This time last year, it seemed as if we couldn’t move on the internet without some band or solo artist giving living room performances amid the first lockdown.
It’s amazing how soon that became part of our musical world, as was the case for videos featuring bands performing separately but collaboratively in different locations via the wonders of Zoom.
And while we’re a bit more blasé about all that now, recent highlights for me involved early viewings of ‘Australia’, the super-catchy latest single from Departure Lounge, and the band’s ‘bubble pals’ Tim Keegan and Chris Anderson hosting an intimate but lateral flow-friendly online launch event celebrating new LP, Transmeridian, their first in 19 years.
Performing ‘live and direct from a living room in the South of England’, the Worthing-based bandmates – with occasional input from Tim’s son Quincy – played a cracking set of old and new Departure Lounge numbers, selections from the latest addition to the collection equally impressive.
The new album features all four originals – Tim, Chris, Jake Kyle and Lindsay Jamieson – and even guest performer Peter Buck on ‘Australia’, appearing remotely down the line from Portland, Oregon, the REM guitar legend a long-standing admirer of this treasured UK outfit, who disbanded in 2003 but are now very much back with us again.
Singer-songwriter Tim has recorded and performed with various bands and as a solo artist down the years, past collaborations including those with Robyn Hitchcock – an earlier version of Departure Lounge opening his sets and backing him in the mid-‘90s – and The Blue Aeroplanes.
Setting out with his ‘university band’ Railroad Earth in my hometown of Guildford, Surrey, in 1988, that combo morphed into Ringo in 1992, their sole LP, Call It Home, recorded in Boston, Massachusetts. But within two years Tim had started again, as a solo artist and working alongside a number of other musicians before forming Homer with Patrick ‘Patch’ Hannan of revered indie darlings The Sundays, Andy Metcalfe of the Soft Boys and Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians (hence the initial link), Andrew Claridge, and future Departure lounge bass player Jake Kyle.
During that period, Homer played on Robyn Hitchcock’s Moss Elixir album and toured with him, opening shows before backing the main act. In time, they became Tim Keegan & the Homer Lounge, Tim and Jake joined by Daron ‘Drugstore’ Robinson and Lindsay Jamieson (formerly of Jim Jiminee, The Deep Season and Supermodel), their two CD EPs eventually reworked on debut Departure Lounge LP Out of Here in 1999, by which time Chris Anderson (also ex-Supermodel) was on board, the band also supporting Hitchcock’s US tour in 1999.
An Out of There EP followed, fused with the first LP for revised US album Out of There (yep, it’s confusing – the band scoring different UK and US deals, Tim seeing Out of Here as the definitive LP, adding, ‘If you have that and the UK-released EP, Out of There, that’s got all the stuff’) in 2000, followed by 2001’s instrumental LP Jetlag Dreams, recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, the first of two Bella Union releases, followed by the Kid Loco-produced Too Late To Die Young in 2002, all receiving warm critical praise.
By then, Lindsay had settled in Nashville, the others had returned home, and it was all over by 2003 … or so it seemed until September 2019, a reunion to mark 20 years since the debut LP leading to new songs being recorded on the back of those celebratory shows. And with the help of a publishing deal advance, the original quartet booked a few days in a studio, jumped in Chris’ car and headed west, to Peter Miles’ Middle Farm Studios in Devon, most of Transmeridian recorded during the first 24-hour session, as Tim explained on the sleevenotes.
“We hadn’t expected to make an album – we came to the studio with one finished song and two ideas for songs. Apart from an unrehearsed bar gig in Worthing in 2015, we hadn’t played together for 17 years, so didn’t really know what would happen. As it turned out we just picked up where we left off. The music poured out of us and it felt really good. As we listened back to what we had recorded the morning after our marathon session, we realised we had enough decent material for a whole LP.”
Co-producer Peter Miles got to work on what they’d put down, the band soon pitching in. And as Tim put it, “Transmeridian constitutes the perfect blend of all that is good about what happens when the four of us get together to make music.”
Tim sees the aptly-named Departure Lounge as a truly ‘global indie’ enterprise, travel and languages running deep with the frontman, who started teacher training a year after the recording of the new LP, and is working towards a new career as secondary school languages teacher. He already spoke French and German, and learned Spanish during the first lockdown, his response to Brexit.
“It’s kind of my protest really. Languages are in crisis in this country. They were already, but it’s got a lot worse these last four years.”
The LP titlecontinues the band’s long-haul air traffic theme, named after the defunct aviation cargo airline for which Tim’s dad was chief pilot, as he explained to me.
“He was a pilot all his life, always fond of telling us the Queen paid for him to learn to fly – he was in the RAF just after the war, then flew helicopters in the Sahara, did crop-spraying in South America, ending up joining this airline his older brother started, Transmeridian, a long-haul cargo outfit in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the pioneering age of long-haul flight, flying out of Southend then Stansted, flying all over – the Far East, Africa …”
Is this what sparked your love of languages?
“I suppose so. I was into travel before I was into music, travelling from a very early age, playing football in the back of empty cargo planes flying down to Africa with my sister, my dad flying. It was pretty exciting.”
Tim’s Dad, who died in 2015, was Kevin Keegan. And you can tell the response this usually gets, as he quickly adds, ‘the original’.
“He was quite a character, and a lot of his mates were a bunch of ne’er-do-wells, big drinkers who liked to party and have a good time. Lots of stopovers with time to kill in hotels, lots of air stewardesses and naughty stuff, I’m sure … he was a bit of a larger-than-life character, my old man.”
But for all that globetrotting down the decades, it turns out we share a little geographical lineage as well as both being born in 1967 and having mutual friends on my old doorstep. In fact, I was surprised I didn’t know him the first time his band were out and about.
The thing is, I took my eye off the ball around then. I moved north, was short on cash and had new priorities, not least on starting a family in 2000. But there were moments when surely we rubbed shoulders or frequented the same pubs, clubs and gigs, making it all the more poignant listening back to his song catalogue now, contemplating what I missed out on first time around.
Tim was born in Welwyn Garden City and moved to Romsey in the New Forest when he was around nine, where he still considers home, but his uni studies were in Guildford, and his wife hails from my old neck of the woods. These days though, he’s on the Sussex coast, near bandmate Chris Anderson, before that nearby in Brighton, before that Paris, and before that Nashville, Tennessee, with bandmate Lindsay … which is kind of where I fit in.
I knew Lindsay from late-‘80s Jim Jiminee days, that North Hampshire outfit and the band they became, The Deep Season, a huge influence on this scribe, going back to my Captains Log fanzine days. I kept tabs on Lindsay when he joined the splendid Supermodel (also featuring Chris Anderson), catching them with Lightning Seeds and Molly Half Head at Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre in early ’96, the year of their debut LP, Clumba Mar (word of advice, pop kids – careful searching for their cracking debut 7”, ‘Penis Size and Cars’).
I’m not sure when I realised he’d joined North Carolina’s Ben Folds, but I loved 2005’s Songs for Silverman and in more recent years thrilled to his inspired video project Find the Beauty and Nashville trio Elle Macho. But I somehow missed the gap between wondrous 1993 Deep Season LP, Island Monkeys, and all that, where he came into Jake and Tim’s orbit. Thankfully though, I’ve finally caught up now, and Tim filled me in on a few gaps.
“Jake and I went over in 2001 to try and keep the band going. Chris didn’t want to – he had stuff going on over here with his partner and wanted to stay in England. Again, fair enough, we weren’t 18 anymore. We were all about 30. It was just life getting in the way, really. Chris did come over for a couple of visits, and we did the Jetlag Dreams album on one of those. Then we had a residency -Jake, Linds and I – in a lovely little bar in Nashville, now quite legendary, the Slow Bar.”
Jetlag Dreams provideda brief departure, so to speak, into a soundtrack world. But perhaps we need to go back further at this point, not least explaining Tim’s further Surrey adventures.
“I was drawn back after living in London for a while and met Lindsay there. For a few years, he was in Guildford, so we hooked up again sometime in the mid-‘90s.”
I must surely have frequented the same space a few times, having followed The Deep Season – featuring Lindsay and his brother, Kevin Jamieson, plus Nick Hannan, the aforementioned Patch Hannan’s brother – around the London and South East circuit, and bumped into Lindsay in the King’s Head, Stoke Road, Guildford, a pub I still regarded as my local, despite having moved to Lancashire in late 1993.
“I got to know them around then. They were doing those Deep Season nights at the King’s Head. I was living very close to there.”
I did catch Railroad Earth – another transport and travel link, kids – once, supporting The Blue Aeroplanes at Harlesden’s Mean Fiddler, a week before Christmas 1991, writing in my diary, ‘Brilliant night. Two great bands.’ So tell me more.
“They started off as my university band in Guildford, then the line-up ended up being completely different, but we still had the same name. Then when we made a record, we changed the name to Ringo, sort of an evolution really. The purest version of Railroad Earth was quite a bit before that, But we made a record using the new name in 1992 in Boston – my first album.”
Confusingly, that LP included a track called ‘Railroad Earth’. But I was unaware of that, my music fanzine days – with Jim Jiminee among my interviewees, and plenty of mentions of The Blue Aeroplanes – over by then, and me not long back from my world travels.
“Well, before that album, it was just demos at the university. They had an amazing studio, and they were great demos in terms of sonic quality, although we weren’t particularly good as we’d really just started playing. The later version was quite good but not really so much the music I wanted to be doing – I was pulled by the spirit of the times, more into noisy guitars and stuff.”
They were strange days. Many great bands missed out around then, record companies seemingly looking for ‘baggy’ outfits in the wake of The Stone Roses. And then came BritPop, a lot of bands I loved missing out on that step up, despite influencing a few of those who would break through.
“I think that’s always the way. There are always bands that fall through the cracks just because of the timing, and there was a lot of that in the early ‘90s, making me think of The Pale Fountains, Shack, and all that.”
That from a performer now on the same Violette Records label as Palies and Shack frontman Michael Head’s latest band. Incidentally, my 1991 diary suggests Paul Weller played Kilburn’s National Ballroom in NW6 the night I saw Railroad Earth with The Blue Aeroplanes in NW10, the Woking wonder having stepped away from the faltering Style Council and barely nine months off releasing an eponymous LP signalling his creative rebirth.
My choice of show was no doubt determined by guitarist/co-vocalist Rodney Allen adding me to the guestlist at the Mean Fiddler. And I was never disappointed by the ‘Planes. I seem to recall Rodney couldn’t see their worth when they first courted him with a regard to getting him on board. But that juxtaposition of styles worked so well, leading to some fantastic records and live experiences.
“Yeah, that was their golden period, and set up this really interesting dynamic. When you have that in a band, like with The Go-Betweens, it’s always more interesting than with just one front man. If you have the right combination – with Lennon and McCartney the obvious ones – well … And the albums Swagger and Beat Songs, they’re up there!”
They were still coming out with great material when Tim guested on the Rough Music LP, released in January 1995, not least adding 12-string guitar on ‘Dear, Though the Night is Gone’.
“That is nice, isn’t it. But really, my involvement was brief, just standing in for Rodney really, who was unwell for a time.”
On to the new LP, and looking at the website for Peter Miles’ studio in South Devon, I knew I was on to the right one as I recognised the style of the handcrafted oak decor, guessing former Jim Jiminee and Deep Season bass player Nick Hannan was responsible.
“Well, Nick’s the reason we went to that studio. I was in touch, said we wanted to record again, and were looking for a studio in Devon, as Jake lives down there, has young kids, and we wanted to make life easier for him. And Nick said he had the perfect place, calling it ‘Blah Street Mk II’. He’d been doing loads of work for them, and said Pete Miles was brilliant.
“And he was spot on – it was perfect for us. It couldn’t have been better, on this beautiful old farm. There’s films I shot on my phone, including one where you see Nick’s split-screen VW, and while we were there he was in a workshop outside, so we got to hang out with him.”
The original Blah Street studio – near the Surrey and North Hants border, now sadly gone – was the setting for the recording and mixing of 2002’s Too Late to Die Young, produced by Kid Loco and engineered by Nick Hannan. I never got to visit that setting, but popped down a couple of times in Spring 1992 to Nick’s previous Studio Poisson base nearby, where The Deep Season made Island Monkeys.
“I did some demos there, engineered mostly by Patch, who played drums on my stuff in the mid-‘90s with Homer, between my time with Ringo and Departure Lounge.”
Was that also the first time you worked with Jake?
“I met him down in Bristol with The Blue Aeroplanes, so had my eye on him. I thought he was great and asked if he’d play on some stuff. Then I asked Linds to play drums. After Homer, I wanted to do something different, get some musicians I really liked to come and play, and Linds introduced Chris (Anderson). I wanted a piano player for a particular song I was recording in Brighton in a studio Kevin Jamieson had for a while, in a church he rented in Kemptown. That was incredible and we recorded there with Nick, who as well as a gifted woodworker and great bass player is such a talented engineer.”
As Tim discovered with his work on Too Late to Die Young. But let’s get right up to date now, and ‘Australia’, the first song I heard from the new LP. It makes for a perfect single. An all-rounder, written and recorded in the studio, I love the subtle backing vocal melodies, which seem to suggest the miles between band members. And even if I didn’t know Peter Buck was guesting on lead guitar, I’d have suggested there were shades of early REM jangly guitar and spirit there.
“Yeah, that’s why he’s on there. I had that thought immediately, listening back to it in the studio.”
How did you get him involved?
“We played together a bit over the years when I was with Robyn Hitchcock. We’re on a couple of the same records and did some gigs together in various places. We played a festival in Norway which a mutual friend curated, and I ended up playing harmonica and singing backup in his band. That was fun, a collaborative affair with John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin.”
That sounds like heavy name dropping.
“Oh yeah, major name dropping! There was Mike Mills and Peter from REM, Steve Wynn from The Dream Syndicate, and Terry Edwards, who I go back a long way with through Robyn Hitchcock.”
I also love those subtle backing vocals on ‘Australia’. It’s almost as if Chris and Lindsay are thousands of miles away on that recording, in a sense true in Lindsay’s case when it came to shooting the accompanying video.
“Yeah, I like that too, and it’s amazing what a difference something can make, even if it’s low in the mix, like Lindsay’s piano in the chorus, which you don’t really hear unless you’re listening for it.”
I assumed that was Chris, and not just because Lindsay’s just drumming in the video.
“I was hoping Linds would do a shot of him on the piano, but if you listen there’s a really nice piano motif. He plays a lot of piano for us, while Chris plays bass here and there, Jake’s on drums on some of it and plays guitar on ‘Al Aire Libre’, something he made up.”
You’ve got such a talented band. You’re spoilt for choice.
“We are, and that’s what gives it breadth really – the fact that everyone plays lots of instruments … except for me really.”
What’s more, as well as Peter Buck’s guest spot, Jake’s daughter adds vocals on ‘Don’t Be Afraid’, and his family add handclaps on ‘Mr Friendly’. And while I could write plenty more about the album here, having had a fair few listens since I spoke to Tim and loving it, time is against me, so I’ll leave the review for later … probably in a best of 2021 section.
It seems to me that Departure Lounge were among the bands who realised during the last year of the pandemic that remote recording might just work in these days of advanced technology, something of a bonus when two of you are in Sussex, your bass player is in Devon, and your drummer lives across the Atlantic Ocean. And maybe that’s something that wouldn’t have been an option 20 years ago when Lindsay headed west. Did they see his move as the end of the band at the time?
“It wasn’t the end, but it was definitely the beginning of the end! I mean, fair enough – he’d met someone, they were having a baby, he got married and made a life over there. But he wanted to keep the band going, so did we, and we thought this should be possible. And it would have been if we had enough money, if we’d been successful enough.”
It would be 2006 before Tim had family of his own, and was still eager to make it big at the time of the split, adding, “I was still very much on my ‘at any cost’ path of doing music”.
While superstardom never came their way, it’s been an amazing if disjointed adventure, the band earning plenty of acclaim en route … even if when Departure Lounge’s flight came in, I appeared to be at a different gate. Not least when you consider that their first rehearsals and recordings took place at Lindsay’s house in Guildford, a few streets from my old local, Tim revealing, “We’d get together in his lounge, put a mini-disc in the middle of the floor and just make stuff up, there on Rec(reation) Road.”
At the risk of sounding like an old bugger, it’s hard now to recall and explain to the next generation – like my children and Tim’s – how we kept tabs on what was happening then, before the days of social media updates. I soon had less money in my pocket, was seeing less gigs and had other priorities. I’d also given up on the weekly music press, making do with the monthly magazines, and was listening to less BBC Radio 1 at night.
“I also think we would have been able to keep it going if we had the technology we have now. When we did this record we all got together in one place, but in February this year we were asked to do a session for Janice Long on BBC Radio Wales, which we did completely remotely, all four of us. We couldn’t see each other, but you’d never know, listening back, having got a mate of ours to mix it.
“That’s made us think we can do this remotely now. So while it would be lovely to do another album in Devon, maybe we’ll do that with the next one. The plan now is to do more remote stuff, see if we can make that work.”
The songs recorded for that session, some not broadcast, are included on the deluxe digital and vinyl LP editions of the new record, although Tim tells me the latter’s been held up in Europe so far, ‘and we can blame Brexit for that’.
Was Janice Long a fan first time around?
“I think so. Her producer – Adam Walton, a brilliant bloke – was. He was a DJ for the BBC in the north when I did a tour with Chris plugging one of the singles from the first album, remembered me, and got in touch when he heard this record was out.
“That’s what’s really nice – lots of people around 20 years ago who were into our music are still into it now. It may not be hundreds of thousands, but there’s enough to make a difference.”
This remote version of the group certainly fits in with the band name.
“Yes, and it fits with our vision of keeping it small but global – global indie, if you like. Although I don’t think our music is particularly niche. Someone said in a recent review our contemporaries are Coldplay, Keane and Travis. Well, some of our stuff isn’t that far from what those guys were doing, but there wasn’t room for us, and we didn’t have the timing or the budgets. But what’s nice is that we can still exist … on a lower flying level, as it were.”
You mentioned The Go-Betweens, and you covered the glorious ‘Rock’n’Roll Friend’ recently, an extra track on the new record’s deluxe package. You shared a bill a few times. Were you a fan who happened to be in the right place at the right time?
“Pretty much. It was an early Departure Lounge gig, opening for Neutral Milk Hotel. I was on the same label. In the mid-to-late ‘90s a woman said to us after a show, ‘I loved that, and work for this guy, he’s a manager …’ and basically badgered this manager, said, ‘You’ve got to take these guys on – they’re brilliant!’ That was Bob Johnson, who’s Robert (Forster)’s manager. That’s what got me into that world, and I couldn’t believe my luck – a fan since 16 Lovers Lane.”
I think that’s where I started, going backwards from there, inspired by that and the 1978-1990 compilation.
“Yeah, me too with the first Robert Forster and Grant McLennan solo records as well. Grant’s Horsebreaker Star (1994)was a big one for me, and Robert’s Danger in the Past (1990). I loved all their stuff. And when they got back together and we were supporting them, then did some solo stuff with them as well. And they were so sweet.
“I sent Robert ‘Australia’ recently, saying, ‘I thought you’d like this’. He emailed straight back, said, ‘It’s a knockout – well done!’ He wrote this very effusive email and asked if I could send him the chords – a bit of a flashback to when he asked for the chords to ‘The New You’ 20 years ago.
“He’s quite something, Robert … as was Grant. I consider myself very fortunate, as there was only a small window when they got back together again, and I didn’t see them early on, which I’m sorry about.”
He expanded on this on social media recently, explaining that Departure Lounge opened for The Go-Betweens’ co-frontmen on a string of US duo dates in June 1999.
“It’s very nice to have had a small walk-on part in the Go-Betweens story, having been a devotee since hearing ‘Spring Rain’ in 1986. From 1998 we shared a manager with Robert and Grant, and Roddy Frame. We opened for them in London and on that US tour, shortly before they made The Friends of Rachel Worth. Then I supported them solo in Brussels and Paris in 2003.
“I have very fond memories of these shows with two of my songwriting heroes, who were both very supportive and became friends. We had a lot of fun and somewhere I have a tape of us making up a song with Grant in a dressing room after one of the shows. I don’t think it was anything earth-shattering, but it’s a lovely memory. I also remember Grant playing and singing me the opening lines of Richard Hawley’s first single, ‘Baby, You’re My Light’. Grant was very tuned in to other people’s stuff and interested in mine, which I took as a huge compliment.
“I went to visit them in the studio in London when they were recording Oceans Apart. Robert was overseeing the Salvation Army brass band players on ‘Darlinghurst Nights’ and Grant and I drank tea in the lounge upstairs.
“I was in my flat in Brighton playing with my four month-old son when I got the devastating news (of Grant’s death) in May 2006. He’s 15 now and does a great version of ‘Coming Up For Air’, my favourite Grant song, which I could never persuade him to play live, as he said it was too personal.”
I love the name of the LP and its emotional attachment to your Dad’s story, but weren’t you tempted to call this one, seeing as it turned up almost two decades after the last one, Too Old To Arrive Late?
“Yes, we probably could have done something clever with that. I take your point!”
And on that front, through circumstances beyond your control, you parted company in 2003 but now you’re back, and you seem determined that this is not going to be a one-off release.
“No, absolutely not! We’re back … although exactly what that means in this covid and post-covid era nobody quite knows, but we’re definitely back and we should be making music together.”
Will you be flying Lindsay back over to record with you again, soon as it’s safe?
“Yeah, I hope so. And at some point there will be live dates and more recording, so we’re looking forward to that.”
Glad to hear it. There was more I aimed to get on to, not least Tim’s past solo projects – having recorded the albums Foreign Domestic in 2007 and The Long Game in 2015 – and links with the likes of Saint Etienne. But we both had places to go, in Tim’s case ahead of a return to school … because we’ve all got to make a living somehow.
“Exactly, and that’s good fun as well, really interesting. It’s great working with kids and I love languages. It’s much more challenging than anything else I’ve done, but that’s good, and you’re never too old to start a new learning process.”
And there’s a future Departure Lounge album title, if ever I heard one.
Transmeridian is out now on Violette Records, available on high-quality vinyl or as a deluxe digital download via https://violetterecords.com/artist/departure-lounge/, each package including bonus material, its 13 tracks accompanied by seven bonus tracks and ‘The Making Of Transmeridian’ 34-page pdf booklet with foreword and introduction from Tim Keegan, photographs and studio notes from the recording, and handwritten lyrics.