There’s a saying that goes, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” As an adage, that can easily be applied in musical terms to countless artists of yore. Particularly ones that passed unsuspectingly under the radar during a short but productive lifespan.
East Village falls into that category. Regular staples on the independent live circuit towards the tail end of the eighties and subsequent turn of that decade. If you caught The House Of Love or Primal Scream during that era, chances are you’ll have come across East Village too.
Originally hailing from the town of Princes Risborough, itself situated in between Aylesbury and Wycombe in the heart of Buckinghamshire. It wasn’t long before they relocated to London and put out a couple of EPs on the now defunct Sub Aqua label, itself a precursor to Heavenly Recordings, which has since become one of the most respected independents in music.
Formed by brothers Martin and Paul Kelly who played guitar and bass respectively whilst sharing vocals alongside Johnny Wood (also guitar and vocals) and drummer Spencer Smith. Musically their output wasn’t that dissimilar to the earliest stylings of the aforementioned Primal Scream. Heavily indebted to 1960s guitar pop such as The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, alongside more recent influences such as Orange Juice and Aztec Camera, East Village inadvertently became part of the burgeoning C86 scene without ever having to appear on any compilation tape.
Although their recording career only spanned a handful of singles and EPs whilst active – the band split on stage in 1991 shortly after signing to Heavenly, who released their Circles twelve-inch that same year. Their legacy has grown as time has passed on. Indeed, the band’s output not only has a timeless feel about it, but is also near flawless, as Hotrod Hotel ably demonstrates.
Essentially a collection of the band’s early singles and demos that first saw the light of day posthumously (as did the band’s only full album Drop Out a year earlier) in 1994. Hotrod Hotel contains twelve songs including the seven tracks that make up the foursome’s first two 45s, Cubans In The Bluefields and Back Between Places, where each and every one could be a lead single in its own right.
Elsewhere, 1991’s ‘Vibrato’ and its b-side ‘Violin’ shine brightly; hinting that even better may have been yet to come. The original demo recordings of ‘Here It Comes’ and ‘Freeze Out’ also suggest so much more was bursting to come out of the locker– the former initially released as the b-side to aforementioned 45, Circles with the latter first seeing the light of day on a split flexidisc with Cathal Coughlan and both later to feature on Drop Out.
After the band’s untimely split, both Martin and Paul Kelly went on to enjoy successful careers in the music, film and graphic design industries which they’re still prominent in to this day. While both Spencer Smith and Johnny Wood also continued playing, recording and working in music up until the mid to late 2000s.
However, that journey began with East Village and now is as good a time as any to revisit their back catalogue and (re)acquaint one’s self with one of the most underrated guitar bands in modern times.
Hotrod Hotel is out now via Slumberland Records.