The Clientele

I Had To Say ThisSuburban Light
Reflections After JaneSuburban Light
6am MorningsideSuburban Light
MissingThe Violet Hour
House On FireThe Violet Hour
PorcelainThe Violet Hour
LamplightThe Violet Hour
Since K Got Over MeStrange Geometry
Bookshop CasanovaGod Save The Clientele
Bonfires On The HeathBonfires On The Heath


Clientele playlist



Contributor: David Tanner


The best band you have probably never heard of? Maybe.

The Clientele photo

The Clientele have been more popular in the USA than they ever have in the UK, and I have never understood why. This was highlighted when attending a Clientele gig in 2003 at an old cinema in Newcastle with a total audience of about 30 people.

Pitchfork has described them as: “… guitar-centric indie pop, enamoured with the gently psychedelic 1960s (deep Beatles cuts, Donovan, Kinks …) and the UK indie pop of the 80s (Felt, Television Personalities).”

To which you could also add the Zombies circa Odessey And Oracle, Galaxie 500 and Love.

The band are characterised by the reverb heavy vocals of Alasdair MacLean, originally achieved by feeding his microphone through a guitar amp. He also has a fairly unique guitar style, described best by Alasdair in an interview with Pitchfork: “It was through learning Spanish guitar. That’s the style I learned. To go full circle, I heard the Beatles. My dad must have played me one of their records, and it made me decide when I was about five that I wanted to play guitar like George Harrison. I got enrolled in Spanish guitar lessons instead because classical guitar was a bit more respectable.”

The 10 tracks are mainly taken from the first two albums, which I still feel contain the strongest material. They were recording in fairly primitive conditions and the mics and amps hum, crackle and spit. For me they all conjure up images of languid summer evenings or damp autumnal afternoons, songs that drip with longing and melancholy.

I Had to Say This from Surburban Light has all the classic Clientele ingredients; breathy vocals, heavy reverb, great bass and drums and even some backwards guitar a la The Beatles I’m Only Sleeping at the end.

6am Morningside is probably my favourite track from this album, Alasdair sings: “… the windows are all open, and it’s Saturday” and I’m there with him in my head. This track only appeared on the USA release originally, but has been put on the re-release that came out last year. Which probably explains why everything I’ve chosen is on Spotify, except this track (see clip below to hear it).

That album was basically a compilation of previously issued tracks so The Violet Hour was the first album specifically recorded as such. Same sound though better recorded this time.

Missing starts with some beautiful acoustic guitar playing that continues throughout this song of love lost, and missing.

House On Fire starts with Mark Keen laying down probably my favourite drum intro as the song builds its way to a slow groove with James Hornsey’s bass high in the mix.

On Porcelain the mood is vaguely psychedelic and hazy leading us to Lamplight and its tolling bell beginning and circular guitar figure that subsides again to stillness.

The next album, Strange Geometry, was a much more polished affair produced by Brian O’Shaughnessy and released by Merge records. Since K Got Over Me is the standout track.

I don’t think I’ll be happy anyway
Just scratching out my name
And everything so vivid
And so creepy
Since K got over me

The way Alasdair sings the word ‘creepy’ always makes me shiver.

I found the next album God Save The Clientele pretty disappointing outside of exceptional single Bookshop Casanova, as was the most recent album, 2010’s Minotaur. However, the 2009 album Bonfires On the Heath contained some classic Clientele moments, some pedal steel and new addition, keyboardist/violinist Mel Draisey.

They have been on a bit of a hiatus for the last few years since Minotaur, but they have been doing some concerts recently and a new album is planned.


The Clientele official website

The Clientele on Merge Records

6am Morningside on YouTube

The Clientele biography (Apple Music)

This is David Tanner’s first post for Toppermost, there are more to come. He hails originally from South Wales and spent 40 years working as a librarian – the last 30 in Yorkshire – and is now happily retired in France. There are not many music genres he doesn’t like and he’s never stopped seeking out good music. Always another unknown band around the corner! He writes about music and random culture at Other formats are available.

TopperPost #406

1 Comment

  1. Rob Morgan
    Jan 30, 2015

    See, here’s a band who have passed me by and really I should have taken notice of them by now. After all, I saw them support Trembling Blue Stars at their gig at Notting Hill Arts Centre in December 1999, and I enjoyed their set and noticed their name cropping up from time to time over the years. This Toppermost should help me catch up on what I have missed. Thank you!

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