words: Rob Paul Chapman
pics: Ruth Stanley
As Rob Paul Chapman found out, Leeds United's loss may well have been Leeds music's gain.
It's what former drug addicts, born again Christians and other recent lost souls like to call a 'moment of clarity'. In the case of Oli Deakin, younger brother Jamie Deakin and friend Harry Wood, fully paid up members of Samsa FC, this Moment of Clarity was the point at which they collectively decided that World Cup glory was unlikely to ever be theirs. So, as Deakin senior was later to declare loudly on their rather brilliant debut album Working On The Inside: "Here it comes, my Plan B" - if at first you don't succeed, take up the guitar. In fact, he proved rather more successful at the guitar than the football, as did Jamie at the drums and Harry at the bass and soon they were sharing their newfound skills with the residents of the Cumbrian backwaters.
"Oli had his own band as he's a couple of years older than Jamie and I," explains Harry. "We had our own band, but after about 12 rehearsals we thought we could probably do with a guitarist so we 'borrowed' Oli." Although this hardly endeared the two whippersnappers to Deakin senior's existing band, given the sibling connection there was something inevitable about the union. As any mathematician will tell you, three is a strong number, but a potentially volatile one. The secret to being a three-piece on any kind of a long and often bumpy journey is tolerance, a sense of humour and bringing different things to the party. (Just ask the Three Wise Men, the original touring three-piece.)
This perhaps explains the long-lived success of the trio; each is an utterly different personality. In Oli they have a bubbling and effusive creative brain and yet you can almost feel the artistic introspection. He talks slowly and quietly, but his words are carefully chosen and he is clearly not one to be rushed into off-the-cuff answers. Harry by contrast is confident and bustling, full of natural charm and charisma. He comes across as warm, if sometimes a little distant, a bit like he's constantly trying to guess what you're going to say next. You get the impression he'd be very good in business.
Jamie is different again and follows the age-old tradition passed down through generations of drummers of not saying much. However, when he does it is usually worthwhile. Of the three, Jamie appears the least earnest and has a dry wit that you suspect he chooses rarely to demonstrate.
However, they are all refreshingly friendly, genuine and utterly unpretentious and you get the feeling that a less pleasant trio probably wouldn't have made it this far. It's not as if the band are at the stage of other historical three-pieces such as The Jimi Hendrix Experience or Cream where the members were already established musicians in their own right. These three have grown up together and weathered countless storms and relocations and are admirably still at it and, even better, still talking. Now settled in Leeds, following the band's aborted attempt to 'make it' in London with Oli simultaneously studying, there is a new air of determination in the band. "We originally started up in Cumbria and have kind of made our way through a number of places," recalls Oli. "What with the age gap, University sort of got in the way a bit, so we've only really been giving it a serious go for the last 18 months."
There has always been a 'Dick Whittington' effect in music, for generations truck-loads of bands with a couple of rehearsals under their belts and grand designs on superstardom have bee-lined it down to London under the impression that it's the only place to get noticed.
Harry agrees. "Luckily we were young enough to get over that whilst we were still at school. We got a couple of gigs down there, but realised that it's much easier up here. You know, it's all about getting people through the door and Leeds seems much more conducive to a 'scene'."
What do the band think of the Leeds music 'scene' that they have experienced so far? "I think for the first time we've actually started to meet bands and share ideas, put on gigs together that sort of thing," says Oli. "It's completely the opposite to what we found in London. In London, bands seem to at best ignore each other or at worst try to screw each other. We've met some really great bands in Leeds, it's such an eclectic scene."
Harry continues: "And one of things that we noticed when we were down there was that all around London you would hear so much about what is going on in Leeds!"
"It was a very surreal time," Oli remembers. "I was travelling up to Leeds pretty much every week for rehearsals and there were all of these guys from record companies doing the same journey! It just seemed that Leeds was getting so much attention and I think that it's still going now."
Samsa make electrifyingly good music. Music that pushes the boundaries of popular taste at regular intervals, but always falling on the right side of tunefulness. All of this is well and good, but given that the average Samsa track contains enough ideas for an entire album for most bands, is there any bitterness at the public's current taste for all things basic?
Oli thinks for a few seconds. "Not really. There's obviously this garage rock thing at the moment, but its kind of exciting to see a scene like that emerging. We're aware that we're not really a part of that and so we wouldn't expect to get dragged along in the wake of it, but I guess we kind of think that people will eventually come round to being a little more adventurous, but in way I think that's starting to happen anyway."
"Absolutely," Harry agrees. "I think that it's a reflection that more than one scene can occur at the same time. It doesn't seem like we're swimming against the current at all."
So what does 2004 hold for Samsa? "Experimenting with the sound and developing it live." declares Oli. "We want to be able to push it to the extremes of very in-your-face and very intimate. I guess we want to be an interesting band, but we've got to keep ourselves in check and make sure we're not getting carried away. There was absolutely no need for four cellos on the album, it was purely involving everyone who wanted to be involved!"
"It's probably self-indulgence" chuckles Harry. If it is, long may it continue. A little self-indulgence never hurt anyone in moderation. Now does anyone know any symphony orchestras?