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My Life Story: back to the future

16 December 2007

I lost count of the number of copies I bought of My Life Story's debut album 'Mornington Crescent'. I used to give them to friends all the time. I was an evangelist for the band. But while many of my friends were converted to disciples, others didn't quite get it. Despite having great songs and arrangements, the album didn't quite capture the band's energy or the sophistication of the live sound. It works much better as a souvenir of the live show, than it does as a promotion for it.

When the band split up seven years ago, it was the end of an era. In the preceding five years, I'd seen the band dozens of times. I was at three of the four 'Month of Sundays' gigs at Dingwalls. I spent three New Years Eves with the band, and was with them for election night in 1997, when a swingometer was used to pick the songs that would be played. If there was a gig taking place in London (or as far away as Bedford), then I was either there or out of the country. Support slots (and co-headlines) introduced me to Kenickie, Babybird, Bikini Beach Band, Gretschen Hofner, Orlando and many more great acts. Inevitably, I was at all of the three consecutive gigs that brought the curtain down in December 2000.

After My Life Story, Jake started a new band called ExileInside. In contrast to My Life Story's trademark orchestral sound, the ExileInside albums were more synth and guitar-led, designed to be played by a four piece rock band. There were hints of this direction on the final MLS studio album, where the orchestra didn't play on some of the tracks. I caught most of the London ExileInside shows too, and they were great. But there was no doubt it was a new band: they weren't about to burst into 'Motorcade', less still something like 'Garden Fence Affair' or 'Megaphone Theology'.

Last year, Jake reunited My Life Story to play a one-off gig. The atmosphere was overwhelming. So many people had waited so long to hear that My Life Story sound again.

ei collage

My souvenirs from Thursday: an ExileInside shirt and the tenth reason why

This Thursday, My Life Story played their only gig this year at Shepherd's Bush Empire. The gig marked the coming together of ExileInside and My Life Story when Jake performed an acoustic set drawing on both back catalogues as his own support. It reflected the 'Month of Sundays' where the string quartet played a set before one of the MLS gigs, and also brought ExileInside to a wider audience. Accompanied by a synth piano, cello and his own guitar, Jake played MLS classics 'Claret' and 'You Can't Uneat the Apple' alongside ExileInside songs 'Antiques', 'Butterfly Wings' and 'ExileInside'. Apart from a short acoustic interlude in one of the ExileInside gigs, it was (I think), the first time the new and old songs had been brought together like that.

The main show was as great a party as ever: 'History of the world on ice' was a treat, and all the classics were present and correct. 'Angel' (which sometimes sounds a bit scratchy live), sounded fantastic - perhaps the best I've heard. I was at the front for the whole show, and got a number 10 thrown by Rox into the audience during '12 Reasons Why'.

The only disappointment is that we're told there are no plans for future MLS gigs (which recent experience shows doesn't necessarily mean they won't happen), and there were no video cameras at the show. With the DVD link on Jake's new website, I was hoping this one would be filmed for posterity.

The good news is that there could be a solo tour in March, which is particularly welcome now that Jake is comfortable with playing the best from his whole back catalogue. By using the MLS brand name and fan loyalty, Jake can introduce new listeners to the ExileInside project. The first EI album is perhaps the best album he has created (even if many of his best songs are on other albums and b-sides), and deserves a wider audience. Until then, there's a new acoustic album out called 'Written Large' (the first album to be released under the name 'Jake Shillingford'). You can sample it on Jake's MySpace page here and order from the ExileInside website. There I go, evangelising again. Some things never change.

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I do remember Select describing one of their offerings (The Golden Mile?) as "the worst album ever released" which was a bit harsh.

I saw them in about '97 in a field in Sussex, alongside Kenickie, Mogwai, Silver Sun, The Wannadies and more. Ah, the 90s. Strange, strange times.
MLS had a touch of glamour at a time when indie music wasn't (on the whole) very glamorous and Jake always had something to say, so the music press tended to like them. But there's always the exception. The journalist from Select is entitled to his or her opinion, but it does create the impression they haven't heard many records or haven't listened to that one properly. ;-)

That said, the sound on TGM is thinner than on the first album and the album as a whole works best as a souvenir of the concerts rather than as an introduction to the band.

That festival sounds like a great set. I loved Kenickie. I wish they would reform. I think I've got every song they released. Both MLS and Kenickie burned bright but burned out relatively quickly: back in those days you put out as many as 7 b-sides with a single. So although those bands only put out two or three albums, they left behind loads of songs. Jake's been repackaging a lot of the b-sides recently as albums, which is good because it's given more longevity to some of his best work.
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