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Their sound veering from post-grunge balladry to funk and ambient breakbeat to Madchester acid house, the Beta Band emerged on the British scene as (nominally) a pop group with few similarities to any other act going. Formed around three friends originally from Edinburgh -- vocalist Steve Mason, drummer Robin Jones, and DJ/sampler John Maclean -- the group later drafted bassist Richard Greentree. Scant months after forming, the Beta Band added a formidable ally in gaining exposure: manager Brian Cannon, the designer responsible for virtually every Oasis sleeve released to that point. The group's first EP, 1997's Champion Versions, featured mixing by the Verve's Nick McCabe. Two additional EPs followed in early 1998, The Patty Patty Sound and Los Amigos del Beta Bandidos. After collecting all three EPs on an album, the Beta Band began recording for their proper debut, a self-titled effort released in 1999. While prepping for the release of their sophomore effort, Hot Shots II, in summer 2001, the Beta Band scored the opening slot on Radiohead's monumental summer tour of the United States. Initial recordings for their next LP began around the same time; after self-producing the record and subsequently passing it over to Nigel Godrich for a final mix, the group released Heroes to Zeros in spring 2004. Just a few months later, the Beta Band announced they would disband at the end of 2004, citing the frustration of much critical praise but no commercial impact. The Best of the Beta Band -- a two-disc package containing one of their last performances -- was released in 2005. Mason went on to release material as King Biscuit Time (which had actually debuted in 1998), Black Affair, and his own name.
The Beta Band were a British musical group formed in 1996. They were critically acclaimed and achieved a cult status. Their style was described as being "folktronica", a blend of folk, electronic, rock, trip hop, and experimental jamming.
The Beta Band disbanded in 2004 but during the course of their career, they were hailed by both Radiohead and Oasis.
The Beta Band formed in 1996 around St Andrews musicians Steve Mason (vocals, guitar) and Gordon Anderson. The two had plans to call their group The Pigeons but later changed their minds. As they pulled together songs for their debut EP, Champion Versions, they added Robin Jones (drums) and John Maclean (DJ, sampler, keyboards). Steve Duffield was the original bassist but quit the band soon after recording Champion Versions. Not long after they were signed to Regal/Parlophone, Anderson became ill and decided to quit the band. He would later produce recordings under the name Lone Pigeon. The remaining members added Englishman Richard Greentree (bass) and solidified their lineup.
Champion Versions was released in July 1997 to critical acclaim not only for the music but also for the record's innovative cut-and-paste sleeve design (the work of John Maclean). The trumpet solos recorded for Dry the Rain on Champion Versions were played by Jonathan Levien, credited as Jon Levien on the record. Jonathan was attending the Royal College of Art in 1997 where he met John Maclean in the Art Bar and mentioned that he could make some interesting whale sounds on his trumpet. Jonathan Levien was invited to the Chalk farm recording studio shortly afterwards where he was asked to play three riffs on his trumpet for Dry the Rain.
Two further EPs followed in 1998: The Patty Patty Sound in March and Los Amigos del Beta Bandidos in July. The EPs were all subjects of widespread critical praise, and all three appeared on the appropriately titled The Three E.P.'s collection in September 1998. The compilation was rated by Pitchfork in the Top 10 Albums of the year. The song 'Dr Baker' featured on the acclaimed soundtrack of the first series Trigger Happy TV.
The band soon commenced work on their ambitious first full-length recording, pulling inspiration from sources as diverse as Jamaican reggae, Disney's movie The Black Hole and Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart". The record, simply titled The Beta Band, was released in June 1999. The first track, "The Beta Band Rap", managed to tell the band's back story over alternating bubblegum pop, rap and rockabilly backing tracks. Its eclecticism was representative of the rest of the album, which was widely perceived to be more stylistically diverse than the initial EPs. The mixed press turned decidedly negative when the band announced their own disdain for the record. They claimed that Regal's unreasonable deadline and tight budgets kept them from refining their improvisations into coherent songs.
Nonetheless, the album had not generally been as well-received as the preceding EPs, and the band returned to the studio with something to prove. The result of that session was the double A-side single "To You Alone"/"Sequinsizer", recorded by future The Go! Team producer, Gareth Parton. As early as August the previous year, Mason had discussed the possibility of releasing the tracks as a single and had urged fans to lobby Regal for the release. It was released on 24 January 2000. The single was received favourably and was widely regarded as a return to form for the band. The NME made it their "Single of the Week", and would later select it as one of the 50 greatest singles of 2000 in their end-of-year awards. "To You Alone" was also included on the soundtrack of the 2000 remake of the television series Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), released in March.
Even higher profile soundtrack exposure was to follow, with the band's music featuring prominently in a scene in the film High Fidelity (based on the Nick Hornby novel of the same name), released in late March 2000 in the U.S. and July in the UK. In the film, a record store owner played by John Cusack mentions the band by name ("I will now sell five copies of The Three E.P.'s by The Beta Band") and plays a minute or so of the song "Dry the Rain". This exposed the band to a wide range of new listeners, particularly in the U.S., where the band's profile had previously been borderline nonexistent.
A hiatus followed, during which Mason released his second King Biscuit Time EP. The band gradually gravitated back into the studio, this time recruiting noted UK producer Colin Emmanuel, aka C-Swing, to oversee the process. The album, Hot Shots II, appeared in summer 2001, and was warmly received by critics and fans alike. It sacrificed much of the first album's experimentation for more boiled-down pop structure and hooks. The band had originally intended to release "Squares" (b/w "Won"), which featured a sample from the Günter Kallmann Choir's 1970 version of Wallace Collection's "Daydream", as the lead single. A video had been filmed and promo discs issued, but when it transpired that another single ("Daydream in Blue" by I Monster) featuring a sample from the same Günter Kallmann Choir recording was to be released at around the same time, the band opted to release "Broke" instead. Two other singles were released from the album: "Human Being" in October 2001 and "Squares" in February 2002 (with the I Monster track long out of the charts). The band embarked on a long tour to support the album, at one point supporting Radiohead. In August 2002, they made No. 3 on magazine's list of "50 Bands to See Before You Die".
The band began demo sessions for their third album in September 2002. They entered the studio with producer Tom Rothrock in 2003 and managed to complete a number of tracks. However, the band were not pleased with the results, and nor were Regal executives. Famed producer Nigel Godrich was called in to mix the album, which was finally completed in early 2004. Lead single, "Assessment", was released on 12 April 2004, followed by the album Heroes to Zeros on 26 April. One of the tracks, "Liquid Bird" is based on a sample of Painted Bird by Siouxsie and the Banshees. A second single, "Out-Side", followed in July. To the surprise of most fans, the band announced their breakup on their official website on 2 August 2004. In November, they performed at the Summer Sundae festival and commenced a farewell tour. Their final show was at Edinburgh's Liquid Rooms venue on 5 December 2004.
On 3 October 2005, the band released a 2-disc DVD set, The Best of The Beta Band - Film, featuring most of the band's videos and a selection of short films, television footage, documentaries as well as four songs recorded live at the Shepherds Bush Empire on 29 November 2004, one of the band's final performances. Also released on the same day was a 2 CD set, The Best of The Beta Band - Music, comprising a compilation disc of studio recordings and a disc containing the Shepherds Bush gig.
Since the split, Steve Mason has released music with his solo project King Biscuit Time, as well as new projects Black Affair and Good Face. In May 2010, he released the first record in his own name entitled "Boys Outside". Robin Jones and John Maclean have become The Aliens along with former Beta Band member Gordon Anderson (a.k.a. Lone Pigeon) and Richard Greentree is working with his new band The General and Duchess Collins.