| Meet The Editors
Editors threaten to do for the city what Franz Ferdinand have for Glasgow, The Killers for Las Vegas and Keane managed for, erm, Battle. That is, put Brum firmly back on the guitar pop map and banish memories of UB40 and Slade forever...
Talked about in hushed tones by quivering hacks and starry-eyed devotees alike, Birmingham quartet Editors threaten to do for the city what Franz Ferdinand have for Glasgow, The Killers for Las Vegas and Keane managed for, erm, Battle. That is, put Brum firmly back on the guitar pop map and banish memories of UB40 and Slade forever.
It's a drizzly Friday evening and I'm with one half of the hotly-tipped new band, Editors, on our way to a city pub for a pre-gig natter.
Suddenly, I do a double take. In the amber glare of a streetlamp, guitarist Chris Urbanowicz appears to have morphed into troubled former Libertine, Pete Doherty.
It must be the combination of his fashionably dishevelled mop top, skinny leather jacket and that unmistakeable doe-eyed expression. Imagining I'm the first to note the resemblance to the self-destructive junkie, rock poet and tabloid darling, I relay this to the 23-year-old, to be deflated with a weary sigh of: "Yeah, it has been mentioned.”
Despite the fact he is the doppelganger of Doherty, that's where similarities with Editors and the indie soap opera that is the Libertines end. Not everyone needs chemical assistance to be cool icons and Editors are out to prove that great music is the most powerful drug.
The four-piece - who along with Chris, comprise singer and guitarist Tom Smith, 23, bass player Russell Leetch, 22, and drummer Ed Lay, 23 - with their spiky yet undeniably romantic songs that are redolent of early eighties acts such as Joy Division, are fiercely ambitious.
You would be hard pushed to dig up stories of shambolic performances or drug-addled debauchery in their short history and they definitely have more than three chords in their armoury.
That flash of steely determination surfaces more than once when both gangly frontman Tom – who looks as if his entire head might disappear into the depths of his huge, funnel-necked coat at one moment – and Chris, voice their desire to avoid the fate of many of their contemporaries, who enjoyed a meteoric rise and then plunged into obscurity just as swiftly.
"We've really just slow-built it,” insists Tom. "That was always our plan. It's only now people are saying, 'Maybe they're a buzz band.”
Chris agrees with the sentiment of playing the long game, but concedes that it would be foolish not to capitalise on their current success: "If there's a crazy momentum going, we've just got to keep rolling with it.”
Judging by the reaction to the band's riotous swirl of a debut single, Editors may have to clear their diaries pretty sharpish.
Called Bullets, the track is a hypnotic, art-punk anthem and according to the guys, the closest they've come to writing an out-and-out love song. It earned the honour of 'Single of the Week' on Zane Lowe's show, has been championed by Radio 1's Jo Whiley, got within a whisker of the Top 40 even though it had a limited release and is changing hands for ridiculous amounts on eBay.
Fresh from support slots with Oceansize and The Bravery, the band are in the middle of headlining their first UK tour and last week, they played a much-anticipated hometown gig at the Flapper & Firkin. Previous shows – rapidly gaining cult status for their incendiary nature - have attracted a steady stream of fans, ranging from the mildly curious to the committed diehard, and disarmingly, Tom reveals that they have been taken aback by the turnout.
"This was our first local show but the response everywhere has been great. We kind of expected to be playing to a handful of people but it's been at least a hundred in every day,” beams Tom.
The Stafford University graduates hooked up three years ago after bonding over a love of literate guitar combos in their student canteen and after deciding that a career in Music Technology was not for them as it was "too geeky”, they formed a band instead.
The four guys shared digs throughout their course and continued the arrangement by settling in Kings Heath in 2003. Russell is originally from Solihull but the rest of Editors come from all over the country. Tom hails from leafy Stroud; Ed is from Ipswich and Chris, from Nottingham. They eventually decided on making Birmingham their base, as Chris explains.
"It was the mechanics of it, really. We graduated and our management are based here and suggested we move in together again in Birmingham.” Adds Tom: "It suited us being here 'cos it's a bit smaller and better for us to get a deal.”
We're not mentalists
Has living in each others pockets led to any Monkees-style shenanigans or rock 'n' roll barneys? "We're all quite chilled out, we're not mentalists or anything,” chuckles Chris. "We haven't really had a massive argument in three years. We know each other pretty well, so if someone's in a bad mood, we just leave them to go off and have their own time.”
They have fond memories of gigging in shoebox-sized city venues when the then unsigned outfit were hoping to catch the eye of a record company scout. Tom enthusiastically recalls rammed, sweat-soaked nights at the Jug of Ale, but one early, off-key performance could have proved disastrous for their fledgling careers.
"We had a terrible gig at the Bar Academy once in front of the head of Sony Records,” confesses Tom. "I remember he had been tracking us for a while.”
"He didn't leave half-way through but he thought we were rubbish!” Chris continues. "He's actually quite a good friend of ours now. I saw him a couple of weeks ago and he remembered when he came up to us after the gig and all I could say to him was, 'Oh dear'”, he smiles sheepishly.
Fortunately, they can laugh about it now and are thrilled with their label, Kitchenware, who they plumped for over the majors because they feel the team are genuine fans of the music.
"One thing we wanted to do was have creative control and I think being on an indie nowadays is a really cool place to be. People know exactly what they're doing but they happen to be in love with the band – it's perfect," enthuses Chris.
Formerly known as Snowfield, the band had a hasty rethink after it struck them that the name was too similar to Snow Patrol and came up with Editors because, states Tom simply, they loved how it looked on paper. The stark, monochrome imagery of the logo bears more than a passing nod to their idols, Joy Division, prompting some critics to dismiss them as mere Ian Curtis copyists.
It's all about the music...
Although Chris and Tom admit that there are distinct echoes of the Manchester group within their songs, they are adamant that they are putting their own stamp on them.
"They're obviously the influences that we've got, but we also want to create something new” says Chris. "A lot of bands are taking influences just so that they can sound like, say The Clash, but we just want to sound like us.
"Anyway,” he laughs, "It's a lot easier to say they sound a bit like Joy Division or The Bunnymen than to say,' They've got a really eighties, twangy guitar feel!”
Tom feels the comparisons are an inevitable result of the industry's tendency to hype new scenes, a fate that befalls most up-and-coming bands, but he doesn't believe it'll be another Britpop as unlike the style-fixated groups of that era, it is all about the music.
Refreshingly, the new batch of guitar heroes are also generous enough to big up their supposed rivals and Tom and Chris from Editors are no exception, peppering the interview with references to the acts they admire. Those singled out for particular praise are Tom Vek, described by Tom as "Talking heads meets Gang of Four with a bit of Beck thrown in” along with punky upstarts Bloc Party.
When held up to cities like Manchester or Liverpool, some feel that Birmingham's music scene has struggled to measure up. However, Chris believes this is shortsighted.
"I'm sure some people will say, 'Birmingham's crap, no one comes to the gigs' but there's a myth about how you can go down to London and make it," he declares. "The fact is, the industry will go anywhere to see you.”
Nevertheless, he recognises that the city has a long way to go towards producing influential musical icons. "There hasn't been a Joy Division to come out of Birmingham or an Oasis,” muses Chris. "It's always been UB40 meets Slade and Duran Duran – not very credible acts.”
Intelligent guitar music
Tom puts this down to Birmingham's diverse musical backdrop with no single scene standing out. "There's so much going on in Birmingham culturally that the focus isn't on one particular thing,” he says, adding that the band hope to change this and push intelligent guitar music from the Midlands into the spotlight.
In the coming months, Editors are set to complete the last few dates of their tour, release a new single in April and exclusively reveal that they will be on the bill of most of the festivals this summer, a prospect they are relishing.
They've also just announced an extra gig at the Jug of Ale on Wednesday night (Feb 9), so if you want the chance to catch them in an intimate 'whites-of-their-eyes' setting, grab it before they start selling out arenas the size of small countries.
Their album will be produced by DJ Shadow and Kasabian cohort Jim Abbott and contains a "dark, electronic undertone,” while attempting to capture their magnetic, live energy on record.
For a band with oodles of ambition and on the cusp of great things, what is the Editors' grand manifesto? Cracking America, perhaps? Headlining Glastonbury, maybe?
"It's one step at a time,” says Tom, seemingly unaffected by the feverish buzz surrounding the band. "We want to make a debut album that we can be proud of, and see how far that takes us. But as far as global domination goes, we'll leave that to U2.”
© Asha Mehta