Le Mat
Le Mat: Pete Helmer + Gary Simpson (Photograph by Steve Callaghan)
Le Mat - Live at The Queens Hotel - 31.03.83
"...then, when all the lights go out, You leave me with no doubt, That you are what  I need, You do it so good, I never understood, Just What you see in me..."
Le Mat: Gary Simpson, Pete Helmer, Paul Helmer, Sav
 
...The Story...
 

Le Mat - Kerrang! No 38, 1983 - Photograph by Steve RapportSouthend legends Le Mat emerged out of the ashes of their earlier mod outfit, The Leepers. The core of the band was Gary Simpson - Vocals, Pete Helmer - Guitar, Paul Helmer - Bass,and Sav - Drums, with Mark Bonnicci adding Violin and Keyboards. This line up was the key one that recorded the classic 'Waltz of The Fool' album on Whaam! Records and whom played many electric local shows, forging a fanatical following in the process.

As the shutters were being pulled own on 1980, the Leepers were undoing a transmogrification into the band Le Mat. A wider range of musical and sartorial influences were coming to the fore and the band felt they needed to move on from their roots to incorporate this eclectic perspective. In 1981 / 1982, they found themselves embroiled in the first wave of the psychedelic renaissance, as forged by clubs like The Groovy Cellar and The Clinic, with appropriate stylings being supplied by The Regal.

This scene helped re-inspire Gary and Pete, and they began brushing up some old Leepers numbers as well as writing may new songs. With Gary suggesting the name 'Le Mat' and everyone feeling it was right they started playing out as frequently as possible. The management at one point, in order to expose them to as large a potential audience as possible, even got them in as support on a Duran Duran tour - originally scheduled to play 24 dates, they eventually played only 8 before being asked to leave the tour (reasons for this remain the stuff of mystery, although the commonly held belief is that the band were consistently going down so well with the audiences, that the headliners took umbrage at this and had them removed!)

"I am the general and I lead the armies, I am the soldier, I fight and I kill, I am the foe that was vanquished and beaten, I am the corpse that was laid in the hill. I am the fool". 'Waltz of The Fool'.

1982 saw the band sign to independent label 'Whaam Records', and after 10 days recording on a budget of £2,000 at The Producers Workshop studios in Fulham, London, the band recorded the album 'The Waltz of The Fool'. Though more polished than their live performances, which was always where the band truly excelled, the album nevertheless contained some storming songs, including: 'The Message', 'Sun Arise', 'Running With The Wind', 'Somewhere in The Night', 'In The Room', 'Song For The Common People', 'Of Cats and Fiddles', 'Watkins Glen', 'Requiem', 'Waltz of The Fool'. A gig was booked at the London Dungeon to celebrate the album (which, after some delays, would eventually come out on Friday June 13th, 1983). With a coach ferrying their hardcore fans from Southend, the gig would help launch the band to a wider public and celebrate their success thus far.

"In this dark hour let us bring together, string together People of our land, strength lies in numbers, in unity so lend your voices, together we shall stand, and stalwart in our cause, all for one, one for all, stand ready now be ready now, we must not waiver now".'Song For The Common People'.

Le Mat - Noise No 15, 1982As 1982 drew to a close, 1983 started to expand on the previously laid foundations of the previous psychedelic renaissance, and a splash of colour was certainty returning to the rather grey music scene of the time. Hanoi Rocks were bringing in their adrenaline fuelled Rock and Roll from Finland, the Lords of The New Church were spreading their tendrils ever further, and initial fellow Whaam! label mates Doctor and The Medics were starting to build an ever increasing following, and the 31.03.82 found the two bands playing together at The Queens Hotel, truly a seminal gig of the era. Positive features in magazines such as Kerrang! and Noise further helped to consolidate Le Mat's position as a band to be watched and things were looking great for the band.

"From the ashes of wrath grows the phoenix of hope, and we will stand with new life abounding, and test our wings in the wind of this world, a pledge for peace before we grow old". 'The Message'.

Le Mat: Guitarist Pete Helmer (Photograph by Giacomino Parkinson)With the album finally coming out in June, another key gig at The Queens Hotel was booked to help launch the album further, although speaking to the Echo at the time, Guitarist Pete Helmer said "The album is really toned down compared to how we sound now when we play live. Our stage sound is much more raucous these days. The album was delayed because of money problems and other setbacks. It's quite a good effort for the time it was recorded."

Around this time, a couple of line up changes occurred too, with Rob Hollyoak (ex-Skyline Custard) coming in on Keyboards. Also, around the same time long time drummer Sav left too, and the band took time out to regroup and concentrate on writing newer material.

This they did, returning with an updated sound, although live they'd still play some of their key songs, and 1984/1985 found them moving in a slightly more Roxy Music-esque direction. The original influence of clubs like The Groovy Cellar and stores like The Regal were now being felt however, with new clubs opening like The Alice in Wonderland and The Taste Experience, who would take the original renaissance ideas even further. Le Mat would undergo a further transformation too, undergoing a name change to reflect their changing sound, becoming 'Holy Joe and The Last Electric Showmen'. The band performed some great shows around this era, but ultimately things wound down and the band eventually split.

Sav could be found beating the skins for Wilko Johnson not long after leaving the band and was to be found at the Drumstool there for many a year, and Guitarist Pete Helmer changed artistic direction, moving into acting which he still enjoys. Le Mat may have only recorded the one album, but in their time were very influential and original, embodying the elusive entity of a band that looked right, had the musicianship and most importantly had the songs. They may have been dogged by some bad luck in their career, but hopefully their album will be reissued on CD soon, so people can re-experience all that was great about Le Mat.

Le Mat - 'Videos'

Discography

'Waltz Of The Fool' c/w 'Ev'ry Dream' - 7" Single (Whaam Records! - Whaam 008 - 1982)

'Waltz of The Fool' c/w 'Ev'ry Dream' - 7" Single (Whaam! Records - Whaam008 - 1982)

'The Waltz Of The Fool' - LP (10 Tracks) - (Whaam Records! - Big 6 - 1983)

'The Waltz of The Fool - LP (10 Tracks) (Whaam! Records - Big 6 - 1983)

 

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