savoy grand interview
(July 1999)

It was the demo that did it, the minimalism on the sleeve a precursor to the carefully nurtured silence on the tape where, as in a Mondrian painting, white space is balanced and enclosed by a thread-like lattice and occasional density, the overall composition being as important as the prominence of any one component. Galaxie 500 with just 2 guitar strings between them might be a good starting point for comparisons. There were three tracks on the tape: "There is nothing new here," "The moving air" and "Millions of people" of which the latter two now form, re-recorded, the debut single some six or eight months after Nigel from Pickled Egg first heard the songs over home-cooked broccoli soup round at ours. It's been a long process this, through the meticulous arrangements where every last note has to say something or is cut, the reworking of "The moving air" from organ to string quartet and the disastrous first cut of the 7" by a Jeremy Clarkson character more interested in satellite soft porn than the finer points of sound recording. But it's here now along with a debut interview in which only two things were left unsaid: Graham used to be into Husker Du and the band don't sound like Low.

Participating: Graham Langley (Vocals/Guitar), Oli Mayne (Bass/Vibraphone), Kieran O'Riordan (Percussion) and Ian Sutton (Trumpet/Organ/Piano).

The name, it sounds like a swanky hotel to me. Did you all meet sipping cocktails in some opulent, but seedy, lounge bar?

Kieran: (to Graham) You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar...
Graham: Alas no. I put an ad in Melody Maker asking for special people and Oliver answered it then later on we joined up with Kieran and Ian.
Oli: I knew of them, I thought they would be right for what we were trying to do..
G: I was new-ish to Nottingham, and was ready to get a band together so I placed the aforementioned ad. The others had known of each other at University in Notts. None of us grew up in Nottingham.

Did you intend writing such minimal songs from the very beginning? If not, how did you start?

G: I didn't. I had no plan really. One or two of the early songs we did were more dense, but we just kind of naturally moved towards a sparser sound. I think we all liked the idea of doing as much as possible to let the songs find their own space.
O: It was also to do with where we were rehearsing---a damp cellar in inner city Notts---we had to keep it as quiet as possible, the neighbours y'know. And the music is about listening and reacting to what the others are doing, and making it work as a whole.
G: The songs are about very intimate things and so they come out in an intimate way, and that is the feeling that will influence how we play em.

Are you gentle people?

O: Absolutely. We are all gentlemen.

Graham told me previously that he writes the songs on an acoustic guitar. Do you just deconstruct them from that?

O: Yeah thats it.
G: We are starting to use a few different approaches.,. sometimes the song is almost there and it falls in to place very quickly, other times we start with nearly nothing, or totally get rid of what was there in the first place. And it takes a long time...
Ian: It's basically because we are not good enough to play them fast...

Some of you have classical and jazz backgrounds. Would you say that you play in a "classical" or "jazz" style in SG?

G: No. we play indie rock, from the heart.
I: The music is song led, so we are working from those....
O: The different backgrounds help in giving a way of interpreting the songs, we use a lot of classical dynamics.....
G: I think it comes through in how we perform rather than the actual music...

Do you think having people in the band with musical know-how is an advantage or a hindrance?

G: It's an advantage. All of the arrangements come from improvisation, and with the different backgrounds we have in the band, that gives us a great scope for doing different things.
O: It makes rehearsing much faster as well because we can look at what graham is playing and pick it up like that [clicks fingers]
G: Yeah, because I don't have a clue what I'm playing...
O: And with the single "The Moving Air" we could not have arranged, scored and produced that as our debut single without having that background.

What's the inspiration for your songs? Tell us about "The moving air" in particular.

G: I can't exactly say. Things just come out really. I think I say things in my songs that I just can't or wouldn't say in the everyday. They are very personal but they're not specific or literal. But that song, "The moving air," I think that is trying to express the situation of a person trying to hold on but wanting to let go. At the same time!! Sort of like equal parts hope and despair, but way less corny than that sounds.

You don't play live much. Why not? Are you too quiet?

G: We're not too quiet, its just important for us to do the right gigs with the right sort of feel which comes from the audience and the other bands that are playing. I think people will listen if you're good enough. You don't need to deafen them.

How did the debut London gig go?

G: It was a very strange night. The hardest show we've done... we had some weird sound problems and we were following two hardcore bands so people had got used to yelling above the music but the front couple of rows were really really intently listening. It was odd but strangely satisfying, that people were really fighting to listen. At the previous gig in Leicester, there had been absolute silence. So London was a success, but a weird one.

You've told me before that you wanted to grow organically, by word of mouth. Is that still the plan? Is it working?

G: Yeah . There seems to be quite a bit of interest especially locally, and we've only done seven gigs, and released no records. I I think we still believe that is a good way to do it, but we realise that sometimes it might help to put the words in some peoples mouths, where they might not have been necessarily.. We aren't purposefully avoiding publicity or anything, stuff has just happened at a gentle and gradual pace which suits us. We want to be successful, and we want to become more widely known, but we're not into the hard sell. if its good, people will seek it out... We also all have jobs so we've got to spend our time writing and rehearsing rather than thinking up promo campaigns.

And now you've got a single coming out on Pickled Egg. Presumably you're very happy about that?

G: Yes the Pickled Egg single is a great thing. Nigel is a fine man with exemplary taste. We've had a fair few people show interest in us. Mostly in fits and starts. I think a lot of people are waiting... but I don't know what for. This single hopefully. We have got a great album in us, so we want to get that made, but we want to do it right---however that may be.

I've avoided the temptation all the way through, but where did the name come from? "Savoy": cabbage, SE France? "Grand": splendid, dignified, solemn? Half of that seems right!

G: Mmm it was intended to conjure up visions of something splendid that had gone to seed when people finally see us, that will be apparent. Its also a bit cinematic I hope. And, you know, hotels are such excellent places...that sort of atmosphere of things unseen that you know are going on behind closed doors..and they are lovely and quiet...

Contact Savoy Grand at PO Box 5707, Nottingham, NG2 4JB or

: reviews : interviews : live : features : shop : search: contact