This Wigan, Greater Manchester, England-based band was formed by long time friends Gerard Starkie (vocals) and Ray Chan (guitar). The two men attended art college with the Verve’s future guitarist Nick McCabe, and struggled around the local music scene in various bands, including Siren and High Mountain Jag. Witness was formed when the latter split-up, with guitarist Dylan Keeton switching to bass. The new line-up adopted a more positive approach to their music career and began recording demos in late 1997. One tape came to the attention of the Verve’s PR company and a contract with Island Records followed shortly afterwards. John Langley (drums, ex-Strangelove) completed the line-up for the band’s debut single, ‘Quarantine’, which was released in November 1998. Before The Calm was recorded with producer Phil Vinall at Rockfield Studios in South Wales. The album was released to positive reviews in July 1999, and was promoted by a strong set at the following month’s Glastonbury Festival. The album’s melancholic soundscapes evoked memories of early R.E.M. and American Music Club, although the delicate nuances of tracks such as ‘Freezing Over Morning’ and ‘My Own Old Song’ earned comparisons to the ‘stool rock’ sound of contemporaries Unbelievable Truth and Radiohead. The follow-up was a majestically assured collection which saw many critics placing the band at the forefront of the UK rock scene. Not to be confused with the USA gospel group of the same name.
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