By rights The House of Love should have been as much of a household name as U2 or fellow Creation alumni Oasis.
Riding high on the back of a string of sparkling indie singles and rapid sales of their self-titled debut album, they were officially the late ‘80s next big things.
Championed by John Peel and feted by the music press, they even appeared on Melvyn Bragg’s esteemed high brow arts magazine programme The South Bank Show (see below video).
But just when it seemed the band had the world at their feet, the group were ripped apart by a toxic mix of bad decisions, bitter bust-ups and sheer rotten luck.
It’s the classic story of a band buckling under the weight of internal tensions and the pressures of moving to a major label.
Like all great tragedies, however, it comes with catharsis and redemption in the shape of an unlikely reunion and the slow healing of the fractured relationship between singer-songwriter Guy Chadwick and lead guitarist Terry Bickers.
As his band come full circle with a headlining performance at next month’s Indie Daze 4 festival at Kentish Town Forum – scene of their landmark performance at Creation’s Doing It For the Kids showcase in August 1988 – Chadwick tells Matt Catchpole the cautionary tale of the rise, fall and rise again of The House of Love.
A few years older than his bandmates and the veteran of numerous other outfits, Chadwick assembled the group through an advert in the music press.
It didn’t take him long to realise the line-up of Bickers, co-vocalist/guitarist Andrea Heukamp, Chris Groothuizen (bass) and drummer Pete Evans, had something very special.
“It just felt different and it grew quite quickly and the sound evolved and there was just a natural chemistry,” he remembers.
“We used to do his residency at this pub called The Three Crowns in Stoke Newington. We had to play two sets, we’d get paid 100 quid and we had to bring our own PA! But it was a free gig and so there was quite a big crowd and about the third time we played it, we just really started to soar and it almost was like the band was playing itself.”
The buzz around the group saw them signing with ultra-hip indie label Creation, releasing the excellent debut single Shine On in 1987.
Things really took off the following year, when the shimmering Christine went to the top of the independent charts.
“We did a gig at that time, just a small gig, and that was the first time that we noticed we had an audience,” Chadwick recalls.
“We’d sold out a small gig, and that was really exciting, but within six months we were playing to 1,000 people a night. That was a big change! And it was pressure – no two ways about it.”
That Summer the band’s triumphant performance at Doing It For The Kids saw them moving from Creation also-rans to leading contenders.
Thanks in large part to the patronage of John Peel, the band’s debut long-player soon began selling in big numbers.
“I can’t overestimate John Peel’s importance,” Chadwick says. “As soon as he picked up on our first album, he just started playing a track or two every night on his programme and that’s when it started selling.
“We used to literally have daily sales and I used to check them, because when you start selling records it starts becoming very serious and you want to know how many units you’ve shifted today. And it was incredible! It just soared! He was really big for us, John Peel.”
With the band developing a formidable live reputation and Chadwick and Bickers being mentioned in the same breath as The Smiths’ Morrissey and Johnny Marr, it soon became apparent that The House of Love were outgrowing Creation.
“I wasn’t that impressed with Creation at the time. It was quite sort of shambolic.” says Chadwick. “I knew that the group could be better presented. They [Creation] were just so amateurish at the time.
“Having said that, their enthusiasm and their individuality was obvious and we would definitely have been better off if we’d stayed with them. But I was just very ambitious.”
Courted from all sides, the band could have signed to anyone, but chose Phonogram subsidiary Fontana for an advance of £400,000 – not an inconsiderable sum in those days.
It was to prove the single biggest mistake of their career.
Chadwick says he found himself being worn down by his dealings with Dave Bates, the A&R man who’d signed the group and didn’t want to let go of his charges.
“Bates was just a complete control freak. He was just one of these people, who just wanted to join the fucking band,” Chadwick recalls gloomily.
“He ground me down, his sort of obsessiveness, and in retrospect, wrong kind of attitude just eroded my confidence. And, as soon as that goes, you’re fucked.”
Creation impresario Alan McGee was retained as manager, repeating a trick he had performed when The Jesus And Mary Chain jumped ship for Warner Brothers in 1985.
But, Chadwick says, McGee failed to provide the buffer The House of Love needed to rescue them from the demands of the record company.
“It was a hell of a circus, the whole thing, and having Alan McGee as the manager wasn’t a great idea,” Chadwick admits.
“He did his best and he gave us the best advice he could, but ultimately, his interests were Creation and himself. He really left us to it as far as dealing with Phonogram was concerned.”
Pressure began to build during sessions for the band’s second album, driving a wedge between Chadwick and his lead guitarist.
“He became very introverted and distanced himself from me,” Chadwick says of Bickers. “He was also very unhappy about me and my behaviour. I was being a bit of a prima donna to say the least. I was being pretty stupid. And that annoyed him and it kind of festered.”
Despite the pair’s polarising relationship, the group managed to complete the album, though Chadwick confesses the long hours in the studio led to them “losing sight of what the band was about”.
“Success didn’t solidify us and improve us – it had an adverse effect,” he says now. “And when that happens, everybody knows about it, but it’s below the surface and there’s no talking.”
The simmering tensions boiled over in dramatic fashion, when the band were sent out on a “never-ending” 60-date tour in support of the album.
“Almost every other night there would be a massive argument – the smallest thing and it would just blow up,” Chadwick says.
With emotions reaching fever pitch, the singer exploded, demolishing a much-loved guitar at a soundcheck.
“It was absolutely my favourite guitar and I just hammered it into the floor and broke it to pieces. I was heartbroken.”
But much worse was to follow.
On the way back from another show, Bickers began setting light to a £20 note in the tour van while chanting “breadhead” at a furious Chadwick.
It was the last straw and the guitarist was sacked on the spot, left at Bristol Temple Meads station after reportedly being punched by drummer Pete Evans.
“When we literally just kicked him out of the van and drove off, it was justify a fantastic relief,” Chadwick explains, “And for a couple of weeks it was fine and then it dawned on me that it wasn’t a very good idea.”
Two or three months later Chadwick attempted to build bridges, but by then Bickers was putting together psych-rock outfit Levitation and in no mood for a reconciliation.
Chadwick admits that he failed to recognise that his exhausted bandmate was in the throes of a serious breakdown.
“It was all so claustrophobic that I couldn’t see the wood for the trees and I didn’t sympathise with the way he felt at all,” he confesses. “I didn’t empathise, I just saw it from my own point of view. I just thought he was being difficult and he wasn’t, he was just not in a good place. And I wasn’t helping him.
“At the end of the day, we weren’t like best friends. We’ve always had this amazing connection with music, but we didn’t start playing together because we liked each other, we started the band because we liked playing music together. There wasn’t this huge close bond, and I regret that. I was selfish and should’ve just been a bit more aware.”
The group had coped with the departure of a member before, when Andrea Heukamp returned to her native Germany soon after the recording of Christine.
But losing the man whose mastery of effects had helped create the band’s unique sound was a different proposition altogether.
Chadwick would soldier on with other guitarists and various line-ups, but things were never quite the same again and the group finally ground to a halt in 1993.
Alan McGee has said the febrile atmosphere and the band’s eventual implosion were due to drug use, but Chadwick says this is overstated.
“I think the drugs were just a symptom of how we felt. There was no massive drug-taking. We were not doing shit loads of coke, no-one was doing smack. We were doing Es and smoking lots of dope. My problem, more than anything else was just drinking too much.
“Terry is someone who can’t and should never take drugs and to be honest it’s the same with me. They just did not agree with me at all. Smoking dope habitually – I just used to go psychotic and so did he – so it was crazy.”
While he’s refreshingly honest about his own culpability, particularly where Bickers is concerned, Chadwick blames Fontana for the band’s demise.
“One of my favourite songs is The Girl With The Loneliest Eyes and that was like the turning point for us, because it all went wrong after that and badly. I think that was completely the fault of the record company because they put it out and it wasn’t stocked by HMV and Our Price – those companies at the time controlled 80% of the chart return shops – so we didn’t get a chart placing,” he explains.
“We’d sold enough records in the first week to have had a top five single. It was the first release that we’d had for 15 months and it completely killed the third album. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why they didn’t stock it.”
The band’s split sent Chadwick into a downward spiral of depression from which he would not emerge for five years.
“I just couldn’t do anything. I was on medication. I just completely cracked up and couldn’t get any focus,” he says, praising his wife for her tremendous help and patience.
It was only after deciding to give up music in 2000 that he slowly began to recover.
“After about a year of just sitting around I got a driving job with a fashion PR company. It was absolutely horrible, but it got me out of the house for six months and I was able to start thinking straight again. It was a hell of a way to come back to reality, but it worked.”
Chadwick would go on to set up his own joinery business, drawing on the skills he’d been taught by his engineer father.
It was only when his former agent contacted him, with a view to Chadwick making a solo record for a new label he was starting, that he was lured back to music.
Rejecting the idea of making music alone, Chadwick asked the agent to sound out his erstwhile bandmates on the prospect of a reunion.
“I basically used him to broker getting me and the band together,” he laughs.
Evans got back on board, but Groothuizen passed and was replaced by Matt Jury.
Predictably, reconciling with Bickers was far from easy, but having been through his own battle with depression, Chadwick was more understanding of his bandmate this time around.
“Terry and I had to go through that whole healing process, which was really difficult, but really nice and we’re both glad we did it.
“He wasn’t in a great place at all when we got back together, for one reason or another in his personal life, and so it was a very slow process. It took a good two years.”
Having now been together for longer than the first incarnation lasted, the re-booted House of Love have released two albums Days Run Away and She Paints Words In Red and there’s a third one on the way.
Fiercely self-critical Chadwick asserts that the last album “wasn’t good enough” and the new one will not be released until the band are fully satisfied with the recording.
Chadwick says the band are excited about the prospect of headlining Indie Daze 4, topping a bill which features The Wonderstuff’s Miles Hunt & Erica Nockalls, Voice of the Beehive, Crazyhead, Thousand Yard Stare, Apollo 440, Bis and Salad.
“You bump into people you literally haven’t seen for years and years. We did a couple of these gigs last year with The Wonderstuff and they work well. They’re retro gigs but there’s a good crowd,” says Chadwick.
A calmer, happier quartet these days, Chadwick insists The House of Love remain as passionate as ever about the music, promising a set packed full of fan favourites.
“We’re very focused, we get on really well, no-one’s afraid of speaking their mind, but there are no massive arguments,” he says. “It’s a good outfit. We take it pretty seriously. And we take live performance extremely seriously. Everyone gives their all.”
While colossal fame may have eluded him, Chadwick is justifiably proud of his band’s achievements and back catalogue.
“I feel very lucky that we have a body of songs that we can play as a set and a lot of people enjoy it, key songs for us like Shine On, The Beatles and the Stones and I Don’t Know Why I Love You, which was big for us in America.”
While he may have been bruised by his treatment at Fontana, he’s remarkably sanguine about his life in the music business.
“In retrospect, you have your opportunities and you either use them or you don’t, so I don’t feel in any way hard done by,” he concludes.
- Indie Daze 4 takes place at the O2 Kentish Town Forum on October 7. For more information and ticket visit the website.
- House of Love play warm up shows at LiVe, Preston (Oct 3) and The Welly Club, Hull (Oct 4).
- For more about the House of Love visit their Facebook page.