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Place your bets in time for Grand National's debut

Feature: Jack Foley

A PAIR of young Londoners have gone from performing cover versions of Police and Queen songs in pubs and bars around west London and Brighton to becoming another of British music’s breakthrough prospects.

Rupert Lyddon and Lawrence 'La' Rudd are better known as Grand National and they released their debut album, Kicking the National Habit, on Monday, May 24, to widespread acclaim.

But the duo are far from an overnight success. La, an ebullient 28-year-old, with a nose ring, from Weston-Super-Mare, and his 29-year-old, more reserved other musical half, who comes from Amersham, Bucks, have actually been playing, either solo, or in various outfits, for years.

Rupert's musical career began when he was 12, while La was, from the age of 13, in a Police covers band, in which he managed both the Sting (vocals) and Stewart Copeland (drums) parts.

His father was a ventriloquist-cum-comedian, who swapped jokes with Ken Dodd and the late, great Bob Monkhouse, while also being a drummer.

And it was his father who encouraged him to take drumming lessons as soon as he could walk, and took him to see percussion legend, Buddy Rich, in concert when he was six. The ensuing discovery aided all aspects of his life.

"At school, the hard boys got the girls, and I was only medium hard," he explains, "so I played the drums and started getting girls. Problem was, the hard boys got jealous and punched me on the nose!"

To toughen up, La found work on a building site, during which he would compose melodies and lyrics in his head, then transfer them later onto a Dictaphone.

Rupert, meanwhile, was at the University of Swansea. One Summer, a mate suggested they head off to the West Coast of America. So, by day, he studied at the Musicians' Institute, and by night he pulled women and watched LA burn during the Rodney King riots of '93.

It wasn't until Rupert and La both moved to London that they hooked up and began honing their instrumental skills on the covers circuit.

But fate had to play a part in their progression, as one day, Rupert, who was now delivering meat for a living, turned up with some prime cuts at a recording studio, in Hampstead, that happened to be temporary home to Primal Scream during sessions for 'Xtrmntr'.

The Scream and Rupert struck up a friendship and soon the young musician found himself being offered free studio time.

This provided the self-confessed technophile with the opportunity to use the state-of-the-art studio gadgetry and apply his growing expertise to some of the material he and La had been acquiring since they began writing together in earnest three years ago.

The first song they wrote in tandem, before they had even arrived at the name Grand National, on January 3, 2001, was a track called Playing In The Distance, which appeared last November on their debut EP, fittingly titled EP1.

After Playing In The Distance, and with the name Grand National in place, songs came thick and fast. La and Rupert were responsible for most of the instrumental chores, as well as the production and arrangements.

Other musicians have been utilised since, but only very sparingly.

"People are surprised there are only two of us. Most of our tracks sound like a band," says Rupert, although he admits they will be a six-piece when they play live.

"Most bands have just two strong characters anyway, and most classic songs were written by two people," they say, citing great partnerships from Lennon and McCartney and Jagger-Richards to Morrissey-Marr.

"Any more than two and it gets diluted."

As for the music itself, they argue that it has an ambiguous quality.

"There's a duality to it. It's half-light. Melancholic. British people do that well."

But it can get confusing, as La explains. "Bands like The Smiths weren't depressing, that's bollocks - they were uplifting. New Order, too - that's celebratory music."

Which is exactly how the duo are hoping the public will perceive their own effort.

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