INTERVIEW

“Tom Clarke’s arm is extended. With his right hand horizontal and completely static the Enemy singer gives me a wry grin before turning to watch the final song by tonight’s support, The Harrisons. “We get fucking excited but never nervous,” he’d told me 24 hours previously, moments before marching onstage to a sold out Trent […]

“Tom Clarke’s arm is extended. With his right hand horizontal and completely static the Enemy singer gives me a wry grin before turning to watch the final song by tonight’s support, The Harrisons. “We get fucking excited but never nervous,” he’d told me 24 hours previously, moments before marching onstage to a sold out Trent University, Nottingham. “If you get nervous you’re faking it.”

It had been a confident and bold statement, and now, without speaking a word, the 19-year-old had rested his case: Butterflies only dwell in the stomachs of phonies, and a hometown gig (for Tom at least), to a capacity-filled Birmingham Academy, is no excuse for a moment of weakness.

Within the next 15 minutes Tom, together with drummer Liam Watts and bassist Andy Hopkins will tread the boards of the Academy for the first time since they supported Glaswegian bin-men The Fratellis. That night the ‘Best New British Band’ (according to The Brit Awards, if few others) sold two thirds of the 3000 available tickets. Tonight, with just one major single release under their belts (‘Away From Here’ if you’ve been stuck in the parallel dimension that is Hoxton) The Enemy have gone the extra thousand better. In fact, all stop-offs on this 12-date tour have long since been sold out. The rock-solid hand and cock-sure smile is hardly surprising.
We joined the tour two nights prior to Birmingham as The Enemy’s splitter van pulled in at Sheffield’s Leadmill. That night we learned two important life lessons: 1) The Leadmill is hotter than the sun. And 2) Our first preconceptions of this band were far from their truth.

Like us, the first time you heard The Enemy’s name muttered it may well have been in the same breath as The Twang. And the second time. And the third. And so, like all music fans that should probably be more open-minded than they are, we closed our doors to the Coventry trio, prematurely labelling them too as fellow mindless lout rockers; a band that, like The Twang, are simply riding the final ripples that Britpop left in its wake. Then we were played the band’s debut album, ‘We’ll Live And Die In These Towns’, and before the closing sway of the heart-aching ‘Happy Birthday Jane’ was over we were sold on high-jacking the band’s biggest tour to date.

The debut is undeniable. In the same way that ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’ was stacked high with potential hit single after hit single, ‘We’ll Live And Die‚”‘ is a record that could easily earn Tom Clarke a chocolate-coloured Rolls Royce by Christmas, care of his new label bosses at Warners. Optimistic throughout – ‘It’s Not OK (To Be A Slave)’, ‘You’re Not Alone’ and ‘Had Enough’ all reminiscent of the motivation ‘Rock’n’Roll Star’ gave a generation – Mr Gallagher Snr would no doubt agree.

Tom sees the ‘‚”Morning Glory’ comparison clearer than anyone, sighting writing single songs, as opposed to albums, as the way that all records should be composed – “People don’t make records like [‘‚”Morning Glory’] now. Most notably for me, Hard-Fi put out an album that was the same from the first track to the penultimate track, with a token slow one on the end, and you can’t listen to that. It’s like being stuck in a traffic jam. For me that was the one thing I learnt – if you make good songs and put them together they make a good album for you.”

But while Oasis have obviously influenced The Enemy’s debut of brawling uppercuts and anthemic terrace singalongs, there’s a good few other inspirational bands bobbing around the lads’ melting pot. In their dressing room Tom turns my line of questioning back on myself: “Well, who do you hear in the record?” he asks. So, at the risk of offending and being hurled into a baying mob of tanked-up Brummies (the crowdsurfing started tonight before the first band had even shown their faces), I answer‚” honestly.

The opening war-cry of ‘Aggro’ is a pissed off and pissed-up Kasabian, the title track is The Jam circa ‘That’s Entertainment’ and years before Paul Weller had nothing to prove, Tom’s snarl flashes moments of Johnny Rotten throughout and just when you think The Enemy are all about angry, V flicking, mob punk-rock they turn into The Killers for a definite highlight in the form of the disco four-to-the-floor pulsing ‘Technodanceaphobic’.

“Everyone tells us different things,” says Tom in response “but we listen to a lot of bands and if you do that you’re gonna take inspiration from everywhere. I’ve only heard a few Smiths tracks but [the title track] reminds me a bit of them. And then I can hear ‘Once In A Lifetime’ by Talking Heads in ‘This Song Is About You’. Good music is good music full stop. I’m even into dance music and if you listen to ‘Technodanceaphobic’ that’s been inspired by a dance track that I loved from ’99. There’s all sorts in there.”

Outside Nottingham’s Trent University the queue stretches far beyond the edge of campus and into the dark wet night. It’s raining way too hard for us to put it to the test but my guessing is that a quick scout down the line to ask fans why they’re soaked through for this band would result in one recurring answer – “because they’re real”. Although true it’s a clich√© that goes without saying. The Enemy are undoubtedly real (“Stop living your life by the man in a tie/He’s just a fool the same as you” goes the people’s anthem ‘It’s Not OK) but no more so than the street chats of Jamie T or urban skits of Arctic Monkeys. Where the band do excel however is within their live shows.

Soon after we were introduced to the band in Sheffield, for one reason or another, the conversation had turned towards the subject of drummers, sparking a valid point from Tom. He’d noted in his Midlands matter-of-fact accent: “Shit drummer equals shit band!” And with that truth in place The Enemy can – and do – consider themselves lucky that Liam Watts is the man perched on their drum riser every night, putting the likes of Meg White to shame by exploring his whole kit at pace. Offstage he’s reserved and almost shy, until the ladies turn up as Tom informs us, pre-gig in Nottingham. And, true to Tom’s word, having ripped through the band’s encore it takes what seems like seconds before fans of the fairer sex have cornered the young drummer.

An Enemy tradition seems to be bounding onstage, rather aptly, to ‘Too Much Too Young’ by Coventry ska statesmen The Specials. It ignites an Ian Brown swagger in Tom who spreads his arms wide on arrival before plugging in to do the work of 18 guitars single-handedly through the likes of the bombarding ‘Pressure’. Proudly smiling at every crowdsurfer, of which there are always too many to count, his vocals are record perfect. Which leaves Andy Hopkins.

In dressing room mode the bassist is – like his fellow band-mates – as polite and well-mannered as you’d like all company you keep to be. But he also brings the cool to The Enemy. As Tom enthuses about how “it’s going to go mental tonight,” Andy can be occupied by checking his impressive hair and conserving energy. ‘Stage time Andy’, however, is a whole other story.

Like a young Nicky Wire he wanders about stage left, gritting his teeth at the front rows and stopping just short of foaming at the mouth. From our first experience of this Doctor Jekyll/Mr Hyde behaviour at The Leadmill, it’s instantly noted that he’s a star, hammering bass chords instead of root notes to beef up The Enemy’s live sound while displaying a serge of kinetic energy for fans to feed off. When the moment comes to take a dive into the audience each night – something that Tom refrains from, having “knocked out a blind kid once” – he does so and jumps back onstage without hardly missing a note or breaking his stride. It’s key to making The Enemy live show tower above their equally as ‘real’ peers’, even if the band care little about many of their fellow musicians.

“Kasabian excite me,” begins Tom in response to how he sees the current musical climate. “Kaiser Chiefs excited me for two seconds and then I heard the rest of it. The Killers were promising at first. ‘Mr Brightside’ is a fantastic song but really there’s a load of bands that have excited me at first and then let me down. It’s frustrating because people are listening to shit music and there’s a good reason for it. People need music in their lives because it hushes the noise and chatter that goes on in your head, but at the minute people are buying shit music because they’re so desperate to hush the chatter with some new band that even though it’s all shit they’re buying into it anyway – bands that are full of trendy kids who discuss what kind of band they’re going to be and their haircuts more than playing music. For me the last great band were Kasabian. ‘Empire’ is one of the cleverest and bravest albums I’ve heard.”
So Tom’s not a Horrors fan then. And it’s safe to presume that no amount of convincing from us, or the music press as a whole, will change his mind. But while we’re on the forever-ropey subject of ‘the press’, and with ‘We’ll Live And Die In These Towns’ released this month, are The Enemy beginning to feel the pressure, even just a little? Having spent three days in their company, right now I’d bet my own arse on the answer. Still, it’s always good to get confirmation that you’d have retained your posterior if it had been on the line.

“The album is fucking great and it’s going to do what it’s going to do,” begins a slouched, nonchalant Tom, “and I fucking love it from start to finish, which is what matters. So no, we don’t feel any pressure. I know that the media are hyping it now but there’s a part of me that is aware that they can be your best friend today and worst enemy tomorrow. Just don’t sleep with your cousin, that’s my advice, don’t sleep with your cousin. If NME or any magazine for that matter kiss my arse today and I go, ‘Alright, I’ll kiss your arse too’ and then they shit in my mouth I’m going to be very disappointed, y’know what I mean?”

Our time having passed with The Enemy, skipping from Holiday Inn to Holiday Inn, and witnessing the adoration they demand so early on in their career, we’re glad we pushed The Twang association and preconceptions to one side. The Carling Birmingham Academy gig in particular is sure to go down as ‘a moment’ in their professional lives, not least because it singled the arrival of an extremely promising new rock guitar band. And how many of them exist today?

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