Today’s look back at the class of 86 is one of the most intriguing tales of the era.
The Servants were actually featured on the C86 tape with Transparent, a track that would feature as the b-side to the first single released, in March 1986, on a new London-based indie label called Head Records. The line-up was David Westlake (vocals), Philip King (bass/guitar), John Mohan (guitar/keys) and John Wills (drums).
Their second single was released on 12″ vinyl in October 1986 and is a timeless classic. Heavily influenced by The Smiths, Go-Betweens and Felt in equal measures, it’s a song that really should have been picked up and placed on the A-playlists of Radio 1 and the commercial stations here in the UK and propelled high into the charts. This was classy indie-pop that nowadays you still hear in the likes of Cats on Fire and I’m delighted that as it was on CD 86, it features today:-
mp3 : The Servants – The Sun, A Small Star
Incidentally, it does seem that the Go-Betweens influence is far more pronounced than I thought as Amanda Brown, who in 1987 would become a member of the very fine band, is credited with playing the violin part on this song.
The failure of the single, and the fact that The Servants were a cut above many of the shambolic sounding acts they were being lumped in with under the C86 banner, were probably contributing factors to the band breaking up shortly afterwards. John Wills joined Loop, Philip King shifted seamlessly into Felt as well as linking up again with John Mohan as Apple Boutique. David Westlake meantime would record a solo mini-LP for Creation Records in 1987 – six songs that saw him backed by a number of The Triffids as well as a new up-and-coming musician called Luke Haines.
The Servants, in name, reformed in late 1987 with its membership now consisting of Westlake, Haines, Alice Readman (bass) and Hugh Whitaker (drums) – the latter being a former member of The Housemartins.
This version of the band was dropped by Creation before any work was released but in 1988 they signed to Glass Records who soon after ran into financial difficulties as a result of the collapse of its distributor. Cue more frustration for The Servants and it wasn’t until late 1989 that they issued another single after which they had to sign to yet another label – Paperhouse – for who they cut one single and one album, aptly named Disinterested, in 1990 before finally calling it a day in August 1991 after a gig at the Rock Garden in London.
So in just four years, David Westlake, regarded by many in the music press as one of the most intelligent songwriters of his era, had tried his luck on four different labels without ever escaping cult status.
So what happened next?
Luke Haines and Alice Readman would go onto form The Auteurs while Hugh Whittaker in 1993 would become infamous for being sent to jail for six years for assaulting a former business associate as well as setting fire to his house on three separate occasions.
David Westlake faded away from the music industry but he wasn’t ever forgotten – and it emerged, thanks to a 2004 interview, that Stuart Murdoch had attempted to track him down in the hope of forming a new band with him only to give up and form Belle & Sebastian instead!!
In 2002, Westlake released a very low-key solo LP called Play Dusty For Me and all the while, thanks in part to the continued success of Luke Haines, there was a growing appreciation of the work of The Servants and the Disinterested LP, by now long-deleted, became a sought-after piece of work. In 2011, MOJO magazine put the record in its Top 100 Indie LPs of all time and shortly afterwards Cherry Red Records released Small Time which had been intended as the band’s second LP by The Servants.
I don’t own anything by The Servants other than the C86 and CD86 tracks but I have tracked down the September 89 release on Glass Records:-
mp3 : The Servants – It’s My Turn
By now a solicitor and part-time lecturer at Brunel University in London, David Westlake was coaxed out of his semi-retirement to play shows in May/June 2014, firstly as a duo with Luke Haines and then as The Servants with their first shows in 23 years. It must have been great for those lucky enough to be there as evidenced by this:-
Big favour to ask…..if anyone out there has a copy of Disinterested and can burn the tracks onto a CD for me, I’d be very pleased to hear from you.