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Set Adrift on Mammary Bliss

Shoe York Shoe York! Faraway from the ubiquitous Scene That Celebrates Itself, CHAPTERHOUSE are busy re-inventing themselves in a haze of tequila and breast obsessions. SIMON WILLIAMS flies to New York to witness the dubious dawn of... cleavage-gazing. Coney Island babies: KEVIN CUMMENS

Andrew Sherriff, Chapterhouse singing type, flicks the fringe out of his eyes and leans across the table with a

"Simon Bates said our first single a c-- of:' record," he breathes, dangerously.

Pardon?

"Simon Bates, that Radio One bloke - he wrote that 'Freefall' was 'A c-- of a record' on his reaction sheet. Hahahaha."

Oh. Right.

"The thing is that coming from a different person. Like John Peel, a c -- of a record could be a compliment. But you know that when it's from Simon Bates it isn't.

"We re laughing about it, actually." sniffs singing partner Stephen Patman. "After all, he is a c-- of a DJ..."

Like an innocent trip to a massag parlour, visiting America for the first time can do strange things to the most rational of people. The land of Big Macs and bigger wads possesses insane powers of illsuion and delusion.

Was that 'Bionic Man' Lee Majors moving in slow motion outside JFK airpost? Could that really have been numero uno fash model Naomi Campbell swanning through Chintown? Are Chapterhouse really turning into alcohol-addled, genitalsia-obsessed Monster of the Rawk 'n' Roll Road? Probably, possibly and oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...

"We did an 'in-store' in LA," confides Stephen. "We walked into this record shop and there were hundreds of people and they all started screaming! It was completely unnerving! So we whipped out our cocks out and said 'Get down and suck it'."

Two weeks' toring Stateside is starting to take Its toll on Charterhouse. Unshackled from, the media pressures and scene- based demands back home, Andrew, Stephen, bassist Russell Barrett, guitarist Simon Rowe and sinisterly reticent drummer Ashley Bates have been flogging the freeways and whipping the highways into shape.

Now they're spilling the beans on the weirdo who loosened their trailer in Washington, almost causing the mass destruction ofthe band's equipment; there was a Biggies-style miniature plane flight from Toronto to near death; and then there was the breakdown in the middle of the desert, which left them stranded for four hours.

"Unfortunately there were two acoustic guitars in our bus," moans Andrew. "So Simon and our roadie were playing old blues songs throughout those four hours. And because the van was cool inside, all these flies were homing in on us. But even after all the flies and the Bob Dylan tunes, it felt like it had been worth breaking down, just for the laugh."

"It might have been slightly different if we had broken down in Peterborough, though," notes Simon, wisely.

But this isn't Peterborough. This is New York, where anything can happen and does so with unnerving regularity.

Chapterhouse have just dined in Robert De Niro's crucifyingly expensive restaurant. Where Gerard Depardieu was spotting nosing into a plateful of pasta. Now we're in II Sombrero, a downtown marguerita bar where Pixie Kim Deal is putting Spanish muzak on the CD jukebox, John 'I Used To Be In The Mary Chain, Me' Moore is practising his Noo Yawk accent, and Chapterhouse are getting quietly but efficiently plastered on jugfuls of Slush Puppy-style tequila. As drinks go, this one's looking for a disaster to inspire. And it's hit home base with Chapterhouse.

"They love success over here," belches Stephen, generously. putting the tour into a hazy perspective. "They don't begrudge it like in England, where if you get big you're shit and everything is judged very critically. Over here it's like, what the f-- are you guys doing? This is amazing! I've never heard anything like it!"

"It's true what they say, though," observes part-time neanderthal sex god Russell. "Everything is bigger out here."

"Especially Russell's cock!!" bellows Andrew. Obviously.

A JOKE: What do you get if you cross a herd of cattle with a Home Counties combo?

An answer: a bunch of shoe- grazers.

That joke wasn't funny to begin with, but the livestock connection is potent: to many, 1991 has been the year wheir a plethora of well- bred, well-off, well-soft youths with floppy fringes and drippy effects pedals followed each other like sheep to die critical abattoir.

If the far extreme of 1989 was housing estate thuggery gracing the charts, an era epitomised by the brickie-softening delights of Ecstasy, then the key to the last six months has been Apathy, perpetuated by posh Suvverners wali'owing in a post-rave comedown. More flowers than flares, more Top Of The Pops than street-cred, Chapterhouse and their pasty. ill-looking ilk have dragged popular music down to the other end ofthe sonic spectrum. Now, as happens with any extreme ever invented, cynics are starting to get Very Very Bored.

And the critical barbs pierce way beyond any musical epidermis: the detractors complain that the Murmurers have bugger all to say: that's a life of bithe comfort has turned out a Their Generation of flabby wobblebottoirs whose only goal in life is to escape the utter shite of day-to-day rea!ity. The doubters have got a point. Now Chapterhouse are getting brassed off with being prodded bv it.

"At the moment we're getting shagged off in Reading because we're not political," growls Andrew. Almost. "You get these middle-class kids that develop a social conscience and decide to get dreadlocks and attempt to squat...

"And compIain about how much dole money they get," sneers Stephen, sneeringly. "It's like, yeah, we're living on the edge, we disagree with organised poiltics, and then they go, 'Oi, mum --carl you lend us a tenner?' What people don't like about us is that we haven't got an attitude,"

"We have got an attitude," protests Andrew, "it's just that it's completely different,"

"It's not a rock 'n' roll attitude," agrees Stephen. "lt's not 'We're the best band in the world and everyone else is shit!' lf we said that we'd be lying. And people want us to lie, they want us to have some false attitude so they can pin their insignificance on us and feel better."

"People think we're really apathetic about our music, but we're not at all," gesticulates Andrew, energetically. "We're really intense about it. The music isn't just aesthetic, it does have a message. But the messages are internal - everything we write about deals with what's going on inside of you, and to us that's more important than about what Neil Kinnock's doing in the local polls. At heart I'm a socialist, but has socialism ever worked? Is Kinnock gonna lead England to the forefront? I don't think so. I mean, he's gonna disappear, whereas what we're writing about is what people are gonna be feeling in 200 years!"

WHAT CHAPTERHOUSE like about Americans is that they don't give a flying aardvark about the band's political leanings, they don't sneer at the concept of a mob of middle-class kids with 50 'O'-levels between them experiencing the same problems as Real People (a fave Chapterhouse debating point, that one), and they don't force the group into defensive situations which are more appropriate to the Luton Town back four.

In the States, Chapterhouse are taken at face value. Which in media terms means being described as cute' in teeny mags. And the seminal quote is: 'It's just as well their pictures aren't as out-of- focus as their music'!!

Britain expects, then promptly relects. The Good Old US of A simply embraces. Everyone.

"We've been going for four years now," gripes Andrew, "and we've gone through so many stages of being labelled with things. We We used to be paranoid about being labelled a '60s retro band like Thee Hypnotics. Then we were threatened with 'Class of'89', along with Loop. Then it was like sub-Spacemen 3, 'cos we played with them, and now it's.."

"The Scene That Celebrates Itself." shouts Stephen. As it treading on a dead cat. "Which is based entirely upon a social situation whereby we get pissed with a few bands! Then there's this misconception that all these bands have come from listening to the Valentines and gone out and made records - we already existed when 'You Made Me Realise' came out. And when that appeared we were going, 'what a bunch of bastards! We were gonna do that!"'

"We've been called every f-ing thing!" hollers Russell. "l'm sure we'll be part of the Greek Goat Herding Scene in 1995!"

"It's like that shoe-gazing thing: nine times out often the reason we're looking down is due to the fact that girls are being really squashed at the front and their dresses get pulled down, so you can see some really good cleavage... hahahahahaha!'." Andrew laughs the nervous, slightly hysterical laugh of a man who knows he's drunk too much tequila for the good of his tongue and is jabbering himself into deeply uncool shit.

"We're not shoe-gazing, we're cleavage-gazing!" giggles Stephen, unwisely.

"There have been a couple of gigs where people's tops have come right down," continues Andrew, uncertainly.

"And things have popped out here and there!" fnarr-fnarrs Russell.

"There's all these journalists thinking, 'Oooh, aren't they acting really fey and coy'." snickers Andrew. "And really we're going 'PHWOOAAARR!! CHECK OUT THOSE TITS!!!'"

Slump! Oh dear Chapterhouse seem to have passed out in a drunken stupor.

IT'S A rather more muted Chapterhouse which wanders into the blinding light of the following morning. Shades are dragged out to protect red eyes and ricocheting hangovers, but what better way to clear out the cobwebs than to bugger offto the seaside?

Coney Island beach is the destination for the photo shoot. where photograher Cummins gives the Big Wheel a gleeful once-over.

"I'm not going on that!" mutters Simon. "I get sick looking at swings'."

The town is like a cross between Southend and a Russian resort: an exemplary beach cowers in the shadow of horrendous tower blocks; glittering waves rush towards the kind of rotten fairground (un)attractions depicted in the spookier Scooby Doos; while on the promenade a wannabe cool dude flicks between stations on his urban annihalator, 'Set Adrift On Memory Bliss' flows out, the perfect backdrop to a brilliantine blue sky. Mr Wannabecool grunts his dissatisfaction and flicks over to a dirgey dance catastrophe.

This is Coney Island to a tee - potential magnificence undermined by mankind's hapless tastelessness, A natural beauty corrupted by human brutality. Which, in avery real sense (Ameri-wankspeak 1991) is Chapterhouse's music in a proverbial nutshell.

Slowdive were once strapped to a three-piece suite and forced to converse in 'orrible working-class accents until they explained the fundamental difference between themselves and Chapterhouse. Twenty-seven episodes of EastEnders later, they decided that, while they wanted to create something big and beautiful, Chapterhouse were more interested in direct pop songs. Stephen nods sagely, digesting this revelation, "We're into making big and beautiful pop songs," he concurs, thoughtfully.

"And small and beautiful pop songs as well,"adds Andrew. "Oh, and big and ugly pop songs. Some tracks we just destroy everything we've already done. We create an atmosphere and then just rip it down, And that's ugly, but it's still beautiful 'cos it's ugly. D'you see?"

Erm, nope.

"Basically, all our musical sensibilities are based on classic ideas," perseveres the singer. "We're really into the idea of pop music and pop bands and teenagers feeling the magic of it."

"But then we pervert it," blurts an intense-looking Stephen. "You can only really affect people by drawing them in and screwing them up; you give them a little taste of what they know and want so they listen to you, and then they start hearing the shit that's gonna take them where they wouldn't have gone ordinarily. That's what interests us, taking the mainstream and f--ing it up."

"But we don't st down and say, 'I'm gonna write a pop song and then f- it up'," elaborates Andrew. "It's not definite like that."

"Basically," decides Stephen, we like pop songs and we're fed up!"

If Chapterhouse are getting frustrated with having to justify their floaty existence, their music is becoming the sole raison d'ecre. Being accused of failing in their role as spokesmen of a generation may be one absurd thing, but when it comes to talking about their own records, any smoggy grey areas are banished into oblivion. Here's where primary songwriters Andrew and Stephen become positively passionate as opposed to defensively riled. Here's where they claim that 'Pearl' is already a classic song in an authoratitive manner which suggests they're not anticipating an argument about it, Here's where Chapterhouse shine like belisha beacons in a coal shaft.

They can't understand how they can possible be pigeon-holed when they're capable of bounding from the dance cruise of 'Pearl' to the sonic hurricane of 'Die Die Die' and, as if to prove the point, their new 'Mesmerise' EP flirts with wimpy abandon before wandering off to noisier, lazier and more psychedelic territories-often at the same time.

The absolute languor of the title track is going to give their detractors a field day. Chapterhouse don't give a f--.

"We known that we've got f--ing good taste." states Stephen. "We're not stupid, we know exactly what we're doing, and we know how good or how bad it is, We've got plans to fulfil a six-album contract - what we've achieved so far is a fraction of what we're capable of doing.

"We might go out and get pissed with Ride and Moose, but we don't sit at home listening to their records. We tend to get excited about things we don't know, like synthetic effects. We'd have loved to have had a full orchestra on this EP, like on Nancy Sinatra records."

"We're not saying that we're the be-all and end-all," insists Andrew. "We're just saying listen to a Chapterhouse album once a week. No, not even that much. Then listen to a Sly Stone album, then play a Bruce f--ing Forsyth record!"

THAT EVENING.
Chapterhouse do very peculiar things to a crowd of natives at New York's Danceteria. People called Bruce throw some dangerously violentshapes in the moshpit, the band help the activities along by diving into several Status Quo lurch poses, and the screaming holocaust of the encore, 'Die Die Die', sends several sensitive, acoustically-orientated Americans scuttling offto the toilets, ruptured eardrums spurting blood.

At the obligatory post-gig paaarty, John 'Remember Me?' Moore traps drummer Ashley in the corner. Characters from MTV peel grapes and gush profusely over the cocktails. And Andrew Sherriff goes directly against universal opinion by stating that the shoe-gazing scene will be anything but a turkey by Christmas. He may be pissed1 but he isn't passed caring. Remember - the Murmurers are only just starting to grow up.

"There's this new band in Reading called Coloursound," he hiccups, beamingly. "They went into this studio and said, 'We want our guitars to sound just like Chapterhouse and Slowdive'

Live and let fly.

Orignally appeared in NME 12 October 1991. Copyright © NME

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