A Spearmint Biography

1995

• Shirley Lee (lead vocals, guitar) and Simon Calnan (keyboards, vocals) form Spearmint with Ronan Larvor (drums) & Martin Talbot (bass) out of the wreckage of their early 90’s band Laverne & Shirley. After previous frustrating involvements with record & publishing companies, Spearmint vow their intention to release records on their own hitBACK label, and to do what they want to do regardless of industry or media interest.
• All sporting moustaches, they play their first gig on 24 March at the Venue in New Cross London, supporting BMX Bandits.
• They quickly put out a run of 500 white label 7" singles featuring “Somebody”. This rollercoaster song features an unauthorised Beatles sample, and is enough to attract a manager and a distribution deal for future releases from Vital.
• Martin leaves and James Parsons joins on bass following ads in Melody Maker. The band play more gigs in South London. The moustaches hit the bathroom floor.

1996

• 'Goldmine' is recorded in Escapade in Greenwich. Shirley & Ronan transport the song from Greenwich to Muswell Hill in perilous conditions one snowy February night where producer JB is tempted into providing a screaming full-on final mix. James does the artwork for this and all subsequent Spearmint releases.
• “Goldmine” is released on 1000 7”s on 17 June. The song is manic, wide-eyed and full of passion, kicking off their live sets like a bomb. Mark Radcliffe plays it on Radio 1. A glowing review follows in Melody Maker.
• The band graduate to playing in Camden – a regular gigs rotate between The Falcon, Monarch & Dublin Castle – by the end of the year they are known as “a Camden band”

1997

• Spearmint record their next single “A Week Away” with JB at Blackwing in Waterloo
• Record companies begin to express interest and this delays release – the band get frustrated, come to their senses and insist it comes out on hitBACK (remembering their initial pact). Steve Lamacq plays it on Radio 1. Gary Crowley claims it makes him “lift off his chair”
• The band quickly record their first CD single “I Can’t Sleep”, do their first GLR radio sessions, and immediately return to the studio, again with JB - this time at Fortress in London, to record “Sweeping The Nation”
• “Sweeping The Nation” is released on 17 November. XFM, who have just won their full-time license take the song to their hearts and play it every hour for 6 weeks! GLR follow suit; Mark & Lard make it Record Of The Week on their new Radio 1 afternoon show.
• On 3 December, the band play Water Rats in Kings Cross & suddenly the place is rammed - the gig is described by Melody Maker as "everything that makes pop music special".
• On 16 December the band venture as far as Newport in Wales – their first gig out of London.

1998

• Determined to keep the singles coming, the band record “A Trip Into Space” featuring a loop from “Let Me Down Easy” by Rare Pleasure. The song had originally been demoed by Simon & Shirley in Laverne & Shirley in 1991. The band tour Britain and “A Trip Into Space” is released on 20 April. Again it gets blanket airplay in London and makes the Radio 1 C list. The band play at the Reading Festival.
• 3 months later David Morales lifts the same sample and releases “Needin U” – effectively an instrumental version of the Spearmint tune. This gets into the Top 10 and is the Number 1 airplay hit of the year.
• Copies of the band’s singles make their way to Rough Trade in Tokyo and there is sudden demand for an album in Japan. “Songs For The Colour Yellow” is born – featuring all the tracks so far which are NOT destined to appear on the debut album proper. Initially this is just released in Japan, but Rough Trade encourage the band to put it out in Britain.
• Some punters are confused by the absence of the “Sweeping The Nation” & “A Trip Into Space” from this album. NME, Time Out & Melody Maker enthuse, calling it “almost perfect”.
• To celebrate, the band play their first gigs outside Britain at The Paradiso in Amsterdam, where the Dutch press pick them out as the highlight of the “London Calling” weekend. They end the year by supporting Blondie in the UK.

1999

• In January the band finally get down to recording their debut album. It is called “A Week Away” and it is Shirley’s intention that is the perfect Pop record, tackling all aspects of someone’s life on Earth in an uplifting, life-affirming way. Songs are chosen from the first 4 years of writing with a couple dating back even longer, to Laverne & Shirley days. It is dedicated to original bassist Martin Talbot, who tragically died over Christmas.
• The band tour Holland. James persuades Shirley that the band should also have a second guitarist – Dickon Edwards joins, following the split of his Romo duo Orlando.
• Spearmint play in Japan. They get chased down the street by girls and attend a club-night at Pop It! that just plays Spearmint records and videos – they are wined & dined with Japanese film stars, and interviewed for TV - the whole experience is surreal and emotional – they have the time of their lives.
• “A Week Away” is released throughout Europe and Japan, and receives a mountain of glowing reviews from Q, Mojo, Select, NME & Time Out. 'Sweeping The Nation' is re-released, again dominates the London airwaves and is again Mark & Lard’s Single Of The Week.
• On 16 October Spearmint play a triumphant show at Scalarama in London. They tour Britain & France and end the year with a gig in Stockholm at the party for the closure of “Pop” magazine and a triumphant second trip to Japan.

2000

• Spearmint release a Stephen Hague remix of 'We're Going Out' and the tiny hitBACK machine is able to fund a wonderful day-glo video co-starring honorary band-member Samanthi. The single gets to #87 in the UK Charts.
• The band decide that their next major project is to be a full-length love-story album. They begin writing this, and realise that it will take a while to get together. As it took 4 years to get their debut album out, they decide to keep the ball rolling by quickly recording and releasing a mini-album set at Christmas in a fictional Northern town: “Oklahoma!” is born - this is recorded in a scorching week in May at Chapel studios in Lincolnshire.
• In April Dickon leaves to form his own band Fosca, and Locomotion / Blow Up DJ Andy Lewis joins on bass. Andy is a long-time fan of the band and the band are long-time fans of Andy. James moves from bass to guitar (which is what he always wanted really).
• The band premier the album at the frighteningly over-crowded Glastonbury Festival and it is released on 2 October with beautiful artwork on CD & across 3 white-vinyl 7”s. Some punters are confused at the apparent “slight” nature of this follow-up to the mighty “A Week Away. The NME praised the band’s refusal to pander to the current trends and The Guardian salutes the “undefinable magic” of the record.
• Spearmint tour Germany, Sweden, UK and Japan and end the year with a special Christmas show at The Wag in London.

2001

• Spearmint complete the writing of their love-story album and record at Matt Johnson’s Garden studio with producer Pete Hofmann
• “A Different Lifetime” is released on 20 August. In the words of Uncut Magazine: “The concept album's back: this time it's personal. Spearmint's second album proper is a flowering, a joy to behold. The "fun" indie-poppers have carried off an extraordinarily ambitious concept, their very own Umbrellas of Cherbourg or End Of The Affair. Fifteen songs chart the rise and fall of a romance, from early tentative tactical manoeuvres, through sweet surrender, to doubt and demise and an ultimate coming to terms. It has the courage to accept that love is finite, and to try to deal with that. All this with Bacharach-sweet tunes, a cameo set at a Flaming Lips gig, a homage to the joys of Scottish pop and an epic, string-sodden title track. Plus the sound of waves crashing on the shore. Any justice and it's album of the year.” Hitback ****1/2
• Uncut and several European magazines make it one of their albums of the year.

2002

• Spearmint tour a large part of the world promoting “A Different Lifetime”, ending with a three night residency at London’s Borderline – the band play completely different sets each night, with the third show being chosen by the fans via www.spearmint.net.
• Finally the opportunity arises for Spearmint to achieve a long-held ambition - to release records by other artists on their own hitBACK label. This arrives in the shape of Rhodri Marsden’s fantastic band the Free French, who release 2 singles and an album, swiftly followed by HOST whose debut single “Mean Streak” takes the hitBACK roster to 3 acts!
• For the first time since 1995, the band have no definite idea of what their next project will be. They drop out of view & spend the rest of 2002 writing the third album.

2003

• Spearmint record a tune for the Pavement tribute album “Everything Is Ending Here” – their original song “This Is A Souvenir” opens the collection and is followed by 35 other bands doing Pavement cover versions.
• The band record “The Last Bus Home” EP for Spanish label Primeros Pasitos.
• Impressed with Rhodri Marsden’s production on the Free French album, the new album is recorded with Rhodri & Andy Lewis producing – the result is their third and best album to date: “My Missing Days”.
• The album has all the vital Pop of “A Week Away” and the emotional depth of “A Different Lifetime”. It is packed full of girl / boy duets, Northern Soul energy, brilliant tunes, haunting instrumentals, some of the best lyrics you’ll ever hear, spoken pieces, ace guitars and saw playing.
• It is also the first album in history where the songs take you through a backwards narrative – starting at the end and ending at the beginning. The songs are about values, possessions, figuring out what matters in this world - songs about what you’d do in a given situation.
• “My Missing Days” is released on 18 August, followed in September by single “Left Alone Among The Living”.
• The band plan their best live shows ever and a London hitBACK Festival from August onwards…