Echobelly – in concert at Camden Underworld – recorded October 30,1995 – BBC Radio 1 –
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Echobelly in concert tonight – recorded at Camden Underworld on October 30, 1995 by the venerable BBC Radio 1.
The most prominent part of Echobelly’s success formula was vocalist Sonya Madan, who was also the group’s primary lyricist. Born in Delhi, India, before moving to England at the age of two, Madan had an unusual background for a pop star. Her rigid upbringing made rock music taboo for her as a youngster and she did not attend her first rock concert until she was in college. In 1990 she met Glenn Johansson, a guitarist from Sweden. Madan and Johansson first met in a pub, with Sonya expressing her desire to sing in a band “I used to sing a lot as a child. I suppose I had a secret desire to sing”, They soon teamed up with bass guitarist Alex Keyser and drummer Andy Henderson, who had previously played with PJ Harvey’s band. Guitarist Debbie Smith, formerly of Curve, came on board in 1994. According to the Epic Records’ website, the group came up with the name Echobelly from the notion of “being hungry for something”. With Madan and Johansson serving as songwriters, they recorded their debut EP, Bellyache, on the independent Pandemonium label in late 1993.
The favourable response to Bellyache helped Echobelly secure a recording contract with Rhythm King, which was then part of Epic. Once on board the label, the group released the “I Can’t Imagine the World Without Me” single in June 1994. The group then recorded the album Everyone’s Got One, which included the single Insomniac and reached number eight on the UK Albums Chart. The single was featured in the movie and soundtrack of Dumb and Dumber.
As their music received more airplay, Echobelly won admiration from other artists as well. Madonna expressed interest in putting them on her Maverick label (existing contractual arrangements prevented that), and R.E.M. requested the group as the opening act for their upcoming tour. The band returned to the studio in 1995 to create their next album, On, produced by Sean Slade and Paul Kolderie, who had also produced Hole and Radiohead.
Madan’s lyrics often ventured into the seamy side of life, such as the milieu of prostitution and homelessness addressed in the song King of the Kerb. “I wanted to challenge myself as a lyricist on a different level on this album,” Madan said in Rolling Stone. “I want people to tell me what they thought the lyrics are about. I’m not a politician. I’m not interested in changing everybody around me. I’m interested in myself.”
Health and legal problems interrupted the success of Echobelly in 1995 and 1996. Madan had a serious thyroid problem during her world tour that was potentially life-threatening, but was later cured. Bass guitarist James Harris joined after Keyser defected because of personal and artistic differences. The group also had disagreements with Rhythm King after the label moved to Arista. The band chose to stay with Epic. In 1996, Madan also ventured away from the group when she sang on a recording of the club band, Lithium. Smith left the band before the release of Lustra, which was issued in November 1997. A single from the album, “The World is Flat”, was released in August of that year.
As a reminder of the early phase, when they were getting serious notice in the press – here is a gig they did for BBC Radio 1 on October 30, 1995 – click on the player and turn it up.