Music: Watch this Space for a couple of `quirky Scousers'

The likeable Liverpudlian four-piece Space are finding their own voice, says James McNair - and it turns out to be a duet

Sonny and Cher. Peters and Lee. Kylie and Jason. Through the decades, the duet has always been part of pop's rich fabric. As I watch the Liverpudlian four-piece Space sound-check for the final date of their British tour, I realise that we can add another boy-girl crooning partnership to the list. Up on the Shepherd's Bush Empire stage, Space's pint-sized front man Tommy Scott has been joined by Cerys Matthews of the Welsh guitar band Catatonia. Later on, they'll deliver their first public performance of Space's new single, "Tom Jones". Even on this dummy run, however, they're obviously enjoying the song's my line/ your line interaction. "I still want to poison your pizza," dead-pans Tommy. "And I still want to cut off your nuts," replies Cerys, with Bobbitt-like conviction. It's just the kind of wry and twisted vignette we've come to expect from Tommy Scott, and given the recent top-ten success of both singers' respective bands, it's bound to be huge.

"Basically, it's about a couple who would kill each other if they didn't share a love of Tom Jones's music," explains Tommy, back in the band's dressing-room. "I wrote it totally with Cerys in mind, because for me, she's the only outstanding female voice out there at the moment. She's like Doris Day or Nancy Sinatra."

"Yeah, and she's such a great performer," adds the keyboard player, Franny Griffiths. "Even in the sound check there, she really went for it." But has big Tom himself heard the song yet, I wondered? "Somebody told me he's been sent a copy but we haven't heard anything yet," says Tommy. "Maybe he thinks we're taking the mickey, but we're not - it's total respect!"

With Space on such fine and frivolous form, it's easy to forget that this time last year they'd almost reached the final frontier. After the success of their debut album, Spiders - which has now sold more than 750,000 copies - the pressure of trying to find time to write new material while adhering to a gruelling touring schedule took its toll. Jamie Murphy, the band's 22-year-old guitarist, had an alcohol-fuelled nervous breakdown. Tommy panicked and lost his voice for several months. Franny seemed to be getting better, but was recently diagnosed as having an ulcer. Cap all that with the fact that drummer Andy Parr was so wary of it all happening again that he recently hung up his sticks, and you have a quite different perspective on the rock'n'roll dream.

Tommy agrees: "We know that the nine-to-five is the really tough job, and that we're lucky to be doing this," he says, "but there have been some difficult times. To be honest, I think it was a blessing in disguise that I lost my voice, because it gave us time to write. If that hadn't happened and Jamie hadn't crashed, we would have been on tour in America, and this album could have been shite."

The truth is that Tin Planet - apparently the title was inspired by a mate who makes toy robots - is a far better record than Spiders. Though the warped lyrical sensibility first evident on the single, "Female of the Species", remains, this album's maturity and eclecticism should see Space earning some critical respect, rather than being pigeonholed as "quirky Scousers". With the Saturday Night Fever-esque "Disco Dolly" nestling alongside the Ennio Morricone-ish "Begin Again", it's a rather cinematic listening experience. It transpires that most of the gloriously overblown arrangements were constructed in Tommy's head while his vocal chords were paralysed. "I can vouch for that," smiles Franny. "All he did for weeks on end was sit on the bog playing his guitar."

Just a few years ago, Tommy's father died of cancer. Endearingly, he makes no bones about the fact that he's still trying to write songs that his dad would have liked. "I'm obsessed by it, to tell you the truth," he says, with a heavy sigh. "I think it's because he didn't see us become successful. We hadn't even released "Money" (an early single) when he died, like."

The more you talk to Scott, and the more you listen to Tin Planet, the more you realise that his parents' musical taste played a major part in shaping his song-writing. He recalls how they would play him "loads of Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nat King Cole". I put it to him that his vocal phrasing on the song "Unluckiest Man" strikes me as Sinatra-esque. "Yeah, it's probably in there subconsciously," he says. "I've grown up with him, haven't I? But it's supposed to be us rather than some sad retro thing," he adds, beginning to smile again. "The last thing I want is to sound like Harry Connick Jr!"

The song on the album that Tommy is most proud of is "Bad Days", a wistful, meandering ballad with a typically skewed middle section redolent of the Pulp Fiction sound track. "I know I've written a good song, if it feels like somebody else's when we play it live," he says. "I'm not being big- headed, though," he adds quickly, "It's more, like, `hang on, I'm crap, where did this come from?"

Although Tommy stresses that the song is about other people that he's lost, rather than his dad, his father does figure in the story behind the song. "It was kind of inspired by `Everybody's Talking', the old Nilsson track from Midnight Cowboy, he explains. "Sometimes me dad and I would listen to that when we'd had a few beers, and we'd cry together. At first we'd be a bit embarrassed, but then we wouldn't care."

There's a few moments' silence, then Tommy brings the interview to its natural conclusion. "We really try our best, you know; we're not just chancers. It could all stop tomorrow, and we're very aware of that."

`Tom Jones' is released by Gut records on 23 February. The album `Tin Planet' follows on 9 March.

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