Idlewild - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
Scottish rockers Idlewild have carved themselves a bittersweet niche as critical darlings, championed by the rock elite and a buzz band continually on the verge of worldwide success only to have each subsequent release ignored by fickle music consumers. After over a decade of existence, five albums, and tours supporting big name artists like Coldplay and Pearl Jam without much to show for it, what is amazing about Idlewild is their unyielding tenacity in the face of adversity. In their defense, the band has managed to survive numerous line-up changes and a wild evolution that’s seen them transform from ear-bleeding emo punk to elegant jangly alt-rock while still maintaining a diehard fanbase who hang on vocalist Roddy Woomble’s every poetic line. Yet it’s still a shame Woomble and company have seemingly missed their window to success only to fall into the category of the band most people have heard of but few have actually heard. Then again, it took R.E.M. over ten years of strife and neglect for the world to recognize their genius, so perhaps Idlewild are simply following in the footsteps of their American heroes. Time will tell.
Idlewild formed in late 1995 when vocalist Roddy Woomble met drummer Colin Newton at party in Edinburgh, Scotland. Upon discovering similar musical interests the two encountered guitarist Rod Jones, who happened to be at the very same party, and the seeds for the band were planted. After writing a couple of songs the group brought in bassist Phil Scanlon and Woomble christened the band Idlewild as a reference to the secret meeting place for the characters in the novel Anne of Green Gables. At a time when the highly melodic Britpop movement was dominating British airwaves, Idlewild made a name for themselves by playing a deafening punk influenced rock complete with mountains of guitar distortion and Woomble’s highly literate lyrics. The band’s intense energetic live shows also garnered them a strong fanbase in the Edinburg area. Scanlon exited the band in 1997 to finish his studies and was replaced by Bob Fairfoull, who had allegedly attended every Idlewild show since the summer of 1996. After issuing their debut single “Queen of the Troubled Teens” (Human Condition) in the spring of 1997, the band came to the attention of Radio One DJ Steve Lamacq, who became so enamored with Idlewild he went on air and asked the audience to contact him with any information regarding the band.
Recorded in just one week with producer Paul Tipler, the mini-album Captain (1998 Deceptive Records) was Idlewild’s first critical success, bringing the band to the attention of a larger UK audience and a contract with the influential label, Food Records. The earsplitting dystopian chaos of their debut album, Hope Is Important (1998 Food) followed just a few months later and established the group as one of the UK’s top buzz bands of the year. 100 Broken Windows (2000 Capitol) reigned in the band’s sonic destruction and infused alt-rock melodies more akin to R.E.M. and The Smiths into their guitar heavy sound. First single, “Little Discourage” became a moderate radio hit in the UK and the band embarked on their first large international tour.
By the dawn of 2001 the band began recording tracks for their next album with legendary producer Stephen Street but cut the sessions short to tour North America. After re-convening in Scotland later that year, Idlewild reunited with producer Dave Eringa, who helmed 100 Broken Windows. Featuring a notable performance by Scottish poet laureate Edwin Morgan on the track “Scottish Fiction”, the inspired alt-pop of The Remote Part (2002 EMI) replaced the last remnants of Idlewild’s noisy punk bravado with Woomble’s more mature croon and the band’s eclectic yet moody guitar rock. The Remote Part was their biggest critical and commercial success to date even though it failed to catapult Idlewild into mainstream success. After adding second guitarist Allen Stewart the band embarked on an extended European tour with dates supporting Coldplay. Fairfoll exited the group before the tour’s end and was replaced with bassist Gavin Fox. The band subsequently embarked on a nine week North American tour supporting Pearl Jam, making a special acoustic in-store performance at Amoeba San Francisco on April 1, 2003.
Idlewild’s next full length was a make or break release that would either break the mainstream or condemn them to cult status. Largely recorded in Los Angeles and Sweden with longtime Beck producer Tony Hoffer, the disjointed and muddled Warnings/Promises (2005 EMI) failed to deliver, although first single “Love Steals Us from Loneliness” became another moderate hit in the UK. Undaunted the band embarked on a various festival dates and tours including opening slots for Pixies, U2, and their biggest influence R.E.M. After being dropped by longtime label EMI, rumors of a breakup ensued. Although the band admitted to taking an indefinite hiatus they remained adamant about recording another album. In the interim Gavin Fox was replaced by bassist Gareth Russell and Woomble released a folk inspired debut solo full length, My Secret Is My Silence (2006 Pure Records). Meanwhile guitarist Rod Jones collaborated with Inara George on the unreleased album George Is Jones. Idlewild returned in 2007 with Make Another World (Sequel), their most radio friendly album to date. A few months later the best of compilation, Scottish Fiction: Best of 1997-2007 (EMI), which was also released as a limited edition with a DVD featuring a documentary and live footage. Woomble is currently slated to release a collaborative album with Kris Drever and John McCusker called Before the Ruin (Navigator Records) in September of 2008.