From the subtle, musical plains of Heaton Moor, Stockport comes the scintillating and emotional biography of ‘Haven’, a band very nearly on the cusp of realising their potential, unjustly falling victim to the economic decline that shadowed the music industry and the UK in the mid to late 2000’s.
It’s a story so wonderfully written by author Mary O’Meara, who was in constant close contact with the band at the height of their ascendancy, as well as being involved in a number of music based projects around this time. The account covers the band’s early days, hailing from the unknown musical sanctuary of Cornwall, before making their daring move to Manchester in search of bigger and better adventures. O’Meara accurately portrays the highs and lows of a down to earth bunch of lads trying to reach that next level while depicting characteristics of each individual and the band as a whole, focusing on the rare and special bond of friendship that made them such a tight knit group.
The style of the book is told in two accounts, both intermingling throughout. Firstly from the extensive interviews, conversations and quotes that have been undertaken and unearthed direct from ‘Haven’ themselves, where you can’t help but drift effortlessly into their world, portrayed unedited without paraphrases, drawing the reader into their attitude and way of life. O’Meara sprinkles a more calming and spiritual influence scattered between these conversations and in the whole story, creating much more sentiment and understanding to ‘Haven’s’ individual and collective views and feelings, as well as her own insights.
The story illustrates the importance of hope, love, friendship, desire, and the sacrifices needed to make in order to reach levels where creativity within music becomes a full time profession. It’s a fine blueprint for any band/artist in the modern era to refer to if choosing to venture into the cruel and relentless music industry, not in terms of, “How not to make a band successful” but in no matter how much talent you possess, events outside of your control can influence and be a deciding factor in determining your fate. However, the book doesn’t just appeal to this genre. Any lover of music will surely find this a highly interesting and enthralling read that puts you in the centre of Heaton Moor following the band in their quest. Whether you are familiar with ‘Haven’s’ work or not it simply doesn’t matter, you’ll be rooting for them till the very end, and in parts will certainly pull at the heart strings as the story and emotion unfurls.
Shortly after the books release and before the official book launch at Blue Cat Café, Heaton Moor on 24th February, where much of the story takes place, I met with author Mary O’Meara and gained further insight into the story.
NIGE: Why did you feel that you had to write this book?
MARY: I’ve always wanted to write at least a book and I’ve always wanted to write about music and tell a story. It’s a bit stranger than that because I felt like I was being chosen by somebody up there saying “you’ve got to write this story.” I felt like I was put in that position for some reason, and I don’t really know why. I kept having these strange, vivid flashbacks every time I had an encounter with them (‘Haven’). There was something going on there aswell, some kind of synchronicity bringing them to me. I obviously loved the music and thought why not give it a go because no one else was writing it, and as far as I was concerned there was a story to be told.
NIGE: What is it about ‘Haven’ that makes them so special?
MARY: I think their music is extremely powerful, very emotional. I think everybody who comes across them tends to feel quite moved by the music, especially live. It does on record aswell, but live does something else. They’re very unpretentious and very down to earth people but there’s something kind of magical about them at the same time and I just felt very drawn to them, somehow on my wavelength. I think a lot of people experience them like that and that’s the appeal.
NIGE: I think from their first album alone that’s correct as there is a lot of emotion, almost like the whole album was written on the back of a break-up.
MARY: Yeah, it’s got that feel. A lot of those songs were written early on and the last three were written in one night in Johnny Marr’s studio I think, really atmospheric songs.
NIGE: Since the books release, what feedback has there been? What do the band themselves think?
MARY: I’ve had lovely feedback from almost everybody, but not everyone’s read it yet as it’s just come out. They’ve said they felt quite emotional about the story and quite drawn in, very evocative and vivid. The band themselves gave very positive feedback and they all wanted copies for their parents as Christmas presents. But at the same time, I think it might have brought a few things to the surface. I think that some of them perhaps found it quite difficult to read, in that they’re not in the best place at the moment I suppose. I think it shows them where they were and what could’ve been. Not that they are upset but it can cause quite a reaction. It must be quite hard to read if it’s your story. They have said that it’s a true reflection of what happened. I am happy with their feedback but I didn’t want to upset anyone because they are friends of mine.
NIGE: The story ends in the summer of 2011, has there been any developments with ‘Haven’ since then?
MARY: It’s typically them that it’s still in limbo. Jack (drummer) is in ‘Marion’ again as they’ve reformed and touring in April and doing an album so that’s good for him. The rest of them are pretty much in the same place as how it ended.
NIGE: Has there been interest from producers, promoters etc about a ‘Haven’ reunion?
MARY: Yes, there was a guy in London who got in touch when he heard about the book. He asked would they be interested in reforming and I put it to them. They’re still toying with the idea but again it’s a weird one because it’s going back to something closed and finished. I think there’s a bit of a “might do, not sure how feel” attitude about it, not forgetting the logistics. I think it’s difficult because Nat (guitarist) is now away in Cornwall and got a baby so it’s all kind of changed a bit for him. But I don’t know, I think it could happen, but it’s up to them really. The interest is there if they want to take it.
NIGE: The books idea came about in 2005, why in 2012 did you get it published, was it that you had it finished but then something happened and there was more to write about?
MARY: It took me that long to write (laughs). I deliberately held onto it for a bit because I didn’t know how things were going to go. A good chunk of it was written by 2007/2008 and I probably could’ve put it out then, but things did sort of change because they formed the other two bands from there. I felt that it wasn’t quite finished and even now I ask was it the right moment to draw the line. I’m not 100% sure but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.
NIGE: I get the impression that you wanted the book to end with a big reunion, but maybe it’s a catch 22 – the reunion can’t happen until the book comes out? Do you think they can come back as ‘Haven’?
MARY: I hope so, we shall see. I think it comes down to them and how much they want it. They seem that they are a little bit down on themselves because of what happened and I guess it’s hard to regroup and get your confidence back because it’s a hard game out there. It just depends on them and if they want it enough. I think the perfect formation would be if they became a five piece with their friend Mickey Smith, who plays in ‘Strays’ because with the two guitars it could be something else and really work. It could happen.
NIGE: In your opinion, why do you think they couldn’t get back on track and persevere in the way they were before EMI’s demise?
MARY: I think they got a bit over influenced by other people’s opinions on what they should or shouldn’t do rather than listen to themselves. I think it was just a bad time really with several labels collapsing. It was unfortunate that the longer it went on, the harder it became. I think they might have done better to just put an album out themselves at grass roots level while they had the energy and determination, but they waited so long it just kind of suffocated them. I don’t think it was anyone’s fault really, just circumstance.
NIGE: Your involvement came from emigrating to the north from the south, usually being the other way round, what attracted you to Manchester and how did the transition go?
MARY: I love Manchester, always have. Love the music. I had a friend who moved up here years ago and I used to come up and see her so I knew the places to go out in. I like the energy and it’s a lot friendlier than London. I do love London aswell but I fancied a change and had this idea to do this label. Manchester was just calling and I’m glad I did, because I love it up here. Too much commuting in and out of London isn’t much fun after a while and it’s too expensive so why not go somewhere else.
NIGE: We occasionally hear about your role in the story but never in great detail, particularly with the idea of Urban Scrawl and Urban Fox, but on the whole how was your life evolving during ‘Haven’s’ story?
MARY: Well there was the label from Blue Cat with Danny too. It was a very creative time. I got involved with working in the Blue Cat and booked the bands for about four years and got involved in a lot of promotional work, which I really enjoyed.
NIGE: How do you view the music industry these days?
MARY: I don’t want to whinge about XFactor but I think it has ruined a lot, I can’t listen to it. I think there’s great music out there and always will be but the avenues for those musicians to be heard is getting narrower and narrower. I hear from the bands in the Blue Cat how hard it is to get their voice heard; they’re desperate to find a place to gig. They don’t have any money so they can’t do a major tour or this, that and the other. I suppose the internet is a vehicle. I’m not totally pessimistic as they’ll always be a place for good music and it’ll always find its way, but I don’t think it’s easy.
You have a degree in English Literature, so from a literary point of view who inspires you?
MARY: I always say Kerouac and the ‘The Beat Generation’ writers, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I think Hunter S Thompson really lived it, he was a one off. I love all that American stuff. As long as it’s good I’ll read it but I don’t tend to read blockbusters or Jeffrey Archers or anything like that. Usually anything exciting and as long as it’s saying something different. I think I read more factual stuff lately, good, descriptive stuff.
NIGE: Any plans for another book, any other bands that you might write a similar story on?
MARY: I think it’s got to be about someone whose never been written about before. You can write a second book about someone but what’s the point really. I’m not sure, I think having done the ‘Haven’ story it made me realise how much access you need to the band. If I wouldn’t have had that then the book wouldn’t have been anything like what it is so I was very lucky in that respect. There are not that many bands that I could have that sort of access to. I wouldn’t want to write a book that doesn’t have that engagement with the subjects really. I think you can still write an interesting book without that but for me I want their own voices for the fans of the music. It’s like letting them tell their story through me, for them. If somebody comes along whose just right then I’ll know. It may not be about a band, it could be a novel, who knows?
NIGE: Are you still involved in music in any way?
MARY: Well I was working with a singer/song writer called Hayley Faye, but I kind of had to put that to one side to finish the book, but I might be working with her again. There’s nothing else at the moment. I don’t know what to do next because the book took up so much of my life, so I’m kind of crawling back up to the surface to see what else I’d like to do. I’ll always keep a foot in that door I think, but nothing specific.
Whether or not ‘Haven’ do manage to reunite for one final show, or maybe more, their story is now on show for the world to see, and the interest could well be generated on the back of that, appealing to a newer audience. It just may be that by Mary O’Meara publishing this beautifully written account of their journey, the flame may be lit once more to help them reach the level that they and the fans felt they should’ve hit a long time ago. And when the final page of the book is turned in this remarkable story, this does not necessarily mean that it closes for ‘Haven’.
‘Between The Lines: A History of Haven is now available on amazon.co.uk and bookshops throughout Manchester.