The second half of the 2000s was a halcyon time for guitar music in the UK. As the traditional charts came to an end – before streaming became the norm, and contributed towards new releases getting into that hallowed top 40 – it was the first time since the demise of Britpop where alternative music became the mainstream. Because streaming was still in its infancy as a format, many acts of the time found their music lost to online listeners of today. One such act is Underdogs.
The Preston-based band have today – for the first time ever – put their back catalogue online for audiences new and old to enjoy with Brothers: The Complete Collection 2008-2011.
Philip Moss (vocals)- To many, this was our signature song. A call to arms so to speak, and in some ways it summarised the way we felt about each other at the time. We were very proud to be a band made up of best friends. We felt that, in a world where bands were ever increasingly being put together or manufactured, we were different.
For some reason, it’s one of the very few songs we wrote where I can actually remember the moment when the words appeared. I was sat on my bed at my mum and dad’s and it came in one burst. I was obsessed with The Byrds’ song, Renaissance Fair, at the time, and the line ‘you’re feelin’ younger than yesterday, is that what you’re trying to say?’ came from the album that song is on.
In terms of memories of playing the song live, I always loved it when we went into the Girls And Boys bit in the middle 8 – I’ve always liked it when bands give a little nod to their inspirations – and I used to love it when Richard from Flight of Arrows would join us for this song. In hindsight, it would have been great to have him do some harmonies on the recording. This song also reminds me of the great mates that we made with so many other bands: Neal and Joss from Torrents have become friends for life, and that would never have happened without the two bands becoming close.
Phil Scarisbrick (bass) – There was a time we dropped the song from the live set for a good six months or so. I think we were always focused on writing bigger and better songs that we saw older songs as inferior. When we added back into the set with the Girls and Boys middle eight it was obvious we’d been a little short-sighted in this regard. It always seemed to go down really well with audiences.
Mark Jackson (guitar) – I always liked the sentiment of Brothers. Being in a band with a couple of mates I’d picked up in high school (Gibb and PS) – one who I’d played music with in a band from 14 years of age and who regularly forced me to skive Maths classes to, instead, have a planned guitar lesson or pretend to be at a planned guitar lesson, and the other, my best mate, who once danced enthusiastically across the stage of a high school gig dressed as Father Christmas playing the tambourine and whose passion for music transcends most. To later meet a couple of like-minded ‘music people’ in college and spend huge amounts of hours in the evenings writing music – there was at times a feeling of brotherhood. The live performance of the song at Kendal Calling, with Gibbs in the crowd, having left the band, with so many other close mates is probably a highlight of our time together.
Of course, the other way of looking at Brothers is its representation of the near constant bickering, infighting, conflict, resentment, jealousy and fighting for attention that also characterises any group of people who spend so long in each other’s company. It was likely during the writing process for this song that a floor tom was launched in anger, and probably deservedly, at PM’s skull. I don’t think the rest of that practise was all that productive, but we probably spent another two hours playing through stuff even after that.
The song is not the greatest piece of music ever put together, however, I did always find it an immediate attention grabber when it opened the set. I think the first 15 – 20 seconds of full band is ok, but then to me it collapses into what is probably the defining sound of Underdogs: the chugging bass and floor tom thrashing. The recording in particular has a pretty dirty bass sound that is probably its standout feature. Personally, I could always take or leave the Girls and Boys outro breakdown in the live sets though.
Angel On Your Shoulder
PM – When we got approached by Sean Genockey’s management about doing a single with him, this song didn’t even exist. But we were very keen to do something new with him, and wrote this within a night or two after contact was made. I vividly remember speaking to Sean on the phone outside The Mad Ferret, and he was really buzzing off the song Slow It Down, which he’d heard on Myspace. I was happy to do that one too – although I’m not sure it would have been first choice for the rest of the lads. Sean loved Slow It Down, and said it reminded him of early Oasis – particularly Columbia, but I remember saying to him, we want the single to be more of a statement than that, and I think Angel was.
The weekend we spent down in London was one of my great memories from the time in the band. I’ll never forget when Sean introduced himself to us when we met up at Livingston Studios, and I could tell straight away that we’d get on well. Recording the chanty vocals in the stone room will live with me forever, and I remember Mark and Dave loved getting to use some of his ‘toys’ such as the Copy Cat pedal.
Matthew Gibbons (drums) – I knew we’d get on well with Sean when he pulled up in the shiniest, brand spanking new Ford Fiesta!
PS – My biggest memory of this recording session was the final night when Gibbs was eager to get home so he could get back to work the next day. He was also full of a cold so went and bought himself a vindaloo to try and ‘sweat it out’. Once we’d got the final overdub down, he was already throwing the gear in the back of his van and trying to get going!
MJ – Going to London to record was pretty cool until… some idiots left my suitcase in the lift of the Travelodge and all my clothes got nicked! That’s the risk with five people trying to stay in a room booked for three in order to save £20 – two need to stay in a van while the others book in with all the cases and then pass on the room number.
It felt great to be recording in Livingstone Studios, with the sound engineer (and not us) being sent to get us kebabs when needed. There are some pretty shimmery guitar overdubs on the recording that stand out on this track for me. The pre chorus musical breakdown sounds pretty massive too.
PM – Knowing that Sean had worked with the likes of the Manics, Kula Shaker and Suede, and wanted to work with us, was a massive confidence boost to us. I’d have loved to have developed the relationship with Sean, but, sadly, we never got to work together again.
The Blue Light
PM – My main memory of The Blue Light was the weekend we spent with Al Groves at Sandhills in Liverpool recording it. We did tonnes of stuff with Al, but that first weekend when we did this and Parallels over a weekend was so inspiring. Again, we instantly struck up a great connection with Al, and we worked tirelessly over the two days to construct a pop arrangement that did the strong melodies, both in the vocals and the musicality, justice.
PS – This song ended up being a regular set opener for us. It was definitely indicative of an era where we’d started moving towards more ‘pop’ influences. Once we had laid down the full band recordings, there was a lot of hanging round while we did overdubs and mixing. To pass the time, we spent hours outside the studio trying to hit a plastic owl which was on top of the Sandhills building- probably about 80 feet up on a girder. In honour of this, when we put the CD out, we named it The Owl Sessions.
MJ – probably as close to an Adam Clayton bass line that we ever got on record. The sound of The Blue Light to me is completely ripped off U2’s first single Out of Control.
At the time we recorded this, I was working with a guy who had been drafted into our team – I gave him a copy of the CD and three days later pulled up alongside him in a traffic queue at 7am on the M6 and he had this song blaring out of his car stereo. A week later, he also waved me down entering the car park at work with his arms stretched out of his window singing ‘the blue light only means one thing.’ It’s probably the most immediate of our songs and was always good to catch the interest of people in pubs who had little interest in watching the live acts.
PM – My two favourite parts of this song are Dave’s guitar part in the pre-chorus – it just sounds so regal, and Mark’s glockenspiel part that tinkles through the noise – a definite nod to Sigur Rós who we were all becoming very fond of at the time. That period, writing this and The Blue Light in very quick succession, was a really important time for us. It seemed like we were starting to develop our sound, and get closer to what I had in my head.
PS – I think this might be my favourite Underdogs song, if not, certainly my favourite recording. It’s just a huge sounding, fun, catchy song. The writing of it started while we were practising. Me and Gibbs were messing round while Mark and Dave tuned up. Just the same three bass notes round with the waltzy rhythm. Dave told us to shut up while he tuned his guitar, but Mossy told us to carry on because he liked what we were playing. After that it came together really quickly. A lot of songs started out this way, with one or two of us just fiddling about and someone else being hooked by it. Some songs took forever to come together, but not this one.
MJ – Al at Sandhills, where this song was recorded, had the second worst time keeping of anyone I have ever met (Dave being the worst – on the way to a gig once, I remember Dave rocked up 45 minutes after we had arranged to leave. We then stopped at Tesco for supplies only for him to state that he had lost his car keys in the store – turns out he had put them down in the sandwich cooler!!). What was great about Al, however, and the studio in Liverpool, was its ‘Reverb room’ – and the fact that Al would constantly reposition microphones in there to try and catch different sounds to help layer the track. My guitar part for the ‘if days don’t go the way you want them to’ breakdown is testament to the natural reverb of that room and it was never possible to replicate it as well live.
MG – I remember being forced to buy a new snare to record this! I’m quite impressed by my drumming on this – it’s probably the most interesting thing I’ve ever done.
A Race For The Exit
PM – When we wrote A Race For The Exit, I felt like it was a real statement song. Jobbers had just joined, and it was the first thing that we wrote with him – and the drums on it are absolutely mega! I remember sound checking it at The Grapes in Sheffield when we played with The Heartbreaks, and our friend, George from Mabel Love, coming straight over and saying, ‘Who us your new drummer!?’
When we finally got around to recording it, we really went to town on the production – probably too much! But it was Al’s favourite song we’d written, an he really pushed us to go for the biggest sound we’d ever had. I remember I was listening to a lot of Phil Spector at the time, and had River Deep, Mountain High on in the studio while the lads were loading in, so it’s no surprise that it sounds so big!
PS – When we’d started jamming the song, I was playing a very straight, regimented bass line. Jobbers suggested that a different rhythm and all of a sudden the song took on a different life. We were all buzzing off the song and when Al came to do some pre-production he was just as enthusiastic. It felt like we’d raised the bar at the time.
MJ – This track always seemed very chaotic and quite organic to play as it would naturally increase in tempo throughout and there probably won’t be too many times it was played where it sounds the same as it did previously. For me, it is definitely the first time that the drums stole attention as the heart of one of our songs. I think it became obvious when Jobbers joined the group that he was far and away the most talented musically, and this was a track which reflects that.
There isn’t a lot of guitar work- just amalgamations of noise that allow the drums to drive everything forward. It’s a song that was more mature than a lot that was written before and has lots of influences of bands we were big into during this period – most notably The National.
The Cold And The Silence
PM – As I said earlier, I don’t remember writing any of the songs really, but I do remember the first time we played The Cold And The Silence outside the practise room. It was in a soundcheck at The Mad Ferret. I already knew the song was great, but as soon as we’d finished sorting the levels, random people who were just milling about by the bar in the pub were glued to the song and asking what it was.
In terms of crowd interaction, it always really connected with people – at many gigs I didn’t even need to sing the chorus because the crowd would take over.
Gibbs, our first drummer, was even going to have it as the song for his first dance – until we decided that doing a secret gig at the wedding would be a better idea. And it was – I’d probably put that night up there with my favourite ever moments associated with the band.
PS – Certainly one of the most fun songs to play live. It’s completely infectious and kind of forces the audience to engage with it. I think it was the last song we wrote with Gibbs, although when we recorded it we did it with Jobbers.
PM- When we got to the studio to record this one, we’d already worked on the arrangement ourselves, so it was just a case of making sure we captured a great version of it. I remember there being quite a lot of pressure to change some of the lyrics, which I argued should have been raised before we got to the studio as there’d been a finished rehearsal room demo that we’d been working on for a couple of months, so held firm on my views.
And on reflection, I’m glad I did. Lyrically, it was influenced by my reading of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and I think the title itself may even have been taken from the book.
MJ – The Cold and the Silence is completely over the top. I have no idea really who we thought we were. The recording is massive – the wahoo wahoo backing vocals over the final chorus is like something from a Coldplay live show. I remember DB and PM, in particular, multi layering those backing vocals over each other at Sandhills in order to, it seems, recreate a football crowd singing along.
What I do like about the track is that my guitar sounds like a submarines sonar picking up the presence of other ships (like in a Bond film).
I See Eclipses
PM – When we put our first album of songs together, I See Eclipses was always, in my mind, going to be the closer. For me, it’s arguably the best song we ever wrote. Yet, when Phil first mentioned doing this collection, the only two songs I was very passionate about in terms of track listing position was Brothers being first and this one being the centrepiece.
We were obsessed with Coldplay’s Viva La Vida LP at the time, and there’s a theme that runs through that record where, arrangement wise, the best part of the songs would happen very briefly and only once. This song definitely took on that blueprint – particularly with the end section, which is brilliantly catchy, but you only get to hear a short section of it before it disappears. The concept being that if you enjoyed it, play the song again. Now the songs are going online, I guess it will give anyone who’s interested a chance to finally do that.
PS – This song’s genesis was Mark getting a load of feedback out of his amp. He’d just changed his setup so that he had two Fender amps running together. I’m not sure if it was deliberate or not but his hollow-bodied Epiphone Casino helped make this whirling guitar scream that we all thought was ace. Initially the song ended at the end of the second chorus but we knew it wasn’t enough, and the outro section was born out of necessity. The song was very much inspired by “40” by U2 and Death And All Of His Friends by Coldplay.
MJ – the biggest regret I have upon Underdogs disbanding is that there is no great recording of this track – well that and giving permission to loads of undergrad media students from UCLAN to use the music to create awful music videos.
This, far and away, is Underdogs greatest track. For some reason, we never decided to re-record, yet the recording feels so flat and plods along at the same tempo. This was recorded with Alan in Sheffield who had a tendency, in ‘post production’, to ‘straighten’ everything out. With hindsight, we should never have allowed that. However, I think at the time we were so in awe of potentially leaving a studio with a CD of our own music that anything went – also, Alan had been a big factor in the success of the Arctic Monkeys who everyone aside from me was particularly into at the time.
I never ever felt confident playing music live and routinely required four to five pints in order to stand on a stage and express anything other than crippling fear. However, this is a song that always increased the confidence and got good responses when we nailed it at gigs. I don’t really recall a time it wasn’t in the set.
Occasionally at practices, after three hours of playing routinely through songs or trying to create something new for the same period of time, something would come together relatively quickly. The start of the process for Eclipses came at 10pm. At this time, my girlfriend’s Dad had made me a signal shifter in order to split the guitar to two amplifiers. Probably by chance, because of where I was sat and the direction of the amps, the feedback that runs throughout the song happened. I think the riff came quickly after that by doing ‘pull offs’ from an A note with loads of delay. Within a couple of practices, the entire band had their parts nailed. It was often the way that tracks developed in that fashion, but the end results with Eclipses are particularly special.
The Observation Room
PM – My favourite Underdogs song, bar none. This was definitely at a point where I was consciously trying to develop as a lyricist, and tell a story in the way some of my favourite writers did. I can’t remember what inspired the actual narrative, but I know I was reading Sylvia Plath’s Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, which is set in a mental institution.
PS – I think this was probably the only song we ever recorded where went into the studio not knowing what we wanted. We had the song and various parts, but the tone of what we wanted it to sound like was still up in the air. We ended up stripping it right down and building it up from there. The end result was very interesting and it kind of stands out in this collection for its sparse arrangement.
MJ – The Observation Room was probably the last of three to be recorded in a weekend (I don’t know the other two, but in listening to it again it has the feel of something that was left until the end). And it probably benefits from that. I don’t think an acoustic guitar is a main feature on anything else we recorded, and I like the electric guitar that joins through the outro chorus. I remember Al saying he felt it was a David Gilmour moment on the track, which, of course, was flattering. Listening back now, I know he was completely bonkers!
PM –10 was one of the last things we wrote, and it’s name came because we wrote it on 10th October 2010, so was originally titled 101010.
Lyrically, I remember taking the ‘speeding car’ idea from Suede’s Daddy’s Speeding, but I’ve no idea why, and the ‘race between the raindrops’ line came to me driving home on the M6 from Preston to Coppull because it was absolutely hammering it down and it fit the melancholy mood I had in mind for the song. I always loved the sadness, too, in the line – ‘blowing out the candles you lit for yourself’.
I think we were really getting into The National at this point, which I think you can particularly hear in the drums and the more understated guitars.
MJ – Another of the more mature sounding Underdogs tracks and a direct result of Jobbers entering the band. Again, I can’t imagine that it took an age to come together, and it basically develops a lot of what went on in previous songs. But it sounds much more interesting to me. It would be towards the top of a personal ranking to play live.
PM – This, to me, had the potential to be such a great song. I remember I was reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at the time of writing, so that probably explains the macabre imagery. It was such a shame though that we couldn’t pin down a proper chorus part.
One thing I do remember was us layering pinky and perky vocals over the pre-chorus to try and get it to sound like the Pet Shop Boys, who I was obsessed with at the time – not so sure it worked though.
PS – This one is another favourite of mine. At the time, it felt like a much more mature piece of writing to some of the other stuff we’d done. The music we’d been listening to had definitely shifted by this point and our points of reference were widening.
MJ – There were never too many times that anyone would bring a finished piece of music to a practise as I recall it. And never if you include the complete piece with vocal melodies and lyrics. Winterhouse is my only memory of having a set of chords that I felt were really interesting and could create the backbone of a song from the off. Usually, a rehearsal would spark an idea in someone and could be built on. However, with Winterhouse, I remember PM and DB coming over to my place and me playing what I believed to be a really interesting structure – or at least three to four sections of guitar chords that needed organising together into a song.
In honesty, I was trying to find the shapes to play Talk Show Host by Radiohead, and stumbled across a chord structure I liked. It is different to anything else that Underdogs did. The chords are very dark and then Dave put these shimmery guitar parts over the top that propelled towards a brighter sound. This song led the way to some better pieces of music that we recorded once Underdogs ended.
One Way Train
PS – This was the first song we wrote where it felt like we’d written a ‘proper’ song. Everything we’d done to this point felt wildly inferior once we’d written this. It will have been about 2005, and really tapped into that growing popularity of guitar bands in mainstream. Stereophonics’ Dakota was definitely an influence on it. It was another that remained popular, even once we’d written better songs. Listening back now it definitely feels like the most dated, but I suppose it will when it’s the oldest!
MJ – One Way Train was the first time we ever had a thoroughly positive reaction from listeners. It became a staple of early live shows. In truth, we all came to resent it as a piece of music. It was rehearsed, replayed and re-hashed so many times – with so many different recordings going around- that any soul and passion it may have possessed was stripped out. I think the song defined us for so long, and even though nearly all of what came after was significantly better, there was a lack of interest as people surmised we were the chaps that played One Way Train all the time. That might be the resentment.
MG – The first recording we did of this was at Stew Gornall’s flat in Longridge. Going there was always a laugh!
PM – I distinctively remember rehearsing this when we practised in the kitchen above the Mad Ferret. Fraser, who took on the role as manager, let us use the space in the early evenings when the pub was quiet. Fraser played a massive part in the band – driving us all over the country, and helping us to get gigs and with promotion. We owe so much to him.
PS – In 2007, we played at the Radio 1 Big Weekend Fringe in Preston. It was one of those great nights when you had a room that was packed, but because so many had travelled to the city for the event, it didn’t feel like a hometown gig. Gibbs had a picture of Barry Gibbs of Bee Gees fame on his kick drum which to anyone who didn’t know him would have looked a bit odd! We closed the set with One Way Train, and by that point the room was bouncing. It was one of those utterly joyous moments where everything was in sync and there was a real energy.
It was a great time for the city with so many great bands of varying genres knocking about. We’d hightailed it from another venue where we’d watched our good friends, The Chevrons, play, and went straight on. The KBC, who were probably Preston’s most revered act at the time, closed the night and ended up nicking our Barry Gibb picture and putting it on their stage banner!
The Sylvia Plath Effect
PM -This is definitely one of the earliest songs on here, but I actually think it’s held up pretty well. The story of Sylvia Plath was one I’ve always found very interesting, and when I came across the phenomenon that poets are more prone to mental illness, the song just appeared. One thing that was amazing was when the psychologist, James C. Kaufman, who had coined the term and done research into this field got in touch and said he absolutely loved the song.
I seem to remember this was also the song that got played on Hollyoaks quite a few times – which made us about £8 each in royalties!
PS – As well as Hollyoaks, it also got used on an advert from Channel 5’s newly launched On Demand service. Before group chats existed, we’d be all sending individual messages to each other trying to trace who had seen it and who hadn’t. I think we all expected to start raking in mega money but in the end got about enough for a Rustler’s burger and bottle of Pepsi Max!
Slow It Down
PM – We first recorded this during our second session with Alan Smyth at 2Fly in Sheffield, but the version on here is the one we did with Sean in London. Personally, I was never happy with the vocal on this version. For some reason, I just couldn’t get comfortable during the second day at Sean’s Black Dog Studios – I think, maybe, the pressure of someone else paying for the recording got to me; that had never happened for us before, so to know that his management were footing the bill gave me the spooks.
PS – When Sean wanted to do the song, I couldn’t understand why. To me at the time it just felt like filler on the album we’d done. By the time we’d started recording it though I could see his vision for it. It has ended up being a proper vitriolic blast of a song and worked perfectly against the anthemic pop feel of Angel On Your Shoulder.
PM – The way we were writing changed a bit around this point. We were massively influenced by Arcade Fire’s album, The Suburbs, that had just come out, and we’d also just bought a Micro Korg – the idea being to underpin some of the tracks with synth drones. But what happened on this one was we came up with that keyboard hook that’s in the middle 8 – I always really liked that part, and felt it was really dancey. ‘Are you happy being so lonely?’ is definitely the most Morrissey-esque line I ever wrote too!
Regarding the name, for some reason we really struggled coming up with titles that summarised or captured the gist of the content, so for a long time it kept its name from the original iPhone demo (Song 2) that I’d made when we were recording live takes in the rehearsal room – which at this point was Jopson Bailey Music Academy. At some point, that changed to Chapter 2. Maybe that was to avoid confusion with the Blur song – or perhaps, subconsciously, because it marked a bit of a different direction for the band.
MJ – The piano that plays over the guitar riff is a good addition to this, and is different from other Underdogs tracks. It was definitely a direction we hoped to go to at this stage, but only Jobbers could properly play the piano/keys and he was needed to play drums! For that reason, it was never replicated live and I think that’s why Chapter 2 never became a favourite of our gig goers. I think it also came towards the end of our time, and was never really instilled properly in people’s minds. It’s a fond memory from Sandhills, however, as the recording shows it was a time when we were developing the sound as a group.
Away Supporters Go Home
PM – My friend Vince once told me that he’d written a song called Away Supporters Go Home, and for a couple of years the title stayed in my head because I always thought it was such an amazing title. And I always thought it sounded like the name of a song Morrissey would write.
When Vince tragically died, I felt that I’d like to honour him by writing a song with the title – especially as I’d never got to hear the song he’d written.
Again, I don’t remember writing it, but the song was definitely inspired by that and I think the angry tone of my vocals in the recording, and the line ‘why did they take you away?’ summed up how I felt at the time.
Stop To Think
MJ – Probably the song that led me to believe we could write music together. I think this is one of our most underrated pieces of music. The chorus is naff and I’m sure that PM would agree, but I do have fond memories of this period – I recall it was before we started seriously trying to gig, and at this point writing was a lot of fun. This was probably also the first time also that me and Dave learnt to allow each other space to do our own thing when writing songs and not to try to dominate everything ourselves. There were always competitions throughout the time of the band for volume within practises, but as things developed, we all learned that sections of music needed to back off. Stop To Think was probably the start of that for the guitars.
MG – I remember tossing off my first career at Carphone Warehouse to do the first session at 2 Fly in Sheffield. Jackson had to vouch for my character to my manager to who was fuming – ‘He’s a straight up guy. Yeah, he’s dead honest.’
Talk About Us
PM – This was definitely one where we were consciously trying to write a ‘single’ – and the song does, possibly, suffer for it. Yes, it’s loaded with hooks, but it always felt very throwaway to me.
MJ – I don’t remember a single thing about this song. Having listened again recently, I think it’s an amalgamation of 7-8 conflicting ideas. I’d be happy to never hear it again.