Postcards from the UK

Another wonderful post from our dear friend Dan Holloway.  Do enjoy.

From the Merlot monologues to his online reinvention of the surrealist gameshow Mornington Crescent, Charlie Cooke, aka @charlieatlantic, is the funniest man on twitter. He’s also the frontman of InLight (with guitarist Mike, bass Johnny, and drums Pete) “the best unsigned band in Britain” (according to the leading Indie site This Reality Podcast). So I was delighted when he spared an evening to chat to me in the idyllic environs of Oxford’s Queen’s Lane Coffee House.

The oldest coffee shop in this historic university city might seem like an unlikely place to hang out with one of the bright young things of the Indie music scene, but with his molasses smooth voice and cheeky humour, Charlie fits both worlds perfectly. As does InLight’s music. Which is why it makes sense that the band’s music is about to hit a wider audience courtesy of the film adaptation of Oxford author Phillip “His Dark Materials” Pulman’s novel The Butterfly Tattoo. The band’s song “Bridges” features not only in the film but on the soundtrack. “We saw an advert on MySpace for tracks that might suit the film,” Charlie explains. “We sent the producers Bridges, and they said yes.”

Exactly why InLight’s music has such a wide appeal is clear when I push Charlie on their influences. I ask him about “Disappear”, the track the band has just been working on, a song whose haunting lyrics and compelling hook remind me strangely of the writing of Haruki Murakami; a song I love so much I made it the star of a chapter in my current novel. “It probably doesn’t make any sense,” says Charlie, with his self-effacing charm, “but I was listening to Chopin, and I thought ‘I wonder how this would sound if it was done discobeat’.” It actually makes perfect sense, and it’s that range of influences that makes InLight’s music so interesting.

Charlie advertises himself on his twitter profile (he is so obsessed with the microblogging site the band has taken to teasing him about it during their sets) as a Beatles maniac. And that certainly comes through in our conversation (we talk for a while about what constitutes a band’s voice and he enthuses about the differences and similarities between Sergeant Pepper and Rubber soul; we talk about playing festivals by day or pubs by night and he exclaims it’s impossible to imagine Eleanor Rigby played live in the daylight).

But what also comes through is the depth of the influence on his songwriting. Charlie’s grandfather, and his great grandfather were both concert pianists. “I grew up with that kind of music, so I’ve always been interested in music that’s about melody and orchestration.” That’s what explains the richness of the band’s sound, the repeated listening it stands up to. I point out this shows in their gigs, that he’s more at home playing keyboard than guitar. “You noticed,” he smiles, elaborating, “I play guitar because I’m in a band. I play keyboard because I love it.”

I first came across InLight when they supported The Boxer Rebellion at Oxford’s Bullingdon Arms. I loved their music, but I also loved their approach. “If you buy our CD,” they said, “we’ll draw you a customised cover for it.” What a wonderful idea, I thought, especially as I’d just started writing a book about iconic images and modern art. So I ordered a copy of their postcards CD (which they will happily ship, with hand-drawn cover, to the US), which duly arrived with a hand-drawn cover based on my book’s central image. What made them come up with such a great idea? Is one of the band an artist “We didn’t really know what to put on the cover,” Charlie laughs, “So Mike said why not draw them as the orders come in. Besides, it’s cheaper than getting a load printed.” Strange how romantic ideas can have such prosaic origins.

Eventually I broach the big question. The UK’s best unsigned band. Indie gods. Would InLight ever consider a label if the opportunity arose? I wait for the agonising and the despair at giving away freedom for the sake of paying the rent. “I’d love to be on Parlophone,” Charlie answers in a flash. “No, it’s more than that. I’ve always dreamed of being on Parlophone. The first record I ever played was one of my dad’s. I remember watching the Parlophone logo spinning round and round, and thinking one day…”

It’s a refreshing honesty. “Going it alone suits some bands,” he says. “But I think our sound suits the studio production values you get with a label.” It’s the same honesty he has about the band’s music. The breadth of influence, the classical overtones, and the fact I’d spent the afternoon listening to Pure Reason Revolution, lead me to ask the inevitable. Has the band ever thought about doing something a bit proggy? “Well I like Pink Floyd,” says Charlie. But that’s as far as it goes. “Our music’s commercial. It’s what suits us, and what we do best.”

And that sums up InLight more than anything else. This is a band that knows what it wants to do, and is happy doing it. And as long as they keep knocking out beautifully crafted, brilliantly orchestrated 4 minute masterpieces like Icarus and Disappear, it can’t be too long till the telephone rings.


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