Symposium were a golden band for a golden era. The mid to late nineties were glorious. Anyone who says not are probably someone who doesn’t like guitars, were a Tory MP in 1997 or a Conservative voter whose constituency went red.

We had fun, lots of fun. Symposium epitomised this, taking their cue from AC/DC, Madness, Metallica and the heavy side of rock’n’roll rather than where the Britpop bands were dipping their collective toes. This was BritROCK. If you couldn’t stand the mosh, get out of the pit. And you’d be expected to hold up mostly singers from such bands and pass them over others heads. And sweat. You’d sweat a lot.

It seems the thing that went wrong for this country, and indeed, the world, is that at the stroke of midnight on 31 December 1999, we moved into the 21st century.

Within a few months, Symposium were no more.

But then, earlier this year, Symposium peered back out of a crack in the curtain to see if there was any light outside or if grey clouds were circling and they should stay indoors. Fortunately, the sun blinded them, and here they are, back baby. A Best of LP, ‘Do You Remember How It Was‘, has just come out and this week they play their first gig in 23 years.

But why now? I sat down with singer Ross Cummins and bassist and principle songwriter Wojtek Godzisz to thrash this out.

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Wojtek (left) and Ross (right)

“We just kept being asked really, why our music wasn’t on streaming services and our records have been out of print for over twenty years,” Ross began. “And then when we were approached by Cooking Vinyl we were really chuffed that they were happy to reissue all our old albums and get them on streaming services. We’re all fans of vinyl and CDs, it’s given us the opportunity to release the Best Of, it’s just been really exciting and nice for all five of us to connect again and sit in the same room, in a pub and have a laugh.

We’ve all been loosely in contact with each other over the years, but it’s been really cool hooking up again. It’s also been really fun getting the tracklisting right together for the record, getting all the old photos together.”

For Wojtek part of the appeal was putting something new out. “When Dave Riley said that part of this deal would be getting a Best Of in physical formats on vinyl and CD, I had been semi fantasising about that for years thinking there was never a definitive Symposium album, so to have the opportunity to mix the mini album and the full album and the two singles that fell between the cracks, and B-sides that became live favourites and were just as good as the main singles. That was an opportunity too good to miss and I am so happy that it has come to fruition. We actually received the physical albums a few weeks ago and it’s exactly how I wanted them to be.”

The week I interviewed Symposium was 25 years since they released their debut mini album, ‘One Day at a Time‘. The record was the core of the early live shows, with so much energy and exuberance that you felt the roof would come off or the sky would collapse.

For Ross, sincd Symposium have reassembled, he has found nothing much has changed since those heady days. “I think I speak for all of us when I say that I think we’re essentially the same people but we now have responsibilities with kids etc. Our alcohol tolerance may have gone up now though! I was pretty much teetotal before we started rehearsing for this gig, every time we practice we end up in the pub.”

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Ross stage diving

“The whole thing with this for me is that it’s been really really nice connecting with the fans, the people that came to our gigs when they were younger. It’s funny because a lot of the people that came were more or less the same age as us so there was a kinship between us and the audience, so it’s been really nice getting on the social media platforms and interacting with everybody and listening to their memories and all the funny stories from gigs and that.”

Wojtek concurred, “It’s unbelievable to me how valuable and precious people find their memories of Symposium, I really didn’t think there were so many people, and that listening to the album’s were so intrinsic to their lives and their growing up and seminal moments in their lives, it was a huge thing about this reunion, realising how valuable what we did was to people.”

Back in 1999, the year after they had released their debut LP, the seeds were being sown for what came next for Symposium. Two singles, ‘Average Man‘ and ‘Killing Position‘ were released, the latter on their own label after breaking away from Infectious Records after Rupert Murdoch got his grubby mitts on it. As they entered 2000, plans were in place for the next single.

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In the moment

“’Bleach’ was a stand alone single, and we had recorded two B-sides to go with it, but then we split up before it could be released, but even before that we went into EMI Studios and recorded, I think, four or five songs which were going to be for another album, and two of those songs ended up being versions of songs on Hell Is For Heroes‘ debut album. In Symposium-land they were called ‘Peshwari Naan’ and ‘To The Lighthouse’ and we played them both at Reading 99, and then they went on to become ‘You Drove Me To It’ and ‘I Can Climb Mountains’. They were collaborations between me and Will McGongle, but Will took his riffs and took them to Hell Is For Heroes.”

“I think it’s clear that there was evolution in our short tenure from Indie to Skate Punk and BritRock to almost a nu-metal influence, a sort of Deftones sound, who we supported and toured with, and we loved them and System of a Down, so it was going into that area, louder guitars and more down tuned guitars, which is the way Hell Is For Heroes went too.”

Ross added, “’Bleach’ is an example of probably what we would have sounded like if we’d have done a whole album at that time.”

However, they never got to see what that would have sounded like. The whirlwind few years caught up with them.

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“Towards the end of Symposium we experienced a collective burnout as we’d basically been on the road for years and years, from 18 to 20,” says Ross. “But then also, Infectious basically gave us a choice where they said, you can stay with us and we’ll merge with another label, or you can leave, so at the time we just said ‘well we’ll just leave then and get another record deal’. At that point, though, we struggled to get another record deal, so we decided to create our own label and put out ‘Killing Position’.

That was all pretty good and pretty positive but then we got to the point where things just weren’t fun anymore, because we had to deal with more of the business side of things, figuring out logistics and how we were going to pay for stuff, and it sucked the energy out of the band a little bit. We were also still so young, certain members of the band wanted to go to University, so that’s basically what happened and that was it”.

Wojtek added, “We went straight into Symposium from school, and we weren’t experienced, but we were fortunate to get massive experience instantly, it was the biggest learning curve of our lives. It was just ‘you’ve signed a deal, on the road you go, get on this bus, do these gigs’, and it was like that for all those years.

We didn’t know, we didn’t realise that we were having anything called burnout. Now I look back at it, all I had to do was unplug myself, unplug my brain from what was going on, there were so many overwhelming things that were happening but I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I just jettisoned the whole lot.”

Ross reflected that in contemporary times, mental health is on the agenda now for younger bands. “Back in the 90’s, it just wasn’t on the map. Back then, we didn’t know what we were doing. Having said that, I think Symposium happened at the right time and age for us, what I love about Symposium is that we didn’t have a clear agenda as to what we wanted to do, we didn’t think about things too much, nothing was premeditated. Wojtek had written a few tunes, they’re pretty good, let’s just play them, let’s get out on the road and have a fucking good time. So that’s what we did.”

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The carnage

That energy in the here and now in 2022, remains unabated and everyone is going to Islington on Thursday to relive something they thought had been left behind with their teenage years.

“I think that’s why people came to our gigs, I think they felt the energy and emotion that we were trying to convey at that time, we were so young, we just acted on impulse, pure emotion which is what a good rock n roll show should be.”

Wojtek is lookign forward to finding out the age of the audience. “I’ve been told we might be surprised how many people that’ll be at the gig who have never seen us before who are actually younger, because I’m just expecting a bunch of middle aged, vinyl nerds like myself.”

“We’re going to have a drinks trolley on the stage, with tequila and beers, so the idea is we’ll come on stage sober, and we’ll leave hammered. We’ll be sharing some with the crowd!”

Unfortunately for all those reading this and only just learning about the return of Symposium to the stage this week, it has sold out. So far, no further dates have been touted but here’s hoping.

Let’s enjoy this for what it is, the return of “the best live band in Britain” (Everett TrueMelody Maker). As Ross said, nothing has changed.

All photos by Scarlet Page

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.