The whole world might have been different had Alasdair MacLean, singer and guitarist of the delicate, pastoral, slightly psychedelic band the Clientele, had his way. In 2006 he told music website Pitchfork about the time he was working for a publisher and strongly recommended they turn down a children’s fantasy novel that had been submitted. They overruled him and published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone anyway.
We all know what happened to J.K. Rowling. MacLean ended up leaving the world of books, and in due course the Clientele got a music deal that enabled them to turn full time, though I have no idea whether they still survive solely on the tiny margins a working indie band can carve out. So here they are, 26 years on from the release of their first single, playing in Kings Cross on a perishing night, being gorgeous.
It’s easy to see why the Clientele have remained little: they are little. Their music is made up of fragile curlicues and arpeggios. Mark Keen’s drum kit at Lafayette was as small as I have ever seen: a kick drum, a snare, a hi-hat and a couple of cymbals. No toms at all. And often he played with brushes. Rather than being the back beat, the percussion was a whisper of wind behind MacLean’s guitar and Sebastian Millett’s cello; what rhythmic propulsion there was came from James Hornsey, playing bass.
The music had the smell of the library of a small country house: warm, aged and papery, with the scent of fresh flowers drifting in through open French windows. It summoned scores of groups from the past – little snatches of Television and the Zombies and the Left Banke and Fairport Convention and Felt flitted past – and I swear that every second song included the word ‘blue’ somewhere in its lyrics.