The Holloways: Local heroes sign on

Today, a London pub; tomorrow, America. Chris Mugan meets The Holloways, whose US label is backing them all the way
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The Independent Culture

For quick work, these lads can't be beaten. They only played their first gig at the end of 2004, and are now signed to the US label TVT, home to the crunk maestro Lil John and the sensitive rockers Ambulance Ltd.

This year, TVT is making inroads into the UK scene, snapping up daft-haired metallers Towers of London and arty rockers The Cinematics. Now the future looks equally bright for these four lads, who met, as their band's name suggests, in an unprepossessing part of north London.

Indeed, I meet The Holloways at the pub and venue Nambucca, where the quartet met. It's an oasis of youthful vivacity on a road famed for its Irish boozers. Outside, The Holloways spot local figures: the Elvis impersonator in the Celtic shirt, and a rather haggard-looking tramp. People-watching seems to be their favourite spectator sport.

The singer Alfie Jackson thinks back to another elderly neighbour who inspired a still untitled song. "He walked along with his bag in one hand and his walking stick pointing upwards, not on the ground. Kids in the café I was in laughed as he went past."

Clearly, the area means more to the band than just being the place where they formed. "Our name should be 'The Worlds', really, because you get it all down here," Jackson says. "A Jamaican café, an Indian jazz restaurant and the Irish pubs, all next door to each other. It's the least segregated place we know. Everyone just gets on with each other."

The bassist, Bryn Fowler, met Jackson at a party and moved to live opposite him. Then they went to Nambucca where the guitarist Rob Skipper was playing covers during a bingo night. Dave Danger, the drummer, was one of the prizes, and Jackson won him. "I won a date, so got Dave's mate as a prize," Jackson reminisces. "We found out we had a lot in common," Dave says. "Music we liked, our outlook on the world and coming here all the time."

Spending time at Nambucca meant taking in music of many genres - dub, hip-hop, punk and others - which suited The Holloways. Danger and Skipper had formed a country tribute band, Fowler was into Britpop and Jackson enjoyed "anything melodic".

"We get loads of great bands in here," says Danger. "And when we meet groups we like on tour, we invite them down here."

"We're always bickering, but it's like a family," Fowler admits. "Rob plays dub incessantly and no one lets me play my music because they think it's all lame Britpop, but things like Elastica and early Blur still stand up." A needled Skipper responds: "But a lot of it is watered-down versions of good music."

The second time they jammed together, they were already gelling. This instant rapport allowed them to make a swift start that shows no signs of slowing. "We realised we could not only play each other's songs, but play them together in a way that made sense," Skipper says.

So far, The Holloways have generated interest thanks to two hard-to-find singles - "Generator" and "Happiness and Penniless" - and the track that is causing the most fuss, Jackson's font of bile "Great Britain", still to be found on the band's Myspace site. This bitter outburst takes in celebrity culture and a news agenda set by the tabloid press.

"I wrote it as a poem when I worked in an office," Jackson says. "I was just getting fed up with the news I was reading. The NME got excited about me singing, 'Let's all sleep around,' but they ignored the bit about spreading disease."

As for participation sports, take your pick. They're looking forward to visiting a trendy bowling-alley. "Bryn is the most competitive of all of us," Danger says. They bowled on a recent tour that also took in tennis and swimming. "It doesn't make up for the unhealthiness of the rest of the tour," Skipper says ruefully.

Having gigged so much last year and this, the work-rate can only continue at a label that has promised to help break them in the US, even though TVT is best known for its crunk signings.

"Crunk is new and what's happening in the US, but the indie scene is big over here," Fowler says. "We looked at TVT and they have a great history of breaking bands."

"We liked their UK director," Jackson adds. "He was really enthusiastic and came to gigs. There was none of this thing on major labels where people have to speak to their bosses. We met loads of people from TVT and none of them wore suits."

Skipper interjects that TVT signed Joe Strummer's last band, The Mescaleros; a reminder of a tradition of London-based rabble-rousing. It looks like a theme The Holloways are set to continue.