Tom Meighan bounces from room to room backstage at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels like a hyperactive cocker spaniel who can hear his favourite toy being rattled but can’t locate it. Eventually the Kasabian front man loses interest in the hunt and flops down in a plastic chair, his eyes wide and a huge playful grin running riot over his stubbled face. He is affability personified; a charming and engaging host full of warm greetings and positivity – while his focus remains intact. But these moments are few and far between. There’s too much fun to be had to just sit around, chewing the fat. Intermittently he’ll cock his ear as if receiving signals from the great beyond and then suddenly leap up, whooping and punching the air, to pace the room as a train of thought sprints away with his mind and mouth in pursuit. It’s tiring to watch but the singer has energy to burn as he waxes lyrical about his band in paradoxes which reflect his own.
“We still have it as large as we always have, regardless of whether it’s a stadium or a small club,” he says, rearranging the litter on the changing room counter. “It’s like two titans fighting up there when we get going, like He-Man versus Skeletor…It’s the musical Masters of the Universe. It’s a battle; it’s dark and nasty but also beautiful, warm and full of life. Just like us, really.”
Kasabian have been fighting with darkness and light since forming in 1999. It took four years of playing dingy working men’s clubs and tiny venues before the band were ready to give their riotous music to the world. “Of course we wanted to make it big,” Tom says, getting serious for moment. “But it had to be right. We wanted to shake people up and keep them shook up for a long time. We weren’t going to be able to do that if we’d rushed out a load of shite and then sank without trace. We wanted it so bad. We still do. We’re still the same as we were when we driving our own van, playing a gig every night, trying to get noticed. We’re still the same people.”
This everyman statement is quite a contrast to the one Kasabian made in the wake of last year’s Oasis split when Tom and his lieutenant, guitarist Serge Pizzorno, announced that now that the Gallagher’s’ partnership was no more, theirs was the biggest band in Britain. “What we meant was that we’re one of the last great rock’n’roll bands,” Tom clarifies, getting to his feet as if he’s about to deliver a sermon. “There are so few real bands around these days that we feel it’s our responsibility to pick up that baton which was carried by the likes of the Beatles, the Stones, Small Faces and Oasis and do our bit for the legacy. We owe it to Britain’s musical heritage.”
Just how seriously Kasabian take their self-appointed role as standard bearers for British rock can be seen on their third album, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum. The band’s most critically acclaimed and successful record to date, West Ryder is a raging, rollicking mish-mash of styles and experiments. Its ambition, scope and musicianship have since elevated Kasabian to the big leagues. The album was not only celebrated by the public – it was their first UK number one – the critics also had their say, nominating it for the 2009 Mercury Music Prize. “We just wanted to do something mental with the style, the clothes and the music,” Tom enthuses, beaming like a proud father when he talks about West Ryder. “We wanted to dress up as French revolutionaries and make one of those iconic records like the psychedelic concept albums of the 60s; full of love, heroes and shady characters. It’s been a real trip, man.” The album has taken the band on a year-long extensive world tour which finally returns to British shores in August. Kasabian will headline the 2010 V Festival and the response they get on their homecoming will give them some indication as to where they stand in the hearts of the people and whether they’re on the way to joining the greats they aspire to emulate.
“We’ve been a way from home for quite a while,” Tom says. “We’ve done a few shows back in Britain as part of this tour but this will be the big finale. We were blown away by the response we had at Glastonbury last year and I think we really proved that we could take a huge crowd. When we roll up this summer it’ll be like, ‘remember us?’ And then it’ll kick off. It’ll be mental. I’m buzzing just thinking about it now.”
At that point, the wiry frame of Serge Pizzorno slides through the unfeasibly narrow gap in the door, prompting the singer to leap from his chair and start flicking his fingers in the guitarist’s face. Tom is the cherubic Jagger to Serge’s elegantly wasted Richards, a classic rock double act of creativity and friendship. What’s interesting is how the dynamic changes when Serge enters the room. The infectiously confident Meighan suddenly becomes the younger brother, instantly gravitating to the guitarist and principle songwriter and hanging expectantly on what he has to say.
“You owe me a rematch,” the guitarist drawls, prompting another blast of excited jigging from the singer. The game console beckons and Serge leads his front man away to a room where parity has to be restored through a titanic struggle of computerized football.
Football. For musicians, tapping into terrace culture can help their music reach a much wider audience and few current rock acts have so successfully blended fan bases than Kasabian. A handy celebrity five-a-side team, the dyed-in-the-wool Leicester City fans generate a euphoric atmosphere akin to match day at their shows with bouncing fans and stadium chanting. The links run deeper: Serge even had schoolboy trials with Nottingham Forest. Kasabian and the Beautiful Game go hand in hand.
“I’m Leicester City first, then England,” he says proudly. “We all are. Serge even wore Leicester socks under his Forest kit when he was a boy. We try and get to see the Foxes as often as we can when we’re home, which is a real pleasure and pain thing. But that’s what being a fan is about – being there for the club in the good and bad times, even though with Leicester there are more bad than good…”
Kasabian’s credentials as Britain’s premier soccer-rockers were further enhanced in February when the English Football Association chose the band to launch the England team’s World Cup shirt at a gig at the Paris Olympia. While Tom was honoured to do so, he admits to having reservations about the chosen location. “I said to them that it was all on their heads,” he confides. “If it backfires, if it all kicks off, then it’s all on you. If they riot, I want you to get us out of there. But it was okay. There were a few boos but then we played another song and it was all sweet.”
There are no boos a few hours later when the Leicester lunatics take over another in a long list of asylums. From the opening bars of the stomping ‘Fast Fuse’, it’s clear that this is not going to be a sedate evening of toe-tapping and muted singalongs. The pit directly centre-stage is soon a writhing mass of bodies. In addition to crowd pleasers such as ‘Underdog’, ‘Fire’ and ‘Fast Fuse’ from their third album, Kasabian unleash a seemingly never-ending stream of rousing favourites from West Ryder’s two predecessors, their eponymously titled debut and follow-up Empire. The audience threatens spontaneous combustion when the band hit them with the triple whammy of ‘Processed Beats’, ‘Reason is Treason’ and ‘Julie and the Mothman’; the increasingly sweaty crowd ebbing and flowing against the crash barriers as Tom – resplendent in a stripy sweater and gargantuan fly shades – commands the waves like a deranged King Canute. Beside him, Serge – a study of skinny vintage rock clobber and headband – strangles riffs from his guitar and backing vocals from his shredded throat while the rhythm section of bassist Chris Edwards and drummer Ian Matthews anchor down the glorious chaos with infectious beats. It’s a 90 minute dance-rock onslaught which leaves the crowd exhausted but satisfied.
Back stage, Tom Meighan is more wired than ever. Everyone in his vicinity gets a hug and an offer of a beer, which he soon forgets in favour of a manic flick through the band’s CD collection followed by an extensive poll of ideas for the evening’s post-gig entertainment. “Are we heading out?” he asks. “Come on Serge, are you mad for it?” No one is ready to call it a night and the party looks far from over. Kasabian live it like they love it. For them, it’s definitely better to burn out than to fade away.
First published in: The Red Bulletin