We look to the future of British punk as we welcome Jamie campbell Bower and counterfeit to the kerrang! cover for the very first time
WITH THEIR SNARLING DEBUT, COUNTERFEIT ARE HERE TO RE-ESTABLISH LONDON AS THE CENTRE OF THE PUNK ROCK UNIVERSE. BECAUSE WHILE JAMIE CAMPBELL BOWER MAY HAVE HARRY POTTER’S PHONE NUMBER, HE IS, SAYS IAN WINWOOD, THE BONA FIDE REAL DEAL…
The year before the release of Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols – the album which, for a time at least, made everything that had come before it seem irrelevant – its authors played the most legendary concert in the history of English punk. Only a few days before the end of a summer so unrelentingly hot that it imperilled the nation’s supply of fresh water, on August 29, 1976 at Islington’s Screen On The Green, frontman Johnny Rotten, guitarist Steve Jones, bassist Glen Matlock and drummer Paul Cook headlined a bill that also featured fellow Londoners The Clash and the Buzzcocks, from Manchester. In the intervening years, the former band’s reputation has blossomed to equal that of the Sex Pistols, while the melodic thrust of the latter was of such an influence that the group were invited by Kurt Cobain to support Nirvana on the Seattleites’ European tour promoting 1993 album In Utero. The concert at the Screen On The Green was billed as… “A Midnight Special,” answers Jamie Campbell Bower, the frontman of punk group Counterfeit.the annoyingly handsome 28-year-old has been asked this obscure question as a means to – how best to put it? – test the credentials of a man who leads a band that, to the untrained eye, seem to have appeared out of nowhere.the London quintet – the line-up of which is completed by guitarist Tristan Marmont, bassist Roland Johnson, drummer Jimmy Craig and guitarist Sam Bower, Jamie’s younger brother – joined forces barely
two years ago; a professional concern that rose from the remnants of an indie part-time collective known as The Darling Buds, formed presumably to secure copyright on the worst band name in the world. Following the release of their debut EP, the three-track Come Get Some, in the autumn of 2015, that December Counterfeit made their live debut in London at a sold-out headline show at the O2 Academy in Islington in front of 800 paying customers. Since then, Counterfeit have issued two more EPS, 2016’s Enough and Addiction, and have upped their onstage profile with a house-full appearance in front of 1,100 people at Camden’s Electric Ballroom last April. this week sees the release of their debut album, the 4K-rated Together We Are Stronger, an occasion that is marked here by the group’s first cover feature. that sound you can hear is other fledgling groups grinding their teeth in annoyance.
“Of course I want this band to be the biggest band in the world,” says their singer. “of course I want that. I don’t think that having goals and having drive is a bad thing. I think that not having them can be bad because it doesn’t push you. I want to push myself as far as this thing can possibly go.”
On the last day of winter, Jamie is sitting at a wooden table at The Bull pub on Upper Street, N1. The Screen On The Green, with its beautiful art deco frontage and neon lights, is but a well-aimed globule of phlegm away, which seems fitting seeing as Counterfeit obliquely reference both the Sex Pistols and The Clash on the lyric sheet that accompanies Together We Are Stronger. In terms of punk rock heritage, this part of town is teeming with historic landmarks. a mile or so north is Holloway, the birthplace of Sex Pistols frontman and punk’s original enfant terrible, Johnny Rotten (ne John Lydon), whose searing announcement that, ‘i am an antichrist’ at the beginning of his band’s first single, anarchy In The UK, resonated with a fury capable of levelling the city in which he was born.two miles north is Finsbury Park, once home to The Rainbow, a venue remembered with misty eyes for whiteknuckle concerts by The Clash and by Lydon’s second band, the brilliant Public Image Limited.two miles south stands The 100 Club on Oxford Street, where in 1976 the music journalist Nick Kent was left bleeding from a wound to the head after an attack by the soon-to-be Sex Pistol Sid Vicious, two years prior to the bassist being charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, at the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, shortly before he himself died of a heroin overdose.
Jamie Campbell Bower loves this stuff; not the violence itself, perhaps, but the violence implicit in punk in its most fundamental form. But if London was once the locus of the most feral and feared subculture in the history of rock’n’roll, it ain’t no more. aside from a smattering of homegrown defenders of the faith – Gallows, predominantly, from nearby Watford – the shape of punk to come belonged to America; first to Black Flag, and then to Green Day. If for no more than this reason, the rapid emergence and increasing prominence of Counterfeit merits attention.
“I never set out to make a punk band,” says the group’s frontman. “i never set out to be anything
other than who I am. But to me, the point of music is that it has to be an exorcism, and that’s reflected in the kind of music we make. I have to be getting something off my chest in order for me to share it, and to be able to breathe. that’s how I write. I wake up and I feel like shit and I can’t breathe, and then I write and feel better.” Every day? “Pretty much. I wake up and I’m gasping for air.”
orn on November 22, 1988 at London’s Hammersmith Hospital, as a child Jamie was transplanted to rural Hampshire after his parents swapped the throb of the city for a quieter life in the country.as a student at the independent Bedales School, his talents as a performer were brought to the attention of casting director Susie Figgis, which led to acting parts in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd alongside Johnny Depp and Timothy Spall, not to mention appearances in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and three instalments of The Twilight Saga. Jamie’s double-barrelled surname is attributable to the fact that the actors’ union Equity already had a Jamie Bower on its books. A modelling gig for Burberry led to a relationship with current girlfriend Matilda, also a model, with whom he shares a flat near London’s lovely Borough Market. Not content with pictures both moving and still, in 2015 Jamie played the part of Joe in the West End production of Bend It Like Beckham at the Phoenix Theatre.
“The difference between performing in the theatre and playing a gig is that at the theatre, no-one’s going to stand up and throw a bottle at you,” he says.
Tall and tattooed, the likeable Londoner is sufficiently good-natured as to respond to the jibe that he embodies the acronym MAW – Model, Actor, whatever – with more than a polite smile. He speaks with polished vowels and in sentences of near perfect English, albeit peppered with the kind of salty language one might expect from a sailor who has just seen his month’s ration of rum fall into the ocean. He understands that his life appears to represent the epitome of otherworldly glamour; perfection, even.
“I guess from the outside, in the media spotlight, when you’re doing something like movies, it does seem very glamorous,” he says. “it does seem very…” – a momentary search for the right word – “enviable. But actually, underneath all the glamorous stuff there’s still a fucking human being. there’s still a confused individual who’s trying to figure out who they are.”
As the singer in a punk band, do you feel like you’re slumming it? “No.” Jamie’s response to the elegant artifice of his
“i never set out to make a punk band. i never set out be anything to than who other i am” ● JAMIE CAMPBELL BOWER ●
professional life – a life in which, “he speaks words that are written by someone else” – was to shovel as much chaos as possible into its private equivalent. Once the floodgates were opened, the water quickly turned deep and cold; the diving board high.
“I wanted to hit the eject button on life,” he says. “i massively wanted out. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I was actively thinking of suicide, but the overriding feeling was that life was too fucking much. My temporary out was oblivion in any way, shape or form. anything to make me feel different.”
Jamie declines to confirm whether or not drugs found their way into his life – “I’m not sure I want to say whether they did or they didn’t,” he says, adding that one can “infer anything you
like” from this – but lines such as, ‘i’m strung out and I’m sentimental/on Blackfriars Bridge hoping
that it’s all over’ (from the song Addiction on Together We Are Stronger) suggest their own story. Either way, the singer did find carnage cloaked as comfort in a liquid form as dispensed by public houses.
“Put it this way: I don’t drink any more,” he says.
A glance at a pint pot quickly dispatched and now resting empty by his right hand is neutralised by the revelation that this refreshment was in fact alcohol-free lager with a lemonade top.as you were.
“I wouldn’t go as far as saying I was an alcoholic, absolutely not,” he says. “but I know that for me it was getting in the way of what I wanted to do and who I am. And it was causing problems with my life… [It was causing problems] with everyone; with people that I work with, in my personal life in terms of my relationships with people that I love, girlfriends and so on. I needed it to stop.” And again, but with greater emphasis. “i needed it to stop.” How many nights a week would you be drunk? “That’s a very deep and personal question,” he says, temporarily and uncharacteristically ruffled. “How many nights a week would I be drunk? Alcohol for me was something that existed on a daily basis, let’s put it like that. [And] it would always lead to me going too far.”
The solution, of course, was to stop getting pissed, a straight and narrow road on which Jamie has now been travelling for two years. Like a mirror smashing in reverse, the parts of his life that he believed to be broken forever began to knit themselves back together.the relationship with the woman with whom he shares his life (at least when their respective schedules allow; following this interview our subject heads home to spend an evening with Matilda before she flies to Newyork on a modelling assignment the following morning) was revived following a year of separation and palpable evidence that the young, erstwhile lush was getting his ducks in a row. Gone was the feeling that he had to be “on’” all of the time, that everything in life was a performance staged for the benefit of an audience; an unhealthy furtherance of the fact that the words “action!” and “cut!” have featured so prevalently in Jamie’s working life. In its place lay a space to be filled only by the realisations of someone aspiring to become a grown-up.
“That was the point that this band was born,” he says. “and everything that’s on this record came out of a time when I was finally finding out
who the fuck I was, and how terrifying it is to exist in this world on the world’s terms rather than your own. also, I was able to look back on certain moments that had happened in my life, and the hurt that those moments caused me, and the hurt that those moments caused [other people] as well, and really be able to see them and feel them for the first time. Before, I couldn’t really do that.
“But I’ve kept my side of the street clean,” he says. “i sorted my shit out. I knew what I wanted. I knew I had to work at what I wanted.and I knew that it wouldn’t come easy.”
Back to the violence of punk. For Jamie Campbell Bower, the moment of epiphany arrived like an uppercut on a sunny afternoon in a public park in the stockbroker belt of Kent.the occasion was the 2008 Radio 1 Big Weekend, staged that year on the weekend of May 10 and 11 at Mote Park in Maidstone, the line-up of which saw Gallows performing a mid-afternoon second stage set in which they lurked like broken glass in a bowl of ice cream.
“I’d never seen anything like it,” he remembers, as if it had just happened. “i’d seen bands before, good bands, but nothing like this, nothing that comes out and it’s like a fucking punch to the face, like a kick to the teeth. It’s fucking incredible to witness. I remember seeing that and thinking, ‘fuck me!’ It was real punk; it was on the edge.”
Bet your life it was.the closest that any band from this country has come to replicating the unstable combustible fury of the Sex Pistols, and the feeling that onstage anything could happen, Gallows were a union of such reckless abandon that on one occasion, at The 100 Club, frontman Frank Carter dived off the stage in order to chase an audience member up a flight of stairs and out onto Oxford Street in response to the man’s unwise decision to throw a full pint of beer over guitarist Steph Carter. If you’re in the market for a crash course in the kind of chaos that punk can create, this is tough to beat.
The assault that took place on Jamie’s senses at Mote Park in 2008 has provided an informative and ongoing impact on the music to which he listens as well as the music he makes. Onstage, the singer can be a handful. Be warned, an audience member caught staring at a smart phone during the band’s set will be challenged; a song is liable to be halted if two people are seen shouting in conversation rather than watching and listening to the musicians in front of them. Last month at the Air & Style Festival in Innsbruck, austria, the frontman responded to Counterfeit’s first-on-the-bill stage time in front of a small and disinterested audience by jumping down in to the crowd and singing the rest of the set from this station, hustling and demanding something more than indifference from those around him.
“I want to get people involved from the word go and give them the feeling of being kicked in the teeth,” he says. “but I tend to black out when I’m onstage. From the moment I walk out there
“i want to give people the feeling of being
I don’t know what the fuck is going to happen from beginning to end… Plus, the moment I walk out onstage I’m overcome by what I can only describe as severe anxiety. Prior to going onstage I’m excited and I’m keen, and then the second I go out I’m breathless and anxious.at our gigs, you can come and watch a man fall apart.” You should put that on your posters. “Yeah. ‘come and watch a band trying to hold it together’.”
All of which is apt, because this is precisely what Counterfeit are going to need to do.the 10 tracks that comprise Together We Are Stronger were recorded over the course of 26 days last summer. The band began work at 9am in the morning – virtually unheard of for a rock group – leaving their homes two hours beforehand. But these songs weren’t recorded over the course of anything like 26 consecutive days; instead, their appearances in the studio occurred on weekends and on days when Jamie wasn’t tied to other professional obligations, such as the filming of upcoming television series Will, about the life of the young William Shakespeare in which he plays the part of the playwright Christopher Marlowe.
After a rather long pause, bassist Roland Johnson answers the question of whether, in an ideal world, he would prefer it if his singer did not have outside commitments with the words, “it hasn’t affected us.” Guitarist-tristan Marmont will say that, “it hasn’t affected us yet,” with the emphasis being his. “if and when it does, I might have a different answer,” he admits, adding that, “i suppose it depends on how large this becomes, because the bigger it becomes the more it’s going to impinge on his other career. We’ll just have to see.”
It seems somehow fitting that the complicated schedule of a complicated performer should attempt to bend itself to the contours of a working rock’n’roll band, which are in themselves always complicated things, often to the point of dysfunction.and, anyway, that Counterfeit have propelled themselves this far in such a short span of time is remarkable, not to mention encouraging. It is as if their audience are attracted not just by the promise of their music, but also by a force of energy in the hands of a frontman possessed not only of genuine star quality, but also a liking for chaos.
If rock’n’roll fails to thrill, its practitioners are worthless; when it comes to punk, this is doubly true. On top of all else, Jamie Campbell Bower is here to remind you of this.
TOGETHER WE ARE STRONGER IS OUT ON MARCH 17 VIA XTRA MILE. COUNTERFEIT TOUR THE UK IN APRIL, AND PLAY READING & LEEDS THIS AUGUST – SEE THE GIG GUIDE FOR INFO
Stages? Definitely not punk rock