It’s never too late to colour me in

We crept into a badly-lit room above a pub in Leeds, shy and star-struck, me with student reporter’s dictaphone in hand. Trish Keenan, lead singer of Broadcast, was exercising her voice, singing scales into a cassette recorder.

It was an other-worldly sound; classical and warm yet futuristic and in some other orbit. A few minutes later we settled for the interview (the tape may still exist in the vaults of Leeds Student Radio) and this hypnotic sound gave way to the soft Brummy hums of Trish Keenan’s speaking voice.

Gentle and funny, she laughed off the idea of being a “pop star” and joked that pop stardom didn’t really happen to people from Birmingham. Inside my copy of Work and Non Work, the band’s 1997 singles compilation, this humble tone is Biro-ed into history. Top left and small to avoid spoiling the artwork, no grand swooshes: “To Anna, Love Patricia.”

And yet the music is often grand. Squelchy robot noises interrupt epic journeys around sixties skyscrapers as resurrected synths do battle with computer loops. Keenan’s dreamlike vocals float above industrial crunches and in turn felt-tip pen melodies come along to deface the cooling towers.

At the gig which followed the interview (Leeds Duchess of York, 2000) Trish offered out her theremin to the crowd and we all joined in. It was an unpretentious “happening” to celebrate an album called The Noise Made By People.

This music was to send me flying through a kaleidoscope of similar sounds – from Plone to Stereolab via Francois Hardy, Add N To X, Kraftwerk and the 1950s space noises of the Peter Thomas Sound Orchester. This music was also to be the glue of some strong friendships for me.

The band went from quintet to duo in the middle of the noughties, releasing the humming, heavier sounding Tender Buttons which took a sideways glance at Goldfrapp.

And then 2009’s project, Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age, which came over like a demonic film score, all candles and séances. Trish sang at Warp Records’ 20th anniversary show, Warp20, and played an instrument which my friend Debbie Ball and I (the original interviewing duo) dubbed the “psychedelic broomstick”.

But it’s lost classic Haha Sound (2003) that will stay closest to me. It contains the hymnal Oh How I Miss You, crushingly simple and poignant right now. And for the uninitiated, start with the looping refrain on the opening song: “It’s never too late to colour me in…”.

Trish Keenan died on 14 January 2011 from complications with pneumonia.

Broadcast’s record label Warp said: “This is an untimely tragic loss and we will miss Trish dearly – a unique voice, an extraordinary talent and a beautiful human being. Rest in Peace.”

Anna Doble

This article first appeared in the Spectator Arts Blog, January 2011

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