This article originally appeared in Q397. Order a copy here.
Their last studio album took nearly four years to make, so Doves decided to take a little time off afterwards. A decade later and fully refreshed, the trio welcome Ted Kessler to their Cheshire studio to reveal far more of their comeback plans than they meant to.
Dave Rofe has been a band manager in the music business for well over 30 years. In that time, he has picked up lots of valuable information, but one tip seems particularly pertinent to share today, as he speedily navigates the country lanes of Cheshire, just beyond Warrington.
“Nothing brings a group together quite like releasing solo records,” he says, with a wry smile, as he noses his car down the long, winding drive towards Frank Bough Sound III Studios.
Let’s just dream up a scenario where a band who’ve enjoyed a lot of success, maybe even scored some Number 1 albums, decide over time they need a break from each other. And let’s also imagine you are the manager of this group, the man who helped procure the band’s studio in which they recorded their final hit album. Imagine each band member came to you afterwards and said, “Christ, I can’t do that again. I need a long break.” Do not panic if this happens, says Rofe. Enable their solo careers.
“It’s all very clarifying when they see the splitter van they’ll be driving down to Portsmouth in that night,” he explains as his car crunches over the gravel of the studio’s entrance. “And, as there are no crew on hand, they have to load their own gear into that splitter van. And then they look at you and say, ‘But… we can’t sleep in that!’ And you go, ‘No, quite right, you can’t sleep in that. Because you’ll be driving right back to Manchester after the gig!’”
Rofe climbs from his car and walks towards Frank Bough’s entrance. “Bands get used to luxury very quickly, but, bloody hell, you notice it when it’s not there.”
We enter Frank Bough, prepared to meet the newly reinvigorated Doves.
Jimi Goodwin is an amiable, charming, funny man, with a knack for jaunty slang that decorates any anecdote. Ask him to describe the party he threw for his stepkids’ joint 18th and 21st birthdays, for example, and he’ll say: “It was pockets out, mate. A fruity one! Happy salad, that.”
He likes to have a good time, but, more tellingly, being with him feels like a good time in itself. He’s always been the same, says Doves’ guitarist Jez Williams. “He’s not changed one bit since we met at school, aged 13,” recalls Williams. “Jimi came fully-formed like nobody else I know.”
But even good-times Goodwin had a bad time recording Doves’ last album, Kingdom Of Rust. Don’t get him wrong. He’s had a strong work ethic all of his life as a musician, just like his two colleagues. But one of the key reasons for this is his job never really felt like work. Three years into recording Kingdom Of Rust, being in Doves felt very much like a job.
“I live 30-odd miles away, near Macclesfield,” explains the bassist and singer, “it’s a bit of schlep to get here. And around year three of recording Kingdom Of Rust the drive became like a commute for a job you weren’t really into. I’d be stuck behind a tractor for 10 miles thinking, ‘Fuck. Kill me now.’”
It’s not surprising, says Jez Williams. They’d been in a band together since 1989, when the three Mancunian clubbers formed Sub Sub, a dance act who had one notable hit (Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use): absolute banger), released a so-so album and made the rarely achieved reverse-engineered move from upbeat electronic dance act into a moody rock band who specialised in ecstatic anthems: Doves. But by the time fourth album Kingdom Of Rust was released in 2009, the trio had been together for 20 years. They’d been either recording, or touring, or recording, or touring, forever.
“I calculated – I calculated! – I calculated that we’d had seven months apart from each other in 10 years,” calculates Goodwin. “It’s quite intense, that, unless you’re raising a family together.”
“I always say that being a triangle is the worst shape for a band,” reckons Jez Williams. “If there’s four of you, a square, you can partner up. But three? It can be awkward, because there’s always two here and one over there.”
It wasn’t the end of the world, recording Kingdom Of Rust, says Jez’s twin brother, drummer Andy Williams. “There were no screaming arguments. Just a low-level depression for three and a half years.” Even so, there are some of Doves’ greatest songs on there, like Winter Hill, House Of Mirrors and Kingdom Of Rust itself. And the album went straight in at Number 2. Big hit. Huge gigs. Not enough.
“The thought of coming back after that tour and recording again?” asks Jez rhetorically. “No way. Not possible. I’d gone through crippling writer’s block and there I was staring down the barrel of making a fifth Doves album… let’s have a break, shall we? It would’ve ended in tears.”
“I wasn’t sick of the sight of them,” says Goodwin. “Never. But we needed daylight. We needed time apart.”
“I thought it would be for three or four years,” says Andy, a little sadly. “But here we are nine years later. I guess we needed longer.”
One by one, the trio come and sit on the sofa in the back room of Frank Bough Sound III, each trying to describe the interim period since the last Doves gig in 2010.
Jez and Andy Williams started their own band, Black Rivers. They made an album and they toured the album. “A splitter van from the UK, to France, to Italy, weeks of travelling in what is basically a Transit,” remembers Jez. “Loading in, loading out, pulling muscles… I’m too old for this malarkey!”
“The spirit, though!” enthuses Andy. “It was like the old days, when we first started! But we’re not kids now. We have kids now.”
“I just don’t feel in a place in my life where I want to stay in a hotel room with three other men after a 14-hour ride in a splitter van,” concludes Jez.
After Black Rivers, Andy decided he wanted to reconvene Doves. He was ready. He called Jimi.
Jimi wasn’t ready.
“He just said, ‘Not yet Andy,’” says Andy, once again forlorn. “Not yet. Oh, right. Fuck you! No, not really, we had to all want it.”
Jimi had really enjoyed his time away. He too had made his own solo album, Odludek, a record that he’s “half-proud of”. Like the Williams twins, he also discovered being away from the mother ship was a lot of work – too much, maybe. “I delivered everything! Artwork, videos, I played all the instruments. The lot.” In retrospect, he could’ve done with sharing the load, especially the instruments, but it just seemed easier rather than asking people. “I was like, ‘Sod it. I’ll get my Prince on.’”
Otherwise, life was good for Jimi Goodwin. He was happy just making hip-hop beats at home, same as ever. Making beats, keeping the domestic fires burning, taking care of local business. All good.
“Suddenly, it’s been 10 years,” he says, his eyes goggling. “Terrifying. It goes so quick and the older you get, the faster it goes. And once you get to a certain age, you can’t lie in any more either, so that’s one hobby gone.”
Eventually, in 2017, Jimi told Andy that, although he might not be ready to play together, he was ready to talk together. They met up for a kebab. “I knew it would only work if we were on the same page,” says Andy. “Luckily, we were.”
“The option is there if anybody isn’t happy to raise their hand,” says Jimi. “We should’ve argued more in the past, constructively. But we’re stoic, we don’t wear our hearts on the sleeve and so little things became deeper. A bit like the break, it just got out of hand.”
But now, says Jimi, the magic is back. Which is quite surprising news for anybody who saw any of the final domestic run of gigs they did in 2009-10: the magic was palpable then too, each night was like New Year’s Eve, with an entire setlist whose lyrics had been memorised by whichever arena they’d visit, foundations rocking along in song. Black And White Town. There Goes The Fear. Words. Catch The Sun. Snowden. Pounding…
“Yeah,” says Goodwin, “but by the end we were playing Pounding at about a million BPMs. We’d lost all the subtlety. Now… Now!”
Now, he says, the subtlety is back. He is gleeful. Because more than just subtlety, the muse is also back. “Unofficially, we’ve started writing. And it’s really, really good. I brought three to the table, they brought three to the table, we had some songs we hadn’t licked before that we’ve totally licked now. And they are all really, really fucking good Doves songs.”
Jimi shouldn’t be telling you this. Jez Williams certainly isn’t telling you this. He’s telling you they want to write together, that that is the plan, not the actual fact. Andy Williams is telling you this, just a slightly different, even more advanced version of this. “We’ve actually made a start recording it,” he reveals, not in Frank Bough Sound, but in other local studios for a change of scenery. “I mean, it’s very, very good. Very good.”
“The songs are ream,” confirms Goodwin, conspiratorially. “I wish I could tell you more.”
Fuck it. He tells us more.
“Album next year. Hit the road this year, album next year. I can’t get over how quickly we’ve assembled a record. It’s so good working with Jez again. He’s such a force, that guy. He’s an incredible guitarist. So inventive, so melodic, so unique. And we have the luxury that if one of us – probably Jez – brings a late stonker in, we can add that to the picture.”
Jimi Goodwin leans into the arm of the sofa and nods. “We’re back, man. We’re totally back.”
Before we leave, who wants to take a tour of Frank Bough? Frank was originally an old barn on this large, still working farm. Dave Rofe converted it into a studio. And Andy Williams named it after the disgraced former Grandstand and Breakfast TV presenter Frank “I Took Drugs With Vice Girls” Bough for reasons lost to the mists of time.
The barn has seen a lot of action. Cherry Ghost lived here while they recorded their second album and reported spectral encounters with the ghosts of German prisoners of war who were interned nearby after WW2. Taps would turn on. Stairs creaked through the night. Furniture would move around the kitchen and the fridge was left ajar. The band were first suspicious of each other, and then terrified of the unknown, until they realised they’d left the back door unlocked and someone was coming in and helping themselves to the group’s lager during the night.
The Stone Roses rehearse here, too. Reni’s drum kit is installed in the upstairs bedroom, the setlist from their Glasgow gig in 2017 still affixed to the floor.
“I charge a fiver for photos sitting behind it,” says Rofe. Jimi charges a tenner. “I know,” says Rofe, the manager, with a wink.
We tiptoe through the cow shit and take an admiring look at Farmer Pete’s beautiful old house. “It once had a moat around it,” says Goodwin. “Pete didn’t fancy it. Just filled it in.”
During the recording of Kingdom Of Rust, the band bought a load of new Ikea furniture to make the place a bit more homey. When Rofe returned to the barn shortly before Doves started playing together again, he found all the furniture was gone. He asked Farmer Pete what had happened. “He said he’d burnt all of it.”
Nevertheless, the band pressed on. The first offer they had to perform came directly from Roger Daltrey, suggesting Doves headline a Teenage Cancer Trust gig at the Royal Albert Hall in London, on 29 March. Doves baulked. First gig back? Royal Albert Hall? Bit much, really. They politely declined. Then the next offer came. “Bearded Theory Festival,” confirms Andy Williams. “No disrespect, I’m sure it’s an amazing festival… but we couldn’t make our comeback at Bearded Theory.”
And so, Doves will make their grand return after nine years at the Royal Albert Hall, and not Bearded Theory Festival, after all. “I’d have been really disappointed if the reunion hadn’t happened,” says Andy Williams, mistily, with some understatement. “We have unresolved business, there’s so much music in us still.”
That music will be brewing in Frank Bough over the coming months, the triangle doing its best to overcome numerical obstacles in the haunted barn. Fairy lights ablaze on the drum riser. Jimi nodding at Jez. Jez counting in Andy. Andy happy to be back in the hot seat, back upright, joyfully smashing the skins.
Today, though, their work is over and the trio climb into their cars, heading home to school runs, hot dinners and hip-hop beats, Frank Bough Sound fading in the rear view as the Cheshire countryside swallows their vehicles. Jimi Goodwin doesn’t mind the commute nowadays. Quite likes the drive, as it goes. Bit of time on his own to chew things over, take in the views. Pockets out, mate. Happy salad.