This scene needs a name

by Alex Hern


London is a really big city.
I sometimes find this isn’t said enough. If you’ve ever travelled from Barking to Hounslow, then you know what I mean (and have one of the weirdest commutes ever). This place never ends.
As you’d expect, a city this size has proportionate effect on culture. Every year, hundreds of Londoners make it to national and international fame, and rightly so. The NME sells 70 000 copies a week without ever bothering to leave it.
But on a lower level, how does this gel in the city itself?

There have always been ‘scenes’ in music. Merseybeat. Mods. Grungers. Some are bigger, some are smaller. In London, they tend to be geographical. We’ve been through New Cross. We’ve been through Whitechapel. And then, Thamesbeat started.

Thamesbeat was a name made up, for a joke, by Larrikin Love’s bassist. As with all the best labels, no one knew what it actually meant, which was brilliant, because that meant that it could be applied to anything.

The first lot to achieve success were Mystery Jets. Hailing from Twickenham in South West London, they held regular party/gig/riots on Eel Pie Island. If it weren’t for them, there wouldn’t have been any scene. They grouped bands around them, and around the area, and pretty soon they were the kings. Coming on to chants of ZOO TIME, they would rip into their perculiar brand of prog rock, and the crowds would go wild.

Mystery Jets – Zoo Time (Demo) [MP3 Removed]
Mystery Jets – Zoo Time (Erol Alkan Remix) [MP3 Removed]

Mystery Jets achieved escape velocity. A national tour, a relatively well recieved album, and a follow up EP appeared. The other thing that appeared was Larrikin Love. Again from Twickenham, they cut their teeth with the Eel Pie revue, and released a couple of bona fide indie hits, with Little Boy Lost (another GCSE inspired song), and especially with Happy as Annie, a Libertines-with-banjo ditty about, well, rape and murder. Spot everyone’s faces fall as they realise the lyrics they are dancing to when the bridge kicks in (also, who says “everything that I adore came well before 1984”, while playing heavily Libertines inspired indie?)

Larrikin Love – Happy as Annie (Demo) [MP3 Removed]
Larrikin Love – Downing Street Kindling (Demo) [MP3 Removed]

Where Mystery Jets succeeded, Larrikin Love didn’t. Their album, while also liked by the critics, just didn’t sell as well, and, trapped in a 7(!) album deal with Warner, they announced their split last week.

Way Out West... motion pictures?Thamesbeat reached its pinnacle with Way Out West. Although all the acts involved continued their metoric rise to fame, this weekly gig, held in the bar underneath the south stand of Brentford FC stadium, was the last thing tying it to its centre of Twickenham. When it was, inevitably, shut down for horrible amounts of underage drinking (it being one of the first of the new wave of all-ages gig nights), the bands migrated. But it was, while it lasted, majestic.

Just as Mystery Jets were the kings of the first wave, so Les Incompétents were the kinds of the second. Formed as a joke to enter a battle of the bands, they could only hold down two permanent members, who hated each other. Any success was gonna be short lived. But Fred (aka Mr Peaches Geldof) and Billy’s great success was not caring. Playing at pretty much every Way Out West night (even if it was just a one song set), they won the crowd over with their pure, undiluted sense of fun. Crowd surfers outnumbered crowd, and stage invasions began before they were even onstage. And when How It All Went Wrong began, you knew you were in for a treat. Costa Rica, meanwhile wins the award for being, I think, the first song I ever heard to reference myspace. They even managed to release a (posthumous) album, with an intro by, of all people, David Walliams.

Les Incompétents – How It All Went Wrong [MP3 Removed]
Les Incompétents – Costa Rica [MP3 Removed]

If Les Inc were the party side of Way Out West, then the business was with Jamie T. Even though his sound was nothing if not unique (armed with just a mic and bass guitar, his white boy rap came out just the right side of parody), it was clear that his eye was set on the big game. Shiela (re-released this week) is a real shout along, while his cover of A New England introduced it to a new generation. And his ambition has payed off. With an album out, a video starring Bob Hoskins, and real mainstream attention, he looks to have made it.

Jamie T – Sheila (Demo) [MP3 Removed]
Jamie T – A New England [MP3 Removed]

But what of the others, who didn’t make it out before the demise of Way Out West and Thamesbeat? Who are they, where are they and what are all eyes on now? All to come…