India Electric Company’s journey
PUBLISHED: 11:59 15 May 2017 | UPDATED: 11:59 15 May 2017
Devon band India Electric Company have had a busy couple of years, as they tell Owen Jones
Two friends meet through a love of music, form a band, do some concerts, play support for a famous rock star and get invited to join him on tour as his backing musicians.
Unlikely as it may seem, that’s what has happened to East Devon musicians Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe, who together form India Electric Company and have just spent March performing with Midge Ure in Abu Dhabi, Australia and New Zealand.
In fact for the past couple of years they have been on the road, playing at venues across Europe with Ure, accompanying the singer-songwriter as he performs acoustic versions of hits including Vienna, Fade to Grey and Dancing with Tears in my Eyes.
At the same time they have also been writing and recording their own music and this year will see three new releases, following on from their 2014 album The Girl I Left Behind Me.
Cole and Joe grew up in East Devon – Cole in Awliscombe and Joe a few miles away in Talaton. They went to different schools, but met because of their fathers’ shared interest in music. Cole’s father Terry had a music shop called Approximate Music in Offwell and Joe’s dad Wilf bought a drum kit from him.
Joe says: “My dad used to run a ceilidh band and would coerce as many people to play in it as possible. Cole must have been in his dad’s shop at the right time...”
Cole adds: “Pretty quickly we were playing in teenage covers bands. Despite being older I always looked 12, had terrible hair and insisted on us wearing suits at every gig. To this day Joe hasn’t forgiven me.”
Now in their twenties the pair play a wide range of instruments between them including guitar, mandolin, piano, violin and accordion – and are both trying to learn the bodhrán (“Much to the delight of the people next door in our hotel after each show,” laughs Cole).
By a happy coincidence India Electric Company got the chance to support Midge Ure in 2014 when the singer-songwriter performed at a show in Sussex. The former Ultravox front man was looking for musicians to join him on a new tour marking the 30th anniversary of his Breathe album, which featured mandolin and accordion – the very instruments Cole and Jo were playing on stage.
The tour was a success and the chemistry between the young Devon musicians and the veteran rock star saw them embark on a new tour in which Ure performs music from every album he’s recorded. It means Cole and Joe first go on stage as India Electric Company and play their own music before returning after an interval to accompany Midge Ure on his.
Cole says: “It’s an incredible experience, adventure and learning curve. His audiences are so loyal and full of passion for the music. At the start it definitely felt surreal to be learning these iconic songs but as you play them you just get huge enjoyment out of seeing the fans singing along and being moved by them.
Joe adds: “It is crazy playing the violin solo on Vienna, when the audience know it better than I do. They’re all too kind to point out my mistakes though. It’s also been fascinating seeing Midge’s approach to rearranging these classics for acoustic instruments. We’ve learnt a lot from seeing which melodies and textures he wants to include for this setting.”
It’s been a whirlwind couple of years, but they love to get back to Devon when they can. Cole admits: “Home has looked suspiciously like a Premier Inn room this last year - but we got back to Devon for Christmas and new year to see families, finish recording and have an Otter Ale.
“The Devon gigs are always that bit special and we all remember that night at The Minack in Cornwall when I think we all played with our coats on, playing Fade to Grey as the mist rolled in.”
Joe agrees: “Playing the Beehive in Honiton is always one of the most rewarding concerts we do because we get a lot of people coming who have been to see us since we first started out as a duo.”
Yet despite being on tour for much of the past two years the pair have managed to record new music.
India Electric Company will bring out three EP-length releases in 2017, each exploring their personal notions and experiences of the country and the city. The first, titled ECM1, is due out 5 May and deals with urban alienation. Citing influences such as The Gloaming and Dawn of Midi, the pair aim to use their traditional instruments in contemporary styles.
Joe says: “It was mainly influenced by our interests in electronic producers and industrial sounds. We tried to translate this to our world of acoustic instruments – so the accordion works hard trying to sound like a synth and using its sub-bass frequencies. A beautiful Steinway piano has been physically dampened to recreate more electronic textures, and similarly with guitars.”
What we love about Devon
Cole: Visiting The Holt in Honiton, taking my dog Dylan to Hembury Fort, indulging in at least five of my mum’s homemade cakes in any given afternoon, local eggs and raw milk from the farm, log fires in every room.
Joe: I love the outdoors and being able to cycle in beautiful countryside from my front door. Kitesurfing at Exmouth and running through Escot is a great privilege. Practising violin without having any neighbours to complain is also a perk.