“For a time, I didn’t believe in heartbreak. I went to a comprehensive school in a dilapidated South Yorkshire pit village where boys were stripped of compassion in the second row of the rugby scrum. “It’s a good sport football,” said my PE teacher. “It keeps the poofs off the streets”. And, you know what? It’s hard to comprehend something as comparatively piffy as heartbreak when laid-off miners are gassing themselves to death in parked cars behind Netto.
Sure, I’d loved, I’d lost, but what followed was either relief or regret or peace or sadness. Sadness feels like you’ve got wet leaves in your heart. Heartbreak is like having the Spartan’s roll into town and set up base camp in your soul. Inevitably, when it did happen, when I felt my heart drawn of all light and replaced by a spoddy potato in the apex of my chest, I was hopelessly, pathetically ill prepared.
‘What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?’ asked Jimmy Ruffin in 1966. Good question, Jimmy! Allow me to help you out there. They walk around like empty-eyed zombies, talking ad infinitum about how they “never saw it coming” and how they can “still smell him/her on their pillow”. They are an unquenchable breed. They will never be satisfied. And honestly Jimmy, they are a bunch of petulantly-whining-totally-fucking-self-obsessed-bores.
Like recovering smackheads, alcoholics or my dad when he’s been on the rum (whose adventures as a young man in the navy see me regard him as more akin to Captain Ahab than a parental figure), the recently dumped will want to talk about their problems, worries, and yes, heartbreak, to anyone who’ll listen (that said, my dad once told me a story about how the crew of his ship had to blow up a dead whale at sea because it was an “obstructive risk to other vessels”. I can find it in my heart to listen to that one forever, pa).
If I’d earned my crust as a binman, I’d have talked to my fellow binmen about it. Or, if I made my living as a gardener, I’d have talked to my tended plants about it. Yet ploughing my trade as a pop journalist, making my way in the world by shooting the shit with people in bands, I talked to musicians about it. For the last year, I’ve talked to musicians about it all the time.
It’s for this reason that I’ve got ‘previous’ asking Ian Brown if he’d ever had his heart broken (“It’s me that does the heartbreaking, son,” says Ian), and asking Kerry King from Slayer how you get over a lost love (he said nothing – I felt a bit like I’d asked Satan if he’d like a satsuma). And now, it is how I find myself, sat in a South London caf√© with Orlando Weeks and Felix White, singer and singing guitarist in British pop group The Maccabees; a band whose dashing, na√Øve, romantic indie pop has soundtracked every ache and throb my heart has endured over the course of every dark, never-ending evening that’s plagued the last year of my life…
“Yes James,” sighs the singer. “I’ve had my heart broken…”
First, some back-story. Hailing from South London, via a three-year stint at Brighton University, The Maccabees sing almost exclusively about love, romance and the horror that glues those two ridiculous notions together like puss and a scab. Their debut album, ‘Colour It In’, released May 7th on Fiction Records, is my favourite album of the year. No question. It’s the kind of record that restores your belief in boys with hearts as big as their amplifiers, and is the kind of listen whose themes of childhood nostalgia, teenage frustrations, and ill-conceived stabs at adulthood resonate like a tin can dashed with pins.
Best song, ‘Precious Time’ and its refrain of, “we all need heart / we all need courage / we all need time / so let’s make time work for us”, sees the singer’s soppy vocal punctuating a veritable roar of a chorus, all atop the kind of song that wouldn’t so much slay a dragon as have it blubbing in its den. Then there’s the stunning ‘Tissue Shoulders’ and its mantra of ‘don’t want to lie alone’, sung in a way only a man who’s spent many hours lying alone can. Yet it’s recent single ‘First Love’ – a song that sounds completely terrified of love, yet, once more, is delivered as only someone whose been engulfed by the flames of passion could testify – that embodies the confessional brilliance of this astonishing five-piece.
“I’m scared of everything,” says Orlando. “I’m a worrier, I’m quite paranoid and the smallest things niggle away at me all the time. I worry about everything I say, about how people have taken what I’ve said and if they’ve taken it the way I intended. Do I find adulthood hard? Um, I’m trying…”
Part Ian Curtis, part Paddington Bear; the singer is like Damon Albarn if his sincerity matched his talent. He claims to have seen the Libertines fifteen times (“you knew what your plan was for the week back then,” he says. “All that was important was that you saw The Libertines however you could. It’s what I lived for…”). His foil, Felix, is more than just part of the supporting cast too – it’s the guitarist’s dewy eyed backing vocals that give Orlando’s often bleak, sometimes hopeful, yet always astute observations the downing to nuzzle and gnaw their way into the listener’s heart. “I was fourteen when I first met Orlando,” remembers the guitarist. “Back then he just used to sit in his bedroom, playing the top string of his guitar, over and over again, getting stoned. I knew I wanted to be in a band with him instantly.” Augmented by Felix’s brother, guitarist Hugo White, bassist Rupert Jarvis and drummer Robert Dylan Thomas (absent from today’s Loud And Quiet photo shoot, due to illness), they’re my favourite British band around right now. No question.
“We’re a band of brothers,” says Felix. “If someone left The Maccabees, that’d be it. Anyone with a guitar and drums can play Maccabees songs, but no-one other than us five people can be the Maccabees. We’re a gang.”
Orlando nods. “There’s a thing that Joe Strummer says at the end of the Clash film, Westway To The World. “If you find something that works, do anything you can to make that thing work. Don’t lose it.” The singer looks straight ahead. “I fully intend not to lose it.”
That said, let’s talk heartbreak…
“It’s quite hard when you realise that things don’t work out like they do in soaps,” says Orlando. “The thing is, I pretty much broke my heart for myself, so what I really struggle with is knowing that I did it to myself. It’s the stupidity that’s hard to live with.”
Is the album about her?
Orlando nods. “All but one song, yes.”
Has she heard the record?
“She’s definitely heard the songs,” interjects Felix. “She knows they’re about her,” adds Orlando.
And how does she feel about that?
“I try not to speak to her about it,” says Orlando. “Right now, I’m trying to look back on it as something that’s been a bonus to my life. I hope she does too. I can’t speak for her though. Do I think writing these songs have helped me get over it? I think writing these songs were part and parcel of it. On the other hand, playing these songs every night was a constant reminder, so that was odd.”
When you play those songs live, do you think of her?
Orlando looks at his hands. “For a long time, I didn’t want to sing certain songs. They felt too close to the bone.”
I remember seeing you play ‘Precious Time’ once, where you had tears in your eyes…
“That’s one song that isn’t about a girl,” says Orlando. “But it is about a relationship where there has been struggle. It may well have been that at that time in question there was something going on. It’s a strange thing. Sometimes on stage it creeps up on you, and you feel as close to the song as you were when you wrote it.”
“You have to be detached from it though,” says Felix. “When you play a song live, you’re representing that song, and you’re doing a disservice to the people who’ve come to hear it if you don’t give that song what it needs to have.”
I can’t remember the last time I heard a pop record as confessional as ‘Colour It In’. Heck, I can’t remember the last time I heard a pop band as confessional as The Maccabees…
Orlando doesn’t nod, doesn’t blink, but speaks. “The lyricists I respect are those who speak of faults as much as they do qualities. I am definitely flawed.”
For what feels like ages, nobody around the caf√© table says a word.
Have you fallen in love since?
“Yes. I am in love.”
For the first time since we’ve met today, Orlando smiles.
I don’t tell Felix or Orlando any of the stuff I waffled on about at the start of this piece. But you know what? For the first time in ages, I smiled too.