‘It seemed to capture a wave’: How the Boo Radleys made Wake Up Boo!

‘Martin wrote the song while watching The Big Breakfast on acid. Then, when we recorded the song in Wales, there was a night when some sheep got painted blue’

Simon ‘Sice’ Rowbottom, vocals

When we started in Wirral in 1988, we really loved the pop charts, Top of the Pops and the Beatles, but when we actually picked up guitars we couldn’t figure out how to do that kind of music. How can you sound like Duran Duran when you’ve got these little Kays Catalogue guitars that you got for Christmas when you were 13?

It was only when we started listening to the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Mighty Lemon Drops and My Bloody Valentine that we thought: “We can do that instead.” So we started making walls of noise, but with pop songs underneath. The first couple of records were quite a full-on heavy sound, but we were getting more confident. After the Giant Steps album, which was really eclectic, the idea was to record a whole album of pop songs.

Wake Up Boo! was probably born after a late night drunken conversation between [former guitarist] Martin [Carr] and [Creation Records boss] Alan McGee, with McGee saying: “You’ve got to write something big and poppy and get on the radio.” Martin took that to heart.

He once said that he wrote the song while watching The Big Breakfast after a night on acid. He was living his own life in Preston at the time, separate from the rest of us, so I wouldn’t know, but he definitely watched The Big Breakfast so the story is entirely possible. When we recorded the song at Rockfield residential studio in Wales there was a night where some sheep got painted blue, but I’d sloped off to bed by then. One morning I came in and Martin had filmed about 40 minutes of a slug giving birth. He said: “It looked fascinating on acid.” Bands don’t really do that stuff now but that kind of useful madness can be highly creative.

Wake Up Boo! is a microcosm of Martin’s personality. He can be very up and ebullient – “Wake up, it’s a beautiful morning” – and then he can have that drop: “You have to put the death in everything.” The key line, weirdly, is “summer’s gone”. It’s a very upbeat sounding song but it’s almost a lament, about grabbing the last of summer while you can.

We recorded it twice. The first version was heavier and more downbeat, but not radio friendly enough, so we recorded it again in Rockfield. I remember spending hours in the vocal booth doing take after take to get it right. When the song came out it seemed to capture a wave – it was the height of Britpop, just before Cool Britannia. The Wake Up! album went to No 1 and it was very exciting, but it did all fade away pretty quickly.

Tim Brown, bass

The first I heard of Wake Up Boo! was on a hissy cassette from Martin. I listened to that, then tuned my guitar and came up with a bassline. I don’t remember us being too unhappy about the original version, but when we were mixing it in Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios it sounded a bit underwhelming, considering how brilliant the song was.

There was pressure from Creation to re-record it. When we were in Rockfield – another very expensive studio – Martin put on a Style Council B-side, which gave us the idea to change the rhythm. Rob [Cieka, drums] and I worked out a Motown beat, which began the transformation. Then we made some calls and got in Tom Jones’s brass section, who had been recording in Cardiff, not all that far away. I was given the job of calling them to tell them we didn’t want any trombone. The guy on the phone said: “I am the trombone player”. It was comical, but they came down and were such top professionals that they had it done in half an hour.

After it was a hit, we’d gone from making beautiful songs buried in sludge to suddenly being everywhere. We were on Top of the Pops. Chris Evans used Wake Up Boo! for a jingle on his Radio 1 show, which went “Chris Evans on your radio …” All sorts. I never expected that kind of success to last for ever, but they were amazing times. You just think: “Let’s enjoy it while we can.”

  • The Boo Radleys’ new EP, A Full Syringe and Memories of You, is out now. The band’s first tour in 24 years starts at Bristol Lanes on 24 October. Details facebook.com/booradleysofficial.


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Interviews by Dave Simpson

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