Tom Clarke: The Rise Of The Enemy
From drifting to a life of the expected, the daily grind on the road to nowhere, circumstances set three young lads on the way to a life that none of them could have imagined. Andy Hopkins, Liam Watts and Tom Clarke became The Enemy in 2006:
“We met at music college, Liam was a drummer and we started playing in a band together with a different bass player called Steve. Andy was just a friend who was on the same course at college.
“In the end, Steve went his own way and we had a gap for a bass player. At the time I said to Liam I was thinking about a change in musical direction, we were playing a lot of blues type stuff and I was thinking about writing these different types of songs. The three of us got into a room and we wrote the first two songs, and we decided this sounds alright and that’s how we got started.”
Clarke, lead singer and songwriter for the band was once given, what he called his best ever advice of believe in yourself. Following on from that advice, Clarke and the rest of the band made their first tentative steps to that new life, very quickly they realised their lives would never be the same again:
“We had knocked some demo’s together, we hadn’t actually paid for them, I think someone had done a recording on a phone, obviously this was pre-smartphone days. Liam worked with someone called Jane, who had a son who worked in the music industry for a management company.
“Liam got the songs to her son, they liked them and we got talking to this management company. We had not played a single gig yet, we just had some songs, thrashed them out in a rehearsal room and recorded them.
“The management company came up to Coventry and had a listen. We then started playing some little gigs in a pub in Coventry and it grew really quick. Within about four gigs Warner Brothers had come up from London, they listened to the set and said we really want to sign you.”
I first came across The Enemy in 2006. Without hearing it first, I bought It’s Not Ok, the reason I purchased something without listening to it first has long been forgotten. But already there was a certain amount of hype and excitement about this new indie band from Coventry.
There was something different about The Enemy, a thriving indie scene at that time saw the emergence of a plethora of similar bands, but The Enemy stood out from the crowd. Comparisons to The Jam were obvious, if lazy and predictable, the momentum was growing, and the Coventry trio endured a punishing gig schedule to get established and noticed.
A Saturday night trip to Sheffield was my first experience of seeing them live. The spit and sawdust of that back room of the Leadmill, a room so small it is hard to avoid the obligatory flying objects. The band were still in their infancy, a supporting role to Alvarez Kings, a gig Clarke remembers well:
“I remember that gig, there was so much glass. We had played the Leadmill before supporting The Futureheads in the main room and we had gone down really badly. Then we went back and I had my war face on, and we went in that back room with so much pent up anger, because I was expecting another bad gig and a really cold reception.
“But in the time since the last gig they must have heard some of our songs on the radio and they had warmed to us, but I didn’t know that. I walked on stage ready for a battle, but literally, every glass in the room seem to come over everyone’s head and landed on the stage, just smashed all over the stage and we played one of the most rawest gigs we ever played in our early days.”
Trying to stay away from being labelled just another political band, The Enemy forged their style and a place in an ever more crowded market. A band sending a message of not just accepting what you are given, a life that needs living and not just living for others. You don’t have to accept a life that you are being pushed into.
The debut album We’ll Live And Die In These Towns, epitomises their values, their relevance and an album probably even more relevant today, maybe more so in the coming months ahead:
“There was a lot of frustration with that record. When you look back it is easy to say it was with the times, but it was really with my life. A lot of similar people with similar experiences to make it with the times. I guess we can all look back and say we were all in the same boat, but at the time I didn’t know it. We are talking 2006/2007 and there was no talk of a recession yet, but in the Midlands and in the North people were certainly feeling things were not right.
“The economy wasn’t helping, a lot of people were in debt and there weren’t any jobs. I was selling electrical goods for the Co-op but I had applied for god knows how many jobs and didn’t get any of them, I was just aware there was no work. I got this job and I was grateful to have it, but I knew things were not right.
“I didn’t really have any prospects, Away From Here tells you all about that. I might be a Deputy Manager at some point, I may get a company car. I had been playing music since I was 4, and I was thinking maybe there is more than just flogging TV’s. With a more grown-up head, it doesn’t matter what line of work you are in, as long as you do it with integrity any job is noble. But at the time I just felt frustrated.”
The album was incredibly successful, reaching the pinnacle of the charts and spawning four singles that charted, including two in the Top 10. The success was helped on by a never-ending gruelling touring schedule, the gigs got bigger, they got louder. A football crowd feel, the songs shouted back with venom enhanced further at each passing gig. An audience ready to let go and forget, even if it was only for the duration of the gig.
The Enemy were everywhere, the hard work was paying off, to the surprise of the band:
“I was very surprised at how successful it became. A lot of bands write and record songs to get signed but we had kind of given up on that. We were just three lads who went to a rehearsal room just to let off some steam and frustration. Music to me was just a way to process my emotions and I didn’t have any real idea that it would become a job until after that record was written.
“When Warner Brothers signed us, I didn’t give up my job, it had taken me that long to get one and I felt lucky to have it. I only gave it up when I had run out of days off to go and gig. So they said you need to hand your notice in because we are really signing you and we will need you to go to the studio to make the record and go on tour. I felt terrified to do it, but I handed my notice in and I worked my notice.“
Clarke, Watts and Hopkins were just young working-class lads searching for something better, the sound bold, passionate and refreshing. The lyrics had soul and meaning, they quickly found their niche.
“I wasn’t thinking at the time that everyone would love the album and it would go to number 1. I remember the first day it really dawned on me that there is momentum here that I hadn’t really appreciated. We had played some gigs in Manchester, I woke up in a hotel with someone phoning me saying Away From Here had charted at number 8 and it really knocked me back.”
The Enemy were in their element in a live setting. A fire burned, a raging rampant band very much on the rise. They played the Leeds and Reading festival in 2007, an iconic moment in those early days.
Clarke came on stage ready to fight, sensing, with the BBC cameras ready and waiting, this was a chance to make a real statement. But being caught in the moment doesn’t always leave time to appreciate what was happening in front of his eyes:
“Around the time of the Reading gig I was still scared to really appreciate it or to take it in. I just got on stage and every gig felt like a battle. You can see it in my eyes, you can see the adrenaline taking over, I just powered my way through it and didn’t reflect too much on it at the time. But there were moments like that Reading gig, where I can remember looking out into the audience and thinking people are really enjoying this and it took a long time to process that.”
There was that rawness to the band that reflected the times. An unfiltered sound, a band not yet broken down by an unforgiving music business. That would come later.
Reading some of the negative reviews of the first album you sense that critics missed the point of The Enemy and what they were trying to say. The band were not trying to change the world or give you something you hadn’t seen before. Clarke was trying to connect with like-minded people, his frustrations with the world around him. I often wonder what enjoyment critics get from an industry they ply their trade in, enjoy something for what it is and not criticise it for being something it isn’t. Is it about their own self-importance over promoting positively for mutual benefit?
Clarke was often portrayed as mouthy, and at times he was. But it is interesting looking back at some of his early interviews. You see now, the innocence and naivety of his youth. A teenager thrust very quickly into a new world which would very quickly try to spit them back out again.
Part two of this interview covers the problems Clarke and the band had trying to survive in an industry that was swiftly moving away from them. Cracks started to appear, politics pushed their way to the forefront, the enjoyment evaporating as mainstream radio turned away from the guitar.