Like most bands formed by former music journalists, Saint Etienne
was a highly conceptual group. The trio's concept was to fuse
the British pop sounds of '60s London withthe dance club rhythms
and productions that defined the post-acid house England of
the early '90s. Led by songwriters Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs,
and fronted by vocalist
Sarah Cracknell, the group managed to carry out their concept,
and, in the process, they helped make indie dance a viable genre
within the U.K.
Throughout the early '90s,Saint Etienne racked up a string of
indie hit singles that were driven by deep club beats -- encompassing
anything from house and techno to hip-hop and disco -- and layered
with light melodies, detailed productions, clever lyrics, and
Cracknell's breathy vocals. They revived the sounds of swinging
London, as well as the concept of the three-minute pop single
being a catchy, ephemeral piece of ear candy, in post-acid house
Britain, thereby setting the stage for Brit-pop. Though most
Brit-pop bands rejected the dance inclinations of Saint Etienne,
they nevertheless adopted the trio's aesthetic, which celebrated
the sound and style of classic '60s pop.
With their latest release (released in the US on legendary label
Savoy Jazz), Tales From Turnpike House, Saint Etienne present
a concept album reflecting the dramas and joys of the inhabitants
of a tower block apartment on the outskirts of London. Call
it “A Day In The Life” revisited, the fourteen tracks
(three of which are brand new for the US release), explore many
moods, all of which resonate with the effortless pop sensibility
and smart groove that Saint Etienne are revered for.
Saint Etienne have taken London by storm both with the release
of Turnpike House and an incredible film project titled, “What
Have You Done Today Mervyn Day?”—their second collaboration
with director Paul Kelly. It’s a modern day fable told
through the eyes of the young character Mervyn and set in the
East London industrial neighborhoods (soon to be razed to make
way for the Olympic games…). St. Etienne performed and
screened the film live at the historic Barbican Theater in October
to a sold out audience. Rave reviews included the London Independent
which noted: “a triumphant cross-media performance…potently
evocative. Saint Etienne are again a force to be reckoned with.”
The origins of Saint Etienne date back to the early '80s, when
childhood friends Bob Stanley (b. December 25, 1964) and Pete
Wiggs (b. May 15, 1966) began making party tapes together in
their hometown of Croydon, Surrey, England. After completing
school, the pair began worked various jobs -- most notably,
Stanley was a music journalist --before deciding to concentrate
on a musical career in 1988. Adopting the name Saint Etienne
from the French football team of the same name, the duo moved
to Camden,where they began recording. By the beginning of 1990,
the group had signed a record contract with the indie label
Heavenly. In the spring of 1990, Saint Etienne released their
first single, a house-tinged cover of Neil Young's "Only
Love Can Break Your Heart," which featured lead vocals
from Moira Lambert of the indie pop band Faith Over Reason."Only
Love Can Break Your Heart" became an underground hit, receiving
a fair amount of airplay within nightclubs across England.
Later in the year, Saint Etienne released their second single,
a cover of the indie pop group Field Mice's "Kiss and Make
Up," which was sung by Donna Savage of the New Zealand
band Dead Famous People. Like its predecessor, "Kiss and
Make Up" was an underground hit, helping set the stage
for "Nothing Can Stop Us."
Released in the spring of 1991, "Nothing Can Stop Us"
was the first Saint Etienne single sung by Sarah Cracknell (b.
April 12, 1967), whose girlish vocals became a signature of
the group's sound. Cracknell was the main vocalist on the band's
debut Fox Base Alpha, which was released in the fall of 1991.
Following the release of Fox Base Alpha, Cracknell officially
became a member of Saint Etienne; she had previously sung in
"Only Love Can Break Your Heart" was re-released in
conjunction with Fox Base Alpha and cracked the lower end of
the British pop charts. Saint Etienne was beginning togain momentum,
as the British press generally gave them positive reviews and
their records were gaining a strong fan base not only in England,
but throughout Europe.
During 1992, the group released a series of singles -- "Join
Our Club," "People Get Real," and "Avenue"
-- which maintained their popularity. In addition to writing
and recording music for Saint Etienne, Stanley and Wiggs became
active producers, songwriters, remixers, and label heads as
well. In 1989, Stanley had founded Caff Records, which issued
limited-edition 7" singles of bands as diverse as Pulp
and the Manic Street Preachers, as well as a number of other
lesser-known bands like World of Twist.
In 1992, Stanley and Wiggs founded Ice Rink, which intended
to put out records by pop groups, not rock groups. The label
released singles from several artists -- including Oval, Sensurround,
Elizabeth City Slate, and Golden, which featured Stanley's girlfriend,
Celina -- none of which gained much attention.
Preceded by the single "You're in a Bad Way," Saint
Etienne's second album So Tough appeared in the spring of 1993
to generally positive reviews and increased sales. Over the
course of 1993, the group released three more singles -- "Who
Do You Think You Are," "Hobart Paving," and "I
Was Born on Christmas Day" -- which all charted well.
In 1994, the trio released their third album, Tiger Bay. Singles
like "Like a Motorway" continued to chart well. After
completing a new track, "He's on the Phone," for their
1995 singles compilation, Too Young to Die, as well as the French-only
single "Reserection," Saint Etienne took an extended
break during 1996.
Sarah Cracknell pursued a solo project, releasing a single titled
"Anymore" in the fall of the year. Bob Stanley and
Pete Wiggs began a record label for EMI Records, which had the
intention of releasing music from young, developing bands. In
the fall of 1996, Saint Etienne released a remix album, Casino
Classics; a new studio effort, Good Humour, followed two years
later, and the trio returned in 1999 with an EP, Places to Visit.
The full-length Sound of Water appeared in mid-2000, featuring
guest appearances by Sean O'Hagan (of the High Llamas) and To
Rococo Rot. After a successful U.S. tour in support of Sound
of Water the group issued Interlude, a collection of new tracks,
instrumentals, and B-sides, in early 2001. A year later, the
trio followed up with Finisterre for Mantra.