They have written some of the greatest singalong pop anthems of recent times and now Kaiser Chiefs may just have come up with another.
Fifteen years ago, the Leeds band’s first single, Oh My God, stormed the charts and, together with other hits, such as I Predict a Riot and Everyday I Love You Less and Less, catapulted them to household-name status.
Now the band have released, via YouTube, a new version of Oh My God with lyrics specially adapted by singer Ricky Wilson for today’s lockdown times. The chorus of “Oh my God, I can’t believe it, I’ve never been this far away from home” has been altered to a pertinent “Oh my God, I can’t believe it, I’ve never spent this much time at home.”
Bass player Simon Rix says the idea came from an unexpected source. “We heard from Chris Moyles that he played the original version on his radio show and someone called in suggesting the words should now be changed to reflect the message of staying at home. That got us thinking. We started recording bits separately in our own homes and I then sent it all to Ricky and he was excited and wrote some new words for it. And he wrote them really quickly.”
The song has become something of an online sensation, with commentators quick to suggest that follow-up songs might include I Predict a Virus and Everyday I Love the NHS. “We got some nice messages from NHS front-line staff too, saying it had cheered them up. We did it as a distraction for people, to entertain them,” says Simon.
Nevertheless, he remains gloomy about when the lockdown might be lifted. “I can’t see there being any live music for the foreseeable future. It’s probably one of the last things that will come back. It’s depressing for people like us. We enjoy making albums, of course, but performing is the main thing for us, especially out there in the festival fields. And we were meant to be playing the Piece Hall in Halifax in July. It got changed to September and now it’s next year.”
When that show does happen, such a landmark local venue will be appropriate for a band who have remained loyal to their Yorkshire roots. It all started, as they say, long ago. Three of the band – Simon, keyboard player Nick ‘Peanut’ Baines and the original drummer, Nick Hodgson – were in the same class at St Mary’s School in Menston. “We shared an interest in guitars and Nirvana and became friends,” says Simon.
After studying maths and geography at Leeds University, Simon reunited with his schoolmates in 2000 as a band called Parva, which also included Ricky on lead vocals and Andrew ‘Whitey’ White on guitar. The band secured a record deal. “But it was a bit like YTS,” says Simon. “We got paid very little but we did learn how to be a band.”
The group members were very much part of a music scene in Leeds that revolved around three cult venues: the Duchess of York pub on Vicar Lane, the Cockpit near the train station and Joseph’s Well behind the infirmary.
Simon himself was the licensee of Joseph’s Well in 2002 and once put on the band British Sea Power, supported by the then little-known, but now massive, American artists the Killers. Nick Hodgson used to DJ at the Cockpit. During one club night, the crowd were “going mad” to a band called Black Wire and Nick allegedly uttered the soon-to-be immortal words: “I predict a riot!”
After being dropped by their record company, Parva changed their name to Kaiser Chiefs in 2003. Their big break came the following year when they played support for the Ordinary Boys at the Cockpit and then went on tour with them.
Two years later the debut album, Employment, changed everything. “Things happened really quickly,” says Simon. “We went from being a small indie band playing when the doors first opened to headlining and playing at massive festivals.” Now, seven studio albums, three Brit Awards and 20,000-capacity gigs at Elland Road later, they have much to be proud of. Nick Hodgson, however, decided to leave in 2012 and in came Vijay Mistry.
The latest album, Duck, was released last summer. “I was pleased with it,” says Simon. “It was a tricky album to make. We wanted to do something new and interesting but also stay true to ourselves. There were personal issues during the making of it and I was really glad we managed to finish it.” To launch the album, the band played four shows on the same day at the Brudenell Social Club in Hyde Park.
Leeds remains very much the base for the band with four out of five members living around Headingley. “It’s the perfect city,” says Simon. “It’s big enough to have everything but it’s small enough to mean you can walk across the city centre in 20 minutes or so. And where I live, I can easily walk to the Hyde Park Picture House and the Brudenell Social Club.” He’s also a fan of Manjit’s Kitchen in Kirkgate Market.
Just before the shutdown began, Kaiser Chiefs toured their new album in the UK and mainland Europe. The new songs sat comfortably with the traditional crowd-pleasers. Surely, though, the band must have got fed up having to do all the old belters at presumably every single show? Simon estimates they have done at least 1,000 gigs to date, so that must add up to a lot of riot predicting?
“In fact, we’ve played I Predict a Riot even more than that!” he exclaims. “When we were working on the first album, we kept practising until it was perfect. We probably played that song 200 times while writing it, and obviously I’m pleased we’ve got songs like that one. I might get bored doing it at rehearsals but with an audience it’s different.”
The old songs also seem to bring out the very best in Ricky with his flea-jump stage antics showing little sign of abating. The question has to be, is he not going to do himself a serious injury at some point? “Ricky has done himself a lot of damage, hasn’t he? He’s torn a few ligaments and things over the years but he hasn’t actually broken a leg yet. I think he must be made of rubber.”
For now, the music industry is necessarily on-hold. “We were going to take a break after this summer anyway but of course this has been forced on us now,” says Simon. “Although that’s frustrating, it’s not the end of the world for us but I do feel sorry for other bands.”
For them, and many of us, there has never been so much time spent at home but things will presumably return to normal at some point. And when they do, it is likely to be with all the force and energy of one of Ricky’s leaps.
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