings though, it makes a fool out of you.
E: We got invited to Robert Maplethorpe and Patti Smith's gallery opening; it was our first invite as the "Long Blondes". We got excited and said yes but we didn't go, as we had to bloody fly to Venice.
IN: I saw Patti Smith's photography on the Culture Show, she photographed the Bloomsbury lot's house. A bit OTT if you ask me...
E: You will never guess what, Lauren Laverne does the Culture Show now, I can't believe it; she's done well that girl.
IN: I'd better ask you a proper question. Are you a romantic band? Sheffield bands are on the whole very literate, empathic. I'm being cheeky, but I have to know; you can't be as nice as you can make out to be on your record, what with all this solving of the problems of Gilded Youth.
E: I think that rather than solving problems, it's more to do with us relating to the fact that everyone goes through this stuff, but trying to establish it as a song. We do get so many emails from girls saying I've got problems with my boyfriend, or I've been bullied but you've helped... its really bizarre, as writing itself is a very private process, for anyone. I only see what Dorian writes when he presents it at band practices, despite us being a couple for years. I wouldn't want to meddle with that stuff, as I believe that is a private part of his life. The band is a separate thing to our relationship anyway.
IN: The other side of Sheffield bands is the sleaze, sin city...
E: Wish it was...
IN: Is anyone of the Blondes in danger of mutating into a debauched Shaun Ryder figure?
E: Me, hopefully. I'd like to be an old lush style... Pat Phoenix... gin & port, I look at
those old continental bars with the old ladies and I think, yeah, I like that.
IN: Who likes Scott Walker on the bus?
E: Dorian likes his buses, Kate and Dorian are heavily into Walker; they are the culprits for Scott Walker on the bus. I'm "medium" on Walker, I have to say. Have you heard the new stuff? Slapping meat and that? Hmm... I think... I'm not quick at getting joke and it could be a grand joke.
IN: A change of tack. Those new press shots. You look like you girls are joining the Supremes. Dorian looks like he's joined the Doctors of Madness...
E: It was us with all our own clothes. I can assure you of that, but the make up... We had to bring three outfits, but make up was damn heavy. There were two layers, one was green and another shot used blue make up, and the artist didn't remove the green. But they are much more professional...
IN: Is this difficult now? From being an essentially DIY band to having lots of "professional" people running around you?
E: Yeah... I just try to enjoy that kind of thing. I mean, when else is this sort of stuff going to happen everyday? However I think we'd all want to keep stuff "in-house" rather than hire people to come in to do things creatively for us.
IN: You are deliberate outsiders to the business?
E: Definitely! In terms of photographers, designers and artists, I'd hate to think that we'd have to spend quite a bit of money to have something done that wasn't exactly to your liking. If Kate couldn't organise our record sleeves as she does now, we have a list of people who we know who could do our artwork.
IN: Let's talk about something else... I do feel honour bound to ask what you are reading.
E: Some Jean Rhys actually. We were clearing some books out at work, and one of them was After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, and I hadn't really bothered with her, despite her writing Wide Sargasso Sea and I loved it. Then I got Good Morning Midnight... Actually I'd better go!
At this point Emma is shuffled off and Dorian is put in place.
IN: Dorian, in an attempt to throw you off your stride at the first hurdle, could you comment on whether Bohemianism a teeny weeny bit overrated?
D: There's certainly a downside to it. The thing is with Bohemianism, is it is utterly incompatible with the modern way. That is very unfortunate in itself, what is more unfortunate is the fact that being in a band is incompatible with being Bohemian. The thing is with being in a band; I have to get up earlier than I did when I worked at Sheffield University.
IN: So, (Emma's primed me on this) tell me about Scott Walker on the bus. Is this dangerous? I mean, Scott 3 on a bus?
D: Jesus, well it kind of stems from experience really! I would get the bus to work on a morning and you would be surrounded by the flotsam and jetsam of Sheffield and it was a nice escape... You would be confronted by people who you'd want to kick in the eye, to paraphrase Morissey... Anyway, you could stick on any of the "canon" on to your walkman, and it would take you to a world where you felt you belonged.
IN: Scott's first 4 LPs sing about this humdrum stuff you decry, albeit with fantastic orchestration.
D: Scott is such an amazing character. Artistically, he moves the goalposts himself and because of that he can chose his frame of reference at will. He can go from singing My Ship is Coming In to atonal wailing, but it doesn't matter as its Scott Walker, and it is dignified and unusual, a very rarified position to be in. You've got to take your hat off to him.
IN: To paraphrase Genesis P. Orridge, an artist must create his own space, and within that space they must create authentic content. Otherwise there's no point in being an artist.
D: Exactly, it's not a career, it is a compulsion. At least you must create something that is validated by other people. I certainly wouldn't be doing this if people weren't coming up to us and saying the stuff they are... as far as the band goes now I believe we've got to be about being someone's favourite ever band. And that's not about selling so many albums, or fitting into a certain demographic, nor is it being cussedly out on a limb, it's more to do with contributing positively to a form of culture.
IN: Talking of your band, I was thinking the other day that you are remarkably empathic and literate, in a way that most Sheffield bands are. Is this militantly pro-Sheffield on your behalf, or is there something in the water? (I have to say that Emma elegantly side-stepped this question...)
D: I do think there is something in the water, as I'm not Sheffield born & bred. It is one of those places you are drawn to if you have that kind of attitude. Having said that, there was no real blueprint on our behalf to copy the previous "classic Sheffield" bands; though we do love all of them. I would be honoured if people said that they thought we were following on from them. You can set out stylistically to be a Manchester band, or a Liverpudlian band, but Sheffield is different, I mean sonically we are nothing like the Human League or ABC but I definitely think there is a common thread. That is another reason why I think we are validated in what we do.
IN: With that in mind, are you Joe Orton or Shaun Ryder? Is it real kitchen sink drama or something... worse?
D: Ha! It's somewhere in between...
IN: Is it a northern thing then?
D: I think it's very much in that tradition. I think the Orton-Ryder link is the hedonism, whereas I think we are more like from the bottom looking up, that Lennon line, in Getting Better; "it can't get no worse" does strike a chord with us. There is a certain hedonism inherent in The Human League, but their hedonism is more making the best of what you've got, if you listen to something like Sound of the Crowd, its not 24 Hour Party People, it is more literate...
IN: To misquote someone else... we are all lying in the gutter but some of us are looking at the kerb. Are you downtrodden?
D: I just think its one of those things Richard. It's also the manifestation of a restless spirit. We all moved to Sheffield University, I come from York originally. It doesn't matter where I go I've got to get out. We all had the same feeling when we arrived in Sheffield. Now we want to see more than Sheffield, which is something very much in the tradition of Sheffield bands.
IN: Finally, your new press shots... You look like you are in the Doctors of Madness.
D: My knowledge of the Doctors of Madness is limited, but I am interested, I shall have to look into that!
Afterwards an evening of conviviality bordering on mayhem was enjoyed by The Blondes, your humble correspondent and members of various Dutch bands who were out to wish Dorian & Emma well. (It is amazing to note the Blondes seemingly effortless capacity to garner allies). As Winston Churchill impressions were heartily given and Emma decided that it was to be she and no other who would be the first Blonde to ride a bike down the Damrak's pedestrian area, your correspondent felt the pressing need of peace and quiet. People stumbled back to hotels, and trains and raucous goodbyes were exchanged. A thoroughly good evening out with charming company. Rotterdam (the scene of the band's Dutch debut) had better look out. It's in for a very pleasant surprise.
Words: Richard Foster.