❉ Jane Savidge on her new book looking back at Suede, their album Coming Up and other adventures from that remarkable period.
In 2019 Jawbone Press published Lunch with the Wild Frontiers, Jane Savidge’s ripping memoir of life in a leading music PR firm at the beating heart of the Britpop era. Happily, there’s now equally entertaining follow-up – but this time Savidge shifts the focus specifically onto being a key part of the Suede camp when their pivotal 1996 album Coming Up was released. It’s a proper eye-opener and no mistake. Here, Savidge talks to We Are Cult about looking back at that remarkable period for the writing of the new book.
Having written Lunch with the Wild Frontiers, when did you decide that your second book would be about Suede? Were any other bands / ideas ever in serious contention? (In our previous WAC interview you mentioned a potential follow-up called Dinner with the Wild Frontiers…)
Ah yes, Dinner With The Wild Frontiers – that’s still mooted to be the title of the third and final part of the trilogy. But to answer your question – at the tail end of 2020, I got a call from film director Mike Christie who was making a film about Coming Up for Sky Arts’ Classic Albums and asking if could be in it. It was at that point that I started listening to the record again on repeat and I knew I had found a way to write the follow-up to Lunch With The Wild Frontiers, a book that would feature more stories from that period, but ones that would have Suede at their centre.
The book is not a biography of Suede at all – it’s subtitled Suede, Coming Up and more adventures beyond the WILD FRONTIERS and that’s an indication that it’s going to have more stories from around that period, like the ones in the first book.
And other bands/ideas? Well, I could write about REM or the Manics as I love them to bits, but I know the Suede story intimately so it had to be them. I did think about making Dog Man Star the subject matter, but I would have had a nervous breakdown and the band would have had a breakdown speaking to me about it.
Several books have been written about Suede now – Brett’s memoirs, David Barnett’s band biography Love & Poison… Did you feel strongly that there was still another side of the story left to tell? And were you always clear that it was the Coming Up era in particular that would provide that story?
I always wanted to write a book about an album and I had some more sketched-out stories with Suede in that I wanted to put down in a new book – the insane party at Taxi’s apartment in Paris after Richard’s first ever live Suede show, the Brad Branson/George Michael story, ridiculous conversations we used to have at photo sessions, the gigs around Dog Man Star and Coming Up. So the trick was to weave them all in amongst the story of the greatest comeback of all-time – far more important than Man United coming back to beat Bayern Munich in the Camp Nou in 1999 or Liverpool coming back to beat AC Milan in Istanbul in 2005.
Although, having said that, the book is quite definitely about what really happened after Bernard left and the band were written off. You have to remember that after the split and Richard joined, Suede had to tour Dog Man Star for nine months just so people didn’t just think that was it. So they were performing a record that they had stopped caring about. And within that two-year period between the split/DMS and Coming Up, Pulp suddenly became massive, Oasis were even bigger and Blur started selling 40,000 copies of Parklife. Suede were, at best, fourth in the queue.
And then they released Trash.
Was this always a happy time of your life to revisit? Were all the memories that it stirred up comfortable ones?
The period around Coming Up was a happy/sad/scary time for me. I’ll start with scary – cos everyone close to the band felt up against it, and I saw their dreams fading away. So imagine what the band themselves thought! Sad, cos I was splitting up with someone, and Savage and Best were falling out with the Verve just as they were about to become enormous. And happy because Coming Up became a huge success and I could breathe a sigh of relief again. And that was all enriched by working with Pulp and Elastica and Ultrasound whilst they were just making amazing music.
You’ve said before that you admire Suede’s playful approach to gender – ‘we are a boy, we are a girl’, etc. Can you elaborate on that?
The two snippets of lyrics that leapt out to me when I first heard them were ‘We kissed in his room to a popular tune’ (The Drowners). I remember thinking ‘Who is Brett kissing here? Is he kissing a girl in her boyfriend’s room? And just what gender is Brett in this scenario?’ which is what everyone thinks when they hear this song.
And the other one came from when I saw them live very early on and Brett sang ‘Have you ever tried it that way?’ in Pantomime Horse. In the new book I suggest that ‘this lyric is so cleverly nuanced as to be completely innocuous in nature as it could just as easily be referring to a hot bath full of ice-cream chocolate as the more disorderly nature of some sexual practice it is asking us to contemplate.’ So I guess it’s the ambiguity that attracts me. Or at least, I know what they’re doing and I’m along for the ride anyway.
A couple of months before Suede released their first single – we only had hold of a four-track demo at the time – Brett wrote a letter to Savage and Best, and said ‘the sexual thing is very important but …these sentiments are intended to be comical and beautiful as well as dark.’ So that says it all, really.
Obviously, you can’t tell them, but… are there stories from that Coming Up era you simply couldn’t include in the book (for legal / decency reasons)?
Most of the stories I tell have some kind of humorous element – I like to think of the genre I am writing in as humorous autobiographical fiction (!). But there are some stories from that era that I just can’t find the humour in, drug episodes going horribly wrong etc, so I don’t write about them.
I did say something in the first book about Andrew Lloyd Webber which I took out cos I was advised it was libellous and I said something rude about Elton John in the new book which I took out cos it felt unnecessarily, er, rude, but other than that I tend to write what I want and just see what happens.
Do you think Suede get the acclaim and respect they deserve these days? If not, why not?
No, they don’t. I mean, they play Ally Pally and when they came back in 2010 they played the O2, but that’s not Oasis or Blur territory, is it? But maybe I am talking about commercial success and not acclaim or respect? So, they are absolutely respected and acclaimed for what they are and what they did and they have the most ardent fans of pretty much any band I know – but, perhaps Suede were never meant to be the biggest band in the world. They are too arty and left-field for all that.
I actually close the book with a fake business article about Suede and their record sales and I have Brett quoted as saying (as part of the fake article), ‘Total cash costs for the Suede Group have fallen since 1994 and Suede is now taking further action to deliver further efficiencies in 1996.’ And then I suggest that if you substitute the word Suede from the article with .. well, another band’s name that I am not going to tell you. You’re going to have to buy the book. Or read the last page in your nearest bookshop before hurling the book across the room.
Do you still listen to Coming Up regularly? How does it make you feel when you do?
I was listening to it three times a day when I was writing the book but now I only listen to it once every three weeks or so. Trash and She still make me feel exhilarated, Saturday Night makes me swoon and Lazy still makes me infuriated – but I can’t stop playing it. And I don’t listen to The Chemistry Between Us any more cos it is my favourite song on the album.
❉ Jane Savidge’s book ‘Here They Come With Their Make-Up On: Suede, Coming Up . . . And More Adventures Beyond The Wild Frontiers’ is published 12 April 2022 by Jawbone Press, RRP £14.95/$24.95. ISBN 978-1-911036-89-0. eBook edition available via Kindle and Apple Books.
❉ Andy Murray is Film Editor for Northern Soul and a regular contributor to We Are Cult. He’s also the author of the Nigel Kneale biography Into the Unknown and co-author (with Dr Mark Aldridge) of the Russell T Davies biography T is for Television. He’s not the tennis guy, obviously. But he did once receive a publicity photograph of him to sign by mistake.