Imagine being in a band and constantly being asked how you all met. It’s a reasonable question, but you’d be surprised how many roll their here-we-go-again eyes.


Imagine being in a band and constantly being asked how you all met. It’s a reasonable question, but you’d be surprised how many roll their here-we-go-again eyes. It’s little more than an icebreaker and fact-checker, really. It has to be, because the answer is never that thrilling. Most can sum it up in one of three single words – “school”, “university”, “friends”. No wonder they’re bored of saying it out loud. Even Lennon and McCartney only had “village fete” to go on. James Hoare (also of Veronica Falls) and Argentinian Max Clapps have something far more serendipitous and British rom-com to offer.

“When I came to England I was with this girlfriend of mine and she was a kleptomaniac” explains Max. “She would wake up in the morning and go out to steal. She couldn’t stop, and one day we were in this shop in Notting Hill where James was working and she wanted these boots, so she told me to go and distract the guy at the counter. James was reading a book about The Velvet Underground…”

“He said something like, ‘That’s a good book’, or whatever,” continues James, “so we started talking about the Velvets for a while and then Max asked me if I played guitar because he’d just moved here and was looking to start something up, and so we swapped numbers. Meanwhile, these boots are getting stolen.”

“No, she didn’t steal them in the end,” insists Max. “They weren’t her size.”

Having entered the vintage store to appease his klepto girlfriend, Max had essentially come back out with a new band-mate. A chance meeting, between two characters from different sides of the planet, one new in town, in a shop, involving books, in Notting Hill… “I know,” says James, “it sounds like we’re making it up, like a Richard Curtis film, but if anything we’ve toned it down.”

This tale of boy meets boy, which began in 2006, before James had joined Veronica Falls or formed his old band, Your Twenties, only gets more like the stuff of movies. Like all good stories, someone turns up to fuck up the good times – a villain whose job it is to disrupt the cheer that looked too good to be true in the first place. For The Proper Ornaments (a name that James and Max only came up with in 2010), Max’s girlfriend played the part brilliantly.

Max had been taken in off the streets by, shall we say, and more mature lady who worked at a national newspaper. “I didn’t seduce her,” he insists. If anything it sounds like it was the other way round as Max was offered full board after an acoustic show at The George Tavern pub in Whitechapel. Without any other options, he accepted the stranger’s offer and moved in. When his (“hideous”) girlfriend turned up, the pair of them were out, and, as James was about to find out, on their way to his house.

“I was living with some respectable people,” says James, “and his girlfriend was just awful, stealing everyone’s food and being really rude, so I was like, ‘you’ve got to leave, now!’, like, after a day or two. And it gets worse, because after I left the house, we had a massive basement with nothing in it, and they went in there and set up a room with heaters and everything and lived in there without anyone knowing for, like, five days.”

James continues to tell of how “Yoko”, as the band jokingly referred to her on Marc Riley’s 6Music radio show, went ballistic and threatened to steal all of his guitars. That Max patiently lets James finish a story in which he’s aligned with our devil woman is almost as much a testament to their friendship as the fact that after 6 months of not speaking, following basement-gate, the pair reconciled their differences and started listening to Lou Reed records and playing together again.

Max’s own story reads like a fascinating prequel to all of this, told equally as candidly as he tells me that back home in Buenos Aires, “my family hated me and everything was bad, so I left.” ‘Villain’ might be a bit unfair, although you can decide the best title for Rolling Stones guru and manager Andrew Oldham, who played a significant role in bringing Max to London. “I did a record with him,” explains Max, clearly unimpressed. “That didn’t go anywhere or do anything, he spent all the money – it was a mess. Then I met this girl [“Yoko”] and made a record with her, and then Andrew said come to England and I’ll help you, and again nothing happened. But I was in trouble as well and Argentina was fucked up – there was no money at all.” Max finishes by saying that things are looking up, so much so that he doesn’t regret buying a one-way ticket to England.

So yes, The Proper Ornaments have a more interesting meet-cute than most, but what about the music (or the soundtrack, if I really want to wring this movie metaphor dry)? That, thankfully, is what’s best of all. So inspired by bands like The Byrds and Love that they daren’t claim otherwise, James and Max – as their eponymous debut EP on No Pain In Pop neatly proves – write impossibly melodic guitar pop. The allure of the vocal harmonies is not only in how tightly they synch but how ubiquitous they are – even The Beach Boys didn’t sing in unison this much, and as for the clean guitars, they chime as sweetly as any of the band’s West Coast psych heroes from the ’60s, or anyone who’s since tried and managed to recreate that shimmering sound.

“A lot of our influences really are self-explanatory,” admits James. “There are things like REM in the guitars too, and then neo-psychedelic bands from the ’80s who were pretending to be in the ’60s. It’s a bit like some of The Television Personalities, when they had moments of being quite good at mimicking the ’60s. So we’re not trying to be the ’60s, but maybe 2012’s version of the ’60s.

“There was a thing where we had some songs that were garagey, but we’ve always been more into the softer side of the ’60s. Like, if you do everything like that first Velvets record, it’s fun playing ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ for a gig, but it’s a bit limiting.”

The third ‘proper member’ of The Proper Ornaments is ex-Scritti Politti drummer Ralph Phillips, the other musician who appears on the band’s EP, as well as their previously released 7” on San Francisco’s Make A Mess label. Live, the three of them are joined by Daniel Nellis, on bass – who also plays in London surf band Jerry Tropicano – and Wesley Patrick Gonzalez of Let’s Wrestle. (Max returns the favour as Let’s Wrestle’s new second guitarist). Past members of the live line-up have included Henry Whithers of Lovvers, Michael Lovett of Your Twenties and Screaming Tea Party’s Koichi Yamanoha. Consistently, it’s been the joint project of James and Max, though, through romantic drama that borders on that of The Libertines. And when you hear The Proper Ornaments you’ll see why it’s all worth it. It’s like they’re meant for each other, like Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts.

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