Updated: Oct 16, 2018
On a sunny afternoon in late August, having just unwrapped a new Dictaphone, bought at the last minute as a replacement for the one I had misplaced, I made a phone call I had been looking forward to since I had proposed this interview to Annie, who runs Gene’s Facebook page shortly before. I was over the moon when Annie told me that former drummer, Matt 'the Hat' James, would take part in the interview and following this, after a few enthusiastic Email exchanges, I rang him.
Prior to the interview, we had a nice chat, in which Matt told me: “I’m a wine merchant now. It’s quite interesting, quite different. I like wine I would say almost as much as music - and I like music a lot. I’m quite surprised how much I do enjoy it. It’s not quite as entertaining as being on stage with Gene but it’s not a bad second job”. I then asked him if he missed it, to which he replied, “Do I miss it? Of course I do! I absolutely do. I don’t get to play as much, although since I moved to the country, I have my drum kit in a sort of garden office. I have my drum kit set up there and my guitars. I lived in London for years and I was never able to sort of just get on a drum kit. Obviously I had my guitar. I do play drums for charity gigs and things like that. If something came along, I would give it another go. I look at the festival season, where everyone’s at Reading and everything and go, ‘That’s where I would have been at this time of year’. The festival season tends to bring it all back home to me and I wish I was still doing it but we had fun while it lasted.” Without wanting to take up too much of Matt’s time, we then moved on to the interview.
Firstly, hello Matt and thank you so much for agreeing to this interview.
That’s alright, no problem, I’ve been looking forward to it. I don’t get to do too many of them. I do still get to do Gene interviews but probably, I would say about one every three months. It’s quite enjoyable to like talk about a former life, you know. It’s quite cathartic in a way.
Could you set the scene and tell us where you are speaking from?
I’m speaking from my garden bench. I moved to East Sussex in 2015. I was in Camden for many years. When Gene were signed, I moved to Camden but since I’ve had sort of young kids, I live about eight miles from Rye now. I am literally sat on my bench overlooking a field behind me. We are very sort of bucolic; it really is in the middle of nowhere. It really suits me. You can sort of get to London in about an hour and a half so it’s not too far away. So that’s there where I am. Thankfully I only have to go to London about once or twice a week, max. But it keeps me in touch with London. I still see a lot of my old pals and some of them are still in the music biz and things but I am actually quite glad to leave. I get on the train and hour and twenty later, I’m back out here again. I think it was the right decision to get out of London. It is good for being in a rock band but not so good for … for what you could have in London, a small flat, you can get a much larger space out here.
Gene were formed when the previous band you and guitarist Steve Mason were in, Spin (previously The Go Hole) split up following a terrible road accident. Without dwelling on it too much, how easy was it for you to get back into making music? Were you reluctant to do so or did it make you and Steve more determined to succeed?
I think it is a very sad event what happened. We broke down in our van. It was myself, Steve and his older brother John and another chap, Lee Clark and two others who were helping us. There were some very bad injuries went down. Without going into it exactly , some were too badly injured to continue. Steve’s brother John was head injured and had complete amnesia, somebody else broke his back but Steve and I, although I had a broken finger and had some cuts and grazes and Steve similar, we actually came out of it relatively unscathed compared to some of the others. Strangely, it sort of spurred us on to get really serious about it. We had done quite well with Spin but you know, it had taken us ages to get a small record deal but that made us think we really had to keep going. But after a while, it became apparent quite soon after this, although we did find Martin and Kev and they did initially join Spin, so the members of Gene were in Spin for a few months, that we had the opportunity to change it up. And not to buy a cheap van that might break down on the motorway that might break down and get hit by a lorry. I think at that point, we did become more determined than ever. We were sad for our friends and band mates who were too badly injured to continue but it didn’t really stop us in that respect. It was a very sad and unfortunate event in our lives. I still feel very sad about the injuries some people got but it is a sort of key part of a big change. I remember waking up on the motorway covered in blood and there were ambulances there, so I must have passed out. There are a couple of bands that’s happened to but some weren’t as fortunate as us to survive. I think at that point I was sort of getting towards over my mid-20's and I really did at that point think I was desperate to be in a band. I had tried really hard but I still didn’t think I had given my soul to it if you know what I mean. I think at that point, I decided I really had to treat this as a proper job, like start doing it at 9 in the morning and literally be writing and playing and picking out bands, doing it in normal job hours. I remember sitting down with Steve after that and we really would start very early in the morning and have a break for lunch and then be writing all afternoon. It wouldn’t just be writing, it would be listening to bands. We got really serious about it after that, whereas before, I would wake up, have a couple of joints and you know, just sort of thinking this is pretty easy and shall we go to a gig tonight? But after that, we got really serious about it. I just thought this is my time and I’ve got to use it properly.
Gene’s line up was completed when you brought in bassist Kevin Miles and singer Martin Rossiter. Can you tell us how you found Kevin and Martin?
Kevin we knew already. We were living in Brockley, South London and he had the flat upstairs. We knew them and they were music fans. Kev was a bit more my age but Steve was quite a bit younger because I knew his older brother, John, who was injured in the crash. We actually knew him as a guitarist but he was a massive fan of The Jam and things like that. The three of us got together to continue Spin and we were looking for a singer. We found Martin in the Underworld in Camden. I can’t remember who we had gone to see now, it might have been the Milltown Brothers. We just clocked Martin and thought he looked quite cool and quite interesting. I never had the courage but Steve just sort of went up to him and said, ‘Who are you?’ type thing. At that point, instead of saying ‘Hello, I’m …’, he produced a card from his wallet, which said “Martin Falls”, he’d changed his name to Falls, “Martin Falls, soothsayer to the rich and famous”. After that, we thought, this guy is either a complete idiot or he’s got some character about him. He came to rehearsals just after that and we were literally jumping around the rehearsal room. It just sort of clicked very quickly. We did audition some other people that we’d found. I think we advertised in the Melody Maker and they came along but it was a catalogue of disasters. With Martin, we just found him in this different way and it was this quite vibey hook up. Yeah, so that’s how we found him.
I always found the name Gene very interesting. It obviously has several different meanings, including being one of the building blocks of human creation. Who thought of the name and what does it mean to you?
We were just looking for names and I think it was actually me who thought of the name Gene. The truth of it is, a friend of mine used to be in a band called Jean, spelt J-E-A-N years before that. It wasn’t after The Smiths song but because his Mum was called Jean. I just thought why not change that to a ‘G’. So I just sort of pondered that with the others: the whole thing about the genetics, the building blocks of humanity, the creative side and then there was the name G-E-N-E. It was a bit more evocative than J-E-A-N. Martin was very good at making up stories of how we got the name and, as was his way, told a different story to every journalist. There was the one that it was the Marlboro cowboy or something. He made up various stories but that was the actual truth and it was me that came up with it. I said, why don’t we have a band called Jean, we changed the ‘J’ to a ‘G’ and that gave it that double meaning.
How did you find the experience of being in Gene compare to being in Spin?
It was very different. Spin actually got a record deal but I think looking back on the two bands, Spin were kind of following, in terms of we were in that sort of indie dance scene. We were trying to make it and would have done whatever was current. There were bands like Ocean Colour Scene who were doing their indie dance thing. We were sort of following that with Spin but with Gene, not straight away, we morphed into a band that sort of had our own sound. The influences we had with Gene were very, very different. We were listening to different stuff and it felt for the first time that we were ahead of our game as opposed to thinking, wouldn’t it be good to be as good as that band? I just felt, actually, we’ve got our own sound. That’s the difference, I think. That’s what I would say.
From very early on, Gene were often quite lazily compared to The Smiths. However, I feel that there were always a lot more influences at play. Can you tell us a bit about the band’s influences and who was listening to what when you put Gene together? And do you feel that The Smiths comparison hindered the band?
As I said, two of us were a bit older, about 26 or 27 and Steve and Martin were much younger than us. They were about 20. I come from a very punk rock type thing, like The Clash. The Clash were my favourite band, still are. From them, I had got into reggae. I ran the reggae section in Our Price records in Lewisham for a while. So, I was into that and then I got into the C86 indie scene whilst I was at college; the Primals, Mighty Mighty, Bodines, all of those bands who were sort of around then and the Papers I was into it. Steve was very much into northern soul, The Jam and the Faces. Crucially, The Faces. Kev introduced Steve and I to the Faces and they became a major influence on Gene. Especially by ‘Libertine’, when we could basically do whatever we wanted, if you listen to the drums, I am using a lot of reggae rhythms and there is a lot of soul stuff, which is based on a Marvin Gaye type thing. It took us a while to sort of grow up into our early influences. Martin came from a different place. He liked dance music and music like the Redskins and classical music. Steve was obviously just a guitar hero - Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, the guitar hero. It was quite a good blend. But, I think I would say, in terms of Gene’s influences: the Faces, the Small Faces. Ronnie Wood’s playing was very influential on our sound. We listened to a lot of Big Star at that point. In terms of our songwriting, we used to deconstruct Big Star songs and sort of do our own versions of things. You know, a real plethora of different things and that was really what made it. We always did have a soulful element and we tried to put a bit of that in every album. I remember Phil Vinyl, when we were recording ‘Olympian’, to try to get me to play very lightly on various songs. He taught me that you didn’t need to be really whacking your drums. You could be really whacking them but then you could be playing so lightly, you know, like Sam Cooke records and things like that. [At this point I mention Gene’s cover of ‘I Say A Little Prayer’, and the version recorded live at Glastonbury, which was featured on the 1996 compilation album ‘To See the Lights’] Yeah, we used to play that when we were messing around and sometimes we used to play half the song when we were actually on stage. Our manager used to say we were ill-advised to start doing improvised versions. I listen to that version and I actually quite like it, actually. I think ‘To See the Lights’ is a brilliant record. It was designed to have a loads of quality stuff on it. We were trying hard to build a fan-base at the time and so, ‘Olympian’ and ‘To See the Lights’ is like an amalgamation of all of that time. It was all quite collegy stuff.
Could you tell us a bit about the recording process of your 1995 debut album, ‘Olympian’ and how you feel about it 23 years later?
‘Olympian’ was a lot of fun to record. It was obviously a quite exciting time because we had been signed by a major. I had been on the dole for ten years, pretty much or had really rubbishy jobs. They sent us off to a village near Hereford, called Wormalow. We went off with a four track and sort of honed our songs and then we had a proper time writing. Now, suddenly, it was our jobs. The record company put us in with Phil Vinyl and we had a studio in Battersea, which was owned by Pete Townsend from The Who, who we were all fans of. It wasn’t a huge recording budget but even from just being in demo studios before, it was amazing. Phil Vinyl really managed to get a sort of naively charming sound, which we did actually sound like. I think, looking back now, it has stood the test of time. It is like a snapshot of your creativity, your artistic development. I just love the way it captures that. At the time, we probably thought we were chasing hits and it probably could have been slightly slicker, but in hindsight, Phil Vinyl really got it right holding us back with that and just recording how we sounded. There is no trickery, it is a very honest album and it sounds very organic and true to how we sounded at the time. We had all the songs for ‘To See the Lights’ at the same time. People often ask us what we would kick off ‘Olympian’ and add. I think maybe the song ‘I Can’t Help Myself’, which was a B-side of … whatever it was on, is the only song that I would maybe put on ‘Olympian’, or maybe ‘Be My Light, Be My Guide’. We were really of the opinion of giving value for money for fans. Back in those days, it was very pressurised and we almost gave away too many songs, I think. We maybe should have held some of them back. But we wanted to move forward as well, you know. We wanted to draw a line under that period and move onto the next thing, so we did get all of our stuff out there and by the time the next album came along, we didn’t have much in the bank. I like aspects of all the records. Because I was involved in it, I can picture myself playing it in the studio.
Would you say that ‘Olympian’ and ‘To See the Lights’ are your favourite Gene albums then?
I think probably ‘Olympian’ and ‘Libertine’, the first and the last one. With both of those records, we were doing exactly what we wanted and I think with the other records, we were under pressure a lot. When you’re signed to a major label like Polydor, they really do expect a lot of you. They start spending tons and tons of money on things like videos. The pressure to sell loads of records is immense. First of all, you are expected to 60,000 records and be a huge success and then you had to sell a million records or you were going to be dropped. That really isn’t a good way for a band to be.
Something interesting I remember noticing about the ‘Olympian’ album at the time was that it in Greek mythology, there were twelve Olympians. However, the ‘Olympian’ album had eleven tracks, perhaps suggesting that somebody was missing. Was this on purpose or is it just my over-active brain?
‘Olympian’ was called ‘Olympian’ because we felt that we were at the peak of musical fitness. If you are in the Olympics, you are considered to have the Olympian spirit. It was kind of about that. It wasn’t linked to any sort of 12 Olympians or anything. If you were around at the time, you could have dropped that in. It would have been a good idea.
During Gene’s career, you had some brilliant B-sides, some of which, along with early singles ‘For the Dead’ b/w ‘Child’s Body’ and the triple A-side ‘Be My Light, Be My Guide’ / ‘This Is Not My Crime’ / ‘I Can’t Help Myself’, were featured on the 1996 compilation album, ‘To See the Lights’. ‘To See the Lights’, promoted by the re-released ‘For the Dead’ b/w ‘Child’s Body’, was a big favourite of mine at the time. Are there any songs on it that you felt should have been featured on ‘Olympian’ or held back for later albums?
I think I have kind of answered that already but I think they all have their place on their those particular albums. I don’t think I would like to change anything. Are there any tracks I don’t like on ‘Olympian’? There’s not really. I think I like all the tracks on that record really.
[At this point, Matt tells me that I am breaking up a bit and says he will all me back on his landline, saying, “I am in a village in the middle of nowhere … I will call you back in about two minutes”]. He calls back and says, “Where did we get up to? What was I prattling on about?”]
Your second album, ‘Drawn to the Deep End’ was released in 1997. It sounded a lot bigger and more lavish in terms of both production and scope than ‘Olympian’. What are your memories of recording ‘Drawn to the Deep End’, did you feel under pressure to build on the success of ‘Olympian’ and how do you feel about the album today?
My memories of recording it are quite plush places. We had been to quite an old studio for ‘Olympian’. We were now in a state of art studio. We were partly in Chiswick in Metropolis Studios. It was about a 1,000 pounds a day, which is probably about three times the price of what we were playing for ‘Olympian’. I remember being in these plush environments and then we were off working with producer Chris Hughes, who had done some quite swanky albums. He had done things like Tears for Fears and we were transported out to his house in Bath and Peter Gabriel would pop over. It was very, very different from when we were recording ‘Olympian’. We thought, ‘Wow, we’ve made it’ when we were recording ‘Olympian’ and now we were now in a much wider music industry, where you meet quite rich and famous people. There would be so-and-so popping over and saying, ‘Do you want to borrow a guitar?’ and things like that. It felt like, quite rock-starry but it felt a little bit uncomfortable. I never quite felt like we fitted into that major label sort of world. I still felt like an indie kid who had got a major deal. I think we should have probably developed slightly differently from that but I think Polydor really wanted us to go for the big, worldwide hit album. They wanted to spend a lot of money and we got the big producer for that and, you know, we didn’t say, ‘No’. We could have said, ‘No, that’s not right for us’ and in hindsight, maybe we should have held back a little bit more. We were in quite swanky places and it was all sort of new technology like digital and Pro Tools. I don’t know if you know about Pro Tools? It was a lot of cutting and pasting and this is how you do it and that stuff was quite alien to us. I thought we had given the perfect take and they would literally take my drums and cut it up into a million pieces and put it together again. It was early days of Pro Tools and to be honest, it wasn’t as good as organic. In those days, it was a bit clunky and I think it dates the album a little bit because they weren’t just performances; they were big productions, quite lush productions. Having said that, some of the songs on that album sound quite good for it. ‘Speak to Me Someone’ sounds great for it, ‘Where Are They Now?’, you know. ‘Why I Was Born’, I really love that track. It is a beautiful love song. Some of the sort of pop hits, we were under pressure to have. The Head of Polydor, Lucien Grainge, was sort of sat there with a big cigar going, ‘Play me the hits, boys’. It was like a clichéd Seymour Stein sort of thing. It didn’t feel right to me. I should have smelt a rat. It didn’t seem quite right but having said that, it sold quite well and I like most of it. I think we suffered from a lack of recording material before we went in to do it. We should have picked from about 30 songs but I think we only had about 15. If we had as much material for that album as we had for ‘To See the Lights’ and ‘Olympian’, it probably would have been a slightly better album. It has got some amazing moments on that record but it felt like we were trying to hold on to our identity. There was money being spent on photo shoots with Rankin and things. I just feel that if I was managing Gene now, I would have held back a little bit; keep the essence of abandon and just move forward but in not such a huge way. But I don’t hate it and I am very proud of the record in a way. We might have still been together if we hadn’t made ‘Drawn to the Deep End’ in the way we did. It didn’t do badly and we moved on to play bigger venues like the Albert Hall and bigger venues in America. Not big BIG, but 2,000 in New York and L.A., so we definitely moved forward and increased our sales and fan base, but not by the huge amounst that Polydor were expecting. ‘Fighting Fit’ got to about 14? Oh, I don’t know. What really mattered is that ‘Sleep Well Tonight’, from ‘Olympian’ went in at number 36. For me, it had been all about the indie charts but when we got in the main charts, I remember being on the tour bus and crafting a number 36 out of edam cheese. You know the sort of plastic outer wrapping? And pasting it to the window of the tour bus. That number 36 was just an amazing achievement. Stuff that went higher later on, I don’t really remember where they went. It felt like the indie kids had cracked the charts. The Stone Roses had kicked the door in and we all came flooding in. You had The Stone Roses, then Blur and then all the Britpop stuff.
Your third album, ‘Revelations’ was released a full two years after ‘Drawn to the Deep End’ and marked a notable change in sound. Personally, I loved ‘Revelations’ and think that its first single, ‘As Good As It Gets’ was a very underrated but both were met with quite mixed reviews. You had often been lumped in with the whole Britpop scene. How did you see your place in that scene and do you feel that the gap between ‘Drawn to the Deep End’ and ‘Revelations’, in which time Britpop had pretty much gone, had an effect on the reaction to the album?
It definitely felt different by the time we had finished touring and gone away and written a lot more. It is very easy to put Gene in with Britpop. At the time I felt we were definitely not Britpop. I felt Britpop was kind of like Sleeper and Echobelly and, you know. I liked those guys as people but I didn’t hugely feel that we had an affinity with those bands. I respect them. I thought they were very good pop bands but I don’t think Gene were really pop. Blur were amazing at coming up with a pop song. We never felt comfortable with writing pop singles, although we certainly had people behind us trying to get us to do it. I think most of our material can definitely not be classed as Britpop. I think when you look at ‘Fighting Fit’ or ‘As Good As It Gets’ on ‘Revelations’, that was us having a go at a pop single, but as you say, it was probably a little bit too late by then. I do love ‘Revelations’ but it sounds the way it does because Polydor were getting ready to drop us. I think they gave us a tenth of the budget we had before and we had a couple of weeks to record. We could definitely do it that way and it was a return to the ‘Olympian’ sound. We were able to knock it out in about two weeks, apart from mixing and things like that. I think, to be honest, our second album should have sounded like that and the third album should album should have been the lush, budgety one. But I like ‘Revelations’ now. There is nothing on there I don’t particularly like. It had quite a political edge to it. There was always a political edge. Martin, myself and Kevin are really quite into political. I don’t think Steve is really into politics. Gene was a naturally left-wing band.
As we just touched on, ‘Revelations’ was quite a politically charged album, with songs such as ‘As Good As It Gets’; ‘The British Disease’ and ‘Mayday’ all having a political theme. In 1997, some of those involved in the Britpop scene were invited to 10 Downing Street. What did you feel about that at the time?
I think you have to put it in context. I think most left-wing thinking people were excited about New Labour at the time. I can understand why Noel went. I don’t think we would have turned up to Downing Street but we were all generally excited about New Labour at the time. In fact, Martin’s sister was very much involved with the Labour Party. I can’t remember her actual job but she was very much part of the Labour machine. Martin was a very traditional Labour supporter. I was probably even lefter. I had been quite anarchic when I was at school. I think everybody was genuinely excited about New Labour but they massively let us down. They got into bed with George Bush, took us to war in Iraq, got rid of a dictator and bombed his people. There were two million people on the streets telling them not to do it. At that time, I can understand why Noel and that lot turned up. We were honestly excited about it and we all felt confident about the future at that point. To a certain extent, it was going well.
Following ‘Revelations’, you were sadly dropped by Polydor. How did you feel about this? Was it a sad experience or did you relish regaining your creative freedom?
We knew Polydor were going to drop us because we were savvy to what the music business was about by that stage. We actually asked them. We said we knew this was coming and said, ‘You didn’t give us any budget, you didn’t bother promoting ‘Revelations’, which I thought was stupid. They should have dropped us before it really. But they didn’t and we knew they were going to, so we actually pleaded with them to let us go. Sometimes I think major labels hold on to bands to stop them from signing to anyone else. So we actually pleaded with Polydor and they let us go. We felt like we had a lot more life in us at that point. We still had a big fan base, we could play anywhere in the world. We were very much a cult band. We could go and play to not quite as many as in the height of when we were promoted, but we were still playing to a few thousand in London and about a thousand in big American cities. We used to go Japan and we felt like there was still a place for us at that point. So yeah, we just let’s right some of the wrongs we had done whilst spending ridiculous amounts of money on our second album.
Your first release after leaving Polydor was ‘Rising for Sunset’, a live album, released in 2000. The concert, at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, had been streamed over the internet just two months earlier to a then record-breaking 60,000 people worldwide. Looking back, how does it feel to have been involved in this world record in the very early days of the internet and how do you feel about the way in which it has changed the way we discover, listen to and buy music?
I didn’t fully understand it at that point. We said we were going to do a live album and someone came in with some money for us. We were looking at ways of surviving and it sounded like a good idea. It was Snapper Records’ idea and we sort of worked out how we were going to do it. We weren’t signing to them for very long, we were doing one album and they came up with this idea of a podcast. I don’t think I really understand the internet podcast sort of nature of it but I just thought, that sounds brilliant. Looking back on it, it was quite a revolutionary thing to do. I feel quite proud of it but I didn’t think it was hugely us. It was explained to us that it was this new thing and we should perhaps take advantage of it. I think it was a good record. We did three nights at the Troubadour and we took the best tracks from it. I like the artwork on it. A photographer we liked came out to L.A. and took loads of shots. I love the cover of that album and I like all the American shots. It feels like a good move. The internet has obviously changed music. I am a bit of a grumpy old man about some of it. I don’t like the fact that the internet has made itself so necessary. If you haven’t got a good internet connection, you are sort of cut out. I live in the country so I haven’t got a great connection. I have various stuff stored on SoundCloud and on the technology side of it, my speaker sort of cuts out on every track that I’ve bought and it will just stop playing it, the internet will drop out for a second. Those sort of things aren’t good but they are just minor technological things. I don’t quite know how I feel about it. The internet is brilliant for having immediate access to knowledge and I love the fact that I can get something I want to listen to in a second right there and then and be satisfied. It is like a kind of drug. But in terms of putting albums together, there was this sort of craft of creating albums and listening to them from start to finish. In hindsight, I think we have realised that CDs were not that good and I think we are going back to vinyl. That seems to have survived. I love looking and feeling and holding them. Vinyl is coming back in a big way. When we did our re-releases with Demon, they gave us the opportunity to put ‘Libertine’ on a special vinyl. That was sort of the start of it. Our second album was very early digital editing and ProTools, in the early days of the internet, so we were right at the beginning of those things. In a way, it probably didn’t massively help us. If we had been using those things a couple of years later, we might have been able to be a bit more successful.
Your final album, ‘Libertine’ was released in 2001 on your own label, Sub Rosa Records. This was another beautiful collection of songs and there is another notable change of style on the album. How do you feel about ‘Libertine’ today and did you have any inkling that ‘Libertine’ would be your final album whilst you were recording it?
I did love ‘Libertine’, we all did and I still love it because we were doing exactly what we wanted, with our own money. We thought, if we are spending our own money, we are going to do exactly what we want. I think there was a slight sense that it might have been the last album. We certainly didn’t expect it to sell hugely well, so we were thinking it’s a stepping stone and we were paying for this but we’re not sure we will be able to pay for another one. We all had families by that point and we were all on the verge of needing jobs. We almost stopped ourselves from putting an obvious single on the album because we wanted to be completely self-indulgent. I think, in hindsight, we were being a bit bloody-minded. Maybe ‘Let Me Move On’ should have been on the album as a single and it might have given it a bit of focus. It was more a concept album, it was very experimental and I love the way it sounds. I do feel very proud of that record. Some people who are just discovering Gene now, so it is a nice one to discover. They will probably find ‘Olympian’ and ‘Drawn to the Deep End’ and go on to that one and think, ’wow’ and it might be their favourite. You’ve got to have one of those in the bank.
You split amicably in 2004, following an appearance at the Morrissey-curated Meltdown Festival and your last concert at the London Astoria a week before Christmas. I always felt that Gene had so much more to offer and it was very sad to see you break-up. How did you feel about it at the time and do you ever regret the decision? Is there any chance of Gene reforming?
To be honest, it wasn’t really my decision. I certainly did try to convince Martin to continue doing but I think he had had enough. I think he was really worried that we were a) going to start playing smaller and smaller venues like one of our contemporaries. I’m not saying which one, it would be unfair of me, but they had started playing smaller and smaller venues. They had gotten down to playing places in London like the Camden Barfly. Martin just didn’t want to shrink in size. I personally don’t think we would have but Martin called time on his involvement in it and the rest of us didn’t want to do Gene without it being the four us really. I think we were all key elements, certainly key writing elements of the band. In hindsight, I didn’t want to split up and I thought, well, maybe if we still could have done things occasionally then I didn’t see the need for it, hugely. But Martin, I think he wanted to just draw a line under it and do different things. You know, you’ve got to respect that. You certainly can’t be in a band where someone doesn’t massively want to be in a band, you have to do it 100%, certainly with the writing. I can be quite lazy at times if I’m not really into something but everything I did for Gene, I threw 100% into it. And I think that the other did as well. And that’s what it’s about. Anybody who wasn’t really into anymore would have been infectious and we probably would have made quite a poor record. Fair play to him for doing it. I don’t think we will be doing anything else but never say never. I’m sure we could come back and do a reasonably big show, but Martin doesn’t really talk to us these days. I’m not sure why, we never really fell out but he just sort of wanted to 100% move on. I talk to Kev and Steve quite a lot. Steve comes to my house quite often. But Martin has sort of moved on to to another part of his life. He might turn up at my house one of these days but, I don’t know, probably not. Martin is known for saying in interviews that he would rather eat his own penis than reform Gene. Yeah, so probably not reforming. I would like to but it is really very hard to see a band you really, really liked as a chubbier version, an older version of heroes. I have seen a couple of bands who have reformed and have been genuinely disappointed. It can be a treacherous thing to do. I think Martin, by being very strong about it, is perhaps saving people from that. I think in terms of the music, some of it needs older guys to play it anyway but some of our early music needs to played by young men. I think a lot our music was quite broad and anthemic and I think it would be kind of OK for fifty year old blokes to be playing it. It is not a job life. It is only a very small handful of bands who get to reach rock stardom. We were ten years on the road and got a few albums out there. I am slightly disappointed we didn’t carry on. I remember my big ambition when I was an indie kid listening to the indie bands at the time was to play The Forum in Kentish Town. I can’t think of anything I could possibly achieve being better than that, which is probably limiting myself a bit because we achieved that within the first six months. I feel pretty good about Gene, generally.
Finally, can you tell us a bit about what you and the other members have been up to since the split?
I’m a wine merchant now. I supply some of the pubs and restaurants that I used to drink at in Camden, so it has kind of come full circle in a way. I don’t have a huge business but I kind like it that way. Steve works in pharmaceutical recruitment. I don’t think he likes it all that much but it pays well. Kev teaches music up in Lincolnshire and Martin does similar stuff to that down in Brighton. So two of us are still sort of involved in music and two are not. I find it a bit difficult, in some ways, to listen to music without wanting to take it apart, analyse it and tell them they got the middle eight wrong, or something like that. I find I can’t relax around new music. Not so much classic music but if I hear up and coming bands, I am a bit of a busybody that way. I can’t stop analysing their songs and going you really missed an opportunity there or thinking I really liked your first single but what are you doing changing styles? I over think it and over analyse it, so stick to the classics. I am the annoying old bloke in the corner. I remember when Foals released ‘My Number’. Do you know that song, ‘My Number’ by Foals? I absolutely loved that song and couldn’t stop playing it. I played it an unhealthy amount of times, over and over again. I’m a bit obsessive about music, it’s not a chilled way to be. I have 6Music on a lot of the time and listen to that. I haven’t written anything for a quite a while but, you know, I might get round to it one day.
Thank you so much for taking part in our interview. As a big fan of Gene, it has been such a pleasure. All the very best for the future.