“Did you see my first list? I went fully psychedelic.”
Jimi Goodwin is mulling over one of the downsides of band democracy. Rather than putting one member of Doves forward to choose nine songs for this piece, they decided upon choosing three each, it was only afterwards that they realised they’d set themselves an almost impossible task.
Accordingly, each member found their own workaround. Drummer Andy Williams managed to whittle four of his favourite Pogues songs down to a final two, which he then refused to split. His brother Jez, the trio’s guitarist, made his picks last as long as possible in duration, with one of them an hour-long progressive techno piece.
Goodwin sent over his choices via email well in advance of the interview, only to change his mind at the eleventh hour - the fully psychedelic songs that didn’t make the cut were Buffalo Springfield’s “Broken Arrow” and Todd Rundgren’s “Zen Archer”. “I saw what the others had gone for and I thought “Well, my tastes are far too broad to limit myself” he laughs, adopting a mock-pretentious tone. “I thought I’d try to dazzle you with some others.”
Plenty has changed since we last heard from Doves, both in the world of music and the wider one. In 2010, after typically lavish critical praise for the previous year’s Kingdom of Rust and the exhaustive tour that followed it, they took what was intended to be a two-year break. It stretched on for nearly a decade as the three-piece retreated to their native Manchester to start families and new side projects. Only now are they slowly emerging from hibernation and it’s a marker of their commanding position in British alternative music that their first show in eight years will be at the Royal Albert Hall, before a smattering of festival dates across the summer. All three members confirm that new music is in the pipeline, with a new record set for next year and studio work is already under way.
They’re tighter-lipped on what it might sound like however, but the fact that they all opted for such formative tracks for this feature could be an indication that they’ll stay true to the Doves of old. From the house and techno that inspired their 90s’ outfit Sub Sub to such classic touchpoints as The Smiths and The Velvet Underground, the musical DNA that propelled them to two number one albums doesn’t appear to have been reshaped by their hiatus. Over the course of three separate conversations, they talk us through the music that made them.
Andy: “I couldn’t choose between ‘Dirty Old Town’ and ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’ and it was a push to pick even two! I could have easily gone for ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ or ‘A Rainy Night in Soho’.
“When Jez and I were growing up, our Mum used to play a lot of Irish music, The Dubliners especially. I knew their version of ‘Dirty Old Town’ from an early age and then when I was about fourteen or fifteen I saw The Pogues play it on The Tube, which was huge. To see them blend an authentic Irish sound with a punk edge just totally reinvigorated all of that music from my childhood. Ewan MacColl wrote it but Shane MacGowan completely made it his own.
“He did the same with ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’. The melody is quite traditional, but the lyrics are just unmistakably MacGowan - they’re so honest and he paints such a genuine picture. I didn’t know until later on that MacColl wrote ‘Dirty Old Town’ about Salford, which is interesting.
“Doves have a strong Irish connection and I think any band worth their salt from Manchester or Liverpool have one or two members with some Irish heritage. Jimi’s from a big Irish family, so he’s always been really into The Pogues, too. There’s never been any direct reference to them in our own music but there’s a melancholy and yearning quality to their songs that we’re all drawn to. A lot of Irish music has that.”
Andy: ”We’re all big fans of Cocteau Twins and they were another band that we discovered through The Tube, I think. They were a big influence on Doves, especially in terms of production and they were one of those bands who just seemed to build their own world, separate from anything else that was going on at the time.
“This Mortal Coil was a project that had a lot of different contributors from 4AD, but I’d listen to anything that Liz Fraser was singing on. A friend of mine just told me he saw Massive Attack in January and that she was up there with them, which I was made up about because she’s too talented to not be performing really. She has such a unique voice.
“’Song to the Siren’ is a Tim Buckley cover, but I think this is the best version of it. I’m a big David Lynch fan and I heard this in Lost Highway and it lends a really powerful quality to the scene that it’s in. It’s another track that feels beautifully yearning, and the key is in the simplicity. It’s so difficult to do that - everything has to be so precisely in its right place. The lyrics have to be spot on, because they’re so exposed. You have to get the guitars just so, and Robin Guthrie really does that. You have to make sure the production is on the money and they nailed it here.
“Making something sound this effortless is just about the hardest thing to pull off. There’s certain music in life that you pick up and then you put it down again, but this song had stayed with me forever.”
Andy: “I always felt as if The Velvets were my band, you know? I’ve been obsessed with them since I was a teenager and as with The Pogues I could have picked any one of their songs, but ‘Venus in Furs’ is so menacing!
“It still doesn’t sound like anything else out there. The lyrics still feel shocking to me, too; that darkness, the talk of sadomasochism. You hear Lou Reed singing about shiny leather and you’re just there, aren’t you? You’re in some kind of nightmare and then what John Cale does with the viola is genius, to get that drone out of it. The whole thing just reeks of authenticity.
“There was so much more to The Velvets than that too. Reed wrote so many great love songs and musically they were so innovative, but there was just something so exciting to me about the songs that transported you to the New York City of Andy Warhol and The Factory.
“They’re totally timeless and their music’s already been passed down from generation to generation, I play The Velvet Underground and Nico to my kids all the time, although I’m not sure how appropriate that is actually - with all the references to heroin and bondage, they might have some questions about it when they get older!”
Jez: “This is my favourite Smiths track, with ‘How Soon Is Now?’ a close second. Andy and I had a real shared history with The Smiths when we were growing up. We saw them at Maxwell Hall in Salford in 1986, which is remembered as being this legendary gig now, or so I’m told. The thing is, it really was that good - it’s in my top five gigs of all time. I saw them a lot of times, but there was something about that one, the energy was incredible. I think the place was oversold, so there was already a sort of danger in the air, and there was a sense that you were seeing a very special band at the peak of their powers, because it was just after The Queen Is Dead had come out.
“I can’t think of anything else that sounds like ‘The Headmaster Ritual’. The guitar tuning that Johnny Marr’s using is weird, so there’s this otherworldly feel to the way it sounds, but in terms of what Morrissey is singing about, that was very much rooted in reality; brutality in schools was still a thing during my upbringing and corporal punishment was still around, so this track in particular really resonated with me.
“I think any time you get one of the greatest lyricists of all time together with one of the greatest guitarists something special’s going to happen, but for me, ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ is probably the top example of what that band could do.”
Jez: “The thing about Beck was that he felt like a well-kept secret for a while. I can’t actually remember how I stumbled upon him, but it was way back around the time of his second album Stereopathetic Soulmanure, that was before he had his big breakout, crossover albums.
“This track is from Mellow Gold, which was his third album and had ‘Loser’ on it, so other people were starting to pick up on him, finally. I couldn’t believe that nobody else had heard of this amazing talent; he was completely doing his own thing and you could tell he had real soul. The fact that this was around the time of Britpop just made him stand out all the more to me, I couldn’t stop listening to his early stuff.
“’Truckdrivin Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat)’ sums up what I loved about him in those days and why I still do now. It crystallised the appeal of those records, it’s got such an amazing narrative and it was obvious that it was a true story, that he really had lived above or below that truck driver who was on weird speed or angel dust.
“He just encapsulates that sort of nightmarishness of having problems with the neighbours and the pitched-down vocals make it sound totally ominous. There’s such an experimental flavour to it musically and lyrically and you can hear how he would cut and paste ideas.
“That’s how those early albums were - every track different to the last. I love everything he’s done really and that experimental flavour has never really left him, all the way up to making a pop record with Colors. I absolutely battered his first few albums though and for a while I felt like I was the only one. The guy’s a real one-off.”
Jez: “Andy might have been cheating a little bit by picking two Pogues songs, and I might be doing the same with this, because it’s just under an hour long. I’m getting my money’s worth out of my three picks!
“The first time I heard this track was when it was sampled by an Italian house band called Sueño Latino in the late 80s’. Their version had more of a four-on-the-floor kick to it, so you could dance to it and that’s where I first heard it, in Ibiza way back. It really spoke to me straight away; I couldn’t pinpoint any of the sounds and it felt as if it came from the future. It had this Balearic, soulful feel to it and yet it was electronic. It was about as far out a piece of music as I’d experienced and it seemed totally unique at the time.
“I slowly unravelled it and got back to the original by Manuel Göttsching, which is just mind-blowing. It goes back to the days of those electronic concept albums. I read somewhere that it wasn’t ever supposed to be released, that he just made it for himself so that he had something to listen to on long-haul flights - which is the kind of self-indulgence you expect from a German electronic pioneer!
“I love that it has so much soul and yet it still doesn’t sound as if it’s of this world. It’s a total shapeshifter and there’s still an intoxicating sense of escapism about it for me, which is something I’m always chasing in my own work. Like the Beck and Smiths songs, it was a track that had a profound effect on me, and made me think, “I want to learn how to do that, or at least try. I want to live in that world.”
Jimi: “This is my favourite track from that era - it changed my landscape. It’s one of nine or ten songs that were really important to me when the penny finally dropped and I finally got house music and techno.
"When we played our last Manchester gig at the Warehouse Project, Mike Pickering was DJing before us and he asked if we had any preference of what the last song should be before he handed over and we went on. I put my hand up and said, “it’s gotta be ‘The Dance’ by Derrick May.” It never sounds old to me.
“I know Andy must have discovered that Manuel Göttsching track through Sueño Latino, and that house stuff was really important to us. We did the Coast EP back when we were recording as Sub Sub and that was pretty fucking Balearic. When you’re eighteen, it’s ground zero. When this kind of thing was coming in at the Haçienda it was like it changed almost overnight. You went from going to see somebody like Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction on a wet Wednesday to it becoming Hot night - those Ibiza-style Wednesdays. It happened so fast that it was still the same crowd, so you’d suddenly be thinking, “That guy never usually even cracks a smile, now he’s up on the podium going mental!”
“It was a total sea change, but it took me out of my comfort zone, which at the time was my dad’s record collection - Rory Gallagher, ZZ Top, Neil Young. It was like a new world opened up.”
Jimi: “I think I came across this on either The Old Grey Whistle Test or The Tube, back in the 80s’. It was the first time I’d heard Zydeco music, which is like French creole, cajun-type stuff. I went years without hearing anything like that again, but it stuck with me and when the good old internet came along, I rediscovered it. For a po-faced music snob like me, to hear something so joyous was a big deal.
“I later found out that it was a Chuck Berry song originally, which made a lot of sense to me because with the lyrics it’s like a road trip. I’d love to be able to write like that, but you can’t in England, can you? You can’t make a trip to Cambridge via fucking Grantham sound romantic - not with rock and roll, anyway, but with Folk? Maybe.
“We’ve never really gotten very pastoral. Andy wrote the lyrics to ‘Kingdom of Rust’ and there’s that line about the road to Preston being covered in snow, from back when he used to drive up to visit his now-wife at university. ‘Winter Hill’ has a bit of that to it as well, I suppose, but otherwise, it’s really hard to approximate.
“I love English slang, and I grew up with it - my Dad used so much of it that it was like he was speaking in code, it baffled people. That said, there was something about hearing mention of out-of-state plates and garbage cans that was always really evocative and exotic to me. It still is.”
Jimi: “This is a stone-cold classic. It’s amazing lyrically, about this guy getting fed up with people faking their resumes, which a lot of hip hop is about - it’s chutzpah, it’s showbiz.
“It was such a fertile period for hip hop; our manager was still DJing downstairs at the Haçienda back then, so his 90s’ record collection is to die for. He was going into Eastern Bloc in Manchester and buying six or seven hip hop twelve-inches every week, and he had a lot, if not all, of what came out on Wild Pitch, which was a short-lived label, but an amazing one.
“‘Time’s Up’ is one of those twelve-inches. I got into hip hop late, really, it wasn’t until I heard It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Paid in Full that it clicked for me. I used to sell t-shirts outside concerts, going all around Europe on the blag with some rather cheeky fellas, and I remember sitting in vans in Stockholm listening to the house music and the hip hop they were playing and thinking, “this sounds fucking shite.” It’s all alien when you’re sixteen or seventeen, but once you get it, you can start working backwards and picking up on all the stuff you missed.
“For me, ‘Time’s Up’ is flawless. I nearly did it at Glastonbury once, at the Hip Hop Karaoke. Clearly, I wasn’t in my right mind at the time, but I did come close to getting up there and butchering it. Thankfully, I bottled out. You’ve got to have nine tongues to flow like that.”