Trisha Keenan

On what would have been her 52nd birthday, we thought it was high time we saluted the inspiring, beautiful and tragically short life of Patricia Anne Keenan.

With her pale face and long hair, visually she was somewhere between Nico and Kathy McGowan, and is best known as one of the founding members of the band Broadcast. Formed in Birmingham in 1995, Broadcast have always been hard to pin point in the A-Z of Pop. With their blend of 60s psychedelia, analogue synths, and a nod to the soundtracks of film noir, they are sometimes name-checked as the near neighbours of bands like Stereolab, Portishead, or the High Llamas, but Broadcast, and especially Trisha’s vocals, were always utterly distinctive.

Growing up in the Birmingham suburb of Winson Green, Trish worked a series of jobs before forming the folk duo Hayward Winters. She met soon to be Broadcast band-mate and partner James Cargill in 1995 at a 1960s revival club at Birmingham’s Sensateria, and after initially calling themselves Pan Am Flight Bag, after two shows they decided to rename themselves Broadcast.

The band’s first release was the single “Accidentals” in 1996, which was based on a sample from the 1967 film ‘Accident’ by Joseph Losey. John Peel was an early supporter and after seeing them at the 1996 Phoenix Festival, he called their set “the most enjoyable … I saw throughout the four-day weekend”. The band recorded three sessions for his show in 1996, 2000 and 2003. On the Keeping It Peel website, Trish Keenan recalled the band’s awe at being allowed to record for Peel at the BBC’s historic Maida Vale facility:

“There was a sense of initiation on entering the Maida Vale studios. We were quiet as we received our BBC badges and escorted, by security, to the large elevators that took us and our equipment down below ground-level. What we found was a maze of hallways and side rooms, strangely silent and uninhabited. During a break from recording, we wondered through the corridors, peering through the windows of locked rooms, on a hunt for the Radiophonic Workshop. … It was wonderful to be free to walk around unquestioned.”

Although previous singles and EPs had been released on the compilation “Work and Non Work”, Broadcast waited until 2000 to release their first proper album “The Noise Made By People”. Eschewing the traditional recording methods of a band physically going into a studio, playing through their songs from start to finish, tussling with a producer, and staying for only as long as absolutely necessary (to keep costs down) instead Broadcast recorded in bedrooms, flats and in the case of the drums, the local church hall. With their love of improvising, sound collages and an interest in automatic writing, the traditional route was never going to work.

“The thing is I’ve given up saying it’s difficult,” Keenan says of the band’s recording process. “I think it’s just the way it is when you’re in Broadcast. I don’t care if it’s different for other bands; you know, it’s just the way we do things. Other people might call that difficult, but I just don’t want to be negative about it. It’s just you accept your own working habit. ‘Cause you know they’re results you are going to like at the end of it.”undertheradarmag.com 2009

Heavily influenced by 1960s psychedelia, especially Joseph Byrd’s The United States of America, along with Serge Gainsbourg, Czech cinema, early electronica and the output of the Delia Derbyshire era Radiophonic Workshop. It’s these elements that all form the perfect backdrop for Trisha’s pure and timeless vocal style.

In an interview with Joe Stannard for The Wire in 2009 Trisha had this to say,

“The Radiophonic Workshop were mediums in a way, they gave voice to the objects around them, enabling lamps, rulers and bottles to speak in sound..in a playful humorous way as well, even someone’s stomach gets a say in the belching on Major Bloodnok’s Stomach. Compositionally there was sorcery too, lots of strange pulses and syncopation, the Dr Who theme has an odd galloping feel and Delia Derbyshire’s collaboration with Anthony Newley, “Moogies Bloogies”, has a kind of broken accent, which is funny and eerie at the same time. It makes sense to me that if the witches of the 17th Century made music it would have been playful and hypnotic and made with indecipherable sounds, not music made with pitch perfect, well tempered instrumentation.”

With her sense of other worldliness and an uncluttered simplicity, Trish’s vocals have the folk tinged purity of Sandy Denny, along with an indie sensibility reminiscent of Alison Statton of the Young Marble Giants. Broadcast were the sound of Trisha’s unique outlook on life and her open-minded views about dreams, astral projection, her use of field recordings and interest in the esoteric.

And here’s the bad news…unexpectedly and upon returning from the band’s first Australian tour in December 2010, Keenan was diagnosed with pneumonia and went into hospital. She tragically died from complications aged just 42 on 14 January 2011.

Trisha Keenan, in a short time left a huge and indelible mark on indie electronica. By 2020, soundtrack inspired bands like Unloved or the brilliant Juniore are almost mainstream, how interesting it would have been to see what Trisha would have produced going forward.

On this, what would have been her 52nd birthday, her band and life partner James Cargill has released a “new” track. Reworked from tapes Trisha had left, we can only imagine how difficult this might have been to do, so James, if you’re reading…thank-you.  

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