Upon hearing that Chapterhouse was making its triumphant return to the United States, most music fans would respond with a slightly cocked head, unsure if they should be aware of the band’s existence. If you live on this side of the Atlantic, you can be forgiven. Over here, the heyday of Chapterhouse was overshadowed by a certain flannel-wearing band from Seattle. But while the band might be slightly more than anonymous to stateside audiences, it was a full-on shoegazing sensation back in the day, with a debut album, Whirlpool, hitting No. 23 on the U.K. album charts and sold-out shows played before throngs of dejected-looking fans.
Chapterhouse recorded a follow-up, Blood Music, and seemed primed for further success. Things unraveled quickly. Issues forced the recall of the album and the band into a Catch-22, and the band drifted apart, never to record again. Chapterhouse was written off into the annals of history, until last year, when renewed interest prompted the members to get the band back together. A little older and wiser, Chapterhouse — Simon Rowe, Andrew Sherriff, Ashley Bates and Stephen Patman, is preparing to conquer the United States on its first tour in 15 years. File it in “Better Late Than Never” category. Here, Patman discusses the band’s early years, why they got back together, and what they did during Chapterhouse’s 17-year break.
You started out as Incest, and then changed your name to Chapterhouse. What prompted the name change? Where did you come up with Chapterhouse?
Way back at the beginning when we were just banging out Stooges and 60’s psych covers, someone stuck their head around the door of the studio and offered us our first gig, so we needed a name fast. The alternative scene in Reading was very small, so Incest stemmed from how just about everyone had dated everyone else. We played a couple of gigs as Incest, but it sounded too much like a death-metal band so we needed to change it.
Chapterhouse came from an appendix to The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley called “Heaven and Hell,” which explores different routes civilization has taken in obtaining similar effects to his mescaline experiments but without drugs. He suggests that the ornate gothic architecture of the Chapterhouse at Southwell Minster is capable of inducing a transcendental experience purely by looking at it. We had access to things a little more potent than an ornate building at the time but liked the way that is was similar to what we were trying to do with our music. There were a few names flying around at the time, and that one just stuck for some reason.
You then had a taste of rock stardom. Did you appreciate it at the time?
I think it was a bit of both. We really appreciated the great experiences we had through that time but also maybe took them a little for granted. I wish we had more photos from that time, because I can’t remember much about it. The bits I do remember were great fun, though.
What happened to Blood Music?
We were recording an instrumental for Blood Music called “Deli” at the studio of producer Youth (from Killing Joke) in Brixton. An American poet friend of Youth’s had recorded some of his poems at the studio, and the guy we were working with on the track pulled a tape out and suggested we put some of this recording into the mix. He assured us that the guy would be cool about this, but as it turned out he was not. There were further issues that he had with Youth and, basically, he used this situation to get back at Youth, and we were caught in the crossfire. Somehow the guy got legal aid, and halfway through our last American tour we received a lawsuit that informed us that Blood Music had to be withdrawn from the record stores. SonyBMG/Arista, or whatever they are called now, pulled the plug on the album and effectively said “Let’s forget this one; go write another.”
The band broke up, but not in the traditional, throwing-things-out-the-window way. What happened?
I think my previous answer sets the scene. The label had spent a lot of money on Blood Music and wanted it back. We continued to write material for a third album but wanted to return to our original remit as the production had taken things down a route that we were not happy with. The label wanted a top-20 hit, and that was never what we were about. We wrote a lot of material, but they would not release it while simultaneously refusing to drop us from the deal. After a certain period of time all the joy had gone from what we set out to do, and we felt the only way to end it was to break up and go our separate ways.
What have you been doing in the intervening years?
Simon joined the Slowdive spin off Mojave 3 (he recently did some shows with them on a mini reunion of their own), Andy went on to make dance music with Bio.com, Ashley put together his band Cuba, and I went into music production. For the last 10 years Andy, Ashley and I have been composing music and doing sound design for TV and film. Russ is working with Sundial and Ashley has been playing with Tunng for the last five years.
Why did you decide that it was time to get the band back together?
We’ve been asked to reform numerous times over the years but never really took it seriously. It was always something that we planed to just leave in our past. We’ve remained good friends, so nothing has stood in our way, but we had no imminent drive to do it. The initial spark came when Ulrich Schnauss did a cover of our song “Love Forever” and asked Andy and me if we would like to contribute to it. We did some vocals and guitar for the track, and it came out on a Sonic Cathedral compilation.
A few months later, Sonic Cathedral were curating a stage at Truck Festival in Oxfordshire and asked if the two of us would like to join Ulrich on stage at the end of the night to perform the cover live. Since it didn’t really involve a lot of work to get one song together, we asked Simon to join us and did the gig. This gave us a little insight that it was quite fun to play together again, but we took it no further. Then last year we were approached by Club AC30 (a record label and club that specializes in what is now termed “nugaze”), who asked us to play their yearly three-day mini-festival Reverence in London. We explained to the Club AC30 guys at the time that it was not worth all our time and effort to get back into shape again for just one show and we would only bother if they could put together a tour of North America and Japan. This is all about the fun of playing together again so we have just put together things that we will enjoy and will be a cool experience.
Was it difficult to get back into “band shape”?
One thing we decided before agreeing to do this was to go into a room and rehearse to check that we wouldn’t just be going through the motions. Within minutes, it was like riding a bike. It all came straight back to us, along with the fun, which was the whole point in the first place.
How has Chapterhouse evolved over the last 17 years?
We have all continued to work in music since the band split, so we have another 17 years of experience to add to the pot. We’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to readdress some the songs we weren’t happy with the production of on the records. Our later stuff got a bit overblown with technology and we decided to strip things back and approach the songs in a more straightforward “band kicking some ass” kind of way. We’ve also had the ability to cherry pick our favorite songs and do them some justice. I think people will be surprised at which songs we have chosen, as we always preferred our B-sides and less “radio friendly” material. We don’t have the pressures of trying to sell anything, so we have the freedom to do what the fuck we like. We think we are better than we’ve ever been live and feedback from the shows has backed that up.
What kind of reception are you expecting in the United States?
The old fans that are still into us could not be more enthusiastic, and we have been freaked out by how many new young fans have sought us out and are raving about us coming over. Music works on a cycle and in the same way as when we were teenagers listening to the Velvet Underground and the Stooges after hearing the Jesus and Mary Chain and Echo and the Bunnymen, the same is happening now. These gigs are going to be a gas.
If someone unfamiliar your band is interested in checking out your show, what is a good way to prepare?
The first thing to do would be to check out the films of our recent shows on our website. If they have never heard us, then they should check out our album Whirlpool and the EP’s and B-sides of that time period. They are all on the Cherry Red re-issue of Whirlpool.
Are there any long-lost Chapterhouse tapes in existence that one day might see the light of day?
There are quite a few things that we have been planning to put out on a rarities CD at some point. Once the tour is over we are going to go through some of it and are considering combining this with the Blu-ray. We might even go back to some of the mixes we didn’t like the production on and bring them up to how we feel they should have sounded in the first place.
Is there any chance this reunion is going to be more long-term?
We have no plans of reforming permanently. This really is a one-off deal, and it’s all about the live shows. We are putting out a live Blueray of some of these shows early next year and plan to write some instrumental pieces to use throughout the film, but that is the extent of our plans for anything beyond this tour.