Witness - "Before The Calm"
With only so many notes on a keyboard and strings on a guitar, it's always so rewarding to find a new band that conjures up something fresh, and dares to be different, with their own identity and style. To also have that within a debut album that is so gloriously understated in it's mellow tones is a delight. It's all too easy for new bands trying to impress, to go in with all ballads and choruses blazing, but Witness have chosen a much more delicate approach.
They come from Wigan in northern UK - hardly known as a hotbed of new music (though a certain band called the Verve also originated from there) - but this is a band and style that defies boundaries. Ray Chan (guitars) and Gerard Starkie (vocals/guitar) met in the 80's and progressed through a series of other bands before focusing their talents more and deciding to write some songs together. Along the way, they also recruited Dylan Keeton (bass) and John Langley (drums), and between them managed to secure a first record contract with Island Records. They released their first single - "Quarantine" - in late 1998, "Scars" in early 1999, and the lovely "Audition" the following May. They also managed a series of live dates, including supporting Hurricane #1 on their UK tour - adding fifth member Julian 'Jaz' Pransky-Poole for more depth of sound during the concerts.
Of course you can make comparisons to the Verve, Tindersticks, Scott Walker or Talk Talk perhaps, but this band has a pride in being themselves. It also shows that you can have obvious passion without having to scream about it either; the vocals of Starkie match the feel of the band perfectly, and will tug at the soul more than most.
This album has had glowing reviews from a lot of the music press (including a rare 9/10 from the notoriously hard to please NME) but how much the band gets heard or promoted will be down to exposure in the UK - a land of huge musical heritage, but where these days, style is ruled over substance in music. Treasure this release though, as you'll be hard pushed to find music with such depth of feeling this year. Uplifting, no. Sublime, yes.
Review date - July 99
Thanks to Neil Chase for letting me use this article. To view the original, including pictures and other info, click here.