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
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
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
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
"Any more than two and it gets diluted."
As for the music itself, they argue that it has an ambiguous
"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.