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As British band the Feeling release their eagerly awaited debut album, lead singer Dan Gillespie Sells tells Neil McCormick why they're proud to be in the middle of the road

Gillespie Sells - vocals/guitar
Kevin Jeremiah - guitar
Richard Jones - bass
Ciaran Jeremiah - keyboards
Paul Stewart - drums


When the Feeling first ventured on the road, they were surprised by the antagonism they provoked. "People loved the songs. I think they just hated us," says singer, guitarist and songwriter Dan Gillespie Sells.


Weird and wonderful: the parameters of contemporary cool may have to shift to encompass the Feeling

"They complained that they couldn't take us seriously, as if being serious is the ultimate criteria by which to judge music. We were given all kinds of advice if we wanted to get a record deal: change the name, change haircuts, grow beards, make the music more edgy, more spiky, more angular. But we like the way we sound. It sounds pretty."

This is not an adjective you often hear bandied about by a guitar band. "There is so much so-called alternative music now, I often wonder what it's supposed to be an alternative to?" says Gillespie Sells of the orthodoxy of rock taste. Well, how about sleek, mainstream, old-fashioned pop rock with big melodies, elaborate arrangements and plenty of harmonies, performed with virtuoso musicianship and vaudevillian showbusiness swagger?

The Feeling are a rock band so perversely unfashionable yet unashamedly populist that the parameters of contemporary cool may have to shift to encompass them. Their debut album, Twelve Stops and Home, is released by Island next week, a collection so chock-full of potential singles it sounds like a greatest hits set. The five-piece have already scored one top 10, Sewn, while the follow up, Fill My Little World (released this week) is currently second only to Gnarls Barkley in UK radio airplay.

With blatant musical references to the '70s soft-rock heyday of Wings, 10cc, ELO, Supertramp and even less celebrated progenitors of what was once unflatteringly dubbed MOR (middle of the road) such as Andrew Gold and Pilot, they could be the house band of the Guilty Pleasures radio and club phenomenon.

Yet Gillespie Sells is insistent that the Feeling have nothing to feel guilty about. "I don't think my generation really understands what is supposed to be so uncool about it," he says, pointing out that he was born in 1979, by which time soft rock had been all but rendered extinct by punk. "It is quite exciting because it is music that had completely disappeared off the radar and now we're discovering it for ourselves.

"It's so sweet, it's otherworldly. I find there's something less self-conscious about it, something a bit freer. For me, it's aspirational, because it is so easy to make woeful, melancholic or angry rock music, but to make joyful music is really difficult."

He insists that his band are not some kind of genre archivists. "I listen to all kinds of songs - Elton John, Elvis Costello, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, Cole Porter, Bob Marley. The style isn't that important to me. The song is the thing; the arrangement is where we have fun as a band. There is a slightly more trained way of playing instruments that creates a fascination for beautiful intricate production and clever juxtaposition."

Four members of the Feeling (Gillespie Sells, bassist Richard Jones, keyboard player Ciaran Jeremiah and drummer Paul Stewart) attended the Brit School of Performing Arts in Croydon, an institution that is starting to make its presence felt in pop culture, following the success of Katie Melua, Athlete and the Kooks.

"I had always been the weird one at school, the geek who played the piano and loved Elton. Then I went to the Brit school, and everyone was weirder than me. It was brilliant. It just changed everything, to be surrounded by a bunch of like-minded kids in a building with drum kits."

The friends joined forces (along with guitarist sibling Kevin Jeremiah) in 2003 to perform as a covers band at a Swiss ski resort. It was some time after their return, however, before Gillespie Sells felt confident enough to introduce his own material to his bandmates.

"I was doing the acoustic, wobbly-head, singer-songwriting thing," he says. "The whole idea seems so flat and two-dimensional now, sitting there playing an acoustic guitar and whingeing at people. Music is more interesting when it's got more than one element to it.

"I like the juxtaposition of different feelings. I love Abba records, which have a melancholy beneath the brightness. Or the Carpenters' records, which are sweet and plush but incredibly poignant as well."

What really sets the Feeling apart is the depth of feeling in Gillespie Sells's songwriting. Beneath the syrup and the sparkle beats the lovelorn heart of a pop outsider. Kettle's On is a kitchen-sink classic of domestic longing; Strange is a gentle outsider anthem to rival Radiohead's Creep; Same Old Stuff is a passionate testament of unrequited desire.

There is a quality of shyness about Gillespie Sells, and his heartfelt but slightly forlorn songs certainly suggest that love has been difficult terrain to negotiate. Although he doesn't advertise his sexuality, inferences can be drawn from his huge affection for such gay pop icons as Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Neil Tennant and Morrissey.

He laughs when I put it to him that he may, in fact, be the Morrissey of soft rock. "Morrissey with sequins. I wouldn't mind that at all. It is true that I can be a bit depressive, but I like taking something painful and being able to laugh at it.

"With a wide musical palette, you can have the depth and love and angst and twist it and make it joyful. You can play with it if you understand it. It's a kind of camp appreciation of the tragic."

Podcast

In the first Music on Thursday podcast interview, Neil McCormick talks to Dan Gillespie Sells and samples tracks from the Feeling’s new album. To download go to telegraph.co.uk/podcast


telegraph.co.uk