“Let’s go see Tubelord!” said my then-girlfriend. I asked her who this ‘Tubelord’ was. She gave me an article from a music magazine proclaiming them as an up-and-comer…
I was reluctant, as I am a person who prefers to discover music on his own, and avoids other people’s recommendations 90% of the time. Slouched into my seat in front of my battered Acer laptop, I checked out their myspace anyway. Two hours later, I was downloading every single song they’ve done up to that point.
A few months later, she excitedly explained that she’s been e-mailing the singer, Joseph Prendergast, and had scored guestlist spots at their gig at The Fighting Cocks in Kingston-upon-Thames, Tubelord‘s hometown. “Hey,” I said to myself, “if the first band I see in the UK is Tubelord, that would be pretty awesome.”The gig turned out to be more than awesome, as I was also introduced to Blakfish and Colour, the co-headliners. These three bands have gone on to become the main driving force in shaping my musical preferences. Not too long after, Colour broke up. It was heartbreaking. Fast-forward to 2010, when Blakfish announced their split. I was devastated again…
“Two out of the three bands from that night were no longer around.For no other reason than superstition, I feared the worse for Tubelord.”
But hey, two great albums passed, and they seemed to be going strong. I felt strongly that Tubelord would be with us for a while. I imagined that 30 years in the future, I would be telling teenagers off for listening to whatever teenagers will be listening to those days (Justyne xxxLOLxxx’s Fartstep) and tell them to buy the at least 5 albums by Tubelord using their fancy, internet v24.2-enabled, invisible glasses that sends music directly into their brains. But then when Pink Mist almost casually announced that the New Year House Party in London was to be Tubelord‘s final show, I almost had a nervous breakdown. This is a band who, with no exaggeration whatsoever, changed my life…
“Tubelord are the defining band of my musical taste, and they have introduced me to the likes of Tall Ships, The Xcerts and Johnny Foreigner.”
It was so easy once to describe Tubelord. “Pop songs for rock kids,” they described themselves. And it was apt. That line had been used in almost every single review of any of their records up to and including their debut album Our First American Friends. But the truth is much more complex than that. Here is band that can transition between math pop epics to Biffy Clyro-esque math-y insanity. Their EP, SQUARE, is still one of my favourite records to date. A relentlessly energetic record whose songs earned themselves some epic sing-alongs, SQUARE EP showed incredible promise from one of the most exciting newcomers to the music scene. Their earlier demos, while decent, were unfocused and needlessly meandering. But SQUARE took the best of these, lit them on fire, and crafted incredible songs with the remains…
“Further singles released on Big Scary Monsters cemented Tubelord’s reputation as the ones to watch.”
They even managed to court minor controversy when the great rock critic and author, Mike Azerrad (who describes Tubelord as having a “yelping, emo-ish sound with fitful eruptions of odd-meter riffs”), took issue with the song ‘I Am Azerrad’. Jo’s explanation when pressed by Azerrad for answers says much about Tubelord’s philosophy. “I saw your name on the book and I was like, ‘Azerrad’ has definitely got a swing to it,” he explains. “You were kind of an abstract concept — all I knew of you was your name, not as a flesh-and-blood being.” So, expectations were high for their debut LP, and so were pre-order numbers. And boy, they didn’t disappoint at all. ‘Somewhere Out There A Dog Is On Fire’ (which had previously been included in a Huw Stephens compilation) is a classic powerhouse, and the other songs were no slouches either. The tracks were consistently explosive and new versions of old favourites (‘Synthesize’, ‘Night of the Pencils’) took on an irresistible polish. However, changes were afoot, and their next album was to be a curveball that no one really saw coming at this stage.
Sean Bamberger left the bassist position open and now works for Sega Europe. Damien Gabet valiantly tried to replace Bamberger with his extravagant cardigans and sweet bass moves, but he didn’t last very long. Then James Elliot Field and Tom Coulson-Smith joined in, and Field’s synths and samples in particular shaped the future sound of Tubelord. The Tezcatlipoca EP was a sonic precursor to Romance, and it was as transitionary an EP could be while still being a ridiculously enjoyable record. On their own merits, both albums were absolutely excellent. But the gulf between Our First American Friends and r o m a n c e was so huge it understandably lost them some previously devoted fans. Jo even publicly admits the fact in their leaving statement, and the ‘difficult second album’ syndrome seemed to hit them hard.
While it would have been interesting to see if a third album would see them conserve the sound of r o m a n c e , go back to their roots, or move in a completely new direction, there are still core Tubelord values in their ever-evolving sound. The core members, Jo and David Catmur, have been there from the start. Their cryptic lyrics often lead to gig-goers singing along to the same songs but with completely different words coming out of each mouth…
“Their music also never seems to stay still at one place, absorbing and gunning out so many different and eclectic influences all at once.”
Live, they’re an absolute treat. At one particular gig at The Junction in York, the crowd was treated to a recital of the Ginsberg poem, Song. Gigs in Kingston-upon-Thames are especially raucous, with sweat trickling down the venue walls and the crowd often at the brink of overflowing onto the stage. The atmosphere is always consistently amiable at any Tubelord gig, and quite often I would end up with new friends afterwards.
As a parting gift, Tubelord gave away their final song, ‘This Is It’ for free. As a swansong, it’s a lovely ode to Tubelord‘s past glories and the legacy that they have built for themselves. The accompanying music video shows clips of fan-recorded footage of their gigs, offering a glimpse of the essential live Tubelord experience from the eyes of a participating gig-goer. And of course it ends with something about wizards and stuff. Vintage Tubelord.
So what does it mean now that on the 1st of January 2013, Tubelord will be no more? Many bands will pick up where they left off. Many will try to emulate or incorporate the sound of Our First American Friends. Others will swear by ‘Romance.’ Some will even cling to as far back as SQUARE EP, or even further in the past. Jo will continue as Joey Fourr. The rest has not announced their future music plans yet.
As I am back home in Brunei, I will not be there at their farewell show at the Old Blue Last. But I will know what to expect. Make the night I spent sleeping at a Southsea bus stop worth it. Make the week I spent scraping friends’ left-overs for food because I used the money for a Tubelord pre-order worth it. Because I swear on Liam Neeson’s fictional daughter’s life I will find you if you don’t go on my behalf.
It would be the best night of your life.
Photo credit goes to both the wonderful Stacey Hatfield and awesome Leemun Smith of KRAFFHICS
Words by Jay Johar