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Th' Faith Healers. Thx to Paul Early for the picture.

Th' Faith Healers Interviews

Melody Maker, 1990 | NME, 1992 | Back to main page

Four Horsemen of the Apostrophe

EVERETT TRUE talks to the baggy metal band who've been touted as the best live group in the country at the moment, partly because they throw guitars, drums and innocent passers-by into the audience. Pics: JOE DILWORTH (who by some strange coincidence, is also in the band)

TH' FAITH HEALERS ARE WAY COOL. Their drummer, Joe, once turned down an offer from The Sundays, long before they achieved critical acclaim. Their guitarist, Tom, played in the first band (The X-Men) reviewed for a music paper ("like ice cream on a hot summer's day," I believe is how it started). Their bassist, Ben, takes a chainsaw to trees down in Lewisham for a living (and they call him a surgeon!). Their screamer, Roxanne, has been known to walk round Glastonbury stark naked and sing on stage with one arm broken.

When they play live they do so drunkenly and with total abandon. when they play live, guitars, band members and innocent passers-by get thrown into the audience at random. When they play live, my brain sees sparks and my head attempts to dislocate itself from my shoulders, as does everyone's. Everyone throws their heads back back from their waist to their knees down and then tries to get back up again. It's great. Not only do you have a hangover the next morning, but your neck also has severe whiplash.

Their music (baggy metal, it's been called) I can only listen to wearing a new pair of glasses, walking down streets, it takes your brain several seconds to adjust to each sight, by which time the aforementioned sight has long disappeared from view. When they play live, you know they're alive.

They even have a single out, called "Pop Song", on Too Pure. It has three tracks, including the mighty "Slag" wherein Roxanne screams the title over and over again, and it waggles one mean tail-feather, baby. Yeah. And the cover, of an old man sticking a finger up, came from a skip full of discarded photo: "The Harvard Professor's Guide To Rude Gaelic Gestures".

So buy it.

THERE are four of us present -- Ben, who spends most the interview reading last week's Maker, Joe, who drinks and cringes in fear of charges of nepotism when asked his occupation (he takes photos), and Tom, who simply drinks. Oh, and me: Roxanne having disappeared to Spain for a mnoth or two recently.

Before Roxanne joined Th' Healers last year, they were a trio, Tom doubling on vocal and guitar duties. By all accounts, it was a fairly horrendous experience.

"We have a tape of our first concert," Joe remembers, "And at the start it has Miki (Lush) [section missing] get the girls out the bands, don't they?" Then we launch into our first number which falls apart after 10 seconds and you can hear this girl saying, "Ooh, Th X-Men were much better than this lot."

So where did you find Roxanne?

"We discovered hert working behind the bar in The Falcon (notorious London venue, which the Valentines, Lush, Sundays and Silverfish - the Camden "scene" - have all frequented at one point or another)," Tom recalls, opening a bottle of beer with a cigarette lighter, " I had no money and she would collect up all the slops at then end of the evening and give them to me. She asked me if she could be in our band, so we figured we had to give her a chance."

That's a heart-warming story. Typical of Th' Faith Healers' outlook on life.

ONE of the strangest things about Th' Healers is their audience. Apart from the odd Silverfish and Milkman are a bunch of 18-year-olds from Bournemouth who attend every concert they play. They call themselves The Faithful.

Joe: "Roxanne told them off for throwing torn-up newspaper at one concert, saying we're not The Darling Buds, so at the next they brought along half-cooked pasta."

Tom: "The best thing about them is they wear their Faith Healers tee-shirts to every other gig they go to..."

And they brought the shirts off you? "Yeah, they did. They paid four smackers a-piece."

Joe: "I was selling them for three!"

HERE'S Tom on why he's in Th' Faith Healers:

"There's something missing if you're not in a band. It's like smoking and drinking and girls... I've been in bands for eight years and I couldn't imagine life without it. Once you start it's hard to stop."

You might have sussed by now this isn't one of the most happening interviews I've ever stage-managed.

Joe: "The best comment we ever had about the band was, 'Well, I suppose it keeps you fit then!'"

It certainly does. Go check 'em out, dudes. They'll heal your faith in live music.

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This Band Have a Jinx Problem

TH' FAITH HEALERS have seen every one of their support bands go on to collect their ticket to stardom, while they dutifully take their bristling and brainnumbing racket round the country. JOHN MULVEY discovers that they put it all down to a bona-fide, solid-black CURSE! Hex and mugs and rock 'n' roll: CHRIS HUGHES.

One day, when the history of music is jokingly rewritten with its epicentre as Camden, North London, rock heritage tours will stop off at Joe Dilworth's flat.

There, in the front room, is where he photographed My Bloody Valentine for the burnt-out cover of the blissed-out 'Isn't Anything'. There, in the corner, is where Lesley from Silverfish puked her load. Out there, in the overgrown garden studded with lumps of motorbike, lie the corpses of all the North London bands who died laughing at the idea of the Camden Lurch scene.

And here, in the kitchen filled with pots, pans, prints and negatives, is where Th' Faith Healers kinda shoulda sorta woulda if they could've plotted their haphazard, studiously careless way through the minefield of '90s noise pop.

At the sight of the lounge, one tourist will shoot off film after film of blurred photographs. at the sight of the vomit stain, on will genuflect and gently intone, mantra-like, "Hips! Lips! Tits! Power!" At the sight of the beautiful, airy ground-floor flat, four more will phone their estate agents. And, after 30 seconds, the other 50 will turn away bewildered and ask the guide how long it will be before they get to Carnaby Street...

"Any band that have ever supported us have a guaranteed ticket to stardom: Daisy Chainsaw, Teenage Fanclub, Gallon Drunk, PJ Harvey..." - Joe

HEY, SUCH is life. Call it doom-mongering, call it determination to keep a favourite band a small-time secret, call it a result of being faced with their barely-suppressed pessimism at the end of this interview, but it seems Th' Faith Healers will always be on the margins. They're the kind of lovably awkward schemers and dreamers who end up as cultish obscurities, proudly incapable of compromising as all those - at least relatively - user-friendly support acts scramble over them in the race for mass acceptance.

And they're on the perfect label for the role right now; Too Pure's defiance of fashion and its celebration of real, bloody-minded independence, both in business and music, has seen it deservedly become the ultimate in elusive hip over the past couple of years and made it a fairly happy home for the suitable obstinate Faith Healers.

The again, the lack of success might just be because the band make a bloody racket and, oh yeah, they've been cursed...

"We played in Leeds on the last tour," Ben Hopkin, the bassist, remembers. "As we were soundchecking, this woman walked in and said, 'Are you Th' Faith Healers?' We said yes. She goes, 'Do you play rock 'n' roll?' Well, yeah. 'Are you famous?' Well, no, not really. 'YOU NEVER WILL BE!' She walked off, we carried on and when I looked up she was standing by the pub door, mouthing something and waving like a priest does when he's exorcising a demon."

Certainly, Th' Faith Healers are disfigured by the spirit of rock 'n' roll - and in a bullish, bloody-minded form, at that. The bristlingly great 'Mr Litnanski' EP goes on and on and on through four pulverising slabs of brain-numbingly heavy rampant repetition that manage to be experimental but still exciting and unpretentious and funny and go on and on with get-off-on-it-or-get-out-of-the-way momentum. It leaves you breathless, it's a bit like Stereolab jamming away to oblivion with Motorhead, it's giving me a headache and I can't stop playing it. Right?

"Our not being pretentious is very contrived," explains Tom Cullinan, the guitarist and chief songwriter, as we sit around sipping tea in drummer Joe's stately home-cum-photographer's studio. "Anything that sounds near pretension we drop immediately."

"A lot of people aren't going to be like what we're doing," says Joe, honestly enough, "that's why we haven't become super-successful. A lot of people don't like it, and that's fair enough."

"We're so laid-back. We're not bitter, we're happy," adds Tom through gritted teeth. "We play because there's music we haven't heard and we don't know why we haven't heard it, so we have to play it, 'cos no-one else is."

He pauses, prevaricates, babbles, giggles, looks for help and tails off into incomprehensibility - like he does in reply to damn near every question, in fact. Ask him why the EP's named after a geriatric Russian who lives just outside Paris and builds 15 foot-tall pillars of broken toys in his garden, and he'll um and aah for ten minutes and tell you nothing. ask him why the lead track, 'My Loser', is lyrically a pastiche of their ex-labelmate PJ Harvey's 'Oh My Lover', and he'll collapse with embarrassment that I spotted the link, then say:

"We'll know in about six months, I think. It usually takes us about that long to work out our lyrics. The photo of Roxanne's armpit hair on the sleeve's a PJ Harvey connection as well (Thanks to Polly's now-legendary armpit-baring NME cover.).

"It was just before you shaved it," says Ben.

"It's all grown back now," reveals Roxanne Stephen, the singer. "I'm really proud of my armpit hair, I love it. But it all matted together, 'cos I don't use soap or deodorant or anything, and it was really stinking. So I though, right, I'll start afresh, I'll shave it all off and grow it again. I like natural smells."

"She doesn't smell that honking, she's not too bad..."

For a band who are so pummellingly direct musically, Th' Faith Healers can't resist rambling disgressions that do five laps ofthe English language before coming back to anywhere near the point. The long and winding road to an answer goes on forever, it seems.

"Our fans found us. You don't adopt a cat, a cat adopts you." - Ben

ANOTHER REASON why Th' Faith Healers have an air of cultdom about them is their followers: swarms of freaked teenage nouveau hippies and psychotic bridesmaids with pigtails who fill the stage at every gig and sit down, tranced out, at the feet of their heroes, idly tugging at leads. the kind of maniac clan who can get a band a reputation...

"It's brilliant, isn't it?" says Roxanne gleefully. "They just seem to enjoy regressive behaviour. It started off with a couple of them and just umbrellaed into all their friends coming along and pelting us with Brussels sprouts."

"One of them brings mobiles with beheaded cardboard birds on them," Tom continues, "he was there at the last gig, throwing dead flowers at us."

"Tom went to this gig and two of them were there having water-pistol fights," says Ben, "and someone came up to him and hissed 'Keep your fans under control, Tom'. People think we pay them."

It's a good job someone goes to see Th' Faith Healers, though. After an hour or so of silliness and high spirits, they suddenly slump into a drawn-out moaning session which makes you think that, in spite of their enthusiasm and fierce, innovative approach, they could pack it in at any moment. Joe leads the charge:

"When we started out, everyone was saying, 'Hey! Yeah! Brilliant new band!' But you don't really get that after a while (strange, that...). Like us, come on, like us...

"And when we started, there were a lot of bands who'd been around for ages - a million derivative, jangly terminal underachievers - and we thought, 'Just f--ing give up! Nobody's interested!' That's the bit we dread, that we'll turn into one of those bands that are still plugging away when nobody cares about them. That's why it's depressing going out on tour when nobody comes to see you and you think, oh dear... You have to try and remember why you started doing it in the first place, when it seems a bit pointless. It's not much fun sitting in the back of a van all day, you think, 'What am I doing here?' Answers on a postcard, please..."

"I was really thinking like that on the last tour," agrees Roxanne, unencouragingly, "y'know, getting in the minibus, going to the next place, doing a soundcheck, eating, playing the gig - the beauty of playing music diminishes."

"We've done so many disastrous tours this year," rants Joe, "everything f--s up. It's our jinx; hoing out on tour at completely the wrong time, to completely the wrong places, to completely the wrong people."

And it goes on. About how Too Pure wouldn't let them do a support slot with Pavement, and how labelmates Moonshake and Stereolab are going out on separate tours at exactly the same time as them. as I slump into a corner and let the four of them purge everything from their system, it crosses my mind how ironic it is that so many people dismiss Th' Faith Healers as a joke band. Sure, there's a sense of humour there (or was a few minutes ago, at least), and perhaps Roxanne does laugh onstage far too much for their own good, but there's also an unlikely commitment to being this wired, monstrousm rattling rock band that, given the chance, acn take on all-corners.

"We've contradicted just about everything we've said," Tom spots eventually. "We're only playing it for ourselves, but - (sob!) - no-one comes to see us!"

Take a hint and put them out of their misery. If only one or two remember them as the heritage tour drives off down the road to visit every one of Gallon Drunk's dingy old drinking holes, it'll be a job well done.

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Last modified 1 May 2003