Trembling Blue Stars Biography
Last updated: 05/22/2008 11:00:00 AM
Trembling Blue Stars - the name comes from a line in sado-masochistic novel The Story of O by Pauline Réage: "her eyes were like stars, trembling blue stars" - began as the solo project of Bob Wratten, former singer and songwriter with The Field Mice and Northern Picture Library, as Bob tried to come to terms with the ending of his relationship with fellow band member Annemari Davies.
Bob began recording the songs that would form the debut album, Her Handwriting (the title is an apt quote from The Go Betweens' Part Company - "that's her handwriting, that's the way she writes..."), in the winter of '95/'96, as usual working with Ian Catt as producer. The album detailed with exquisite honesty the break-up of Bob and Annemari's relationship, from the numbed disbelieving reflection-in-tranquility of A Single Kiss ("and tonight it's as though she was just some wonderful dream...") through to the anguished remorse and self-reproach of To Keep Your Heart Whole. It also included an extended version of Trembling Blue Stars' debut single, Abba On The Jukebox - a list of recollected happy moments from Bob and Annemari's time together, each somehow imbued with a melancholic sense of foreboding of what was to come. The single - the first release on the new Shinkansen label - was released in April '96, a month before the album, and sold out on the week of release.
The album was universally well-received, and Bob was persuaded to go out and play the songs live. For this purpose, Harvey Williams from The Field Mice was re-recruited on guitar and keyboards, and Gemma Townley from fellow Sarah/Shinkansen act Blueboy on bass and cello. It was this trio of Bob, Harvey and Gemma that also recorded a live acoustic radio session for Mark Radcliffe on BBC Radio 1. In all, they played half a dozen gigs around the London area - including two slots as Special Guests of Baby Bird at the 100 Club - plus one at The Steam Tavern in Brighton, notable for the presence in the audience of a representative of Warner Brothers America, who'd flown in specially from New York with a view to signing the band for the USA, a deal which sadly fell through when the new REM album "flopped" and economies were required.
Increasingly, though, Harvey and Gemma were feeling frustrated by the band's seeming lack of direction, and unclear as to what their roles were supposed to be. Eventually, Gemma decided she'd had enough, and left, her place on bass for the last couple of performances being taken by Ian Catt. This was never anything more than a stop-gap measure, however, and a nightmarish gig at a mostly empty Wag Club supported by Arab Strap marked the start of a long period of absence from the live stage.
Although Her Handwriting was originally conceived as a one-off, work on recording a second album, Lips That Taste Of Tears (this time the title is taken from Dorothy Parker), began at the start of April '97. Ian was again at the controls but, more interestingly, several of the songs featured vocals by Annemari - including lead vocal on new single The Rainbow - and it was Annemari's photo which graced the cover of the album. Field Mice bassist Michael Hiscock also made a brief reappearance, guesting on the album's final song Farewell To Forever, and Gemma returned to the fold on cello. Again, the album received unanimously good reviews, and featured in Melody Maker's Album of the Year end-of-year poll. Sadly, Annemari's stage-fright still prevented her performing live, so the album remained unpromoted, despite being licensed all over the world.
In May 1999, work began on a third album, Broken By Whispers (the title refers to a line in Françoise Sagan's A Certain Smile). As before, Annemari provided vocals, and this time Michael was playing bass on nearly all songs. Doo-Wop Music - a curious, trip-hoppy, dubby take on Fifties doo-wop - was released in late summer as a stand-alone blue vinyl 7", and a second single, Dark Eyes, released at the end of October, was voted Single of the Week on Mark Radcliffe's show on BBC Radio 1 . Broken By Whispers was released in the UK at the end of February, and a licensing deal with Sub Pop Records meant that, for the first time ever, the band's releases would be available domestically throughout North America.
Perhaps most significantly, though, the band returned to playing live. A gig at Notting Hill Arts Club in December (a Rough Trade Shop promotion) saw Bob perform a dozen songs solo with an acoustic guitar, and in March 2000 Trembling Blue Stars headlined the Spitz in London; for this, Bob was joined by Harvey on guitar and keyboards, and Michael on bass.
Michael's position was never likely to be permanent, however, as he now lives in France, and in the summer he was replaced on bass by Keris Howard, formerly of Sarah Records band BRIGHTER. Keris's debut was a gig at the Borderline in London, immediately after which the band left to headline the Emmaboda Festival in Sweden. A session was also recorded around this time for the John Peel show, with Ian Catt on bass, as Keris was unavailable.
Since then, Trembling Blue Stars have expanded to a 5-piece, adding long-time fan Jonathan Akerman on drums and Beth Arzy - formerly of Los Angeles band ABERDEEN - on backing vocals. This line-up made its debut at the Shinkansen Christmas Party in December 2000, and played again Upstairs at the Garage in February 2001; queues began forming two hours before the doors opened, and around 100 people were turned away. They also headlined Cargo in London on March 1st as part of Rough Trade's 25th Anniversary Celebrations.
Later that month the band made their first trip to the USA, playing a long weekend of dates in New York and Washington DC. Tickets for the first New York show, at Brownie's, sold out almost as soon as they went on sale, with fans flying in from as far afield as San Diego and Alaska. Since their return, they've played a couple of times in France, and supported Damon & Naomi at The Garage in London. Their first headline spot at The Garage followed in June.
Trembling Blue Stars have just finished recording their fourth album, Alive To Every Smile, which will be released on October 8th, 2001. The album will feature vocals from both Annemari and Beth, but this will almost certainly be the last time Annemari sings with the band. The album will was preceeded in September by an EP, with The Ghost Of An Unkissed Kiss as lead-track.
The Sub Pop version of this album will be released on October 23rd, and a 3 week tour of the USA is pencilled in for November.