Urban Creep: 20 years later, they’re back

Seminal mid-’90s band Urban Creep are reuniting to co-headline the Oppikoppi festival‘s 20th anniversary, and for a Heritage Month showcase of groundbreaking independent label, Shifty Records.

Urban Creep in 1995: Chris Letcher, Ross Campbell, Brendan Jury, Didier Noblia. Photo by Alex Bozas.

Urban Creep in 1995: Chris Letcher, Ross Campbell, Brendan Jury, Didier Noblia. Photo by Alex Bozas.

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2014-06-15.

“Urban Creep are back!” A sentence that likely sends immediate delight through its reader, or make them wonder how a city planning blight could be a good thing. Urban Creep, the band, was formed in 1994 with Chris Letcher (vocals, guitar, keyboards, accordion) and Brendan Jury (viola, vocals and keyboards) and soon acquired the rhythm section of Ross Campbell (drums, percussion) and Didier Noblia (bass). Theirs was a fusion of brightness and introspection, a re-appropriation of global rock’s more intelligent – but still danceable – strains with influences from the Durban street music that’s permeated by Zulu mbaqanga strains. Jury and Letcher were formidable frontmen – Letcher’s intellect and almost awkward stage presence contrasting with Jury’s theatrical flourishes, wrenching his viola from orchestral origins into being a powerful rock ‘n roll axe. Noblia and Campbell had earned their performance and touring stripes as the rhythm section for Landscape Prayers. The band recorded two full length albums, toured with Midnight Oil and Urban Cookie Collective, played the dusty hilltop bar that would birth the Oppikoppi festival, criss-crossed South Africa on stages ranging from Kokstad to Knysna, toured Europe, helped inaugurate independent record distributors Tic Tic Bang, opened Durban’s BAT Centre and earned national No.1 spots for “Sea Level” and “Slow Thighs” (both in 1997) and a SAMA nomination for Album of the Year in 1996.

Urban Creep helped to show South Africans that our music was as vibrant as anything imported, and also far more pertinent and potent.

Urban Creep helped to show South Africans that our music was as vibrant as anything imported, and also far more pertinent and potent. They were a stalwart of festival line-ups, and a drawcard both at shows and on shelves – but the life of a touring band with minimal radio support and playing to a limited pool of supporters is inevitably fraught with financial difficulties – part of why the band chose to end their run. Their pedigree was sound, though. Chris Letcher went on to co-found van der Want and Letcher, complete a PhD in composition at London’s Royal College of Music, write film scores for, amongst others, BBC’s adaptation of DH Lawrence‘s “Women in Love” and the film of “Bang Bang Club“, and release critically acclaimed solo albums and tour both Austin’s South by Southwest and Toronto’s North by Northeast festivals. Brendan Jury went on to play widely with Trans.Sky, Ohm and Arno Carsten‘s “New Porn“, all the while creating film and television soundtracks, doing theatre shows and acting as musical director for the Miss South Africa pageant. Ross Campbell went on to play with Fetish, co-found Benguela, create the Open Record label and play with the likes of Farryl Purkiss and Simon van Gend. Didier Noblia shelved his bass and became a healing therapist and, in the later Urban Creep shows, the rhythm section included drummer Gaston Goliath, and bassist Sean ou Tim, who went on to play with Max Normal, Lark, Andy Lund and found a solo project, Mr Sakitumi.

 “They made great music – original and with amazing energy. Urban Creep were important for their time and place – and it’s still good music now.”

– Lloyd Ross, Shifty Records

“It’s a pretty frightening idea, reinvesting in that ancient history,” says Chris Letcher, a week before the band’s first reunited rehearsal. “But enough water has passed under the bridge for it to be possible, and I’ve come to terms with that part of my life, so it seemed a good idea, and a good time. Thinking about the material, some of the songs are quite a struggle to take seriously now – age is a big part of that, and I majorly lacked self-awareness in that period. Some of the songs seem like the work of a completely different person, which makes it easier to do them again, and some I feel quite proud of and happy with. It’s about looking that stuff in the eye and taking it for what it is. It will be an interesting experience…”

Urban Creep, 1995. Chris Letcher, Didier Noblia, Brendan Jury, Ross Campbell

Urban Creep, 1995. Chris Letcher, Didier Noblia, Brendan Jury, Ross Campbell

“We’re getting back together because Oppikoppi asked us to play their 20th anniversary festival; simple as that,” says Ross Campbell. “We played there before the first festival, when it was just a bar on a farm with dust and thorn-trees. Amazing. This landscape that’s totally unique to dry Bushveld South Africa, and there we were. After we played, we got to paint the band name on the bar wall, up with only a few other names, like Valiant Swart and Koos Kombuis and probably The Blues Broers and Piet Botha. They called out of the blue and I thought, ‘Wow, a call from Oppikoppi – that doesn’t happen often!’ We’ve had the idea before about maybe doing something, and I knew Chris and Brendan would be keen. If we could have got Didier, that would have been fantastic – we haven’t seen him for twenty years, and he hasn’t played the bass since he stopped with Urban Creep, which is ridiculous for such an accomplished player – but he’s on a different path now. Sean on bass is great; he was an original member too – I remember him pitching up for the first rehearsal, and he already knew all the bass lines!”

Urban Creep live at Student's Union, Grahamstown, 1996. Chris Letcher, Brendan Jury, Didier Noblia, Ross Campbell.

Urban Creep live at Student’s Union, Grahamstown, 1996. Chris Letcher, Brendan Jury, Didier Noblia, Ross Campbell.

“I’m fairly nervous about doing Urban Creep again,” confesses Brendan Jury, amidst studio work on a solo project Parlotones frontman Kahn Morbee, and fresh off composing soundtracks for “iNumber Number” and the award-winning documentary “Unearthed“. “I wonder if anyone’s going to care, for a start. I’m sure the material will come back to us quickly, and I think the material has stood the test of time. I never have any of the albums that I’ve done – I always end up giving them away, but I heard ‘Sea Level‘ and ‘Tightroper‘ when we were doing a soundcheck somewhere a year or two ago on a gig with Arno Carstens. Songs like ‘Seven Depths of Skin‘… I’m biased, but I certainly enjoyed hearing them again and I was pleasantly surprised. Also, Lloyd Ross, from Shifty Records, his production job was really solid – it didn’t feel terribly dated. I have no idea how people will react… but I know we’ll enjoy playing the songs live again.”

“Funnily enough, I was thinking about throwing the whole thing in when I recorded them,” says Lloyd Ross of Shifty Records. “They had something special. I thought they made great music – original and with amazing energy. Urban Creep were important for their time and place – and it’s still good music now.”

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2014-06-15.

Urban Creep play “Oppikoppi Odyssey” (7 to 9 August, outside Northam, Limpopo Province; details oppikoppi.co.za) and as part of the Shifty Records / South African History Archive series during Heritage Month in September (Alliance Francaise Johannesburg, 17 Lower Park Dr, Randburg, 011-6461169). Cape Town shows are likely, but not yet confirmed. More at the Urban Creep page on Facebook.

Hear Urban Creep on Bandcamp.com:

Urban Creep "Sea Level" - Bandcamp.com

Urban Creep “Sea Level” – Bandcamp.com

Urban Creep "Tightroper"

Urban Creep “Tightroper”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Urban Creep interview by Evan Milton in the Cape Argus "Good Weekend" of 2014-06-15

Urban Creep interview by Evan Milton in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2014-06-15

Urban Creep on the streets of Woodstock in Cape Town, 1995. Ross Campbell, Chris Letcher, Brendan Jury, Didier Noblia. Photo by Alex Bozas.

Urban Creep on the streets of Woodstock in Cape Town, 1995. Ross Campbell, Chris Letcher, Brendan Jury, Didier Noblia. Photo by Alex Bozas.

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