Paul Bradley and Francis Kane from the Belfast/ Bristol band Otherish told David Hennessy their debut album pays tribute to a friend and bandmate who died suddenly, escaping the Belfast for the more liberating surroundings of Bristol and how they, allegedly, inspired Radiohead.
Otherish might be the most fascinating band you have never heard of.
Made up of four songwriters and multi-instrumentalists, the band are set to release their debut self-titled album.
The band is made up of brothers Mark and Paul Bradley while Francis Kane was a close neighbour of theirs in Belfast. In fact, all three were born in the same house.
The line-up is completed by the Welsh-born/Winchester-raised George Claridge.
You might think in their fifties is a bit late for a debut album but both members of the band who spoke to the Irish World, Francis Kane and Paul Bradley, were in the Belfast/ Bristol psychedelic outfit ME in the 80s and 90s.
In fact, 2021 marks over 30 years of their on- off collaboration.
Although the guys are self- deprecating about the impact the earlier band had on the world, they toured for years and, according to legend, were an influence on none other than Radiohead.
It was in the early to mid 80s that the lads moved from Belfast to Bristol and found a vibrant scene of artists as well as freedom from the troubles of Northern Ireland.
Francis says: “We were young. We were full of beans. We were not cynical in any way.
“We had a hell of a time being in that band. I think that has to be said: We laughed a lot.
“And certainly being in England allowed us to not worry too much about being quirky artists.
“I guess we experienced some kind of freedom that we wouldn’t have had at home.”
Paul continues: “I have to say I remember one night walking home drunk.
“It was probably the first time that I’d walked home to my university flat from a Saturday night drinking escapade and I remember having this really overwhelming excitement with the fact that I didn’t have to worry about being murdered.
“And then of course, I got into this stupid kind of ‘I’m not afraid of any of you’ feeling.
“I was celebrating and audibly loudly shouting my celebration of the fact that I wasn’t afraid of any of the people with guns.
“Bristol was brilliant. It attracts a really rich and diverse transient population.”
And another member of the group of artists and musicians they hung around with has gone onto be very well known, perhaps even mythical.
Francis says: “A very well known figure that we sort of hung around with in Bristol way back in the day would now be known as Banksy, the remarkably famous and kind of revolutionary artist.
“He was a young lad hanging around in the same crowd of people we were all running with in the early 90s in Bristol.
“It was joyful not just because it was England. It was joyful because we were young and we fell in with a very colourful, curious crowd who accepted us and didn’t make any deal of us being Irish or anything, very non-judgemental crowd of people that we were with.
“Touring a band on the road, especially a skint band who aren’t selling very many records and aren’t really doing well financially, it was pretty tough but most of the time we were having a ball.”
You might wonder what inspired them to get back together after all this time. Unfortunately, it was actually a tragedy that inspired the reunion.
Francis explains: “What motivated me to get us working together again was Nick (Scooper), a member of our group, passed away suddenly.
“And just before he passed away, he and I had a conversation about working together again and getting the band going again.
“We’d actually started and we had recordings with him on and I just thought, at the beginning, that I just wanted to complete those and pay tribute to him.
“But then it gathered momentum.
“I like to fantasise that we are quite unique, that it’s never been done before: A bunch of 50 year olds having something original and new to share with the world.
“That was important to me. So three of the songs have Nick’s gleeful bass playing, lovely musicianship from our old friend Nick. The other ten songs don’t have him on them but in a way they have.”
Especially poignant is the song Your Tunnel which features the late Nick and also happens to dwell on themes like near death and the after life.
Paul says: “It’s very beautiful. I mean, Nick was an astounding composer and songwriter in his own right but he was able to take other people’s stuff and sort of perform alchemy on it effortlessly.
“The song is about the near death experience. Your tunnel is the tunnel of light.
“It’s slightly satirical but it’s also very, very ingenuous and very childlike: What is going on? What does happen when you die?
“But I think it’s accidentally really poignant because of Nick.
“I talk to Nick regularly. You can’t be sure he’s talking back to you. But it’s that nice kind of thing that you do as a human, you talk to people who are gone.
“I’ve often asked for his help and his opinion.
“If there’s a miniature challenge or miniscule dilemma I’m going, ‘Nick, what would you do?’
Francis continues: “And obviously the further down the road you are, the more aware you are of the guaranteed reward at the end the road.
“The effect of Nick was to bring us together quite powerfully in the end, it actually really focused us on creating a really great piece of work.
“We’re artistically ambitious. The world might have no interest whatsoever in us, but I think we can almost guarantee if we hold ourselves together another year or two longer, we’re gonna do some really good work.”
So, what about the Radiohead connection?
Well, the lads have heard from various sources over the years that Thom Yorke and co have said they were inspired by ME but frustratingly for the band, they have never got it confirmed as either true or false.
Paul begins: “There’s two different stories.
“I was at a gig and this guy said, ‘Oh, did you see the thing in the NME?’
“I’m shaking my head, ‘No.’
“‘The Radiohead interview?’
“I said, ‘No’.
“’They mentioned you’.
“’What do you mean?’
“’They mentioned ME band. They said that the ME band were an influence on them’.
“This was the autumn of 1997.
“I didn’t give a proverbial, I wish that I had.”
Francie continues: “All I remember about Radiohead is we had a gig, our van broke down on the way to Oxford and had we got there on time, we would have actually been playing a gig with Radiohead at their request. But it didn’t happen.”
“Typical of us at the time,” Paul says of the van breaking down.
“Frankie was saying to me, ‘This weird thing happened. Somebody told me that they’d heard Radiohead on Radio One being interviewed promoting the mighty OK Computer.
“It sounds like an urban legend now, doesn’t it? Someone told you (Francis) that they had heard Radiohead interviewed and the key question was, ‘Who are your influences?’
“And they had said, ‘Oh, most bands give really obvious answers, but actually we’re influenced by a band that nobody’s heard of’.
“And they mentioned our name.
“Allegedly they had picked out a song by us to illustrate this.
“I swear it’s not my embellishment but it could be someone’s embellishment.
“What I love about those two stories is that they’re from completely separate sources. And furthermore, they’re to do with two different media.
“It’s also almost a posthumous accolade because by the time we heard these stories our band had already split up.”
Listening to the lads speak, you know they’re not giving themselves credit they don’t deserve.
It’s an entirely likely story given the lads’ dreamy sound and Radiohead’s passion for obscure bands and experimentation.
Paul continues: “There’s one song on our second album, which came out in 1995, and there’s aspects of that song, vocal stylings and guitar work, that is like stuff from OK Computer. OK Computer came out two years later.
“So that’s quite interesting. That’s the only thing that I would say. But it’s a funny one.
“I completely trust the testimony. The guy who spoke to me at the gig, I totally trust him. He wouldn’t be mad enough to have made that up.”
The Irish World catches Francis in Belfast while Paul is still in Bristol. In fact, Paul hasn’t left Bristol since he came here as a young man.
He says: “I don’t know whether this interview unconsciously triggered these thoughts but I was thinking about how I have lived in England for so much longer than I lived in Ireland.
“I’ve lived here continuously since about 1983. I left Ireland at the age of 20 and I’ve never been back for more than a fortnight in all that time which grieves me sorely. It’s a weird one.
“It’s very strange. It’s part of the emigrants’ and the diasporic experience.
“It’s our lament, isn’t it? We love our country yet we stay away from it.
“The immigrant issue is very important. It probably ties into our name as well.
“We were worrying that you might ask us about the name of the band and I’ve semi-accidentally reversed the van into the gatepost now.
“It’s kind of about that we’re everywhere-ish.
“Everyone is oneself and everyone is another.
“You’re another to me but you’re yourself to yourself.
“As bananas as that sounds, it’s true for everybody on earth. We are all ourselves and we’re all ‘the other’ to everyone else.”
Francis adds on the subject of the band name: “I like the way it sounds like ‘the other Irish’ which isn’t a big heavy manifesto or anything. We will all be the other Irish, the sort of version of Irish that is well known in the world but each one of us would also be who we are ourselves.”
Francis says: “My earliest memory of Paul would have been about 1968 and us making up stuff together whether it was music or some eejity childhood thing.
“We were best mates when we were five years old. We would be a bit older than that now.
“We go back a very long way, an incredibly long way.”
Paul adds: “Frank and I first did actual conscious music together around about 1980.
“Then the first time we did music together as a little duo was probably about 1985.
“And then in Bristol finally in 1988, we finally founded the band, and then gigged on and off for the next eight years.
“We did all the things that you hear bands doing. We did tours and we were on the radio, and we were on the TV a couple of times.
“We didn’t have a big cultural impact on the world but the friendship between us and the brotherhood between us never really vanished, couldn’t really vanish I suppose.”
Does that mean it has always been a case of when and not if they would reunite to make music again? “Yeah, I would agree with that. It was a when,” says Paul.
The album Otherish, featuring lead single Pyramids of Tir Chonaill, is out now.