Rock: I'm the urban spacehog
Nick Hasted has been a film journalist since 1986. He writes about film, music, books and comics for The Independent, Sight & Sound, Uncut and Little White Lies. He has published two books: The Dark Story of Eminem (2002), and You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks (2011), both from Omnibus Press.
Friday 28 November 1997
It's 1973, and Anthony Langdon is in the most glamorous pop band in Britain. He's bursting out of St Paul's tube station, screaming teenagers tearing after him. He's exhilirated. For a moment, he loses himself. Then he shakes his head, and accepts reality. He's just shooting a film, Todd Haynes' glam tribute Velvet Goldmine. His is only a bit-part, one of the band alongside Ewan McGregor. And if he steps a few yards down the street, the glamour fades. It's 1997 again.
Langdon knows what being screamed at is really like. In 1995, his band Spacehog became one of Britain's biggest in America. With their debut album, Resident Alien, they faithfully followed the glam-rock trail, and, in a country starved of entertainment by a post-grunge slump, sold a million. But back home on Monday night, the hysteria present in Todd Haynes' vision of the UK seems a lifetime away. In the British media, success in America without success at home breeds resentment on both sides. Spacehog are under the gun.
They play songs which hark back to the old days of Bowie and Ronson, somewhat pointlessly. There are a handful of lovely songs on the upcoming Chinese Album, with a spark which pushes them beyond pastiche, the Cape Fear-sampling melancholy of "Lucy's Shoes", or the Denim-like oddness of "Almond Kisses." But it's the fun they're having that wins the crowd over. They're more Slade than Bowie. It's like Spacehog's pleasure at existing is the most precious thing they have to give.
Langdon, 29, accepts the charge of glam obsessive without a qualm. It's a dream which began when he was a child in Leeds, listening to Queen on his mother's radio. "I always liked Freddie's spirit," he remembers. "When you come from suburbia and you're at a Leeds comprehensive, it's so hard not to be shackled." He always wanted to be taken out of himself, into a more glamorous world. "My Mum has always been an aspirant," he says. "She used to buy Vogue magazine. It was full of pictures of handsome men and beautiful women, going to functions and getting out of cars. I know it was idyllic, and in some ways not cool. But it was just the fact that you got to dress up, not like everyone else. You didn't have to go down the pub and drink another pint of beer. You mixed cocktails."
The early 1970s are more than a childhood recollection for Langdon. For him, as for Todd Haynes, it was Britain's perfect moment; a time when Bowie's stomp was heard down every street. "For a moment there, anything went," he says. "You could dress how you wanted, have whatever sexuality you wanted. I think that attitude affected the creative process. And it wasn't an elitist thing, it was on the streets. Young lads were putting on make-up. I bought myself a leopard-skin shirt, I went to town in my pyjamas, I wore my mum's make-up. London disappoints me now, there's not enough glamour. Everyone looks warm and safe."
Langdon made his dreams real in America. His identity blossomed in New York, and it was there that Spacehog's four Leeds exiles came together. His brother Royston, 25, brought musical training and a love of Talking Heads and Tom Waits. It seems natural to Langdon that America wanted them first. But he still pines for his homeland to accept the band. "It's typical and it's to be expected," he says of their status here. "This is Great Britain, and if you buy a Union Jack guitar or Union Jack knickers you're alright. We used to play "Rule Britannia" at our shows, as joke. We play "The Great Escape" now."
As he talks, Langdon's as engaging as he was at the gig, humorous and likeable. His love for glamour and escape is hard to disagree with. But there's still a nagging doubt about the band's music. They've done so little to move their sound forward. Langdon could still be on that film- set, in a dream-1973. Pop needs more, in the end. Surely he wants more too ? "Well, we're doing our best," he sighs. "We're a long way from where we should be. I think we will be progressive, and we will push ourselves. But not necessarily in terms of music. We're going to push ourselves as people. I think we're going to develop as human beings."
Has being the success he always dreamed of helped? Is being a pop star the life he thought it would be? "I've given up a lot of my childhood dreams of success," he says, thoughtfully. "One of the appealing things about the band's energy in the early days was our eagerness. But now we've got the things we wanted, the money and the women, they don't mean as much. In a band, you meet hundreds of people every day. It makes you put up a bit of bravado, a bit of front, to protect yourself. But last night, at the show, I was trying to get past that. I was very nervous coming over here to play these shows. Anyone in our position would be. But I decided to just relax. I decided I wanted some peace in this lifestyle. We inherently give everything on stage. But I don't want to kill myself up there. The difficult thing we've got to do is give up some of the adulation, even give up some of the glamour. I think we should start to open up to the world again. We should be real people."
Spacehog's new single `Carry On' is released on 12 January. `The Chinese Album' is released on 23 February. They will return to Britain to tour with Supergrass in January.
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