Every summer seems to birth at least one single that simply nails it. Nails the feeling of driving along a road, not a care in the world, a light breeze in your hair, the promise of sun, sea and piracy up ahead.
Think Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues, The Surfaris’ Wipe Out, Small Faces’ The Universal, Shuggie Otis’ Strawberry Letter 23, Fred Neil’s Everybody’s Talkin’, Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime, The Ramones’ Rockaway Beach, Jonathan Richman’s That Summer Feeling and The La’s There She Goes…
An early contender for this year’s most sublime slice of summer is The Raving Beauties’ ‘Some Girls’ the first single to be culled from the group’s eponymous new album.
But The Raving Beauties aren’t really a group at all. They don’t really exist, not in the way that normal pop groups exist. It’s complicated. Then again, it’s not.
Jon Wilde tracks down Northern Irish writer/musician Brian Bell to find out more…
Jon Wilde: What’s the story behind The Raving Beauties?
The Raving Beauties: In 2013 I started writing a short story that came out of my memories of Brighton in the early nineties. There was a big obsession with 60s music going on around that time. I’d see people like Bobby Gillespie hanging around in pubs sporting a Byrds haircut. He was one of many who seemed to be intent on recreating 1967-era San Francisco in Brighton.
In 2013 I started writing this story about a guy in County Down who is digging around in a second-hand record store and unearths a long-lost album by an early-90s band called The Raving Beauties. In the story, the band are a 60s-obsessed group of Belfast boys who’d moved to Brighton. They were heavily influenced by bands like The Monkees, Love, Moby Grape, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Youngbloods, Buffalo Springfield and The Rascals.
The Raving Beauties released one great album that disappeared with barely a trace. They were a band out of time, basically. Britpop was about to explode and these guys didn’t fit in with what was about to become fashionable.
JW: How did the actual music develop out of that?
TRB: When I finished the story, it occurred to me that I should make an EP purporting to be the music of The Raving Beauties. The initial idea was that it would be like one of those benign hoaxes in the art world. In other words, I would pretend that this was an actual long-forgotten classic.
I planned on recruiting a few blokes in their early forties with the right haircuts and get them posing on Brighton beach, pretending to be the former members. I even thought about recreating their original publicity shots.
I’m very fond of the William Saroyan quote, “Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart.” I’ve always been attracted to the unsung band, the buried treasure. As a teenager in Belfast I’d spent a lot of time rummaging around in second-hand record stores, looking for the most obscure records I could lay my hands on. If the cover looked interesting, if the band looked like a bunch of freaks, that was often good enough for me.
Occasionally, the records would turn out to be rubbish. But, more often than not, I discovered cool music that would have otherwise escaped my attention. Also, I’ve always liked the idea of a pop group who were playfully intriguing beneath the surface. I wanted to create something with those elements in it.
I wrote two songs in a vaguely Byrds/Buffalo Springfield style, then decided I needed a collaborator. I’d known Gordon Grahame since 2000. He’d been the driving force behind The Lost Soul Band and Lucky Jim, two of my all-time favourite groups. The first time I discovered his music, it was like finding the missing link between The Velvet Underground and The Waterboys. To my mind, Gordon has written songs that are on a par with the best work of Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. He’s a singular talent, no question.
Ironically, much like the fictional Raving Beauties, both of Gordon’s bands had mysteriously slipped through the net when they ought to have been massively successful.
He was happy to indulge me and he even had a couple of ready-made songs that perfectly fitted what I was aiming to achieve. We had the four songs recorded in three afternoons in Gordon’s back room, playing all the instruments ourselves.
JW:What was your impression when the four songs were completed?
TRB: Undeniably, it’s a kind of tribute to certain 60s bands. But we quickly realised that the music we’d made was no mere pastiche. With someone as extraordinarily talented as Gordon involved, it was never going to sound like The Archies. It was always going to have substance. We knew we’d made a decent record.
JW:Did it take long to attract a record label?
TRB: It was immediate. I sent the four tracks to James Walker at the Brighton-based label At The Helm. He got back to me, saying that he loved what he heard. He also loved the concept of this fictional, long-forgotten band. But he reasoned that, if we went down the road of the benign hoax, it might reflect badly on the label when it became apparent that the back story was a complete invention. His argument was that we might end up looking like a couple of scamsters.
But he adored the music and said that, if we made an entire album, he’d release it. The other seven songs came together very quickly. Most of the songs were written and recorded in a single afternoon. We’d turn up with a vague melody in mind and finish it off on the hoof.
JW:Are you now going to become a proper band? Is touring a possibility?
TRB: That’s the kind of thing a “proper” band would do. You release an album and then you tour to promote it. We’ve hung onto some semblance of the idea of a fictitious group, using animation instead of photos of me and Gordon looking awkward, for instance. But there’s a limit to how far we can push that.
If a buzz happened around the record and there was a demand, it’s possible that we’d do some live shows. For now, I like the idea of the music existing within a story and within the four walls where the songs were recorded, as though The Raving Beauties were an entity separate from us.
JW:What sort of life do you envisage for the album in the longer term?
TRB: Any kind of life would suit me fine. If it got some attention now, that would be great. If it’s the kind of record that a handful people discover over time, that would also be great. We all know the thrill of discovering some rare album that hardly anyone has heard about, the kind of record that makes you feel like a kid again. In the downloading age, maybe that doesn’t happen too often nowadays.
Maybe not too many people bother to listen to albums in their entirety any more. I’d be really chuffed if a few people discovered this record twenty years from now and took the trouble to sit down and listen to it the whole way through. That would be a result.
The Raving Beauties’ debut album is out now, from At The Helm Records.
Purchase the single ‘Some Girls’here.