Artist of the Week – Saint Etienne

You might recall that a few weeks ago I was re-running an old radio feature, the Artist of the Week, when as part of my radio show Music for the Masses, I would give a bit of history on an act. Let’s pick that up again with Saint Etienne. As always, apologies for any inaccuracies or omissions.

Saint Etienne are a group with a very unusual background. Before I mention anything else, I should perhaps make it clear: yes, they are named after the French football team, which probably makes them unique in one sense. However, their almost unrivalled technique of moulding modern beats to sixties melodies and beautiful songs makes them completely with parallel.

In the early 1990s, as acid house was in its wane, childhood friends Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs worked with a number of guest vocalists on several tracks which scraped the lower reaches of the charts. The best known of these is their cover of Neil Young‘s Only Love Can Break Your Heart, which just broke into the Top 40 in 1991. For the first album Foxbase Alpha, they tracked down a more permanent vocalist, who still remains with them to this day, Sarah Cracknell.

With their first two albums, they scored further minor hits and started to make a name for themselves, but they did not manage to break the top end of the UK charts until 1993’s sublime collaboration with The Charlatans‘ Tim Burgess I Was Born on Christmas Day. The subsequent third album Tiger Bay reached the Top 10 and yielded several substantial hits, including Pale Movie and Like a Motorway.

They followed this in 1995 with a compilation of the singles so far, which was heralded by their biggest single to date, the Motiv8-produced He’s on the Phone, before taking three years to rethink their strategy.

Unfortunately recent albums have failed to give them the success they no doubt deserve. 1998’s Good Humor brought us the fantastic singles Sylvie and The Bad Photographer; 2000’s Sound of Water barely broke the Top 40; and their most recent album Finisterre, released nearly two years ago, failed to make any substantial impact despite being one of their best albums to date.

However, that does not mark the end for Saint Etienne. They are currently in the studio polishing off their seventh full-length album, due for release early next year [in fact Tales from Turnpike House was released in summer 2005, roughly eighteen months after this was written], and just last week released another retrospective compilation for the American market, which included a couple of new tracks as well.

Astoundingly, they have now released nearly 200 tracks, hardly any of which will fail to grasp the listener with their strong imagery and beautiful songwriting.

Music for the Masses 40 – 14 May 2005

This was the last ever Music for the Masses, just a little over a decade ago, and it would go out with nothing but a sombre wave on the webcam, ten minutes before the end. Over the preceding five years, I had immensely enjoyed doing the show, and would spend another eight years or so wondering how to recapture those times. Eventually, it was reincarnated in the shape of the blog you’re reading today.

The last track had to be, of course, the fantastic Sweet Harmony by The Beloved.

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Show 40: Sat 14 May 2005, from 6:00pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: Everything But The Girl.

  • Portishead – Glory Box
  • Basement Jaxx – Where’s Your Head At
  • Kings Have Long Arms feat. Phil Oakey – Rock & Roll is Dead
  • Sohodolls – Prince Harry
  • Everything But The Girl – Missing (CL McSpadden Powerhouse Mix)
  • Underworld – Pearl’s Girl
  • Client – Don’t Call Me Baby
  • Saint Etienne – Only Love Can Break Your Heart
  • Garbage – The World is Not Enough
  • Everything But The Girl – Walking Wounded
  • Wolfsheim – Kein Zurück (Live) [The Live Bit]
  • Vic Twenty – Wrong
  • Moby – Raining Again
  • Luke Slater – I Can Complete You
  • Röyksopp – Poor Leno
  • Everything But The Girl – Blame
  • Jean Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 2)
  • Goldfrapp – Tiptoe [Electromix]
  • Jolly Music – Radio Jolly (ADULT Remix) [Electromix]
  • Massive Attack – Butterfly Caught (Paul Daley Remix) [Electromix]
  • Alpinestars – Green Raven Blonde
  • The Beloved – Sweet Harmony (Live the Dream Remix)

The Electromix feature from this show still exists, and will be included on a future Playlist for stowaways.

Music for the Masses 35 – 9 March 2005

Kicking off a show with I Monster‘s Who is She? is a rare privilege, as is closing one with the extended version of The Beloved‘s Sweet Harmony. With Sparks as artist of the week, and including some of their highlights from the 1970s, this was definitely going to be a particularly special show.

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Show 35: Wed 9 Mar 2005, from 6:05pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: Sparks.

  • I Monster – Who is She?
  • Moby – Lift Me Up (Mylo Remix)
  • Saint Etienne – Only Love Can Break Your Heart
  • Télépopmusik – Stop Running Away
  • Erasure – Rock Me Gently (Bamboo)
  • S.I. Futures – Eurostar
  • Madonna – Nobody’s Perfect
  • Sparks – La Dolce Vita
  • Apollo 440 – Liquid Cool
  • Elektric Music – TV
  • Faithless – Fatty Boo
  • Sparks – It’s a Knock-Off
  • Adamski – Killer
  • Front Line Assembly – Prophecy
  • New Order – Krafty
  • Yello – Lost Again
  • Sparks – The Rhythm Thief
  • The Orb – Toxygene
  • The Beloved – Sweet Harmony (Live the Dream Mix)

Music for the Masses 29 – 6 December 2004

Show 29 was the last before the Christmas break in 2004, and while that may be a little off-season at the time of posting, it inevitably had a bit of a festive theme, with Erasure – also starring as the artist of the week – turning up on the playlist with She Won’t Be Home and other wintry hits from Pet Shop Boys and Saint Etienne.

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Show 29: Mon 6 Dec 2004, from 6:05pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: Erasure.

  • Bomb the Bass – Darkheart
  • The Postal Service – Recycled Air
  • Sohodolls – Trash the Rental (Demo)
  • Ladytron – Playgirl
  • Depeche Mode – Photographic (Rex the Dog Dubb Mix)
  • Erasure – Sono Luminus
  • Alpinestars – Burning Up
  • Pet Shop Boys – It Doesn’t Often Snow at Christmas
  • Lemon Jelly – Stay with You
  • Espiritu – You Don’t Get Me
  • Jean Michel Jarre – Chronologie (Part 6)
  • Andy Pickford – Oblivion
  • Erasure – She Won’t Be Home
  • Piney Gir – Girl
  • Empire State Human – Little Alfie
  • Way Out West – Ajare 2
  • Jolly Music feat. Erlend Øye – Talco Uno
  • Client – In the Back of Your Car
  • Delerium – Wisdom
  • Peach – Hush
  • Erasure – Breathe
  • Sparks – The Calm Before the Storm
  • Saint Etienne – I Was Born on Christmas Day

Three years of stowaways – the best of 2012

Coming up in just a couple of days is this blog’s third birthday! It started quietly back in 2012 with the video to Pet Shop Boysthen new single Winner before I disappeared off on holiday, and then started in earnest a couple of weeks later…

The main highlight of that first year for me has to be I Monster and Kevin Pearce‘s sadly overlooked Skywatchers project, and their lovely album The Skywatchers Handbook. It had come out originally a couple of years earlier, but I have never really managed to stop listening since then, and I reviewed it in mid-2012.

The year ended for me with a countdown of the best tracks of the year, with Saint Etienne high on the chart thanks to their exceptional comeback album Words and Music by Saint Etienne, but it was something I was inadvertently sent when I purchased that album that grabbed the top spot – the exceptional Longest Day by Soulsavers, with Dave Gahan on vocals.