Dream Academy / Gilbert Alexander Gabriel / Kate St John / Nick Laird-Clowes

Ooh, They Got Older- A Where are They Now Guide to Great Bands of the ’80s

by Rona Topaz


This Week: The Dream Academy

The Dream Academy were a pop/folk band, who scored their biggest hit, Life In a Northern Town, in the late 1980’s.  Their lead singer, Nick Laird-Clowes, a former student of the legendary Paul Simon, had been an early presenter on The Tube, the music programme recorded in Newcastle, and the song’s title lead to the common misconception that the band were Northern. When in fact the song was a tribute to Laird-Clowes’s time spent in Geordieland and the band were in fact Southern, with a solidly upper middle class background.

Their Music

Despite Laird-Clowes’s attempts to musically evoke the spirit of forgotten genius Nick Drake, the band’s songs sounded unerringly similar to Prefab Sprout, owing largely to the similar approach to orchestral arrangements and Laird-Clowes’s ethereal vocals. The counter harmonies of of multi-instrumentalist Kate St John also added a Wendy Smith-like dimension to the soundscape.

Where Are They Now?

Laird-Clowes descended into drug abuse before getting clean at a monastery in the Himalayas (as one does….) His recent projects include soundtracks for the films Battle For Haitha and Fierce People. He is a friend of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and as a consequence appeared at the memorial for legendary Floyd member Syd Barrett.

Dr. Gilbert Alexander Gabriel (oh yes!), the Academy’s pianist, has become a writer, producer and music lecturer.

(Lady) Katharine Elinor Margaret St. John (not really a Lady, but she should be-Nick is a Laird after all!) , the band’s oboist and backing vocalist, recently played oboe, cor anglais, accordion and backing vocals at Joe Boyd’s concert The Songs of Nick Drake in 2009. She has also recently produced the music for Harry Enfield’s tv programmes.

(For the record, I am not an inverted snob! But I defy anyone, including members of the middle classes, to be confronted with these facts at hand and not wish to poke the most well meant of fun at them.. Sorry for any offence caused…)

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