Jimi Goodwin and twin brothers Jez and Andy Williams have known each other since they were 15. They started playing together seriously about 20 years ago but, as Jimi notes, “We were wagging school and jamming way before that”. As Sub Sub (graduates of a Hacienda-inspired Manchester club land explosion of the late eighties) the band scored some dance inflected hits which kind of painted them into a corner. The number one selling “Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)” was released on New Order manager Rob Gretton’s label. “We kind of lost our way for a few years”, admits Jez. As newly named Doves, 2000’s Lost Souls, a record wrought from hard-bitten experience, put their train back on the rails. Nobody could have been ready for the attention it brought them.” The Last Broadcast, a record which realised all expectations, was an unbelievably assured second LP. It was heralded as a masterpiece on release, spent two weeks at number 1 in the UK, and, like Lost Souls, was nominated for the Mercury Prize.
Some Cities arrived almost three years after The Last Broadcast. It was conceived as a shorter, more forceful record than its two predecessors. Its bona fide hit single in the Motown inspired “Black And White Town” opened up new commercial possibilities for the group. Perhaps typically, making money and knocking out a whole new album of Black and White Towns was never really going to interest them.
But that was February 2005. Since then, in the absence of any releases, fans, writers, DJs and pundits wondered what had happened.
Unless you are related, prior to this welcome communication you would have been none the wiser.
It’s January 2009 now and I’ve been driven in darkness to a farm in Cheshire. We off-road to get to our unlikely destination. A farmyard. A barn door opens. Scarfed up against the cold and listening intently to one more mix, could it be?
Jimi, Jez and Andy halt proceeding for a couple of hours. They’re happy to talk about where they’ve been (and what the frig they have been doing) while playing back some pristine new songs which– even on first hearing– seem robust enough to stand alongside a “Caught By The River”, a “Pounding” or a “Catch The Sun”.
Turns out they have been holed up here with all their own gear in a makeshift studio complete with living quarters for the best part of two years tying to perfect to their own exacting standards for their fourth Long Player ‘Kingdom Of Rust’. What’s immediately clear is that they could have delivered a record a couple of months after their last. The writing process is constant between the three of them and they have almost 100 songs in various states of undress knocking about. The delay (which really speaks of our impatience rather than any timetable they set themselves) was all about high standards of internal excellence and rigorous and fiercely democratic self-criticism that makes no allowance for releases schedules. “Maybe we’re just too democratic”, says Jez. “To the point of madness. But it’s been that way since we were kids. Some bands have one person with all the power. Maybe that’s how they get things done so quickly. With us everything takes two or three years . Bugger”.
Hearing “Jetstream”, a Kraftwerk kissed electro pearl or “Kingdom Of Rust”, a broad stroke Lancashire Western with the kind of drama Sergio Leone would approve of, certainly makes you see the sense of their high standard approach.
Getting to here was a journey that began in April 2006– after a 4-month break from the year of touring promoting the release of Some Cities.
Since then, various musical avenues have being explored in the most speculative and open ended ways.
The result though, is an incredible record which will repay your close attention and stand you in good stead long after your initial consideration.
Though they’ve grafted long and hard here, there has been joy. Andy talks of good times locked in the barn late at night. “I can remember occasions when we’ve all been on point, playing together, just the three of us. And things have taken off, reached a kind of intense plateau. That’s really why we still care. The empathy between us grows all the time. We’ve played together for almost 30 years now”.
Jez reflects it’s been tough at times: “It comes out of pushing yourself constantly– trying to find new ways to play things. To unlearn in a way– get out of your comfort zone. But we found ways to make it fun still and keep it fresh. When we were 12 or 13 years old we would record live onto old cassette decks and ghetto blasters. I listened back to some stuff and it sounded amazing. So we started doing that again and some of those recordings have been fed into the mixes. We’ve used rough demos and unpolished first takes that had a character as starting points for some things, just to keep pushing– to find a new edge to what we do”.
Such is the distinctive sound they’ve crafted as a unique signature from day one, that Kingdom of Rust flies off at new tangents but is always recognisable due to a trademark passionate intensity that few can even approach. “Compulsion” is a properly achieving homage to the kind of wonky left field disco rock experiments that might have been played at the The Loft or The Paradise Garage in their 80s heyday. “Jetstream” fizzes and ticks with real electronic intention. “That’s a gem for me”, says Jimi. “I just love hearing Jez sing. I’d sooner he did most things. He has the most fragile, beautiful voice”. The title track is already being talked of a defining Doves classic. Andy is happy it’s been described as a Lancashire Spaghetti western. “Outsiders” is what might have happened had time allowed Chuck Berry to jam with Joy Division.
Lyrically life and time has impacted on these Lost Souls and out of an intense three way writing method there are lines which make you wonder how hard the past four years might have been. As always there are uplifting sentiments and hard won optimism. The widescreen approach to the music gives words that sometimes seem like oblique clue ridden environmental observations room to breathe and the imagination the space to run riot. “Sometimes what we write might be an outlet for people’s emotions, things they find hard to express”, says Jimi. “You sometimes see that in the faces when people sing along live. We always think about leaving enough room for the listener to put themselves in there somewhere”
Kingdom of Rust is a record that consolidates while pushing forward. The hardest thing it had to do was to satisfy the exacting standards of the group themselves. It’s hard for Doves to distance themselves enough right now to see the wood for the trees with it, or even begin to evaluate. But, aside from the relief of closure in completing this record and the excitement of looking forward to getting out and playing in front of people again, it’s clear from the smiles and the sense of hard won celebration that Doves have done enough to allow themselves a little sleep at night. For now at least.