Louis Vause was born in Edinburgh on Valentines
As a boy of six his family decamped to Lancaster where - for the subsequent
ten years - they lived on a boat on the Lancaster Canal which resembled nothing
so much as a floating library - its clinker built hull lined with hundreds
His fathers multiple sclerosis fractured the family, with his mother, sister
and brother moving to London. Fourteen year old Louis was content to remain on the
boat with his father despite his increasing irascibility and ill temper...
side effects of the illness.
At sixteen he had moved to a room in one of his fathers properties, cohabiting
with students from Lancaster University. The boat sank shortly afterwards,
his father moving into the basement of the same property, though they lived
largely separate lives. He took up the piano around this time and went to
weekly classical lessons.
His father, who had played trumpet and flugel-horn in his student days in
Edinburgh (indeed he was good enough to impress Tubby
Hayes who suggested he join his band if he ever thought about music
as a profession) told Louis never to succumb to a total addiction to written
music and to try and work things out by ear in addition to reading. Louis
has subsequently claimed this as the best advice he ever had from his Dad.
Two years later Louis left School with offers of places to several Universities.
He chose the University of East Anglia in Norwich. On his year off he traveled
to the Sudan on the advice of his mother who had made a film there the year
before. He was robbed in Cairo and had the disconcerting experience of arriving
in Khartoum with 25 pence and a one way ticket from Cairo.
A series of adventures and misadventures resulted in him being there for
three months. A vast millionaire - a director at Khartoum United football
club - made a hopeless attempt at sexually assaulting him which Louis describes
as more 'Carry On Up The Nile' when the latter's false teeth fell out. The
family of Sheik El Din Gibril finally
took him in to his mud house in Omdurman; an experience he describes as magical.
He formed close bonds with his age group in that family and ended up traveling
across the Sahara on the roof of a train, touring a sugar factory as a visiting
white dignitary (much to his embarrassment - simply because he was white)
and finally contracting Malaria.
Meanwhile the Sex Pistols were Number two (actually number one were it not for BBC politics) with God Save The Queen and Elvis Presley died - a fact that Louis discovered in a Southern Sudanese
He returned to England (a Government official paid for his trip back to Cairo
having taken pity on Louis. Louis later learned that he had been imprisoned
for embezzlement of Government funds by President Nimeiri) He started at University
in late September and gravitated to the alternative looking people on the
Outside London - and especially in Universities - punk was a largely unknown
quantity. There were probably four punks in Norwich itself and they were given
a very hard time by the local community. Fellow sympathisers at university
included Paul Whitehouse (Sociology),
and Charlie Higson (English
and American Studies) the founders of the Fast Show twenty years later. It
is fair to say that very little work, lots of drink and amphetamines, and
a devotion to the weekly fix of the New Musical Express in its glory days
formed a fairly large part of the curriculum.
By 1980 The Higsons were formed. Louis was their 'legendary' Stylophone player and raconteur
for the first three gigs. He then decamped to London and got a job counting
blouses in a warehouse on Holloway Road. By 1984 Louis was persuaded to join
Jim Reilly for a performance in Hammersmith.
Louis could only do a couple of things in the key of C so as a performance
safety guard everything had to be written in that key. On arriving
at the venue they found Middle C was not working on the piano but soldiered
on, Louis telling the audience in some terror that they would have to imagine
it. An off beat success this duo became the band Hackney
Five-O and played high energy country - dubbed "Cow-Punk" by the Press.
Their blend of country and energy chimed nicely with the things that were
happening at the same time - Pogue Mahone (The Pogues),
The Boothill Foottappers, The Blueberry Hellbellies etc. They became
part of that scene by default and contributed a track to the 'Don't Let the
Hope Close Down' album - a benefit for the troubled Hope and Anchor venue
which they had all played and patronised - as had bands such as Madness -
and which later closed down. Louis, now twenty-six, remembers asking Jim what notes were in an E7 chord
and slowly started bluffing in different keys.
Hackney Five-O eventually released two albums on Midnight Music:
"Between the Floors" (1986) and "Three Foot to the Left" (1987), a
third album was recorded but remained unreleased ('Millstone' - 1989)
when the record label folded - none of which sold much but were rated highly by people who knew of
their existence. Jim Reilly's lyrics in particular have been highly praised
- he later co-authored "Marvelous - Isn't It?" the
biography of Ron manager with Paul Whitehouse.
In 1988 Louis was working at a book publishers by day (Quartet Books) and
doing music in his spare time but things were about to change. Mark
Bedford (Bass with Madness) and Terry
Edward's asked Louis to collaborate on a demo. This was quickly taken up by Go! discs and the album ‘Blow’ was written and recorded - the band was named Butterfield 8 - Louis contributing two tracks. The sheer quality of the musicians Louis was now working with
resulted in him handing in his resignation; he felt out of his depth. For
six months he worked 8 hours a day on the piano taking a key a week over a
twelve week cycle; major, minor, blues scales, riffs, strength exercises,
improvisation, arpeggios etc. He said yes to everything (weddings, barmitzvahs,
birthdays),...slowly building a set with the hope of building some kind of
In 1990 he got a call from Chris Foreman
and Lee Thompson of Madness and joined their band The
Nutty Boys after a short audition:
Chris - "Have you got quick ears?" and "How tall are you?" - having very quick ears and being reasonably as short as Lee and Chris -
he was hired immediately. He also worked at this time with Dave Graney who released the EP ‘Dave Graney with the Coral Snakes at his Stone Beach’ and the subsequent album ‘I am the Hunter and I am the Prey’. The Guardian were impressed enough to notify their readers that this was a ‘band to watch’ but problems with Dave and Clair Moore’s visa’s (his wife and drummer) meant they had to return to Australia where Dave subsequently had great success and was voted ‘King of Pop’, Australia’s version of the Brit Awards. Louis opted to remain in the UK however and continued to tour and work with The Nutty Boys (later re-named Crunch), releasing the singles ‘It’s OK I’m a Policeman’, ‘Birthday Girl’ and ‘Magic Carpet’.
In 1992 Louis wrote a video called 'A Beginners Guide to Boogie and Blues' directed by Jeff Baynes and featuring (as co-presenter with Louis). Time Warner later called this the most reviewed tuition video in
history (26 reviews as well as radio and television exposure) Louis became
an in-demand-teacher and included amongst his clients George
Harrison and Suggs. His daughter,
Melody, was born in 1993. Though Louis' teaching thrived for
the rest of the decade and he continued to record in various bands and for
various projects, it is fair to say that he suffered severe trauma with regard
to his daughter from 1997 onwards. As a result of events (which here shall
remain nameless) between 1997 and 2000 he was given sole custody of his daughter
on March 17th 2000.
Forced to give up teaching to care for her he was served an eviction notice
by his landlord (his contract forbad pets, bicycles and children) and finances
became a big problem. After a period of stress and with help from the M.U.,
Social Services and others he was finally offered a council flat in August
of that year - two days before eviction. For a further year he scouted around
for alternate methods of earning money. However things were not happening
fast enough for the Inland Revenue who suggested that perhaps, to enable
him to get back to work, he should consider foster care for his daughter.
This suggestion outraged many - not least Louis himself - and the professional
advice he sought strongly urged bankruptcy.
At 1.57p.m. on the 11th September 2001 he was declared bankrupt at the High
Court on the Strand...though events elsewhere made this seem less momentous
than it otherwise might have been. Around the same time Louis had commenced a residency at The Mac Bar in Camden Town every Sunday lunchtime in which he played piano accompanying a variety of special guests. His first guest was Graham Coxon (of Blur) and the two bonded quickly Graham asking Louis if he would play on his next solo effort, ‘The Kiss Of Morning’. Graham was going through torrid times with Blur at the time and during one of their many head-to-heads in coffee houses and pubs in Camden, Louis gave Graham a listen to a series of piano solos he had recorded in an effort to survive. Graham took the ear-phones from his ears and asked “Is this you?”; ‘Yes”. He put the earphones back and listened for a few more moments, then removed them again: “Can I release them?”. Louis - both astonished and delighted - said “Well . . . yes”. Graham released Louis’ first solo album on his label ‘Transcopic’. Entitled ‘Pianophernalia’ it was critically well received and gave Louis a real boost after his ‘troubles’, as he busily promoted it on National and Local Press and Radio. He nearly dropped his teapot when he heard a play on Radio 4 which featured music from the album throughout. Louis went on to work on three more solos albums by Graham Coxon: ‘Happiness in Magazines’ (2004), ‘Love Travels at Illegal Speeds’ (2006) and ‘The Spinning Top (2009). During this period he also did many sessions - people like The King Blues, Mower, and Fionn Regan.
His career in 'acting' had commenced in 1997 (as a pianist in an episode of 'The Fast Show' ) and has continued fitfully ever since. He was a 1950's ghost in the BBC re-make of 'Randall & Hopkirk (deceased)' and in 2004 was a baffled waiter in 'Swiss Toni' for BBC3. And then the truly big one: The pianist and leader of The Louis Vause Orchestra in the Paramount re-make of 'Alfie'. Given just four days to recruit , rehearse and record a twelve piece orchestra in time to mime for the actual filming, Dave Stewart, who was the MD for the film, found it hard to believe that the Orchestra hadn't been on the road for "months or something". The Orchestra is on screen for mere nano-seconds but Louis received credits in the end titles.
In the meantime Louis had been writing material for a follow-up to 'Pianophernalia' with a five piece band in mind: John Eacott (Trumpet and Flugel Horn), Louise Elliott (Tenor Saxophone and Flute), Gareth Hugh Davies (Double Bass) and Dave Bryant (Drums and Percussion). The band debuted much of the new material at The Brighton Festival in May 2004 and recorded 'Mechanicatastrophe' in January 2005 .
However there was a problem. Unfortunately Transcopic, Graham Coxons label, and the label who had so enthusiastically released'Pianophernalia' were no more. So the finances required to pay a band, a studio and a producer to record the material simply wasn't there. It was with a kind of wild, totally unfounded optimism that Louis entered The Lord Stanley, his local pub, in the days leading up to Christmas 2004. The Lord Stanley, just north of Camden Square, is a hang out of musicians, film-makers, chefs, actors - wonderful people all, who work between drinks or drink between jobs - he has never been sure which. The Christmas tree was up and there was a roaring fire in the grate next to the piano. Perhaps he timed it right. The atmosphere was smoky and convivial and he walked to the bar and said in a tolerably loud voice that he was looking for someone who needed a tax loss. He was asked to play a tune on the piano and, with the sound of laughter at his quip, "Stick with me and I can lose you a million" still ringing in his ears, left with the promise of £2000 an hour later.
He booked Eastcote Studios for the 12th and 13th January and enlisted Mike Pelanconi as Producer. He had met him whilst recording Graham Coxon's album, 'The Kiss Of Morning' and admired his work: a man with an unerring ear for the right acoustic and a nice line in wisdom - "I like rain ... rain has its own vibe, you know. And sun. But this grey nothing, Man. That's what I can't take in this country. That nothing weather. Neither this or that."
This was mixed at Mike Pelanconi's new base in Brighton and three additional piano solos were recorded at the Stone Rooms, London, by Chris Wyles in May . Eventually Cadiz Music agreed to license the album for release on their idiosyncratic High Coin label alongside luminaries such as Herb Alpert, Ronnie Spector and The Flaming Lips. Release was set for September or October 2006 and Louis was asked by Richard England at Cadiz whether he was interested in contributing a 12 page illustrated booklet for the CD. He leaped at the chance and came up with the final draft on the Isle of Wight in April 2006 over a couple of pints of delicious Ventnor Gold at The Volunteer, Ventnors Award Winning Real Ale pub.
However, he was diagnosed with Hepatitus-C the following month and commenced treatment in June which was scheduled to take 48 weeks. No more delicious Ventnor Gold (or anything else for that matter) for at least a year and a half.
He threw himself into his work and preparations for the release of 'Mechanicatastrophe' , meanwhile commencing rehearsals with the Stan Elliot Quartet which features Terry - 'Stan' - Mcleay (vocals), 'Cam' Campbell (Bass) - both ex Sex Gang Children, The Cheaters - and Alan McCulloch (Drums and Percussion). They played The White Feather Festival in Devon in August to general local enthusiasm. The soberest band on the bill, none of them could drink due to various liver disorders - Louis' joke that their name should be changed to 'The Hep C Cats' was not received with overwhelming enthusiasm, so they steadfastly remained The Stan Eliot Quintet.
'Mechanicatatstrophe' was launched on Monday 2nd October, 2006 with an afternoon performance of Louis' band at The Peasant, St Johns Street, Islington in North London.
The first newspaper to review it (much to Louis' amazement) was The Daily Mirror who amongst other things called him "The Jamie Cullum it's cool to like".
Meanwhile Paul Whitehouse had come up with an idea for a Radio Show to be entitled 'Down The Line' - a spoof phone in for Radio 4. He was cautioned not to tell a soul as the plan was to unleash it on the public as a serious phone in. Louis tapped into his talent for sounding like a serious Radio 4 listener who nevertheless is a complete idiot who rambles on a bit. Other contributors beside Paul himself included Catherine Tate, Simon Day, Charlie Higson, and Arabella Weir. Everyone was absolutely delighted with the response - particularly from The Daily Telegraph who called it 'witless drivel' and bewailed the 'dumbing down of Radio 4 - a national institution'. Such was the volume of complaint that the BBC relented after the third week and said that the whole show was actually a comedy.