A JET COMING IN TO LAND GOES ABOUT ITS BUSINESS LOW OVERHEAD, TEARING TWO PARALLEL WHITE STRIPS DOWN BLUE SKY. AS THE ROAR OF THIS MIGHTY MACHINE PASSES, I CONVINCE MYSELF THAT I CAN SEE THE NUTS AND BOLTS AND THAT ITS INNER WORKINGS ARE ENTIRELY FATHOMABLE FOR BEING EXPOSED AT WHAT SEEMS SUCH RIDICULOUSLY CLOSE QUARTERS.
Sifting through the Hyde Park area of Leeds, we eventually turn in to the car park at The Brudenell. A smattering of daytime drinkers gathers outside the front of this unassuming Social Club. Next to where we park up, a mechanic tinkers under the bonnet of a tired-out BMW clumsily poking out between the doors of his workshop.
We kill the ignition, crick necks and step out into the sun, still discussing specific plans for the songs agreed in advance with the band as this afternoon’s shoot. An inventory of equipment in the boot satisfies that we remain as well prepared as when leaving base, and I stare across the city as I light a cigarette.
Before I’m even up to the maker’s name a modest tour-van pulls in and several grizzled gentlemen of a certain age step off it. Four of them comprise The House Of Love, and one of that quartet is guitar pyrotechnician Terry Bickers. All Bryan Ferry hair and Matt Smith in slow motion gait, he stretches and then strolls over, carrying guitar case and kitbag. Offering out a gentle smile and his hand in greeting, he’s clearly intent on being friendly but is also quite serious – rather shy, perhaps. Or, more likely, the drive down from Glasgow – where the band had played the previous night – cannot be completely unfurled by a mere two minutes and two strangers. We small-talk on how the dates so far on the band’s SHE PAINTS WORDS IN RED tour have been. “Alright, yeah…” he offers, before a long pause and then “… Good”.
Moments behind him – tall and possibly just woken up – is frontman Guy Chadwick, chewing an apple. Beanie hat and almost Tom Baker scarf both seemingly pressed deep into his being, the cramped journey from Scotland has delivered him with the slight air of Tintin crumpled into sleeping rough. His face – penetrating eyes and chiselled out cheekbones, which 25 years ago seared and jutted from the CHRISTINE single cover like an intense indie derivation of Sting – is now as seasoned as the wood from which he makes his South London living as a carpenter of bespoke sash windows. Bickers introduces us, and Chadwick says a brief “hello” and that he’ll see us later for the shoot, before wandering off to begin loading in the band’s equipment.
The bubble universe of band life intensifies relationships and over the 25 years since The House Of Love’s debut album – reissue review here – much has been made of the highwire tension between Chadwick and Bickers (mostly by the music press inkies). It’s certainly there – I witness it today – but I sense that there is also a great need and profound friendship: like Taylor and Burton. The impression is that if one was under siege, the other would windmill in – but also that there have been many moments when they’ve launched into each other. Crisp words and crisper looks occasionally flit between the two, and it becomes apparent that Chadwick walks a tauter, more agitated, line while Bickers seems to placate, shouldering a quiet duty to further forward motion. It’s compelling to glimpse and, in the brief moment the friction does finally spill over, a little unnerving. It’s a dynamic that John Peel spotted and remarked on and which, over the course of the afternoon, I’ll come to believe to be the absolutely essential firestarter for The House Of Love’s creative magic.
An hour after the car park, individual members of the band begin to soundcheck. The process is, as ever, tedious: extracting the absolute minimum amount of joy from what seems the maximum amount of time. I’m head down on a bench-seat, sorting through interview notes, and the hairs on the back of my neck frisk to their ends. Something familiar has begun: I close my eyes and remember the cool blankness in Chadwick’s vocal delivery of HANNAH’s opening line (from The House Of Love’s self-titled second album, sometimes referred to as FONTANA or BUTTERFLY). The eery vapour in his voice submerges to deep as he toys with emptied out sections of John Lennon’s 1970 single MOTHER. To call it a cover version would stretch the definition beyond snapping point, but it’s the first of three fragments which seem to offer interesting clues. Later, Bickers’ fingers tease out scalar drops on his guitar as he runs boyishly through a minute or so of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ SHAKIN’ ALL OVER. When the entire band gathers for the sound engineer’s finishing touches, a dubbed up take on The Ruts’ BABYLON’S BURNING hints at what The House Of Love might sound like were they not The House Of Love. Tonight, though, the Brudenell crowd will be expecting them to be The House Of Love, so they work up a new addition to the set: CRUSH ME (from 1992’s BABE RAINBOW – recorded after Bickers had acrimoniously departed).
The soundcheck winds down and, with the clock now against us all, the band decide on two shorter songs than originally planned for their session (recorders of alternate history might like to know that PKR and SHE PAINTS WORDS IN RED, the new album’s title track, were the original choices). Video equipment is already positioned and we quickly shoot the tracks (watch them here).
Twenty minutes later, in the dressing room to record this edition of The Mouthcast, Chadwick and Bickers are reasonably forthright. We discuss the pressures consequent to signing for a major label, briefly touch on the effects of dope smoking on perspective, and talk through the genesis of SHE PAINTS WORDS IN RED (review here). Time soon beats us and Chadwick has to leave to meet up with family who’ve travelled to Leeds for the show. Bickers and I continue alone for a while before the support band begins its own soundcheck, completely drowning out the chance to record more.
As we finish up and I pack away my gear Bickers, referring to my general surprise at there having been a new album from The House Of Love, says “There’s no point in putting things off anymore when you reach middle age. If there’s something you’re driven to do, you have to get on with it”…
I realise that The House Of Love is actually some sort of home for the pair of them. I may have been able to peer through the windows into two rooms for a few moments, but there is a sprawling mansion behind the door to which only Chadwick and Bickers will ever hold the keys.