‘Faded Seaside Glamour’
“Can you hear that knocking in your soul?”
Even after a decade, the initial bars of opener Wanderlust – a glistening waterfall of steel-drum melodies overlain with Greg Gilbert’s angelic vocals – instils an ambivalence that at once warms the soul while sending shivers down the spine. Aptly titled Faded Seaside Glamour, this post-Britpop gem coupled star-spangled melody with a plaintive nostalgia that brought emotional depth to a musical climate that was electioneering on single dimensions.
That Delays have fallen out of the spotlight in recent times makes the re-emergence of this sublime debut all the more essential. Never part of the trend but fervently beloved of those that discovered them, Delays have always trod their own path in a widespread culture of conformity – they emerged amid the glut of garage guitar bands hanging on the oh-so-chic coattails of The Strokes – and the enduring sound that still exists herein shows just how unique this band were… and still are.
As first tracks go, it’s one of the most sublime entrances ever made. Delays open the door to their world like a shard of light cracking through a brutal conspiracy of storm clouds (inside of which, the likes of Muse et al. are bludgeoning their big fat instruments to death), as Greg Gilbert’s impossibly crystalline falsetto spills out like a rainbow. Comparisons abounded with Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser, but the absence of glossolalic gobbledegook meant clarity sailed on this soaring vocal tidal wave.
“This was the first song that Aaron and I wrote together,” the singer explains of he and his brother’s collaboration. “We were both living at home, and I heard the steel drums chiming through the wall – goosebumps. I knew Aaron had started writing music, but this felt both alien and familiar. I played along in secret and the melody came easily. At the time, we were listening to Loveless, Lost Souls, Soft Bulletin, albums that were very much their own world. That was what we wanted to create, our own space, and Wanderlust acted as the clarion call.”
Nearer Than Heaven
Exhaling like a waving man’s near-drowning – albeit cavorting with mermaids strumming out aquatic guitar riffs – Nearer Than Heaven breathes with such ethereal, skyward-bound euphoria that it really does encapsulate its titular compass point. This single was famously accompanied by a video featuring a group of Delays fans lying down in a forest and receiving the music through headphones – almost a perfect metaphor for a band broadcasting from the wilderness, but still reaching those dedicated enough to seek it out.
Greg Gilbert: “We’d demoed this song in ’98 when we were a three piece. It went through a number of stages and recordings. I think this is one of Colin’s most melodic basslines – it just elevated the whole thing. Each recording brought new details and finessed the architecture of the song, but the final version we produced ourselves, and it was mixed by Graham Sutton. Graham is a genius with texture and tone, and he made the whole album widescreen.”
Long Time Coming
The aptly titled single finally gave Delays the attention they so long deserved, the song’s quirky, almost science-fiction synth hook laying down the foundation for an implacably addictive melody and lyrics that were sheer poetry: “How can you grow old? – you were my triumph”. And my own personal favourite, shared by a poet friend of mine (Tony Walsh): “Threw your Lego in the lake/Why d’you wanna go do that for?” Beautifully insouciant with a gripping sense of mortality: surreal, soaring, insidious and sensational as words or concepts have never been more perfectly aligned.
GG: “Aaron heard the riff in the closing of a distant door. It was another example like Wanderlust, where it seemed like part of the environment from the moment I heard it.
At the time, a lot of friends were falling away, becoming jaded or worse, and it was the first time I’d lost anyone close to me who you could call young. This song was about that sadness, but at the same time celebrated the memory of their vibrancy. I think there is an optimism at the heart of the song.”
Led by Aaron Gilbert’s undulating, almost Elizabethan electronic chimes, this hypnotically seductive track sounds like what a vampire would have as a ringtone. Bedroom scene indeed – quilted to the point of feeling down when you’re on the up.
GG: “Each time we recorded a b-side, we ended up preferring it to what we had for the album. I think we were less precious and allowed ourselves mistakes. This was initially a b-side for Nearer Than Heaven that we recorded at Graham’s studio. Written in plain air, sundrenched and watching the planes flying overhead.”
Greg Gilbert’s vocals on this track absolutely float like a feather on the ether, rising and falling in coruscating, breathless wonder through a forest of haunting harmonies and theatrical, soporific splendour that could soundtrack A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Absolutely Pucker.
GG: “I have memories of us opening with No Ending as a three piece, a wilfully difficult gig opener. It was very much inspired by Waterpistol by Shack, probably my favourite album. [Drummer] Rowly nailed the lilt of the track – a waltzing, haunted feel. This was one of the earliest songs written for the album and I can remember jamming it with my Dad, two acoustics in the garage.”
You Wear The Sun
The only song on the album that might have benefited from less production, this yearning ballad still retains an essence of soulful transcendence, but the bare bones of this beautiful piece – not least Greg Gilbert’s plaintive lyrics – could have stood on its own as an acoustic number, such is its simplistic, unspoiled splendour.
GG: “This was intended as another b-side and the first song Aaron played with us on stage. An accidental riff that appeared whilst tired and watching Pulp’s Glastonbury performance on TV. It was only when I listened back to the tape (I still prefer demoing on cassette) that I found it.”
Perhaps the most conventional of the album’s tracks, Hey Girl was a jingle-jangle of guitars and sugar-coated vocals and sentiments that mirrored the likes of The La’s and countless other north-bound indie-schmidie bands. Possibly residue from the pressure to conform to a certain style of the time – which they obviously ditched – this popular single still stands the test of time, though it’s questionable whether it belongs here. They could, and would, do much better than this. However, it’s a beautifully sepia-toned snapshot of their coming of age and creative blossoming.
GG: “This was our first top forty single (big thanks to Mark and Lard) – a special moment. It was written not long after Nearer Than Heaven and Satellite’s Lost. I think you can hear it’s related. Big Star were a massive influence on my writing at this point, along with The La’s and Shack and we spent hours in the studio searching for the perfect chime. Our plugger at the time wanted to re-release Hey Girl after Nearer Than Heaven charted, but we’d been playing Lost In A Melody on tour and were keen to release it instead. Not a career decision, but one that allowed us to move forward creatively.”
Stay Where You Are
Truly showing their prurient side, Stay Where You Are has Greg Gilbert’s breathy vocals sighing seductively over the throbbing heart of Aaron’s synth sleaziness, making this track possibly one of the most lascivious songs put to tape. Musically, it’s one of Delays’ most accomplished tracks – a perfect marriage between Aaron’s electronic wizardry, the rhythm section of Colin Fox and Rowly’s natural symbiosis, and Greg’s sonorous delivery. It is basement disco of the smokiest, most provocative order - just sexy as fuck. “Don’t worry, I’ll be there/Unless you try to gain my defences”. Such a tease. No question, you definitely would.
GG: “When Robbie Williams released Bodies, I had so many people tell me how similar they thought it was to this song. Aaron’s writing is so underrated – songs like Valentine, You & Me, Long Time Coming and Wanderlust all began with his instrumental pieces. I always think I hear his influence on records, but I am biased.”
There’s Water Here
One of the simpler, most stripped back songs on the album, this acoustic, aquatic aria trickles through the speakers with waterfall-like baptismal purity – quite the necessary cold shower from the preceding track.
GG: “This was raw to sing – a direct response to early touring life. This was the song I fell back on when things broke down at gigs. I liked to leave long pauses in the middle and those moments of silence felt so calm. In a way, this song feels linked with Wanderlust – something in the riffs that mirror each other. It also feels like a progress report on the journey begun in Wanderlust – a hint of turbulence.”
This celestial, fibrous, almost Bowie-eqsue journey manages to induce a sense of star-bound isolation while still retaining a reassurance – through Greg Gilbert’s out-of-this-world vocals – that humanity is always in orbit around you; and while satellites may be lost, the wavelength of music is eternal. Stratospheric beauty – ache as you watch it go.
GG: “We were doing a signing at V Festival, and a man took me aside to tell me how much this song meant to him. It was a humbling moment, when the reality of the record’s existence registered. It went from something we’d talked and fantasised about for years to something that was out in the world and affecting people.”
One Night Away
With layers of sunshine guitars and close harmonies, overlain with a sense of yearning in the lyrics and an outro that enfolds you with a warmth that feels like home, this was perfectly placed as a penultimate track – like a wave goodbye from a summer sweetheart. “The feeling is love…”
GG: “So many of the songs deal with notions of separation and a need to get home. I’d suffered with anxiety as a teenager, and would have panic attacks when staying away. Looking back, I can see I was trying to process a lot of those fears and using my writing as a safe place to explore them. Once we decamped to Rockfield Studios, this was the first track we recorded – just a banquet of guitar overdubs. We were there for about six months – the longest I’d stayed anywhere other than home.”
Relentless as its title dictates, this electronic wig-out is like a robot’s heartbeat in love – warm and fuzzy but strangely metallic, forever yearning on a timeless wavelength. A perfect closer to an album, but also harbinger of things to come for Delays and their musical evolution. On and on indeed…
GG: “Originally, Over & Out was going to end the album but it wound up as a b-side. I think On, thematically, suggested an ongoing journey, something we could follow, whereas Over & Out was too definitive an end. Aaron wrote the keyboard riff as a response to the sound of the ships that always tower over Southampton’s docks. It echoed the scene I’d designed for the album cover – a world comprised of giant aqueducts and liners where people live in perpetual motion. If Wanderlust is a calling in,” Greg concludes, “On is a waving away…”
And now, ten years on, that wave goodbye has transformed back into a warm hello – a reunion with a past that somehow still looks as fresh and young as when you last met. Delays, as their moniker suggests, were always behind schedule in their own time – but the re-emergence of this treasure, and its enduring relevance, shows Delays really are worth the wait. Again.
After ten years, that soul is still knocking, and the glamour is far from faded. How could it grow old? It was, and still is, an absolute triumph.
* The 10th Anniversary Faded Seaside Glamour tour begins 7 May 2014 at Bristol Thekla. For full tour dates and tickets, please visit http://www.ents24.com/uk/tour-dates/Delays