Puressence are a 4 piece band from Failsworth, just north of Manchester, United Kingdom. The original lineup included James Mudrickzi on vocals, Meil McDonald on guitar, Kevin Matthews on bass and Tony Szuminski on drums.
1990 – 1994, Early Years
Legend has it the original band members met each other on a bus on the way to the Stone Roses’ legendary Spike Island gig in 1990. Only guitarist Neil McDonald had any previous musical experience at this point, but after seeing the gig, the rest of the guys were inspired to buy the required instruments to form a band, and Puressence was born. Or, as they were called in the early days, “The Presence.”
“The Presence” gig poster for the 701 club, circa 1992
By 1992, the band had relentlessly practiced and honed their sound, developing a unique blend of moody indie rock, led by Mudriczki’s powerful, high ranging vocals. Throughout 1992 and 1993, Puressence changed their name and released two singles through Manchester indie label 2 Damn Loud; Petrol Skin EP in 1992 and Offshore EP in 1993, and an additional single with the Rough Trade Singles Club (1992’s Siamese). They also played a host of smaller gigs in and around the Manchester area, including an appearance at Manchester’s In The City festival.
1994 – 2002, The Island Records Years – Puressence, Only Forever and Planet Helpless
By 1994, the band had attracted the attention of legendary Manchester record label Island Records, who subsequently signed them. Amid a huge advertising campaign around Manchester city centre (anyone around Manchester in the mid 1990’s will remember the letters “P-U-R-E-S-S-E-N-C-E” being pasted across several road bridges and derelict buildings), Island released two preceding singles (1995’s I Suppose and Fire) before the release of the band’s eponymous debut album in April 1996. The album was well received by the underground music press, drawing parallels to Radiohead’s work of the time, as well as bands such as U2.
In spite of the obvious quality of the music and the accompanying marketing campaign, Mancunians didn’t take notice of the band, and the album failed to chart in the top 100. Three more singles were released from the album in 1996 (the masterpiece India, Traffic Jam in Memory Lane and Casting Lazy Shadows), with only the latter cracking the top 100, peaking at a paltry 89.
Puressence spent 1997 touring and writing new material, and came back in 1998 with their second album Only Forever, which was a lighter and more radio-friendly affair than their debut. Leading single This Feeling received some radio airplay and some screen time on MTV, resulting in it becoming the band’s first UK top 40 single, charting at no. 33. Only Forever spawned two other singles, It doesn’t Matter Anymore and All I want, which charted at numbers 47 and 39 respectively.
A long break ensued, which was peppered with some live performances, but no new material. Finally in 2002, a new album arrived, in the form of Planet Helpless. Pegged by some as their most ambitious album to date, it was quite a departure from their previous work, expanding in instrumentation and song structure, but was a clear attempt to appeal to a wider audience. According to one industry commentator, the band’s management summoned the boys to a meeting, and told them they needed to “sound more like Savage Garden.” Thankfully, they largely stuck to their guns, but this started a rift between the band and their label. The resulting album did produce some good tracks (single The Walking Dead being one), but partly due to pressures from above, the quality dips noticeably towards the end, and in my view at least it’s the weakest album. Combined with the lack of interest and marketing budget from their label, it was to be the band’s last with Island. The album charted at no. 81 in the UK, but was a surprise hit in Greece, where it charted at no. 4. Planet Helpless produced just one single, 2002’s Walking Dead, which was to be the band’s final single with Island. The upbeat, radio-friendly track She’s Gotten Over You was pegged to be the second single from the album, but the band ended their deal with Island before it was released.
2002 – 2009 – Big Changes and Reaction – Don’t Forget to Remember and Sharpen Up the Knives
2002-2003 was a big year for Puressence. The band sacked their manager and they ended their relationship with Island Records. Also, in August 2003, bassist and founding member Neil McDonald amicably left the band after more than ten years as the band’s guitarist. He was replaced with (and also tutored) Lowell Killen, who left another Manchester-based band to join Puressence.
Amid the turmoil and with a lack of information or new material, rumours of the band’s demise abounded. These were laid to rest in September 2007 though, when a new album appeared on fledgling Manchester label Reaction; 2007’s Don’t Forget to Remember. The album was a return to the band’s Indie roots, being much more guitar based and lyrically melancholic than its predecessor, but with a few newer influences thrown in. The album failed to chart in the UK in spite the positive reviews, reaffirming the band’s by now almost clichéd status of “Manchester’s most underrated band.” On the back of previous successes, the album was a hit in Greece, charting at number 7 and remaining in the top 10 for several weeks.
The album spawned three singles; Palisades in 2006 which failed to crack the top 100 in the UK but reached number 5 in Greece, Drop Down to Earth, which reached number 56 in the UK in 2007, and 2008’s Don’t Know Any Better, which again failed to crack the top 100 in the UK, but was a number 1 hit in Greece. 2009 saw the release of the band’s first compilation album, Sharpen Up the Knives, which featured over 15 years’ of the band’s singles and favourite tracks as well as new songs Che and Our Number’s Oracle. 2009 also saw the band’s biggest headline home gig to date, a winter performance in front of 3500 fans at the Manchester Apollo.
This period in the band’s career also saw them expanding further afield, with a small tour in the US, playing shows in New York.
2009 – 2013, New Label – Solid State Recital and split
In 2010, the band announced on their official website the release of forthcoming album Solid State Recital, on their own, newly-formed label Caserta Red Records. The album marked a return to form for the boys, representing the maturity achieved through two decades of being together, never quite hitting the heights they so deserve but bravely fighting on, making the music they believed in and never compromising. The album begins with the epic Swathes of Sea Made Stone, a masterpiece with a 7:14 run time. They also experimented with backing vocals for the first time, enlisting the help of Country legend Judy Collins, adding a new dynamic to their sound. The album was accompanied by the 2011 single When Your Eyes Close, a beautifully written ballad, very much reminiscent of their early work.
The band were quiet for a year or so following Solid State Recital, but announced in November 2013 that they were working on a new album, looking forward to a “very busy” 2014. Less than a month later, however, James Mudrickzi announced through the band’s Facebook page the news of its sudden demise. After more than 20 years together making great music, they decided to go their separate ways and focus on other projects, leaving in their wake a catalogue of beautifully crafted music for their adoring fans.