1. Deep in a Dream
  2. Gravity
  3. All My Wishes
  4. Understanding Her
  5. Secret
  6. Something She Said
  7. Station 8
  8. For This Hour
  9. Is It Me
  10. Animal


The Airbus Story



1987 was a year of big change in the UK school curriculum. Teachers were often on strike leaving the kids to their own devices. Gordano Comprehensive school served all of the families in an around Portishead, one of Bristol’s orbiting towns near the busy port of Avonmouth.

Nick, James, Simon and Christopher all attended Gordano and their creative activities began with Chris, Nick and Simon recording music and comical monologues together. James had been jamming during lunch breaks with his friend Geoff Barrow.

They had their first gig together when they were 11 years old and they would occasionally play at the school’s disco. After discussing music in a PE lesson, Nick invited James over to jam at his house during lunch breaks. With the teachers on strike, there was nobody around to watch the kids. So lunch was still served in the canteen, but the kids could wonder off school grounds for the remainder of lunch hour.

The mutual appreciation for rock music soon inspired the formation of a band. Chris had been playing drums in the school band and was a fanatical AC/DC fan. Nick and Chris persuaded Simon to get a bass guitar. Simon was already music savvy and a huge fan of Iron Maiden’s bass player, Steve Harris.

The band would jam at each other’s houses or use the drama studio at the school.



As well as the teacher’s strikes, 1988 was the first year of the new GCSE grading and there was a feeling of uncertainty about the looming exams. However, music seemed to nullify all that and the boys always found time to work on their chops. Soon enough school was out. However, Nick, Christopher and Simon decided to stay on for Sixth Form. This was more of a college type environment at Gordano. It was handy as it gave the band continued access to the school’s music and drama facilities.

James joined the workforce as a master engraver in the nearby village of Portbury.

The band would often hang out together, listening to the latest offerings from Metallica, Anthrax, AC/DC and Iron Maiden, as well as the older legends like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.They had a huge appetite for live concerts as well, collectively having, Metallica, AC/DC. Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Hawkwind, Motorhead, Wasp, Ozzy and the Rolling Stones under their belts.

So with the flavour of the time, the band was aptly named Carrion, which means dead rotting flesh.

The band were soon writing and jamming their own ideas, recording them on bed side cassette recorders and boom boxes. Being only 16, there weren’t many places that the band could play, apart from the youth centre and house parties. So they would mainly concentrate in the practice room and figure out how to get into a recording studio.



It was during this period that the band were becoming mobile. Nick had passed his driving test and had the use of his father’s work van.

Simon was done with Sixth form and began working at a vintage record shop in Bristol called Plastic Wax, exposing him to all sorts of music. This fuelled his already extensive knowledge of music history. During the summer they discovered a studio that had opened on the moors in nearby village of Yatton called Walnut Bank. The studio had an offer on for local bands.

It was at Walnut Bank that the boys had their first recording experience and they eagerly laid down their fiery compositions that were to become the Spitfire album.

The song titles seemed to match the band’s morose name, such as ‘Words of Insanity’, ‘Born to Die’, ‘Watching You’, ‘Pitch Black’, ‘Spitfire’ and a cover version of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Massacre’.

A production line of blue, yellow, green and red cassettes, complete with printed labels and a hand drawn Spitfire with smoke trails adorning the photocopied sleeve, was set up at Christopher’s house. All four band members shared production duties.

The band soon began organizing shows to coincide with their new recording, starting with a function hall in the nearby town of Pill, which the band sarcastically renamed Pill Megadome. There was genuine excitement about the event and a coach was organized so the local young rock fans could attend.

Another notable show was organized at Portishead’s Youth Centre, complete with pyrotechnics and a projection of Spitfires on the stage as the band chain sawed their way through the set. The explosions were a little dangerous to say the least!



It was the last decade of the 20th century and it signalled a big change in music commercially in the UK. The American big rock and thrash bands were being ousted by the grunge scene and more commercially viable music. The boys seemed to recognize the change and with that they set about writing and progressing with new ideas, choosing a more melodic approach without losing the heavy rock influence. They started to explore more of a 70’s vibe rather than the 80’s thrash styles.

So 1990 was a very important year for them musically. It involved the upgrading of instruments. There were no more after school practices. The band were now rehearsing at the Moose Hall in Portishead and in the gymnasium at the local youth club.

Soon they would be playing shows in Bristol and by now everyone had their own transport. The Bristol Bridge, Bierkeller, Mauritania, Fleece & Firkin were all to become regular performance venues for the band and served as a breeding ground for their ideas.

They had reached out further into Wales and landed shows in Cardiff, Newport and Tonypandy where rock music seemed to still be in full swing. The band laid on a coach for the local rock and rollers from Portishead to come and bring in the new year at Bogiez in Cardiff.



Nick was at college across the river Severn in Wales at Carleon. Simon had moved into Bristol. Christopher was still studying but also working in the sports facility at Gordano school. James was working away at his engraving job. April saw the band in the studio again. This time in Clifton, Bristol, at a studio called Won Spirit. Nick Snaden (brother in law to Chris’s uncle) was working there as a sound engineer. An album’s worth of material had been recorded that was to become The Apple Trees. This time the recording did not match the name of the band and the boys were worried that people would be put off or confused by the name when invited to the shows.

The spring was spent thinking of a new name. James’s father had suggested Airbus. He had been working on the A320 Airbus project as chief design engineer at British Aerospace and thought that Airbus sounded like a good band name. The band pondered over several names but eventually returned James’s Dad’s idea.

So Airbus was born.

The band soon went to work on their new Apple Trees album cassette having a photo session in a local orchard on Newland’s Hill in Portishead. They employed that same production line, churning out cassettes at Christopher’s house



Airbus now seemed to be on a roll and were playing Bristol on a regular basis, building on their reputation and trying out their new songs live.

After the successful session at Won Spirit the previous year, they paid another visit to the same studio to record a new batch of songs known at the time as Primitive Carnival.

The boys met at Simon’s place to reflect and it turned out that they were not particularly happy with the result; about half of the tracks were unusable. Primitive Carnival was shelved! In a bid to solve the problem, the band entered a Battle of the Bands contest that was to take place at Clevedon Comprehensive school just a couple of miles to the west of Portishead. The prize was studio time.

Airbus were victorious and claimed the prize. Three tracks were recorded at a studio in Weston-Super-Mare . Along with another visit to Walnut Bank Studio, where their first recordings had been made, they were able to gather enough material for their next album. It was a huge success locally. Bug and the Big Fish really seemed to capture Airbus.

This was when the band adopted the Spira Records brand for their work.

The summer was spent playing live shows and the group was now breaking into the college circuit with friends of the band stationed all around the UK.

They even staged a generator tour around the Avon and Bristol area resulting in a Police intervention in Bristol’s Broadmead shopping centre. Tragedy struck when at Ashton Court Festival. Nick’s van was broken into and three guitars were stolen: Nick’s Gibson was gone! James’s acoustic and Simon’s 77 P bass. Fortunately the bass was retrieved when the thief tried to sell it in the store where Simon had bought it! Nevertheless, momentum gathered and writing never ceased as the band entered the studio again. This time a close friend of the band, Geoff Barrow, financed a recording session at Coach House Studios in Clifton, Bristol. Three brand new songs – ‘Ghost’, ‘Murder in Fashion’ and ‘You Don’t Know’ – were recorded with Geoff and Adrian Utley of the trip hop group Portishead producing and Rik Dowding engineering. The tracks were psychedelic, dark, almost spooky and were a huge contrast to the band’s current work. The experience was important and served as an introduction to production by some soon to be very successful piers.

As autumn fell, the band entered another battle of the bands contest. This time it was called ‘Make the Break’ and was sponsored by Kit Kat. The first heat was in Bristol and judged by Julia Simpson, a DJ at the local commercial radio station ‘GWR’. Airbus made it through to the final which was held at London’s Underworld club in Camden. The judges were Glen Tilbrook of Squeeze and Mike Howlett of 70’s prog rock band Gong. The band were thrilled to meet them.

The band organized a coach to the final for its supporters, badges and T-shirts sporting the slogans ‘Airbus All Hallows Eve, Spooky Man Spooky’ and ‘Airbus in the Underworld’. Airbus scooped the prize and celebrated at the Whitehouse Hotel in London where some of the disgruntled losing bands had filled the elevators with furniture from the lobby! The prize was £3,000. With their winnings, the boys bought a full sized van, acoustic guitar, congas and a glockenspiel that were all to play a huge part in the band’s new set and ever evolving sound.



The band were demoing their songs on Nick’s Amstrad cassette 4-track. Bouncing of tracks allowed them to start experimenting, trying different miking techniques, writing counter melodies and then stripping back the mix to reveal more interesting compositions. Five new songs were written in this way.

Thoughts were gathering for a new single. Three of these new tracks were chosen and recorded at the familiar Walnut Bank studios, but the result was unsatisfactory to the band and they swiftly went back to the drawing board.

Meanwhile, with their eyes on the prize, Airbus entered another Battle of the Bands contest called ‘First Cut’ that was to be televised and aired in May.

The event was held at the Lloyd’s amphitheatre in Bristol’s opulent harbour and was judged by Julia Simpson, one of GWR’s top DJs at the time, and A&R woman Katie Ketchup. The competition was tough, but Airbus smashed it again and walked away with the whopping £5,000 cash prize!

Taking advantage of the publicity and momentum, the boys immediately set about recording their chosen single called ‘Inertia’. They had performed it during the first heat of the recent contest. This time they travelled to Goldrush Studios in West Bromley, South London for the recording session. Two songs were recorded for the double A side single: ‘Inertia’ and ‘Alien Baby’. The band had the 7” vinyl, complete with striking art by close friend and artist Marc Bessant, manufactured for release in July.

Oddly enough, the success of the year’s activities led the band right back to the drawing board with their insatiable appetite for writing and recording. The ‘Inertia’ single seemed to be merely an exercise in procedure for an independent label grappling with the arduous task of trying to market a rapidly dying medium.

Whilst Airbus were appearing on TV, radio and at live performances throughout 1993, there were fundamental changes taking place musically, at least in the studio.

Earlier in the year, the band had made another visit to Walnut Bank studio and had recorded a track called ‘Popgun’. It was originally intended to be the single, but the recording was not sounding right, so ‘Inertia’ was chosen instead. Another song was in the works called ‘Don’t be Afraid’ and had a very different feel with an edgier sound.

Once again, Airbus were invited into the studio by Geoff Barrow who seemed to share a vision for the band. This time it was at a studio in Easton called State of Art that Geoff had become a party to. He agreed that we should work on the new song ‘Don’t be Afraid’ and the track was recorded within the day with Geoff churning out several mixes.



The new year was seen in at a venue called The Mauritania on Park Street in Bristol.

A coach was laid on for all the Portishead rockers who wanted to join in the festivities.There were appearances on television again and ‘Don’t be Afraid’ was the choice for one particular show filmed at the Galleries mall in Bristol.

The song was rerecorded at a studio in Bath, along with a track called ‘Slow’ that had been written when the band had recently hired a cottage in Cornwall for a week’s writing and making 4-track demos.

A new batch of songs were forming and their recent winnings were now being put to use as they were able to buy professional studio equipment.(Soundcraft one inch tape machine, Studiomaster 16 track mixing console, Drawmer compressor, Roland Dep 5 effects processor and an ex BBC Studer quarter inch tape machine to master on with a range of good microphones). The package was put together by Bristol’s Coachouse studio owner and technical genius, Andy Allen. Recording began immediately with the equipment being set up semi-permanently at Nick’s place, The Grange.

For the next two years, the band would be meeting up on most days to record, write and experiment at this location in Portishead.

With an EP in mind, tracks were recorded, mixed and mastered in no time because the band had gained so much studio experience over recent years.Nick, Simon, Chris and James wholeheartedly took to the task and formed an efficient studio team with various engineering chores rotating. This time the band seemed to be quite happy with the results and, along with more artwork from Marc Bessant, a cassette was manufactured with the title Ghosts.

At this point, Geoff Barrow and his Portishead project was really ramping up for the release of their debut LP Dummy set for August.

Airbus’s work on their Ghosts EP had really caught Geoff’s ear and he invited the band to work on a reconstruction of one of the singles from the Portishead record called ‘Sourtimes’.

However, the only clue to the song was the bassline in the verse and Beth Gibbons’ actual vocal track from their recording. This was given to Airbus on a tape. Geoff refused to play the band the full song.

Somehow the band was able to write music by ear to the DAT tape and rehearsed it several times, ready to return to State of Art Studio to record the new version.

The recording went well and Airbus were successful in marrying their version to Beth’s vocal. She attended the session to jam vocally on the reprise type ending that the band had tagged onto the end.

Airbus were to appear at the Ashton Court free festival in Bristol that had grown to become one the biggest free festivals in Europe. So Beth, Adrian and Geoff attended rehearsals in Portishead for Beth to join Airbus on stage to perform ‘Sourtimes’ live at the festival in July, a month before their release and a good five months before Portishead’s first live show in London. Dummy was to go on and win the Mercury Music prize the following year!

Due to the close ties with Geoff, Portishead’s management company, Fruit, also began representing Airbus in order to establish band’s profile in the industry.

Experimenting continued with their new recording gear, trying out different locations to obtain different sounds. A whole session was set up in the gymnasium at Portishead’s Youth Centre. The material was brought back to Nick’s to be worked on with countless sessions. 1994 was a long and really busy year for the band, again seeing the year out at the Mauritania.



Recording at the Grange continued throughout 1995 with Airbus now playing about with tape editing, bouncing techniques, playing speeds, backward noises and all the other ways of manipulating the 8 track tape format. Drums in the living room, guitars in the bathroom and bass in the study were all daily obstacles at The Grange.

There was the introduction of Analog Synth and Rhodes and the band began working on recording material for what would just be referred to as ‘Sound Track’, a collection of would be multi-instrumental scores for a fictitious Sci-fi thriller.

Ashton Court was also a perfect venue for Bristol’s annual balloon fiesta and although an unlikely scene for a rock show, Airbus were invited to play on the Radio 2 Roadshow.

Ed Stewert and Tony Blackburn were high profile BBC Djs presenting the show.There would also be a visit by one of British television’s most popular presenters, Noel Edmonds and one of his creations called Mr. Blobby, that had become some strange UK phenomena?

Nevertheless the band were happy to perform and was a good break from the norm.

Again, Airbus worked at State of Art on drum tracks. They also used the old BBC Christchurch studio in Clifton. The band were keeping busy with writing and recording with their eye on the prize; a record deal.

The landlady at their local pub, The Royal Hotel, allowed the boys to use a huge disused BBQ room to rehearse and store their gear. She also allowed them to park their tour van in the pub carpark.

However, The Grange would be where they would experiment the most.



As label interest grew, Airbus were introduced to the manager JDB. He was offering to help with some studio space and finding a deal. So Airbus relocated to the countryside and set about recording on some of the latest digital recording equipment. Despite mastering how to use it, the band were not happy with the results, so they brought their own studio gear in to compensate.

They invited producer Mike Howlett (that they had met way back in 1992 at the Make The Break show) to record two tracks with them.

Airbus began working with sound engineer Dan Redgrave who was able to work the gear well. A number of tracks were recorded onto the one inch tape-machine and things were sounding good, so some long months of writing and recording ensued.

They made another trip to Cornwall for a week of writing in a secluded cottage.

Songs were selected for an EP that was called Gravity and was to be released on Spira Records.



The EP won the attention of publishing giant BMG and the management talked. The band chose a place called Fiddler’s in Bristol to showcase for the label. Dan provided a blinding light show to match the band’s performance and shortly thereafter a deal was signed.

It provided a great boost to the band creatively and there was a sense of achievement. A time to celebrate.

Airbus immediately hired electronic guru Andy Allen to put a 24 track 2 inch system together for them to record on.

A Studer A80 tape machine and Soundcraft TS24 mixing console were soon up and running along with a full-size spring reverb and a modest amount of outboard.

With an album in mind, recording takes of new tracks and transferring ideas from 8 track never left a spare moment. Marc Bessant, who had been contributing his artwork, was now set up at the same facility and aligning his routine with the band’s.

Sometimes sessions would be attended by the A&R man from BMG, Charlie Dilks, overseeing things as they developed.

After about a year, Airbus parted ways with their manager. He quit after a dispute with the label. So after some agonizing months of bunker mentality, the band then relocated to a vacant studio space in Bristol known as Antenna.

The spot was perfect. Everybody lived close by and all the gear was moved in.



Dan also returned to his tour manager profession and Airbus were firmly back to engineering all recording themselves. They started the year with a new batch of songs.

The band would spend 8 to 10 hours a day at the studio and have the weekends off, if they weren’t gigging – they’d always managed to maintain a steady live presence.

Recording content for the album became the main agenda as they settled into their new digs. Then, Charlie Dilks, their A&R guy at BMG, left the company, but left a huge pair of studio speakers behind to use! Airbus continued to work unabated throughout the year. Nick worked as liaison with the band’s music industry contacts in London.

Several trips to the country and frequent shows kept the band active on the gigging circuit and there was talk of playing at Glastonbury Festival the following year.

The band flew to Nice, in the south of France, to play a week’s residency at a bar. Deciding what exactly was going to be worked on for the new album, they named it Ghosts, a title they had used previously for the 1994 EP. There were ideas from the cottage sessions, stuff from The Grange, JDB’s and Antenna that were all brought to light.

BMG had loaned Airbus a small DV handy cam to document things on. Filimg started immediately.

A showcase was organized at Fiddlers in Bristol. This time there was interest from America and talks were underway with Warner Bros.

However, Airbus continued to work with the alternative plan, which was to release the album on Spira Records and all other outside influence ceased.



This was it; the band would finish the album this year and move on.

Work would start at 11am and finish around 7pm each week day throughout the year. They managed to keep up live appearances between their almost 9 to 5 schedule, including an appearance on the New Band stage, set up by John Peel, at Glastonbury.

With the completion of the new album in sight, work began on the band’s first website to coincide with the release.

It was based on a landmark hotel in Bristol called the Grosvenor. The building was also to be used as the album art and it was to become one of the world’s first interactive flash music websites.

Nick worked closely with Chris’s brother, Dave Fielden, and Marc Bessant on how to present it.

It is archived and can be viewed here: http://archive.bluetree.co.uk/airbus/

In the studio, Airbus continued to record...

Alas the album was completed as much as it was going to be. It was taken for mastering at Abbey Road and then manufactured complete with booklet art designed by Marc Bessant.

The release would be planned for the New Year, the Millennium.

Meanwhile, to avoid twiddling thumbs and thinking about the future, the band again flew to Nice for a residency. Then it was time for the turn of the century!



Finally, the Ghosts album was released. There was a release party held at The Cube, in Bristol, a disused theatre slash night club.

Simon had arranged for a John Carpenter movie to be shown and Geoff Barrow handled the DJ duties. Airbus performed the album’s material.

Airbus toured the UK and played at the Ashton Court Festival, again in support of their album. But there was a need for change.

A good friend and champion of the band, Peter Jackson, had recently visited Los Angeles and told the band that they should play this place in Hollywood called the Viper Room.

Pete offered to set the show up if the band wanted to go.

The studio was becoming more and more redundant as the record was out and the band were busy promoting it. Change was coming as the contract with BMG would shortly expire.

The label strongly disagreed with Airbus going to America, but the band were looking for help with production and California seemed like a good place to start looking.

The band’s gear was relocated to James’s place in Portishead and set up for work.

Completely unaware of what was coming, they stepped on the plane and headed to California for two weeks in December.

They indeed played at the The Viper Room and several other venues in the city.

Having won the attention of several producers and producer managers, Simon disappeared until the final show. There was a general feeling that something was up.

When the band returned to UK after the trip, Simon quit the band.

An end of an era.



Nick, James and Chris were determined not to quit. Airbus were planning to return to the States in February 2001, to continue looking for a producer with contacts that they had made on the last visit.

After several really awkward auditions, Oliver Morris, a Welsh musician had joined the group for the next visit.

Two sessions were set up by producer manager Aaron Jacoves. They were with Rick Parker (Sparkle Horse), who had a studio called The Sandbox, and Andy Sturmer, who was former drummer and frontman for 90’s band Jellyfish.

Airbus played another show at the Viper Room and then made their way back to the UK.

They played a well-received show at Bristol’s Fleece and Firkin.

Oliver only made it to that show and did not return to America again.

At their recent Viper Room show, Airbus had noticed a talented musician who was playing bass with one of the bands on the bill. His name was Sargon Dooman and, after a little persuading, he agreed to play bass with Airbus when they returned to LA in April 2001.

During the next 3 months, they would also hook up with Fleetwood Mac producer, Richard Dashut.

Another trip to America in August would bring the band closer to their goal as Richard was interested in signing the band to Emergent Records in LA.

However, tragedy struck in the form of 911.



By this time, Nick and James were both resident in California. In 2002, Chris flew back out to join Airbus for more sessions, shows and continue working with Richard Dashut.

Nick and James returned to the UK for their wedding ceremonies, that were bridged by another retreat to Nice in France for a residency at their favourite club, Chez Waynes’.

Chris would not make it back to the States.

Finally, in August 2002, Airbus took to Ocean Studios in Burbank, this time with Peter Finestone of Bad Religion standing in for Chris.

The session went well but, without Chris and Simon, and after 15 years of life as a band, Nick and James decided that it was probably time to move on and do something else!


Story by Alex Hill - Spira Records

Airbus Website