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Codling Rivalry
Brett and Little Dick? Oh no. The star of Suede's winter campaign was Neil Codling, the 'Lizard Man' with the revolutionary 'doing sod all' stage presence. Just what is he playing at?

Neil Codling looks bored. So far he's smoked half a packet of fags, sorted out the contents of his trouser pockets and devoted a considerable amount of time to just running a hand through his 70’s meta-public-school mop and staring off into middle space. Seemingly laughing at a half -remembered joke, he doesn't’t even flinch when a sweat and beer-soaked Brett Anderson, bathed in green light, slams his microphone into the stage and cries, at full volume "I'm aching end I need more heroin!”

It may be nearly halfway into Suede's performance at Liverpool Royal Court, the whole venue might be rattling down to it’s post-war foundations and Brett

Anderson may well appear on the point of physical collapse but Neil Codling, Neil Codling doesn't even appear to have touched his keyboard yet. In short, he looks a complete star.

"When Bernard left a of people lost confidence. A lot assumed we were over "Brett Anderson

'He just had this absolute confidence…the confidence of being good "Mat Osman on Richard Oakes.

If there was one overriding preoccupation of Suede's November interview in Select it was 'with that word 'confidence'. It had been lost and now, not surprisingly, they wanted it back. While 'Coming Up' was one of the outright albums of the year, exuding both chemically-enhanced arrogance and bold pop immediacy, for many people, Suede were still the band who, since the departure of Bernard

Butler, had spent two awkward years in a wilderness of 'difficult' tours, endless drug accusations and 'gayanimalsex’ T-shirts - a band with little real sense of unity and a dwindling fanbase.

Those who had witnessed January 1996's fan club gig at London's Hanover Grand and the later October dates at Kilbum National, however, knew that something had changed. It was evident in Richard Oakes' new-found assurance, in the band's choice of a Bernard-free song-set and in the barely concealed violence of Brett' s performance. But, most of all, it was visible in the presence of the reptilianly-handsome fellow on keyboards and backing vocals - the one who appeared to do nothing at all, very well indeed.

Still, despite word-of-mouth assurance that the new-look 'Coming Up' Suede are a frighteningly

good live proposition, it's not surprising that a large majority of tonight's capacity Liverpool crowd are made up of many who are "just down for a look", the curious, the sceptical and a fair few for whom 'Coming Up' is the first Suede album they've ever bought. Nevertheless, despite a reluctance to call themselves fans, a large number of tonight's audience will stay behind, calling for encores long after the main lights have gone up and the band have retired to the threadbare Painteresque surrounds of the lounge bar.

"Do you know Neil Codling?" enquires one of a gaggle of beatific Mersey teens extricating themselves from the still-applauding stagefront scrum, "Is he a mysterious man?" Her pal, equally in awe, is only capable of a small whipser. "Neil Codling. Very handsome."

As Simon Gilbert and Neil natter quietly with

friends and fans and various glum members of Liverpool City Council enquire after the whereabouts of "the singer", an elegantly wasted Brett Anderson lurks in the corner of the 'function area'. He is studying a fan-bought copy of Patrick McGrath's The Grotesque, musing on the band's turbulent history and why Suede now feels like a completely new band.

There's a sense of unity now. Richard and Neil, they've restored a sense of balance."
What do fans think of the new look Suede?
"We've got different types of fans. Each member of the band now has his own fanzine. Simon's got one called Simply Simon, there's Little Richard, Mon Petit Mat, and Neil's got one called New Boy, and some fucking Neil Codling and Geneva fanzine. Actually, d'you now that I'm the only member of Suede who hasn't got his own fucking fanzine?"

Suede's keyboardist, has 22-year-old Codling decided to adopt the role of the grand poseur, a man who spends more time smoking tabs and staring into space than actually playing his instrument? Not since the mid-'70s art-school conceits of such wacko performers as Sparks' Ron Mael and all of Kraftwerk has a musician placed himself arrogantly at the front of a stage and ably demonstrated an aptitude for doing very litte indeed. And not since Richey Manic has there been a figure who, through image and style alone, so aptly represents the ethos and confidence of one band.

"I'll agree," nods Codling, barely interested, "it's a weird thing."
Offstage, Neil Codling cuts a far less self-assured dash than he does on stage. He's still annoyingly handsome in the fashion of some cold-blooded Left Band gamin, but in his awkward shifting and genial Midlands burr, he's quite a regular guy, a fact well

hidden from all those craning necks down the front row. Gone are the steely glances, the regal posture - he appears almost normal. Almost.

Fittingly, for a band who've always courted an image of decadent glamour, Suede now have an onstage presence that perfectly matches their recorded tales of bohemian drug excess. Complementing Anderson's ongoing transformation into a handsome laudanum-ravaged cad, Oakes now takes the part of his precocious artful-dodger sidekick, while Codling as their Dorian Gray figure, the nonchalant young gentleman caught in the midst of a gentle opium revelry, elegantly bored by the whole thing. Significantly, the role of Mat and Simon in all this seems to have become that of the workhouse slumkids, pushed to the back of the stage, providing probe bass-and-drums power for the dirty three's immodest pop pleasures.

 

 How exactly does the ringmaster feel about all of this, young Neil replacing the old guard at the front of the proscenium arch? "Part of it is logistical," asserts Brett, "Matt needs to be at the back, close to the drums. If Mat was at the front of the stage it'd look ridiculous. Then, on the other hand, Neil's a show-off. Neil needs to be at the front." Why, as

So what is going on in his head when he's up there onstage?

continues...
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