My Life Story are: Jake Shillingford (vocals/guitar), Paul Siepel, aka "The Crow"(bass with vocals), Danny Turner (synthesisers), Simon Wray (drums).
My Life Story may once have been described as "a cream Jaguar of a band in a world of red Escorts", but it all began in the land of the XR3i: Essex. Jake Shillingford - and yes, that is his real name - was born in sunny Southend On Sea, the offspring of two art lecturers from the town's technical college. His father, Alan Shillingford, had been an integral part of the Pop Art movement of the 1950s.
Jake's mother departed when he was very young, leaving the infant to be brought up by a combination of his father and babysitters recruited from the art college, mostly punk rockers (including a young Alison Moyet). It was the riotously raucous singles they'd bring round, he believes, which first inspired his love of pop.
Jake rebelled against his upbringing by quitting Southend Tech with no art qualifications, and poured his energies in another direction: music. However, the original motivation, he admits, wasn't purely musical. "I started this band because I fancied a girl down the youth club, and I was too crap to ask her out." The prototype My Life Story pressed up a handful of copies of a single, "Home Sweet Zoo" (which now fetches over £100 a copy), before disbanding.
The bright lights were calling, and in March 1987 Jake moved Up West to London where, with friend Simon Benney, he opened now-legendary indie club The Panic Station at Dingwalls, Camden Lock. The list of bands Jake put on reads like a roll-call of late 80s/early 90s alternative pop: Happy Mondays, Pop Will Eat Itself, The House Of Love, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Jesus Jones and The Stone Roses. As well as designing the artwork and drapes, it was at The Panic Station that Shillingford returned to the concept of My Life Story. With the help of Aaron Cahill (who still helps arrange MLS songs) on Farfisa organ, Jake, often dressed in women's clothing, would perform bizarre conceptual art pieces before the headliners came on.
But it wasn't until 1993 that My Life Story as we know and love them were really born - ironically, as a reaction against precisely the sort of dismal, grey rock quartets he'd once promoted at The Panic Station. "The songs I was writing were so anthemic," he says, "and I didn't want a weedy indie guitar on my record." Most aspiring songwriters, when they get serious, try to recruit a band. Jake Shillingford - on a mission "to introduce expensiveness back into music" - has always thought that little bit bigger. He tried to recruit a whole orchestra.
One problem: he couldn't afford it. . . so he had to acquire one using cunning and stealth. Sidling past the doormen at the Royal Academy Of Music and The Guildhall ("I literally sneaked in behind a cello case on one occasion"), he set about luring posh girls and nice boys to a life of vice by placing the following ad on a notice board: "Fed up with playing the same old stuff? Leave the sanctity of classical world, cross River Styx and play the Devil's music. Phone Jake. . ."
Although the applicants had initial reservations they were soon swept aside by Shillingford's self-belief (and the prospect of a little rock'n'roll hedonism). "They gave me their talents," Jake explains,"and I offered them a chance. They thought classical music was trite and stale; and what they wanted was bright lights, rock'n'roll and shagging after shows."
Jake and his 12-piece My Life Story orchestra became the first band ever to record at George Martin's Air Studios while the Belsize Park church was still being converted. Produced by Giles Martin, the Beatles legend's son, the first proper MLS single, "Girl A, Girl B, Boy C" - a bizarre love triangle with a big band soundtrack, all foxy horns and horny foxes - was released by new label Mother Tongue and possessed a sassy swing which sounded gloriously out of place in the Year Of Grunge. NME and Melody Maker made it 'Single Of The Week'. The pieces were starting to fall into place.
MLS began playing any and every gig they could, supporting Pulp on the cusp of their break-through, Blur before they went mega, and, in March 1994 even headlined over some band called Oasis. Rapidly, by word of mouth, My Life Story accrued a reputation as showmen par excellence.
Two more Mother Tongue singles followed: "Funny Ha Ha", and "You Don't Sparkle". The latter, a semi-autobiographical string-driven stormer in praise of low-rent dreamers everywhere, became, says Jake, "The My Life Story National Anthem", and reached No.2 in the Indie Charts.
1994's debut album "Mornington Crescent" was a riot of gratuitous sax and senseless violins encompassing ABC, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Elvis in "Aloha Hawaii", John Barry and Shirley Bassey's Bond Themes (Jake's father had been obsessed with 007), "The Stripper", The Walker Brothers, "Dusty In Memphis" and Marc Almond's 'Tenement Symphonies'. It too made it to No.2 in the Indie Chart.
By now, My Life Story had gained a small army of fiercely loyal fans, with their own clearly defined dress sense (the tiara-glitter-and-feathers look which has since been appropriated by followers of the likes of the Manics, Suede and Placebo).
Not that everyone got it. In an era when The Kids just wanted to rock MLS were once bottled off by bewildered Ned's Atomic Dustbin fans. Ahead of the time they may have been, but slowly, the rest of the world started to catch up. Not only were other bands - Divine Comedy, Tindersticks, Jack - making sweeping symphonic pop, but every Britpop band worth their retro Adidas T-shirts wrote their own MLS-style string-laden ballad, more often than not hiring the My Life Story Orchestra themselves.
The MLS orchestra, Lucy Wilkins, Becky Doe, Roxanna Shirley, Robert Spriggs and Ollie Kraus still perform live with the band and have pursued a successful parallel career as a professional string and brass players, guesting with everyone from The Wonder Stuff to Terrorvision from Morrissey to Beth Orton, Dubstar to The Tindersticks to Kylie Minogue & Nick Cave.
1995 brought one further release on Mother Tongue, a limited edition unplugged-style EP called "The Mornington Crescent Companion". Before long, however, the label ran out of money and My Life Story found themselves in the uncomfortable position of being "biggest unsigned band in Britain". Undaunted, they took the MLS gospel on the road with a national tour, but the economic strain of keeping a full orchestra on a tiny budget began to show. Inevitably, the band began shedding members. . . and sprouting new ones.
Paul Siepel - aka "The Crow" - grew up in Manchester and Warwickshire, where he played in the requisite quota of "shit bands", until he moved to London. A charismatic ladykiller, he could easily have fronted his own band, and indeed had every intention of doing so, until he met Jake at Blow Up, Camden Town's legendary retro night. From that moment on, he's been the MLS bassist. "He's always had star quality," says Jake. "He's a frontman in a band that I'm a frontman in. But everybody in a band should be a frontman. And that nickname? "Well, he looks like one. He's the man in black. He's a solitary beast. And he's attracted to metal".
Danny Turner, who grew up in Ipswich when Bobby Robson's blues ruled Europe, started learning piano at the age of 6 with no parental coercion nor "Aww, Mum!" complaints, and ended up in his fair share of dead-end bands. Arriving in London to go to music college, he did a degree in studio electronics and actually made one album of "spaced-out dance music" with James Jackman who has gone on to work with George Michael and form Trigger. Keen to return to live music after this studio-bound existence, he was roped in to replace My Life Story keyboardist Helen Caddick on the eve of a French tour.
Then, with one of My Life Story's celebrated New Year's Eve gigs approaching (over the years, venues have included the Water Rats, The Garage and Hackney Empire), The Cure went and nicked Jake's drummer. In stepped Simon Wray. Born in Fulham, Wray had been hitting things for fun since childhood (he once sold a portable TV back to his parents to pay for a sparkly drumkit). The jigsaw was complete.
Jake's spirits, however, were at an all-time low. "1995 was absolute Hell for me," he says now. Shillingford announced that My Life Story would play four more shows - a "Month Of Sundays" - in the New Year at Dingwalls, where it all began, and if they weren't signed by then, he'd pack it in. What started as an emotional farewell, however, soon turned into a triumphant party as several labels put their offers on the table. Parlophone rattled their wad and whistled "Hey, Big Spender" the loudest, and MLS MkII had a new home.
In August 1996, "12 Reasons Why I Love Her", a thunderous list-of-love, was the band's first Parlophone single, and became their first Top 40 hit. A re-recorded version of their second single, now simply entitled "Sparkle", also went Top 40.
1997 brought the second My Life Story album. "The Golden Mile" saw the band perfecting the MLS sound to a dazzling streamlined pop sheen, with Shillingford's lyrics displaying a delicious new economy on vicious vignettes like "Strumpet" ("Cinzano drip-fed/Leopardskin bedspread/ Housewife superstar/ Feather boa constrictor"). A 50-date national tour followed, and "The King Of Kissingdom", a sly dig at the delusions of drug culture, and the saucy "Strumpet" both made the charts, but internal record company politics and the bursting of the Britpop bubble conspired against My Life Story.
Asked to cover an oldie from the EMI back catalogue for a compilation album, the band opted to record The Stranglers' "Duchess" as a joke, only to be told they must release it as a single. It was yet another hit, but shortly afterwards My Life Story and Parlophone parted ways. "Five singles,five Top 40 hits," summarises Jake, "and we were dropped."
After a show at the Astoria, My Life Story went underground. Many assumed the Story was finally over. The glittery suits were hung at the back of the closet (Jake was beginning to have visions of being buried under "a sparkly gravestone"). Jake, The Crow, Simon and Danny locked themselves away to record what is undoubtedly their most diverse album yet. The record encompasses musical styles one would never have expected from My Life Story. But as Jake, never a man lacking in self-belief - he's as much MLS's salesman as their frontman - puts it: "I really think we can do anything. If we decided to make a skiffle album, Simon can bash a washboard and we'll do it."
Biography taken from the official site at: www.mylifestory.co.uk.