Earlier this week, Our Lost Infantry announced that they would be calling it a day following the release of one final record – ‘Interregnum’ – and a final farewell show at the band’s home from home, the West End Centre in Aldershot on 24 July.
Formed from the ashes of a twelve-legged indie-folk band named Moscow Flyer that had shared the stage with the likes of Frightened Rabbit, Lady and the Lost Boys and Autumn Chorus, the band changed their name during a live session on BBC Southern Counties Radio in 2008 to become Our Lost Infantry – three words picked from a pile cut from magazines that the group decided perfectly captured the sound and ethos of the band. Having asked me to help them out as ‘manager’ at a gig in 2008 (although I’d never accept that title, I simply just helped out where I could – and tried to keep them organised), the band really began to hit their stride in 2009.
A burgeoning live reputation began to develop around the local area, especially in the way frontman Thom Ashworth would pour every ounce of passion and energy into every vocal delivery and this was shown in no better way than when the band began the year at the Westy alongside The Race. Following on from this, OLI played everywhere from a friend’s soon-to-be demolished bungalow to a pub in West Byfleet in the early part of the year, all while writing new songs that would come to define their intelligent pop sound. Always retaining a DIY ethic, we would have regular band meetings where I would help the band blast off emails for press, bookings and radio play; create bespoke artwork for limited-edition releases; make plans for the future; and eat copious amounts of savouries.
Fed up of the evil pay-to-play and rent-a-crowd shows that were haunting London, a result from one of these band meetings was discussions of a European tour… Although it didn’t quite pan out as extensive as we all hoped, Thom managed to book a show at Lades in Copenhagen (we couldn’t get the support to Girls in nearby Malmo, unfortunately…) and for the first time people started to dance – actually dance – at an Our Lost Infantry show. With impromptu street shows in front of the Little Mermaid monument and to a surprisingly observant and respectful stag do crowd, the band really gained in confidence. Once we were back on these shores, the autumn of 2009 became a very important time in OLI’s career as they began to develop and veer more into the accessible end of math and post-rock territory, playing gigs with A Genuine Freakshow and Sky Larkin in the process. The latter show, once again in Aldershot, saw the band gain a whole new legion of fans who came blown away by what they’d just witnessed. As the band adapted into life as a four-piece, 2009 was seen out with their debut performance at New Slang in Kingston supporting Johnny Foreigner, a show in Portsmouth with band favourites (and the much-missed) Grammatics and a solo performance from Thom at Hold Your Horse Is’ legendary Christmas party at the Westy.
The year Our Lost Infantry made their first official release. While browsing the Drowned in Sound message boards, I saw a post from John Earls – the highly respected music journalist from Teletext’s Planet Sound – about how he was to start a new label called WET Records. As one of the first journalists to cover both Hope of the States and The Twilight Sad and having gone on work experience with him, I thought there was no harm in sending a demo CD of Our Lost Infantry songs to John. Within weeks, the band had received a phone call, John and the rest of the WET team had come to see OLI play a show at Brixton Windmill and plans were afoot for the band’s debut single to be released on CD and vinyl. It was quickly decided the radio-friendly nature of ‘The Arsonist’ was to be the A-side and the B-side would be something far more experimental – ‘Scissorfight’. It would be recorded at Hope and Social’s the Crypt in Yorkshire.
A winter tour that started at London’s grand Bush Hall with a support slot to A Genuine Freakshow before taking in the unlikely hotspots of Blackburn and Accrington was complemented by an interview with Steve Lamacq live on 6Music, while OLI also had the chance to play with Grammatics (at the Lexington in London) and Frightened Rabbit (at a sold-out Westy!) once more. Saturday 13 March saw the beginning of a beautiful band friendship as OLI were invited to play at the launch event for Spring Offensive’s tremendous mini-album ‘Pull Us Apart’ at the Cellar in Oxford.
With the summer release of ‘The Arsonist’/‘Scissorfight’ confirmed, we booked a tour to coincide. Shows in Bracknell, Chichester, Bristol and Norwich complemented the launch show run by WET Records at the Wilmington Arms in London and the band’s debut headline slot at the Westy – a celebratory gig complete with hats, masks, cakes, bunting and support slots from Quays and Spring Offensive. A very special show which showed how much love there was for OLI in the local area, it marked a step-up in the band’s career. The band’s next show with Spring Offensive in Winchester, did not go so well, three of the four members picked up a sickness bug. When Matt Phelps made a desperate dash to the loo during SO’s set, he was told with some sympathy that it looked like ‘a wolf was clawing at his anal door…’
Again, in an attempt to get away from the ‘conveyer belt of genres’ shows that are preferred by some promoters, OLI hatched a plan with Olympians and Spring Offensive to put a run of shows together in each band’s hometown. The ’13 Angry Men’ tour opened with a charity gig at the Wilmington ran by Gareth of WET Records before a weekend duo of shows in Norwich and Oxford (where I also first saw Gunning for Tamar). Culminating on a Friday night back at the Westy, there was again a lot of love as the three bands came together for a ramshackle yet glorious cover of ‘Born to Run’. I’m not sure Jules from the Westy has ever forgiven me for suggesting OLI tackle this song, but it was a lot of fun… A show with A Plastic Rose finished the year in some style.
To be continued: Much-missed bands – Our Lost Infantry Meet their Maker, 2011 – 2015 (part 2)