The Hours Interview - Time for The Hours
EMMA LEE Having cut their teeth in Britpop bands and playing alongside Joe Strummer, rising duo the Hours count Jarvis Cocker and Damien Hirst among their fans. Emma Lee spoke to Martin Slattery ahead of their show at Norwich Arts Centre.
Every so often you hear a song played on the radio that stops you in your tracks - that's so great it makes you forget whatever you're doing. I had one those moments a while back when I heard what I later discovered to be Back When You Were Good by the Hours.
With its Bond theme-like strings and gorgeous piano melody, I couldn't believe it when I discovered that such an epic sound had been made by just two people, namely Martin Slattery and Antony Genn who, between them, have worked with some of the biggest names in the music business and both were music obsessives from an early age.
When he was just 10, Genn, from Sheffield, was a fan of the Clash and played with an early incarnation of Pulp when he was 16. He's played with various Britpop bands such as Elastica (he was the infamous Glastonbury streaker and played keyboard on tour with them) and was also Robbie Williams' flatmate.
Slattery was brought up in Manchester, and was a teenage prodigy, playing jazz piano and saxophone in workingmen's clubs with his dad. In the mid Nineties he played keyboard for Shaun Ryder's band Black Grape.
As you would expect, given Ryder's hedonistic reputation, Slattery didn't get much sleep during that time and says that his mind was “a little bit broken” by the experience.
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The pair first crossed paths at the Metropolis Studios in London. Genn had actually taken Robbie Williams, who was launching his post Take That solo career at the time, there to introduce him Black Grape's producer Danny Sabre, but ended up meeting Slattery instead and recognised a kindred spirit.
They both worked with Joe Strummer before his untimely passing - Slattery was an integral part of the Mescaleros.
But despite having carved out successful careers in the music industry, they'd always been part of other people's bands. The epiphany came when they were at a Radiohead gig in 2004.
Slattery says: “I was watching them and thinking it must amazing to be on stage with your mates from college, making this amazing sound. Joe [Strummer] was a genius, he wrote lyrics that everyone from a janitor to a professor could identify with, but I had got bored of being in what, to a degree, had become a Clash covers band.
“Seeing Radiohead made me insanely jealous and really made me think about my situation. I said to Ant that if I ever have a regret when I'm older, it's going to be when my kids turn round and ask me why I never had my own band. And it started to eat away at me. Ant said: 'Let's just do it. Why wonder what it would be like'.”
Their friend, the artist Damien Hirst, paid for them to go into the studio for a couple of weeks to see what they could come up with, and the Hours were born - but it sounded very different to how Slattery thought it would.
“We wrote four or five tunes. When we started out, I thought we'd come up with some leftfield nonsense and it came out as power pop with tunes. We produced this album ourselves and we wanted to make people sit up and listen.”
The result of the sessions, Narcissus Road, which was released last month is a stunner. Slattery plays any instrument he can lay his hands on - and Genn joins in on guitar, making a massive sound.
The lyrics are really important to them too - with life, death, love and everything in between put under the microscope.
As Genn has said in an earlier interview: “It was really important that we communicate something with these songs. I want to communicate to people about re-invention, resurrection, loss, growing-up. Me and him have been in groups with three of the greatest British poets and frontmen of all time: Shaun Ryder, Jarvis Cocker and Joe Strummer. So, I always told myself, unless you've got something to say, mate, don't even step towards that mic.”
It seems like the time has come for the Hours.
t The Hours play Norwich Arts Centre this Saturday, March 3. Doors open at 8pm and tickets cost £7 in advance and £8 on the door. Box office 01603 660352.