the guardian

august 2000

part 1 of 1

after the boos have gone

around the turn of the last decade, martin carr left his job with the land registry to fit house alarms in his native merseyside. within five years, his group, the boo radleys, would outgrow their late-80s us/uk noisepop influences (dinosaur jr, my bloody valentine), sign to creation records and release nme's best album of 1993 (the double lp, giant steps). and carr would contrive 1995's top 10 hit wake up boo! - which was, along with pulp's common people, blur's parklife, supergrass's alright and oasis's live forever, one of the signature sounds of mid-90s swinging london.

the subsequent five years were equally memorable. he split up with his long-term girlfriend rebecca, with whom he lived in preston, lancashire. despite critical and commercial rewards, he became dissatisfied and disillusioned. when he finally relocated to london, his drink and drug intake increased, and his health suffered. first, there was the terrible burning sensation in his testicles that was an infected prostate caused by an excess of alcohol; then, on the eve of his 30th birthday, after what he describes as "years of smoking, taking crappy speed, eating shit and drinking sherry", carr learned that he had worn away the lining of his oesophagus.

a confirmed hypochondriac, carr was mortified when a gastroscopy - micro-surgery that involves a tiny camera, with the patient awake during the operation - was proposed. "it was like watching yourself on telly," he recalls with a smile, amid the bohemian splendour of the flat he shares with his french wife, hildy, situated in a quiet street off the archway road in north london.

he was equally unimpressed by his new regime: no more dairy products; worse, no more toxic substances, especially the illegal variety. he'd been taking lsd since his teenage years in wallasey, and his appetite for the mind-altering chemical hardly abated once the boo radleys began playing live all over the world. "i can never do anything in moderation," he confesses, risking stomach pains with tonight's fourth bottle of beer, recalling the band's first american dates in 1992, when he dropped a tab outside a "redneck bar in boise, idaho", just for the hell of it.

like many of his favourite musicians - brian wilson, john lennon, alex chilton of the box tops/big star - carr left his band to pursue a vision. he is fatally attracted to the idea of the tortured artist. or, at least, he used to be. "i'd have loved to have gone mad at one point," he admits with a grin. "i thought it would have been pretty cool. now i just find it sad. yes, it's attractive, but in 10 years' time i'd really rather have made some more great records than be wandering around archway in stockings."

his idiosyncratic vision has a name: bravecaptain. eighteen months after splitting the group he formed with schoolfriends simon "sice" rowbottom (vocals) and tim brown (bass), carr as bravecaptain will release two records on wichita: a six-track mini-lp called the fingertip saint sessions vol 1, and an album, go with yourself.

unlike blur guitarist graham coxon's recent solo project, the golden d, these recordings are not mere opportunities for carr to indulge himself before returning to the security of his group. "if he doesn't enjoy being in blur, why doesn't he leave?" asks carr, who remembers with sad, sweet precision the moment he and his friends decided to call it quits. "me and sice drove to liverpool to tell the other two, but they weren't in, so we went to sice's mum's house for sandwiches, just like we did when we were kids." according to carr, tim brown, whose instrumental and studio expertise has been acknowledged, is back working for the civil service, rob cieka is a drummer-for-hire in manchester, while sice is living in oxfordshire with his wife - formerly the boos' tour manager - and child. two words stick in the mind from carr's recollection of the boos' final sunny winter day: "awful" and "beautiful". he won't be going back.

for carr, the future is bravecaptain. recorded in anglesey, north wales, with carr on vocals and gorky's zygotic mynci engineer gorwel owen at the studio controls and sharing instrumental duties, the 15 songs that comprise the two bravecaptain releases offer a lo-fi version of the melodic yet challenging music carr wrote for the boo radleys' five longplayers."sweet melancholy for the masses," he laughingly refers to his new music. it is as deceptively pleasant as that of his previous band - the exuberant wake up boo! was actually about disintegration and death, while a track from c'mon kids (1996) lifted its title from the buddhist maxim, everything is sorrow.

sadness seems to shadow his every move. for all the alcoholic bravado and druggy dementia of the boos' peak years,what remains of their success is a sense of "is that all there is?" even hearing stevie wonder hum the refrain to wake up boo! in the corridors of elstree's top of the pops studios failed to make the experience any less "horrible". as carr admitted to a journalist at the time, "people expect us to be this big party band, going, 'where's the drink? where's the drugs?' and we're saying, 'we want to go home'."

they were the most forlorn of their contemporaries, but there were good times. which cost them, particularly carr, who would split his songwriting royalties 50-50 with sice, brown and drummer rob cieka, then spend the money "on records" - vinyl albums by sly stone, todd rundgren, ornette coleman and hundreds of others litter his lounge, bathroom and tiny office-cum-studio - "and drugs".

how much went on drugs, exactly? "quite a lot. i have no idea." tens of thousands? "i never had that much. but it was more than i ever dreamed of." he could have earned six-figure sums, had he allowed wake up boo! to be used to advertise a breakfast cereal, a washing powder - "anything to do with getting up in the morning." carr wasn't interested. "i could never do it," he says. "you would get the money, spend it, and then for the rest of your life you would be known as the bloke who did the music for the cornflakes ad."

he wants to be remembered for more than providing ad-fodder, especially as, in his view, so few of his peers are penning tomorrow's classics today. "there are radiohead bands everywhere," he complains. even oasis, "the one band i've ever been jealous of", have lost it. who does he consider as competition - thom yorke? richard ashcroft? "no. people who take gambles and don't worry about maintaining their fanbase." such as primal scream's bobby gillespie - for martin, "an inspiration".

carr may be as uncomfortable as ever with the prospect of performing in front of "a tv studio full of kids dressed as strawberries", but he is still in the market for some grown-up disruption. "i'm not cool or good-looking, i'm awkward," he admits with a sigh, looking forwards about seven years, "but i do quite like the idea of being a grumpy 39-year-old making records."


The Guardian