By all ear-witness accounts the GALACTIC COWBOYS were the loudest band ever to play Greenbelt. 57 on the scale when the legal limit' is 40; James Attlee looks at the band with the line in window-shattering rock.
Throughout the history of popular music, certain cities have achieved a kind of immortality by becoming associated with a particular sound. For instance, Liverpool will for ever be famed as the birthplace of Gerry and the Pacemakers, the young medical students who combined their interests in heart surgery and American R&B records and came up with the Mersey Sound. (Hang on a sec..Ed). Then there was the Philly Sound coming out of Philadelphia in the early 1970s, attributed by many to over-consumption of a famous brand of cream cheese. Lately, something even stranger has been happening down in the Lone Star State, right there at the home of America's space programme (salute the flag, somebody).
Yes Sir, something's going on in Houston, Texas, and we're not talking good old country music. We're not even talking ZZ Top. Rock journalists in America are already foaming at the mouth trying to coin a name to describe a new category of music that's emerged from down there near the Gulf of Mexico. When you've got one band who scramble all your favourite terminologies you can say they're unique and put 'em to one side in a category of their own; but when you get two bands doing it, from the same town, with the same manager and producer, you've got a musical movement on your hands. And they're so unique they don't even sound like each other. These Houston boys have really put the cat among the pigeonholes.
The first unique band are King's X and they're not new, its just that with their third album on Atlantic: Faith, Hope, Love', they've broken free of their cult status and leapt into the ethereal regions of topping American AOR playlists. And all this from a three-piece that mix close Beatlesque harmonies with metal guitar extravaganzas and soul and funk influences. Following close on their heels are another equally eclectic band of musicians, proudly bearing the name The Galactic Cowboys. The first track on their first, self-titled album, just released on Geffen Records, opens with the sound of a cow mooing, moves into acoustic mood before transforming itself into a thrash workout that'll make your hair stand on end. Without losing those close harmonies, of course. As I said, eclectic.
The Galactic Cowboys have visited these shores twice this year; the first time was to support Kings X at a blistering show at the Hammersmith Odeon back in the spring. They enjoyed that trip so much that they then agreed to come back and grace the Greenbelt Festival in August with an appearance so loud that the Festival organisers got in trouble for exceeding permitted volume levels by enough volume notches to power half a dozen all-night rave parties.
A day later, a posse of curious journalists attempted to get some serious answers out of the self-professed cowhands from space, without much success. These guys appear to be serious about as little as possible -- a bit like a Monkees for the 90s hardcore set? For starters, someone asked, was it true that they had landed a deal worth millions with Geffen? The four musicians treated this perfectly reasonable question with something less than the gravity it deserved - in fact they fell about laughing. The English rarely joke about money.
"For millions man, you could never imagine," begins redheaded bass player Monty, before being interrupted by vocalist Ben. "I think it was for a bigillion, actually," he claims, deadpan. "It was a quintillion," someone else offers helpfully, before guitarist Dane says definitively "we were signed for the entire Gross National Product of the United States." "I thought it was of the Arab nations," Monty breathes in a disappointed voice.
Alan, the drummer with the long blonde hair that makes him look like a refugee from Lynnard Skynnard, brings a touch of sanity to the proceedings. 'Any deal would have been a big deal for us," he explains. "We were just ready to get the music out. There were other record companies that were interested but when Geffen came through it was great for us, because that's the one we wanted to go with."
For Dane, the signing had been a uniquely emotional experience. An A&R man from the company had come down to see the band rehearse and left in somewhat non-committal fashion. Later, the band sent him a demo, which he apparently loved. The 21-year-old guitarist was in front of the tube when the news broke.
"I'm sitting at home watching the Super-bowl", he recalls, "and Monty calls me up and says "How's it feel to be a Geffen recording artist?' I'm like 'oh man, my team loses the Super bowl but I get a record deal.' You can't beat that."
The origins of The Galactic Cowboys lie in a band called The Awful Truth (now the title of their debut album). They played around a town called Springfield Missouri, where another band called Sneak Preview (later to mutate into Kings X when they move to Houston) were paying their dues on the bar circuit. The Awful Truth had the distinction of landing a deal only after they had broken up. Nevertheless, a great rhythm section had been born. Alan, still only in his mid-20s, was playing the drums in bands from his early teens Unusually for a drummer, he also sang and wrote music for guitar. Monty moved to Springfield from Phoenix, Arizona, to go to college and soon spotted Alan on the circuit. Now 31, Monty is acknowledged to be the leader of the band, because of his advanced age "and his knowledge and wisdom" (Alan). Monty's bass playing (he plays Hamer hand-made 12-string and Kramer 8-string basses, facts, fans') is one of the bands trademarks. Apart from meeting each other, the most vital connection the rhythm team made during their stint in The Awful Truth was with their manager Sam Phillips, who now manages and produces both The Galactic Cowboys and Kings X. When they found themselves without a band to kick along they paid some dues on the Christian circuit, backing Morgan Cryar. Cryar's money ran out, however -- "I think he decided to go on tour with a cassette player," says Alan -- and the rhythm section knew it was time to go find the rest of the band and hit the road. Vocalist Ben was an obvious choice.
"What happened was that I had a truck and they needed someone to haul their equipment" explains Ben. "They said 'Ben, you've got a truck...'"
'Ben used to be a blacksmith, by the way' adds Alan, helpfully.
The importance of Phillips to the Houston sound (there, I did it - a new label) could hardly be exaggerated. Both bands have a close relationship with Phillips, a former management associate of ZZ Top -- in fact, he is literally a fourth member of King's X, who choose to split all their monies four ways rather than give him production credits. He also produces the Kings X videos and obviously has a lot of creative input into The Galactic Cowboys. Phillips was at Greenbelt too, along with his latest protégées, and explained what he sees as the differences in attitude between the two bands.
"Kings X are like a trained dog that knows what to do, but The Galactic Cowboys are like a puppy - they're so much younger and less experienced, but they're eager to learn," he says with obvious pride. As an example of the boundless enthusiasm the band have for playing live he told a story of a recent jaunt where Kings X were doing a gig a thousand-odd miles from home and their support band cancelled at the last minute. When the news reached The Cowboy camp they just jumped in a bus and drove up to do the gig. These guys like to play.