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Brinkman are the antithesis of the overnight sensation syndrome that hypes bands who are barely out of the rehearsal room, only to see them fade back into obscurity when the next flavour of the month turns up.
Despite only being in their mid-20s, Brinkman have lived a bit. Singer-songwriter and guitarist Paul Cook and drummer Neil Kerly have been in bands together for ten years, while drifting through a succession of McJobs as shelf-stackers and electricians mates. It’s fair to say they’ve paid their dues, and it’s paid dividends in the form of Brinkman, and a collection of songs that are witty, warm, and tuneful in equal measure. These songs also revive a quintessentially British guitar pop lineage that has laid somewhat dormant for the best part of a decade.
Call it Britpop if you must, but Paul Cook’s songs are timeless enough to echo Ray Davies’ pithy social commentaries while also contemporary enough to put a very modern spin on single life in a fussy, dysfunctional 21st century.
“The Beatles are really the ultimate role model, in terms of songwriting,” says Paul, never a man to set his sights too low. “Then I see us in the tradition of The Kinks, The La’s and Teenage Fanclub - I feel like we’re a chronological progression."
“People have also mentioned Squeeze,” says Neil, “which is a name you don’t hear mentioned so much these days, but I think it deserves to be.”
This clear musical vision is the result of formative years growing up in the mid ‘90s, when British music was enjoying an indian summer of creativity. “Britpop was a real explosion for me,” says Paul. “I was probably a bigger Oasis fan at the time, but listening back now to Parklife by Blur, it’s just an immense album, it’s almost like a concept album in a way, 18 great songs, with a strong British theme running through them. I’m not saying we don’t like American music but I like to tap into those images of Englishness summed up in those kind of songs.”
You can see that influence in Brinkman’s gently elegant guitar pop style, and their plainspoken, slightly self-deprecating lyrics, laced with dry humour.
‘Carol Simpson’ is a wry third-person vignette about a woman whose life is in a mess, immediately reminiscent of Village Green-era Kinks, while ‘A Real Thunderbolt’ is the kind of song it takes a brave man to sing - a disarmingly honest, slightly knock-kneed plea for Ms. Right to turn up, all be it with specifications such as “Someone who has good taste in cinema.” It was this kind of off-kilter charm that got Paul’s songs a publishing deal two years ago, just as Brinkman completed their line-up and bassist Tom Brown answered an ad in NME and moved from Bournemouth to join the Ealing-based duo. They then got a manager who immediately sent them on tour. “When we came back we were just on fire - that was our equivalent of a ‘Hamburg period’,” reckons Tom. Marsha Shandur from XFM saw a show in London soon after, and raved to anyone who would listen: “This is the fourth time I’ve seen them, even for me, that’s excessive for a new band. But each time they have not failed to amaze me. They can only be huge. So tuneful, so BIG sounding, just amazing. You have to at least listen to them now, so that you can feel just a little smug when they’re massive,” she said following a recent show at London’s Borderline.
In August 2006 the band signed to EMI Records. “We told them that we wanted to be on the His Masters Voice label,” says Neil, “and amazingly they’ve resurrected it, like they did for Morrissey when he first went solo.”
“We might not be able to use the logo with the dog listening to the gramophone, though,” says Tom, “so we were thinking that if we couldn’t have that, then we’d have a duck listening to an iPod or something.”
Probably the most common lyrical theme of Brinkman’s songs is Paul Cook’s continuing status as a romantic disaster area. ‘Curse Of The Girlfriend’ and ‘Single Life’ seem to take the view that he’s better off alone, yet ‘Pillow’, bemoans our hero’s lack of romantic companionship. The truth is somewhere in-between, Paul admits.
“People have said I like being single and having lots of short relationships, and I suppose there’s an element of truth in that. I prefer if things are not going right because it makes it easier to write about.” Yeah, there’s nothing like a few break-ups and make-ups to get the creative juices flowing.
While their attitude to such subjects is typically modest, understated and British, it’s Paul’s unrequited love for an unattainable American that provides the subject matter for ‘Kirsten Dunst’, their debut, limited-edition release on Club Fandango.
“When you’re on screen I start to dream, but it soon turns into scandal,” coos Paul. Make of that what you will, but all things considered, maybe it’s best that Ms. Dunst remains a fantasy figure, rather than a real romantic prospect.
“Yeah, we’ve talked about how difficult it could be if I actually did get to go out with Kirsten Dunst,” grins Paul. “One of my friends said to me, ‘what if you went out with her for a couple of weeks and then you decided you weren’t that keen on her? What happens if she goes back to the States and says ‘Fucking Brinkman, bunch of wankers’, slagging you off to her powerful Hollywood mates?’”
“And what if she came to a gig and fancied me or Neil?” asks Tom. “That would be a laugh...”
Oh well, dream on, although he might just get another good song out of it...