Monday, 28 November 2016
Old Music: Astronaut - One In A Million / Just Can't Take It / Three / What You Gonna Do
Here's another one of those occasional posts where I delve into the past and unearth either some forgotten or unknown hidden treasure or popular classic that means (or did mean) a lot to me. Today is the turn of indie off kilter pop band Astronaut, who like Buzz Aldrin instigated the great Astronaut tradition of partial success.
I first came across Astronaut on what, if I remember correctly, was a Sunday afternoon in January at Dingwalls in Camden in 1998. Althought it might have been a Saturday. It was a long time ago and I didn't have a blog or social media then to look at, check back and remind me. However, I did have a fanzine, a proper old school paper one, stuck together and formed with scissors, glue, staples, an old photocopier and love...more of that towards the end of this piece.
Anyway, back to Camden and Dingwalls. The NME was sponsoring an unsigned bands competition and I’d spent most of my time nursing a pint and becoming slowly irritable at the fact that every act playing was shockingly average. That was until Astronaut took to the stage. They were a cocky looking four piece who, within seconds, transformed a non-event into something worth being at. The lead singer (Alex Eckford) was a natural front man – that perfect blend of swagger, charm and good looks – and behind him was a bunch of lads who had the songs.
Four cuts stood out immediately. A stomping energetic hook laden anthem called What You Gonna Do, the euphoric and relentlessly enjoyable Just Can’t Take It, a driving, sneering, lip curling repetitive brute called Three and best of all a perfect pop tune named One In A Million. “Yeah ‘cos I’m synesthetic and my teeth are magnetic, blind ambition and malnutrition will take me there,” Alex sang on this song, the chorus immediately lodging in my brain for not just the train journey home, but the next month. There was no doubt they were the best band of the day.
Having won the competition, I was pretty certain that Astronaut was bound for next big thing glory. If the BBC Sound of list had existed then, I would have been convinced they were a cert for that.
It didn’t happen.
(I wrote and thought something very similar about the band Thrum, which you can see here)
A deal with indie label Fierce Panda and a John Peel Session was followed by the release of What You Gonna Do, which the NME unsurprisingly called 'a work of genius.' This was followed by another single Stone Cold Sober (which neither myself or the NME were as keen on) and a mini album called Preview all via Fierce Panda. And whilst these records had the tunes, something was lacking. For whatever reason the recordings didn’t have the full-bodied brilliance of the bands live performance. Further singles followed (Just Can’t Take It and Three, but sadly never One In A Million) and a full album The Curse Of in 2001, but by then it felt like it wasn’t going to happen for Astronaut.
In an interview with Rockbite website Alex explained: “We’ve decided to er... retire from live performance, bringing to a close what has essentially been a five year tour of Camden. We’re not splitting up, but now it’s time to do things a bit differently. Who knows, perhaps we’ll turn into a nine-piece clog-dancing outfit. Touring has always been a bit of an impossibility for us, as we all have jobs. Actually, considering the amount of weight we’ve put on, and how much our hairlines have receded, the less we appear in public, the better.” According to Liquisearch the band’s final show was at The Borderline in 2007.
Since the end of Astronaut (it's not clear exactly when the end was) it seems that three members of the band continued in another group called Slipside (who released their own albums) and Alex also has continued to produce music. In fact, he's done rather well with it - you'll have heard his work if you have ever watched award winning comedy Miranda, you can hear the Astronaut influence buried in there (watch and listen by clicking here). You can also hear his instrumental work on Soundcloud by clicking this link. Alex also works in VR design, cinema, photography and has worked with the likes of Sigur Ros on their 2016 world tour creating photogrammetry of 3D scenes and real-time integration of live data taken during the show. It’s certainly a long way from dingy clubs in Camden.
Take a listen to the songs that blew me away the first time I heard them live, even if these recordings don’t quite hit the mark as powerfully as, given the right production, they could have done and ponder why wasn’t One In A Million ever given a release as a single? “You already know, you’ve got what it takes….”
Oh and before you do, remember at the start of this piece I mentioned that I had a fanzine? It was called Breaking Waves (nice name huh?). I published it under the moniker 'The Ex Boy On The Boat' and it was subtitled 'Certainly Slough's Smallest Fanzine'. Issue 4 included an interview with the drummer from Idlewild, a big feature on a band called Agnes (who were a bit like Curve or Garbage) and also an interview with...guess who? Of course, Astronaut. The highlight was a huge essay by one of the band on his favourite albums and amongst its revealing facts contained the useful information that another member of the group , if he could be anywhere in the world, would like to be in his bath. Which just goes to show to regular readers of this blog that my theory on musicians in the bath (here) is long standing. Now...take a listen...
Astronaut - A 4 Song Playlist