The Dream Academy were an English band consisting of singer/guitarist Nick Laird-Clowes, multi-instrumentalist (chiefly oboe, Cor Anglais player) Kate St John, and keyboardist Gilbert Gabriel. The band is most noted for their 1985 hit single "Life in a Northern Town."
Laird-Clowes and Gabriel met each other in the late 1970s whilst the former was in a band called The Act. Their idea was to create a songscape different from the power pop groups popular at the time in the UK, by mixing instruments and sounds that had been rarely done prominently before, such as strings, woodwinds, percussion (timpani), and synthesizers. At first, Laird-Clowes and Gabriel called themselves the Politics of Paradise.
Laird-Clowes met Kate St John (then of The Ravishing Beauties) at a party, and asked her to join. The trio settled on the name The Dream Academy and shopped their demos for nearly two years. Their work was rejected by every record label before finally landing a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records in 1985. Along the way, they made some close connections with Adam Peters and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, a friend of Laird-Clowes. Gilmour would go on to produce and/or play on two of their albums and co-write one Dream Academy song, "Twelve-Eight Angel".
Their first single, "Life in a Northern Town" was a worldwide success and sizeable hit in the U.S., charting at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, from an album co-produced by Gilmour. The song also made number 15 in the UK Singles Chart. The single was dedicated to the English singer-songwriter Nick Drake. It was their only major chart success. Reportedly, their record label initially did not want to release this single. They thought it needed more drums but Laird-Clowes and Gabriel were staunch in their opinion that it was perfect. They commented on its unique sound, and feeling of a winter snowstorm created almost unintentionally by the amount of overdubbing onto the original recording.
The band launched a worldwide promotional tour based on the chart success of "Life in a Northern Town" and appeared on the television programmes Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, American Bandstand (with Dick Clark), MTV (interview with J.J. Jackson), and Top of the Pops. The Dream Academy's eponymous debut album also reached a wide audience in the U.S. Their two subsequent albums did not match the initial success.
They toured once, in 1991. During the same year, Gabriel and St John decided to leave the group to pursue solo musical interests and projects. Laird-Clowes ultimately decided that he would not go further under the Dream Academy name, and took some time off to travel to Asia and Africa. Shortly thereafter, he began to work with David Gilmour on lyrics for Pink Floyd's The Division Bell, before recording his solo album under the name Trashmonk. Lately, he has composed the music for and consulted on numerous film soundtracks (including Nick Broomfield's Battle For Haditha, Richard Curtis's About Time and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers).
All three members of the band remain active recording musicians, each with his or her own career. Kate St John performed with Van Morrison for many years and more recently has been musical director for Marianne Faithfull. Gabriel has also had numerous projects since, such as: The Believers, The Excellent Staircase, Melt21, and The Daze.
"Life In A Northern Town" formed the basis of a dance remix by Dario G entitled "Sunchyme", released in 1997 to commercial success in Europe and was also recorded by U.S. bands Sugarland and Little Big Town in 2010, for which it was nominated for a Grammy Award. Also, a sample of "Life In A Northern Town" was the basis of Jakaranda's "Never Let You Go", released in 1998 as part of the soundtrack for Disney's "The Parent Trap".
25 years after their only tour, on 27 October 2016 Laird-Clowes and St John, accompanied by Keyboardist Maxwell Cooke and Drummer/Percussionist Daisy Palmer, performed two shows in Tokyo, Japan (Shimokitazawa Garden and Shinjuku Marz) and one performance at Shinsaibashi Music Club in Osaka. Gabriel was not present. The performance setlist included In Places on the Run, Johnny New Light, Love Parade, Life in a Northern Town, The Edge of Forever, One Dream from their first album, newer ones incl. Indian Summer, and Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want.
On 4 February 2017 Laird-Clowes and St John, again accompanied by Max Cooke, performed a 13-song acoustic set at The Tabernacle, Talgarth, Wales, their first UK gig since the 1991 full band tour.
|Year||Album details||Peak chart|
|1985||The Dream Academy||58||20|
|1990||A Different Kind of Weather||—||—|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|
|2000||Best of the Dream Academy|
|2014||The Morning Lasted All Day: A Retrospective|
|Year||Single||Peak chart positions||Album|
|1985||"Life in a Northern Town"||15||9||7||2||7||The Dream Academy|
|"The Edge of Forever"||—||—||—||—||37|
|1986||"The Love Parade"||68||—||36||13||37|
|"Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want"||83||—||—||—||—||Ferris Bueller's Day Off (soundtrack)|
|"Indian Summer"||—||—||—||—||—||Remembrance Days|
|1987||"The Lesson of Love"||—||—||—||—||—|
|"Power to Believe"||—||—||—||—||—|
|"In the Heart"||—||—||—||—||—||Non-album song|
|1990||"Love"||—||—||—||—||—||A Different Kind of Weather|
The Morning Lasted All Day
|"Angel of Mercy"|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|