Simchah song reunites band
Barmitzvah song paved the way for a musical reunion after almost two decades apart
EIGHTEEN YEARS ago, with a lucrative deal with London Records, cousins Jonny Gordon and Bradley Rubenstein appeared on the verge of stardom.
Their band, Lisp, had just produced a first album, Cycles, at the famous Britannia Row Studios to acclaim from the likes of NME and Dazed And Confused.
Comparisons were even being made with top-selling groups such as Massive Attack and The Smiths.
But in a crowded market they never achieved their rise to fame.
For vocalist Jonny and guitarist and producer Bradley — who both subsequently embraced communal life in Barkingside and Gants Hill — the decision to finally call it a day was taken after they lost their record deal.
“I couldn’t actually listen to music after that for years,” Jonny told the JC. “I’d turn off programmes like the Jools Holland Show because I was thinking, ‘Were we good, or were we rubbish?’
“I couldn’t bring myself to even listen to the album. I started a new life running a gardening business, digging holes and getting covered in mud — but at least I felt in control of my life again.”
For Bradley, it was time to properly immerse himself in his Jewish studies. Both men had been regular shul-goers while growing up. But after becoming a warden at Redbridge shul, and then becoming shomer Shabbat, it was Bradley who developed an ambition to go even further and possibly become a communal rabbi one day.
“When I was going to shul on a Friday night I was connecting with Jewish melodies even as a kid,” he says of the link between his love of music and Judaism.
“Some of the songs I wrote for Lisp were inspired by Jewish melody, which intriguingly has both major and minor notes. It is very much like life. You can go to a levoyah in the morning and a wedding in the evening. Life can be an emotional roller-coaster and Jewish melody is like that.”
With the demands of Lisp behind him, and no longer worrying about turning down gigs on Shabbat, Bradley took his wife and two young children to a yeshiva in Israel in an effort to pursue his rabbinical dreams.
And while his religion kept him there, he also developed his musical and production skills with other musicians at the Beit Tzvi Morning Kollel yeshiva, where he still lives. Within two years, he was back — with a successful Israeli rap-rock band called Shtar. Until then, a return to music was the last thing he would consider. That was, until he planned his son Sasha’s barmitzvah last year.
A familiar face at Brondesbury Park synagogue, near to where he now lives with his wife Nadine, Jonny said he had almost “pre-empted” Rabbi Baruch Levin’s request to leyn on his son’s big day.
“I knew I could sing, but I hadn’t sung in front of anyone for over 16 years,” he said. “But I thought, ‘I’ve got to do this’.
“As I was learning my piece I began to relive my experiences again. I knew I could do it.
“People in shul didn’t really know my background and just knew me as ‘Jonny the gardener’.
“But this was my chance to perform again in front of 300 family and friends.
“Afterwards, people approached me saying, ‘I didn’t know you could sing’.”
With his confidence back, Bradley urged Jonny to consider making music again. Bradley said: “For so many years we had skirted around the whole music thing whenever Jonny and I spoke.”
But now Jonny felt confident enough to play the album they had recorded 18 years earlier.
His wife cried and his son told him: “That’s quite cool, Dad.”
The album was re-released — this time via the digital streaming service, Spotify.
It went down well with fans — old and new — and Jonny now says he sees it as “quite beautiful and melodic” and “perhaps more relevant now than it was 20 years ago”.
Now the pair have decided to release new songs, and some of the vast backlog of tracks they never recorded properly during their Lisp days.
When Bradley flew back from Israel last month to visit his family, the pair recorded a new track, Sparkle, with a video that has received 150,000 views.
A six-track EP, Better Day, has met with further ecstatic reviews from a growing fan base across the globe.
“You could say we both want to make music that is obviously heavily inspired by our Jewish backgrounds,” said Jonny. “But at the same time we want to make music that is universally appreciated. Who knows where it will take us this time around? But the best, and most important thing , is that I can say ‘we exist’.”
For years, I couldn’t even listen to our album’
To listen to Lisp you can visit www.facebook.com/LispTheBand
The Better Day EP is also available on Spotify and iTunes
Young guns: Bradley and Jonny in 1991