“On the 13th floor, she wanna know more…” – Ashtray Eyes by Last Great Dreamers
“This is where we do nine new songs, so if you all want to go to the bar…”
It’s Saturday night at the Asylum 2, a cosy first-floor venue just outside Birmingham’s shopping district, and Slyder, Last Great Dreamers’ lead guitarist and vocal co-pilot, is warming up the crowd.
The event is a launch party for the band’s new album, 13th Floor Renegades, whose official release is still six days away. However, as tonight’s audience are here with the intention of sampling some fresh tunes, there’s a good chance the barman might actually get to put his feet up for the next half an hour.
Record producer Pete Brown is guiding Last Great Dreamers’ frontman, Marc Valentine, towards a perfect vocal take. He advises him to listen to just one side of his headphones – to “take an ear off”.
“I’ve got all three off at the moment,” says Marc, before lead guitarist Slyder chimes in with an idea of his own.
“How about putting them over his eyes?”
It’s Monday the 11th of December and I’m at Henwood Studios in Oxfordshire, where the Dreamers’ fourth long-player, the follow-up to 2016’s Transmissions From Oblivion, is nearing completion. The album has been in production since early November, though the sessions have so far been split into three chunks, so no one has gone stir crazy yet.
It’s been a busy couple of years for Last Great Dreamers. From a nostalgic comeback in 2014 – a reunion after nearly two decades of retirement – they steadily rebuilt their empire with singles, videos, tours and festival appearances, before announcing that they were recording an album, to be funded via their fans through PledgeMusic: a confident move, which appears to have paid off.
The finished record is called Transmissions From Oblivion. It’s a title that put in an early bid and fought long and hard to win its crown. But listening to the album, I’m struck by a fitting alternative, and that’s simply Last Great Dreamers.
If any of the band’s three long-players deserve an eponymous billing, it’s this one. At times, I’ve wondered whether there’s a case to be made for it being a concept album of sorts – about growing up, music, the business and the connection between these things. Not all the tracks fit, but there’s a strong sense that this is quite a personal record for its songwriters – a cleansing, in some ways.
They can be dangerous places, recording studios. Cables to trip over; microphones poised to knock your teeth out; a mountain of electrical equipment waiting to catch fire – some of it heavy too, so watch your back when lifting. If you have a wannabe Phil Spector producing, you might even find yourself dodging bullets as you reach for that high harmony.
Thankfully, today at Foel Studio, Tony Harris isn’t packing heat – it’s Sunday and he doesn’t carry at weekends – but that still leaves the possibility of injury by misadventure. When a crash is heard from somewhere in the building, Tony shouts: “Anybody hurt?”
I never sleep properly in hotel rooms. If I’m not roused every 10 minutes by a slamming door or laughter from returning merrymakers, I’m kept awake by the hum of something electrical (what is that?) or deep-voiced conversation from an adjacent room.
Tonight, as my bloodshot eyes stare at the bedside table, I’m serenaded by the sound of a woman next door being pleasured by a gentleman who, to be frank, doesn’t hang about. Unfortunately (for me, at any rate), he doesn’t hang about repeatedly, and every so often I’m treated to 30 seconds of ecstatic moaning before the pair continue their humdrum conversation. It’s like a late-night Channel 5 movie circa 1998, only with better reception.
No, they’ve not spiked the Red Stripe tonight – there really is a space-suited gentleman wandering around The Cellar. The Oxford venue, tucked in a side street just seconds away from the hustle and bustle of a city-centre Saturday night, is hosting a single-release party for Last Great Dreamers, and if there’s one thing astronauts love it’s a launch.
The band have christened the besuited character ‘Captain Helmut’ – from the German branch of NASA – and they appear keen to make him a star, man. He’s there on the cover of Supernature Natural, the second release from last year’s acclaimed Crash Landing In Teenage Heaven LP. He also graces the song’s video, which has just started its online orbit. And now he’s space-walking around a small bar in Oxford, handing out spot-prizes to punters whose dancing he deems worthy.
It’s Sunday night at The Purple Turtle in Camden. Last Great Dreamers are on stage, playing their first gig in 17 years, and Slyder’s footwear is disintegrating. On Tuesday, the guitarist was rooting around the back of his wardrobe, pondering whether to wear a pair of stack heels or some thick-soled brothel creepers. He went with the latter, and now his shoes appear to be creeping back to the brothel from which they came. With every step he takes, another small chunk of rubber breaks off the underside, laying what looks like a carpet of coal around his amp and mic stand.
Like every other fan, I want him to ‘break a leg’ tonight, but falling arse over tit on crumbling footwear isn’t what I have in mind. Thankfully he remains upstanding, in both senses of the word.
When it comes to the art of illusion, neither Paul Daniels nor young Mr Dynamo can compete with Old Father Time. Has it really been 17 years since I saw Last Great Dreamers perform?
The fossil records say yes; my memory says no. It was 1997 when the band last blew the doors off a London venue (metaphorically speaking) and I caught my final glimpse of them before they picked up their guitar cases and strode off into the sunset. Yet in some ways it feels as if just six or seven years have passed. It’s outrageous that people born that same year are now allowed to drive. I mean, really? If I were you, officer, I’d double-check those licences.
Scarier still for me, time is about to contract even further.
“Got it!” Rooting around in my under-stairs cupboard, I’m delighted to find, nestling in its furthest reaches, a poster tube. For the last couple of weeks I’ve felt as if I’ve been on an archaeological dig in that cupboard, turning over layers of history in a search for artefacts of an age close enough to remember but too far away to touch.
The catalyst for all this rummaging was the reformation of a rock ‘n’ roll band, Last Great Dreamers. For four years in the mid-1990s, I followed this band with a passion. They had one of the best names I’ve ever heard – it sounded like the kind of thing I could get on board with, even before I’d heard them play a note, suggesting as it did something unique, with aspiration and imagination. I first saw, and heard, the band in 1993, at one of their many Dogs D’Amour support slots at the Marquee. Straight away, I could see that the Dreamers were a perfect package: the songs, the sound, the clothes, that name. They had what all great bands have: a philosophy. Of course I’d end up with their posters on my walls.