When the English band When in Rome released their debut album in 1987, “Heaven Knows,” “Wide, Wide Sea,” and “Everything,” did well for them, but it was “The Promise” that launched them into the alternative stratosphere. It has continued to return to popularity at various times over the years, including 2004 when it appeared in “Napoleon Dynamite,” and last month when it became part of a viral trend on TikTok.
Last summer, I was fortunate to speak with Clive Farrington, original member of When in Rome UK. This week, not only did I get to chat with the charming man again, but I was blessed with the appearance of his When in Rome cohort, Andrew Mann. The two Englishmen kicked off their tour this weekend in Kentucky, and they are bringing their talents to SoCal next month
After a horrendous day of travel getting back to SoCal from Kentucky, the two spoke to me from Orange County. As Mann popped into a store to purchase some snacks, Farrington started our chat.
Traci: I have to begin with the most important question, Clive. I saw his picture on Facebook and must know, what is your Chihuahua’s name?
Clive: Philip! We’ve got two of them. We’ve got one called Philip, the boy, and Danika is the girl.
Traci: Well, that’s just the cutest.
Clive: Yeah. Both of them are really lovely and both have got very different personalities. It’s great to watch them growing up together. And we don’t know which one’s the boss; whether it’s her, or he’s the boss. (laughing)
Traci: I saw “The Promise” was trending on TikTok recently. What is that about?
Clive: I spoke to my daughter this morning and she said, “Do you know that you’ve got about 10,000 people that are doing ‘The Promise’” as whatever they were doing with them, making a video or whatever. And the weirdest thing is it’s actually in the UK, where we didn’t really have success. The place where we had the most success is here in America. And that’s the reason why I came out in the first place, trying to follow the success. But because of TikTok we’re kind of trending a little bit further afield, which is all good to get the message across. People see us as one hit wonder still, but we do have a very comprehensive hour-long set which, if people came out to see us, I think they’d enjoy it. But it’s difficult for everybody at the moment, that marketing thing. You got to be a little bit more strategic in your marketing when you get doing gigs and stuff. Here’s Andrew now. He’s got all the healthy stuff. We’re not spring chickens anymore, so we have to eat very carefully.
Traci: It is touring time, so you need to be in beast mode. You’ve got to be healthy!
Traci: Hello, Andrew. Welcome back to America!
Andrew: Thank you! We had a big adventure yesterday. I don’t know what Clive told you, but we spent about 12 hours in an aircraft trying to land in Denver.
Clive: We had to go round in circles for about an hour because it was too windy to land. But we landed safely in the end and we’re here and ready to go.
Traci: Awesome! You were in Kentucky to kick the tour off, correct?
Clive: Yes, absolutely. It was a really special event because it’s called Bircus Brewery and the guys are from Ringling Brothers Circus. They’ve opened this really lovely, lovely like an old theater in Kentucky, and they brew the beer there and everything else, but the whole place is designed like it’s a circus area. It’s a big top in a square building. It’s brilliant.
Traci: Clive, when you and I talked last year, you were just getting ready to start debuting the new music at small acoustic shows. Now Andrew is here and you’re getting to play all the new music. What has the response been so far?
Clive: Absolutely fantastic!
Traci: When it comes to the new material, who writes the lyrics, or who does what?
Clive: Andrew drives me around.
(all of us laughing)
Andrew: Yes, with “Vote for Clive” on the front!
Clive: Yes! And he has this chauffeur’s hat on and everything else. (laughing) No, it’s a very equal partnership as far as writing is concerned. We have a formula, right from the beginning, when we wrote “The Promise” because at that time, Mike the keyboard player, and I were working in the little tiny studio at the back of my mum and dad’s place. The stars aligned because Andrew moved down to London, which is very much like the Hollywood of the UK because that’s where all the record companies are, where all the film companies are and everything else.”
He continued, Andrew was strategically placed in London to actually act on anything, any good stuff that we can offer to the record companies and stuff. We’d written “The Promise” and I’d written the first verse and the chorus and we sent him down. We recorded this on a little four-track demo cassette. So I sent it down to him by post, which took about two weeks to get there. And he listened to it, loved it and wrote the second verse. So it’s a real partnership in that respect where we’d each write our respective verses. I’ll come up with, for instance, “The Promise” has a little story in it at the beginning on the first verse and Andrew will elaborate on that story for the second verse. “Heaven Knows” was exactly the same way, where I come up with the first. It works both ways as well; Andrew can come up with the first verse and I can come up with the second. It’s a really great partnership and we’re very diplomatic and very understanding of each other’s ideas.
Traci: Your new single, “To Fix Us,” is streaming, but you will have a special vinyl too?
Andrew: Yes, a picture disk, probably in the new year. We’ve got this [tour] scheduled now up to the next couple of weeks, and I think we get everything in line and then we come out next year doing a new tour of the States and Canada and then release it then. I think that way, at least when we’re doing some shows that people might have heard it right.
Traci: You’re going to do a bigger tour next year?
Andrew: Yeah, that’s what we’re aiming at, getting a substantial tour together of the States and Canada.
Clive: Things are looking good for us because it’s keeping the profile going more than anything, because like you said before, the TikTok thing, that keeps the interest up and stuff. My daughter said, “Dad, you’re really famous.” (laughing) She didn’t know it. Of course we’re famous because everybody knows “The Promise,” and it was in “Napoleon Dynamite.” But my daughter didn’t believe it because she’s in the UK, she doesn’t see all the stuff that’s going on over here. There is a [Netflix] program called “Sex Education” and she was watching it with all her friends one night and “The Promise” comes on one of the series. She says, “You’re famous! At last you’re famous!” It’s a funny thing when you’re from the UK and the record was a hit here and not over there. It’s a really weird thing, but it’s a great thing as well because it means that we can go home and not be recognized.
Traci: Andrew I told Clive this story last year, but now I’m going to tell you. In the ‘90s, as an intern at KROQ in Los Angeles, every time we played “The Promise,” all six phone lines would light up with callers asking, “What is this song!?” It’s one of those songs that will forever be in my head, in a good way, because it was such a positive response. So yes, you guys are famous.
Andrew: Oh, wow! Thank you!
Clive: Fantastic! I don’t know if you know the story the way it happened. Our keyboard player’s cousin was going out to San Francisco to work. The 12-inch version of “The Promise” had been released, so we gave him a copy to take out and he stumbled upon Live 105. It was the biggest ‘80s radio station in California at that time and it was at the time when you could actually walk into reception and go past security; you can’t do that anymore. Again, timing is everything in this business. So he walked in with this 12 inch and said, “Could you give this to whoever plays your new wave stuff?” They gave it to the DJ, Steve Masters of Live 105, who played it for the first time. Then it went like wildfire. All the radio stations started playing it. So I think we were lucky in that respect. I think Andrew agreed with me on this. I think we’re very lucky that people say “a one-hit wonder,” especially in the music industry. It’s the nicest position to be in because you don’t get all the pestering, as it were.
Clive continues: When you’ve had that many hit records that people are asking you to do things every day. I mean, we’re tired now after doing just one gig because we’ve been traveling. (laughing) Imagine what it’s like on one of those major tours where you’re doing it every night and you got to be in a different country. Back in the ‘80s, we get up at five to get an aircraft at seven in the morning, go straight to the gate, do the sound check, go back to the hotel. There’s no time to sit and lie down and have a nap, go back and have a shower, Andrew put his lipstick on (laughing)…
Andrew: And then miss my flight…
Clive: And then miss his flight and everything else. Then you go back to the venue, do the gig, back to the hotel, and up again at five the next morning, and that would be a two-week non-stop. I don’t envy anybody like Duran Duran or Depeche Mode…
Andrew: Although they spread them out a bit more now.
Clive: Yes, now that they’re older, they do spread them out a little bit more. But back in the ‘80s of course, Duran Duran had those major, major hits, nearly every record that they produced. They had no life, there was no home life.
Clive: Well, there’s wealth and there’s happiness, and I think I’d rather be happy.
Andrew: I think I’d be quite happy married to Yasmin Le Bon. (laughing)
Yes, happiness is best – but yes, Yasmin would also be a nice bonus! Thank you to Clive and Andrew for always being kind and catching us up. Stay healthy and out of trouble! We look forward to seeing their happy faces next month.
Catch Farrington + Mann original members of When in Rome UK in Tempe, Arizona (November 4th); Oktoberfest at Olde Worlde in Huntington Beach (November 5th); Tiki Bar in Costa Mesa (November 25th); and Garden Amp in Garden Grove (November 26th). Tickets for all shows are on sale now and they will have special guests Baccara (“Yes Sir, I Can Boogie”) on most dates.