I suppose I would have been about 18. I’d gone along to the Trent Polytechnic (in those days we had such things) to watch my then favourites, The Darling Buds. When I came away, I’d fallen for this band of Bristol artisans, who made this sort of jagged art-sunk indie, with this front man constantly spouting his clever, funny observations and thoughts, littered with literary and cultural references. Startlingly tight, the band included, at that time, a Bez character, this whirlwind of Ian Curtis like proportions, called Wojtek Dmochowski. I couldn’t take my eyes off them, and I went out and bought all I could by them, and then I couldn’t take my ears off them either.
Fast forward to 2013, and despite personnel changes, that enigmatic front man, Gerard Langley, is still there, still writing and The Blue Aeroplanes are still very much alive. Unfairly dismissed as indie nearly men, the stream of reissues shows the interest in the band, and so following the deluxe reissue of the fantastic ‘Swagger’, Cherry Red are about to release the bands high point ‘Beatsongs’. In addition, the band are not only still playing live (in fact they’ve got some shows coming up this month), but still recording, the band releasing new material, with the Anti-Gravity the most recent release.
We got chance to talk with Langley about the shows, the re-releases and writing new material.
[Backseat Mafia] You’ve got a handful of shows coming up soon – can you tell us about those, how did they come about, and where are you going to be?
[Gerard Langley] They came about because Tim Bailey from The Fleece organised some dates. Couldn’t do Scotland thought, we missed the right days for King Tut’s, which is a pity cause we love playing there.
I first came across you at a gig at Trent Polytechnic supporting The Darling Buds (maybe 1989?) and I was blown away by your live show – do you still love playing live?
Well, it’s always a bit of a party with some intellectual shit thrown in, so yes. We’ve got a couple of new guitarists who are very excited about the whole thing.
And there’s going to be a re-release of Beatsongs. How did that come together, and when is it coming out?
I don’t know how it came about. Cherry Red organised it with EMI and got in touch, so I put together a more complete CD2 than the one they were going to do. And I did the booklet with Sam, our graphic designer. I’ve got loads of the press from that time and photographs that no one else has got.
What do you remember from the original sessions of the album?
I remember Michael Stipe being in the control room when I did the vocal for ‘Colour me’ and then taking me over to the next lot for the video of ‘Losing My Religion’. I remember Kim Deal and her sister coming to Alex’s 21st in the Oakwood Apartments. I remember going to Disneyland when it rain and shone. I remember writing the second and third verses of ‘Cardboard Box’ while the band was playing it. I remember being in love and the sun shining.
When you were putting it together for Cherry Red, how did you find it? Was it an easy, or enjoyable job?
It was, because it’s good to be reminded of that. But it was also a distraction, because I’m not very nostalgic at the moment. We’ve just written twenty of thirty new tracks in a couple of months.
And do you think that it represented, at the time, your best work?
It was the high – water mark commercially. We outsold Nirvana and Jeff Buckley but our US tour was cancelled because the record company got sold, and all the momentum got lost.
But it was a good time in your career, didn’t you tour the album with (amongst others) R.E.M.? What do you remember of that time?
We toured the previous album, ‘Swagger’, with REM. We toured the US with The Church but that was before ‘Beatsongs’. As I said, we never got to tour ‘Beatsongs’ in the US when ‘Yr Own World’ was all over the mainstream radio there. We’d have had a Top 20 hit there if we’d been able to tour it.
But you’re still working now, with Anti-Gravity out as well?
We always work, whether it’s cottage industry limited editions or back on EMI, like ‘Altitude’, ‘Anti-Gravity’ came out of touring.
Tell us about ‘Anti-Gravity’ Was it the culmination of a period of writing, or did you write to order for the release?
It was trying to get the essence of a live band down. Me and Chris (who runs the Fleece) recorded the band without them knowing. Well, they knew it was being recorded but they didn’t realise it was in multi-track and we’d use them as album tracks and overdub the one take. Sometimes musicians are better when they just play, you know? Mind you, it took almost a year to mix with this guy called Steve Lima, weekends when he had the time free.
And what inspired you during the process of writing and recording? Do you listen to a lot of music?
I used to work in a record shop. I’ve always collected records. I lecture at a rock college called BIMM Bristol so I have to be aware of what goes on. We covered a St Vincent track on ‘Anti=Gravity’. She seemed surprised when I gave her a copy of the rough take that more people didn’t cover her songs, which seemed weird because she’s pretty out there, even if she’s gone Top 20 in the States.
What keeps you and the band going after all this time?
Knowing that no one else does quite what we do. It doesn’t matter how many people want it, as long as they do we’ll keep doing it. Bec and Mike (new members) are as enthusiastic as anyone about it all. The older members are all still around, it’s more like a social scene that a band. Mike is working with Angelo (guitarist on ‘Swagger’ and ‘Beatsongs’, now with Massive Attack) on a project with a girl singer. But the Blue Aeroplanes is the core of it all.
And finally, what’s the best record you’ve heard this year?
This year, I don’t know, there’s a lot of people treading water. I’ll be interested in the new Eleanor Friedberger album. I like the new Queens of the Stone Age. I like a lot of stuff, but I’m still waiting for something to love.
Mon 17th June – LEEDS (Brudenel)
Tue 18th June – MANCHESTER (Deaf Institute)
Wed 19th June – LONDON (Water Rats)
Thu 20th June – BRIGHTON (Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar)
Fri 21st June – BRISTOL (Fleece)