The High - Biography
By Eric Brightwell
The High formed in Manchester at the height of the Baggy craze. With members having played in both Inspiral Carpets and The Stone Roses (with whom they shared a vaguely reminiscent sound, sartorial sensibility and dancer), perhaps being linked to Madchester was inevitable, despite their near complete lack of dance affectations. If they had obvious musical affinities, it was in the murky atmospherics and jangle pop of R.E.M., early Primal Scream and the Rain Parade, not the post-acid house baggies they were lumped in with and quickly overshadowed by.
In late 1989, after the members of Flag of Convenience, sometimes billed as Buzzcocks F.O.C., parted ways after Steve Diggle and Pete Shelley buried the hatchet and decided to reform The Buzzcocks. One of the remaining band members, drummer Chris Goodwin, phoned his friend, John Matthews, inviting him to a rehearsal for the newly vacant spot in the band. With Matthews onboard as their new singer, they rechristened themselves The High.
Following the Madchester explosion, England’s labels scrambled north to sign all things Mancunian. After a first gig opening for Inspiral Carpets at Manchester’s The Ritz Ballroom followed by a headliner at the Hacienda, the band played rehearsal shows that resulted in offers from CBS, Factory, Elektra, Factory Island and London and they ended up signing with the latter. Working with early fan/producer Martin Hannett, they recorded demos at Strawberry Studios of “Box Set Go,” “P.W.A.,” “This Is My World” and “Up and Down,” the latter a Couzens composition and banging tune that John Squire had bafflingly rejected when Couzens was in The Stone Roses. After the abandoned sessions with Hannett, London brought in the more reliable John Williams (most well known for producing The Housemartins) whom the band found much more pleasant on a personal level and he produced the rest of their debut at The Manor. The band members’ pasts and northern origins were constantly brought up in the media against their protestations of actually being from Oldham and Macclesfield. The Hannett versions, which have surfaces since, are instantly recognizable as his work and far removed Hannett’s from the less distinct touch of Williams’s final versions.
The debut single, “Box Set Go” performed acceptably, reaching #79. The next two singles outclassed it by far and performed better. The NME Single of the Week “Up and Down" and the vaguely Charlatans-sounding “Take Your Time” charted at #53 and #56 respectively. Somewhere Soon (1990-London), recorded in a month, was released in October - a collection of, sparkling, mostly low-key gems whose subtle use of tablas (courtesy of Pandit Dinesh), organ and cello add splashes of color to the mostly moody, understated melodies. It peaked at #59. However, when “Box Set Go” was re-mixed and re-released in 1991, it did better, charting at #29 – which under normal conditions would result in an appearance on Top of the Pops. Unfortunately for band (and thousands of casualties of war), that week’s performance was preempted by the start of Desert Storm.
The band later realized that for all his difficulties, Hannett was a visionary completely of different league than Williams, whose reworked versions removed a lot of the energy and urgency of the demos. In 1991, the teamed back up with Hannett and recorded “More.” One of Hannett’s last productions - he died that year- it presented a more confident sound with chiming clarity and rhythmic punch and had real chart potential. Trouble was, it wasn’t charting highly enough so London bought loads of copies, helping it get to #67 before being disqualified from the charts because of sales irregularities. As a result, the second album was shelved. To make matters worse, Matthews was briefly institutionalized after drinking a beverage spiked with a considerable quantity of LSD. When the High ultimately returned, they sounded like a completely different band.
“Better Left Untold,” meant to be the first single off their follow-up, signaled a drastic and ill-conceived change in sound. It’s no exaggeration to say that it and most of the album sounded rather like Ratt only not nearly as good. The single failed to chart and Hype (1992-London) was shelved (although promos were shipped). Produced by Steve Brown (The Cult, Manic Street Preachers) and Chris Kimsey (Marillion, The Rolling Stones) at the insistence of their label, the songs sounded much more rock, more American and not at all to the liking of their already small fanbase. At odds with its title, it received little promotion and, following the implosion of Madchester, the media were very wary of anything remotely associated. The band were summarily dropped and the broke up in 1993 after a final, non-charter, “Sweet Liberty” (which sounded like a coked-out version of The Milltown Brothers). In a someone disingenuous move, London released a High “best-of” in 1997, although it was merely the debut with the non-album “More” added as a bonus track.
Since the band’s dissolution, the members’ involvement with music has been low key. Couzens produced several Manchester area bands and occasionally works on songs with Matthews. Matthews, Couzens and Goodwin formed a band, One Summer (with one of the singer’s bandmates from Turning Blue) and recorded some demos. Matthews then joined Black September who released You Can Do Anything If You Set Your Mind to It in 2004. Chris Goodwin, meanwhile, made a cameo alongside fellow former Inspiral Mani with The Clint Boon Experience.