“Five Thirty are a blissed out, centrifuged guitar pop trio. Every song, and they’ve got more than they know what to do with, rushes at you with hot, sweaty, power.” Sounds, 1990
In Brett Anderson’s recent memoir, Coal Black Mornings, he writes how a fledging Suede attended gigs at the University of London Union to watch “now forgotten, marginal bands like Five Thirty” and “drench ourselves in the giddy world of dry ice and the squeal of feedback, the press of bodies and the thrill of noise”. One can debate the contradiction of recalling something now forgotten, bristle at Brett’s use of marginal, but his description of Five Thirty as they exploded onto the live music scene in 1990 is on the money.
Placing them at the ULU is significant too as it was there during a Friday afternoon showcase organised by their friend Jon Leslie-Smith, a member of the student union, the band lit the fuse for a record company bidding war. Gary Crowley, then doing A&R for Island, recently said he thought all his Christmases and birthdays had come at once due to the band “sounding like a cross between The Jam and The Stones Roses”.
Island eventually lost out to East-West and during the following 18 months Tara Milton (vocals/bass), Paul Bassett (vocals/guitar) and Phil Hopper (drums/vocals) released five singles (most consider them EPs as the three or four tracks on every 12 inch were essential), an album and played a continuous string of electrifying live shows. A formidable and versatile act, blessed with two gifted songwriters in Tara and Paul, they then shot themselves in the foot by carelessly losing drummer Phil, then hobbled along for the best part of a stuttering and mostly silent year before being quietly to put to sleep. It was a strange end; a band whose star burned so brightly, fading away, almost unnoticed.
Five years before ‘Abstain’, then as The 5:30!, they were a second-tier Mod band. Young and inexperienced they played on a few Mod bills, most notably Clacton Mod Rally and the Mod-Aid Alldayer in Walthamstow and released their ‘Catcher In The Rye’ EP. Few would have predicted of all the Mod bands knocking around in ’85 it would be they who’d subsequently achieve a degree of commercial success and create a collection of recordings that still hold up today. No band has made an album I’ve listened to as often as Bed.
Only Tara Milton remained from that early Mod incarnation but it’s important to note here Tara’s schoolfriend Chris Drew, who tirelessly championed his mates from the start, sending off introductory articles to the network of often unforgiving Modzines and ran the grandly named 5:30 Information Service. Chris remained a constant in the band for the rest of his life: designing record sleeves, logos, backdrops, painting guitars and being a creative confidant.
Fast forward to 2018 and Tara Milton – baker boy cap jauntily placed, vintage Adidas, old Jam badge on his lapel – is sat opposite me in a pub down the road from the Small Faces’ former home in Pimlico talking about releasing his debut solo album, Serpentine Waltz, on Steve Marriott’s birthday. It’s a wonderful record that is quite rightly receiving across-the-board rave reviews. Cinematic, literate, disconcerting; a series of vignettes from the darkest corners of city life. After discussing the record (see piece in Shindig magazine) we turned our attention to Five Thirty.
What follows is an in-depth look at the band; grab a cuppa and a biscuit, make time for it. Enormous thanks to Tara for his patience at my probing – I can’t lie, I was borderline obsessed with Five Thirty, traipsing around the country nearly 25 times, cutting out every mention I’d find the music press – and his thoughtfulness and candidness in his replies. It sometimes felt these were memories that had lay dormant until I came poking around but it’s a story that hasn’t been told before.
Read the interview at Modculture.
Read the interview at Modculture.
Serpentine Waltz is out now and available from taramilton.co.uk