There was a mad scramble at 9am last Friday for fans of Muse to get tickets for the band’s sort-of-homecoming at Plymouth’s Home Park stadium next May. It was no surprise that the tickets old out within minutes and were soon selling for over-inflated prices.
The Teignmouth trio are arguably the biggest musical force to ever come out of the South West, with their new album Will of the People not only due to hit the number one spot in the UK this week, but also be the first to get there using NFT (non-fungible token) technology. That’s very Muse.
The Devon pomp rockers – Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard – are currently outselling the rest of the Top 10 combined with their ninth studio album, which is set to become the band’s seventh UK Number 1. It wasn’t always like this, though.
If you told me 27 years ago, while seeing a pretty uneventful gig by three teenagers in the basement of a nightclub in Camborne, that the spotty singer and guitarist who barely kept my attention would one day go on to be an LA-living rock star, who would be engaged to a Hollywood actress and then marry an American supermodel, I would have choked on my Newcastle Brown Ale.
It was October 1995, I was a 25-year-old reporter on The West Briton who, being a massive music fan, covered the live scene in Cornwall. So when I got a call from the manager of a new young band claiming they were the next big thing, my somewhat cynical ears pricked up; when I found out they were from Teignmouth in Devon, they unpricked.
However, I was told by the chap on the other end of the phone that this band Muse were playing a few days later in Cornwall and I should be there. That chap turned out to be Dennis Smith, the then owner of Sawmills Studios at Golant, near Fowey. He knew the teenagers’ parents and had kept a keen eye on the band’s development.
Adding to the inauspicious nature of the gig was the fact it was taking place at the Berkeley Centre in Camborne – neither a venue nor a town known for blistering rock gigs. But along I went on October 11 to the sort of sticky-floored, beery club that, in 1995, was more used to holding cheesy dance nights than concerts by what would become one of the biggest bands in the world.
So low-key was the gig that this Muse lot weren’t even playing in the main room of the club, but in a tiny area in the bowels of Camborne.
I’d love to regale you with tales of how I had an epiphany and could see the future and that one day little whippersnapper Matt Bellamy would be a world-beating rock star, but the truth is I was suitably unimpressed and went upstairs to the indie disco after a few songs. Whisper it, but Muse were a bit boring.
What I can remember is there was hardly anyone watching them, the band members were very young (17 at the time) and their sound at that stage was sub-Radiohead / Nirvana grunge-pop. The rock theatrics and OTT drama of today’s Muse was a long way off.
Songs played included Backdoor and Jigsaw Memory. Both were featured on Muse’s first demo tape, recorded in bassist Chris Wolstenholme’s Devon home in May 1995. The tracks continued on their setlist into 1996 before being dropped. Another song they played in Camborne was Fashionless, which fans have described as being a particularly good early Muse track, though no demo, audio or video recordings have ever surfaced.
The lyrics went “Fashion, fashion, music, fashion / Bollocks, bollocks and bollocks to you” so I’m surprised I don’t remember it. Actually, I’m not. Maybe I was upstairs, dancing to Blur by then.
Their first gig as Muse was at Dawlish Sports Centre in March 1994. They were veterans by Camborne – the Berkeley Centre was their 16th date. In 2012, Chris Wolstenholme referred to that early Cornish gig in a tweet when asked whether there was a point in their career where they felt like they were going nowhere and were wasting their time: “Maybe playing in the Camborne centre in 1995 to three people.”
The Camborne concert was the first time Dennis Smith saw Muse perform. Earlier the same month, Smith had telephoned in order to arrange attending a Muse gig. After hearing the band perform, he told them that he would give studio time to record an EP for release on his label, Dangerous Records, once he felt the band had reached an appropriate level.
So the Camborne event plays an important part in Muse history. If it wasn’t for that gig there may not have been their first two EPs (Muse in January 1999 – the band’s development took four years – and Muscle Museum), followed by their debut album Showbiz, all recorded at Cornwall’s Sawmills and released on Smith and co-manager Safta Jaffery’s Taste Media.
As well as legendary record producer John Leckie helming Showbiz, all these early recordings, as well as parts of Origin of Symmetry (their first real sign of greatness if you ask me), were produced and / or engineered by Cornwall-based John Cornfield and Paul Reeve.
My first meeting with Muse may not have been all that special but my second showed how far they’d come just over ten years later.
A press trip for a Cornwall-based journalist usually means a heady journey over the border to Devon. However, in June 2006 I was flown from Newquay to London by the Warners record label, wined and dined at the Soho Hotel, given a sneak preview of Muse’s then-forthcoming Black Holes and Revelations album, followed by an interview with each member of the band in a hotel room.
Listening to Knights of Cydonia on repeat while devouring free beer and sushi has to be one of the best jollies of my career, plus I learned that bassist Wolstenholme worked with my dad at Teignmouth Golf Club. It’s a small world.
A few weeks later Muse played an incendiary Eden Sessions gig, which more than made up for their previous Cornish show 11 years earlier. Three years later they made an actual homecoming when they played an incredible concert on Teignmouth seafront in September 2009. Premiering the likes of Uprising and Resistance alongside favourites such as Plug In Baby, Time Is Running Out, Feeling Good and Supermassive Black Hole, the Devon town had never seen anything like it.
The band returned to Devon in 2015 when they performed at Exeter University and then what must have been a special night in April this year when they played a secret gig at Exeter’s tiny Cavern Club, a venue they’d previously played over 30 times in their early years.
It will be a much bigger audience that watches them at Plymouth Argyle’s ground when they will no doubt play the majority of Will of the People, a beautifully ludicrous return to form. I wonder if they’ll resurrect Fashionless?
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