Kent-based four-piece Airhead lined up with Michael Wallis (vocals and guitar), Sam Kesteven (drums), Ben Kesteven (bass) and Steve Marshall (keyboards).
Signed by WEA/Korova as the Apples in September 1990, they 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 in 1992 and the following year, the band were dropped by their record label Korova, only to be signed by Mother Tongue to release a further EP. This period also saw bassist Ben and keyboard player Steve leave the band. Roger Wells took over on bass and Michael was to play keyboards when required.
The new line-up 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 with the band’s final release, 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 the band continued to play live in search of a new 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 allowed to be fulfilled.
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.
- Roger was in Resque.
- Sam plays drums with Wonderhorse (see also 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.
Why I love Airhead
I’ve been looking for Airhead on the internet for some time but not come across much so I thought I’d put together a few pages to ensure the band has small corner of the internet to itself. They didn’t achieve much chart success, I’m not sure if they were even ever cool to like, but I think they deserve some sort of online acknowledgement.
Boing!! was the first CD album I ever bought; as a result it became the soundtrack to my formative teenage years along with other great early-90s indie. I also also bought Michael Jackson’s Dangerous in the same transaction, thank goodness that didn’t go on to influence my musical tastes quite so strongly.
Most of the content on this site is made up from the scraps of information found in the 12″ fanzine singles, bits I’ve stolen from the internet or things that people have emailed me. If you have anything more substantial then please get in touch.
There is also an Airhead Facebook page at facebook.com/airheaduk (not to be confused with Finnish death metal band Airhead).