Pop: Take a walk on the mild side

In a business filled with planet-sized egos, The All Seeing I have a refreshing modesty as well as bags of talent. They think it has something to do with coming from Sheffield.

It is telling that, standing at Sheffield's rail station, I fail to recognise the core members of The All Seeing I. Armed only with a blurred photocopy of a man with no hair and another with more hair than a woolly mammoth, I desperately scan the platform. It is only when the station is nearly empty that I spot them eyeing me quizzically from behind a newspaper.

You'll have heard The All Seeing I's single Beat Goes On being played during TV trailers in a bid to make their sitcoms seem more hip. It's a crackling drum'n'bass track where a girl giggles as if she is being tickled to death. You might also have seen Jarvis Cocker mincing about on Top Of The Pops, lamenting "Marie has set up home with a man who's half my age/A halfwit in a leotard stands on my stage". That was The All Seeing I's next hit, Walk Like A Panther. Cocker wrote the lyric although he was standing in for Seventies cabaret star Tony Christie, who sings it on the record.

The band's current single, the tragi-comic First Man In Space, also written by Cocker, features The Human League's Phil Oakey, his voice as exquisitely yearning as it was back in1981 with Don't You Want Me? To add to the confusion, Babybird's Stephen Jones is on their forthcoming album Pickled Eggs & Sherbet, with Lisa Millet, Tiana Krahn (the giggler on Beat Goes On) and Boz. By my calculations, that is seven singers.

Which begs the question, who exactly are The All Seeing I? The band comprise Dean Honer, Jason Buckle and DJ Parrot, the one with the Neanderthal hair. They use words like "faceless", and "anonymous" to describe themselves, although not in a self-deprecating way. I think it is a more a case of sticking with what they know. After all, dance music has never been known for its big personalities - Andrew Weatherall and Carl Cox may be world famous DJs, but you imagine that they can still go to the supermarket in peace. This lot prefer to work quietly in the background, leaving the limelight to a stream of guest vocalists.

Their names don't even appear on the record sleeve, although they have credited everyone else, including the fish'n'chip shop where the pictures were taken. "None of us has the self-confidence or the in-built charisma to represent a band," says Honer. "Besides, none of us can sing," explains Parrot. "Jason's not bad, but he's microphone-shy. There's a difference between singing in the bathroom and in front of a microphone. And with lyrics, you really put yourself on the line."

Parrot also likes to romanticise the Sheffield ethic. "There is a quiet pride in the way Sheffield people work. They don't go around singing their own praises like gobby Mancunians or Scousers will do. Sheffield is a town that has as much identity as Manchester and Newcastle and Liverpool, but the people haven't got a name. They just get on with things."

Parrot has been working on the Sheffield scene since the mid-Eighties, when he was one half of techno act Sweet Exorcist, signed to the nascent Warp label. A couple of years ago he became the producer for experimentalists Add (N) to X, and came to work in Honer's studio. They began making tunes together, putting out records on Parrot's label Earth. When the studio shut, they moved the equipment into Parrot's house, which he shared with Buckle. "Jason went out shopping one day and came back with a Buddy Rich record. We heard it and rushed downstairs and made him put it on our record player. We sampled it and that was it."

Beat Goes On was born and within a matter of weeks it was top of Radio 1's play-list. "We're used to our records just plopping out and selling a couple of thousand if we're lucky," gasps Honer. "We couldn't believe it when Beat Goes On started being used for TV jingles." It wasn't all good news, however. The All Seeing I were sued by Blue Note records for sampling the Buddy Rich line. "You've got to hold your hands up," says Honer. "People sample illegally all the time. But when you're used to selling relatively few records, you just assume you won't get caught."

Dean Honer is not exactly shy, but he hardly fits into one's idea of a friend to the stars. When he talks about being on television or recording with Cocker, there is a detachment in his voice as if it has all happened to his younger brother. Out of the three, he seems the most taken aback by their success and likes to downplay the band's starry connections.

"We only asked Tony Christie to sing because we thought he lived up the road. We wouldn't have approached people that we didn't know. It just turned out that he lived in Spain." Still, it's not every dance outfit that can call upon such luminaries as Christie, Cocker and Oakey to spice up their record.

"Sheffield's a pretty small place, y'know"' says Parrot. "We knew Jarvis already. It just happened that we bumped into him on Top Of The Pops and asked him to write a few songs." "He came creeping into our dressing room to use our make-up lady," remembers Honer. "It was the perfect opportunity. We didn't really expect him to say yes."

There is always a danger that too many Zeitgeisty names on one record can be a band's undoing. A case in point was last year's UNKLE project, masterminded by James Lavelle and featuring the Beastie Boys, DJ Shadow, Richard Ashcroft and Radiohead's Thom Yorke. The record wasn't at all bad, but expectations spiralled out of control and sales were disastrously low. "`That young man's range of vision was probably too wide," says Parrot. "He was getting people in from far and wide whereas we, if anything, are a bit blinkered. Cocker, Oakey and Stephen Jones understand our mentality because they all come from the same place."

Conversely, the biggest criticism levelled at dance acts these days is blandness, and the Chemical Brothers have recently made their most exciting album yet, with vocal contributions from Noel Gallagher, Bernard Sumner and Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donahue. It must also be pointed out that The All Seeing I had a hit with Beat Goes On before any of the big names climbed on board - Tiana Krahn was a newcomer recommended to the band by ex-Pulp guitarist Russell Senior. Parrot is still confident that the band could go it alone.

He says: "The ideal thing would be to find a frontperson to do it all, though obviously it will be hard to follow up Mr Cocker's lyrics. I would like to avoid that stereotypical second album syndrome and I've got every faith that if we carry on with Boz and Lisa we'll be fine. I'm not sweating just yet."

The All Seeing I's album `Pickled Eggs & Sherbet' (FFrr) is out on September 20, see review opposite

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there