When EM Forster gave us the aphorism “only connect” he wasn’t strictly talking about the collective musical endeavours of Rob McVey, guitarist Doug Morch, bassist Aidan Banks and drummer Matt Dabbs, but he might well have been. Long-View have stepped round the distractions of scenes and posturing to release a run of magically elevational singles and one exquisitely yearning debut album, establishing a clear identity for the band as genuine communicators rather than this week’s circus act.
Long-View are here to remind us that music is at its best when it cuts straight through to the emotional core, without regard for who, how, when or why. Pull down the tinsel curtain of increasingly self-referential styles and on the other side you’ll find Long-View’s beautifully crafted songs of hope, humanity, togetherness, ecstasy, separations, seasons, re-unions, hometowns and angels glimpsed through the drizzle.
It was unlikely that either Rob or Aidan were ever going to be confined by the limitations of two-dimensional rock’n’roll. While they played in guitar bands together during school days in Winchester they also grew up with a wider musical knowledge. Aidan played piano and violin. Rob studied classical guitar throughout his teens. Drawn by the city’s history of definitive bands Rob moved up to Manchester where he continued to study classical music theory at university. A deep knowledge of semi-quavers was not, however, going to serve as an end point.
“I didn’t want to be regurgitating classical music in a baroque style which was a lot of the music I was playing,” he says. “I wanted to create music about things I saw. The only interest I’ve got in music is the way it makes you feel about your own life, and what I was studying wasn’t relevant to my life. If you are in a rock band you’re not regurgitating, you are the creative force… you Are Beethoven. “
Of more immediate relevance to Rob’s life was day-to-day survival in Manchester as a student and then unemployed musician. By the second half of the 90s he’d met up with Matt Dabbs, occasionally jamming with the drummer at live gigs in the city’s Dry Bar and hanging out at the Night & Day cafe with upcoming local musicians. Pre Long-View line-ups involving Rob came and went, but after Aidan had moved up from Winchester to join the band the three-piece gelled. Finally Doug Morch came on board, quitting his involvement with a Leeds based band, and adding a complimentary layer of incandescent guitar to Rob’s harmonic chord surges.
Long-View’s ascent – from the back streets of Manchester to Top 30 in the UK singles chart and on to recording in the US with Pearl Jam producer Parashar – might have looked swift and effortless from the outside. But this shorthand version doesn’t take into account their years of honing musicianship and crystallising an unshakeable belief in songs which reflect real human experience.
The initial low-level release of ‘Further’ and the band’s second EP ‘When You Sleep’ revealed a band who had clearly fought to find their identity. Even in the first releases there was a breathtaking ability to make uplifting spiritual rock without being pompous. In Rob’s voice there was humility and compassion. The guitars glowed in stained glass wonderment without trying to blind you. Here was the first band ever to make sonic cathedrals sound vulnerable. Small wonder that after a year of UK support tours they had a dedicated fan base who knew they’d found something special.
A third EP, ‘Nowhere’, was followed by a full release for ‘Further’, leading to a Top 30 hit for the band. Riding high in the singles charts, they followed through with the mid summer release of their first album, ‘Mercury’. The collection of twelve glimmering studies in celestial melancholy triggered an avalanche of praise in the UK media, most critics recognising that here was a band able to work on the same epic scale as a U2 or Verve, but as adept at bruised emotions as Manchester colleagues Elbow or Doves. The recording sessions in Seattle had only served to remind the band of their unique Englishness. With Rick Parashar at the controls the sound of the band had become enormous, elemental even, but the location was distinctly recognizable as the lifescape that Rob grew up in.
“You can only write about what you see,” says Rob. “When for a time I was living in a field in Cornwall, I wrote ‘Falling For You’, which is a song about naivety and that kind of romance in naivety. But what I really wanted to write about was the summer and the sensuality of it and the way the air smells in the summer when you’re on holiday and the sense of nostalgia you have related to that. “That was the emotion that I wanted to capture, and that was real to me. I wasn’t trying to throw myself into any fake situation and it wasn’t about wearing a leather jacket and pretending to be from New York. All of the album is like that, its about things I went through or felt, from being at a comprehensive school in the south of England to arriving in Manchester and putting the band together.”
The release of ‘Mercury’ saw Long-View make a full connection. Through the summer of 2004 they completed two sell-out UK tours, and converted huge crowds at festivals. There were over a thousand people in a tent to watch them at Reading. The momentum kept up throughout the year with the release of the next single ‘Can’t Explain’ and a perfectly matched tour with Elbow.
Finding themselves established in the UK was of particular satisfaction to the band having done it on their own terms. While those looking for instant labels had sought to place them in a category alongside Coldplay, on rock’s sensitive side, anyone with a closer knowledge could trace a deeper history going back to the more reflective early 90s American bands and British guitar bands from My Bloody Valentine to The Smiths. Certainly they had made their connection while disregarding the surface vogue for imported ‘rock’n’roll’ hedonism.
“We’re not trying to do anything apart from write songs about everyday life, like The Smiths did perfectly” says Rob, “about British culture, about British life, like Oasis did in their way.”
2005 began with the release of ‘In A Dream’, and a sold-out fanclub only gig at The Scala prompted four-star reviews in the Guardian and the Independent, with the latter tipping them to “do a Franz Ferdinand”. After signing to Columbia in the United States, a performance at SXSW lauded by Rolling Stone, Billboard and Fader led to ‘Further’ reaching No. 1 on Specialist Alternative Radio in the US. Following a sell-out US tour with Embrace, the band are now ready to give ‘Further’ a full UK release.
There’s little doubt that Long-View are about to enter a gripping new phase of their existence. ‘Mercury’ was where they started to connect. Now they’re set to explore further, hunkered down in a group house in Bury, with a turntable battle between the Cure and Interpol going on in the living room, a bizarre collection of furniture available for guests to sit on while they’re “scrutinized”, and a growing realisation that their singer is more of a visionary and quite a lot “weirder” than they ever thought. Out of grey Northern days, real human feelings, the rustle of angel wings and a musical idealism bordering on sainthood, Long-View are going to make the kind of second album that levitates cities.
“I just think that right now we’re writing the best music and being the most creative that we ever have been,” says Matt.
Just stop, get out, take a deep breath and enjoy the incredible View.
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