They’re an eccentric, motley bunch who have more in common with Half Man Half Biscuit and Pulp than they do with their oft-compared ‘influences’ The Fall. Vocalist Eddie Argos (an ex-goth obsessed with Jonathan Richman and Vincent Van Gogh) had previously been in a band, The Art Goblins, in his hometown of Bournemouth. Their stage show would see him “playing a vacuum cleaner” and escaping from a sack. They sounded not unlike cult Glaswegians The Yummy Fur and had songs such as I Wanna Be Johnny Dean and Disco. Another ‘project’ was The Welsh Elephant, who penned the should-be-classic Fuck The MSP (which contains the catchy refrain “Nicky Wire can suck my cock!”).
Having moved to London and determined to be in another band, Argos found himself at a party in Mornington Crescent and set about hassling everyone there to join him. A webzine-editor and guitarist called Chris Chinchilla (a ska fanatic) thought this sounded like a good idea – after all, it was a good way to impress girls. Argos was more concerned about getting on ‘Top Of The Pops’.
Chinchilla talked his German flatmate Frederica (grunge fan) into playing bass, and thus they got a bass guitar for her off eBay. Argos had a friend from Bournemouth who’d also just moved to London. Ian Catskilkin (thinks he’s in Led Zeppelin, but with better hair) used to be in a heavy rock band called Orco and he agreed to join the new band. Another friend then overheard a German man (who NME would later say looks like “he should be in Interpol”) on a bus telling someone how he played drums and worked in Merc, the shop on Carnaby Street selling cut-price mod clothing. Determined to hunt him down, Argos and Chinchilla went to the shop. He wasn’t working that day, so they left him a note. Mike (listens to nothing but Weezer) would then join the band, and that was it – May 2003, Art Brut was born.
Much like Bloc Party, Art Brut’s first gig was an independently promoted show at the Kentish Town Verge. Chinchilla had booked it before the band was ready, at which there was much complaining by his fellow bandmates. Mike’s drumkit had yet to be imported, so he played sitting down (he usually stands up to play). After a number of other gigs round London they recorded a demo named Brutlegs, containing early versions of Formed A Band, Modern Art and Moving To LA, and made it available on their website. Formed A Band first saw the light of day on the debut Angular Records compilation album. After a journalist came across this recording, he sent an MP3 to the label Rough Trade. Within an hour of getting it, the label’s A&R man was in touch offering to release Formed A Band as a single.
Suddenly the band were all over the music press, picking up fans and haters with ease. Many people expected it to be nothing more than a one-off novelty single. They played a triumphant Swedish festival where a guy interviewed them and got confused, thought they were from Manchester (and had all his questions based around the city), and compared them to The Sultans Of Ping. They were also offered the main tour support for Razorlight but had to turn it down due to lack of funds.
Formed A Band was released as a single at the end of March 2004. A gleeful call to arms of sorts, Argos shouts “formed a band! We formed a band! Look at us, we formed a band!” before going on to proclaim how he’s going to “write a song as universal as Happy Birthday” and “play it eight weeks in a row on ‘Top Of The Pops’”. It reached No. 52, selling 5,000 copies, and cropped up in many end-of-year polls as the one of the best singles of the year, including ‘Blender’ – the USA’s second biggest music mag after ‘Rolling Stone’ - who proclaimed them the best unsigned band in the UK.
The rest of 2004 saw them playing numerous gigs from Brighton to Manchester, as well as a first anniversary show at the Tate Modern where they were joined by a couple of a Argos’ heroes – The Vessel (David Devant and His Spirit Wife) and Les ‘Fruitbat’ Carter (Carter USM). As a stop-gap between singles, they offered the new, shaky Brutlegs 2004, this time containing versions of Good Weekend (the one that goes “got myself a brand new girlfriend/… I’ve seen her naked TWICE!”), Bang Bang Rock And Roll and an acoustic version of Moving To LA. The frenzied Top Of The Pops (not a Rezillos cover) was recorded with a number of bands guesting on vocals (including Ciccone, The Boyfriends, The Long Blondes, Abdoujaparov, Prozak, Rhesus and Luxembourg) for inclusion on the Angular Records compilation Rip Off Your Labels, while Moving To LA saw yet another recorded appearance, this time in live form from the Bath Moles on the compilation Bring Your Own Poison: The Rhythm Factory Sessions.
In December ’04, their second single finally saw the light. A double A-side of Modern Art and My Little Brother (with B-side These Animal Menswe@r), it was released on the Fierce Panda label and reached No. 49 – scoring the band a bigger hit than before and, perhaps surprisingly, the highest chart position Fierce Panda has ever had. All the sleeves of the 7” were hand-designed by the band and fans, including one messy session at a Queens Of Noize night at Camden Barfly which ended with the stage (and crowd) being covered in fluorescent pink paint.
The start of 2005 sees them having completed their debut album, pencilled in for release in March, and having picked up even more fans including Graham Coxon, British Sea Power, The Libertines, Hope Of The States and genius boy wizard Daniel Radcliffe. Even the Happy Mondays’ Bez has tried to get onstage at one point with them at the Barfly but was so wasted at the time he didn’t manage it, despite Catskilkin’s attempts at pulling him by his arm.
Sadly, they’ve yet to appear on ‘Top Of The Pops’. Perhaps ‘CD:UK’ will be more accommodating. It’s better, anyway.