Not Fab, but not far off

A young band from Liverpool who don't sound like the Beatles! Nicholas Barber meets Space
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The Independent Culture
Leaning towards me with unsettling eagerness over a Camden pub table is Tommy Scott: motorcycle helmet of black hair, denim jacket, V- necked T-shirt, Kojak-style lollipop in hand. To his right is Jamie Murphy: tightly checked shirt, gold chain around his neck, scruffy orange hair that he either brushes to boost its volume, or never brushes at all. Look at them and you see off-the-shelf Britpop clothing, worn by off-the-shelf Britpop lads: at a festival last month an autograph hunter mistook them for the Bluetones. Hear the music they make with the other two members of Space, though, and you won't mistake them for anyone. "We've always said, how would we look if we dressed like we sound?" says Scott, in a thick Scouse accent. "I'd be a transvestite and he'd be a serial killer." He nods at Murphy, who adds in an even thicker Scouse accent: "If we dressed like we sound, we'd get our heads kicked in."

If you don't know what they mean, listen to their second single, "Neighbourhood", a guided tour of a street whose residents include the aforementioned transvestite and serial killer; or "Female of the Species", an awestruck hymn to a vamp who "wants to conquer the world completely / But first she'll conquer me discreetly", which recently spent nine weeks in the Top 40; or their next single, "Me and You Versus the World", a tale of a young couple who rob a service station armed only with a tin of baked beans and a copy of Woman's Weekly. "I don't want to write about my life," says Scott. "I live it. It's boring."

Next month, Space release their impossibly good debut album, Spiders (Gut). Combining old-fashioned quality songwriting and new technology, half of it is composed of psychedelic, sample-laden ska with the luxurious melodic expanse of Bacharach, and topped with cod-operatic singing or over-enunciated Ray Davies-esque declamation. The other half is unruly funk-rock, a speciality of producer Steve Lironi, who also masterminded Black Grape's album. Spiders makes it seem as if his work with Shaun Ryder, Bez and Kermit was just a warm-up.

Despite their pedigree, Space have reached the charts with minimal coverage in the music press. When they have appeared in print, the articles have consisted largely of imaginative lies: lies which, for once, come from the band, not the journalists. Space told Select and the NME that they used to work as gravediggers, that they were discovered at Butlins by Right Said Fred, and that their name derives from a love of the puppets Zig and Zag. ("We thought it up at a bus stop, mate," says Murphy now. "Because before that we had the worst name in the world. I'm not even gonna tell you what it was.") Today, let's hope, we'll get a little nearer the truth.

YTS schemes aside, Scott, 26, has spent his adult life playing in bands. Never a gravedigger, then? Scott looks baffled. "What? Oh, no, that was a joke."

"He's robbed graves, mind, but he's never done it as a professional," adds Murphy, 20, through force of habit. Scott writes off the "learning bands" that he was in with Space's drummer, Andy Parle, but even these had their fans. Murphy would watch their gigs from the front row. "His voice hadn't even broken," remembers Scott. "He'd be this little kid who'd come around and say, [squeaking] 'All right! I like your songs!' " Ignoring Murphy's unprintable protests, Scott continues: "I didn't know he was still at school. The first I knew was when I asked him to join and he came along to a rehearsal with his school uniform on. I thought I was a pervert or something."

"I thought he was a pervert, as well," smirks Murphy. Scott grins. "I am," he says.

The band now have two singer-songwriters, one a bassist, one a guitarist. This arrangement worked for another Liverpudlian four-piece, but most groups need one overarching ego to guide them. Space agree. "I'm the leader," says Murphy.

"I'm the leader," says Scott.

They conclude that Space are actually three or four different bands, because "every member is influenced by different things". Keyboard player Franny Griffiths is the sampling master, Parle is "the pure hip-hop man". Put these personalities together and you get something unique.

There are, you'd have to admit, a couple of salient influences. Scott doesn't admit it. " 'Neighbourhood' has got nuttin' to do with 'Ghost Town'. I like some of the Specials' stuff and I hate some of it. I don't like Madness at all. I rip my bass lines off bands like Cypress Hill, but because I can't do it, they come out the way they do."

The melody of "Neighbourhood" is actually based on "Johnny B Goode", Scott protests, and, sure enough, now that he owns up to it, Chuck Berry's lawyers might have a case. As might Beethoven's. Passages from Space's first single, "Money", resemble "Fur Elise", I suggest, a notion which astonishes but delights Scott. "My Dad used to play that stuff when I was a kid. I've just started to realise that's where most of my songs are coming from now. One song sounds like Elvis, one like Sinatra, one like Fitzgerald. Since me ould feller died last year, I'm stuck in a rut of trying to write songs to please him, 'cause he never used to like my stuff."

Perhaps it is Scott's late father we must thank for Space's repertoire being Beatle-crib-free. Scott prefers "songs you hear in films, Planet of the Apes, Sinatra films, West Side Story. I could almost be like whatsisname ..." He taps his lolly stick on the glass ashtray, vexed by his disobedient memory. "That English feller, does all the ... oh, what's the feller's name? Going out with that Sarah Brightman ... "

Andrew Lloyd Webber?

"That's the feller!" says Scott, beaming. "I'm going to end up like him! Writing songs for West End musicals. I like the drama in songs like that."

"I'd love to write a script for a film," chips in Murphy, not to be outdone. "Everyone would kill each other. I'd be the only one who'd survive."

"Gingers would rule the world!" laughs Scott.

Stranger things have happened. In Space songs, at any rate.

'Me and You Versus the World' (Gut) is out tomorrow. 'Spiders' is out on 16 Sept.