In the late 1980s, before grunge and Britpop, shoegazing (so called because performers were doing literally that, staring at their feet while playing) was the buzz word on the UK indie scene and Lush, whose drummer Chris Acland committed suicide on 17 October, were prime exponents of that much misunderstood musical genre, along with Ride, Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine. After the early success of the Spooky album (a top ten entry in 1992), Lush floundered somewhat, but came back with a vengeance and three hit singles earlier this year.
The band was formed in 1988 by Miki Berenyi (vocals / guitar) and Emma Anderson (guitar / vocals), two dissafected students who'd met at Queen's College (a girls school) in London and edited the Alphabet Soup fanzine. At the beginning, the group also comprised drummer Chris Acland (who was at the time Berenyi's boyfriend), bassist Steve Rippon and vocalist Meriel Barham who soon departed to form the Pale Saints.
Despite early shambolic live performances at the Falcon in Camden, Lush's early ethereal sound brought them to the attention of 4AD supremo Ivo Watts-Russell. The alternative label of Beggar's Banquet, 4AD had already achieved a modicum of success with the Coc-teau Twins and This Mortal Coil and Lush seemed to fit the mysterious style, distant image and art- house sound of the imprint.
In October 1989, their first release, a mini-album entitled Scar appeared, and the incestuous British music press went into overdrive and praised it to the heavens.
However, in a rather perverse move, the fourpiece decided to follow it with a series of EPs (the "Mad Love" and "Black Spring" four-trackers) and singles ("Sweetness And Light" and "For Love") and, even though these were gathered on the Gala compilation, Spooky, its debut album proper, didn't appear until January 1992. Produced by Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie, the album found its niche among the student constituency and reached number seven on the listings.
By then, Phil King, a former New Musical Express journalist, had replaced Steve Rippon on bass. With this injection of new blood, Lush toured the world and found themselves on the Lollapalloza tour, along with Pearl Jam, Ministry, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ice Cube and Soundgarden. However, while the American acts all clicked on their homeground, the British band - the opening act - struggled and were early casualties of an increasingly insular fan-base. Following appearances in Japan and Australia, Lush started work on their next record.
But the four-piece lost momentum once more and didn't release their second album, Split, till June 1994. They tried to make up for the delay by putting out two singles ("Hypocrite" and "Desire Lines") on the same day and painted a London cab with a variation on the sleeve of Split but to no avail. In the music press, the knives were out.
Lush had started to live up to their name too much and became the rockbiz number one party people around London. Miki Berenyi claimed that that reputation grew because journalists always noticed her distinctive red hair in a crowd, but the excuse rang hollow. Hacks were willing them on to do the decent thing and break up. Howard Gough, their early manager, lost faith and was replaced by Peter Felstead (who also looks after the Boo Radleys).
Looking back on that difficult period in a Select magazine interview which appeared six months ago, Chris Acland admitted he "went through a phase of feeling a bit useless. I wasn't really doing anything with my life, I was waiting for someone else to do it for me, because me and Phil don't write the songs. And I didn't want to carry on living like a student. When you start heading towards 30, you want to get out of that, because it's so easy to drift. It's quite an undignified existence, being in a band. After a while, you begin to feel a bit of a fake. And it ties you to London. Really I'd like to make loads of cash and buy a country house."
Things didn't look good for the band. Sleeper, Echobelly, Elastica and Skunk Anansia were the boy / girl acts in the news and on the charts but, in a fit of pique, Lush soon rejoined them and proved how influential they'd been.
Earlier this year, the band came back stronger than ever with three hit singles ("Single Girl", "Ladykillers" and "500") and a bouncier, crispier sound on the Lovelife album which documented some of Emma Anderson and Miki Berenyi's relationships. The fourpiece appeared on Top of the Pops, The Big Breakfast, Alive and Kicking and toured consistently.
Acland had started to write material for the band ("Sweetie", the B-side of "Single Girl", and "Piledriver", a track included on "500") and was the inspiration behind a track called "Ciao", originally penned by Miki Berenyi because the drummer wanted to sing. But Acland was joking and Lush recorded the song with Jarvis Cocker from Pulp, a band of fellow Indie strugglers who'd finally hit the big time. Radio stations got a promo version of the track but, wary of bandwagon-jumping accusations, Lush opted for "500" as a single instead and Lovelife disappeared from the listings.
Although originally from the Lake District, Acland was a keen Tottenham Hotspurs fan and, along with members of Moose and the Cocteau Twins, became the Lillies, to record a humorous flexi-disc entitled "And David Seaman Will Be Very Disappointed About That" which was stuck on the front of The Spur (a football fanzine) following the team's victory over North London rivals Arsenal in the 1991 FA Cup semi-finals.
But under the jokey exterior, darker forces were at work. Following a tiring American tour, Acland fell once more into depression and was considering quitting the band. He went to visit his parents in Cumbria and took his own life on Thursday.
People will read some significance into the fact that Acland hung himself like Joy Division singer Ian Curtis who committed suicide in 1980 on the eve of an American tour. Lush, their record company and their management are said to be devastated at the news: they have cancelled their forthcoming European tour and are considering their future.
The track "When I Die", written by Emma Anderson about the death of her overbearing father forms a sad epitaph to Chris Acland's career which had seen many ups and downs but seemed to be heading towards new horizons.
If you walked in now, I wouldn't start, I wouldn't frown
And if you just appeared I wouldn't cry
Or think it weird
'Cause you are still around
You're in the air, you're in the ground
And you can't go away
I'm afraid you're here to stay
Curse the English day for what it forces us to say
Banish all the pain,
'Cause when I die, I'll see you again.
Christopher John Dyke Acland, drummer and songwriter: born Kendal 6 September 1966; died Kendal 17 October 1996.
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