Silent Star are a glorious, retro-modernist cold and/or synth wave duo from London’s glamorous North London. Over the course of their three fabulously dramatic singles to date, they’ve balanced shades of New Order, Soft Cell and Electroclash with some well-chosen Goth tendencies and pop melodies that haunt the head and heart. Following the release of their excellent second single, and with an upcoming show at Islington’s Hope & Anchor, we figured it was way past time we had a chat with singer Patrick Barrett about the songs that made him.
1) What is your earliest music-related memory? What do you remember being played at home when you were a child?
“And you dared to call me a terrorist, while you looked down your gun. When I think of all the deeds that you had done.” Those are the first lyrics I can remember, and what jolly lyrics for a toddler to sing! Fairly standard for a London Irish kid in Holloway, though. There was always music from before I can remember. My great aunt and uncle ran the pub opposite our house and it was the centre of Irish music in the centre of Irish Holloway. Now you might listen to Silent Star and think “There’s not an iota of Irish in this, the poor singer is deluding himself if he thinks there is”, but you’d be wrong. Many of the tenets of true Irish music — the use of song as historical record, the pining for something gone, the glorification of the IRA — they’re all there in our lyrics.
2) What was the first record that you ever bought? Where did you get it and do you have any recollection of the experience?
Blue Day, by Suggs featuring Chelsea FC. But for the love of Mary, I’m supposed to be promoting a gothwave record here, and you have me talking about Ireland and football when I should be talking about John Foxx and Thamesmead, not Gerry Adams and Dennis Wise (both intelligent men, but I don’t trust them).
3) When did you really start to develop a passion for listening to music? How did that come about and what were you into at the time?
“You know Frank Sinatra? He’s Dead. DEAD.” That’s what Miss Kittin taught me, although I’m pretty sure I knew that he was dead already, but regardless, it’s a sentiment that made me fall for my first and most lasting love: Electroclash. There had been a decade of regurgitating guitars, of reanimating dead heroes like John Lennon, Ray Davies and other people who possibly aren’t actually dead yet. For anyone who doesn’t know, Electroclash was the pinnacle of music. The greatest marriage of dance and melody, of 130bpm intros and melancholic, heartbreaking choruses. The rhythm and glamour of the dancefloor as bedsit escapism — lying in the gutter waiting … no, knowing that a new Bowie would soon arrive. Well one didn’t, but anyway, this was our glam, our Batcave, our Blitz Club. It has yet to be surpassed.
4) What was the first gig that you went to? Where was it and what was it like?
Have you ever been to Maidstone? I have. I had a friend at school who was inexplicably a fan of Carter USM (they’d long split up) and the on promise of maybe meeting some people (okay, girls) who were into the same music as us (because there were none in Bexleyheath, where we went to school), he insisted that we get on the train away from London (always a bad idea) to see one half of Carter playing at the local student union. We were the youngest people there by a good 20 years. I haven’t returned to Maidstone.
5) What are your memories of starting out making music? What was the first song that you learned to play?
Lord knows what the first song I played on guitar was but the first song I played on bass was Shadowplay by Joy Division. When I first heard Unknown Pleasures, I immediately did not want to play guitar anymore, I wanted to make the sound that Hooky was making. But all I could do was turn the treble all the way down on my amp and play along on my Squire Strat. Eventually my old man caught wind of this. He had a mate, an old post man who was present for punk, had been in bands, and most importantly owed by dad about £50 in lost bets. My dad said he’d take one of his old basses in lieu of actual money, and that was my first bass. It was knackered beyond words, but when I first picked it up and played that bass line — not even plugged in — I knew that for the rest of my life I would be ripping off Peter Hook.
6) What was your first band/musical project? What are your memories of playing your first gig?
I was the bassist in a band called Exit To Wave. Our first gig was at The Montague Tavern in New Cross and we were supporting a band called Gobsauasge, and yes, you can read a lot into that name. They were all dressed like Sue Catwoman, there was nudity, there was blood (fake, I really hope), there was broken bar furniture. Now the odd thing about the Montague back then was that the bar staff were all north of 80, proper old cockneys more used to hearing some old lad tickle the joanna. What the hell they made of the splatter show in front of them, Christ alone knows. Either way, Exit To Wave were not what the town was talking about the next day, and so, sadly, it remained. Which was a real shame, because we really were very good, truly ambitious music, like Pink Floyd but with a singer who could sing and a guitarist who wasn’t *EDITED OUT ‘COS POSSIBLE LIBEL, AND WE THINK PATRICK IS ACTUALLY TALKING ABOUT THE FORMER BASSIST*
7) What are your memories of starting Silent Star? What was your first release and what do you think now when you listen back to it?
I don’t want come across all Chairman Mao, saying that it’s too soon to judge the French Revolution, but we’ve only had two singles out. I hope it’s too soon to answer this.
8) Which band/artist do you think has had the biggest influence on your music over the years? What is it about them that inspires you?
Kevin Rowland of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. He said that his aim was to shout loud that “I’m Irish, and it’s not crap to be Irish”. Well, I haven’t actually set out to nor even accidentally shouted that, but he’s from Birmingham and I’m from London, so it’s good to know that we can get away with pretending we’re not. What I have been affected by is his guiding principle for music, as set out in Let’s Make This Precious: “Sing me a record that cries pure and true. No, not those guitars, they’re too noisy and crude. The kind that convinces, refuses to leave. There’s no need to turn it up – if it’s pure, I’ll feel it from here”. I have also never managed nor even tried to put this into practice, but it’s a nice idea all the same.
9) Who are some of your favourite current artists? What do you like about them?
I’m really happy that Nikki Nevvr, in the guise of Terror Bird, is releasing music again. I’ve long been a big fan. Whereas a lot of cold/dark/etc wavebands bands are led by the technology — so the songwriting starts with a drum machine beat or crafting a synth sound — Nikki’s songs have at their heart beautiful chords and melodies, there are stories and searing vocals and choruses that you can sing along to. Similarly, Sally Dige is a great songwriter and has really shown that on her new single, Only You, which bravely ditches the beats and synths and even the vocals altogether to produce an instrumental that would make even David Sylvian smile. In London, I’m a big fan of Oliver Marson, who shows that you can make goth-tinged new wave with personality, with hints of Bryan Ferry, even. He’s a great songwriter with a real ear for melody. And of course, I like all the bands on Young & Cold Records, especially Videotraum, who are lovely.
10) You have a new single out. How has your approach to making music changed since you started out, and how has your sound developed over that time?
It hasn’t. The formula is simple: take the chord progressions from two or maybe three songs that you like. Try to play them together from memory and, unless you’re a psychopath, you’ll play them slightly differently to what’s on the originals, which is important because it means you can’t be sued. Then take the lyrics of a song you like, but sing the opposite. So if it’s about the joy of the open road, change it to be about the joy of the Piccadilly line. Or if it’s about reconnecting with nature, change it to be about the Piccadilly line. Quids in! Or no. Either way, you’ve written a song, and that’s all that matters.
Silent Star play the Hope & Anchor in London on Friday 2nd June: tickets available via billeto. You can find their discography via Bandcamp – https://silentstar.bandcamp.com/ – or via all streaming services.
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Interview by Steven Horry
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