Four years have passed since Unkle's debut album 'Psyence Fiction', one of
the nineties more controversial releases. Full of ambition and vision, self
indulgent but ahead of its time, who else but James Lavelle could attract
such a stellar cast that included producer DJ Shadow, Richard Ashcroft - at
the height of the Verve's fame - and Mike D of the Beastie Boys. The album's
highlights featured Thom Yorke's haunting 'Rabbit In Your Headlights' and, a
then unknown, Badly Drawn Boy's carthartic 'Nursery Rhyme'. Wil Malone's
strings and Futura 2000's artwork iced the cake which was eagerly eaten by
But that was then and this is now and now is very different. Following the
release of 'Psyence Fiction' Shadow returned to the States to work with
Quannum and on 'The Private Press' (with Lavelle as A&R) within the realms
of underground hip hop. Lavelle is the constant in Unkle and he's forged a
new production partnership with long term friend Richard File. Lavelle said
of File in Jockey Slut 2002: "Richard loves music, he's open-minded, he's
brilliant technically, he's an absolute lunatic, he's a star, he's my best
James has often stressed that his seminal label Mo' Wax - currently on
hiatus - always thrived on social interaction and friendships whether they
develop from chance meetings in Fabric, around the Rough Trade/Slam City
Skates axis or, as was the case with File, an introduction from a
like-minded friend. "It's all about meeting people my own age and creating
an identity," says Lavelle, "Rich fitted into this group."
They met in Brighton in 1994. At that time Richard was at college but was
more drawn to the bleeding-edge drum'n'bass scene than media studies. He was
Djing on pirates with Ed Rush where he met engineer Ils. Following the
hook-up with James Richard and Ils released singles on the Mo' Wax offshoot
Excursions. "We clicked," says James and they began hanging out together.
Richard would join James on his Djing jaunts. Driving back from a gig one
night in 1998 James heard Richard singing along to the radio.
He had been looking for a central character to front 'Psyence Fiction' and believed he
was sat right next to him. "It sounds cheesy but when you see something in
someone you think, 'I know they can do that'". Richard decided to learn to
use equipment to programme beats and armed with an acoustic guitar and a
fetching falsetto set to work on his own songs for the second Unkle album.
In 2000 they moved into an Old Street flat together. It proved a very
hedonistic time, a lost weekend, that actually proved quite fruitful. James
was excited about the subterrain house and breaks emanating from Fabric
where he held a residency on Fridays. Sometimes the subsequent parties
carried on until Tuesdays.
They set up a studio in the flat, played and worked hard messing around with
ideas day in, night out. Doing remixes and bootlegs to play out they created
Unkle Sounds. Each appearance was heralded by 'Get
Ready' the Rare Earth track: Get ready for here they come!
In the same year they cut their teeth in the studio producing teenage band
South for Mo' Wax and recording a brooding, sinister soundtrack to Jonathan
Glaser's 'Sexy Beast'. This time no one could accuse Unkle of hype, it was
just two mates with a shared vision. "It felt like us against the world in
this period," James recalls, "Fuck it, we'll do what we want!"
Confident with their songs they went into the studio to begin work on the
second Unkle album 'Never, Never, Land'. In another twist of fate songwriter
Ant Genn approached James at a party, initially to talk about David Axelrod,
but then to offer his expertise in production and songwriting. Genn has
worked rich, heart bursting melodies into the resultant songs. He also
introduced a wealth of musicians to the sessions all of whom - like Lavelle
and File - are steeped in London club and band culture. The Unkle gang
complete they began working on demo's. The first fruits from the album were
heard on September 11th 2002 when Channel 4 broadcast an anti-war short
created by Lavelle, Massive Attack's 3D and animation team Shynola. James:
"Its imagery is reflective (of September 11th) Aeroplanes drop creatures
into an environment which destroys. It reflects globalisation, relationships,
the way we treat each other." ‘Eye for An Eye’ received its world premiere
at last year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival's renowned showcase
‘Mirrorball’ and consequently won the prestigious McLaren Award for
new British animation, named after the innovative, Scots animator Norman
'Never, Never, Land' is a clash of high and low emotions," reveals Richard,
"It's a beautiful record". The subject of Richard's songs is reflective of
both their personalities, of their time together in that Old Street flat, of
life in London going through the best and worst of times. James again
cements that there is a massive social influence, that it is about mates,
about living in London, discovering new people and buzzing off them.
Ian Brown - whose 'Be There' with Unkle in 1998 went top ten - returns
on 'Reign' with Mani tending to bass, the first time the duo have worked
together since the Stone Roses split. Mani also contributes the bottom-end
to 'In a State'.
Long term friend and inspiration 3D contributes to 'Invasion', Jarvis Cocker
and Brian Eno duel with synths on 'I Need Something Stronger', Josh
Homme from Queens of the Stone Age contributes a schizoid vocal over
a bassquake on 'Safe In Mind' and Joel of South's pretty Beatles-esque ballad
'Glow' is the penultimate track.
Richard File makes his presence felt immediately in the beats but vocally
on 'In A State', his lost boy falsetto affecting over his acoustic
concluding with 140 tracks of vocal orchestrated by 10cc's Graham Gouldman who
mastered the effect on 'I’m Not In Love'. Richard can also be heard on the
jittery synth display and choral beauty of 'Panic Attack' and paranoid
ballads 'What Are You To Me?' and magnificent closer 'Inside'.
Admitting to applying dance techniques to make non dance music 'Never
Never Land' pulses with clubby nuances and retains a hip hop aesthetic.
Notable samples include Black Sabbath-era Ozzy Osbourne on the opening track
'Back and Forth' and Norman Whitfield of the Undisputed Truth on 'Eye for An
The album is rich in atmosphere, a lush cinematic experience in
sensurround sound. If 'Psyence Fiction' sounded like a compilation,
'Never, Never, Land' is a total trip. And it's been quite a ride for the men
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