|Past members||David Westlake
The Servants was an indie band formed in 1985 in Hayes, Middlesex, England by singer and songwriter David Westlake. The Servants were on 1986's NME-associated C86 compilation, and the expanded 48-song reissue version CD86 in 2006. The Servants was the original home of Luke Haines (leader of The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder). As chronicled in an interview in US music magazine The Big Takeover (issue 53, 2004), Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch was a huge Westlake fan and was trying to locate him during the years that the older singer was dormant in the hopes of forming a band with him, before launching Belle in his school class instead.
The Servants played their first gig at The Water Rats Theatre in London's King's Cross on July 1, 1985. They were signed by Head Records, a new independent label started by Jeff Barrett, later head of Heavenly Records. The line-up of the band for most of the early gigs was: David Westlake, John Mohan, Phil King and Eamon Lynam (replaced by John Wills in early '86). The band's first single "She's Always Hiding" (March '86) is a disarming coupling of Dusty in Memphis with Davy Graham guitars. Well received by the press, the band's appeal was obvious, with Westlake's excelsior, urbane English song writing (that's English as in David Niven, or Rex Harrison). Inevitably the band was invited to record a John Peel session (March '86). Inevitably the session was great; has anyone ever attempted anything like the Brit / Lovin' Spoonful hybrid that is "You'd Do Me Good"? An invitation by the then-popular NME to appear on their C86 compilation was grudgingly accepted, though the band insisted on the track being the B-side of their first single - the wrong-footing "Transparent". Keen to distance themselves from the retarded "shambling" scene, the band earned a reputation for haughtiness. (Never a bad thing.) Unfortunately, the NME compilation sold well and the Servants became known for one of their inferior tracks. Still, with Westlake's song writing becoming even more deft, the band recorded "The Sun, A Small Star" - described by future Servant Luke Haines as "a 24 carat 'Brown Eyed Girl' classic" - in August '86.
Luke Haines is in the Servants when the band returns in 1987. Out of the blue Westlake receives a telephone call from Hugh Whitaker, drummer with the hugely popular Housemartins. Whitaker feels his band have become too big. He offers his services to the Servants. He has made the right decision. By this time with Creation Records, the Servants return to the studio to demo new material; great songs including "Hey, Mrs John" and "Who's Calling You Baby Now", which has more in common with Vegas-period Elvis than anything else going on at the time. At the end of the year Creation fearlessly drops the Servants. Goodwill from the music industry is low, and luck is thin on the ground. Mid-'88 the Servants are thrown a lifeline by Dave Barker, owner of Glass Records. Glass promise a reasonable budget to record an album. The plan is to go into Elephant studios with Ruts and Magazine producer John Brand (they even borrow a Yamaha DX7, keyboard du jour). At the eleventh hour they hear that Glass distributors Red Rhino have "gone bust". The budget is slashed. They go into the studio, anyway (without Brand and thankfully without the DX7), and record a single, "It's My Turn". It is an epic. One of Westlake's finest lyrics: "The light at the end of the tunnel is a train headed this way / To remind me what love is . . .". They do some gigs and, quelle surprise, the record company forgets to release the record for about a year. The Servants eventually release an album in 1990 on Paperhouse Records. It is called Disinterest. It is Art Rock. Ten years too late and fifteen years too early.
With six bass players, three drummers and two uninterested record labels behind them, Westlake and Haines painstakingly record demos for one more Servants album, provisionally entitled Small Time. "The demos are great," says Haines, "but the album never gets made". Following the inclusion of Disinterest in Mojo magazine's 2011 list of the greatest British indie records of all time, Cherry Red Records issued Small Time in 2012. Small Time is "the Servants' second and best album"; the songs are, says Haines, "looser, more mysterious, strange and beautiful, [. . .] sounding . . . like nothing else really." And Haines explains the long unavailability of Disinterest in the album's notes: it is "stuck in an irretrievable record company quagmire, where it looks set to remain."
The Servants last gig was at the Rock Garden, August 1991. With no room to manoeuvre and no opportunities left the band finally split. Cherry Red released a 2006 retrospective of the Servants, called Reserved. Reserved features all of the releases prior to the Disinterest album plus Peel session tracks and demos. U.S. label Captured Tracks released a 2011 vinyl compilation of the Servants, called Youth Club Disco.
David Westlake solo
In new year 1987 David Westlake recorded a solo record with Luke Haines, for the then-fashionable Creation Records. Haines plays Verlaine / Lloyd lead interspersed with Steve Cropper chops on six Westlake compositions. (This was the short-lived era of the "mini-album". Cheap to record, impossible to market.) Five days in Greenhouse Studios using the Triffids' rhythm section and Westlake is a minor classic. Obviously, it cuts against the grain of the paisley psychedeliasts and inept Byrds tribute acts clogging up the Creation roster. Westlake, Haines and a Dr Rhythm drum machine undertake a tour of the sceptred isle. Unfortunately, the record company forget to release the record until six months later. Westlake receives decent reviews, but otherwise disappears to a howl of indifference.
Play Dusty For Me (2002) is only Westlake’s second solo LP, and even this one was released, sort of, in a highly limited issue that quickly sold out but was still never repressed. London's Angular Recording Corporation issued a new, digital version in 2010, with bonus tracks. Interestingly, it is a highly reserved fare. The music has something in common with the “Pale Blue Eyes”/“Sunday Morning” Velvet Underground. Add in a wistful touch of Dusty Springfield (an old Westlake favourite, feted here in both the album title and opening title track), and a general unhurried nature of an LP put out for pure love rather than commercial gain, and this collaboration with guitarist Dan Cross and two Moore brothers for the rhythm section, Cormac bass and Willis drums, just seems to lay there in its relaxed, prettied loveliness. Don’t pick any one track, though any of them would give you the overarching idea; sit down for the whole hour and 18 songs and take in the charming, soulful air. And the good news is that Westlake is still recording on occasion, as his Doin’ it For the Kids compilation track with the Moore brothers in 2008 showed.
- The Servants, "She’s Always Hiding"/"Transparent" (Mar 1986, Head Records, HEAD1 [7”])
- The Servants, "The Sun, a Small Star"/"Meredith"/"It Takes No Gentleman"/"Funny Business" (Oct 1986, Head Records, HEAD3 [12”])
- The Servants, "It’s My Turn"/"Afterglow" (Sep 1989, Glass Records, GLASS056 [7”])
- The Servants, "It’s My Turn"/"Afterglow"/"Faithful to 3 Lovers"/"Do or Be Done" (Sep 1989, Glass Records, GLASS12 056 [12”])
- The Servants, "Look Like A Girl"/"Bad Habits Die Hard" (- 1990, Paperhouse Records, - [7”])
- David Westlake, Westlake (Nov 1987, Creation Records, CRELP019 [LP]; reissued on CD by Sony in 2004 -)
- The Servants, Disinterest (Sep 1989, Paperhouse Records, PAPLP005 [LP]/PAPCD005 [CD])
- David Westlake, Play Dusty For Me (Jun 2002, Mahlerphone, CDA 001 [CD]; reissued Jul 2010 Angular Recording Corporation ARC 018 [digital])
- The Servants, Reserved (2006, Cherry Red Records, CDMRED297 [CD]) (compilation)
- The Servants, Youth Club Disco (2011, Captured Tracks, CT-111 [LP]) (compilation)
- The Servants, Small Time/Hey Hey We're The Manqués (2012, Cherry Red Records, CDB RED 535 [2CD])
- The Servants, "Look Like A Girl" (1990)
- The Servants, "Who's Calling You Baby Now?" (1988)
- The Servants, "The Sun, A Small Star" (1985)
- Jack Rabid (17 January 2011). "Review of David Westlake's album Play Dusty for Me". The Big Takeover. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- Haines, Luke (2006). Reserved. London: Cherry Red.
- Haines, Luke (2009). Bad Vibes. London: William Heinemann. p. 10. ISBN 10:0099522268 Check
- Prior, Clive (December 2011). "100 Greatest British Indie Records of All Time". Mojo - Indie Special. p. 123.
- Haines, Luke (2012). Small Time. London: Cherry Red.
- Luke Haines, Bad Vibes (London: William Heinemann, 2009), 5-10.
- Luke Haines, sleevenotes to the Servants' compilation Reserved (Cherry Red Records CDMRED 297, 2006)
- Luke Haines, sleevenotes to the Servants' album Small Time (Cherry Red Records CDB RED 535, 2012)
- Jack Rabid, review of David Westlake's album Play Dusty For Me in The Big Takeover, 17 Jan 2011
- John Peel session information
- Derek Sozou, David Westlake site