The last time most of us saw Doves it was Glastonbury Festival 2003, headlining Sunday night against Moby. This wasn’t really a problem for them though. The year before, they’d been mid afternoon, playing in glorious weather, a crowd of people wide-eyed at the prospect of whole weekend opening up in front of them to the soundtrack of Catch
The Sun. On the Sunday night, under the cover of a million stars shimmering like pinpoints of light in the night sky, they took the place from all competition, hammering home the point that anyone with any sense was going to be there, then, in that field with them. They were the last party before heading bac k to the grindstone of work and ordinary life, the last broadcast from the stage that anyone would be interested in hearing. Everything you wanted to hear was there, all those songs from the first two albums that sounded like they were written with this moment in mind, written for the tens of thousands who didn’t want to go home now, maybe not ever. Some way for Doves to bow out for a while, some place to start thinking about stuff from scratch. If the first two Doves albums, Lost Souls and The Last Broadcast, were records that sounded like they were conceived in Glastonbury-like vast open plains, each number a snapshot of the wide open countryside or of the rolling sea, then their third album, Some Cities, paints altogether different pictures. Influenced musically by records as diverse as “The Kinks “Village Green Preservation Society” and the “Goodbye Babylon gospel boxset and a lot of Northern Soul” and lyrically, according to Jez, by the fact that “A lot of cities in the North West have gone through radical changes - Manchester over the last eight years, Liverpool in the last couple… I guess some of the songs are about that change, the way that some of the most important, historical buildings have had their hearts ripped out, replaced by temporary pacemakers”, at points it’s crunching and urban, sounding like a midnight high-speed joy ride through the industrial pulsing centre of the city (most noticeably on the turbo charged first single Black And White Town). At others, it’s like a long lost soundtrack to some early ‘60s kitchen sink drama (Someday Soon, Shadows Of Salford). Some Cities could only ever have been born in the North of England and is the sound of a full throttle Doves band. It’s also the sound of the band at their most relaxed and confident, their most driven and fine-tuned. As for differences between the records - “We wanted to make a different sounding record to “The Last Broadcast”, a bit more live sounding, more direct, shorter songs… back to the triple CD rock opera for the next one” (Andy).
The history of how it all started has been written enough times before - that twin brothers Jez and Andy Williams and school friend Jimi Goodwin met when they were 15 and before too long were inspired by a misspent youth at the Hacienda to make music, eventually ending up as Sub Sub. That in the early 1990s, they progressed from the still utterly essential top 3 single “Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)” and “Spaceface” (the crazed ‘2001’ acid workout that has closed most Doves gigs over the last couple of years) to altogether weirder recordings that featured vocals from the likes of Tricky and Bernard Sumner, laying down a musical template that would eventually become the first Doves recordings. The real story begins with the actual end of Sub Sub and subsequent rebirth as Doves. Their phoenix-like resurrection came about when their studio burnt down in the mid 90s, wiping clean any kind of slate they had, severing any ties they may have had to keep them stuck in their past.
The first Doves records, three EPs released on Rob Gretton’s Casino label, featured The Cedar Room, Sea Song and Here It Comes, both the blueprint and the backbone for the band’s first album. By this point, Jimi had taken on main vocal duties with Jez and Andy each taking over when the mood suited. After months of fruitless searching for a front person, this can only have created an even more insular and solid unit, one which would go on to record a total head turner of a debut album. Lost Souls was released on Heavenly Recordings in April 2000, immediately setting in stone the Doves sound – monumental and epic yet grounded in those sonics more usually associated with dance music - rumbling sub-bass and bone shaking drum tracks. Equally, they nodded towards the musical heritage of Manchester, from Morrissey & Marr, New Order and the collective sound of Factory Records, The Stone Roses through to their fellow travellers Badly Drawn Boy and the Twisted Nerve label. Lost Souls created a unique sound that actually seemed to spin right around your head as it played out. Snowballing a couple of times round the world, the Doves live sound, augmented by Martin Rebelski on keyboards, further pushed the envelope, creating a sound so massive it left you wondering how it managed to contain itself within the constraints of the venues where they rolled up and plugged in.
With the release of the band’s second long player in April 2002, The Last Broadcast, Doves went from worst-kept secret to the upper reaches of the charts. There Goes The Fear, one of the defining musical moments of the year (and NME's Single Of The Year) became a bona fide hit single, sounding like nothing less than the Notting Hill Carnival detouring up the M6 at full speed. The album both concentrated and stretched out the Doves sound, pushing all directions about as far as they could go - Pounding comes on like it could level buildings without nudging the volume anymore, while M62 Song could be the cast of a David Lynch film thumbing a ride home at 5am on the way back from Liverpool, as the dawn breaks and the panic sets in. Caught By The River is that rarest of things - a record that sounds like it's written to be played out in stadiums yet one which is in no way bombastic, brash or arrogant, just full of tender northern soul (both lower case). The Last Broadcast was heralded as a masterpiece upon release, spent two weeks at number 1 in the UK, and, like Lost Souls, was nominated for the Mercury Prize.
After touring heavily for 18 months, taking in those two Glastonburys, headlining a gig at the Eden Project in Cornwall (as seen on the 2003 DVD, Where We’re Calling From) and playing pretty much everywhere else in the world, the band released Lost Sides (Sept 2003), a collection of B-sides and rarities that acts like a fully strung out companion piece to Lost Souls and The Last Broadcast, like all the darker stranger corners of those records explored in Technicolor (check the woozy end-of-the-pier Down To Sea or the cover of Willow’s Song from The Wicker Man soundtrack for evidence). After that, the band disappeared from view and began to rewrite their own rule book.
So, all that’s then and this is now, as Some Cities arrives almost three years after The Last Broadcast. Conceived as a shorter, more forceful record than its two predecessors, the record was written primarily in cottages and holiday rents around the UK (Snowdonia, Darlington, Youlgreave in the Peak District) and recorded with Ben Hillier (producer of Blur’s “Think Tank” & Elbow’s “Cast Of Thousands”) in Liverpool, Brixton and Loch Ness (of which Jimi says "Just to be outside had a nice flavour to it… it was healthy for Doves for once. A stunning place to make a record. We could see Ben Nevis out of the studio window").
Initially inspired by “being shocked and excited at seeing Manchester change every time we came back from touring” (Jimi) and, musically, at least in part, by their brief between album DJing hobby where the band moved from town to town playing a fiercely ramshackle selection of Northern Soul and acid house.
Some Cities is a record informed, but never overpowered by, these musical styles each adding its own unique metronomic stomp to the songs (particularly on Black & White Town and Almost Forgot Myself). Black And White Town particularly was inspired by the fact that “We all grew up in satellite towns around Manchester, it’s about that whole thing when you get to 15 or 16, ‘What’s out there for me? Do I stay here and get buried or do I leave? Or is everywhere the same? Let’s go and find out.’” (Jimi).
On the whole, the record does what the band set out to achieve in evoking the changing face of the North of England - you can hear in the music an inner-city grime running through the album, no where more so than on the title track with the huge backbreaking rumble of drums that sound like heavy machinery being forcibly dismantled (and a guitar line that could almost be early Fall); Shadows Of Salford sounds like a ghostly lullaby whistling past your ears as you stroll along the same night-time streets that One Of These Days and Sky Starts Falling both joyride through at whip crack speed. Someday Soon could be some dusty misplaced master tapes from the soundtrack of a Rita Tushingham or Tom Courtney slice-of-life movie, all acoustic guitars swooping and diving around waltz time percussion and a truly celestial flute loop.
Walk In Fire harks back to There Goes The Fear but instead of landing in South America it takes it up country on a road trip to Nashville. Final track Ambition evokes nothing less than the Velvet Underground playing live in Heaven, like watching the sunrise from a tenth story window in the middle of the city while the world starts to crawl about way below you.
The only real times the record steps out from the city are The Storm, a rolling, lolloping piano and orchestral piece that sounds something like “Hot Buttered Soul” recorded in freak weather conditions out on the Pennines (described by Jimi as sounding “like hotwiring a massive orchestra up to a transistor radio”) and the sweeping, monumental Snowden, a song written in the shadow of and obviously inspired by a very big, very beautiful mountain.
Some Cities then, is their most concise, brutal, driving, beautiful, relentless, solid, brilliant record to date, a record that Jez describes as wanting “to sound more direct, we were going for ‘that band in a room sound.’”
Thankfully for us, the band we’ve ended up in the room with, is Doves