Enemy: The latest rock sensation

A trio of lads from Coventry are causing quite a stir on the rock scene. It was the only way they could escape nine-to-five drudgery, they tell Charlotte Cripps
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The Enemy enter The Independent's offices with the kind of swagger befitting a band tipped to be the next big thing by NME. As their second single, "It's Not OK", is given a limited-edition release this week, it's a busy time for the Coventry trio, who are on their first headline tour. They are stopping off before a gig supporting Kasabian at Hammersmith Palais later tonight. The band, who all look barely a day over 12, confess to not having had time to tidy their bedrooms since they signed to Warner Music in the autumn.

It's all in stark contrast to the dull lives they set out to escape last February, after a heart-to-heart late at night in one of the parental back gardens. The lead singer and guitarist, 18-year-old Tom Clarke, had the happy realisation that he didn't have to spend his whole life selling televisions at a Co-op in Birmingham. His bandmates of two years' standing, drummer Liam Watts and bass player Andy Hopkins, also 18, shared his determination to escape their dead-end jobs

So it's only natural that "It's Not OK" - produced by Owen Morris, the man who masterminded Oasis's first album - is concerned with life in the rat race. (Sample lyrics: "You only have one chance, can't you hear me?/ It's not OK to be this way/ It's not OK to be a slave/ Start living your life.") Talking about the single, The Enemy say they want to bring hope to their friends and family back home in Holbrook, many of whom are unemployed.

In true punk spirit, despite signing to Warner Music the band stuck to an initial deal to release their first two singles with the cult label Stiff Records, which was formed at the outset of punk in 1976 and broke British acts including Ian Dury, The Pogues and Elvis Costello. The frenzied "40 Days and 40 Nights" (about the band's failed attempts at celibacy) came out as a 7in-only release of 1,000 copies in November and came on like an instrumental explosion. It was the first single to be released under the Stiff Records imprint in 20 years.

Like many other post-Libertine bands such as the Arctic Monkeys, The Enemy combine simplistic, everyday autobiographical lyrics with a feisty punk sensibility. They have the requisite bed-head hair, but their decision to wear Swedish label Fjäll Räven anoraks and parkas sets them apart from their indie peers. "I just couldn't go down my local pub wearing pointy shoes and my girlfriend's jeans because I'd get the shit kicked out of me," says Clarke. "Nobody has got these jackets yet. They are so practical - especially when it's raining."

Clarke first set eyes on a violin as a young child while watching the BBC Proms on television. By the age of four, he had begged his mother to buy him one. He then taught himself to play the piano and, with the help of a cousin, he learnt how to play guitar. He spent much of his youth listening to The Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women" and "Brown Sugar" at maximum volume in the kitchen, dancing with his mum. "At a very young age I realised that this music was class," says Clarke. He then discovered Oasis, The Who and The Jam. "But if I could nick a song and take credit for it, it would be David Bowie's 'Life On Mars'."

Clarke is finding writing the first album, We'll Live and Die in These Towns, little bother. "We have about 20 tracks we are trying to choose from - which isn't bad considering we've only been writing them for a year. I suppose the album is a collective commentary on our life at the moment. No disrespect to the Arctic Monkeys, but they wrote an entire album about going out on the weekend and getting pissed. I think we have written about the rest of the week, which is more important in people's lives - the Monday-to-Friday life that people don't think they have a choice in doing."

Clarke is clearly not the type to suffer from self-doubt - he reveals insouciantly that he writes most of the lyrics "in the bathroom". As he snarls with the assured confidence of a rock'n'roller on the up, he admits that it is only when he stops that he gets ill from working so hard. "It hits me like a ton of bricks," he says.

Most of the band's inspiration comes from Oasis, rather than The Libertines, to whom, he claims, Clarke has yet to listen. So far they have played 87 gigs in the UK since October, when they began touring with The Paddingtons and The Futureheads. Tomorrow they set off on tour with the Scottish indie rock band The Fratellis, as well as playing a string of NME club dates around the UK.

Last Friday, they were joined on stage in their home town by Neville Staple, the former singer with The Specials, who came out of Coventry in the late 1970s. "We got up and did 'Message to You Rudy' and 'Too Much Too Young'," recalls Watts. "It was just quality. I looked out at the crowd going mad and it was the greatest moment of my life."

The Enemy, despite their aggressive nametag, are a friendly gang, insisting on taking this interview opportunity to thank all of their fans and the record company for absolutely everything. "If you believe in something enough, you can make it happen," says Clarke. "We are just three lads from Cov who write a good song, but in the end it is one teaspoon of luck and five tablespoons of belief."

"There is that other saying, isn't there? Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity," says Watts. "It just clicked that being in a serious band was achievable," adds Hopkins.

Now they expect to rise right to the top and be a lasting example to other young hopefuls. "It's either this or get some nine-to-five job, work your arse off for a relatively small amount of money and not have any real aims or ambitions - just like everyone else," says Clarke. "If you look at most people that you know, they work in jobs that they either dislike or hate, and their only goals are to get a decent girl and settle down in an average house. Everyone just seems to think that's life, but it doesn't have to be that way at all.

"Someone once told me that if you don't believe in yourself then no one else will. It's the single best bit of advice I've ever been given in my whole life."

'It's Not OK' is out now on Stiff Records; the band are touring until 21 April ( www.myspace.com/theenemycoventry)

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