Feature: Jack Foley
"SOUTHAMPTON'S really, really average in every single way,"
says Greg Gilbert, the wide-eyed loner behind South Coast sensations
"It's not depressed or downbeat, so you've got romantic
notions of it, it's just really average.
"The only thing you've got are these airplanes coming in
and out constantly over your head, so you can feel the world is
a big place but you're not seeing any of it. This is just a stop-off
point, a port where people come and go but your scenery doesn't
1996 and, while the capital was feeling the first twinges of
the Britpop hangover, Greg's Southampton felt like 'an awkward
silence, people waiting for something to happen'.
And Greg was tired of waiting. Spurred on by the worldly jeer
of the jet engines, inspired by The La's' and 'The Holy
Bible' and with a bundle of breathy pop pearls under his snakeskin
belt - plus a voice that made McAlmont sound like Phil Mitchell
- he trawled Southampton's local indie club Thursdays (now the
fresh fruit aisle of Europe's largest supermarket) for fellow
Their names were drummer, Rowly, and bassist, Colin Fox, and
they weren't difficult to spot.
They were the only other people on the dancefloor during 'Alphabet
Nods were exchanged, small talk about T-Rex engaged and suddenly,
Southampton had the crazed acousti-rock revolution it had been
"When we started it was eyeliner and leopard skin flares
to get people talking," Greg admits. "It was like The
La's without any finesse, played in a Manics' aggressive style."
The band were a volatile explosive and visceral outfit hampered
only by the fact that they weren't actually any good.
So they made a pact to shut themselves away from the Southampton
scene until they had a raft of material capable of soiling A&R
trouser from half a mile away.
To this end, they roped in sequencer alchemist, Aaron Gilbert,
stewed in Greg's elegantly harmonic romanticism for a few years
and metamorphosed into Delays - a tech-friendly British Byrds
and a fresh flowering of florid, ethereal future-pop.
Their unique, uniquely out-of-step demos - sumptuous West Coast
harmonies; cloud-busting falsetto vocals full of beauteous yearning
and splendid desolation; synth atmospherics we'd describe as a
'cathedral of sound' if the use of such phrases weren't punishable
by death under the Anti-Shoegazing Act of 1991 - licked lusciously
at the ears of Rough Trade's Geoff Travis, who sped down to Southampton
Joiners for a private show and promptly signed them as unlikely
label-fellows to The Strokes and The Libertines at the dawn of
"Our notions of being a pop band are such that we needed
Rough Trade to make sure people listened," Greg argues.
"It's a taste-making thing and you've got the heritage
there. When you're on a label like Rough Trade people will approach
you differently than when you're on a major.
"And I think we're quite a significant signing for them
because we're not really similar to what's been going on over
the past year or so."
Delays wasted no time in proving their significance.
Their debut single Nearer Than Heaven - essentially The
Cocteau Twins and The La's making a joint attempt to scale the
north face of the world's highest chorus - cropped up in Mel Smith's
movie, Blackball, while it's follow-up - the Sixties sugar rush
of Hey Girl - dented the Top 40 last July.
What's more, a second half of 2003 on the road with the likes
of Tim Burgess, The Coral, McAlmont & Butler,The Thrills and
Sleepy Jackson paid major dividends when third single Long
Time Coming crashed the Top Twenty at Number 16 in January
For all its idyllic, Summery jauntiness, however, it proved to
contain the sourest of centres.
"It's been a really hard year," says Greg. "A
great year for us as a band but a hard year personally. I've never
known as much death or illness ever in my life as in the past
12 months and I think that's come through in a lot of lyrics.
"Long Time Coming is about watching people you love
losing their innocence and the naivety that you shared when you
were younger, falling into the kind of adulthood you swore you
never would, and wishing you could've done something about it.
"It's a loss of innocence and also of spontaneity and people
becoming really guarded and jaded. Friends stuck in jobs you know
they don't wanna do, living in houses they don't wanna live in."
Talking about the debut album, Faded Seaside Glamour,
recorded in intricate and lengthy sessions at Rockfield Studios,
"I'm totally happy with it as a statement of our mindset
over the years.
"The optimism and the melancholy and wanting to get out.
I think we've got big goals and big ideals. No band's ever been
perfect, so no band has ever achieved what we wanna achieve. We
wanna be the perfect pop band."