Shoegazers: Valentine's day is here again

The original shoegazers are back, with a series of gigs for next year and, perhaps, even an album
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

For fans of My Bloody Valentine, the past 16 years have proved a long, frustrating wait. Since the release of the curtain-haired four-piece's seminal second album Loveless – itself three years in the making – music fads have come and gone, governments have risen and fallen, and wars have been won and lost.

But, despite the regular rumours, internet speculation and occasional outbursts of sheer wishful thinking from their many admirers, there has been a deafening silence emenating from the direction of the original and, many might say, finest exponents of shoegazer pop ever to have plugged their guitars into a distortion box.

Last week, however, the band announced that they were to play a series of UK gigs next year – the first for 15 years – at the Roundhouse in London, the Apollo in Manchester and Barrowlands in Glasgow. The London shows sold out in a minute, with the other two taking six and 15 minutes respectively to do the same.

With tickets changing hands for several times their face value on eBay within hours of going on sale, and following warnings that forgeries were already doing the rounds, two sets of further dates were added to meet the excitement.

Now there is even mounting speculation – albeit unconfirmed – that fans on the other side of the Atlantic can look forward to a tour to follow, possibly hinged round an appearance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California in April.

But what, then, of the long-awaited, fiercely-anticipated follow up to Loveless, an album that regularly tops "best ever" charts and which has even inspired a book dedicated entirely to the notoriously tortured events surrounding its recording and release?

According to Kevin Shields, the creative driving force of the band since its inception in Dublin back in 1984, only the Grim Reaper himself could now prevent the album's release. Asked in a rare interview whether the rumours were true, Shields, still every inch the proto-indie kid of the Thatcher-era, was unequivocal. "Yes, definitely. This time round everyone else is involved. Things will actually happen. It is not just up to me."

Shields says the majority of the material on the record itself will be culled from a "half-finished" album recorded between 1996 and 1997 with the fellow band member and vocalist Bilinda Butcher, apparently confirming speculation that, ever the perfectionist, he has created and shelved several records-worth of material since the band's last outing. These will be augmented with tracks laid down up to two years before the band's supposed split in 1995, plus, he said, "a little bit of new stuff".

Shields points out that the album was already three-quarters finished this summer, with the end product unlikely to disappoint fans looking for something clearly recognisable as the My Bloody Valentine of old. It would be "different but not radically different," he promised – and out by the end of the year.

Yet despite the excitement over the album, so tantalisingly near to completion, there has yet to be any sort of announcement on a new record deal, let alone an official release date. Intelligence on possible titles is also woefully lacking.

This information vacuum has prompted speculation that MBV are set to pursue the internet-only trail blazed by Radiohead this autumn with In Rainbows. However, the band's website is steadfastly non-communicative on the subject.

The official word, with Christmas release schedules already public knowledge, is that the hoped-for 2007 release date is now no longer on the cards. Still, what's another year, fans may ask, especially if they can sate themselves on the summer concerts when the classic line-up of Shields, Butcher, Debbie Googe and Colm O'Ciosoig will once more be cranking out the decibels?

It has been a difficult time for Shields. He has long been burdened with the label of the reclusive genius – helped, it must be said, by an extended period in the 1990s of living a hermit-like existence in his seven-bedroom north-London house in the company of a menagerie of chinchillas.

This, and the virtuoso soaring soundscapes of tremolo guitars shimmering with reverse-reverb that he has created, helps explain the comparisons with everyone from Stravinsky to Syd Barrett by way of Carl Jung that seem to bedevil every utterance about him. And all that during a career spanning more than 20 years that has produced what can only be described as a modest oeuvre – two albums, a handful of EPs and just one US single.

The delays helped bring the band's first label Creation almost to its knees and proved a near decade-long financial drain on Island, but have added to the MBV myth. And for Shields, it seems, it is a case of all's well that ends well.

"I suppose I've been more wrong than most people when it comes to time because I'm always late. But it kind of works. That's the weird part of it. I've tried over the years... I am supposed to have done everything wrong. But I am quite happy. Everything works out alright in the end," he told Soft Focus, the web TV series, last month.

"The only thing we didn't do was make a record when we kind of wanted to – once. And then we didn't want to any more after about the late Nineties. We didn't want to make one until a few years ago and it has taken up until now for us to do it," he added.

There are those who see it differently. Alan McGee, the founder of Creation Records, who signed MBV when they were languishing among the indie also-rans on the London gig circuit of the late Eighties, is one. Having coaxed the first album, Isn't Anything, out of the band in 1988 in what now looks like a blistering 12 months, McGee found himself driven to the point of despair as he played frustrated midwife to Loveless. Still to sign Oasis, the label was running out of money fast and MBV weren't helping.

The band used 18 engineers and the same number of studios to record the album, costing Creation £140,000 it could ill afford. McGee's inquiries as to what progress was being made were met, it is claimed, by Shields blankly reciting his latest lyrics. McGee has in the past blamed the stresses of Loveless as a contributing factor in his "personal meltdown".

The experience left a bad taste and McGee has described his former protégés as a "joke band" and Shields as "100 per cent mad".

But if Creation found them difficult to manage, that is nothing compared to the experience of their next label, Island. Despite having lavished £500,000 on new recording facilities, the band was never to release a single original track under their name for the company.

So what of the lost years? Shields spent much of the early part of the last decade performing live with Primal Scream. He also worked with Dinosaur Jr, Placebo, Yo La Tengo and Joy Zipper.

In 2003, two years after he was finally released from the unconsummated Island contract, Shields garnered serious plaudits when he contributed four pieces to the soundtrack of Sophia Coppola's Oscar-winning culture-clash hit, Lost In Translation – the tracks perfectly evoking an outsiders' gnawing sense of anxiety and isolation in Tokyo's neon jungle. Two years later he played with Patti Smith when she curated the annual Meltdown Festival in London.

It was long assumed that he had some kind of breakdown in the latter half of the last decade. He denies he was ever mentally ill or out of control, though he concedes he had "lost it" and was in a "manic overdrive kind of state".

His recent public verbosity and the sudden flurry of band activity would indicate that, at 43, Shields is in a better place mentally and ready to look the world once again in the eye.

My Bloody Valentine's legacy now seems more secure than ever. Loveless may never have attained the popular recognition that some believed it deserved, having been swamped in the backwash of the new musical waves of grunge and Britpop that followed its release, not to mention the ubiquity of dance music in the 1990s.

But today, shoegazing –a genre once dismissed by Richie Edwards of Manic Street Preachers as "more hated than Hitler" – is on the march again. Bands such as the Mercury-nominated Maps are being hailed as the pioneers of a style now improbably re-branded as nu-gaze or even shoetronica. And Shields has always accepted his reputation as one of the more hard to manage characters in the industry.

While acknowledging that it hasn't always helped his cause, he again makes no apologies. He said recently: "I do rub business people the wrong way. I'm not compromising on a lot of issues even though I think I'm easy-going... It's not so much me and that I'm so extreme, it's that I don't really have a manager between me and these people. A lot of people have my attitude in bands and stuff, but they're smart enough to get someone to translate them in a manner that record companies can tolerate."

The presence of such new kids on the block is unlikely to worry Shields and co. They have seen it all come and go as the world loyally hung on for their next offering. It will be intriguing to see if the wait was worth it.

Comments