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About Servants

The cruel irony of the Servants' brief career is that most members of the band enjoyed some level of Brit-pop success, with the exception of singer/songwriter David Westlake. One of the few bands retroactively tied to the so-called C-86 wing of guitar-based British indie bands who actually appeared on the New Musical Express C86 cassette sampler, the Servants were a talented band done in by lineup shifts and bad luck with record companies. The Servants were formed in London in 1985 by the teenage Westlake, whose ads in the music papers' classifieds brought in guitarist John Mohan, bassist Phil King, and drummer John Wills. Named after The Servant, a twisty 1963 film drama written by Harold Pinter, the Servants signed to Head Records, an offshoot of the then-new Creation label, and released their first single, "She's Always Hiding," in 1986. ("Transparent," its flip, was the song chosen for the C86 compilation.) By the time the four-track The Sun, A Small Star EP was released in the fall of 1986, this lineup of the Servants had already split up. Popularity from the compilation and the championing of BBC disc jockeys John Peel and Janice Long led Westlake to assemble a new Servants, but with the exception of new guitarist and pianist Luke Haines, he couldn't establish a stable band lineup. (For one BBC session, the Servants comprised Westlake and Wills plus Robert Forster, Robert Vickers, and Amanda Brown from the Go-Betweens.) When Creation Records demanded an album, Westlake and Haines drafted bassist Martyn Casey and drummer Alsy Macdonald from the Triffids, but puzzlingly, Creation released the album as Westlake by David Westlake rather than as a Servants album, then promptly dropped the band. Glass Records signed the Servants in 1988, and with new drummer Hugh Whittaker (formerly of the Housemartins), they recorded a second four-song EP, It's My Turn. Unfortunately, Glass was more financially precarious than the band knew, and the EP didn't see release until the fall of 1989, by which time Whittaker had already left. Before throwing in the towel, Westlake, Haines, and the new rhythm section of bassist Alice Readman and drummer Andy Bennett, signed to Paperhouse Records and recorded the Servants' proper debut album, 1990's defiantly experimental and aptly titled Disinterest, and disbanded the following year. Luke Haines became a Brit-pop star with the Auteurs (which also included Readman) and later formed the stylish electronic outfit Black Box Recorder. Phil King joined Creation house band Biff Bang Pow!, and later, 4AD stars Lush. (He and John Mohan also had non-contemporaneous stints in Felt.) Wills joined the Spacemen 3-like drone outfit Loop, then founded the '90s post-rock act the Hair and Skin Trading Company. David Westlake made a proper solo debut in 2002 with Play Dusty for Me. In 2006, Cherry Red gathered the Servants' three singles, radio sessions, and outtakes in the compilation Reserved. Another compilation called Youth Club Disco appeared in 2011 via the Captured Tracks label. In May 2014, Westlake and Haines performed together in London, and the following month Westlake and his band performed at NME's C86 show to celebrate Cherry Red's reissue of the influential compilation. ~ Stewart Mason

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