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Members include Pete Bain, (left group in 1988), bass; Nicholas "Natty" Brooker, (joined group in 1984; left in 1987), drums, percussion; William B. "Willie" Carruthers, (joined group c. 1988), bass; Pete Kember, (born on November 19, 1965), guitar, keyboards, vocals; John Mattock (joined group c. 1988), drums; Jason Pierce, (born on November 19, 1965), guitar, keyboards, vocals; Mark Refoy, (joined group c. 1990), guitar; Stewart "Rosco" Roswell, (joined in 1987; left in 1988), drums, percussion. Addresses: Record company--Space Age Recordings, P.O. Box 8, Corby, Northamptonshire, England NN17 2XZ; Alpha Stone (Pete Bassman) website: http://www.alphastone.co.uk.

Dealing in hypnotic, head-tripping swirls of sound, trance rock pioneers Spacemen 3 evolved into masters of blissed-out groove. So dream-inspiring was their music, in fact, that they were known to sit on the floor and perform during live shows. "They can do it all--turn you on, make it all seem worthwhile," Melody Maker proclaimed in 1989, as quoted by Jud Cost in Magnet magazine. "Spacemen 3 opt for colour, space and sensuality, and come up with the last word in English psychedelia." Although they lasted only seven years, during which time they recorded seven albums, Spacemen 3 left behind a body of work--including archives, bootlegs, and reissues--that would keep fans listening and inspire other musicians for years to come. Groups like Jessamine, Bardo Pond, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and others credit Spacemen 3 as a significant influence. In addition, the group members' subsequent projects, namely Spiritualized, Sonic Boom, Darkside, Alpha Stone, Spectrum, and Experimental Audio Research, helped to maintain and refine Spacemen 3's sonic vision.

The founding members of Spacemen 3--Pete Kember, musical and regional soulmate Jason Pierce, and Pete Bain-- hailed from Rugby, Warwickshire, England, a middle-class commerce hub located in the center of the country. Kember, also known as "Sonic Boom," "The Mainliner," "Peter Gunn," or simply "Sonic," played guitar and keyboards, handled feedback and effects, and sang lead and background vocals for the band. In addition to recording under the Sonic Boom persona, Kember also played in the groups Spectrum and Experimental Audio Research after Spacemen 3 broke up. Pierce, nowadays known as "Jason Spaceman" played guitar, some keyboards, and often handled lead vocals in addition to background vocals. After Spacemen 3 dissolved, he went on to lead the band Spiritualized. Drummer Pete Bain, also called "Pete Bassman," who would go on to form Darkside, handled bass guitar duties.

Growing up in a town with little to do, all three gravitated toward rock & roll as a source of entertainment. Pierce picked up his first guitar--an acoustic one--at age seven and taught himself to play. At age 14, he discovered the Stooges after buying the group's Raw Power album. Music was also important to Kember, who began collecting records at age 11 or 12. Some of the first he purchased included albums by Blondie, Devo, and the Velvet Underground. At age 13, he started playing guitar, and within a year, realized he wanted to become a musician. And Bain, spending time watching Top Of The Pops on television and listening to The John Peel Show as a youth, was also inclined to take up an instrument. He learned the drums first before eventually switching to bass. While the three boys came into contact with one another while playing in various groups as teens, it wasn't until Kember and Pierce were students at Rugby Art College that they began collaborating. Though self-trained, Pierce was already exhibiting the traits of a prodigy. According to Cost, Kember once commented that his bandmate could "practically pick up any stringed instrument and play it." Kember, by comparison, was drawn more to minimalist, primitive music and the possibilities of sound that he found in Bryan Gregory of the Cramps, and, to a certain extent, John Cale and the Rolling Stones.

The first incarnation of Spacemen 3 came about in 1982 when Pierce and Bain (now on bass) began practicing in drummer Tim Morris's attic bedroom. Discovering an instant chemistry, the three made a habit out of introducing themselves as "spacemen," providing the band with both a name and an image. Before long, Spacemen 3 were playing local gigs to great enthusiasm, but their first efforts proved short-lived, as Pierce left town to attend a different college. Afterward, Bain and Morris formed a garage band called The Push, again achieving some local support. Pierce, though, returned to Rugby in 1984. Hooking up with Kember, the two recruited drummer Nicholas "Natty" Brooker on drums and recorded some demo tapes. Embryonic but powerful, these early songs provided Spacemen 3 with a foundation from which to build. Bain, encouraged by former bandmates, returned to the group, and the four-piece recorded another set of tapes in Northampton in 1986. Soon thereafter, Spacemen 3 landed a two-album deal with Glass Records. Traveling to Birmingham to record, the band entered the studio and completed their 1986 debut LP, Sound Of Confusion, in just five days.

Initially, both critics and fans were caught off guard by Spacemen 3's sheer volume, interest in retro psychedelia, and apparent non-pop star stance. But they soon outgrew their cult status and also began to back off the heavy psych style, first noticeable on their second album, The Perfect Prescription. Prior to rehearsals, the group replaced Brooker with a new drummer/percussionist named Stewart "Rosco" Roswell. Considered their classic long player, The Perfect Prescription, released in 1988, was a concept album that chronicled the inception, plateau, and ultimate crash of a drug experience. Still the favorite among all the band's members, it also featured tributes to Lou Reed ("Ode To Street Hassle") and Red Krayola ("Transparent Radiation"). Incidentally, throughout Spacemen 3's career they became well-known for liberally covering others' music in concert; particulars include The Godz ("Turn On"), Sun Ra ("Starship"), Bo Diddley ("It's Alright"), the MC5 ("Come Together"), and Suicide ("Che"). They took care, however, to perform these songs in different ways, adding their own original touches.

Although wearing their influences on their sleeves should have, it seems, provided unlimited subjects of discussion for the press, the media instead tended to focus on Kember's openness about his drug dependency. "I mean, I knew it was inevitable the interviewers were going to ask about the drug angle--you could tell by the looks on their faces they couldn't believe I would say such things," he recalled to Cost, "thinking I couldn't imagine this stuff would wind up in print. So I would also (do things like) list bootlegs when they'd ask me my top 10 LPs. I'd pick the records that were influential on Spacemen 3, and at least a third of them were bootlegs, like Velvet Underground things that were known only by collectors. It was important to show what was interesting to the Spacemen."

Gaining international attention with The Perfect Prescription, Spacemen 3 embarked on their first European tour. However, by 1988, cracks were already appearing in the band. Roswell, who wanted to focus on guitar work, left first, followed soon by Bain. "I desperately needed to straighten myself out, so I reluctantly left ... I don't know--it took us a lot of work, but sometimes you lose faith in it all," Bain told Magnet. After the departure of Bain and Roswell, the Spacemen 3, moving on to a deal with Fire Records (who had acquired Glass), enlisted bassist William B. "Willie" Carruthers and drummer John Mattock into the lineup and recorded a third studio album, 1989's Playing With Fire. Preceded by the release of the charting single "Revolution," the subdued, hypnotic album saw the group at their height of popularity. It would also later serve as a blueprint for the next generation of ambient-drone, space rock acts.

Nonetheless, fundamental problems remained inherent. Kember, by now replacing heroin with methadone, and Pierce were gradually growing apart and chasing different goals. In 1990, the Spacemen 3 released Recurring, more or less a document of the group falling apart. Unable to complete the set together, the album saw Kember and Pierce working separately, with one side attributed to Kember's five songs and the other containing five by Pierce. The rest of the personnel, likewise, suffered from the instability. In addition to friends helping out in the studio, a third guitarist, Mark Refoy, was introduced. And by the time the album appeared on store shelves, Spacemen 3 had dissolved.

Kember was already laying the groundwork for his first solo album, and Pierce was involved in Spiritualized with Mattock and Carruthers. "We tried to carry on, but the next album [Recurring] was very weird, recorded totally separately," stated Pierce to Cost. "At the end of the day, I wasn't prepared to have that kind of relationship with anybody in making music. And it seemed dumb to say, 'This is my song, and that is your song.' So, that was that." Muze would later refer to the split as "a petty demise to what was, for some time, a creatively intense band."

by Laura Hightower

Spacemen 3's Career

Formed band in 1982 in Rugby, Warwickshire, England; signed with Glass Records, released debut album Sound Of Confusion, 1986; released the classic LP The Perfect Prescription, 1988; released Playing With Fire, bringing Spacemen 3 to the height of their popularity, 1989; released separately billed album Recurring and disbanded, 1990.

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