How We Met: Sarah Cracknell & John Niven
'Nowadays it's tombolas and village fairs rather than munching on ecstasy at festivals'
Sarah Cracknell, 45
Lead vocalist of the indie dance-pop band St Etienne, Cracknell lives in Oxfordshire with her husband and two children.
We were performing a gig in Glasgow in 1993 and John came along as he knew Martin, our manager. I'd heard he was a raconteur and cryingly funny. And no one else has made me laugh as much since.
I really got to know him at [the music festival] T in the Park. We weren't performing; we were just there for the hell of it. I remember a guy coming up to us with this bag containing bits of ecstasy tablets, which he was selling at a discount, like broken biscuits. John and I were "up" from those pills for a very long time and he spent the evening telling me about his first acid trip.
After John moved to London it was [live-music night] the Heavenly Social that kept us together. It took place in a basement bar called The Albany, where bands like the Manic Street Preachers, Primal Scream and others hung out on a Sunday night, and where Tom and Ed of the Chemical Brothers started DJing. John was in A&R, though he was also part of a band called the Wishing Stones. The club night lasted only a couple of months, but it felt like an eternity.
While it's true that John passed on signing Coldplay, I think it was down to the fact they didn't have a similar spirit to him; the kind of people he hangs out with laugh a lot, and Chris Martin was rather too straight for him.
We always said he should become a writer and I absolutely loved his first book, Kill Your Friends [a brutally unflattering account of the music industry during the Britpop era]. Luckily for me, it wasn't about anyone I was directly involved with, though the characters were connected with people I knew well. It was so searing, I remember trying to read it at home with my cute little children running around, but I couldn't – it was too disturbing.
He's a great writer, though I also like how he's not afraid of controversy. He wrote a piece [in The Independent] a few years ago about the death of Michael Jackson and how the darker side of his life had been brushed under the carpet, which I thought was quite right. While journalists you'd expect more from were acting as though it had never happened, John tackled it.
John Niven, 44
Formerly an A&R man at London Records and Independiente, Niven has become a writer, and has had three novels published. He lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife.
I first met Sarah backstage at a music venue called The Plaza in Glasgow, in 1993. Her band were playing and Oasis were supporting them. I knew Martin Kelly, who managed St Etienne, and he introduced me to Sarah. In addition to being super-attractive, she was incredibly funny with a great dark streak of humour – completely unshockable. And when I moved to London in 1994, I saw a lot more of her and the band.
At the time the band was having an incredible run of pop singles. She has one of those classically English, perfect pop voices with a really cool, crisp delivery. It was also a time of great hedonism, so my early memories of her were often as part of a group in hotel bars, with the sun coming up and everyone laughing their heads off; we were young music fans sharing "recreational" times together.
I find her background fascinating. Her father was in the movie business [as first assistant director to Stanley Kubrick] and her mother was an actress. Compared to where I was from – the Ayrshire rustbelt – her background always seemed impossibly glamorous, though I think she found my background just as fascinating.
She was great as a social date and I'd often bring her along to events. I remember once asking her boyfriend at the time if I could take her to a Burns supper I'd organised at The Groucho Club, in 1996. I got insanely drunk and abandoned her. Did I ever fancy her? You'd have to be dead not to!
Sarah's developing relationship with Martin [who is now her husband] was the worst-kept secret. Everyone knew about it, so when they finally officially broke the news, it was a relief. At the wedding I played in a band with James from Starsailor, while Sarah and Martin sang "Islands in the Stream"; seeing Sarah on that small stage you instantly saw her for the pop star that she is; I think Martin felt a little intimidated by her performance.
Shortly after that, in 2005, I left London to write Kill Your Friends, and Sarah and Martin moved out, too, and we ended up living 30 minutes away from one another. Now when we get together we look at old photos of ourselves in Glastonbury, when we were out of our minds. Things have moved on in our lives, now. A few months ago we went with our kids to a village fair near their house: now it's tombolas and coconut shys, rather than munching on broken bits of ecstasy at music festivals.
'Words and Music by Saint Etienne' is out on 21 May (saintetienne.com)
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