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My Life Story

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My Life Story was one of many orchestral British pop groups that appeared in the wake of Pulp and Suede. Led by Jake Shillingford, who comes across as a low-rent Neil Hannon (the Divine Comedy), the group never won the critical respect of its influences -- or even contemporaries like the Divine Comedy -- but they won a hardcore following of die-hard Anglophiles. Jake Shillingford (b. May 15, 1966), for all intents and purposes, is My Life Story. Born in Southend-on-Sea, Shillingford formed his first band in 1980, but he didn't begin a career until the late '80s. During the mid-'80s, he briefly attended the Southend Art College, after which he held a job at Dingwalls in Camden. He worked during the day and ran the Panic Station club at night, often playing with his band, My Life Story. After a few years, he grew bored and he departed to America in 1989 on a mission to find himself. He returned the following year, convinced that he would remodel My Life Story as a string-laden, orchestral pop band. Over the course of 1990, he assembled a new version of the band, re-hiring former MLS drummer Aaron Cahill as musical arranger, drummer Steave Searley, bassist Jon King, keyboardist Helen Caddick, violinists Alison Gabriel and Ellie Newton, cellist Judith Fleet, Rob Spriggs on viola, and Rachel Simnett, who played various brass instruments. Playing concerts in underground London clubs, the band slowly built a small following, self-releasing their indie debut EP Big at the end of the year. By 1992, the band had grown to comprise a total of 11 musicians, and they were regularly playing clubs like the 100 Club and the Marquee. During 1993, My Life Story's profile began to rise considerably, as they contributed strings to the Wonder Stuff's "Welcome to the Cheap Seats." That fall, they signed to Mother Tongue records, releasing the single "Girl A, Girl B, Boy C" by the end of the year. Produced by Giles Martin, the son of the legendary Beatles producer George Martin, the record was named Single of the Week by both Melody Maker and NME, and My Life Story opened for both Blur and Pulp during the winter of 1994. In February, the group's second single, "Funny Ha Ha," was released. A year later, "You Don't Sparkle (In My Eyes)" reached the indie Top Ten, followed by the February 1995 release of their debut album, Mornington Crescent. Although the record received positive reviews, its release was hampered by threatened legal action from London Underground due to breach of copyright, but the issue vanished quickly. Melody Maker named Mornington Crescent one of the year's best albums, but the record didn't sell in large numbers. Distraught, Shillingford decided to have My Life Story perform a month-long residency at Dingwalls during February 1996, and if the band wasn't signed to a major label at the end of the four-Sunday stint, he was going to disband the group. Following the group's Dingwalls residency, My Life Story was signed to Parlophone Records. As they recorded their major-label debut during the spring and summer, My Life Story played a series of high-profile gigs that increased their profile substantially. Late that summer, the group's first Parlophone single, "12 Reasons Why I Love Her" was released. It was followed by "Sparkle" in October and "The King of Kissingdom" in February, both of which received mixed reviews in the music press. The Golden Mile, My Life Story's long-delayed major-label debut, was finally released in March of 1997. Although the band's audience was larger than ever, a critical backlash had begun, and the reviews for The Golden Mile were frequently harsh -- Select labeled the record as "the worst album ever made." 2000 saw the release of Joined Up Talking. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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