Interview: Deptford band Athlete ready for rare homecoming gig at On Blackheath festival

Interview: Deptford band Athlete ready for rare homecoming gig at On Blackheath

Interview: Deptford band Athlete ready for rare homecoming gig at On Blackheath

First published in News
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News Shopper: Photograph of the Author by , leisure editor

These days, you’re more likely to spot chart-topping indie band Athlete at a south east London boozer enjoying a quiet pint than on stage at Glastonbury.

In fact, the night before I spoke to bassist Carey Willetts, he was catching up with his old band mates in a Brockley bar.

He said: “We all live in Brockley. Most of us lived in Deptford for a while and we slowly gravitated up the hill. We all live within half a mile of each other, weirdly.

He added: “Brockley is zone two but it is pretty mellow.

“You can get into town and have all the great bits of London but you also have a community: great coffee shops, like Browns, and decent local pubs.

“The four of us were out last night at the pub around the corner.”

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Athlete formed in Deptford as teenagers in 1999 and went on to release four studio albums, were nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and won an Ivor Novello award for the number four hit Wires.

Despite their close proximity and the impressive fact that they are still friends after 15 years, they rarely play together anymore.

Last year Athlete performed a handful of gigs to mark the tenth anniversary of their debut album Vehicles and Animals, and this year they will play another three.

Carey said: “About two or three years ago, we finished our fourth record and there wasn’t really the same drive to do another one and the whole music industry was falling apart a bit at the seams at the time.

“Everybody, after 10 or 12 years of doing, just wanted a new challenge.

“We had been in each others’ pocket for a decade, not that we didn’t enjoy it – we did – but it came time to try something else.”

Since then, lead singer Joel has turned his attentions to songwriting, drummer Stephen manages bands and keyboard player Tim works in the City.

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After writing some bits and pieces in their Greenwich studio, Carey released a solo record under the moniker boxes – “I wasn’t trying to put music out, it just sort of happened,” he said – and now writes and produces for other artists.

The good news is for fans is that one of Athlete’s few upcoming gigs is at On Blackheath, the food and music festival in September which also features Massive Attack, Frank Turner and chef Gizzi Erskine.

Carey said: “We did the Greenwich Sessions a few years back and it was amazing. It’s really lovely playing somewhere so close to home. Our studio is in Greenwich so it is just a short walk up the hill.

“We have all got families now so it’s quite a nice thing for the kids to come and see what dad does.

“They know that dad does music and they have a vague idea that I was in a band but I don’t think it means much more than that.

“The only thing that excites my six-year-old is that when we were at V Festival one year, Katy Perry tried to walk off with him. Now he is at school, that’s a big statement.”

As for the future, Carey said none of the band is ruling out making more music – he just doesn’t know when it will happen.

He said: “We don’t hate each other. We all get on quite well.

“We are all really open (to doing something with Athlete again), we just have to figure out when everybody has a bit of time to sit down and write some songs together again.

“I don’t think it’s the last Athlete will ever do, but when we actually will do something else, I have no idea.”

On Blackheath is on September 13 and 14. Go to onblackheath.com

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