McAlmont and Butler may not be the biggest names of the 1990s. But a mid the squabbles of Blur and Oasis, and many forgettable moments of Britpop, their fabulous single Yes, released in May 1995, still stands up as a timeless piece of pop music.
Bernard Butler, who at the time was still licking his wounds after leaving Suede under acrimonious circumstances, remembers forming the duo with Croydon-born vocalist David McAlmont as a happy accident.
“We met in a pub one night and just sort of decided to make a single,” he says.
“Bernard had got this music, which is just brilliant joyous and uplifting, and I wrote the words, which are very sad and vitriolic. It’s about a guy who had really messed me around,” says McAlmont. “I was drunk and bumped into him years later and had to thank him for the way he behaved. It gave me my biggest hit.”
Like Butler, in the early Nineties McAlmont had also had a messy split with a band. In his case, it was largely forgotten outfit Thieves, whose debut album was stalled due to legal problems, with the band eventually falling apart.
The loosely formed duo turned into something more substantial, and Butler, bitter at the way his time with Suede had ended, was reacting against what he’d done before.
“I had the idea of making a cabaret band,” he says. “I wanted it to be like a revue show band, and we’d all wear frilly shirts and tuxedos. Very idealistic, but that was me at the time, a sort of crazy, arrogant dickhead, basically.”
Looking back, he says the idea was deemed challenging and obstinate by some, but says he was just trying to create “something special”.
“I wanted to announce that I wasn’t in an indie group any more, and tell the world. I didn’t want to make T-shirts and merchandise for the band, and we didn’t tour, it was all about the music. I just wanted to make a single that came in and slapped you around the face, and your only memory would be that song, on the radio or the crappy cassette you had in the car.”
It worked, with Yes, the single in question, and there were indeed no tours or merchandise items for sale.
McAlmont and Butler played just one gig in support of their first album, The Sound Of McAlmont And Butler, and disintegrated shortly afterwards.
There was a second album, 2002’s Bring It Back, but once again, they faded away as quickly as they arrived.
Last year, while preparing to run the London Marathon for charity, Butler decided he wanted to raise some money for his chosen cause, the Bobath Centre, a London-based cerebral palsy charity for children. He figured playing two McAlmont and Butler shows would be a good way to do so.
In the pub immediately after the second gig, it was decided the duo, along with their various band members, would tour.
“It’s taken this long to sort it all out,” says Butler. “I’ve been busy playing guitar for (former Everything But The Girl member) Ben Watt for the past 18 months. The tour in November has taken a lot of organising too, we’re doing it all on our own, but better late than never.
“These shows are going to be a brilliant night out. Our first show in November is in Dublin,” he continues. “I’ve done so many great shows there, my family is from Dublin, I spent a lot of my childhood there. And we’re playing the Roundhouse in London, a mile or so from my house. It’s going to be a party.”
The tour has come at a difficult time for McAlmont - he’s nearing the end of his history of art degree, undertaken because he thought his music career had come to an end. Realising he was wrong, he says he’ll make time for the shows, even if he has to work on his dissertation from the comfort of the backstage dressing room.
What started out as a fleeting interest in pursuit of “a great pop moment” has followed both McAlmont and Butler around for the past 20 years.
“There’s an element of unfinished business about the whole thing,” says McAlmont, who in the interim, has busied himself collaborating with various composers and musicians, and singing solo.
“It’s a pleasure working with Bernard,” he continues. “He’s a real grafter, he’s not pretentious or fancy with what we do, he just does what he’s great at. There’s so much love for what we’ve done together, and I couldn’t explain the chemistry, but I’ve had far bigger hits with him than I have with anything else I’ve done.”
Butler believes the duo’s enduring appeal to their cultish fans is down to the fact they left everyone wanting more.
“It’s why I love The Smiths,” he says. “They made four great albums in four years, and I would hate them to reform. As much as people dream about them getting back together, it would be terrible. Like all bands that go on too long, it turns into routine karaoke.
“We can’t really split up, David and I, because we never really formed, we just got sidetracked doing other things. We see each other and talk all the time, and we’ll do more for sure.”
Among the things that sidetracked Butler was producing records for other artists.
Among the most-successful albums on his resume is Duffy’s debut Rockferry, which sold around six million copies. He also worked with Roy Orbison, The Cribs, Pretenders, The View, The Libertines and Neneh Cherry.
He’s since turned his back on working with other artists in that capacity, preferring to concentrate on playing guitar again.
“I started producing records I didn’t really like,” he says, honestly.
He’s also hard at work putting the finishing touches to a reissued version of McAlmont and Butler’s debut, The Sound Of... It was brought to his attention some time ago that it was for sale on Amazon for a measly 1p, so believing that low cost was of benefit no one - himself, record label or consumer - he wanted to re-release the album.
“Selling a record for a penny just devalues everything,” he says. “It’s taken me three-and-a-bit year to talk a label into letting me licence it to another company to re-release it, so we’re going to remaster it and do new sleeves and things, and it’ll be out in the autumn to coincide with the shows.”
As for a third album, both say they wrote and partially recorded an album’s worth of material in 2003, and it will be finished off at some point.
“I would love to say it would be out next year,” says Butler, “but I can’t make any guarantees. I may have to go shopping, or take my kids somewhere. After all these years, there’s no need to rush anything.”