***Harrold from Elcka joined me for a discussion about the bands beginnings, his influences, getting signed, Britpop, nostalgia, touring with Morrissey, the demise of Elcka and what the future might hold***
When Morrissey played Battersea Power Station in December 1997, two noteworthy events took place. The first of these occurred when, during the encore of “Shoplifters of the World Unite”, I was able to clamber up on stage and embrace the Pope of Mope, in the hope, as Will Self described such moments, that a touch from Him would cure the “…scrofula of loneliness”.
It did not.
Tragically, video footage of this moment is available to view on YouTube.
Perhaps more tragically there is no video footage of the second moment of note that took place that night; the appearance of Elcka as the supporting act.
Elcka had arrived on the scene in 1995 with two singles released on their own label (“Leather Lips” and “Boho Bird”). These were not the tentative, nervous fumbling’s of pop virgins but were, instead, records that oozed glamour, swagger, confidence and identity. They sounded like a band who knew exactly who they were and how good they were. Lead singer, the fabulously monikered, Harrold was the sort of front man that you would get if you decided to create one in some sort of Frankenstein style experiment; handsome, charismatic, charming, equal parts Bowie, Ferry and Morrissey. The other members of the band were Marcus Sanford-Casey (guitar), Rhodes (bass), Matt Barker (keyboards) and Darren Berry (drums, guitar, vocals). Each one a key part of this thing that was Elcka, each one as dapper as one could ever hope a pop star to be and each one a talented musician. The significance of this shouldn’t be underestimated, this was a time when some bands were being offered record deals just because they had a suit from the Merc and drank in the Good Mixer after all, and so to have five “proper” musicians in one band was a big deal.
Elcka were a band who existed at the same time as Britpop but who seemed separate from it, but not because they loudly proclaimed that fact, but simply because it was obvious. A quick look at the interviews given by Damon Albarn in the Britpop documentary “Live Forever” reveals how much disdain he had for the very scene that afforded him a career. Harrold and the gang take a more reasonable approach to matters; there was a scene, they were there and it’s up to other people to decide on labels. In truth, Elcka had little, if anything, in common with other bands of that period. They had a little too much of the other, a dangerous hint of sex and glamour and they didn’t sing in a mockney accent.
I stumbled across Elcka because of that Melody Maker tour. It was preceded by a free cassette that came with the November 4th, 1995 edition of that paper. How do I know that was the date? Ummmm…because I still have both the tape and the paper…
The song that Elcka contributed to this promotion was “Roast Beef” and it was further proof of quite how, well, peculiar Elcka were. The tour saw them share the bill with Powder (who were one of the reasons that Britpop is now so often derided), Pusherman (a sort of blues infused/enthused Gallon Drunk-lite) and Strangelove. I caught that tour when it arrived at the Garage in Glasgow in November of 1995. It was Elcka and Strangelove who caught the eye, while their sounds were worlds apart there was something that seemed to bind them. Perhaps something of that shared D.N.A is revealed in the comments made by Harrold and Strangelove singer Patrick in interviews given to the Melody Maker before the tour started;
“”I’m fascinated by all forms of deviancy, but that’s not to say that I run around whipping people.” (Harrold)
“The things that matter to me are not appropriate to be discussed with other people.” (Patrick)
Make of those remarks what you will.
Listening to Harrold talk now about the bands who helped shape both the band’s sound and his approach to song writing one name and one album looms large in the story; The Cure and “Disintegration”. That is significant because The Cure with their gothic leanings, romance, eccentricities and dark heart were not often quoted as an influence during this period. By “not often” I mean, of course, never. That Harrold acknowledges them at all is testimony to his desire to be open to things outside of the acceptable and, to my mind, of his excellent taste.
“Rubbernecking” is, to these ears, the great lost album of the Britpop era. At a time when things were slowly beginning to become a little bloated thanks to the huge amounts of cocaine being snorted by bands, producers and listeners alike, “Rubbernecking” is grand, operatic, anthemic and just plain big without ever sounding overblown or pompous. It also manages to be, at times, a remarkably delicate and intimate record. That’s quite the trick to be able to pull off.
Each track delivers a thrill. A swell of keyboard, drums, guitar and bass opens things up with the turbo-charged, “Supercharged” where Harrold urges us to “Shine, let us shine…we’ll float, explode…scatter in platinum.” before a melody with more foot stomping glory than Slade could muster at their peak sweeps us off our feet and into the sky. “Fill Me” is a sleazy bed track of the sort Madonna would have given her right hand for during her “erotic” period. “Who would contain us…now would you detain us…” the answer to these questions posed on “Statuesque” was that nobody could contain them and it was unlikely they could be detained from their destiny. “Boho Bird” is the most Britpop of the songs offered up by Elcka and even it is infused with a little more glamour than the likes of Northern Uproar were offering, dad-rock this was not. “Look at you Now” sounds like something from the recording sessions for “Disintegration”…it’s spidery, strange and sinister. A rush of blood to every part of your body is what “When the Circus Comes” guarantees…it’s manic, very much of the streets of London and preaches to ears unconverted to the Elcka cause. Hearts are broken with the giddy pop and earnest yearnings of “Try”. “Leather Lips” is another song that Robert Smith would give up his lipstick to have written. “Nothing to Lose” sounds like the sort of song you would want to hear when you really did have nothing to lose. The choppy guitar clips and subtle bass lines of “Aston Martin” bring to mind much earlier Cure records and then it discards those influences and becomes a song that no other band could ever have written. “Roll the Dice” is the sort of anthem that pleases stadium crowds, giving them a reason to lift their hands to the skies and roar the chorus back at the band. “Paradise in Poison” has the most magnificent guitar parts you could want. “Perverts Servant” is soaked in 60’s pop cunning and highlights quite how deliciously decadent Elcka were. Things are brought to a close with “A User’s Guide” which is exactly what “Rubbernecking” was, a user’s guide to the world and minds of Elcka.
No doubt it was all of this that drew the attention of Morrissey, who invited Elcka to support him on his European and North American tour of 1997. “They’re astonishing. I went to see them recently and it was one of those gigs of a lifetime. One you never forget. They’re really special.” is how Morrissey described them…which is pretty much what I’ve been trying to say but in many, many, more words.
Being asked to support Morrissey has sunk more bands than can be found on the shelves of your local record store. Phranc, Gallon Drunk, The Well Oiled Sisters, Doll and the Kicks and countless others have all said “yes” and then found themselves floundering in the sea of indifference that is a Morrissey audience. I once saw the much lauded Marion support Morrissey and the constant chants of “Mo-rriss-ey” so irked lead singer Jaime Harding that he had a near breakdown on stage and started haranguing the audience with a series of very rich expletives.
The notion of playing in front of huge crowds and raising your profile has to be weighed against months of nobody giving a hoot about who you are or what you have to offer. No such fate awaited Elcka. They were a band who were destined to melt hearts and bend minds. They swiftly set about winning over the tens of thousands who arrived to hear Manchester’s master of misery in venues like the Greek in L.A or Battersea Power Station in London. By the end of the tour it was not unreasonable to suggest that Elcka had succeeded where so many others had failed. They were more than just a warm up act…they were a gift.
The stage was now set for the inevitable world domination. A second album would surely be exactly that, a second…a precursor to a third, then a fourth and on and on it would go. A new set of songs had been written on tour and they were ready to be recorded.
Then it happened.
Universal had bought Island and didn’t fancy Elcka?
Management had decided to push some other act?
The pursuit of excellence had irked the powers that be?
Take your pick. All that really matters is that the story was over. It hadn’t even really begun.
A sense of loss…in the band for sure but also in the bedrooms of the few, the happy few, who had seen and heard something worth paying attention to, something worth investing in, something worth loving.
In the years since, the members of the band have moved on; families, jobs, friends and the other miscellany that makes up what we amusingly call a life. It seemed that those short, but glorious, few months towards the end of the nineties were to be confined, condemned, to the memory banks of everyone involved. Something to remember on long winter nights.
Then a different kind of whisper.
A new website.
Demo versions of the second album, “Softly Softly”.
Rumours of someone looking to actually record and release the album.
Online chatter from people who remembered.
Now, nearly twenty years later it looks like something that nobody thought could happen might happen.
Certainly there is an interest from the band themselves, how could there not be? They must know, deep in their hearts, that the story isn’t finished yet.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps 2018 might see the return of a band who, very definitely, have unfinished business.
A few live dates and the chance to hear those songs again would be a delight.
A physical release for “Softly Softly” (an album that Harrold himself holds in higher regard than “Rubbernecking”) would be a treat.
But what I really want is that third album that, right now, is nestled in the heads and hearts of Elcka. We can only hope.
*** Everything you ever wanted to know about Elcka can be found at Elcka.net ***