The music of ALL ABOUT EVE draws together strands as disparate as heavy metal and folk. Judging by their achievements in the Sounds poll, this is state of the art which obviously appeals to their audience. ROBIN GIBSON shares a pizza with them.
BUDWEISER AND PIZZA at noon, and the dubious privilege of answering calls from Hipsway fans. These are some of the more ephemeral delights of a deal with Phonogram.
Julianne Regan mans the phone while I corner the pizza and we wait for All About Eve guitarist Tim Bricheno.
“Can’t we do an interview with Folk Roots?” she idly asks her press officer, without a hint of sarcasm.
“I don’t know — we could try. Metal Hammer are very interested,” comes the reply. “And Penthouse are quite interested in you, too.”
“Oh great,” grins Julianne. “I’ll drape meself over a Triumph Herald…”
All About Eve have what could be termed a broad potential market. And while their disappointing new single, ‘Wild Hearted Woman’ — all bluster, no bones— might invite a sidelong glance from Kerrang!, the two new tracks from their debut album currently being cranked out by the official Phonogram ghetto blaster, ‘Martha’s Harbour’ and ‘Shelter From The Rain’, for instance, suggest there’s no reason why the folkies shouldn’t get cracking at their typewriters too.
All About Eve attract interest from such disparate specialist magazines while maintaining a rock audience solid enough to find themselves voted second best new band, and Julianne best female vocalist in this year’s Sounds poll. But the majority of their interviews seem to find the band on the defensive, attempting to counter journalists’ “accusations” of hippy leanings.
It’s an easy identity in which to cloak them after clocking their hair and scanning their lyrical touchstones — the truly lazy need look no further than the titles of their last two singles, ‘Flowers In Our Hair’ and ‘In The Clouds’.
But it’s all just so much arbitrary categorisation.
I’m not claiming All About Eve are remarkably novel. In 1988, that’s a big fat red herring (the best single in recent weeks was an extremely old-fashioned one by Howard Devoto’s new outfit, while the best-touted “innovation”, Renegade Sound Wave, was dull as a day in Dunfermline).
They’re a rock group with panache, a beautiful female voice and an inclination towards swirling guitars and folk idioms.
On their debut album, due out on February 15, they’ve dipped into the traditional folk canon for ‘She Moves Through The Fair’, previously recorded by Sandy Denny-era Fairport Convention and if anyone’s going to carp on about anything, “folkie” is more accurate than “hippy”.
But their talent for inspired, kinetic pop songs like ‘Our Summer’ and ‘Every Angel’ is too often understated. It’s as easy to draw parallels with The Pretenders as Jefferson Airplane.
And though they dabble in areas which well-known hippies embraced, it’s worth noting, for example, that The Grateful Dead’s hippy reputation stemmed not from their often brilliant updates of their folk and country roots but their lifestyle, their legendary six or eight hour shows, and 23-minute epics like ‘Dark Star’.
All About Eve songs are around three minutes long, their live sets have no tea break. Furthermore, they don’t live communally.
What’s wrong with ‘Wild Hearted Woman’ is that it harnesses neither their stunning pop thrust nor the acoustic melancholy of something like ‘Martha’s Fair’. It’s a compromise, aiming for a tragic effect and falling melodramatically short of goal.
Tim has arrived and, cooped up in Phonogram’s interview cupboard, he begs to differ with my assessment of the single; Julianne’s not so sure, and says that even the faceless “everybody” who decreed it would be “the hit” are backing off.
And as for the wild hearted woman herself?
“Oh, it’s definitely not me,” she laughs. “I’m about as wild hearted as a limp lettuce. It’s a generalisation about self-destructive, tragic personalities. It’s kind of that there-but-for-the-grace-of-God thing… I find it interesting to ponder on.”
Have you ever been wild hearted?
“Have I now…?” she asks, staring doubtfully at the ceiling. “I must have been once… I gauge it by dancing, and I never dance. But I used to go out and dance all night… so, um, that wasn’t exactly wild, it was carefree.”
Are you inhibited unless you’re onstage?
“Um, yeah. I’m not a very demonstrative person. I’m a wallflower at parties and things. Definitely a kitchen hogger.”
“I dunno,” grins Tim, “I’ve seen you being wild, when you’ve had a few drinks, reeling around the kitchen.”
On closer inspection these occasions are found to belong to the most distant recesses of the past. “She’s mellowed with age,” he explains thoughtfully.
Are you a mellow group?
“Oh, we can feel excitement sometimes,” says Julianne.
Even when your songs really soar, like ‘In The Clouds’ or ‘Our Summer’, it’s all very dreamy. You’re never a wild group in the Hey, rock ‘n’ roll! sense.
“I know,” murmurs Julianne. “A lot of our songs have been ethereal and dreamy and had something intangible about them. This single was an experiment in being direct for a change. But there’s something slightly lacking about it on vinyl.”
Are you the sort of people who could wake up one morning and walk out on your life completely?
“Well,” admits Julianne, “I fantasise about it. But that’s all. I’d never have the guts to put it into practice. I do need some sense of security.”
Do you regret that?
“I sometimes envy people that just put back-packs on and tour Europe andIndia, and do all those things that I could’ve got out of my system years go. It’s just not practical to do it now…
“I don’t think,” she decides ruefully, “that Phonogram would let me go to India for six months at the moment!”
Do you feel like a careerist?
“Not really, but we’ve got an opportunity to do what we’ve wanted to do for so long, and I wouldn’t want throw it in to do something a bit madcap.
“I’ve probably still got a romantic idea about what it’s like. But it must be awful to have a runny tummy and no honey in the middle of Nepal…”
So if that’s out, what is there to be romantic about?
“I think probably why we are romantic, or whatever, is because we can’t stand what the world’s really like! I mean, we’ve had lots of reality — this sounds like sob story time, but years of being unemployed and having no money…”
Funnily enough, the first tape Julianne sent me, a few years back — which was so awful I just ignored it and hoped that she’d never ring up to ask if I liked it — did conjure the usual vision of the passionately committed musician living in squalor, hopelessly.
Things have changed… I like All About Eve, and they’re on a wage. But though they no longer have to pool their meagre Giro cheques to go out and get “the essential things — like a drink”, their current relative success has influenced what is essential nowadays.
The rockbiz whirl is, however, nine-tenths anathema to what used to be solitary souls.
Do you make records for solitary people?
Julianne: “Yes, judging by the letters we get — a lot of them seem to live on their own, or write to us about how they hate their job, cos it’s mundane, and they’re a secretary or something and they come home and like to put on our record and dream to it. They’re very open, they’re dreamers, they seem to have few friends, or spend time sitting at home alone.”
Do you find it easy to relate to all this?
“I’ve done it, yeah!” she laughs. “For a long time…”
Are All About Eve just the thoroughly nice people before me, and the happy, occasionally melancholy dreamers of their records? You never convey even a hint of anger…
“I seem to have spent all my anger over the last couple of years,” confesses Julianne.
“There were times when I’ve not always been as optimistic and wide-eyed. It used to almost be a joke that I was never happy. I’ve been pessimistic and angry about things. But I think I’ve got it out of my system, through years of being introspective…”
Are you glad?
“I was only thinking the other day, I wouldn’t mind some drama for a change,” she says wistfully. “It’s as if everything has been so nice for a while, that you begin to feel like a caricature of something nice. You wish something — not nasty, but some kind of drama would happen, to make you feel again…”
You mean you’re numb?
“No,” she chuckles. “Not exactly numb. But I’m ambling along, life is being good to me, and I’m just waiting for something nasty to jump out and say, Haha, the fun’s over, now get this!”
If you suddenly realise you haven’t had a good kicking for a while, one will invariably arrive to redress the balance.
Julianne dreams about her teeth falling out, so perhaps that compensates for her startlingly good humour. If something nasty does jump out, it’ll be more hippy slanders.
While we’re listening to ‘Martha’s Harbour’, a haunting, totally acoustic ballad, she’s agonising about whether they should’ve left the wave sound in the background.
But it’s obvious that their current attitude is an unspoken “f*** it — who gives a toss!?”. At the moment they’re considering covering Mike Oldfield and Maggie Reilly’s ‘Moonlight Shadow’.
Don’t mention “kosher”…
What intrigues me is how it relates to their background. Tim comes from Huddersfield and Julianne, whose accent occasionally carries a disturbing Marti Caine twang, from Coventry.
Is the preoccupation with nature, love, trees and so on just an unconsummated longing?
“No. Coventry is a horrible city, and it was bombed in the war, so it’s a mixture of ruined buildings and modern, high-rise, concrete precincts. But I spent two years living in Ireland, one when I was seven and one when I was 14, and that sticks with me…
“We were living in a village with a mountain at the back, and down the road the Atlantic Ocean crashing in. That’s what gave me my love for that sort of thing. It’s not just a city girl dreaming about living in the country.
“Coventry has absolutely no bearing whatsoever. Unless we were going to start doing Paul Wellerish songs about unemployment and glue-sniffing, which is the essence of Coventry. We’d be charlatans if we started doing that.”
Do you have an ideal world in which no one is concerned with the so-called issues of reality?
“It would be nice,” grins Julianne. “You know, a lot of these people are really naive — like we get letters coming in from the Tufnell Park Neighbourhood Centre saying, There will be a meeting about the condition of your house, and your landlord’s behaviour, and such-and-such, please attend, and there will be coffee and biscuits.
“And you think. Oh, that’s really sweet but no, the only way to do it is get my solicitor onto it. It sounds a bit Thatchery, but if you want to do something, you’ve got to do it yourself.”
Are you idealists?
“I have thought in idealistic ways — but did you see Reggie Perrin last night, his community for the middle-aged and middle-class to live in love, peace and happiness together? It was ridiculous.”
And that’s a microcosm of what it would be if all these nouveau hippies did rule the world.
“If you want to be idealistic, you’ve just got to make your own little world, without being too selfish or inert.”
Do you believe in decadence? You have toured extensively with The Mission…
“Well, I think we’ve experienced it. It’s good now and again, as long as it harms no one. You mean to just indulge yourself in everything you can possibly get your hands on?”
I mean to live like Mick Jagger in Performance…
“Well, that would probably feel like a real buzz for a while, but then I’d start to have no self-respect. There’s a kind of self-degradation about that. You have to start becoming a bit shallow to keep it up. And it’s quite a physical thing — because it’s drink and drugs and it’s food and it’s snogging people!
“I couldn’t keep up decadence…”
Julianne was voted number seven Female Sex Object in our poll in addition to All About Eve’s musical achievements. But their music seems to eschew sex in favour of a search for something more transcendent, or at least more elusive.
Tim unbuttons his shirt to display a remarkably well-carpeted chest: “No, that’s just been done to death…”
“I think there’s sometimes the promise of it,” ventures Julianne. “We tease in our songs a little bit. There’s always a bit of, um, a kind of a fumble and a snog…
“And a lot of the songs are about unrequited, hopeless things… the chase is better than the kill is quite a thing, though it’s not always true.”
I meant that you express very little physical lust.
“No,” she agrees, “I think the furthest we go is, like, an undercurrent, longing perhaps. But no consummation. Virgin rock! Hahaha!”
All About Eve, being quite sensible, know the value of a little gentle self-deprecation. Their rock is not “virgin”. It is nostalgic but it’s also fit for the moment despite the fact that the new Summer Of Love predicted (and hoped for?) by their detractors never happened.
Julianne knows they’re “horribly unfashionable” but she also knows that they have a good chance of laughing all the way to the Top Of The Pops studio and breathing some fresh air into its stuffy confines — not with ‘Wild Hearted Woman’, but if the next single is the superlative pop of ‘Every Angel’, which they’re currently considering, they might well make it.
Meanwhile, an album…
And just one more thing. What’s so good about long hair?
Tim: “It’s flattering, and you can hide behind it a bit, which is nice…”
“And,” adds Julianne, “you just get up in the morning…”
Tim: “And it’s there, yeah.”
It certainly is.
© Robin Gibson, Sounds, 30 January 1988