Lush (1987–1996)

Emma Anderson and Miki Berenyi had been school friends from the early eighties having bonded over a shared “filthy sense of humour” a love for The Thompson Twins. By the age of 16 they were producing a fanzine together called Alphabet Soup.

Alphabet Soup images from Stand Up and Spit

After high school Anderson got a job as a clerical assistant and the Department of Health and Social Security and Berenyi went to study English literature at London’s Polytechnic University, where she met drummer Christopher Acland, bassist Steve Rippon, and singer Meriel Barham – they formed Baby Machines (named after a line from Siouxsie & the Banshees‘ song “Arabian Knights”).

Not longer after, in 1987, Anderson would leave her band the Rover Girls, and join her friend Miki’s newly formed band bringing the suggested name-change Lush with her. They made their live debut on 6th March 1988 – but not long after lead vocalist Meriel left (later, in 1990, she would join Pale Saints, who were by then label-mates of Lush on 4AD, as second guitarist and backing vocals) and Miki took over lead vocals for Lush.

Lush quickly gained attention on the live circuit and Cocteau Twins (who the band cited as an influence, alongside the Banshees, the Beach Boys and the Byrds) guitarist Robin Guthrie became a fan, by the summer of 1989 they were recording the demos for what would be their debut EP Scar on 4AD. Guthrie had expressed an interest in producing Scar but schedules didn’t coalesce and they worked with John Fryer of This Mortal Coil in the producer’s chair instead.

Guthrie would produce their sophomore EP Mad Love in 1990 and Sweetness and Light produced by Tim Friese-Greene would follow the same year. The three EPs were then compiled and released as an album Gala at the end of 1990.

At this time Lush were touring extensively; they played Glastonbury in June 1990 followed by a tour of Japan later that year and then the US with Ride in spring 1991. In September the returned to the studio with Guthrie to record their Black Spring EP which was released shortly after on the 7th of October reaching Number 2 on the UK Independent Singles Chart with the single Nothing Natural peaking at number 43 on the UK singles chart.
The EP release was followed by a UK tour and recording, still with Guthrie of their first full-length album of completely new material.

Just before Spooky was released in January 1992, bassist Steve Rippon departed the band to focus on writing and was replaced by Phil King who had, up to then been in bands such as Felt, Biff Bang Pow! and The Servants but probably most famously mimed playing the drums for Primal Scream‘s 1987 music video for Gentle Tuesday having been picked for the role based solely on his haircut.

King was never asked to audition for Lush; he was “interviewed” at a bar in Camden Town – “I lived just round the corner… We of course all got very drunk …and I was in the band” he later recalled in an interview with Von Pip Musical Express, “In retrospect it made sense, as the most important thing when you’re stuck together with someone 16 hours a day is that you get on pretty well”.

Lush were added to 1992 Lollapalooza roster (only it’s 2nd year) – having been personally requested by event organiser, Janes Addiction / Porno For Pyros frontman Perry Farrell. They were joining Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ice Cube, Soundgarden, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Pearl Jam on the main stage.

Split, finally released in the summer of 1994 was their ‘difficult second album’. Initially Lush had approached Bob Mould (Hüsker Dü / Sugar) to produce, but that didn’t work out and instead chose to work with produced Mike Hedges because they were fans of his work on Sulk by the Associates, A Kiss in the Dreamhouse by Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Seventeen Seconds by The Cure. Despite that, the band were unhappy with it – Phil King recalled later in the liner notes of the band 2015 box-set Chorus, that: “it sounded as flat as a pancake, no dynamics at all”. The entire album was remixed by Alan Moulder who had previously worked with My Bloody Valantine and Ride.

Perhaps churlishly, Lush preceded the album release of Split with the release of it’s two lead singles simultaneously in May 1994; with the album following a fortnight later. The album didn’t garner much critical acclaim at the time – possibly because UK music press, by now, were obsessed with Brit Pop and ‘shoe-gaze’ had started to become a derogatory term. On the advice of the manager Lush continued to try and focus on the US market instead of at home in the UK but failed to make much cut through.

In March 1996 Lush released what would become their final studio album Lovelife – produced by their live engineer Pete Bartlett – the changed their sound away from their earlier dream-pop / shoegaze style to the more “fashionable” Brit Pop oriented sound. The album would spawn the band’s most commercially successful singles, Single Girl, 500 (Shake Baby Shake) (both written by Anderson, the latter, I think rather lamely ,about the Fiat 500 because she liked them and had just got her drivers licence) and Ladykillers more bitingly written by Berenyi.

Other notable tracks written by Berenyi on the album include a duet with Jarvis Cocker of Pulp titled Ciao! and Heavenly Nobodies which was apparently inspired by Miki and a friend’s star-struck encounter with Hole frontwoman Courtney Love.

Lush‘s management sent them on an ill-conceived tour American tour with the Gin Blossoms. The band were growing weary; Emma discussed leaving the band and made it clear she wouldn’t want to repeat Lovelife expressing a desire to make a smaller more personal album. In September the band were to play what would be their last ever show; a month later on 17 October 1996, aged 30, Chris hanged himself in his parents’ garden in Burneside, Cumbria.

Devastated by the news, after a period of mourning, Lush disbanded.

In 1997 journalists would report that Chris’ death was connected to the bands change in fortune and the low morale within the band. “What those obituaries taught me was, unless you’re a mental health professional, keep your asinine assumptions to yourself,” said Miki Berenyi in her interview with Kate Mossman for The Guardian in 2022, “Because all the people who were close to him, and his family, none of us has come up with an answer, and we knew him better than anybody.”

Chris Acland 7 September 1966 – 17 October 1996