Kent-based four-piece Airhead lined up with Michael Wallis (vocals and guitar), Sam Kesteven (drums), Ben Kesteven (bass) and Steve Marshall (keyboards).
They were signed by WEA/Korova as the Apples in September 1990, on the strength of demo The Apples go to Pip City Via Victoria and All for Under a Fiver!. Shortly afterwards, band became Jefferson Airhead before dropping the ‘Jefferson’ from their name on request of Jefferson Airplane’s record label.
Bow Wow Wow bassist Leigh Gorman was enlisted to produce the band’s first Korova recordings, and the first fruits of these saw the light of day in February 1991 when the sulky, baggy-sounding mid-tempo Congratulations was released. The song’s artwork was similar to 60s-psychedelia-inspired pop art, a theme which continued for all but one Airhead releases. A second single, Scrap happy, followed in May that year as the band’s fanbase continued to grow.
Autumn 1991 saw the release of what is perhaps now the band’s best-known song, Funny how, to good reviews and heavy airplay on BBC Radio 1. Its catchy couplet, ‘It’s funny how the girls you fall in love with never fancy you/Funny how the ones you don’t, do’ ensured it remained a floor-filler at indie discos, and years after the band split up, the BBC chose it as the introductory music on their Match of the Day football programme. Funny how climbed to number 57, the first time Airhead had troubled the top 75 chart.
The band’s commercial peak and biggest singles chart success would be with Counting sheep, the lead single from their debut album. This soaring, poppy 1991 Christmas hit was backed with the standout b-sides from the previous two singles Take my train and Keep the apple, and it even managed to break the top 40 by reaching number 35. This was pre-Britpop in the time when any sort of chart action was seen as a success for bands pigeon-holed as part of the indie genre.
Airhead were offered a session for BBC Radio 1, so in early January 1992 they duly visited the famous Maida Vale studios in London to record four tracks for Mark Goodier’s Evening Session programme.
The broadcast of the session later that month co-incided with the release of sparkling debut album Boing!!, which collected together the band’s four singles so far and six new songs. Produced by George Shilling, it garnished great reviews in the music press and peaked in the album chart at number 29.
A final single was lifted from the album in March that year. Right now was to be the bands third and last top 75 hit, reaching number 50.
Between the release of Right now and the end of 1992 the band split, as Michael wanted to get out of the Korova deal and go it alone. He recruited Roger Wells (bass) and Sam (drums) and the three went to Falconer Studios, London, in March 1993 to record new material, self-produced by Michael.
The results of these sessions appeared in record stores in August 1993 as the That’s enough EP. The three tracks showcased on this CD/10″ showed a darker, brooding and somewhat broken Michael over a less poppy arrangement. The EP wasn’t a commercial success, and although there were more gigs, with no record deal the writing was on the wall.
Band members have cropped up in various other acts since then, but fans of Airhead can’t help feel the long term-promise shown by the much-loved debut album (which commands £15-30 when it crops up on internet auction sites) was never fulfilled.
In June 2007, a campaign was launched with music journalist Joel McIver to get Boing!! reissued.
Comments have also been left on this website from band members regarding a possible reunion…Sam: We’ve all been shocked to see how many people still remember the band and its great to hear how much the album was enjoyed.
I’ve been in touch with Mike and Steve recently to invite them both to my wedding (Mike and Ben will definitely have to turn up as their both ushers). I’m hoping to persuade them to bring their instruments along so we can bash out a few songs.
Ben has been forcing his kids to listen to Boing for years and they know all the words to Funny How, so I guess that’s as good a reason as any to play at the wedding.
Thanks again for visiting the site and leaving comments.
Ben: It’s not a matter of motivation to do some gigs, it’s more a problem of logistics. We all live in different areas now, have jobs etc and I’ve got 2 young kids so getting together for rehearsals let alone gigs would take a lot of organising.
It’s certainly not something I’d rule out and it’d probably be good fun etc but I really can’t speak for the other guys. Sam’s wedding is definitely an opportunity to see how it works on a small scale so who knows?
Boing!! on iTunes
In October 2012, Airhead’s debut album Boing!! was made available on iTunes.
Vocals and guitar
Bass (to 1992)
Roger Wells played bass 1992-93.
Sam and Ben were also in The Popinjays.
Michael and Sam were also in Spike, and recorded a session for John Peel in November 1994 (download it here).
Roger was in Resque.
Sam plays drums with Wonderhorse (also see Channel 4) and is now a photographer who has worked for Time Out in London. He was also the subject if the identity parade in an episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks in 2004.
It is believed that some members were in a band called Inswinger in the mid-1990s.
The producer of the band’s early singles, Leigh Gorman, now lives in Hollywood.
The producer of Boing!!, George Shilling, is still based in the UK.