A cheerful use of misery and adversity

If you thought the Smiths had a patent on northern moans, try Doves, says John Harris
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The Independent Culture

'We got him a cheque for £2,000. Just to spend on musical instruments for the school. And then we asked him if we could use the practice room one night, and he turned us down flat. Bastard! All he was interested in was forcing me to play drums in the brass band."

'We got him a cheque for £2,000. Just to spend on musical instruments for the school. And then we asked him if we could use the practice room one night, and he turned us down flat. Bastard! All he was interested in was forcing me to play drums in the brass band."

Andy Williams, the drummer-cum-occasional vocalist with Doves, is sitting in a Mancunian bar and remembering a music teacher nicknamed "Fat Baz" - whose name appears in the dedications list on their debut album, Lost Souls. The fact that their tribute to him says, "f--k you and stick your recorder up your arse", suggests that 14 years of post-school life has hardly dampened Williams's contempt.

Unlike most of the journalists who have been flocking to Doves's door since Lost Souls became one of the albums of the year, I know exactly who Fat Baz was. Over in Cheshire, I attended Wilmslow County High School with Williams and his twin brother Jez, and vocalist-guitarist Jimi Goodwin - our teenage years were spent grasping for rock stardom. Andy and Jez were the founders of Static Mist; Goodwin was the guitar hero with a mod act called the Risk.

Moreover, I clearly remember the cheque-related intrigue that prompted Williams's ire. Static Mist changed their name to Open View, recruited a female singer and became very good indeed. Thus opened a path which led to the finals of the TSB Rock School Competition, and an appearance on Saturday Superstore. They came fourth.

Fourteen years on, Doves are enjoying an altogether more gratifying kind of success. Lost Souls was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, and it was shortlisted for Best Album at the Q Awards. By Christmas, the album will have long since gone gold.

The group seem pleasantly surprised by it all; at London's 2,000-capacity Astoria, they thanked the crowd for coming with an air of quiet amazement. "It's been a complete life-change," says Jez. "The Astoria was rammed. Our manager showed us the guest list. All Saints, Radiohead, the Chemical Brothers, one of the Sex Pistols - it was all just bizarre."

Lost Souls fully deserves the acclaim. Founded on the band's wish to make an album that felt "cinematic", it's a fantastically elegant record, with an abiding air of yearning sadness - as perfect a soundtrack to the rain-lashed Mancunian cityscape as could be imagined.

The record's mood was founded in the grim circumstances in which it was made. Doves were once known as Sub Sub, the outfit who authored the 1993 hit "Ain't No Love (Ain't No Use)" - a massively successful bit of neo-disco that took them on to Top Of The Pops. After that highpoint, things slid to a depressing point indeed - failing to follow up their success, they eventually found themselves with no commercial outlet. Then, in 1996, the group's recording HQ burned to the ground. Poetically, it was the twins's birthday - Jez hobbled to the scene, roaring drunk, to be greeted by the sight of three fire engines and a pile of melted equipment.

"In hindsight," says Jimi, "it's glaringly obvious what that album's about ... We weren't releasing records, and we were in very, very claustrophobic surroundings.

"We recorded in a grim, little building with no windows," says Williams. "New Order let us use it - they didn't want to go there. Now we're in a glamorous place in Salford. Has it got windows? No. That's quite important."

All that rather begs the question of what the successor to Lost Souls is going to sound like. The group have written "eight or nine strong contenders" - but are they worried that success might rob them of all the sadness that makes their first album such a delight?

"Nah!" he counters. "They're still miserable." He points out of the window at a typically sodden Mancunian scene. "I mean - just look at it."

Doves: Ritz, Manchester (0161 832 1111), tonight; Metropolitan University, Leeds (0113 244 4600), Tuesday; Arches, Glasgow (0141 339 8383), Wednesday; touring to 14 November

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