As Lostprophets head out on their current sold-out UK tour,their status as Britain’s biggest hard rock band is beyond doubt.They’ve sold two million albuns around the world,700.000 in the UK;they played to 60.000 people on their last tour and will to the same this month;their third album ‘Libaration Transmission’ went straight in at Number One in the UK album charts.Meanwhile,their influence on younger bands is immeasurable.
"Lostprophets are an inspiration",says Funeral For A Friend frontman Matt Davies."They laid the ground work for the road that other Welsh bands,including us,have followed.They have inspired an up and coming generation to actually get out there and realize that Wales is not a place to be looked down upon.They’ve been a guiding light to new bands and still are."
Nine years ago,though,Lostprophets themselves were a new band,and nothing about them – their backgrounds,their appearance,their music – screamed rock stars in-the-making.Nine years ago,no one would’ve believed,let alone predicted,what was to come for these six working class valley boys.
Situated on the edge of Cardiff’s town centre,under a filthy railway bridge,Bogiez Rock Club was a dark and run down two-strorey dive.Since its main clientele had dwindled since the fall of hair metal,in the mid-1990s the club’s owner – a squat,aging metalhead nicknamed "The Dungeon Master" by local teens – had opened the doors to punk and hardcore shows,organised DIY-style by the bands themselves.
One night in May 1997,four bands hit the stage: Stampin’ Ground,Knuckledust,Public Disturbance and a brand new group called Lozt Prophetz. The first three were of the chest-beating hardcore variety;the last would later be described by infamous Cardiff fanzine ‘Mad Monks’ as "some kind of rap act".Their frontman was already known in the tight-knit South Wales community as drummer for Public Disturbance,already popular with a core of underground fans around the country,but this was the first time Ian Watkins had publicly stepped up to the mic.
At his side were quiet but personable guitarrist Lee Gaze,and bassist Mike Lewis,a DIY hardcore kid who had been best friends with Ian since the age of five and also played guitar in Public Disturbance.An old friend of theirs named Mike Chiplin joined them on drums and their line-up was completed by other young men who wouldn’t remain in the band for long.For the next year,LP would play almost every punk and hardcore show put on in town,but this was their debut.
"We had a blast," laughs Mike Lewis,reminiscing. "At the time it seemed amazing but looking back it was pretty horrible.We were a mess,the sound was shit – but all shows in Bogiez sounded like shit.All our shows were there because no one else in town would have us."
Mike Lewis was born on August 17,1977 in East Glamorgan Hospital,Pontypridd.His mother was a shop assistant,his dad worked in management for an industrial chemical company.
Mike spent his pre-teen years doing what most of the other boys in his area did;playing football and rugby in Ponty Park and riding his BMX around town looking for trouble.What was different,though,was that Mike developed a love for music very early,buying his first album – Dire Straits’ ‘Brothers In Arms’ – at age of five,and air drumming along to his father’s Led Zeppelin records as soon as he was old enough to understand what drums were.But his discovery of hardcore – angry,uncompromising acts such as Madball,Sick Of It All and Gorilla Biscuits – at the age of 16,would change his life forever.
Mike was a good student in Pontypridd’s Hawthorn High – his favourite subjects were history and science – but he lacked direction because "there was nothing [he] wanted to be or do".
Mike’s lifelong best friend,Ian Watkins,was born on July 30,1977 in St David’s Hospital,Merthyr.The eldest of three children,Ian was raised by his stay-at-home mum and Baptist minister step-father in Pontypridd.A well behaved child who did well in school,Ian didn’t find a passion for music as early as Mike.Only when a friend from Hawthorn High played him Faith No More’s ‘The Real Thing’ and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ ‘Mother’s Milk’ did Ian really find what he’d been looking for.He,like Mike,enjoyed school.
"It was fucking awesome – Mike and I were in the same year and we hung out all the way through," Ian explains. "It was weird because – against all Hollywood clichés – we weren’t really the rebels.We weren’t in with the jocks or the geeks or the real trouble makers,yet we had elements of all those in our group.We all liked metal so we stuck together."
Ian never had to try hard to get good grades.He realised at an early age,however,that he would never be satisfied in a normal job.
"I had a blind confidence that I would be in a band one day," Ian smiles. "I enjoyed academic stuff.But at the back of my mind it was always just to kill time."
It would take several years for Ian and Mike to meet Lee despite being in the same school,because not only was he two years ahead of them,according to Gaze "they were the kids that did better in school and,before I discovered music,I was a total deliquent".
Lee Gaze was born on June 21,1975,in East Glamorgan Hospital.Like Ian,he was the eldest of three children,with a younger brother and sister.His dad was a painter and decorator;his mum a cleaner.As a child,Lee was,in his words, "a little vandal" getting into trouble because there was nothing else to do on his council estate,and shoplifting whenever he felt like it.
In high school,to make matters worse,he found that he didn’t fit in.
"I didn’t belong in any one group," Lee says, "and I was very,very quiet.I didn’t really talk to anybody."
It was Lee’s discovery of Iron Maiden,at the age of 15,that changed everything for him.
"I had just been listening to pop before that," Lee says. "A friend of mine got a hold of a tape and played it to me and we just got obsessed.It changed the way I dressed,I met a whole new group of friends,it made me want to play an instrument."
The instrument that Lee most wanted to play was drums,but since a kit wouldn’t fit into his parents’ small house,he took up the first instrument that someone gave him:a guitar that had been passed around local kids,including – the two realised years later – Ian Watkins.
"It got me out of trouble," Lee confesses, "because suddenly I wanted to spend all my time pratising,rather than breaking things."
The first time Lee met with Ian they were in Ponty Park,introduced by a mutual friend who was forming a band with Ian.
"When I met Ian I just thought it was cool that he liked the same music as me," Lee says. "So I rehearsed with tyhen and after three weeks my friend got kicked out and I guess I took his place.Pretty ironic."
The band was called Aftermath and they played heavy thrash and practised in a shed at the bottom of Ian’s garden.This was back in 1991 and the band lasted two years,playing only two shows in that time,thanks to the fact that gigs for small bands were non-existent in the Welsh valleys at the time,sparse even in major cities like Cardiff.When Aftermath eventually broke up.Lee and Ian formed the far more experimental Fleshbind.
Fleshbind were one of the first hardcore-influenced bands to emerge in South Wales.They would practise twice a week and play small shows in the local area as much as they could (one early Pontypridd show was attended by one Stuart Richardson.The future bassist didn’t attempt to make friends with the band however,because they were a few years younger).However,despite winning some decent support slots – they played one London show alongside Feeder – it was obvious Fleshbind were going nowhere.
Lee:"Me and Ian were like,’Bollocks to this,let’s start another band’.The shows just weren’t good.What we were doing was quite adventurous but it was a mess."
"It was all just a bit out of hand," Ian concludes."I remember being at our practise space in Cardiff thinking,’This has gone a bit weird’.Then our singer left and I volunteered to sing but everyone wanted to keep me on drums,so me and Lee were like ‘Fuck it’ and decided to leave and do our thing.We wanted to go back to basics.So we started Lozt Prophetz."
In 1997 being a new band was far harder than it is in 2006.Punk rock and hardcore remained,with the exception of Green Day and The Offspring,strictly underground prospects,barely touched on by the mainstream press,generally not available in your local High Street music store.The internet was a luxury used regularly only by the rich,students with library computers and people with jobs that required it.There was no MySpace.
In those days Kerrang! was still largely a metal magazine,so new punk bands relied upon fanzines (generally of the cut-and paste variety) for coverage.To be part of the remotest scene,punk rock CDs had to be mail-ordered and if you wanted American ones you had to peruse the adverts in big American ‘zines like ‘Punk Planet’ and ‘Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll’, usually ordering them without having even heard them yet.
As a result,the small underground communities that sprang up around the UK during that period were extraordinarily tight-knit and motivated.The South Wales scene was one that Ian,Lee and Mike had been actively involved in since the formation of Fleshbind.Ian and Mike’s hardcore band,Public Disturbance (who you can hear at www.myspace.com/publicdisturbanceukhc),had formed when Fleshbind was still together,after Ian,Mike and Lee had started increasing their visits to Cardiff to be part of the burgeoning scene.
"There was such a punk rock ethic that ran through everyone there at the time," remembers Ian."It was a fucking awesome community.We all knew each other,we were all friends,we all supported each other’s bands.Everyone would go and see each other’s bands over and over again.It was a really amazing time."
Every Tuesday night was spent in the tiny basement room of The Philharmonic Bar on St Mary’s Street,where the DJ would play ska,punk and hardcore.Every Friday was spent in the smoky basement bar of The Angel Hotel,opposite Cardiff Castle,where the scene kids hung out before hitting Metro’s – a long,narrow tunnel of a club that played alternative and metal.Ian and Mike were already committed to the straight-edge lifestyle (Mike was also a vegan during this period) that Lee too would adopt within a year, but had no problem hanging out in bars if it meant being part of the community.
"We just had a laugh," Mike recalls."I remember one show which had both Public Disturbance and Lozt Prophetz on the bill, and we did this fuck-around band called Pissed Barnados (which was half PD,half LP) and went onstage dressed up like idiots in masks – mine was Hulk Hogan – and just made noise!"
"We did a lot in Public Disturbance,though," Ian notes."We toured the UK a bunch,we played every UK hardcore all-dayer we could.But PD was very restrictive.There started to be a lot of elitism and bullshit and shit-talking in the hardcore scene too,so by the end of PD I desperately wanted to do something different."
Ian quit the band before Mike did and didn´t appear on Public Disturbance’s celebrated and still infamous 1999 EP,’Possessed To Hate’.Mike admits he was more committed to PD than he was to LP at the time.
"When I first joined Lozt Prophetz," he explains,"I was only supposed to be helping them out.I was definitely a hardcore kid at the time and PD played more shows.It was only as Lozt Prophetz changed and evolved that I made the decision to leave PD and put all my efforts into Lozt Prophetz."
Lozt Prophetz early days,with the exception of Ian,Lee and drummer Mike Chiplin ("who we’d known from way back in the day," Ian says),lacked a solid line-up.While always more cohesive than Fleshbind,Lozt Prophetz (who took their name from an obscure song by ’80s pop giants Duran Duran,adding "Zs because just look cool") briefly featured a saxophonist and keyboard player too.
"So many people came and went," laughs Lee,"I can barely remember names at this point!"
After that first appearence in Bogiez,Lozt Prophetz became scene fixtures,released their first demo,embarrassingly titled ‘Here Cumz Tha Party’ – "We were all over the place,"remembers Mike,"We were influenced by metal bands like Vision of Disorder and rap-metal stuff like Dog Eat Dog" – played as often as they could and ignored those critical of a hardcore band with rap vocals.(When scene ‘zine ‘Mad Monks’ compared Ian’s vocals to the sound of "a parrot being raped by a baby bulldog" Ian was able to see the funny side.)
Mike Lewis joined the band as bassist after Lozt Prophetz’ original four-stringer quit,and only took up his position on second guitar when the band met current bassist Stuart Richardson in Metro’s one night.
"He came up to us because he’d seen a bunch of our shows," Ian explains."He was an engineer at a little studio called Front Line in Caerphilly and he said ‘If you ever wanna rehearse up there just let me know’.We went up there one day and he was playing bass.And he was just amazing – the best bassist we’d ever heard.So we invited him to join."
Stuart Richardson,an only child,was born on August 15,1973 in Lwynypia Hospital in the Rhondda Valleys.His dad was a miner and his mother worked in a butcher’s shop,bar and doctor’s office.He grew up in the tiny,working class Taylorstown,10 miles outside of Pontypridd – a place inhabited by coal miners who worked in nearby Maerdy.As a child,Stu,he says,"lived through movies and music," David Bowie being an early obsession. Being bullied a lot at school thanks to his appearance ("I was a geek,wearing the thickest glasses with a patch over one eye and a set of braces in my mouth") and lack of sporting abilities isolated him and he became driven to eventually get out of the area.
"Music was the only thing that made me happy,"Stu says now.So,based solely on the fact that Steve Harris was his favourite member of Iron Maiden,Stu bought a bass guitar on his 15th birthday with £100 he had earned from a paper round and a job cleaning a bakery.He played in a few local bands in his teen years but "couldn’t find anyone serious enough to really go for it".After he’d heard the first Lostprophets demo,he decided to approach them.
With Stu onboard,the band’s gigging expanded.Then,a chance encounter at a Kerrang!-sponsored gig in London’s Camden Falcon gave them more focus than ever.
Julie Weir,a charismatic young woman from the North East,ran a London record label called Visible Noise.Having seen the potential in Lozt Prophetz she gave Ian her business card and said she’d love to hear a demo and perhaps release a record for them.
"I was taken in by their overwhelming exuberance,"Julie says now,"A lot of British bands are very conservative onstage but even then all of them were unbelievably animated.It was obvious that they were a solid group and had been for years."
Encouraged by Julie’s interest and determined to make the best demo they could,the quintet took a drastic step.
"We took 18 months out,played no shows at all," Ian says."We spent 24 hours a day,seven days a week in Stu’s studio until we came up with four songs.They ended up being the ‘Fake Sound Of Progress’ demo."
The Front Line studio was a sparse,two-room converted factory unit with no heating that Stu worked and lived in.Ultimately,Lostprophets would write both ‘The Fake Sound Sound Of Progress’ and ‘Star Something’ there.
It was during their intense practise period – from mid-1998 to late 1999 – that the band rekindled an old friendship with Jamie Oliver,a successful artist who had grown up in the small mining village of Cilfynydd,a mile outside of Pontypridd.The future turntablist and keyboard player watched the band experiment in the studio.
"That 18 months was really frustrating to watch," he sighs."They were just demoing.And just when they thought they had something,they’d scrap it.It was endless! With hindsight though,it was the best thing because they were able to develop out of the spotlight – thank God! Some of the stuff they were doing was well dodgy!"
It was after this year and a half that Lozt Prophetz blossomed into Lostprophets.Rap was out,huge riffs and melodies were in.The response to their first gig back,opening for old friends Shootin’ Goon and Douglas on the third floor of Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor Bach,was phenomenal.The improvement in their sound was jaw-dropping;an Ian,who had always been well-dressed,had made an effort to bring even more style to the group,singing through an old-fashioned broadcast ribbon microphone.
"We were so much better when we came back," Lee notes."It was such a long break that we’d evolved massively.Julie gave us the inspiration and the drive to work really hard.It took us two years to get her that demo but it worked out in the end."
After officially signing a deal with Visible Noise,Ian,Lee,Stuart and the two Mikes were given four thousand pounds and sent off to a studio in Birmingham,where they recorded ‘The Fake Sound Of Progress’ in one week.When it came time to go back to Birmingham to mix the record,Ian called their friend Jamie Oliver and asked if he’d be willing to drive Ian back to Birmingham (Jamie was the only person they knew with a car at the time).Jamie agreed and spent a week with them listening to what would be Lostprophets’ first album,generally just hanging out.
On their return to Cardiff,the band decided Jamie should go on their first major tour with them (supporting Kill II This and Brutal Deluxe – a tour Stu would later describe as "the time of my life") just because they’d had "such a laugh together" in the studio.Jamie decided he’d go on the road and take photographs that he could use towards the Fine Art Degree he was working towards in Bristol University.When Ian called Julie Weir and asked if a friend could join them on tour,she said ‘No’.So,just to get Jamie a spot in the van,Ian told her he was in the band.
Jamie promptly went out,brought cheap turntables and spent two weeks desperately trying to learn how to use them.
"I think it worked out though," Jamie laughs,"because I wasn’t a DJ – I just wanted to compliment the music rather than just scratching over everythinh.When opportunities come along you have to take them."
Jamie Oliver was born in Mid Glamorgan (now known as Rhondda Cynon Taff)on July 16,1975,a year and a half after his big sister.
"I had a really good childhood," Jamie recalls."We didn’t have much stuff,we were very poor until my dad got a regular job when I was a teenager.But we didn’t need much.We were surrounded by fantastic landscapes and healthy air – you’re running up mountains everyday sou you’ve got loads of energy."
His parents were somewhat unconventional – his mother’s profession is in the field of Reiki,holistic therapy and faith healing ("She has powers beyond my comprehension," Jamie admits) and his father is "a Jack of all trades,he’s changed jobs a lot."
Much like Lee,Jamie spent his teenage years getting into trouble.He was in Hawthorn High’s rival school – Coed Glan – but was also a couple of years older,meaning he "never got the opportunity to punch Ian or Mike or Lee in the face in the middle of a rugby field."
Jamie was a skateboarder,a drinker and a fighter.He grew up skating with Matthew Pritchard,now one of the ‘Dirty Sanchez’ psychopaths,and the skate scene is how Jamie first met fellow skater Mike Lewis and Lee Gaze,a rollerblader at the time.Jamie listened to nothing but hip-hop.After a few arrests and court appearances for GBH,he "bucked up [his] ideas",discovered Iron Maiden and Skid Row,and decided,unlike any of his friends,to continue his education past GCSE level.When all of his left school,Jamie became,in his words,"the mosher in the art room;the loner painting during my lunch hour".
It was a commitment that was paying off by the time Jamie started hanging out with Lostprophets.He was,during that period,in Ian’s words "a celebrated artist",creating works that focused on post-industrial Wales.By the time Jamie joined the band in 2000,he was able to charge upwards of £5000 per painting.
Jamie had never really believed he would be in a band."It was more of a fantasy," he says.
"But I thinkI’ve just always sought the limelight.Everything I’ve always done has required an audience.It’s this sense that when I die I want to have left something tangible behind.I think everyone yearns for a bit of immortality."
With their debut album complete,Lostprophets got in a van and promptly started touring their asses off,all the while trying to hold down regular jobs at home – Ian worked as a graphic designer,Lee delivered pizzas,Mike was a warehouse manager,Jamie was still being commissioned for his artwork and Stu was still engineering in the Fort Line studio.If they played a show on the other side of the country they drove themselves home afterwards so they could get up for work the next day.
After booking a Cardiff show for the hugely respected Earthtone9,the London metallers took the ‘prophets out on the road.
"When they supported us at the gig in Clwb Ifor Bach they were pretty rough around the edges but you could see,even then,that they had something,"says Owen Packard,ex-guitarist for Earthtone9,who these days works as a press officer for Funeral For A Friend,among other bands."They played ‘big’ from the off and their enthusiasm won people over.Now Lostprophets have done the thing that so many UK acts struggle with – they have transcended genre,nationality and scene.They are a world class,international rock band and it is hard to underestimate just how impressive a feat that is."
Miraculous when you consider that Lostprophets’ knowledge of the music industry was,to begin with,charmingly naïve.One early (handwritten) fanzine interview from 1999 found them describing their sound as "phat smooth groove",and listing House Of pain (of ‘Jump Aroun’ fame) and ska clowns Madness as key influences.In the same interview Ian says his biggest dreams are "to have been born in a nice part of California" and "to make a shit load of cash".Lee,meanwhile says his ambition is "to have a huge fucking garden where giraffes and triceratops can fights to the death".They conclude the interview by scrawling a picture of a dog,accompanied by the words "Lozt Prophetz don’t suck,everyone else does!"
But with each gig the band grew in cofidence and maturity,getting their big break a year later,when Ian sent a copy of ‘The Fake Sound Of progress’ to a website called ‘The PRP’,a site that,back then,pretty much dictated what the major labels would be going after next.In America,the nu-metal explosion was in full swing,with bands such as Linkin Park selling vast amouts of albums,sparking a rock signing frenzy.Hence,after ‘The Fake Sound…’ was unexpectedly given ‘Album Of The Month’ by PRP,a surreal series of events began.Ian started getting emails every morning,in his small office in cardiff’s town centre,from A&R people from the biggest labels in the world.Then they started calling his house.
"I was freaked out",recalls Ian,"but mostly just excited.I’d be woken up in the morning by my girlfriend at the time going,’Ian,there’s some American bloke on the phone for you…’.we were still playing in these tiny,shitty venues up and down the coutry and as soon as we got offstage I’d be on the phone to Interscope or Warners or Epic.It was bonkers.And it went on for about six months."
Lostprophets still didn’t have management at the time.Or legal representation.At the time Mike Lewis was still acting as tour manager,Stu was still recording everything,Ian designed all their artwork and they made their own T-shirts.Now they were overwhelmed by their options.
As the hype escalated,Lostprophets were flown out to Los Angeles to play a showcase for representatives from every major label in the country.The furthest any of the ‘prophets had traveled up until that point was Spain.
"We did have a lot of confidence in ourselves," Ian says."Everyone always said we were arrogant little bastards,but it was just that we were happy in what we were doing."
Desperate for assistance,the band met with a variety of lawyers.One of them,a man who handled Epitaph Records’ legal issues,told the band that the only management company worth going with was Q Prime,who managed Metallica,but that that would probably never happen.A couple of days later,Ian got a message as he sat "in some tiny,tiny shithole venue in Wolverhampton":Q Prime wanted a meeting.
Once Q Prime had taken the band on,Lostprophets’ affairs were finally put in order.In addiction,Q Prime came up with the most extravagant record deal they could think of and threw it out to the labels.Columbia went with it,providing financial backing to the original Visible Noise deal.The band were finally able to quit their day jobs.
"Those were long scary weeks," Stu remembers."I thought they would figure out we had no fucking clue what we were doing…"
The rest,as they say,is history.Lostprophets’ success since has been monumental.Their second full-length, "Star Something",took them to superstar status worldwide and their third,"Liberation Transmission",showcases the band’s new level of mature self-assuredness.Lostprophets,against all the odds,made it – and they have no intention of budging anytime soon.They haven’t,however,forgotten their roots.Julie Weir is also thrilled about Lostprphets’ refreshingly small egos.
"They still always have time for everyone,"she grins."I look at the band every time they play live and remember the tiny show I first saw them at and think how far they’ve come.They’ve tirelessly toured their asses off all over the world.I am immensely proud of them."
Mike Lewis remains humble about what has happened to his little band.
"Because people told us UK bands never did well,"he says,"we went into this thinking that if we sold 3.000 records we’d be chuffed.When everything kicked off we’d be pinching ourselves everyday.We still have those moments now."
"It’s the best feeling,"agrees Stu,"because you have to remember,we’re just a bunch of broke weirdos from Ponty."
Jamie sums up the mood of nostalgic pride with this touching story: "It’s mad,looking back.The first time we played the [Cardiff International] Arena it was pretty overwhelming.We played ‘Sway’ which I think lyrically is one of Ian’s best songs – I find it really hard to sing without welling up.And there I was in front of all my friends and family,playing this incredibly emotive song.It was overwhelming."
He continues: "I’m very aware of how lucky we are and I think it’s really important to stop on the ladder and look around.Ian is more driven – it can always be better for Ian.But try and get him to stop and look at the view and how far we’ve come and how beautiful it all is as much as I can."
Source: Kerrang! Magazine