December 30, 2013

The Servants - Reserved (2006) / Disinterest (1990) / Small Time & Hey Hey We're the Manqués (2012)

Led by the vastly under-appreciated singer and songwriter David Westlake, who has more than once been described as a post-punk version of Ray Davies, The Servants, formed by Westlake in 1985, were a natural yet reluctant fit among the figureheads of the guitar-pop resurgence that took hold in England during the mid-late 1980s, a movement that retroactively came to be known as "C86." Westlake, who hailed from Hayes, Middlesex, had already connected with guitarist John Mohan when he placed classified ads in a number of London music publications in the hope of putting together a proper band. Among the respondents was future bassist Phil King (who would go on to play in bands such as Felt, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Biff Bang Pow! and Lush). Phil King: "As for joining the Servants, I seem to remember seeing an ad looking for a guitarist in the back of the ‘NME ‘around 1984. I am trying to remember the groups it mentioned in the ad. The Smiths, the Go-Betweens, Orange Juice' maybe? I remember there being a phone number and David's address in Hayes, Middlesex [....] David had sent me a demo tape of some songs that included a rather primitive version of 'She's Always Hiding' with no bass on it. I was of course knocked out by it, and both the songwriting and John Mohan's guitar playing. I was so excited by the tape I took it upon myself to drive over to his place one Friday evening in my 1964 two tone blue Humber Sceptre [....] David was of course rather surprised at my unannounced arrival but we got on very well, and arranged to meet up for a rehearsal in his bedroom with John Mohan the next week. We soon realised that we had one six string guitar too many, so I ended playing a black short scale Fender Musicmaster bass (there was also a Peavey combo bass amp there too) that had been left by their friend Ed who had tried - and failed - to master it. And that's how I started, and still play, bass." The new partnership of Westlake, Mohan and King paid off in a batch of promising songs, and after having named the band after the 1963 Harold Pinter-written film The Servant, they booked their first gig in King's Cross, London.

Cover of "The Sun, a Small Star" Single
King: "I remember years later David telling me that I gave him an ultimatum after we'd spent about a year rehearsing in his bedroom - with a drum machine - and recording demos on a 4 track Portastudio, that either we started playing some gigs or I'd leave. I have no memory of this but I guess the reason I said that, if I indeed did, was because I was so proud of the songs I just wanted everyone to hear them. Once we got a drummer (one of the earlier ones, Eamon Lynam, was nicknamed 'Neasden Riots', in the same way that the Clash's drummer Terry Chimes was called 'Tory Crimes' on the back of their first album, because he'd got into a bit of 'trouble' in the neighbourhood and was put under a strict curfew by the police), it all snowballed pretty quickly from our first show supporting the Television Personalities at the Pindar of Wakefield in Kings Cross in July 1985 to our last performance supporting Felt (the 'Lawrence Takes Acid' show) at Bay 63 around a year later." After only a few gigs, the band was signed to Head, an off-shoot of Creation Records, and in early-1986 released their first single, "She's Always Hiding," which garnered them much critical praise lauding their unique sound. For example, NME wrote, "Stop me if you've heard this one before, but there's currently a group of earnest young men doing the rounds of London's beery backrooms who play the sweetest, smartest evocations of The Velvet Underground's sepulchral third LP these increasingly '60s-sated, guitar-jaded ears have possibly ever heard. Still awake? Good, because The Servants (for it is they) are - wait for it - different. Not for them the simplistic allure of dark shades and darker strides, nor the convenient kudos of easy chords. No, what brings The Servants close to Lou's crew's gossamer grace-cum-disembodied depth is that self-same timbre; the giddying suggestion of melodies conjured from the ether; a recognition of enduring classicism; a similar striving for a sound as perfect, as profound as (eek!) silence. Heck, their "She's Always Hiding" is the greatest dark-eyed, love/hate song Reed never wrote..." On the heels of the first single, and only eight months after their first gig, The Servants were invited to record a John Peel session in March, 1986 and were also chosen to appear on NME's C86 compilation cassette. However, Westlake, whose ambitions always leaned heavily in the direction of "art for the sake of art," was quite discomfited by the band's meteoric rise; as a result, he only reluctantly agreed to contribute a song to the NME compilation, and the song itself, "Transparent," was a B-side. Despite such early success, this first version of The Servants was destined to fall apart by the end of 1986.

King: "We put out two singles (the second 'The Sun, A Small Star' sadly posthumously, as we'd split up by then), recorded a John Peel session, got a full page feature in the New Year's edition of the 1986 ‘NME’ hailing us as the next big thing, appeared on their C86 cassette and played shows with amongst others the Jesus And Mary Chain, Felt, Primal Scream, the Go Betweens, the Pale Fountains and the Wedding Present. By the time we split up we'd only done twenty four gigs. To use the snowball analogy, I guess it all gathered momentum a little too quickly for David, got out of control, crashed into a tree, and um, broke up. It was just a shame really as we had so many songs to record. Enough for a few albums." Ironically, this is where the story of The Servants would have likely ended if not for the song Westlake had begrudgingly contributed to NME's C86 compilation; the mail-order-only cassette had become a huge success (eventually released as an LP), providing a catalyst for the rise of an all-too-brief D.I.Y. guitar-pop resurgence in the UK. Inspired by the enthusiastic support of John Peel, Westlake decided to reform the band, which now included guitarist Luke Haines (who would later find fame leading The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder). Haines recalling his move to London where he was to shortly cross paths with The Servants: "Brixton was kind of heavy at that time, not like it is now full of middle class people. It was good and full of rastas and good fun.  I was sort of a nice middle class boy who had gone to music college and what not, not much, just a couple of days a week. It didn't require much of my presence [....] I had a few attempts at bands and what not in the mid-80s. Then I answered an advert in Sounds Magazine [...] for a band called The Servants who needed a guitar player, so I answered that advert and I kind of got the gig. I was then in The Servants for about five years or something. Unfortunately, The Servants had already had their, I suppose, day in the sun prior to me joining them. So I essentially joined a band that was struggling quite a lot. I mean even in the mid-to-late eighties guitar bands didn't expect to sell any records. You did it purely for artistic reasons. You know, there wasn't really this idea that you could be a big pop star- that all came later on in, I suppose, the nineties." Soon thereafter, The Servants were signed to Creation Records, who immediately began pressuring them for an album. After filling out the new version of the band, Westlake, Haines & co. entered the studio to record a batch of new songs; however, Creation mysteriously chose to only release a mini-album, and did so as a David Westlake solo album, titled Westlake, which was barely heard.  By the end of the 1987, Creation had unceremoniously dumped the band.

This was yet another point at which the story of The Servants might have ended, but once again, they were resurrected through the goodwill of a benefactor- this time, Dave Barker of Glass Records who signed them in mid-1988 and gave them a small budget to record their first, and long-delayed, proper album. This time with a new drummer, Hugh Whitaker, who was looking to flee from the overwhelming (yet short-lived) popularity of his then-present band, The Housemartins. However, misfortune struck again as Glass was financially insolvent, so plans for the album were scrapped and a 4-song EP was recorded instead, It's My Turn, which, despite being another testament to the band's prodigious talents, didn't see the light of day until the fall of 1989. By this time, Whitaker had jumped ship, so Westlake and Haines once again assembled a new lineup, signed with Paperhouse Records and set to work on their long delayed debut album, the sarcastically titled and shockingly original, Disinterest, which once again made the critics take notice; however by this time, The Servants had progressed far beyond the limits of the rudimentary guitar-pop of the C86 scene (although they never really fit the whole "shambling" aesthetic anyway). Fusing disparate influences such as later Velvet Underground, The Talking Heads and The Go-Betweens, Disinterest sounded like nothing else in 1990- a largely experimental record that was somehow both too late to be noticed and too soon to be understood, a record out of time in every sense, a record Haines once described as "existential art-rock." Heartened by the critical reception to their new work even though no one else heard it due to Paperhouse's lackluster backing, Westlake and Haines began recording demos in 1991 for a follow-up album to be called, again ironically, Small Time. According to Haines, Small Time was the band's "best album, a strange and wonderful thing," the songs being "more mysterious, strange and beautiful, transcending their influence and sounding like nothing else." However, the album was fated not to see release until 2012, long after The Servants had disintegrated into an even more pronounced obscurity- Luke Haines going on to find fame in The Auteurs and David Westlake disappearing from the music business for twenty years (he became a solicitor) until releasing a solo album, Play Dusty for Me in 2002. Luke Haines: "I like bands that have gone professional and then they go into freefall and do what the hell they like." Indeed Luke, indeed.

Reserved (2006)
 2. A Fleeting Visit
 3. You'd Do Me Good
 4. Afterglow
 5. She Whom I Once Dreamt Of
 6. It Takes No Gentleman
 8. Rings on Her Fingers
 9. Meredith
11. Do or Be Done
12. Faithful to Three Lovers
13. Transparent
14. Funny Business
16. Search Under Stones
17. Water Baby Blonde
18. Hey Mrs. John
19. Who's Calling You Baby Now?
21. Untitled

Links in Comments

Disinterest (1990)
 1. Move Out
 2. The Power of Woman
 3. Restless
 4. Third Wheel
 5. Thin-Skinned
 6. Self Detruction
 7. Hush Now
 9. Hey, Mrs. John
11. Big Future
12. Afterglow

Links in Comments

Small Time / Hey Hey We're the Manqués (2012)

Disc I: Small Time
2. Don't Leave Town
4. Complete Works
5. Dating Then Waiting
6. Born to Dance
7. Motivation
8. Let's Live a Little
9. Aim in Life
10. Rejection
11. Fear Eats the Soul
13. All Talk
14. Out of Your Life
16. Born to Dance (2)
17. The Thrill of It All (2)
18. All Talk (2)
19. Out of Your Life (2)

Disc II: Hey Hey We're the Manqués
 2. She Whom Once I Dreamt Of
 3. You'd Do Me Good
 5. She's Always Hiding
 6. Look Like a Girl
 7. Third Wheel
 8. Thin-Skinned
 9. Hey, Mrs. John
10. They Should Make a Statue
11. Move Out
12. Big Future
13. Restless
14. The Power of Woman
15. Hush Now
16. Afterglow
17. Self-Destruction

Links in Comments


  1. Reserved










    Small Time / Hey Hey We're the Manqués



    Small Time flac


    Hey Hey We're the Manqués flac


  2. Fantastic! Haven't heard some of these before, so looking forward to doing so!!

  3. Ralph Dodger,

    I had been meaning to post these for quite some time. Enjoy!

  4. Thank you for the interesting write up and uploads. I too look forward to giving this band a good listen.

  5. Superb, thanks for that. Westlake's 2002 effort is also fantastic, very Velvet's third.

  6. chapeau Mr Voixautre !
    I appreciate your kindness !

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  8. Someone knows where i can get the lyrics of this band?

  9. is there a trick to this? links aren't working for me. thanks

  10. "The Sun, a Small Star", damn what a great song! Thanks for the interesting history.

  11. Many thanks, you're awesome my man. :D