From sing-alongs in Romanian stadiums and dining on the leftovers of celebrity chef Gary Rhodes, to arriving on the streets of West End, The Kensingtons’ story is one of creative persistence.
At the heart of the mischief is Stewart Tudor-Jackman, the engaging, quiff-adorned songwriter, singer, guitarist and self-claimed love child of Elton John and Buddy Holly. Formed while at Leicester University in 1988, The Kensingtons produce pop songs with lots of synth and plenty of guitars; a sound Stewart describes as “The Pet Shop Boys backed by The Wedding Present”. Though rarely troubling the music charts, fans quickly spread the word with their cassette tape mixes, fanzines and flyers.
Between 1989 and 1992 they appeared on several indie pop compilations, penned and recorded by Stewart and joined by Andy Howlett (bass and keyboards), and Adam ‘The Disc’ Discombe (guitar), to become regulars on Somerset’s live music scene. Stewart said, “We supported Bad Manners and Dodgy, and were once joined on stage by members of Spaceman 3 and Imagination, who brought both rhythm and pomposity to the equation.” And what about playing at Taunton’s Castle Hotel, where chef Gary Rhodes was in residency? Stewart laughed, “Yes, his leftovers were sensational.”
In 1995, a German label released the Hope Corner Lane EP, which yielded Inter City Baby, an improbable sensation. Stewart said, “The announcer at Steaua Bucharest FC bought one which became the half-time song of choice, although I doubt that a song about the train journey from Taunton to Leicester would strike a chord with most Romanian football fans.” The song would also go on to feature on Canadian radio, as a set-finisher in a Greek nightclub and as a favourite of a Spanish acoustic covers band.
Stewart moved to London and then Brisbane and The Kensingtons found themselves on hiatus. But, in 2009 Cloudberry Records in the USA contacted Stewart. “I did an interview with them about Inter City Baby and as a result they then released an EP of Kensingtons’ material called The Death of Middle England. Suddenly, they were in demand. In 2010, a trip to London coincided with a request for a reunion gig. Despite having not seen Andy and Adam since 1995, and with only two days to rehearse and play, the gig was tremendous.
In 2011, they released two more EPs, Racing Cars in Vivary Park and Candybomber. Their latest, Black Tag Parade — whose cover features Stewart’s bike on location in West End — is a selection of fuzzy guitar and jangly, 80s sounding pop. Recorded between Stewart and Andy from opposite sides of the world, Stewart said, “I am really proud of it, because with Andy’s involvement it is a true reunion piece. It’s testimony to my belief that keeping it simple works; once you get over four chords, you’re complicating things.”
Currently keeping his hand in with local bands, Stewart is planning new Kensingtons’ material. Material, which as he puts it, “Is nicer than everything else.” Contact him on Facebook @ The Kensingtons.
Words by Colin Bushell
Images by Colin Bushell and Wendy Tudor-Jackman