The Lightning Seeds are a Liverpudlian band fronted by Ian Broudie. They have had 12 top 20 UK hits including Pure, Perfect, Change, Lucky You, Sugar Coated Iceberg, You Showed Me and 1996 football anthem Three Lions.
Ian Broudie is part of the fabric of British pop culture. Born in the Fifties, child of the Sixties, crucial player in Liverpool punk in the Seventies, alternative rock production genius in the Eighties, pop star in the Nineties and Godfather figure to some of Liverpool’s new leading lights of the Noughties. He was the studio magician behind the legendary Echo And The Bunnymen and has lately sprinkled stardust over The Coral and Zutons. And mingling in the midst of all of this music and creativity came The Lightning Seeds, with a string of classic hit singles, and a little football song (‘Three Lions’) still bellowed out from the terraces at England matches.
Now Broudie is back with ‘Four Winds’, the first crop of Lightning Seeds songs in 10 years. “It is not like I have ever been away, really,” he explains. “I’ve been a part of music all my life, and that never stops. These are just the songs that represent where I am on this journey.” As he relates his strange passage through a world of sound in a gushing torrent of words, you start to understand how this effusive character could have been a conduit for so much great music.
We’re looking forward to playing LeeStock, it sounds a great little festival with a great cause. We love playing in front of a live audience and we’re looking forward to coming to Suffolk in May”
“Growing up in Liverpool in the Sixties was like being in the centre of the earth. I was going to the football and the Kop would be singing ‘She Loves You’. Both my brothers had a lot of records: Dylan, Cream, bluesy guitar players. Plus I had a little transistor radio and got Radio Caroline, from when pop music was very free. Then it was the Seventies and Bowie played The Empire and it was as if everybody who was going to go on and make music in Liverpool was at this gig. For me it was about Roxy Music, Frank Zappa, and, like everyone in Liverpool then and now, Captain Beefheart, Pink Floyd, Love and the Velvet Underground.”
As a teenager, hanging out at the tea room of the counter-culture hub known as ‘Liverpool School of Music, Dream, Art and Pun’ and soon-to-be legendary venue Eric’s, he became guitarist in eccentric punk originals Big In Japan, with fellow dreamers who would go on to leave an indelible imprint on British pop, including Bill Drummond (KLF theorist), Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes To Hollywood) and drummer Budgie (Siouxsie and the Banshees).
He became a producer by accident, when fellow Eric’s alumni Echo and The Bunnymen gave him a lift in their van cause it was raining, and he explained to them how they could improve their songs. “These days we have schools that teach you how to be a producer or engineer but I just used to be able to hear where things could go.” As Kingbird, he produced the first three classic Echo albums, and worked with indie originals The Pale Fountains, Icicle Works and The Fall.
Pop stardom took an equally accidental course. The Lighting Seeds 1989 debut was released on start up independent, Ghetto, distributed by Rough Trade. One song, ‘Pure’, a strange, shimmering, psychedelic synth pop beauty, took on a life of its own. “It was a home made recording and it was out for ages and I started getting calls from radio stations.” It became the most requested song in California. Steve Wright at Radio One played it twice in a row. “It was like this record just went off on its own around the world. The Lightning Seeds had never even done a gig. I didn’t play live ‘til the third album.”
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‘Sense’ (featuring ‘The Life Of Riley), ‘Jollification’ (with ‘Lucky You’) and ‘Dizzy Heights’ (with ‘You Showed Me’) continued The Lightning Seeds ascent. “To me, perfect pop is a meaningless phrase, it changes all the time. I think what I did was actually idiosyncratic eccentricity. I loved Pink Floyd’s ‘The Piper At The Gates of Dawn’ and The Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’, this magical world, a mad place full of random things around brilliant tunes. In my head that was pop. ‘Jollification’ was quite psychedelic, with breakbeats and sampling and looping drawn from hip hop, but over songs. I think it became a template for how people made pop in the late Nineties. And for a moment there, I was in sync, accidentally, with the universe and the charts. That’s just the way the world turns.”
Broudie’s fame reached household name proportions with the success of England football anthem, ‘Three Lions’, written and recorded with Frank Skinner and David Baddiel. “I didn’t really enjoy that whole period,” he admits. “I’m used to being the outsider more than a safe bet.” The Lightning Seeds, now a fully fledged live band, made one last album, the dance inflected ‘Tilt’. “It was that boyband manufactured pop period. I would have been doing TV shows with Blur and Oasis, all of a sudden it was Westlife and the Sugababes. It felt like the world had changed and I didn’t fit. There was a lot of turmoil in my personal life and I think my heart went out of it. I went through a period of thinking I might not make music anymore.” And then, he says, through an odd series of events, he wound up in a rehearsal room in Liverpool on a rainy Sunday night with a band of teenagers just out of school. That was The Coral. “I could hear all the Liverpool influences sounding out again, Beefheart, Floyd, Velvets, alive in these kids, with such fervour. It woke me up in a way. It redeemed the world. It gave me hope.”
Broudie returned to producing, working extensively with The Coral and The Zutons (both unsigned local bands who he helped develop from a very early stage). His own songwriting muse stirred and he released a simple, acoustic flavoured solo album, ‘Tales Told’, under his own name in 2004. And as his musical confidence grew, so did his desire to work on a bigger sonic palette. So it came time to reform (in his imagination at least) a group who had never really existed in the first place. “It’s The Lightning Seeds if I say it is, really. There were a lot of emotional ups and downs in my personal life and I needed the right vehicle to bring the songs to life. This felt bigger and richer to me. It felt like a band.”
‘Four Winds’ is full of melodic, Beatley, psychedelic, groovy, timeless songs, replete with dreamy harmonies and sparkling riffs. Yet is represents a shift for The Lightning Seeds because, for all the melodiousness and sonic colouring, the songs have an emotional heft that comes with age. “I’m a bit older now. I wanted to write in an open way, and it is what it is, straight up. You get to a point where you experience loss and see the fragility of things.”
Depression and loneliness stalk the gentle grooves of the beautifully melancholic ‘4 Winds’, and folky delicacy of ‘Things Just Happened’. But there is also hope in the cloud busting ‘Don’t Walk On By’ and dreamily uplifting ‘Ghosts’. ‘The Story Goes’ somehow compresses psychological breakdown into a surging Liverpuddlian beat classic Lennon and McCartney would have been proud to call their own. “I always feel that in my music there is a kind of internal battle going on between the producer, the musician and the songwriter but somehow the balance of those forces is different here. With experience comes a stronger centre.”
Broudie recently turned 50 but exudes the energy and passion of someone half his age. “If you’re a painter, no one expects you to stop at forty. Rock and roll has been around for more than fifty years and its still developing, and turning into other things. It’s not about youth anymore, it’s a new frontier in some ways. Its about how we tell the stories of our lives. It seems to be true of my generation and I’m at the cusp of that.”
‘Four Winds’ mashes up all that music and experience into an epic autobiography. “What I want to do is take everything that has made me who I am, imbibing the sixties, seventies, punk, bands, Britpop, hip hop, this quite unique musical journey that sometimes feels like its been back to front, being a producer then a pop star. I feel like whatever it is I am supposed to be doing, I haven’t done it yet. I feel like I am just getting started.”