INTERVIEW: Delicatessen

As we draw into the heart of Britpop Month on GIITTV,  we shine the spotlight on another under appreciated band from the period Leicester’s Delicatessen. Crafting dark pop sound-suites over the space of three albums( 1995’s Skin Touching Water, Hustle Into Bed from 1996, and There’s No Confusing Some People in 1998), and filling them with lead singer Neil Carlill’s unique drawn out vocal style, his  lyrical couplets riddled with absurdity and introspective imagery that referenced poets, writers, film stars and ancient literature. Delicatessen weren’t your typical ‘Britpop band.’ We caught up with Neil for a delve into his recollections of his band, the decade, his current work on ‘Three on a Match’ and his future solo plans….

Hey there, how are you?

Very inefficient and therefore quite happy. Busy as all hell.

When and how did Delicatessen form and was there any kind of genesis for you as a group?

I think Delicatessen started in 1993. That’s when we started working on a collection of songs I’d been writing. The spark from my point of view was the acoustic demos. I’d been recording, writing from a more experimental, improvisational perspective. Bizarre lyrics that as a band we really surrounded with non-linear frameworks and complex song structures. It was a lot of fun to be in a band that had so much originality, I think Craig, Stuart and Pete (and later Will) wrote some amazing music which took the songs into new places (also Johny Wood on the last album). It was clear from the start that we didn’t fit in with the prevailing music trends of the time. It was surprising how quickly we went from playing in Leicester to getting signed, it all happened pretty quickly.


‘Inviting Both Sisters to Dinner’ is an intriguing track to choose as a début single, the intermingling vocals and creepy atmosphere, why did you choose that one?

We recorded the first e.p. with Ian Caple who’d produced the Tindersticks so those songs just fell into place and suggested themselves. I always saw Zebra/Monkey/Liar as the obvious single from that e.p, but looking back it was a spindly creaking claustrophobic start to our recording career.


The Deli sound is very unique and constantly shifting rhythmically and thematically, and your singing style is almost jazzy in style, elastic in some moments and primal at others. The drawing out of each note, the refusal to conform to simplistic melodies, how did it develop?

It was very organic, I would write the basic songs on guitar or keyboard and just let the words and melodies come to the surface. There was never any template and for lyrics I would write very spontaneously and shape the flow of words to the song later. Themes that would appear would be obvious much later after recording. The subtext was rendered subconsciously. I like the feel of non-linear, we liked the feeling we had when songs didn’t sound like they belonged to any other band.


Several of the Delicatessen songs contain bizarre metaphors/imagery did you write these as poems/lyrical couplets on a page before bring them to the group?Or did they emerge in the studio ?

Most of the words would come flying out when I was recording the demo, not too much writing down at all. Some pieces were worked into shape over time but the best stuff was always created as part of the vocal recording.


What kind of influences musically, literary or otherwise did Delicatessen share as a group?

Once we were signed and living in London we were unfortunate to be caught in the middle of the whole Britpop hysteria, a very embarrassing time for British music, just truly awful music that was hyped beyond all good taste. We were definitely strengthened in our resolve to stay true to our originality. We all liked different kinds of music but I really don’t think it had much bearing on our own songs. My favourite thing to say at the time was that our music was influenced by film and literature more than other music. If anybody wants to know what I like they’ll need to make friends with me on Facebook…

Blue-footed Boobies.

Your début album ‘Skin Touching Water ‘ strikes me as at least in part a concept album the shorter tracks, the flurry of different ideas, the references to film (C.F. Kane), writers (Chomsky), etc is that the case or am I way off the mark here?

Again, the concepts and associations only come into view for me after the recording. There was no premeditation but on another level there was certainly some organizing principle at work in my brain. The album may also represent the books and films I was brutalizing at the time. I wish I could lay claim to a master plan but the little guy in my left ear would cry foul and I would then have to take him swimming… It’s making breakfast while you’re sleepwalking. Who made my omelet?


Your album Hustle Into Bed, seems more ‘straightforward’ in comparison to your début. More of an dark, piano/string led album was that the intention? It produced by long time Nick Cave/Bad Seeds/Birthday Party engineer, Tony Cohen how was it working with him and what did he bring to it?

Working with Tony was quite difficult for reasons I won’t explain. He certainly brought that Bad seeds sound over from Oz. I wonder what it would have sounded like if we’d repeated the First album scenario. That was a weird time for me, I was a little out of control. Come back Damo Suzuki!


What inspirations lie behind superbly affecting songs like ‘Monkey Suit’ and ‘Erza’?

Monkey Suit was all about the Catholic Church, put through a nonsense blender, quite straightforward in its way, mice and peas having to scamper. Ezra is the Monty Clift film after his accident; Raintree County, blended with Liz Taylor’s heroic quick thinking hand down Monty’s throat. Gotta live by the banks of a river for one day at least. Caving in from the inside, poor film star. Hip to Hooplah!


Did you feel any kinship with other darker bands of that period(mid 90s) Suede, Strangelove, Tindersticks, Longpigs, Drugstore et al?And do you think some of these are somewhat over looked in the rush toward Britpop revisionism?

No kinship whatsoever. We toured with Drugstore and played a show with Strangelove but I really didn’t feel like a fan of their music. They were nice people on the whole and of course there we’re similarities because we all occupied the darker side but I liked to listen to other things.

Passenger Pigeon

Delicatessen recorded two sessions for John Peel’s BBC Radio 1 show, both in 1995. How was that?What was Peelacres like? What do you think John Peel’s legacy is?

The first session was fun, at the huge BBC Studios in Maida Vale, a real thrill. The second session was actually recorded live at the Reading festival and because we were promised the option to mix the recording we agreed to do it. Suffice to say it was not mixed and the sound was so truly awful the whole experience left a bad taste. I don’t think JP had anything to do with this mistake. We did an interview with him at the Phoenix festival which was the coolest thing. I could barely stand at the time due to large amounts of whereforewhatsitbubbles but it was him, right in front of me, JP in the flesh ! I would love him just for his connection with Captain Beefheart so if you add in his other achievements legendary status becomes quite appropriate. He was the most famous music fan of all time.

Yellow Finch

Almost impossible question here but what Delicatessen song/album are you most proud of looking back?

Definitely “Skin Touching Water” for the album. For a song I’d go for “Sick of Flying Saucers”.


How come your last album ‘There’s No Confusing Some People’ came out on Viper records? And why did Deli decide to part ways after that? There’s a very sombre atmosphere on that record was that a reflection of your situation at the time or tapping into that place?

The last album was only really meant to be an e.p., but as we started recording we kept adding songs till we had enough for a full length. The whole Viper scenario came out of the Lodger tangle I had got myself into. Being signed to Island records with Lodger meant they had a big say in what we could do with Delicatessen. Therefore compromises were made on the Deli side. This was something I shouldn’t have let happen but when you do things for money (Lodger) you will usually get screwed up, which is of course what happened. Put down the chocolate bible and ride the tram to work.


Can you talk me through some of your solo/musical activities since Deli split up?

Too many to not get tediously listy! Vedette was a funfun experimental electronic album, very cut-up vocal layers and extreme squeek and tweek vintage tangents. This was with Manuel Stagars and Jayrope with some guest spots by Warren Cuccurullo. I also completed a really interesting and eclectic album with Warren called Chicanery. This was produced by Simone Sello and involved some fun times in Los Angeles. Hopefully more of this to come. I made an album called The Weirding Valley with Chilean Singer/Songwriter/Artist Marcelo Radulovich, this is a real mix of the avant garde, rock, country and all things outside the box (what box?). I have recorded 2 albums with the enigmatic Frenchman Charles-Eric Charrier (Oldman) under the name 5 Little Elephants. I contributed vocals and lyrics to the psychedelic folk/electronic out fit Shoosh, whose first album the Orpheum Circuit was written and put together by Craig Murphy and Ed Drury. I wrote and recorded a song for the James Joyce tribute album on Fire Records. There’s probably more but I don’t want the wallpaper to cut my hair. I also recorded an as yet unreleased piano album with Jayrope called Du Schelm. This was in Berlin in 2009, ahh good times!


Can you tell our readers about the Three on a Match EP and who else is involved?

Three on a Match is an album of songs inspired by the movies of Bette Davis. The album was conceived by myself and Singer/Songwriter/Media Artist Jeff Mellin. I asked my favourite songwriter King Toad to join us and he wrote 4 songs, while I wrote 4 and Jeff wrote the remaining 5 songs. The album was released on May 26th and comes in a really spectacular Deluxe edition film canister shaped box with lots of cool vintage extras included. The whole package was designed by Jeff, who also made a retro-look Promo Movie that is now doing the rounds of film festivals. This album is a real expression of our love of old movies (And Bette Davis).

Green-cheeked Conure

What are your future plans?

I’m just finishing up my first solo album which should be ready in October/November (I’m working with drummer/percussionist Jeff Pearlstein). I am also working on a album with the fabulous King Toad called King Harvey which I’m very excited about. We have been sending each other song ideas recorded onto Dictaphones for about 6 months and now we’re putting all the pieces together for the album. We also recently played our first show together, so more to come soon.

I have been playing live with the drummer Jeff Pearlstein under the name Harvey Mapcase. (I’ve been re-visiting quite a few Delicatessen songs)

Oh and I’m playing bass in a punk rock band for fun and callisthenics.

Any Deli fans out there should get in touch with me as we have things to discuss! Facebook-place me.

There’s a complete list of my musical activities over the years at Wikipedia.


More Parrots. Love to Gwen. A big Hello to Andria!

Many thanks for answering these questions.

Thanks Bill!

What happened to the rest of Delicatessen:

Will Foster now plays keyboards in The Tears. Stuart Dayman is a photographer. Pete Capewell has become a teacher at Ellesmere Port Catholic High School as head of the maths department. Jonny Wood played keyboards with Ten Benson, and bass and violin with early Poptones band, January.

Originally published during 1990’s week, in 2011.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.