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Delays - An introduction to Southampton's finest indie exports


Feature: Jack Foley

"SOUTHAMPTON'S really, really average in every single way," says Greg Gilbert, the wide-eyed loner behind South Coast sensations Delays.

"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 change."

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
rock freaks.

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 Street'.

Nods were exchanged, small talk about T-Rex engaged and suddenly, Southampton had the crazed acousti-rock revolution it had been gasping for.

"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 2003.

"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 2004.

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, Gilbert continues:

"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."

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