independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

The Immediate: End of days

Critical acclaim, chart success, a Choice Music Prize nomination - The Immediate was a band to watch. Then, in the midst of all the hype, the boys announced they were breaking up. They cited "existential differences", but now, for the first time, band member Barra Heavey tells the real reasons why The Immediate are no more

The Immediate

THE IMMEDIATE had hope for 2007. In early February we stepped out of the limousine as nominees at the Meteor Music Awards, strutting by with camera bulbs flashing and microphones pointing questions.

We were arriving. Never mind that most of those cameras were pointing further up the red carpet at The Sugababes, or that the limo had traveled only 200 feet to bring us around from the side entrance of The Point because, damn it, we had arrived!

Backstage that evening the booze flowed freely. We managed to stay just on the decent side of sober to perform at the televised ceremony, fully appreciating the professional gravity of rubbing shoulders with The Pussycat Dolls, Amy Winehouse, Snow Patrol or The Kaiser Chiefs. Hell, it’s nice to be in a position to rub anything with a Pussycat Doll. But love or loath those kinds of music, this was our career taking its next step forward.

As you might expect, we were enjoying that real sense of progression.

Later that month, our debut album In Towers & Clouds, was the bookie’s favourite to scoop the Choice Music Prize Album Of The Year for 2006.

Our muted pride and quiet confidence were enough to venture a €20 Paddy Power voucher on the outcome turning in our favour. In anticipation of the result, each of the 10 nominees huddled together in the cramped dressing room corridor, Oscar faces primed and ready. None was more surprised than the winner, The Divine Comedy; and no mean feat when the competition included such refreshingly original offerings as Si Schroeder’s Coping Mechanisms or Now This I Have To Hear by Messiah J And The Expert.

Although The Immediate didn’t pick up the award that night, the nomination itself represented a definite seal of approval, coming as it did from a judging panel of leading Irish music industry figures.

The show was broadcast live on Tom Dunne’s radio programme and the surrounding media attention was significant. We offset any disappointment by considering the thrill of having recently had our record licensed in several European countries (or territories as they’re domineeringly called in the business). This meant imminent touring, promotion, press, etc - there was much work to be done.

We’d soon be knuckling down to rehearse for upcoming performances in the UK and Holland, followed by gigs across the Atlantic at music showcases in New York and Texas in March, and culminating in a nationwide tour of France during April and May to coincide with the album’s release.

The pace was getting relentless and, as would any band with ambition, we loved it.

From the looks of things, those busy few months would surely give way to a frenetic summer of festivals and press commitments.

Even then the schedule would only wind down long enough for new songs to be collected, a follow-up album recorded, released, toured - the whole shebang happening again on a larger scale towards the end of the year and on into 2008. The workload was increasing but because there was a constant feeling of progress it was work that we relished. Every successful tour or enthusiastic review was like receiving a promotion or a bonus.

Imagine telling any teenager that within five years they’ll be earning their living by playing in a band, touring the US and mainland Europe in support of their own critically-acclaimed debut album - and watch their face light up.

Back when we were teenagers, Conor O’Brien, Dave Hedderman, Peter Toomey and I couldn’t have fully believed that soon we’d be sharing stages with the likes of The Flaming Lips, Doves or The Magic Numbers, let alone juggling gigs overseas with nationwide tours of our own country, including being the headline act on the inaugural 2FM 2moro 2our. It would also have been incredible to think that we’d have a strong album under our belts that had been produced by Grammy-winner Chris Shaw, the man who had delivered some of our own favourite records by Bob Dylan, Wilco, Super Furry Animals, even Public Enemy.

Record deals, big tours and support slots, world-class producers - this was dream-speak, the sort of foggy notion wishfully tossed around by anyone who has ever strummed a guitar with a windmill wave of their arm. But by 2007, Conor, Dave, Pete and I had already achieved this and more in The Immediate - and it didn’t look like the ride was about to come to an end any time soon.

We served our apprenticeship, as most bands do, playing lousy gigs in tiny venues, chasing hide-and-seek promoters for petrol money, and siphoning off the bullshit when talking to any yesmen industry types. Even after signing all the contracts, once the album was in the can, ready to go, the release date was pushed back almost a year as the finer points were hammered out.

This delay was necessary but tough. We wanted full creative control, but that meant the hard slog of raising the band’s profile by brute force had to continue.

The Immediate was a ‘small’ or ‘indie’ project as far as the music business was concerned; a cash-poor, heart-rich affair. There wasn’t a lot of money coming in but our gain was long-term. No more than one degree of separation existed between us in the band and anyone on the payroll. That’s just how we liked it. This allowed us work efficiently with a cool group of people who believed in us and our music, who kept our interests at heart, and with whom we shared something approaching a kindred aesthetic. The Immediate didn’t have professional colleagues as much as it had a family.

The ease with which we formed these strong working relationships stemmed from how close together we ourselves were as friends, joined at the hip. My friendship with Conor, Dave and Pete dated back to mid-teen halcyon school days and tonic-wine-fuelled house parties where it seemed every other person was either an aspiring musician, or at least capable of defending tooth and nail the honour of their favourite band.

We four boyos enjoyed a fond and close acquaintance for almost a decade before our combination came to be known as The Immediate. And only for that history together we probably would have killed each other many times over, cooped up in tiny spaces as we often were, on tour, in vans or hotel rooms, or in broom closets masquerading as dressing rooms. There’s not a lot that you don’t know about your cohorts when you share that sort of environment with them 24/7, but it’s not like the Big Brother house.

Instead of competing against them you have to band together, warts and all, to ensure your collective survival.

And a band is a collective, a democracy with its public side and its private side. However, it took a while for The Immediate to make this distinction. For instance, there’s a particular press photo of the four of us, taken on the steps of an old mill during a day off from recording the album. For whatever reason, this one shot came to be used in about 95pc of all of our press coverage. It’s an evocative shot, suggesting a band that’s moody, angular, certainly serious, maybe a bit too much so.

Now don't get me wrong, it’s an excellent photo. But it’s only one of about 200 taken that day, most of which were scrapped because we as subjects were too giddy, laughing from enjoying the novelty of what was, essentially, living a dream. Spliced in between that and another flashback of the sheer terror we experienced while performing a cover of Bowie’s Changes live on French national radio, before a listenership of two million, is my recollection of a single shattering moment that took place in a small Montmartre cafe over croissants and espresso one morning in March.

The coffee was black and strong and there was plenty of tasty jam for the bread. We were laughing and joking over god knows what when Dave’s phone rang, a giggle trickling over into his greeting. But within seconds the blood had left his face and the rest of us instinctively shut up,

intuiting from his pallor and his very few words that something was seriously wrong. Back home, his father had fallen gravely ill. Taking the next available flight to Dublin, Pete accompanied Dave on the plane while Conor and I remained in Paris to wade through a final day of press. We were numb, not only because of what had happened to Mr Hedderman, but because if we were feeling as bad as we were, how could we possibly fathom what Dave must have been going through?

This all happened just a few days after the immense high of having our record nominated for Irish Album Of The Year. Present at the award ceremony, Mr Hedderman, like the other parents, sisters, brothers, friends and fans, was proud to witness what we were achieving.

Perhaps more than the others he could lay claim to part of that success: not only did he act as chauffeur, frequently driving the band to the airport to catch the red eye, he would also chew the ear off anyone who got into his taxi, extolling

The Immediate’s virtues, and keeping a ready supply of CDs in the boot for a quick sale. Important though the forthcoming trip to the US would have been, the emotional urgency of events completely beyond our control was so great that we had to cancel. We put the band on hiatus for a fortnight. Sometimes in life unforeseen moments arise that are simply more important than anything and everything else.

So instead of being in a jet 35,000 feet above the American mid-west, Dave was exactly where he should have been — by the bedside with his family as his father passed away.

A high-profile gig scheduled months previously was due to take place in Whelans just days after the funeral. We pulled together as professionals, managing to summon an electric performance from a dark and very difficult place.

After that show, things slowly acquired the trappings of normality, so I thought: rehearsing; gigging; writing; travelling; planning; coordinating; administrating. Knocked, shaken, down but not out, The Immediate was soon back on its feet, fighting fit, running almost at full pelt.

And the year had of course started at a sprint. Granted we stumbled over a tough hurdle but we were back up to speed, playing gigs over in France, undertaking a tour of Ireland. We even heard from a little bird that the album was about to be licensed in Australia. If anything, the old routines were becoming faster, smoother, and more efficient than ever before. But for all its benefits, routine will lull you into a false sense of security.

One day in May I was on a train approaching the city centre, idling away the journey with a book, due to rendezvous with the others to arrange upcoming rehearsals, sort out grunt work, a typical status meeting. My phone beeped. A text message proclaimed that the scheduled location, The Forum Bar on Dame Street, had been switched at the last minute. There was, of course, no rule that demanded we meet at our usual place, but routine had been broken.

Strolling in, I spotted the lads sitting at a table up in the balcony and made my way over towards the stairs. Only one thing seemed out of the ordinary: I remember noting how each wore a smile that was a little too wide to be comfortable, or natural.

“Hey, there’s been some news; you might want to sit down…” My mind raced excitedly (for a moment) - we’d been offered a huge publishing deal, maybe a great summer festival slot or a tour of Europe supporting The Rolling Stones? But something didn’t fit.

“It looks like the band has broken up.”

Car crash moment. Punch-drunk, my brain slowed everything down and gestured me to remain calm - this can’t be as bad as it sounds.

My walk petered out before I reached the chair to sit down and so all I could think of doing was to shrug my shoulders, turn about-face, stride with measured paces back down the stairs, and buy a strong coffee while my brain got its act together.

Everything would be alright. This is an aberration, cold feet, a bump in the road — we had solved problems bigger than this in the past, by communicating, by reasoning. We were good at that. While waiting for my change I realised I had contracted that nervous, unnatural smile.

The talk lasted for about an hour, during which time The Immediate disintegrated beyond reason or any feasible creative coherency. There was no bad blood, there were no excuses made, there was just… nothing. With nothing more to add we each got up to leave. Back out on the cobbled street we discovered, by design or otherwise, that we were each heading off in different directions. And so we parted ways after defaulting to awkward handshakes of the sort you might offer a stranger at mass. It felt unreal.

That was Monday afternoon. Rehearsals planned for Tuesday and Wednesday that week went unmentioned. Evaporated. Pointless. The band’s autopilot drunkenly and tensely, but professionally, fumbled through a penultimate performance at The Sugar Club on Thursday before officially and unceremoniously declaiming self-dissolution during the last waltz at the Trinity Ball the following night, my birthday.

“Existential differences” were cited as the reason for the split. The phrase sounded playful, an attempt to present a united front during the band’s death rattles, but that’s what sickened me. God, how it disrespected our fans. Pete had announced his decision to leave the band and, incredibly to me, Dave followed suit. I tell myself they didn’t plan it this way but the timing was devastating.

Honestly, I felt betrayed. Those are the facts, at least as I remember them. There are a million mitigating elements that I may or may not ever learn but the closest I’m ever likely to come to closure, the only reason for the break-up that I can think of after months of trying, is this: forces that had a positive effect on The Immediate were actually having a negative effect on some of us. Sounds simple now that I write it down but remarkably I never fully grasped the concept during all my time with the band.

A good band requires hard work and long stretches of separation from friends and family, cut off from loved ones, with little or no free time to pursue other interests. Even then there’s no guarantee of success, no sort of security the likes of which you might enjoy with a regular job.

When we signed up to a career in music we understood this as a band - but not as individuals subject to the vicissitudes of life. It’s taken a while but I’ve finally weeded out the negative sentiments left over from a nasty red mist that hung around me afterwards.

The thing that most frustrated me turned out to be nothing less than my failure to anticipate the split. I wanted us to play our slot at Oxegen, a proper send off for the band and its fans alike, but they did not.

I’d left the day job long beforehand: I was serious, committed, ready, and expected no less from my band mates. Perhaps that’s why I was so shocked, bereft of reason. Neither Dave nor Pete provided a valid excuse for quitting other than it being “for the best”. I suspect that Conor, however, understands once a person has that basic desire to create music, they do it because they must.

For ages, the idea of it being “for the best” just killed me. Here was me thinking they were stark raving mad: you’re in a band that has everything going for it, if it ain’t broke, etc, etc.

There was hope for The Immediate and not just for 2007 but for many years to come. But for now, instead of realising those hopes with the band, I’m left with warm memories of some fine times, good music and great people. It is with a wry grin that I reminisce about happier days with The Immediate. With a sigh and a smile I’ll chalk it up to experience and look forward to all the music that has yet to be made.

The Immediate were set for great things, says rock critic John Meagher

THE IMMEDIATE burned brightly and briefly. Few young Irish bands garnered the sort of praise they did, and few deserved it as much. Their quirky guitar rock was difficult to pigeonhole and their songs were quite unlike anything released in this country or elsewhere. On hearing their excellent debut album, In Towers & Clouds, I felt they had an exciting future ahead of them.

Along with Fionn Regan’s remarkable debut, that album was the best domestic release of last year. And their live shows were exciting affairs, evidence of the band’s growing confidence in their own talents.

Around this time last year, I interviewed the two main men in the band, Dave Hedderman and Conor O’Brien. The were enthusiastic and articulate and perhaps a little pretentious, but it was very clear that they cared about their band very much. But dark clouds gathered in the conversation.

Unprompted, they spoke about the financial difficulties of being in a band full time. Despite the great reviews and the reasonable album sales and the well-attended concerts, The Immediate were making practically no money. They were a long way from the self-sufficient level of bands like Bell X1 and The Frames.

Despite this, I was very taken aback when I heard the band had split up.

Despite not winning the Choice Music Prize - The Divine Comedy’s album had its merits but wasn’t as good - interest in the band was growing and they were due to play Oxegen. I assumed they would eventually land a deal with a UK independent, a label like Domino perhaps, but it wasn’t to be.

Perhaps Hedderman, O’Brien, Peter Toomey and Barra Heavey will get back together one day. Somehow, I don’t think they will. Still, they have left one great album behind them and how many Irish bands, irrespective of length of time together, can truthfully say that?

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