A lot of people are going to be very, very excited to hear that The Egg are back. The last regular broadcasts from their strange, funky and very lovely corner of the universe were towards the end of the last century, concluding with a tip top performance at Glastonbury 2000. And then nish, nada, full stop. If ever there was a cult band, it’s The Egg, and those of us who followed their antics, their limb-wrigglingly blissful concerts, and their ridiculously contagious ‘Albumen’ and ‘Travelator’ albums were gutted and bemused by the silence…
But now they’re back. The band who have done everything from being Gary Oldman’s mum’s backing band (in the film ‘Nil By Mouth’) to playing the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, return with a new album. ‘Forwards’ startles with the variety on offer, from the indie guitar rockin’ ‘Forwards’ to the beautiful vocals of Zero 7-collaborator Sophie Barker on the Air-like ‘Walking Away’, from the string’n’piano lusciousness of ‘Wall’ to classic melodic Egg jams such as ‘Funky Dube’. It will come as no surprise to Egg-lovers that when the Big Chill organization took a poll on their web-site to find out which band their festival goers would most like to see at this year’s events, The Egg led the field by a distance.
But before ploughing into the future let’s start at the beginning.
“I suppose Glastonbury is our spiritual home,” admits Ned Scott, one of the twins at the heart of the Egg’s creative apparatus, “We grew up there, in a way. We first went when we were four and our mum and her boyfriend used to go – dad went as well because they were all friends. Mum’s boyfriend would be naked backstage and then he’d go and play on the acoustic stage with his band Mr Spratt’s 21st Century Popular Motets.”
It was impromptu, er, Motets-based gatherings at the Scott household that taught Ned and his brother Maff the joys of jamming. Such jamming became the heart of the group they formed in their native Oxford in the early 1990s. By the time they’d nailed what would become the Egg line-up for many years, with Ned on keyboards, Maff on drums, Dave Gaydon on bass and Mark Revell, lead guitar, their concerts were already attracting the attention of Supergrass and Radiohead. The Egg’s sound wasn’t angst rock, Brit-pop or dance music, but their jovial live persona garnered them fans from all kinds of musical denominations wherever they performed.
Let’s be clear about one thing, though; where the word ‘jamming’ may bring to mind images of patchouli-laced Ozric Tentacles fans doing interminable impressions of Jerry Garcia strangling his fretboard, The Egg’s wah-wah-laced numbers were always held together by decent song-writing and a chronic sense of fun. The band managed the unlikely combination of being tight and precise at the same time as loose and free-flowing
It wasn’t long before Bristol’s tiny independent Cup Of Tea Records signed The Egg for their debut ‘Shopping EP’ single in 1995, featuring mixes by Fila Brazilia amongst others. China Records immediately saw the potential of the band and signed them to their IndoChina subsidiary, putting the group in Cornwall’s Sawmills studio at once. The result was ‘Albumen’, 70 minutes of raw, outrageously catchy, yet very British, instrumental funkin’.
By now word of mouth on The Egg’s live show was spreading like wild fire. The group, in white shirts with the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 in black on their respective chests, would play on a whited out stage while bizarre and comic slides projected over them. It was as if Syd Barrett’s ‘60s Pink Floyd had collided with contemporary piano-led house, a hefty does of Clinton-esque funk thrown in for good measure. Gigging everywhere from Austin, Texas, to the Third Post-Apartheid Festival in South Africa, The Egg were on a roll and would end up jamming with everyone from marimba musicians to… well, let Ned tell it: “We went to that Woodstock reunion thing. It was really cheesy – peace’n’love pizzas, Pepsi, no alcohol, Salt’n’Pepa greasing up bare-chested male dancers saying. ‘Let’s see how much love there is at Woodstock’. We went down the road to the original site where there was a free festival happening; there were 100,000 people there but the media stayed away. One day we were jamming in the mist of the early morning when the Sheriff of Woodstock turned up, picked up an electric guitar and started doing this mental Hendrix solo. Everyone started getting out of their tents and playing Tupperware boxes. After about twenty minutes he said, ‘OK, I was never here,’ and disappeared…
The Egg’s projects veered of in all directions. One was the decision to join a campaign to raise money for their Highland island namesake, the Isle of Eigg, so that the inhabitants could buy their homeland from an absentee landlord. The group played a memorable benefit gig on the Renfrew Ferry in Glasgow, financially assisting in the eventual setting up of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust in 1997. Meanwhile, they also cemented their connection with dance culture in the same year by putting out a remix collection entitled ‘Get Some Mixes Together’.
Their next studio album, ‘Travelator’ in 1998, aimed to expand their appeal. Produced by Tim Holmes of Death in Vegas, who had worked with the Chemical Brothers, it contained the occasional vocal, such as the effervescent ‘Getting Away With It’, and tipped its cap to the big beat movement that was huge at the time. The band blew up in Turkey and Israel, of all places, while maintaining equilibrium at home where they recorded the theme tune to ITV’s ‘At Home With The Braithwaites’. They also found time to make a programme for Channel 4 about spiritual enlightenment and meditation.
Troubles were afoot, however, by the turn of the century as Warners took over China Records and soon a raft of groups were dropped from the label, including The Egg. They still played Glastonbury every year but it was harder to survive as group and Mark left to pursue TV music-writing while Dave had a baby and became musical advisor to the PoNaNa chain of venues.
Thus it all went quiet. But Ned and Maff are never very quiet. They simply went on jamming away with friends (including the Wolfman project with The Libertines’ Pete Doherty) and at parties and recorded some chill-out tracks under the name Stuff (“or Stuph, depending on how phat the writer is”). These tracks ended up on various high profile compilations and it wasn’t too long before Bar de lune picked up on The Egg’s potential resulting in the recent ‘The Venice Beach EP’, a new century Balearic classic steeped in memories of The Orb’s finest moments. Hey presto – The Egg are back, although they swear they’ve never been away.
Listening to ‘Always There’, the pub drunk-sampling funkathon from ‘Forwards’, raucous, upbeat, good-humoured and mildly eccentric, one can’t but anticipate the new shows, the new lease of life for The Egg. Ned and Maff swear they’ve a whole new bag of tricks up their sleeves and their fans have been waiting four years to see them. Indeed, if any of what they have planned is half as good as ‘Forwards’ it shouldn’t be long before the world finally catches onto the biggest cult band in Britain… Thomas H Green.