The band the world wasn't ready for
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As most of us waved a not-so-sorry goodbye to the synth-ravaged pop
tunes and ridiculous big hair abominations of the 1980s, one
English city had already decided to make a stand in this, the
up-and-down world of the UK music scene.

Manchester (above) was in the process of transforming itself into one
of the finest music towns on Earth. As a musical mother, she had
already given birth to the likes of 10cc, The Fall, Buzzcocks,
Joy Division, and The Smiths. Now, reimpregnated by the likes of
Ian Brown, John Squire and Paul & Shaun Ryder (below), the city
was again giving birth to bands we now know as The Stone Roses
and Happy Mondays.

Manchester was buzzing again. As the '80s became the '90s, no other
British city had so much musical influence within its boundaries as
Manchester had at this point. Young musicians from across the
land were dragging their wardrobes and P45s to an old industrial
city in the heart of Northern England.

Of those seeking a part in this new scene would be two Dover
Grammar School-mates from Kent. Guitarists Robin File &
Sean McCann soon found themselves in the north-west and well
in the hunt for a band that could further them both as professional
musicians. Before long, Sean had already sunk his bass-playing
claws into man-mountain vocalist, and local boy, Martin Merchant
in the Hacienda's Dry Bar on Oldham Street. With Robin also on
board, the Sugar Merchants ("Sugar" being Martin's nickname)
would quickly take shape with three other members, including
18-year-old Salford drummer Robert Maxfield, and they eventually
signed to the Elektra label in 1991, recording their debut album
by the narrow waterways of Amsterdam soon after.

Later, following big changes in the boardroom of Elektra, the Sugar
Merchants quickly found themselves cast back into the street, minus
a recording deal. But the ambitious don't wallow in self-pity and the
bottom of a glass, they get their arses in gear, stand at the crossroads
and decide which road to take next.

Renamed 'Audioweb' (rare - a band name that describes the music),
File, McCann, Maxfield & Merchant were soon back in the hunt with
a three-track demo, incorporating brand new tracks Sleeper & Into My
, plus a dub version of The Clash's 1980 release, Bankrobber,
and, before long, a copy found itself onto the desk at the offices of
U2's own Mother Records, where a deal was offered in 1995,
and the boys signed up.

Though an album wouldn't surface for another year, it wasn't long
before Audioweb's debut single Sleeper was out of the pressing plants
and into the shops. Sleeper was first released in September 1995 and
though helped immensely by Radio 1 airplay and good critical
response, this still could not stop the disc from peaking any higher
than #74. More gigging, including a New Year's Eve spot on Jools
Holland's Hootenanny TV special, was needed to keep the band
in the eye of the media and in the mind of the public and the fans.

The band's second single came out in February of 1996. Yeah was
quickly followed by
Into My World - "one of the greatest singles of
ninety-six", as Martin hammered home to his audience at that year's
Reading Festival. And, why not? It was. Unluckily though, it just failed
to hit the Top 40 (it reached #42) and was doomed never to be played
to the early evening audience on Radio 1's Sunday chart show and
the millions there tuning in. And this was it with Audioweb - the
masses love good music, no matter what form it takes, but they also
need to be made aware it exists. At this point in time, the band simply
remained on the fringes.

By now, the band were in the studio, recording their first album with
the Manna pairing of Jonathan Quarmby & Kevin Bacon. From a
techno/dub background themselves, these two producers from Sheffield
were clearly on the same wavelength as their Manchester counterparts.
Sean McCann would later call them the band's mentors, remarking how
the two would help take the album to where the band wanted it to go.
This would correspond sharply with Audioweb's experience when
recording their second album two years later.

Finally, in October of 1996, Audioweb hit the market with a decision
to re-release Sleeper alongside their self-titled debut album. Hailed
by the music press, Audioweb hit the charts and would spawn a
further two singles, including their cover of Bankrobber, which
remains their highest charted single, reaching the Top 20 in early 1997.
The album also gained quite a publicity kick at the time, when Ian
Brown, in his press statement on The Stone Roses break-up, spoke of
his immediate desire to "kick back and listen to the new
Audioweb album".

By this time, things were looking good for Audioweb. They were on
popular TV shows such as TFI Friday, were playing the main stage
at many of the summer festivals, and proudly supported U2 at a
packed Wembley Stadium in August of 1997. Incidentally, their
intended playing of Bankrobber on TFI was almost scuppered when
EMI, who own the publishing rights to The Clash number, attempted
to put an injunction on the band's performance, only for Joe
Strummer (below) to intervene personally with a fax, granting the
boys permission to play his and Mick Jones' song. Yet another moral
victory for good-natured gentlemen over petty, legal bullshit-mongerers.

With 1998, came a defining mix of hope, hopes shattered and
expectations reached for Audioweb. Their first chart release of the year
was a sustained attack on the actions of many an inner-city UK
police force of the day, not just the Greater Manchester Constabulary
as to whom the lyrics were more than likely aimed. Policeman Skank
came out in March 1998 and reached #21. By now, the band's second
album was so long away, keeping the Audioweb name in the public
domain was as important as the album's completion. Assorted troubles
were now arising from the recording sessions, not least helped, allegedly,
by the guy brought in to produce, what would become, Fireworks City.
Having already worked with Happy Mondays, Black Grape (below)
and Fun Lovin' Criminals, Scotsman Steve Lironi certainly had the
pedigree for this project, however, the execution of the album just
didn't seem to go the way the band had hoped. To this day, band
members cite the second album as a huge disappointment - an eon
away from how they'd envisaged its whole sound and feel.

When Fireworks City was finally released on October 19th 1998, it was
definitely a fan-pleaser. Many Audiowebheads today still champion this
album over the first. Yes, it lacked the raw edge of the debut disc but
many believed the overall sound and maturity of tracks such as Personal
, Sentiments For A Reason, Control, Try and Freefall cemented
the band's rise up the ranks. Its powerfully bookended form, detailing
the fears and dangers, from both sides of the law, of living on the streets
of inner-city Manchester (Policeman Skank & Get Out Of Here), really
brought home the musical beauty and lyrical skill of the songs held
therein. However, what the fans hailed, and let's not forget the
Audioweb fanbase was miniscule compared to that of Oasis, the band
itself remained slumped, staring at poor sales and, surprisingly, even
poorer reviews. In-fighting broke out, a scheduled US promo tour was
cancelled, a further UK tour supporting Ian Brown was rudely killed-off
by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, further sales figures from both
subsequent singles did nothing to help matters, the pressure piled on
from the record label, which finally led to an inevitable split in 1999;
their last ever gig in a soggy field in Leeds, sadly, signalling
Audioweb's exit from the music business.

Going their separate ways, Maxi became a founder-member of the
short-lived band The Rising (with Shed Seven's Paul Banks,
Stu Fletcher from The Seahorses, and the lead singer of current Scottish
rock outfit The 88s - David McKellar), before going on to drum for
King Monkey himself - Ian Brown.

Meanwhile, those two Dover boys from Nonington and Guston would
soon join up with Damon Gough for Badly Drawn Boy (second left
& far right, below), who Sean - after a brief stint himself with
Ian Brown - remains with today.

Martin, after many years of self-imposed exile from the music biz, where
he could still be found reggae DJ-ing around Manchester, finally
started a new musical project in 2007 called SupaJamma.

As of today, Martin, Sean & Maxi remain close friends and have even
discussed working together again. Even with Sean busy under the BDB
tag, and Maxi now Ian Brown's full-time drummer, the chances of any
Audioweb get-together do remain possible, if not immediately so - but
we can live in hope. And even if the boys never inhabit the same studio
space again, like the writings of Dickens, the films of Kubrick, the
photos of Capa - the music of Audioweb will always be there to remind
us of a time when, as all around them wailed the money-hungry cries
of manufactured mid-'90s pop rivalry, four guys from Manchester &
Dover decided to make music that mattered to them, sounds sampled
from a collection of dance & rock genres, and to try and make it the
man's way ... not the easy way.


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