Lush's announcement of their first shows in 20 years has a different ring than comparative band reformations because of what brought them to a halt. Sure, there were attendant stresses of relentless touring and recording (especially during the 'format wars' of the Nineties, with the demands for all those B-sides), management teams lacking in empathy, complicated by their record label's own internal strife - and this on a band that struggled to believe in their own abilities. But what brought the curtain down was the suicide of drummer Chris Acland, completely without warning. For 20 years, Lush have lived with that severe and shocking denouement, and haunted by the idea of what might come after; to make music, to honour what they once had, or perhaps, in the words of Ian Curtis, to walk away in silence. But during the last five years, tentative discussions have finally led to an affirmative decision.
Phil King (bass): We'd all meet up for meals sometimes, and see each other socially, but with families and day jobs, it hasn't happened. Last year, I wanted to do the Psychocandy tour with the Jesus & Mary Chain, so we put it back a year, since when Ride have reformed. But it will make it twenty years since Lush split up.
Emma Anderson (lead guitar, vocals): Looking at the new photos, of Miki, Phil and me, it's striking how clear it was that someone's missing. It's so sad. It will be weird up there on stage, without Chris, we'll feel the absence.
That loss will be tempered by the addition of Justin Welch, an old friend of Chris who drummed for Spitfire and then Elastica, and with Emma on the initial demos for her post-Lush band project Sing-Sing.
Miki Berenyi (lead vocals, guitar): Even now, it won't be easy knowing Chris won't be there. We know you can't recapture what you had before, but hopefully it will be brilliant in a different way. If I think of all best bits of the band, how great it is to play live, and to play your own songs, then there's an open door you can walk through. I know I'll regret it if I don't.
Preceding the Lush reunion shows, the band released a four –track EP named after its opening track, Out Of Control.
Emma: Recording again was really good fun and relaxed too, though we did it differently to how we used to, because we hadn’t even played again as a band in a room, or rehearsed the new songs. I recorded the demos of the music on Garageband, and then we recorded it at [producer] Jim Abbiss’ studio, but the next record we’ll rehearse the songs first before recording.
Miki: I was having sleepless nights, thinking it would be a disaster as we hadn’t even rehearsed beforehand. I even had a singing lesson! Jim [Abbiss] has an amazing CV, he’s worked with people like Adele… I visualised standing in the vocal booth and seeing a discussion outside about how to make it OK! But it went really easily, and it really helped with the band going forward with rehearsals for the live shows.
4AD have celebrated their return with the first ever pressing of Ciao! The Best Of Lush on red vinyl, but more crucially, the limited edition boxsets of Chorus (5 CDs presented in a book) and Origami (a 5 LP box released on Record Store Day 2016). Artwork for both is by Chris Bigg, who, alongside design chief Vaughan Oliver, was responsible for those iconic 4AD covers in the Nineties. Both boxsets contain the band’s five albums, the early compilation Gala (1990), the three studio albums Spooky (1992), Split (1994) and Lovelife (1996) and the B-sides collection Topolino (1996). The CD boxset also contains a selection of radio sessions, band demos and remixes. If anything will convince the band of reconnecting with their past, this will do it.
That past is best recaptured in the band's own words; of how their twin songwriters, Miki and Emma, emerged from unconventional childhoods to tentative forays into music, and the craziness that followed, at a time when the media focus on bands was merciless, instantly putting unproven talent in the spotlight. Lush had terrific tunes, they also looked the part, they were recording for an iconic record label, but they were also vulnerable ingénues, and hostage to the interpretation of events – in their case, preceding shoegaze but being shoehorned into it, and then lumped into Britpop. Back at the start, when their demo arrived on the desk of 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell, there was no aim, musically or otherwise, but a lot of hope and promise. As Ivo recalls, "A lot of English bands at that time, like Slowdive and Ride, suggested that things could develop, that they were experimenting, taking influences from the Sixties but being just as experimental from one album to the next, like The Byrds had."
Miki: I was born in London. My dad was Hungarian, a journalist, and he met my mum at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. It was a whirlwind romance, but they'd divorced by the time I was four, mainly because of his relentless philandering. She remarried a TV director and moved to the US when I was twelve, but I didn't want to go and stayed here. My dad had fought to keep me with him, but he wasn't up to the parenting, and I was mostly left in the care of my grandmother, who was a very bitter and cruel woman. These days, we'd probably say she had mental health problems. So I left home at 14 – I lived in the school music room for a year! I'd been to about seven different schools by then - state, private, a convent, you name it, partly because of my mum always moving. I felt very unsettled having to constantly be the new kid and leave behind friends I'd made. I met Emma at a Harley Street girls' school. I made several lifelong friends there, but there was an elite of snobby kids who looked down on girls like us whose parents could just about scrape together the fees. We rebelled against them and their values - shaved off bits of our hair, wore tatty clothes. They thought we were revolting! And I suddenly realised how liberating it is to not give a shit what people like that think.
Emma: I was born in London but I was adopted when I was a month old. At the time of my adoption, my dad was 48 and my mother was 38. That isn't so odd these days but in the 1960s, it was, and it also meant my parents were from a time before there was such a thing as popular culture. They also had very strong ideas about a woman's role, i.e. as wife and mother, so as I grew up and my ambitions grew beyond those limits, they tried to block me at every step. I even wanted to learn the piano when I was about eight but that wasn't allowed. I grew up in quite a strange place. My father was the Club Secretary of this old boys' club called The Naval and Military on Piccadilly in Mayfair. We lived in a flat provided by the job so my parents didn't have the usual mortgage or bills, which meant they had enough disposable income to send me to private schools, although I was moved around a lot – I'd been to five different schools by the time I was sixteen. When I was 14, I was sent to Queens College in London - where I met Miki - and that's when my obsession with music really took hold. Miki had had a very atypical childhood too, so I think we gravitated toward each other because we didn't connect with the wealthy, more privileged London kids that mainly populated the school. We were outsiders and misfits and were more or less ignored by the others. The school was unusual in the fact that was no uniform so Miki and myself started wearing black and clothes from army surplus stores where the other girls were dressed head-to-toe in designer clothes. Music was a little club for us that excluded them.
Miki: Music wasn't big in my family, so I just liked what was in the charts as I was growing up and I liked ABBA. I fantasised around music, like acting out a life story to ABBA's 'Knowing Me, Knowing You', which felt dramatic and real because it was about divorce. I was really into 2-Tone, but I wasn't picky - disco, synth pop, Sixties girl groups, I loved all sorts.
Emma: I started getting into music by listening to the Top Forty on a Sunday, when I was about 12, at boarding school in Sussex. I homed in on New Order, The Teardrop Explodes and The Human League when all the other girls were into Michael Jackson and Billy Joel.
Miki: We became completely obsessive about music. But we had no older siblings to guide us, and no one to tell us what was cool and what wasn't, we just listened to anything and everything. We would go to loads of gigs but we were completely scattergun in our approach: in one month alone, I think it was April 1983, I can recall going to see Culture Club, The Danse Society, Tears For Fears, The Gun Club, The Electric Guitars and The Birthday Party.
Emma: I'd been soaking up music like a sponge, but eventually your tastes get more defined. I got very into 4AD. I loved their artwork – it had such strong imagery. I would buy 4AD records without hearing them. I once found a copy of the Nature Mortes compilation in Record & Tape Exchange, but I hadn’t got any cash on me so I hid it in the dance section (so no one else could find it), went home on the tube and borrowed the money from my mum then went back to the shop and bought it.
Miki: We started a fanzine when we were 15, called Alphabet Soup. The tag line was "It may be shit but only 5p". It was very juvenile and smutty, and makes me cringe when I remember it. We interviewed Xmal Deutschland in their hotel room and managed to mumble about five words throughout. But we were shy and awkward, and it was a good way for us to come out of our shell.
Emma: We got more embroiled in the live scene, so it was natural to start to make music ourselves. We both started off playing bass in different bands, I was in The Rover Girls with two of Silverfish, Miki was in a garage band called The Bugs. But we wanted to write songs as well, so we were trying to form our own band. We'd get together in my kitchen and play guitar and bass. Our first songs were very naïve and basic, we were just finding our way around.
Miki: Emma ended up at Ealing College and I was at North London Poly. That's where I met Chris, Steve and Meriel. I asked them if they wanted to be in a band and they said yes. Honestly, it wasn't a big deal. It was like asking someone if they fancied going to the pub.
Steve Rippon (original bassist): I was born in Carshalton [Surrey]. I'd got into music big time from the age of ten, I was a massive Beatles fan and other great Sixties bands like The Beach Boys and The Byrds. I was into punk too. I started my first band at eleven with school friends. I sang and played a bit of bass, and then guitar. I didn't pick up a bass again until Miki and Chris asked me to join their band. I had about six weeks to learn eight songs before our first gig at the Falcon in Camden.
Miki: Chris was born in Lancaster and grew up in Burneside, a Lake District village. I remember enviously looking at family photos of barge holidays and get-togethers that conjured up images of an idyllic Enid Blyton childhood! His early musical loves were The Jam, The Stooges, a slew of Oi, Anarcho and Positive Punk bands from Discharge to The Mob to The Sisters of Mercy, and he loved Nick Cave. Chris would go and see bands in Manchester, but these were violent times and on one occasion, coming home from a PiL gig, he had half his hair ripped out by a gang in Moss Side and was almost beaten to a pulp after seeing The Jam by some Salford soul boys who only let up when they realised he was just 14 years old! Chris was a seasoned drummer by the time he joined Lush. He had already been in a string of punk bands including Infection, Panik, A Touch of Hysteria, Les Turds and Poison In The Machine. I remember first meeting him in 1986 outside a lecture hall at North London Polytechnic. He was wearing a Southern Death Cult t-shirt, so it was an instant signal that we'd get on!
Emma: We started off as The Baby Machines, which we culled from the lyrics of Siouxsie & The Banshees' 'Arabian Knights'. Some songs were a bit gothy or a bit C86, but none were very good. The best was one of Meriel's, called 'Skin', which sounded quite Primitives and Darling Buds. But we had a set of songs to play when we changed our name to Lush. We never actually played a gig as Baby Machines.
Miki: To call Baby Machines 'riot grrl' is to dignify it with an insight and direction we didn't really have. 'He's A Bastard' was about an ex and 'Female Hybrid' about The Sun's Page Three, slightly feminist anthems, it made Chris collapse into fits of laughter and poor old Meriel would understandably wince at having to be the mouthpiece for this garbage. I think we just wanted to be out there and in a band.
Lush, Baby Machines, they both had a feminist slant. Reclaiming insulting words for women and making them a badge of courage. We played a handful of times, but Chris was the only one of us who was any good as a musician. We started to realise it was no fun playing when everyone thinks you're total crap, so we started to take it more seriously. That meant more commitment - so I left the Bugs - but Meriel was less interested.
Meriel Barham: My experience of Lush was in its early, thrashy days, which was great fun among mates, and much more Emma and Miki's project than something that I was as focused on, so I understood our different standpoints.
Miki: Meriel left and we didn't have a singer. We advertised, which was a disaster. One was a complete racist, one was so claustrophobic, she couldn't travel by tube, just nuts! I was already singing backing vocals so it was - well, either you sing or we'll just have to split up. It was needs must.
Emma: After Meriel left, something clicked in our brains. I don't know how or why, but I just started writing better songs, like 'Etheriel' and 'Thoughtforms'.
Miki: We realised that it wasn't just a case of writing something – anything – just so we could do a gig, but that the quality of the songs also depended on writing to the band's strengths - or accommodating its weaknesses! 'Scarlet' was still about why boys like slutty girls, and 'Etheriel' was still about a break-up of sorts, but the lyrics started to have extra levels of meaning. The sounds of the words became as important as what was being said, and the songs became a lot more enjoyable to play as well as listen to.
Emma: We recorded a demo and Geoff Travis at Rough Trade was the first to show interest, but he said that if Ivo was keen, he could see us on 4AD. Ivo came to see us play at the Falcon, with Pale Saints, who were great while we were a mess. But Ivo could see potential in us. One day, Ivo left an answerphone message - it's good, but we need to chat because not everyone at 4AD agrees. Howard [Gough, 4AD promotions) was trying persuade Ivo not to sign us. He'd seen us live at ULU, and said we were a shambles. But Ivo wanted to give us another chance, so he put us in the studio with [producer] John Fryer to record more demos.