The Blue Aeroplanes find confidence with Swagger, Michael Stipe forces Morrissey to watch



By Steve Newton

If you scan the liner notes to the Blue Aeroplanes’ new album Swagger, the guitar/bass/drum credits look pretty normal for a pop group from Bristol, England. Then you spot an unusual name at the bottom of the band line-up—Wojtek Dmochowski. And you see that this guy’s position in the band isn’t too common either: he’s the dancer.

“It’s cheaper than a light show,” quips lead vocalist Gerard Langley, on the line from the Big Apple. “He’s a friend of mine who just used to go to clubs and dance a lot. You know, ’60s R&B and there he’d be, monopolizing the dance floor. So it seemed quite logical to have him in the band, really, ’cause everyone kept saying, ‘Why, he’s a good dancer!’ ”

While Dmochowski may be able to cut a mean step, don’t expect him to steal all the thunder from the Blue Aeroplanes when the band opens for the Church at the Commodore next Thursday (July 5). The B.A.’s are capable of delivering a highly infectious mix of diverse musical styles, using everything from feedback to subtle poetic interplay. As Langley puts it, “We are the history of rock ’n’ roll in 50 minutes.”

Langley first started singing professionally when he was 19. After leaving college he got into music by “reacting away from everybody else”, he says. “Everyone else was doing all this loud kind of funk stuff, wailin’ on it, and I wanted to do sort of an arty folk-rock band.” His early influences included the Kinks and Dylan, but his favourite band was always Fairport Convention.

“Something about them really got to me,” he says. “Plus the fact that they were so young. The drummer died in a motorway crash just before their third album came out, and he was only 17. He wasn’t even the youngest!”

At 31, Langley is actually the old fogie of his band, which also includes 20-year-old guitarist Alex Lee. The Blue Aeroplanes isn’t Langley’s first band, though he wishes it were.

“I was in a band before, but I don’t talk about it,” he says. “We made an album and a couple of things, but as far as I’m concerned…It’s a bit distressing to me, ’cause some of the younger members of the band find that they really like it. I don’t like it. The past is the past; let’s bury the dead.”

Things are looking pretty lively for Langley these days, though, what with his band signed by the prestigious Ensign label, whose small but impressive roster includes Sinead O’Connor, the Waterboys, and World Party. And the band enjoyed a successful British tour as opener for none other than Athens, Georgia’s favourite sons, R.E.M. That band’s Michael Stipe gave the Blue Aeroplanes his blessing with some vocals on the new album’s “What It Is”.

“R.E.M. is one of the few bands that everyone in the group likes,” says Langley. “Michael’s appearance came about mainly because that was his favourite song of ours. He does this little rap before he performs ‘Stand’ where he talks about ‘Stand’ being the greatest contribution to Western culture, fit to rank along such classics as Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and whatever, then he says, ‘And the Blue Aeroplanes’ “What It Is”’.

“And he’d drag people to see us play it. You’d be playing, and you’d look over to the right and there’d be Morrissey standing there, having been forced by Michael to watch this song.”

One of the Blue Aeroplanes’ most memorable moments came during the last show of their tour with R.E.M., at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. All the members of R.E.M., several roadies, and some unidentified music journalists crammed together for a 14-guitar finale of the band’s set-closer, “Breaking in my Heart”. That’s a lotta ringin’ strings.

“It’s something that we do quite a lot in London it seems,” chuckles Langley. “Friends of ours come along to the gigs and play along to the last song—it’s only got two chords, so anyone can do it. So Peter Holsapple, who was playing with R.E.M., came up to me and said [in a strict voice]: ‘I have heard that you have extra people playing on your last song. How come you haven’t asked us to do it!?’

“So I said, ‘Umm…well, yeah, right—if you want to.’ So they did it. And they did it good.”

Langley named the Blue Aeroplanes’ latest album Swagger because he felt it was a confident-sounding album. Produced by Gil Norton (the Pixies, Echo and the Bunnymen), it is definitely an exhilarating mix that defies categorization. But the folk influence that stuck with Langley when he first heard Fairport Convention way-back-when is still very much in evidence.

“Partly it’s the folk influence,” he says, “but often it’s just the use of acoustical or folk-oriented instruments. It’s the texture, you know. I just like the sound of ’em.”

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