In the Spring of 1998, it was announced that promising Bristol Britpop/Alternative-Rock act Strangelove had broken up. In their long run as a band, they spawned Top 40 hits and opened for successful alternative acts, such as Suede and Tindersticks. They performed to thousands of dedicated, pale-faced fans at Shepard’s Bush Empire. Since their sudden and heart-breaking demise, nothing but a b-side vinyl release has been put out as a retrospective — a very small gesture to one of England’s greatest and most talented unknowns.
Strangelove formed in Bristol, in 1991, after Dave Francolini spotted singer Patrick Duff, who at the time was a street busker. According to Patrick, Dave’s words were “Get in the car, you’re going to be a pop star.” Dave then got together various musicians he knew throughout the area; two extraordinary guitarists, Alex Lee (a former member of The Blue Aeroplanes) and Julian Pransky Poole, bassist Joe Allen, with Dave on drums, and the quintet played their first gig at Bath Moles Club on October 9th, 1991. Francolini took on the role of drummer for only two gigs, before being replaced by John Langley. The first Strangelove song written and recorded was titled Zoo’d Out, done in 1991, and released two years later as seven-inch Rough Trade single.
In October 1992, Strangelove released their first EP, Visionary on Sermon records. It scored ‘single of the week’ by Cathi Unsworth in Melody Maker magazine, and got the band two BBC Radio 1 John Peel sessions in 1992 and 1993. But it was their second single and EP Hysteria Unknown that created a buzz about the band, now hailed as representing the more gloomy side of Britpop. It earned them a support slot on Radiohead’s “Pop is Dead” tour, and they were cited as an influence by Ed O’Brien. “We toured with them and changed quite a bit after. They were inspirational. Apart from their trousers.” Strangelove were signed to EMI label Food records in 1993.
The debut album “Time For The Rest of Your Life” was released in August of 1994, to critical acclaim. Patrick’s tales of despair and sorrow struck a chord, and his impressive, emotionally charged vocals were described by Tom Doyle in Q Magazine’s World of Noise compilation as “evoking thoughts of Morrissey as vocally-tutored by Scott Walker.” The album made the list of numerous top albums of 1994 polls. As they started getting songs together for their second LP, they attracted attention from one of the biggest Britpop/alternative rocks act of the 90s, Suede, and Strangelove were invited to join them on their Dog Man Star European tour in 1995. The two took a liking to each other, and at Sala Multiusos Zaragoza in May, Strangelove covered the Suede b-side “Killing of A Flashboy” while Suede covered “She’s Everywhere,” a track off forthcoming LP, Love and Other Demons. Singer Brett Anderson and young guitarist Richard Oakes would then join Strangelove in the studio, singing once again on “She’s Everywhere” and Richard playing on the single “Living with The Human Machines.”
“Love and Other Demons” spawned a Top 40 single “Beautiful Alone” and set the band on the fast track to super stardom. They landed a spot on the main stage of Glastonbury, and opened for Welsh alt-rock act Manic Street Preachers, at the London Astoria on the penultimate gig before Richey Edwards’ disappearance. All seemed well for Strangelove, but for singer Patrick Duff, internalized struggles and a heavy addiction to drugs and alcohol threatened to take his life. His battle with depression and excess were highlighted in one vaguely suicidal Melody Maker interview in 1994, and an aborted NME interview, during which Patrick kept dozing off, drugs and alcohol in his system. After the second album’s recording finished, Patrick was booked into a rehabilitation clinic to finally kick his habit, and confront the demons within. He wrote about this difficult journey to getting clean for The Guardian, in 1996.
“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. My personal life was now in tatters – and I decided my last chance was to throw what was left of me into our album. Something was left in me that wanted to do something positive. Thank God.”
Finally clean, Strangelove were able to create an third album, with songs a lot poppier and a bit more hopeful than the previous two. Release as a self-titled album in 1997, Strangelove scored another Top 40 hit “The Greatest Show On Earth”, and played two successful nights at Shepard’s Bush Empire, as well as the main stage at Reading Festival. Patrick seemed far more confidant about the band, and where they were headed, but by the time “Another Night In” was released in 1998, it perhaps became clear to him, and maybe even the rest of the band, that it had run its course and that Patrick needed to get away from the fast-paced life of touring in order to truly recover. Strangelove announced their split on April 20th, 1998.
Alex Lee went on to become a replacement for Suede’s keyboardist Neil Codling, who suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and eventually joined Suede as a permanent member to record their album “A New Morning” (after Suede’s 2010 return, Neil re-joined as keyboardist). Alex has since played for Placebo, Goldfrapp, and most recently Marina & The Diamonds. Allen, Pransky-Poole and Langley formed a band called Saturation Point.
Right after Strangelove, Patrick Duff formed the band Moon, who released only one single and shortly disbanded after. Patrick, frightened about his sudden situation of being without a band, and no idea what to do next, went to live in a forest for two years before being discovered by Thomas Brooman, founder of the WOMAD Festival. Thomas provided Patrick with the chance to start his musical career back up again, playing at WOMAD, and flying out to South Africa to work with 81-year-old veteran African master storyteller and musician Madosini. Patrick has continued to blossom as a solo artist, with three albums released: “Luxury Problems” (2005, produced by Alex Lee), “The Mad Straight Road” (2010), and “Visions of The Underworld” (2013). He continues to perform around the UK and throughout Europe on the Songs & Whispers tour, and has a growing following.
Since Strangelove’s end, very little has surfaced on the internet about their legacy. Much of their music and videos are blocked on Youtube by EMI and albums are hard to find. The band have no official website and there has been no talk of a Best-Of complication or re-releases of albums. Despite the hype that surrounded them in their 10 year span, they are still highly underrated, and a forgotten gem of the Britpop music scene.
Photo Credits: Sam Harris