The music world continues to love the cooler side if the ’80s.
Retro pop duo Grand National get compared to The Police and Talk Talk. But they can namecheck for the nation…
Don’t ask Grand National how they got their name. For the London-based duo, it’s becoming a tedious story to recount. “My turn or your turn?” Rupert Lyddon asks his bandmate Lawrence ‘La’ Rudd. “Your turn,” comes the reply.Here goes Rupert. “Basically, we were sitting around going: ‘We haven’t got a name.’ The Grand National weekend was coming up in two days’ time. We were sitting with our manager and La suggested, ‘Why don’t we all pick a horse, put some money on the horse and whichever horse out of our three horses wins is the name of the band?’”
That’s like writing names on little squares of paper and tossing them in a hat. “Yeah, it was obviously a joke, ‘cos the horses’ names are always cheesy. And then Guy, our manager, said, ‘Why don’t you just call it Grand National?’ We all smiled…” And the rest is history and we’re never going to ask that question ever again!
Their debut album, Kicking The National Habit, is like winning the Grand N for us listeners. (How’s that for cheesy?) They mix Eighties electro indie beats reminiscent of New Order‘s hypnotic Blue Monday with the spiritual desolation of Talk Talk.
They are obviously fans of that decade we were all too embarrassed to acknowledge just a few years ago, but are now hailing as one of the key eras of pop music. “There are some amazing songs from the Eighties,” La admits. “Talk Talk, Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno…” Rupert is more precise. Their influences are practically worn on their sleeves: “New Order, Happy Mondays, The Smiths.”
Rupert has also been doing a lot of music homework. “We recently discovered Joni Mitchell. And I recently got into Depeche Mode. I just spent 150 on pretty much everything they’ve ever done. Miles Davis too, which I don’t think has any reflection on our music…”
La may be right. Their music is “the creative sound” of 1983 with a soulful quality, according to Rupert. “The first (music) I probably heard was Stevie Wonder, my mother playing it in the background,” he remembers. “There was a lot of Queen stuff that inspired me when I was younger. We love The Killers at the moment. Really strong songs.” But he’s not too kind about the rest of the current UK charts contenders, describing them as “a load of McDonalds adverts.”
But let’s get to the fun part of their history. Rupert used to deliver sausages to Primal Scream. “La and I were doing anything to stay alive, so you had to pick a job carefully.” Carefully? “Which took up the least time so you could do music,” explains La, who used to be a keen tennis player (“I could give someone a good game”).
“I gave them as many sausages as they could eat and they gave me the keys to the studio,” recalls Rupert. Not a bad trade. Rupert and La began playing in cover bands, entertaining a wild crowd of very drunk lager-drinking punters in local pubs. They were especially good at emulating The Police (and La’s voice can be Stingy at times). Other covers included “Chemical Brothers, Queen, Blur, Bob Marley, The Human League.” Luckily, no Abba.
But all that live experience has paid off. “Playing live now is exciting, there’s a lot of energy. It’s fun to connect to people doing your own music. Before, it was like a job.” With free beer. “Nothing comes from nowhere overnight,” the ever-pragmatic La reminds us.
Hailed as the new Stone Roses by the press, nestled somewhere between neo-punk and pop, their “controversial” album cover is also slated to become a classic in the genre, depicting a bruised foot which has kicked the hell out of the national habit. And it’s a better alternative to a tedious photo shoot.
“We’re into classic covers like Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon, Velvet Underground with the banana, that sort of thing,” says La. “We wanted to do a strong image you’d remember and a good title to go with it.” It would be just a tad too easy to put your own mug on the cover, right? According to Rupert, “the only two people who really got away with great album covers where it’s been their picture were Grace Jones and David Bowie. I don’t look like David Bowie and La doesn’t look like Grace Jones.”
They actually met the man behind those great album covers, Storm Thorgesen. “He’s a great English eccentric. When he went to the toilet, he got up and danced up to the toilet and sang and then came back.”
Like someone who’d just won the Grand National. Have they? “Yeah, I won the Grand National the week we signed the publishing deal,” says Rupert. It’s also loads of free publicity. La laughs, “Each year, we get our free promotion in the press because on the sports page, it says Grand National, and we have a little party. Everyone comes and bets. If you’re in London in April, come over!”
You bet on it!