The High Llamas Biography

Formed in London, England, the High Llamas is the vehicle of former Microdisney co-founder Sean O’Hagan (Eire). After that band sundered in 1987, O’Hagan spent three years incubating his solo debut album, High Llamas, released on Demon Records in 1990. Though a low-profile release, it received several encouraging reviews, not least from long-standing Microdisney fans within the press. Afterwards O’Hagan established a band named after the album, featuring multi-instrumentalist Marcus Holdaway, former Microdisney bass player Jon Fell, drummer Rob Allum, and guitarist John Bennett. The newly minted band made their debut in 1991 with the Apricots EP.

Following this release O’Hagan divided his time between the High Llamas and several side projects. He appeared on three albums by Stereolab (and one by that band’s spin-off project Turn On), and also remixed the Boo Radleys’ ‘Find The Answer Within’. The High Llamas album, Gideon Gaye, was produced on a budget of just £4, 000, and released on the small Brighton independent label Target Records. Again, the critical response was encouraging, the resulting comparisons to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys enticing Sony Records to offer O’Hagan a contract. Gideon Gaye was subsequently re-released via the band’s own Alpaca Park label, with its international release handled by Sony/Epic Records. A single taken from it, ‘Checking In, Checking Out’, proved especially popular in Germany, becoming an unexpected chart hit.

The follow-up Hawaii was an extraordinary album in so far as it sounded closer to what Brian Wilson was trying to achieve in 1966/67 than anything the Beach Boys subsequently released. Although a reincarnation of the Beach Boys’ orchestral sound on albums such as Friends, Smiley Smile, Sunflower and Pet Sounds combined, the album sounded surprisingly fresh. Cold And Bouncy (1998) and the attendant remix collection, Lollo Rosso, saw O’Hagan eschewing the Beach Boys comparisons for his equal fascination with electronica. This process was repeated on the following year’s Snowbug, which employed Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier and Mary Hansen on vocals and the production skills of Chicago post-rock gurus John McEntire and Jim O’Rourke. Neither record left much of an impression, however, with the title of Cold And Bouncy proving an apt description of the band’s rather clinical studio-produced sound.

Following the end of their association with V2 the High Llamas have operated as an occasional recording project, with O’Hagan funding their albums through his arranging and production work. Beet, Maize & Corn (2003) proved to be the band’s finest recording since Gideon Gaye, with acoustic guitars, strings and horns replacing electric instruments to create a warm, organic sound. The album was a fine testament to backing singer Mary Hansen, who was killed in a tragic accident a year prior to its release. It was book ended by Buzzle Bee (2000) and Can Cladders (2007), two beautiful but ultimately less endearing albums.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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