Variously described by Steve Lamacq as "the most lyrically erudite band I've heard in a while," by The Guardian as "thunderously exciting" and by themselves simply as a "heart and soul" band, the immediately apparent truth regarding Official Secrets Act is the collective passion that seeps from them; informing every aspect of their sound, their prowess in a live setting and the very nature in which they exist - outside of any particular scene and befitting of the myriad influences that combine in forming their sweetly textured, dramatic and unashamedly ambitious indie-rock.
Initially formed in Leeds (where they studied), Thomas Charge Burke (vocals, guitar), Lawrence James Diamond (bass, vocals) and Alexander Dunlop MacKenzie (drums, vocals) bonded over an old Marquee Moon cassette, 'The Last Waltz' and a desire to create a band musically both passionate and intelligent. It's fair to say, however, that Official Secrets Act only became complete once Michael Andrew Evans (guitar, harmonium, Roland, drums) came on board after seeing the band play a characteristically exuberant early show in Edinburgh ("he transformed everything," says Burke). The show took place in the caves beneath the city - a triumphant underground party that saw the band disseminate invitations far and wide across the Fringe-struck capital.
With Evans onboard and strong impetus to write and nothing but ("we felt like a whole new band"), they decided to take the plunge, quitting their jobs and decamping from London to Manchester in July of last year, where Diamond had secured the use of a flat for a month through friends who worked in the bar downstairs. This period (which soon swelled to two and a half months) proved an astonishingly productive - and in retrospect, hugely important - one for the group. Living out of each others' pockets in squalid and isolated surroundings they played for hours a day high above the centre of Manchester, pushing their sound in ever-adventurous new directions.
With not enough beds to go 'round and a temperamental gas supply resulting in meals being finished in nearby restaurant kitchens ("we had to beg them, and the kitchen's in full view of the restaurant," MacKenzie remembers) - it wasn't the most comfortable of livings, but it had its perks for a young band shaping their sound. "The pub would be pumping Clash songs through our floor 'til about three in the morning and we'd be playing along to them," Diamond fondly recalls, while Charge's abiding memories are of watching countless Beatles and Clash documentaries at night and buying dusty vinyls from the Northern Quarter by day. Indeed, it's no stretch to suggest the classic British pop sensibilities of both acts impacted on the raft of material the band came up with during their stay.
Discussion of the band's varying musical preferences yields - on top of the aforementioned - references to Talking Heads through Bright Eyes, Vampire Weekend through Neutral Milk Hotel. And while Official Secrets Act may not share a great deal with these bands on the surface, it is in the fervour and joy they incite with their music where the similarities are found. Having said that, the deep, brooding swirl of 'A Head For Herod' recalls to some degree the rich soundscapes of Talking Heads, while the choppy, angular pop of anthemic forthcoming single 'So Tomorrow' marries the young and sprightly tendencies of a band like Vampire Weekend to the keen lyrical observation and melodic sparkle of a top-of-his-game Jarvis Cocker. A stamp very much their own is placed on these tunes, which see Burke's pristine, distinctive lead vocals bolstered by the band making a joyous rules free racket in the background.
Their eventual arrival at the staunchly independent One Little Indian label follows the fine 'Victoria' single release on Weekender Records (a shining example of their pop leanings and boisterous energy) and their humble beginnings in Diamond's Leeds basement. Glowing notices have surrounded live appearances in the capital of late (publications such as NME, Artrocker and Time Out quick to heap praise on the quartet), where they've shared stages with the likes of Thomas Tantrum and Pete And The Pirates, gradually furthering their cause as one of the country's tightest live bands. The recent Offset Festival also found the band making their festival main stage debut, in a superb showing preceding the legendary Gang Of Four who headlined later that night.
The forthcoming debut album from this young band is shaping up to be something very special indeed - as they build on and elaborate their unique, strident sound; distancing themselves from the reams of faceless indie bands Britain produces and reaching for the sky. Up their sleeves Official Secrets Act hold a brave, urgent and infectious opening gambit; shaped as much by the minutiae of everyday life and the decisive wordplay of great poets past as what it means to be young, quizzical and coming of age in 21st Century Britain. It's sure to gain them the audience they so richly deserve.