(The following article was writtenfor ARTROCKER MAGAZINE, issue #104, October 2010)
THEATRE ROYAL: Childish behaviour coaxes a rising phoenix.
Since the advent of popular music, musicians have never been shy to use their talents / fame / notoriety to push some cause or other that’s close to their heart. Cynics might argue that this is just another opportunity for shameless self-promotion, but this accusation is one that cannot be directed at Chatham four-piece, THEATRE ROYAL. You see, they themselves have very little to gain from publicising their cause, seeing as it was already dead, if not quite yet buried, when they adopted its name for the band. Vocalist / guitarist Oliver Burgess takes up the story:
“The band was born out of tribute and discontent; ‘tribute’ relative to the Theatre Royal in Chatham which we broke into to play one final performance before its demolition, and ‘discontent’ both about how such a great building was being treated and also how we felt about the break up of our previous band.”
Oliver, Robbie (guitar / vocals) and Jon (drums) played together in The Long Weekend, with bassist Brendan joining at the formation of Theatre Royal.
“It wasn’t a difficult break-in,” Oliver expands, “ just jumping over a wall and climbing through some rubble whilst dodging discarded syringes! It was less of a ‘guerrilla gig’ and more of a protest statement to highlight the fact that a brilliant building was being forgotten in an area that hasn’t got too much going for it. There was no audience – it was quite dangerous in there – but with fellow Chatham denizens Billy Childish and Lupen Crook, we all did our bit acoustically and snuck back out again. It was filmed for a little documentary.” (It’s actually well worth a look, here: http://vimeo.com/5956785 )
That was back in April of 2009 and at that time, neither Oliver nor the others were thinking of the band. Now, a little over a year later, and Theatre Royal have just released a very classy, assured and mature-sounding album! Just like that – no limited edition vinyl singles to test the water. No ‘download only’ release of selected songs. Just straight to album! Robbie explains:
“Yeah – this is the first release by the band. We recorded the eleven songs in three one-day sessions over the course of a few months. We never meant to make an album. All the tracks were essentially put together as demos, but when we completed them and looked back, we found they sounded great bundled together as an album and thought other people should hear them. So we tidied the songs up a bit with a day’s worth of overdubs and then mixed it pretty swiftly. In all, the album took five days and less than £1000 to record and master.”
“We wrote off the £1000 outlay as it was spent over the course of a year and mainly funded through gigs etc. The idea was to make enough money from a Limited Release of the album to fund an EP for release in the autumn, with one track from the album and three new recordings. It’s all pretty DIY, with one action funding another. The EP will be out in October and we’ll plug it properly to radio etc.” (The official Launch Party has been booked for Death Disco @ Notting Hill Arts Club on October 20th.)
However, feedback to the album has been such that the band has now made it available through i-Tunes.
“We sent out a load of press packs to websites and radio stations and got a really positive response. We’ve been played quite a lot on the WFMU radio station in New York and we thought there was no point being precious about the album – if people want to get it they can,” says Oliver.
Not that it’s at all necessary but everyone wants to do so nowadays, so how do you pigeon-hole the music of Theatre Royal? Is there a category for ‘intelligent indie?’ I ask.
“I know what you mean,” says Oliver with a wry smile. “We’ve got a really broad taste in music and just play songs we think are good without worrying whether they sound like anyone else. We all started off listening to the likes of Nirvana and Britpop and those bands sent us back to explore the likes of The Beatles, Pixies, Smiths, and Velvet Underground etc. But with these recordings, I’d say The Flying Burrito Brothers, Love and even Buffalo Springfield have been influential. We like bright, poppy melodies with dark lyrics. It’s a good contrast, but I think the energy of punk and New Wave shine through as well… especially ‘live.’ We don’t sound like them, but maybe we have a similar type of audience to the likes of The National – you know, ‘music lovers’ rather than followers of fashion.”
‘… from rubble rises’ is certainly an album that cuts through genres, blending swathes of melodies and anthemic choruses but still managing to steer clear of the culture of ‘twee.’ It’s infectious, intelligent, indie music for the discerning music fan and is surely only a curtain raiser for a band that will now rather ironically grace the somewhat sterile, modern-day equivalents of the grand old venue from which they take their name.
Ladies and Gentlemen….. THEATRE ROYAL!