TINTIN AND THE TRAINSPOTTER

I was scrolling down the list of singers/bands/subject matters previously featured on this little corner of t’iternet when I discovered a medium-sized hole where the words Lilac Time should be.

I could have sworn that I’d typed up some sort of posting in the dim and distant past but it certainly isn’t showing up in the index. I recall picking up a second-hand vinyl copy of the album Paradise Circus some five or six years ago in the days before charity shops started to make a killing on such product and I do recall scribbling down some notes as I gave it a listen but I must have left it at that or else I’ve accidentally deleted an initial draft (I’ve history in that respect).

Anyways…..The Lilac Time have been making music for over 30 years now without ever getting beyond cult status. They have, in the main, been a vehicle for the brothers Stephen and Nick Duffy, the former whose name may be familiar to you if you’re ever followed the career of Duran Duran – he was one of the founding members of the New Romantic beat combo but left about a year before they landed the major record label and became international superstars. As Stephen Tin Tin Duffy, he enjoyed some chart success in 1985 with the charming but saccharine Kiss Me, albeit at the third attempt, and in a remixed form, some three years after its initial release

mp3 : Stephen Tin Tin Duffy – Kiss Me

It was around 12 months later that The Lilac Time formed, with their self-titled debut album coming out on a small independent label, but creating enough of a buzz to have Fontana Records dangle a contract. The debut album was remixed and reissued by the new label to reasonable reviews but without gelling with the radio producers or the record purchasing public. Given that Stephen Duffy had demonstrated immense staying power and determination to achieve his previous hit single, it was no surprise that the band knuckled down for album number two, Paradise Circus, which was released in 1989.

I’m not going to make any outrageous or bold statements of it being a lost classic, but I think it is fair to say that it is an album that ought to be better known than it is and certainly deserved a better fate than failing to chart, nor indeed did any of its three singles, including this perfectly polished piece of pop:-

mp3 : The Lilac Time – The Girl Who Waves At Trains

The album as a whole is a gentle and enjoyable listen, fairly acoustic in nature, and packed with catchy choruses that worm their way into your brain. But 1989 was the time when British pop music was almost exclusively focussing on baggy/Madchester and the sounds being offered up by The Lilac Time were deemed by many to be old-fashioned toe-tapping stuff that belonged to a different era.

A third album in 1990 didn’t get them any further forward, and having been dropped they made a move to Creation with label boss Alan McGhee also taking the management reins. After it flopped, the band broke up and Stephen tried his arm as a solo artist to no great avail. He did, however, in 1996 get back into the charts as one-quarter of the Britpop group Me Me Me, whose other members included Alex James of Blur and Justin Welch of Elastica, with this one-off single that reached #19:-

mp3 : Me Me Me – Hanging Around

It’s not one that I recalled when typing up these notes but I did recognise it, without fondness, when I went digging for a listen.

The Lilac Time reformed in 1999, but again experienced no commercial success. Despite this, Stephen Duffy had built a reputation as a great songsmith and arranger, and so it was no real surprise that Robbie Williams came calling in 2004 asking for help In writing and producing songs, a venture that was stupidly successful with the one album they delivered together selling in excess of 8 million copies.

In a sense, nothing really mattered after that as the money from the Williams partnership would see him set up for life and before long he was back with his brother as The Lilac Time making records of a pop/folk nature, the type that has me running for the hills.

I might not have much time nowadays for the output of the band, but I’m always happy when one of the 1989 songs come up on random shuffle on the i-pod player, such as these:-

mp3 : The Lilac Time – American Eyes
mp3 : The Lilac Time – If The Stars Shine Tonight

JC

12 thoughts on “TINTIN AND THE TRAINSPOTTER

  1. The Lilac Time are, perhaps, one of the most over looked bands of their time (’87 to ’91). Not only was the recorded music a delight but the live shows were out of this world. I am a devotee of the first 4 LPs. I’m less familar with the subsequent output ’99 to present.

    Stephen Duffy epitomised the description ‘raconteur’. His in-between-song-stories were genius … I’ve only once been asked to indulge in a love-in a pop stars jumper. Sadly, he invited all the fans present at King Tuts. He out-done Julian Cope – that’s saying something.

    I treasure the LPs and my t-shirts. I, sometime in the late 80s, would casually switch my listening preference between Lilac Time and Martin Stephenson and the Daintees during late night/early morning fugs. Wonderful times.

    I won’t even begin to list my favourite Lilac Time songs – it’d be too long a list. Suffice to say I would heartily recommend them.

    This article provides a proding finger to the ribs “get acquainted with the latter music”. It shall be done.

  2. So good to see The Lilac Time featured on these pages. Stephen Duffy is one of my favourite artists.Although I think their Fontana albums are the best , there’s still plenty of great songs on the later albums. New material is imminent.

  3. Some of his best stuff came out on his late 90s solo albums, with druggy Britpop scene satire interspersed with woozy acoustic Nick Drake style ballads. Better than that sounds though . . .

  4. After I caught the 3rd release of “Kiss Me,” I fell hard down the Stephen Duffy rabbit hole, so I’m one of those guys who will bend your ear on his effortless songwriting genius. The best thing about all of the great B-sides to his first two “pop” era albums on Virgin/10 records was that all of them were blatant outliers to the Lilac Time sound to come. Apparently, what he wanted to make all along. Then there was that “difficult” third album. 1986 closed with the at-least-two-years-ahead-of-the-curve, proto-Ecstasy non-classic “Designer Beatnik” by Duffy with Pigbag’s Roger Freeman. The often whimsical album that mixed chansons and proto-ambient recordings that had little precedent at the time. I can hear any number of possible bands influenced by it. Stereolab. KLF. Being first to market did nothing for Duffy’s perpetual poor bottom line. As Duffy mordantly put it “I made the first Ecstasy record and thought that it needed clarinets on it.” Thank goodness he got his pension from Robbie Williams – and the awful Barenaked Ladies. I’ll never hear that material, but anything that subsidizes Duffy’s continued art is okay in my book.

  5. The Tin Tin stuff does nothing for me but I love the Lilac Time output.
    Paradise Circus, Love for All & Looking for a Day in the NIght are all quality listens & most of their b-sides are worth hunting down. I was late to this act as well but in this case better late than never.

  6. I’ve always been partial to & Love For All. Because of Andy Partridge’s involvement, it sits well with my love for the more Pastoral Pop side of XTC .

  7. Agree with baggingarea re Return To Yesterday. Nice to see some love for The Lilac Time – usually just get blank looks when I mention them. A timely nudge that I’ve not really listened to them for a while.

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