When Delays floated out of Southampton in 2003 clung to the helium harmonies and cloud-surfing guitars of debut single ‘Nearer Than Heaven’, the genre compilers broke out their emergency hammers to beat them into an ill-fitting pigeonhole. The Choirboy Cocteau Twins! CLANG! The Hampshire Hollies!
CREEEECH! The Proto-Nu Gaze Dreampop Thrills With Wobbly Bits On! BASH BASH BASH!
Nothing fitted. For all the frantic scene twisting and square peg battering, Delays consistently slithered out from beneath the firm thumb of definition. First album ‘Faded Seaside Glamour’ foiled the pedants even further: Here were gilded shimmer pop hits (‘Hey Girl’ hit the Top Forty in July 2003; ‘Long Time Coming’ peaked at Number 16 the following January) churned in with sprawling atmospheric wig-outs, techno splashes and Cure-ish spiderhair anthems. This was a band with the credibility of Rough Trade and label mates The Strokes and The Libertines behind them, yet while all around them were perfecting their tattered-leather urbane grittiness, they frolicked unashamedly in the summery cornfields of falsetto pop, chasing big fluttery hooks with butterfly nets. Too soft for Oasis fans, too pop for the Libs lovers, too unique for comparisons of any kind: just what the hell were they?
Only Greg Gilbert knew.
“We’re a Fabulist band.”
By which their reclusive singer means that Delays twist and thicken the cliché of ‘guitar pop’ into the finest of high art, adding depth, meaning and humanity to a form of music that had somehow brought us from the shimmering ebullience of the La’s to the pedestrian balladeering of Starsailor.
Hence, in 2004, ‘Faded Seaside Glamour’ was an oddball revelation: a concoction of pure pop and lofty ambitions that delighted some and baffled others. Ironically, considering the history of the band (Greg, drummer Rowly and bassist Colin Fox meet in soon-to-be-demolished Southampton indie club Thursdays in 1996; spend several years as naive Manics-meets-The La’s band Corky; recruit Greg’s sequencer wizard brother Aaron for his electro ‘vibes‘ and song writing talent; hole up in a room writing feverishly for two years until world-beating brilliance results; relaunch upon unsuspecting world as Delays), it perhaps suffered from too lengthy a gestation.
“It’s different writing songs in your bedroom, you can be pretty self-indulgent,” says Greg. “But touring is a very good way to learn the direct approach, so when we came back from the ‘…Seaside Glamour’ tour we knew that was something we were gonna have to rectify. Your first album is like an adventure. You go on this massive spiritual journey to write something that is life changing, then you get out on tour and the focus is on the audience, whether you like it or not. If it wasn’t for playing live, I’d never go out.”
Touring ‘Faded Seaside Glamour’ was a lonely and humbling experience for Greg. The control freak arrogance that had made the first album sessions so stressful for his band-mates was forced to abate while, even on the road, Greg was something of a stay-at-home.
“I find it really difficult being around people. It feels very dramatic, I just stand in corners, I’m not that confident with it. I’m quite a romantic, I like romance in music and the songs we write very much deal with a romantic notion, they don’t have very much to do with nightclubs. I experience an inner horror in those places. It’s where my life’s at right now. We went to all these major cities and the rest of the band actually saw those cities. I don’t think I ever left the tourbus.”
So while Rowly, Colin and Aaron guzzled up Europe and America throughout 2004, in hotel room and bus lounge Greg soaked up TV images, mused over the futility of long-distance relationships and began formulating album number two. By the time Delays came home to Southampton they had a miasma of personal and political traumas already semi-crafted into about 100 songs filed on a single disc. With no back up. Which Aaron promptly lost.
“We had to basically start from scratch again,” says Greg, remarkably calm about the experience. “This summer was quite frustrating watching all the festivals on TV and feeling really out of it because I wanted to be playing. I couldn’t handle it. But it gave Aaron and I a chance to do lots of writing.”
A splurge of frantic speed-jamming and three months recording in Real World and Rockfield over the summer (“My main thing this time was not to turn into a bastard again,” Greg says of the sessions, “it gets to me when I’m in the studio and I had to let it go and not fight with everybody all the time and control everything because we have absolute faith in each other”) produced ‘You See Colours’ - a far more vibrant and direct record than the debut and easily set to be one of 2006’s most arresting releases.
Gone are the more wistful zone-out segments of ‘…Glamour’ and pushed to the fore is Delays’ overpowering way with a candyfloss pop punch. There’s surprises too – while ‘Given Time’, ‘Out Of Nowhere’ and ‘Hideaway’ are laser guided to the heart of anyone who ever tapped a forgetful foot to ‘Long Time Coming’, opener ‘You And Me’ shares a convertible freeway ride to Venice Beach with a synth orchestra and ‘Boys Of Summer’. First single ‘Valentine’ delves into Depeche Mode-esque electro-sex and ‘Lillian’ comes on like a blues rock Daft Punk. Dazzling steps forward all, particularly considering the subject matter: “The majority of tunes here are apologies… little messages to people I haven’t had time to say things to, I’d just drop it off and go ‘give me your thoughts on this later’” while others were drained into Greg’s lyrical world from those TV screens and tourbus windows. ‘You And Me’, for example, was inspired by a documentary about deserters from the Iraqi war while ‘Valentine’ is the result of first-hand experience of a Mississippi hurricane.
“It was written when we were in New Orleans and were in the path of a hurricane,” says Greg. “Not the recent one, Katrina, but there was one due to hit. People everywhere were bunkering down and we were holed up in our hotel room. It’s just asking questions about that, about the changes in America and concerns that New Orleans is just gonna be forgotten because there’s such a quick turnover of news out there.”
Whether personal or political, Greg’s lyrics are never less than powerfully poignant and with ‘You See Colours’ Delays have made the record that will place the band at the core of British pop music in 2006: melt-on-the-tongue music with a dark, bitter centre. And be warned: you’ll pigeonhole, or even criticise it, at your peril.
“ We wanna redefine British pop music in our own image,” Greg says. “We are absolutely unlike anybody else and the bottom line is we’ve made a record that I’m dying for people to hear. We want to go out and play it NOW. I feel so strongly about it that anyone who says they don’t love it must be lying.”
Delays: absolutely Fabulist, dahling.