Day 1: We just make music for ourselves

Here we go then. This is the first entry in a diary in which I plan to look back on every song I’ve ever released and try to make some sense of it all. I’m mostly writing this for me but if anyone else likes it that’s a bonus.

We Just Make Music For Ourselves, the debut single by Swimmer One, emerged with minimal fanfare in the summer of 2002, on our own label Biphonic Records. We had no PR, radio plugger or promotional budget whatsoever (Daniel Warren did the video and sleeve design for free), but we must have done something right because a few days later Mark Radcliffe played the song on his afternoon show on Radio One, enthusing about it at some length and comparing it to Pulp, the Pet Shop Boys and Baba O’Riley by The Who. The same month Steve Lamacq and Vic Galloway championed it on Radio One too. Crikey, I thought, maybe this is our moment.

A few days later, a woman from a London record label – whose boss apparently masterminded the success of Believe by Cher  – flew up to Edinburgh and we went for lunch in Leith. We got on very well and talked for ages about bands we loved – the Human League came up quite a lot, as I recall. And then, at some point, she asked us if we had any other songs. Only a couple, we replied, because we’d mostly just been working on this one. Do you have a live act, she asked, or ideas about what your image should be. Again the answer was no; we’d been so focused on making the single that we hadn’t had much of a chance to think about that. And so she went back to London and we never heard from her again. It then took us five more years to get round to releasing our debut album.

Would life have turned out very differently if we’d been a bit more ready at this moment? Possibly not. But I sometimes like to imagine a parallel universe in which this leftfield, very catchy, slightly arch yet ultimately sincere song was a big hit – if not a career-launching big hit like West End Girls, then perhaps one of those quirky, unexpected one-off hits, like Brilliant Mind or I Could Never Be Your Woman.

The title – in case it’s not obvious – was a joke, a reference to one of those cliches bands always seemed to come out with in interviews. One of my favourite reviews of the single claimed we’d missed a trick by not including the line ‘and if anyone else likes it that’s a bonus’, failing to spot that we actually had (it’s right at the end). Musically it began – like most Swimmer One songs – with a rough instrumental recording by Hamish (just guitar and drum machine, I think) which we then fleshed out together.

When Hamish did a remix for the B-side I wanted to call it There’s Always Been A Dance Element To Our Music, which was another thing bands seemed to say a lot, in a desperate attempt to ingratiate themselves with clubbers. Hamish vetoed this idea, arguing that it was a joke too far (despite my protestations that it was exactly the kind of thing Sparks would do) and it ended up being called Music For Other People instead. Sadly I don’t think it was a club hit either (not that I would have noticed if it was, although I heard we got played a bit by DJs in Spain and Italy), but we did get two really good short films out of it – by Daniel Warren (who also did the video for the original song) and Paul Cameron.

I’m very fond of all three of the videos that accompanied this single, especially the one for the original song, for which we decided – for some reason – to play squash while wearing white boiler suits. My main memory of this is that before we went to Meadowbank sports centre Hamish made us garlic soup, and that by the time we’d spent an hour chasing a ball around for the camera we both absolutely stank of garlic. Good call. The video also features some chess playing (by us), lots of sex poses (not by us) which guaranteed that it would never be shown on television (oops), and a beautiful, poignant moment towards the end with a children’s shoe.

Update, 4 October: I heard just this morning that Mark Radcliffe has cancer and is taking time off work for treatment. I really hope he’s going to be ok. I’m sure this is true for many, many musicians, but he’s someone who has had a huge impact on my musical life. I’ve lost count of the number of bands that I love who I discovered via Mark’s various shows, so for us to be one of the bands he enthused about on air is a huge privilege, and I will always be grateful to him for that.

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