|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 band's Small Time album was well received on its 2012 release, more than twenty years after its 1991-recording. The belated release followed the inclusion of 1990's Disinterest in Mojo magazine's 2011 list of the greatest British indie records of all time.
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, an independent record 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 (a.k.a. Neasden Riots). Westlake's urbane English song-writing was well received by the press, and the band was invited to record a John Peel session soon after the release of first single "She's Always Hiding" (March '86). Keen to distance themselves from the "shambling" scene, the band earned a reputation for haughtiness. 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". The NME compilation turned out to sell well and the Servants became known for a lesser track. The band’s next release, the four-song e.p. "The Sun, A Small Star" (August '86), showed Westlake’s song-writing becoming still more deft, the title-track being later described by Luke Haines as "a 24 carat 'Brown Eyed Girl' classic".
Luke Haines was in the Servants from early 1987 to late 1991. Out of the blue Westlake received a telephone call from Hugh Whitaker, drummer with chart-stars the Housemartins. Whitaker felt his band had become too big, and offered his services to the Servants. The band returned to the studio to demo new material for Creation, including "Hey, Mrs John" and "Who's Calling You Baby Now", which had more in common with Vegas-period Elvis than anything else going on at the time. At the end of the year Creation Records dropped the Servants. Goodwill from the music industry was low, and luck was thin on the ground.
Mid-'88 the Servants were thrown a lifeline by Dave Barker, owner of Glass Records, who promised a reasonable budget to record an album. The plan was to go into Elephant studios with producer John Brand, who had worked with Hayes punk-band the Ruts. At the eleventh hour the band were told that Glass distributors Red Rhino had "gone bust". The budget was slashed, but they went into the studio to record an epic single, "It's My Turn". They played some gigs to support the single but the record company delayed releasing the record for a year. The Servants eventually released an album, Disinterest, in 1990 on Paperhouse Records. "It is Art Rock," Haines later said, "Ten years too late and fifteen years too early."
The Servants' last gig was at the Rock Garden, 21 August 1991 - "With no room to manoeuvre and no opportunities left", the band finally called it a day. Cherry Red Records released a 2006 retrospective of the Servants, called Reserved. The compilation 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.
Westlake and Haines had recorded the Servants' second album, Small Time, in 1991, but not until twenty-one years later - following the inclusion of Disinterest in Mojo magazine's 2011 list of the greatest British indie records of all time, - was it released, in 2012 on Cherry Red Records (then in 2013 on Captured Tracks). The songs on Small Time are, says Haines, "looser, more mysterious, strange and beautiful, [. . .] sounding . . . like nothing else really." The long unavailability of 1990's Disinterest is explained in the album's notes: it is "stuck in an irretrievable record company quagmire, where it looks set to remain." Small Time was issued with a second disc, Hey Hey We're the Manqués, containing demos and rehearsal versions of first-album material.
David Westlake solo
In new year 1987, David Westlake recorded a solo record for Creation Records. Backed by Luke Haines (making his recording debut) and the Triffids' rhythm section, Westlake cut against the grain of the paisley psychedeliasts then on the Creation roster, Haines later describing it as a minor classic. Westlake and Haines undertook a tour of Britain to promote the record, but Creation failed to release it until six months later. Westlake received good reviews, but otherwise disappeared.
Westlake's Play Dusty For Me album appeared in 2002. This was released, sort of, in a highly limited issue that quickly sold out but was still never re-pressed. London's Angular Recording Corporation issued a digital version in 2010. Westlake is backed on Play Dusty For Me by guitarist Dan Cross and brothers Cormac and Willis Moore on bass and drums. Jack Rabid at The Big Takeover noted the "general unhurried nature of an LP put out for pure love rather than commercial gain", identifying the “Pale Blue Eyes”/“Sunday Morning” Velvet Underground and Dusty Springfield - "an old Westlake favourite, feted here in both the album-title and opening title-track" - as reference points.
- 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 (Oct 2012, Cherry Red Records, CDB RED 535 [2CD]; reissued Dec 2013, Captured Tracks, CT-185 [2LP])
- 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.
- Prior, Clive (December 2011). "100 Greatest British Indie Records of All Time". Mojo - Indie Special. p. 123.
- Strutt, Anthony (June 2012). "Phil King Interview". pennyblackmusic.co.uk.
- Haines, Luke (2006). Reserved. London: Cherry Red.
- 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