Fred Deakin: Breaking the mould

He made his name as one half of Lemon Jelly and while he says he won’t rule out a reunion, Fred Deakin says about his current experimental project The Lasters

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Throughout the 10 years that Fred Deakin made a living as one half of electronic duo Lemon Jelly, and during his time as a DJ and club promoter before that, his goal for every project was roughly the same. “I always wanted to make it feel like Christmas,” says the appropriately upbeat 55 year old.

“I wanted to make people feel like a six-year-old kid on Christmas Eve who cannot sleep with excitement because the next day they’re going to a Lemon Jelly gig or getting the new album, and then they get it and it’s everything they wanted,” he explains. “You’ve always got to try and bring the magic. People’s time and attention is limited and if they’re going to give it to you, you’ve got to reward them.”

Evidence of that ethos can be heard in Deakin’s solo debut, The Lasters, an ambitious and hugely enjoyable concept album set in a dystopian near future, which doubles as his first major music release since his former group went on indefinite hiatus in 2008.

The reasons for the long wait are myriad, he says, although a key one was exhaustion after a decade and three records with Lemon Jelly, the much-loved two-piece he formed in 1998 with Nick Franglen that went on to sell over half a million albums, picking up Brit Award and Mercury Prize nominations along the way.

“I put everything I had into the Jelly and I was a little bit spent after that. I had to recuperate and whatever I did next had to be just as special,” he reflects.

His time away allowed Deakin to focus on other aspects of his portfolio career, such as Airside, the London-based design agency he co-ran for more than a decade, or his current job as professor of digital art at University of the Arts London. The latter role feeds into his own creative work and helped shape the production of The Lasters live tour, which is being rescheduled for later in the year after a run of February shows was pulled due to a scheduling conflict.

Dates will be announced shortly, says Deakin, promising “a projection-mapped audio-visual sensory feast with some augmented, immersive tech in there.” The live shows will also see Deakin joined onstage by musicians Abi Sinclair, Steffan Huw Davies and ex-Ash member Charlotte Hatherley, who all feature on The Lasters, portraying different characters in a tightly structured narrative about humanity being brought to the brink of extinction by climate change.

The 19-track, four-years-in-the-making record also explores timely themes about our dependence on technology, while its emotional heart comes from its moving portrayal of a child’s life torn apart by her parent’s divorce.

“A concept album with a proper story was the goal and I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved,” says Deakin, citing Jeff Lynne’s The War of the Worlds, Harry Nilsson’s The Point and The Who’s Quadrophenia as some of his favourite works in the much-maligned genre. True to form, the vinyl edition of The Lasters comes wrapped in a triple gatefold sleeve complete with augmented reality visuals and artwork by Cameron Gleave and Marc Marot.

“I may have overstepped the mark,” chuckles its creator, who makes his debut as lead singer on the record, having only previously sung backing vocals with Lemon Jelly.

“It was an itch I wanted to scratch. I’ve had some nice feedback and some comparisons that I’m chuffed with, but I’m definitely the worst vocalist on the record. The other three are way better than I am.”

Looking ahead, Deakin says the prospect of Lemon Jelly reforming is unlikely, although he remains good friends with Franglen and is immensely proud of all they achieved together.

“My feeling is that it’s probably done, if I’m being honest, which makes me a little sad because I would love there to be more Jelly and I think Nick feels very similar. We have talked about it in the past, but our schedules never quite seem to align…  I would never say never, but if I was a betting man I wouldn’t put any money on it.”

Dewy-eyed fans of the group can nevertheless find comfort in Deakin’s solo work, which retains the warm, dreamy, psychedelic feel of Lemon Jelly, while pushing ahead into new futuristic sonic realms.

“It’s quite exposing for me to actually put my name on a record and be responsible for the whole thing, but I’m loving it,” he says. “I put my heart and soul into it and I hope it makes people’s days a bit more magical, just like Lemon Jelly did.”

The Lasters is out now on Impotent Fury

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