Incendiary interview The Boyfriends

I was a bit embarrassed to show my mum though, because the first half of the magazine was OK but the last half was like ‘Boys locker-room pin-ups’ and masses of cocks everywhere.

I was a bit embarrassed to show my mum though, because the first half of the magazine was OK but the last half was like ‘Boys locker-room pin-ups’ and masses of cocks everywhere.

Okay, Glastonbury was in the summer (and that feels a long time ago now) but we had to bring this interview to your attention.  


It’s Glastonbury 2005 and the glorious feeling that comes from throwing off the shackles of exams has been rudely interrupted. Instead of waking up to another beautiful morning and the prospect of spending an idyllic afternoon listening to music with a bottle of pear cider I face this: a post-apocalyptic sight of destruction where rivers have replaced roads and where riots are breaking out over the sale of Wellington boots. Some time later, having struggled through knee-deep mud to the only functioning stage, I find myself looking up to a cheeky bastard wearing a pristine white suit – such behaviour hardly enamours you to a band. Martin Wallace, lead singer of The Boyfriends eyes up the few thousand soggy punters somewhat nervously. But this apprehension disappears immediately once the band launch into Brave Little Soldiers. In an instant, and with a three-minute pop song, they manage to capture the defiant spirit of the day.


The group had a lot to live up to – by sheer fluke they were the first band to play on the newly re-christened John Peel stage. As such they faced reviewers from half the broadsheets and, in the words of bassist David Barnett, "an audience bigger than every other gig we’ve played put together." But they gave a barnstorming performance and in return received a rapturous welcome. They even managed to get one man to give up trying to rescue his waterlogged possessions and instead get him dancing to Once Upon A Time. This track, with the breakneck jangly guitar of Richard Adderly coupled to Wallace’s Morrissey-esque tales of teenage disenfranchisement, is certainly one of the best indie tunes to surface this year, (god, I thought they covered the Simple Minds one – ed)


The comparison to Morrissey is certainly apposite: it would be fair to say that this band like to pretend it’s 1986 all over again, and arguments over whether Sonic Flower Groove, Meat is Murder, or Darklands should be played on the van’s stereo are easily imaginable. It’s therefore easy to see why the music press has declared them to be "the next Smiths", not that David, a former member of the Suede management team necessarily agrees with that: "I don’t really think so…I always think of The Smiths as having trebly riffs on the guitar and quite intricate bass lines. I think there’s a lot more feedback and noise to what we do.


IN: What’s causing the comparison, then?

David: I think a lot of the time it’s because one person has said it, and the next time someone does a review they think "we’d better put that they sound like The Smiths in.


IN: Oh come on, admit it, you just stole the whole idea, – nothing to be ashamed of is there?


David: My favourite band of all time is Adam & the Ants and we don’t sound anything like them. I like P.I.L. and a lot of the currently trendy early 80s bands like XTC. All the stuff when the noisy punk bands had died down and people decided to do something a bit different before it all went Stock, Aitken & Waterman. But I think we’re quite separate musically from the other London bands, in that, well…Martin actually sings whereas a lot of those bands just do the shouty thing. We’re good mates with bands like The Rakes and The Long Blondes who come from that 80s stable but I like to think we do a different take on it.


IN: What’s happening with the band at the moment? Have you any advice for upcoming bands?


David: Well we’ve met these guys from a label called Boobytrap who are really enthusiastic. They were the first guys who really went on about the songs rather than the image and the sense of "you’ve got a bit of hype about you, we’d better jump on the bandwagon" sort of thing. So we liked them, especially since one of them was the drummer in a band called ‘Fruhgsa’ – they were the first band to have a name that you couldn’t spell, long before Chk Chk Chk and as a big fan of theirs it was an easy decision. The contract’s going back and forth at the moment but it should be sorted soon. The first proper single’s due out early January. As for the tactics I’d just say don’t jump on any bandwagons and stick at what you do. It was quite a long time before anyone paid much attention to us. It started as ‘Oh dear, they sound like The Smiths, how shit’ and now it’s developed to ‘They sound like The Smiths, how great!’ And avoid playing too many songs at your gig. You’ll just bore people. That’s the best bit of advice I can give!


IN: What’s it like with Martin being put forward as a gay icon?  How did the shoot for the gay magazine go?


David: Yeah it was OK – we weren’t naked or anything though! They were doing a London bands special, complete with photoshoot. I was a bit embarrassed to show my mum though, because the first half of the magazine was OK but the last half was like ‘Boys locker-room pin-ups’ and masses of cocks everywhere. Not really my thing, but certainly quite an eye opener.


IN: Is Martin getting ideas above his station – he’s always prancing around the stage with that pristine white suit on…


David: It’s not actually a suit! It’s a jacket, but I guess the photos only ever show that. He’s actually got lots of pairs of trousers, but yeah, only one jacket! It’s quite funny though because he has to get that jacket dry cleaned everytime and he’s always moaning that it should be a band expense and we’re like ‘I think guitar strings are a bit more  important.’


IN: Not wanting his own tourbus yet?


David: That’s probably just around the corner the way he’s going…


IN: What’s the connection between you and Suede then? (David is the author of their official Biography)


David: I was a big fan and ended up working for the manager for a few years…at the end they wanted a book and a writer that would be really honest and brutal. It was really successful – sold a lot of copies and was critically well received as well.


IN: What’s the mission plan of The Boyfriends then? Just to have a bit of fun?


David: Well, it’s quite strange actually because it started as Richard and Martin’s secret project. I used to be Martin’s flatmate and all of us just laughed and thought it would be rubbish. Eventually he played us some of the songs and I was really amazed – I’d thought it was going to be shit. But then he said ‘It’s going to be me as a solo act’ – like the Martin Wallace experience – ‘and do you want to play bass for it?’ I’d never played bass before, so joined as a laugh but when we started gigging it really got going.


The real change came when, after a big debate, we decided to put a few of our demos on the internet and then by word of mouth it just spread and encouraged us. We haven’t had to go out and hype ourselves – people have come to us.’


IN: So there’s some truth that the web’s helping new bands – do you reckon the internet has helped you make it?


David: Yeah, we’ve had fans from all over the world and that wouldn’t have been possible without the web. We weren’t sure whether to do it at first or just stick to sending out CDs and getting a deal but everything took off as soon as we did. We’ve got loads of people downloading our stuff, which is great, because hopefully the aim of being in a band isn’t to get a Rolls Royce, it’s to make some songs that people like. We seem to have already done that, so now we just have to become millionaires!


IN: The big choice then: stay a cool indie cult band or aim for mainstream success?


David: It’s a bit dangerous to wish for either really but I’m just delighted with how it has gone so far. Obviously it would be great to be huge, but we really just want to make a really good record and have people buy it and like it. Even better if a million people buy it and like it. At the moment I’m just happy with how it’s gone; you think it would be great to be played by Steve Lamacq and then that happens, you’d like to be in the NME and then that happens, you think it would be great to play Glastonbury…everything’s a delight. I’d rather make a make a really good record that some people liked than a rubbish one that everyone liked.



It’s easy to dismiss The Boyfriends as the latest in a long line of 80’s revivalists who are fated to be over-hyped, who have a single that stalls at number 28 and who subsequently disappear faster than Pete Doherty from rehab. However there’s an unmistakable quality in their song writing that gives them real substance; there are also great hooks that deserve a home on radio playlists rather than the toilet circuit. In a year’s time we might all have The Boyfriends in our lives.


Words: James Waterson.