From Pulp’s tales of suburban ennui and unfortunate bedroom trysts to Alex Turner’s early stories of youthful bravado and a certain romance, there’s always been something in Sheffield’s waters that’s lent itself to a particular kind of storytelling. Full of faded glamour and a playful strain of doe-eyed daydreaming, the Steel City has its own unique place in indie mythology, and its into this lineage that The Long Blondes landed back in the mid-noughties, in a tumble of charity shop twin-sets and effortless, cheekily-winking cool.
Initially unsigned, early singles ‘Separated By Motorways’ and ‘Giddy Stratospheres’ snuck into the party with the kind of shimmying, sassy strut that was part Blondie two-fingers-to-the-man, part disco giddiness and part Franz Ferdinand angular eyebrow-arching; soon, they were picked up by Rough Trade. But it wasn’t just in the audibly brilliant opening statements of their early material that the band set themselves apart from the masses. Renouncing the standard rock’n’roll lineage of the time (“We do not listen to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors or Bob Dylan,” went their online mission statement), the quintet instead filled their hyper-visual, all-encompassing world with references to ’50s movie stars and pop icons, vintage glamour and cult outsiders. Their schtick was literate and witty, with an implicitly feminist outlook and a frontwoman in Kate Jackson that inspired a legion of beret-wearing teenage girls.
Released in November 2006, debut LP ‘Someone To Drive You Home’ was the near-perfect distillation of all this promise. From the opening judder of ‘Lust In The Movies’ and its cheeky shouts of “Edie Sedgwick! Anna Karina! Arlene Dahl!”, through the misleadingly perky teenage trauma of ‘Once and Never Again’; the bitter stomp of ‘Madame Ray’ through to those early singles – still vital and joyous, second time around, it fleshed out a world built on swooning, cinematic theatrics and dead-eyed, calculated smarts all at once. If Jackson was playing the dramatic heroine, then you know she also had a pocket knife tucked into her waistband all along too.
“It left The Long Blondes as an untarnished diamond, forever fixed in their prime.”
In 2008, they’d follow it up with the sleeker, more futuristic ‘Couples’ before disbanding after guitarist and chief songwriter Dorian Cox suffered a stroke. It was, of course, a hugely sad ending to an all-too-short career, but it also left The Long Blondes as an untarnished diamond, forever fixed in their prime and with one of the decade’s finest cult albums to their name.