If you mention the name Thousand Yard Stare to anybody these days they’re likely to ask "Thousand Yard Who?" in return. Pretty much the same as it was in 1992 then. So much so that the band themselves issued a t-shirt bearing the inscription ‘THOUSAND YARD WHO?’ in bold cream print across the front, an artefact that probably sold in larger quantities than any of the band’s subsequent releases.
Thousand Yard Stare were one of those bands that didn’t really fit into any scene or genre. Arriving in early 1990 from the idyllic rural surroundings of Berkshire and naming themselves after the vacant look of fear attributed to Vietnam war veterans, maybe the odds were stacked against them becoming famous from the start. TYS were just too clean cut to be part of the Midlands-based grebo army led by The Wonder Stuff and co., too southerly based to become involved with James’ celebratory middle Englishness – although musically they were their closest allies, and too goddamn tuneful to be thrust into the home counties' shoegazing scene.
The five of them – vocalist Stephen Barnes, guitarists Giles Duffy & Kevin Moxon, bass player Sean McDonough and drummer Dominic Bostock, formed the band whilst still at school and within two years had found themselves thrust into the media spotlight.
And yet at the start of 1992 even the world’s oyster was wearing a baggy TYS t-shirt. They’d released three critically acclaimed singles on their own Stifled Aardvark label, spent two years touring their arses off around every corner of the UK, culminating in them being second on the bill to Ride and several places above Blur at that year’s Slough Music Festival. They had also recently inked a deal with Polydor Records, while new single ‘Comeuppance’ was in the national midweek top 30 and debut album Hands On looked set to follow suit. Even the Melody Maker had just given them their first front cover. Success at last then? Err, no…actually.
Rumour had it that one of them was seeing a well-known journalist at the time and dumped her shortly after the MM cover shot. Maybe Stephen, Giles, Dominic, Sean and Kevin weren’t the sort of names you’d want to give budding rock’n’roll stars? Or maybe their opulent conservatism said something to all of us about how dull and insecure our lives really are? Nothing like a few home truths to hurt the industry parasites then…
Because I dare anyone not to get a lump in their throat listening to the album’s opening track ‘0-0 after extra time’, a song which writes the book on football metaphors, yet manages to cast them in the light of a broken relationship amidst a myriad of jangling guitars. Or the unbridled optimism of ‘Thisness’, which probably epitomises the band’s approach to the (then) impending reality of fame, as the opening line of the second verse simply states, "Big cars and loud guitars do not impress me." And if Polydor wanted to break the band across the Atlantic, TYS had other ideas. ‘Cottager’ quite simply sums up their nonchalant approach to all things stars’n’striped as the chorus goes "Sorry if I spoiled your American dream, don’t want to drown in your river, want to wallow in my stream."
‘Seasonstream’ and ‘Absentee’ meanwhile take the tempo down a notch or two, the latter’s wistful opening line ("In the absence of better things, take what you’ve got and see what wealth it brings") sadly echoing the pedestrian stature of their career.
At the time Hands On received reasonable reviews, but for a media more concerned with the onslaught of grunge and the re-incarnation of Blur, TYS’ colloquial village life Englishness just wasn’t interesting enough. I mean, Thousand Yard Stare’s off stage rider consisted of "plenty of sugary tea" whereas Blur were about to release a record celebrating…errmm…"sugary tea".
The rest as they say is history. Blur and their ilk went on to become international megastars whereas by 1994 after an even more badly received follow up album entitled Mappamundi, Thousand Yard Stare had disintegrated amongst petty internal squabbles about record company policies, songwriting credits and differing musical directions. You probably won’t find Hands On in many second hand stores nowadays, such was it’s hasty withdrawal from the shelves of most record stores after it didn’t shift as many units as the MD at Polydor would have liked, but if you do, snap it up, as I guarantee it will be the best 50p you’re ever likely to spend.
9Dom Gourlay's Score