Hard-Fi is an English alternative rock band formed in Staines, Surrey in 2003. The band?s members are Richard Archer (vocals and guitar), Kai Stephens (bass guitar), Ross Phillips (guitar) and Steve Kemp (drums).
They achieved chart success with their third single, "Hard to Beat" and then followed by other successful singles such as "Cash Machine" and "Living for the Weekend", which all reached top 15 in the UK Singles Chart. Their debut album Stars of CCTV was released on , and although receiving critical acclaim (NME called it album of the year and was nominated for the Mercury Prize and two BRIT Awards, Best British Group and Best British Rock Act), it didn't reach #1 in the UK albums chart until six months later on . It originally peaked at number 6. The band's second album, Once Upon a Time in the West, was released on and reached number 1 in its first week.
They are generally considered part of the indie rock scene, although Richard Archer has mentioned numerous times that they are heavily influenced by soul and dance music.
Early years: Contempo 1997 - 2001
Richard Archer decided to return to his hometown of Staines, crushed by the lack of success his former band Contempo and by the death of his father after his struggle against cancer. "I moved back to Staines because I ran out of money and it was quite a shock," he says.
Archer claims that music business insiders tried to dissuade the band's manager Warren Clarke from managing him. When Archer asked his publishers for some money to record the new songs that he had written, they terminated his contract instead. "People told him, don't bother with Archer, he's damaged goods, you're wasting your time'."
Formation and early success: 2001 - 2004
While Archer was making demos to produce an album, he went inside the Staines hi-fi shop where Ross Phillips worked, wanting to buy equipment, simply so he could listen to his latest demos on the shop's best stereo gear. Philips apparently asked Archer who played guitar on his his demos, Archer said that it was himself which is when Phillips said it was 'shit', and was therefore recruited to play guitar for the new group. Steve Kemp was already an old friend of Richard and Kai took little persuasion to leave his job as a "pest killer".
The band were signed to newly formed independent label, Necessary Records, owned by Clarke. The majority of Stars of CCTV was recorded in a variety of unusual acoustic environments - in bedrooms, in pubs, and played back in their producer, Wolsey White's, BMW. 1000 copies of this record were pressed with only 500 going on public sale, and the initial plan was to sell 1000 each time. However, it quickly sold out, receiving critical acclaim and radio play, proving a lot more successful than the band had imagined. In a disused mini cab office, which cost them about ?300, is where most the album was recorded and is known to this day as the "Cherry Lips" Studio. The band used to try and make their music sound more atmospheric by putting a microphone in the corridor to add echo; listening closely to the record reveals that this also picked up passersby humming and whistling and the occasional plane going overhead.
Archer desperately tried to generate publicity for the band through the Staines Observer, however, to no avail. "We sent them a press release and a photo," said Archer. "The press release was all like, the hard-hitting sound of the streets and stuff. And the article came out going, 'Richard Archer, former pupil of Thamesmead School ...' Whatever you say, they seem to be most interested in what school you went to."
The band were then licensed to the Atlantic Records label (a major) in December 2004, where they were given the chance to re-record the album. The band were offered the chance to record in the renowned Abbey Road Studios among other well known studios however, the band went back to the cab office to maintain their sound.
"Hard-Fi" is the name given to the sound produced by Lee "Scratch" Perry, a Grammy award-winning reggae and dub artist, at his Black Ark recording studio. Being admirers of Perry's work, the band decided to name themselves after his distinctive sound. Archer said "Since then I've been desperately trying to find the biography where I read it; but I may have dreamt it."
Stars of CCTV
Main article: Stars of CCTV
Their debut album's launch party was scheduled to be 2005 at Cheekees night club in Staines, however this was cancelled due to the ill health of Richard's mother, and the London bombings also occurring that day. Her death resulted in the band pulling out of the Glastonbury festival. The launch party was rescheduled for 2005 and the venue changed to Ladbroke Grove, London.
The Stars of CCTV album re-entered the official UK album chart at #4 on . Two places higher than it originally went in on the week of its release, the album climbed from #33 . Stars of CCTV finally got to #1 on . The band's re-release of Cash Machine entered the official Top 40 singles chart at #14 on . The album has reached sales of 1.2 million copies worldwide and sales of over 600,000 in the UK alone.
Hard-Fi gained increased prominence in the UK when Stars of CCTV was nominated for the 2005 Mercury Music Prize alongside other albums such as A Certain Trigger by Max?mo Park and Silent Alarm by Bloc Party. Stars Of CCTV scored 74 out of 100 on Metacritic
In February 2006, the band were nominated for two BRIT Awards, Best British Group and Best British Rock Act, alongside international superstars such as Gorillaz, Franz Ferdinand and Oasis. Richard spoke about the nominations, "I don't think we'll win it, especially best group when you've got Coldplay, Franz Ferdinand and Gorillaz in there, they're kind of big hitters, but you never know, Burton drew with Man United". "Last week I would have probably said "nah it's all rubbish", but now I'm nominated "it's great" but what is good is that there's a real wide spread of stuff there, but there's no Best Dance award and the urban category is more pop than what's quality."
Once Upon a Time in the West
Main article: Once Upon a Time in the West (album)
Hard-Fi expanded their taxi cab office which they used to record, or as they call it, the Cherry Lips making more room for equipment after having searched fruitlessly for a space. Frontman Richard Archer describes the record as "darker" and "more expansive".
The first single from the album was "Suburban Knights", released on . The single had its first play on , at 7:20 pm (BST) on Radio 1. The album Once Upon A Time In The West was released on when the band launched it at the midnight in Virgin Megastore in Oxford Street, London with a live performance from a selected set list followed by a CD signing. The following day, the band performed at Maida Vale Studios to a small audience who earned their tickets through Radio 1.
The album cover of Once Upon A Time In The West has a yellow background with the album title at the top, and NO COVER ART written in large, white letters below. The artwork has received mixed criticism, however, top cover art designer Peter Saville has described it as "a 'White Album' for the digital culture."
On , 'Once Upon A Time In The West' went straight in at #1 in the Album Charts giving the band a second #1 album following Stars of CCTV. It received positive reviews including five stars from The Observer Monthly and four stars from Q Magazine scoring 70 out of 100 on Metacritic.
This album has gone even further in the world than their debut album "Stars of CCTV" as it has reached Japan's Top 10 chart. Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Central America have begun to show interest in the band as the first single from the album "Suburban Knights" charted in all of their respective charts, reaching #5 in Peru, #3 in Guatemala, #2 El Salvador, #8 Mexico alongside their second single "Can't Get Along (Without You)" which spent two weeks on #1 in Peru and Argentina. On 10 March 2008 the third single from 'Once Upon A Time In The West', 'I Shall Overcome' was released in the UK reaching #35, while it reached top five in South America just like the previous two singles entering in at #4.
Untitled third album
During the Christmas period of 2008, the band released a Christmas message to their fans thanking them for their support and announcing that they will be back in the new year with a "wicked" new album.
On , 2009, Ross released a blog on the band's official MySpace page saying "After a nice long christmas break, me and the boys are now back in the cherry lips recording facility working hard on the new tunes. Sounding great by the way. We're really pleased with how the album's shaping up. Hopefully over the next few months we'll put some bits and pieces up for you to have a listen."
Hard-Fi's musical style is a mix of post-punk, indie and a Clash style of punk rock. They also take inspiration from other genres such as ska. On Stars of CCTV, they had a very raw sound, loud guitars, and frequent use of guitar, in contrast to Once Upon A Time In The West, on which there is a lot more orchestration, the use of strings is very apparent, most notably in the song "Watch Me Fall Apart".
Upon starting out, Hard-Fi often listened to music through the medium of radio and the internet, read magazines and watched music videos. As a band, they felt no up-and-coming bands really connected their lyrics to their own lives. Hard-Fi wanted to change this with their own style.
Hard-Fi's lyrics are based mostly on working class life, the band themselves coming from a self sufficient suburban lifestyle in Staines, which is where the band are from. Most notable in tracks such as "Suburban Knights" ("Those bills keep dropping through my door") and "Living for the Weekend" ("I've been working all week I'm tired"), while other songs such as "Tonight", despite still being about suburban life, focus more on ambitions. Some songs are also based on social realism, "Feltham is Singing Out" is inspired by Zahid Mubarek who was sent to the Feltham Young Offenders' Institution and was murdered by his racist cellmate.
Other songs, such as "Better Do Better" and "Move on Now", are centred around the premise of how hard romantic relationships can be. Once Hard-Fi were becoming successful Archer's mother had died, the song "Help Me Please" is about how difficult it was for him having his dreams come true after many unsuccessful bands but realises he has no parents to share the joy with. Similarly, "The King" is about Archer returning to Staines and finding everything completely different, and realising everything of which he knew and loved had disappeared. Archer describes "Little Angel" as Christina Aguilera having a fight with The Clash in a northern Soul club.
Hard-Fi in concert at Sala Caracol in Madrid, Spain, 2006
Hard-Fi's first live performance was in Manchester in 2003 before the band were signed.
They played London's Brixton Academy from -, making them one of the few bands to play five consecutive sold-out nights there and the first to do so off the back of their debut album. After the success of the Stars of CCTV album and of hit single Hard to Beat allowed them to end up in a mini-reunion of the Specials, performing Ghost Town with Jerry Dammers and Neville Staples at the Love Music Hate Racism gig. Mick Jones of the Clash is a renowned fan of the band, while Paul Weller came to their rehearsal rooms and jammed a version of "A Town Called Malice", something of which Kai Stephens says "gives us bragging rights over all of Staines" All of these artists were quite inspirational towards Hard-Fi while they were recording Stars of CCTV, perhaps the Specials and the Clash being the larger influences.
Mick Jones also appeared with them performing E=MC? by his former band Big Audio Dynamite. Jones had previously helped produce tracks by Richard Archer's prior band, Contempo who had recorded a cover of "London's Burning" by The Clash.
Hard-Fi supported Green Day at their two gigs at Milton Keynes Bowl, England performing in front of a crowd of approximately 65,000 people.
In 2005, Hard-Fi performed at a number of festivals in America including the SXSW festival in Austin and the San Diego Street Scene festival.
During December 2005, the band played at London's historic Astoria. This whole performance was filmed and the band released it on DVD called In Operation, the performance is in front of a hometown crowd, features all the tracks on Hard-Fi's 750,000 selling, #1 debut album Stars of CCTV, at the time brand new track "You And Me", which was later a B-Side to "Suburban Knights", and the band's version of "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes. It also comes backed with CCTVersions ? an exclusive CD which features dubbed versions of album tracks, produced by guests including Roots Manuva and DJ Wrongtom.
In December 2005, the group released an iTunes exclusive EP featuring five of their songs played during their sessions at AOL studios. The EP was called Sessions@AOL and featured the songs Gotta Reason, Cash Machine, Hard to Beat, Unnecessary Trouble and Better Do Better.
In February 2006, Hard-Fi played the Hammersmith Palais as part of the run of NME Awards shows with regular early touring partners Boy Kill Boy.
Hard-Fi played a packed out 'secret' headlining slot on the Leftfield Stage on at Glastonbury. Although the band were still mixing the record at the time the crowd got to hear "We Need Love," "Can't Get Along (Without You)" and "Suburban Knights" before anyone else. The band also included a host of favourites from their debut album Stars of CCTV. The band played a series of sold-out, intimate dates later in July 2007 previewing the record. This event was found so exciting by the UK Festival Awards they actually nominated the event in the category for Most Memorable Moment.
Each concert from the band's December Uk Tour was recorded in its entirety on audio CD which could be ordered online through Concert Live or bought at the venue for ?20. The CD was titled Once Upon a Time in December. The first 1000 people to pay received signed copies, while available to all payers came a bundle of the next single "I Shall Overcome" which included an exclusive download of the song as well as versions on vinyl, Maxi CD and a collectors' CD. All were delivered free of charge on day of release .
All Hard-Fi lyrics
- Better Do Better
- Can't Get Along (Without You)
- Cash Machine
- Feltham Is Singing Out
- Gotta Reason
- Hard To Beat
- Help Me Please
- I Close My Eyes
- I Shall Overcome
- Little Angel
- Living For The Weekend
- Middle Eastern Holiday
- Move On Now
- Stars Of CCTV
- Suburban Knights
- The King
- Tied Up Too Tight
- Unnecessary Trouble
- Watch Me Fall Apart
- We Need Love
All lyrics are property of their respective owners and are strictly for non-commercial use only.