NME 'On' piece, 2 June 1999

Serge Overkill!
On Band One - Venini

When Russell Senior, the mad staring eyes at the right-hand side of Jarvis Cocker, made his amicable exit from Pulp, we thought we'd seen the last of him. Rumour had it that he was back in his native Sheffield cataloguing an antique glass collection and was never going to pick up a guitar again.

Rumour had it wrong though, because scattered around the foyer of London's Columbia Hotel are Venini. The man known in Pulp mythology as 'The Headmaster' found himself a new set of charges, namely Amazonian ex-dominatrix Debbie Lime (vocals), Nick Eastwood (bass), Danny Hunt (keyboards) and impassive drummer Robert Barton. Not only that, but they're about to release a new single, the stack-heeled, Serge Gainsbourg stomp, 'Mon Camion': think Stereolab trading blows with The Glitter Band at a Versace party on the moon and you won't be far off.

"It's about a truck," explains Lime in a listless Yorkshire drawl. "'Camion' is the French word for trucks, but it also means 'slapper' as well. So the song is about my obsession with dirty old things."

Venini fell together when Senior finally got bored with pottering around the house. "I can't not do music," hs explains. "It just goes through my head all the time and annoys me."

Happy accident found him hearing a tape of Lime's songs and being inspired to put music to them. "I met Debbie and I had wanted to be really cool and underground, but she started going all pop," he mutters ruefully. "I hadn't intended to be in a band with ambition. It started out as a nice dinner party with a few guests, but it's ended up spilling over into the woods and turning into this bacchanalian frenzy while I'm standing back in horror looking at it."

The rest of Venini were assembled in an elquently shambolic style. "Russ asked me if I knew any good musicians," says Eastwood. "I did, but I didn't tell him about any of them."

Rehearsals and a short spell supporting Rialto followed as Venini tried to work out their musical identity outside the public glare and came to terms with Lime's, erm, liberated lyrical musings.

"When I first got the tape, the lyrics just gradually got more and more out of order," smiles Hunt. "There's this lovely ballad she wrote with the line, 'Tie me up in wire' on it and you can't say that," adds Senior, lapsing into headmaster mode again. "I'm constantly having to tone down Debbie's excesses to something more sweet and innocent."

Happily, as 'Mon Camion' will shortly demonstrate, he hasn't managed to sanitise Venini's sound, and with the enthusiastic reception awarded to their few outings thus far, Senior could be shuffling back into the limelight he was once so disillusioned with sooner than he thinks. Don't mention the 'P' word, though...

"I'm not interested in picking up any mileage from this ex-Pulp thing," he says with gravity. "In a couple of months, we're just going to be the Venini blokes anyway."

Four men and a woman from Sheffield, winding up to take on the world. Now where have we heard that one before?

Jim Wirth

'Mon Camion' is released on Bikini on June 14.