[Loaded magazine, 1997]
STEVE Firth takes a pull on his fag and stares out blankly at the sodden fields of Glastonbury. The rain is beating horizontally against a few muddy, distant, early-morning hippies as they pick their way through the mire. From the top deck of the coach we have a fine view into a nearby van with a painted eagle emblazoned on the roof. In the cab a German roadie, all paunch and body hair, is slipping into something more likely to reveal his testicles. The eagle looks pissed off, and who can blame it? Steve just looks philosophical.
“I've seen worse than this,” reflects the Embrace bassist. “Years ago I had a friend who moved down from Huddersfield to Crawley, in Sussex. He said, 'There's loads of jobs down here.' So I came down. I'd been on the dole for three or four months. Thought I'd save a bit of money. The next day I had a job. Everybody could get work back in them days though,” he adds drily. “It was in the 50s. There was a thriving textile industry. . .
“There'd been a bin strike in Crawley, and they'd hired all these ex students to clear up after them. It was disgusting. You'd get maggots falling out of the bags down your neck. We got kicked out of our flat midway through that, and we couldn't find anywhere to live, so we thought we'd camp in the woods. I used to come off work, go to the pub and get pissed every night because it was the only way I could cope with it.
“We'd end up rat-arsed, chasing each other through the woods, falling over, and one night I rolled around in a load of dogshit. I didn't have anywhere to wash, no change of clothes. I had to go to work on the bins stinking of dogshit, and they were all going ‘Fuckin' hell!’, recoiling from me, all these people who were used to getting maggots down their collars. After that I slept in someone's garden for three months. I never even managed to save enough money to get another flat.
“It was,” he muses, with some understatement, “a low point in my life.”
Across the fields, one of the hippies goes down. Two others struggle vainly to pluck him from the bog.
“Then,” says Steve, “I decided to become a rock star.”
STEVE'S fortunes took a turn for the better when he went back to Huddersfield and hooked up with the brothers McNamara, who had the same idea and the means by which to make it real. Danny, the elder, a musical obsessive, had been writing songs for years with his younger brother, guitarist Richard, a dark horse if ever there was one, and playing them with drummer Mike Heaton.
Within a year of Steve completing the line-up for Embrace, their limited-edition debut single, All You Good Good People, had sold out in a matter of hours and the music and style press was singing their praises in the usual extravagant fashion. For once, those papers had it right, although they missed the point when they labelled Embrace the new Oasis. Sombre, epic and deeply passionate, Embrace's music is far closer to The Verve's, although you can hear American influences like Nirvana and the misunderstood king of bedsit misery, Leonard Cohen, in there as well. Of all the new contenders and pretenders in British rock, Embrace weren't just the best, they were the only ones worth bothering with. For Danny, as the frontman and presumed leader, the fuss came as no surprise.
“I am in an industry,” he says quietly, taping a pair of binbags to his legs to protect his Converse trainers from the Glastonbury quagmire, “and I want to be as good as people who are better than me, and I won't stop till I am.”
“Who do you think's better than you?” I ask, winding the Gaffa tape round my own knees. The way we look, Steve might give in to some long suppressed garbageman's instinct and try to hurl us onto the back of the nearest truck.
“Nobody at the moment,” Danny replies, without blinking. “I think Beastie Boys and The Prodigy do what they do as well as or better than we do what we do, but nobody in guitar music. Y'see, I'm in the fortunate position of having heard our album and heard all the competition's albums pretty much, and well, there an't any competition really. I mean, if you're in a band and you think you've written an album that's better than us and I've heard of yer, you an't, and if I haven't heard of yer, fuckin' good on yer man.”
He sticks a probing foot out the door of coach and sinks up to his calves, then goes squelching off to find the Radio 1 tent, where sitting on a plastic crate, his lyrics stuck to a bale of hay in front of him, he'll play a new song called That's All Changed For Good which could almost make you believe his outlandish claims.
NEXT time I meet Embrace, it's at the bone-dry Phoenix and they've changed their festival shoes. They had to. The bin liners didn't work. Red Star, Blue Star, All Star, makes no difference. They're all Brown Star now. “Brand new, they were,” grumbles Richard, a man who speaks softly and little until, late at night on a tour bus, he'll suddenly come up with stories about headbutting Alsatian dogs, setting himself on fire at parties and throwing bricks at body-builder's houses.
“It was my fuckin' shirt an' all he set on fire, the bastard,” Danny now elaborates. “And as for Hercules, the body-builder, we worked on his fuckin' house and we didn't get fuckin' paid.”
“How old were you then? Early teens, I suppose.”
“Twenty-three,” says Richard. “It were last year, I think.”
Richard and Danny used to work for their dad, who's in the shed building business. While Richard was off causing minor havoc, Danny would spend all his spare time on music.
“I've been at it eight years. What am I, 27 now? I never know. I've never once celebrated my birthday, 'cos I've been too busy working on songs and stuff. It's just what I love doing. Even when I'd have a girlfriend, I'd go and see her for an hour on New Year's Eve, then I'd go home and work on a song. Everyone thinks you're an obsessive, a dreamer, and then when you make it you go from being a dreamer to being a driven, talented, ambitious young man overnight. It's a joke really. You're still a fuckin' dreamer.”
When Danny split with his last girlfriend - his fiancee - the bitterness inspired most of the songs that will appear on Embrace's first album. He's got a new girlfriend now, Emma, who's come with him to all their festival dates. “Does that make it any easier?” I want to know.
“It's easier for the band,” says Steve.
“Well I'm a bit more relaxed, a bit less hyper,” Danny allows.
“And you've got rid of those bollocks like beach balls in yer trousers,” observes Richard.
“Does being content slacken off your commitment to the band?” I wonder
“It's funny you should say that, 'cos I've slackened right off.”
“He hasn't you know,” mutters Steve under his breath.
“You've got to understand,” pleads Danny, “the music is really important to me. That's why I'm always getting into arguments with people like that bloke from Loaded [John Perry] when they ask me about it. They shouldn't ask me about it if they don't want to take it seriously. Thanks to the press, everybody thinks I'm an arrogant cunt now.”
“Well maybe you shouldn't be such an arrogant cunt with them then,” I suggest.
There's a short silence.
“Y'know Dave,” says Danny, “you might just have summat there.
“But,” he carries on, “it is the most important thing to me. I can't sing without feeling a lot when I sing. No matter how often I do it. That's why we start with a slow one more often than not, 'cos it lets me know I'm at work. I start with a slow one that really gets me.”
“At work?” says Richard. “Gigs are alright. We could be really working for a living.” He fiddles with his guitar strap, preparing to go on stage.
“That's true,” Danny admits. “I'll tell me dad, ‘I've been working between 12 and 14 hour days since last November, and I've had two days off.’ And he goes, ‘I've been working for 35 years and I've got fuck all.’ Puts it in perspective.”
He walks up the gangway to play their set to the Phoenix crowd; he'll curse himself afterwards for not being absolutely perfect. Still, there's time.
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