Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Enemy: Guardian Interview

The Enemy have been as busy as ever recently as they promoted their single "You're Not Alone" and Iain Aitch from The Guardian newspaper interviewed Tom Clarke, Andy Hopkins and Liam Watts.

'We are not politicians, we are a band," says Tom
, the singer-guitarist with The Enemy, denying
any position as a spokesman for disaffected teens. "
I don't want to be a
part of pointless politics. So many of the problems in England could be easily
resolved. All these blokes in suits with their degrees and God knows what, but
they can't see simple solutions
It's like Asbos - that is the
most useless bit of legislation. It is not solving a problem, it is just
labelling someone

Though Clarke doesn't see himself as a spokesman, his band has a taste for
uncomfortable social issues, which has prompted comparisons to the likes of The Jam and The Specials (a Coventry band,
like The Enemy).
The Enemy's No 1 debut album,
Live and Die in These Towns
, deals with unemployment, Friday-night brawls
and social exclusion. Clarke also says that "
one of the first songs we wrote
was It's Not Okay, which was the week that Peugeot closed two factories in
Coventry. That is a society thing. What you see at the end of the day is a table
with your mates sitting around it who have got no money because they have no

Clarke is talking to me just after the Enemy have played a gig for
inmates at the chapel of Pentonville prison in north London, in support of the Wasted Youth campaign, which raises awareness of the high
suicide rate among young British men. This is a particular problem in prisons
(67 inmates took their lives last year; 59 had already done so this year by the
time the Enemy came to Pentonville).

"The statistics are shocking," says Clarke. "
For every
person who dies from taking an E, there are 88 young men who commit suicide, and
suicide is at its highest in prison."
"You can't really appreciate what it's
like until you've been in the cells
," says the Enemy's drummer, Liam Watts, who has taken a tour of the prison, which included
being banged up, albeit briefly, with a burly, shaven-headed man - the band's
manager. "That was dead weird," he says.

So how did The Enemy get to the point where they are
considered suitably big names to play awareness-raising gigs for charities (even
if Dirty Pretty Things are headlining)? After all, all three members are still
only 19.

"I think we expected success," says Clarke, who speaks from
the heart rather than from a manifesto. He's like an off-message Billy Bragg or
a Paul Weller less pernickety about his clothes.

There are a lot of ways of going about success. You can start
wearing trendy clothes and getting yourself in magazines or things like that,
which I would never do. Or you can just go and gig your arse off, which is the
old-fashioned way of doing it. We have pretty much been on tour since October 26
last year. You can prove your worth on the tour circuit.

The tour circuit, this year alone, has taken The Enemy
from the toilet venues, via the summer festivals, to supporting the Rolling Stones the night before they visit Pentonville. The
band have grown in profile to the point where they will be headlining the
5,000-capacity Brixton Academy next month.

Today's gig at Pentonville, however, is rather different. Security is
understandably tight; guests have to present their passports as ID, and mobile
phones are confiscated. As we pass through a series of sliding doors, Clarke
jokes that the security is nearly as extreme as it was backstage at the previous
night's Rolling Stones show.

Walking into the high-ceilinged chapel, we are greeted by rows of
seated prisoners, with prison officers strategically placed around the room.
Media and guests aside, the audience numbers around 100, favouring a mix of
green-and-yellow overalls, prison-issue shirts and box-white Reeboks over skinny
jeans and Converse. A good 40% of the audience is black, and most of the white
inmates sport a number-one crop.

After a brief introduction from the prison's governor, Nick
Leader, The Enemy begin their set with
40 Days and 40
to a muted response. Given that most of the audience were inside
before the band was formed, it's hardly surprising they don't know the words.
But by halfway through the second chorus, heads are bobbing and feet are
tapping, and at the end of the hit single Away from Here, there are
whoops, yells and applause.
That song was written on the shop floor of the Co-op where Clarke worked as a TV salesman, and its wantaway
sentiments strike a chord. By the end of a breakneck rendition of
, the inmates are on their feet.

Backstage, the band are all smiles while
Dirty Pretty
set up their equipment. "
That was easily one of the most
rewarding gigs we have done
," says Clarke.
Later, as the band sit and
talk about music, it's not surprising to hear the names that get referenced.

I discovered the Jam and the Clash through my mum listening to the
same tape over and over when driving me to school
," says bassist Andy Hopkins (another former TV salesman). "
I have the tape
in my car now. It has The Specials on it, which I didn't
realise I was listening to at the time

Clarke reckons a key moment for him was finding a box of his parents'
old vinyl in the loft, among which nestled a copy of Led Zeppelin II. There was
something else up there, as well. "
I found this old thing that looked like a
big tape player
," he says. "
I plugged some speakers in and turned it
on. The reel-to-reel tape on there was Sgt Pepper's

That link to the music of the band's parents' generation means a fair
few forty somethings can be seen standing and nodding at the back of
gigs, including some rather unlikely fans.
We turned
up to an HMV signing ,and we walked in and the manager goes, 'There's a
policeman in the dressing room waiting to see you,
'" says Clarke.

I thought, 'What the fuck have we done?' So we walk in and
there is this copper there and he takes his hat off and says: 'I was at the
Leicester gig last night, I was crowd surfing.'"
"He's got a few lads at
work wearing the Enemy badges,
" adds Hopkins. "
They're wearing them
underneath their police badges."

In the event that The Enemy find themselves back in
Pentonville for all the wrong reasons, at least they'll have a
get-out-of-jail-free card.

The Enemy's single You're Not Alone is out now. For more on Wasted Youth, see . Interview from The Guardian.


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