“Grunge was anti-fashion and rave was crap fashion.”
So said the throbbing heart and heart throb of My Life Story, Jake Shillingford as we discuss his bands place in the Britpop scene. Unlike lots of other bands who believe that it’s the music that matters most, My Life Story are committed to the truth of pop music and popular culture…that the look is as important as anything else, it may even be more important than anything else.
Glamour and style had been all but vanquished from the world of guitar music thanks to the dominance of Seattle bands on the world stage at the start of the 90’s. Washing your hair had become an act of heresy. Wearing clothes that actually fitted your body was nothing short of blasphemy against the Gods of grunge. It was a dreadful and ugly time for music and fashion.
When Shillingford unleashed the debut My Life Story single (“Girl A, Girl B, Boy C”) in 1993 it was a statement of intent. It was an orchestral manoeuvre from the dark edges of forgotten British pop glories. It was obvious at that stage that My Life Story were not bandwagon jumpers but were a band who had arrived with a clear vision and a manifesto for what pop music could and should be.
The grandiose, orchestral, baroque sound was forged in the soul of Jake Shillingford as far back as 1973. “Block Buster! by The Sweet was the first record bought for me by my parents and the first record I bought was “Oliver’s Army” by Elvis Costello and the Attractions. It felt, to me at least, that certain elements within glam, punk and then new wave were relentlessly creating original ideas and performance styles. Then I fell in love with the 1980s Liverpool scene where bands like The Pale Fountains, Echo and the Bunnymen, Wah and Julian Cope too were all using guitars and strings.”
Mark Morriss of The Bluetones describes his band as “frilly shirts surrounded by Fred Perry”. Lots of people forget that, in reality, Britpop wasn’t really ever a genre, it was a description of a wider popular cultural uprising. The musical scene was very broad. Where do My Life Story sit?
“I always thought Fred Perry’s were a bit of an obvious modernist revivalist statement. I quickly found my own tailor! We were around the scene very early on, which was very much London based. Britpop as we know it came out of north and central London and the initial crop of bands were reacting to the lack of stage presence and glamour that the American grunge and British rave scenes were supplying.
I was part of a group of people that would debate in pubs about the death of the pop star. In some ways our debut single in 1993 “Girl A, Girl B, Boy C” was about anonymity and isolation. Certainly in London there was a movement towards fashion and music combining together for the first time in a long time.
Grunge was anti fashion and rave was crap fashion. A baggy white jumpsuit was part of the drug scene and we were reacting against that.
We were always conveniently either ‘in’ Britpop or ‘out’ of it.
Britpop as a term has never restricted us, it has only opened doors. I am proud to be British and I am proud that I write pop music.”
“Mornington Crescent” is one of the best albums released during the Britpop era, in many ways it’s nods to the 60’s, it’s rejection of the ordinary, it’s embracing of glamour and it’s London-ness make it the Britpop album. What are Jake’s thoughts on it now?
“I had recently met Anthony Newley, whose singing style I had always admired. Newley was the biggest influence on David Bowie and it seemed to me only natural to go right back to the source where great theatrical pop music comes from.
In addition to that, both Julian Cope and Marc Almond had released compilation albums of Scott Walker songs, which were never off my turntable. But my great obsession is John Barry. His arrangement and attention to detail in his orchestrations has no comparison.
I don’t really have a favourite song – although Angel stands out because I think it is one of the few tracks on the record which came out as I imagined when I wrote it – a grandiose urban love song.”
That just about sums up the alure of My Life Story…grandiose, urban and full of love. Those are things that once made Morrissey an idol, in my dreams I would love to hear Morrissey with the full My Life Story treatment.
“I actually met Morrissey in 1995 when he came to see the band at the Water Rats in Kings Cross, and then at the Jazz Café some weeks later.
He was working with Steve Lilywhite on the album Southpaw Grammar and Steve at that time was interested in producing what would have become The Golden Mile, but we didn’t have a record deal.
I have enjoyed the friendship of Alain Whyte and Boz Boorer since that time, so your alternative universe does not seem that far away.”
Your second album, “Golden Mile” is another glorious album. It broke into the top 40 at a time when you had to physically sell records to achieve that. Did that feel like a big moment? Did you think bigger and better things were close?
“I always felt at the time that MLS and our incredible fans lived in a self imposed bubble where we always knew that we were different from anything else that was going on. We shared a sensibility that as Britpop became more mainstream, MLS and our fans seemed to feel more of a clique. But that has always suited me.
I always wanted to offer something different. I don’t think “The Golden Mile” is any more or less commercial than “Mornington Crescent”; it just had more money spent on it.”
In recent times you’ve released music under the moniker of “Exile/Inside” which seems to be influenced by the electro-pop bands and sound of the early 80’s, were those bands important to you?
“I am so grateful to have grown up in an era where electronic music defined the way we listen to music today. To me and my generation the 80s are as important and groundbreaking as the blues in terms of technological advancement and production. After the grandiose pop sound of MLS it felt only natural to go back to a stripped down, more dystopian approach. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition between powerful, emotive lyrics against tiny machines.”
2017 was a big year for Britpop. The Star Shaped festival was a huge success (you were part of that), Shed Seven went supersonic, Liam and Noel had big albums, Sleeper returned…could we hear new music from My Life Story in 2018?
“We released our first single for 16 years last year called 24 Hour Deflowerer. I am always writing so who knows what may be in store next year.”
Now that is tantalising! New music from the grand master of grandiose pop…that would make 2018 a year to cherish.
***Huge thanks to Jake for finding time to speak with me***