The Flatmates formed during the summer of 1985 in Bristol, England. Martin Whitehead (guitar) began practicing songs he had written with Rocker (a knickname derived from his distinctive dancing movements). Rocker's roommate (or "flatmate" in British English) Kath Beach offered to play bass, and after the trio had been practicing for several weeks Rocker and Kath's roommate, Debbie Haynes, was added as the band's singer. The group's name found them when Rocker told a local writer that the band was composed of "me and my flatmates," and she interpreted this as "The Flatmates."
The band continued writing songs and rehearsing in the basement of the local Communist Party office, performing publicly for the first time in January of 1986. After a handful of local shows bassist Beach departed the band, replaced Sarah Fletcher, a friend of the band who had no experience with the bass. By the end of June the band were ready to begin recording tracks for their first single at S.A.M. studios in Bristol.
The first single, I Could Be In Heaven, was released as a 7" in September, 1986, reaching number 11 on NME's indpendent singles chart. BBC DJ John Peel began playing it on a regular basis, and within the month Peel had invited the band to record a session for his show.
In early 1987 the band received an invitation to perform their second BBC session, this time for Janice Long's show. On March 1st they recorded "My Empty Head," "I Want To Be With Him," "When I'm With You" and a cover of the Buddy Holly song "Everyday." Later that month the session was broadcast, and their second single was released.
Happy All The Time was pressed as a 7" and 12", and the group began a series of shows to promote the new single, which reached number 4 in NME's independent chart. In May the Flatmates undertook their first international tour, playing five dates in Holland. The band's increased touring schedule began to pose a problem for Rocker, with Joel O’Beirne, filling in on drums and eventually taking on the position full time.
Over the summer of 1987 the band began recording tracks at S.A.M. for their third single. You're Gonna Cry was released on 7" and 12" in October. A "budget" music video was made to help promote the song, which reached number 4 on NME's independent chart.
After the third single the band had hoped to begin work on an album to be released on Subway. Their management convinced them that releasing more singles would be the best way to work toward a lucrative offer from a major label, and they grudgingly acquiesced.
The band's management arranged for the band to work with producer Chris Allison, resulting in the March 1988 single, Shimmer which was soon a number 1 independent hit, and was followed by short tours of the UK and Europe.
At the beginning of June, Sarah made the unexpected decision to leave the band, leading Martin to fill in on bass when the group returned to the studio to record two new songs, "Heaven Knows" and "Don't Say If," leading Martin to temporarily fill in on bass. It was also the occasion for an unexpected betrayal - second guitarist Tim Rippington recorded his own guitar parts, but then went on to play Martin's parts as well. Though Martin opted to leave the track as it was to maintain harmony in the band, tensions had begun to build in the band. Soon after bassist Jackie Carrera joined the band.
A media blitz accompanied the September, 1988 release of Heaven Knows, including a music video, extensive print advertising, and a CD single. The single sold as well as Shimmer, but it only reached number 12 on NME's independent chart due to many copies being disqualified.
Meanwhile, the band began a 15-date tour of the UK in the second half of October. On October 28, 1988, the band was set to play a crucial sold-out show at The University of London Union. The band had been hoping to secure a major label contract, and suspected that label representatives would be in the audience. Unfortunately, things went badly awry.
Tim Rippington reportedly consumed virtually all of the alcohol that the venue provided to the entire band, and subsequently attempted to sing the lead vocal parts along with Deb, was unable to even approximate the guitar parts he was supposed to be playing, and at one point collapsed with his guitar and mike stand. Martin approached Tim to implore that he compose himself. Tim's response was to throw a drink in Martin's face, at which point Martin laid Tim out with a punch to his face. After a brief retreat Tim returned to the stage and ranted about how he had been mistreated during his tenure with the band, prior to again retreating.
The band, in a state of shock, was left to try to decide how to compensate for the missing guitar part, complicated in no small part by the fact that Tim had begun throwing empty glasses at Martin from the side of the stage. Though the chaos from the show no doubt attracted a good measure of attention, it was not the kind of attention they had sought.
The band were particularly concerned about alienating London Records, which had expressed interest in the band and had offered to finance some demos. After hurredly writing some new material the band had recorded four new songs at S.A.M. After the ULU show the band half-expected that London would have lost interest, but this was not the case. Instead the studio offered to book additional time at Loco studio in South Wales. The band recorded a new song of Martin's, "Trust Me." The band had great confidence in the song's potential as a single. London asked the band to meet with the head of the A&R department, but after a brief meeting in which nothing of substance was discussed the band were dismissed and London never called again.
After the trauma of the ULU incident Deb was reluctant to accept new offers to play, and the band played their last show in February of 1989. In March Deb announced that she was leaving the band.
Though they were never able to record a proper album, Love and Death, a compilation of singles, B-sides, unreleased songs, and compilation tracks was released at the end of 1989.
Most of the Flatmates alumni stayed active musically. Deb joined the Bristol group Cake, Rocker played keyboards for The Rosehips and later with Spectrasonic, Joel played with the Jesus Jones Sound System prior to joining the Brighton group Audio Whore, and Jackie joined the Caretaker Race and then Girlschool. Martin formed Shrimptractor in 1992, which released two independent singles and played a handful of shows.
Band members have also been active in non-musical ways. Martin became a solicitor for the BBC World Service and H.J. Heinz. More importantly, Martin and his wife Rosey have a son, and Deb has two children with Howard, former driver/roadie for the Flatmates.
The Flatmates Reborn
On August 9, 2013, the band performed at the Wunderbar in Midsomer Norton, posting a video of "You Held My Heart" from the show on YouTube, which was soon followed by a video for "Do the Angels Care?" In August a new limited 7" single, You Held My Heart, was released on Archdeacon of Pop Records, a "small, Bristol-based indiepop record label," working through the Bandcamp online music store. "You Held My Heart" was written by Lisa, the B-side, "One Last Kiss," was written by Martin.
A small UK tour was organized for August to October, 2013, and the band was met with a most enthusiastic response, followed by additional dates including a few appearances in the United States in 2014. The reformed Flatmates are clearly off to a stellar start, and any new songs and performances will be a welcome addition to their initial all-too-brief career.
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