Indie band The Kooks are traditionally associated with the seaside town of Brighton, but front-man Luke Pritchard was born in Sydenham, raised in Forest Hill and attended Croydon’s BRIT School. Until now, his football allegiance has been kept under wraps. Now living back in his native south London, Pritchard shares music’s best kept secret to the Crystal Palace matchday programme in this exclusive interview.
Last summer, Luke Pritchard posted a picture on Instagram to celebrate his engagement to fellow musician Ellie Rose, both of them wearing Palace shirts. Fans of the multi-million record selling singer did a double take – isn’t he from Brighton?
Whilst Pritchard’s band did indeed spend their formative years together on the south coast, three-quarters of the original line-up met at BRIT School in Croydon. And Pritchard is as south London as they come. News of Pritchard’s football allegiance has lay dormant, but he is keen to set the record straight: “Football was always a bone of contention in the band, because our old drummer Paul was a big Brighton fan. It sometimes tested our patience with each other! Maybe that’s why I’d not really talked about it before.”
The Sydenham born singer-songwriter went to his first Palace game with his uncle when he was at primary school, and the Eagles’ home ground had a lasting impression on him. “Selhurst Park is the best atmosphere without a doubt, of anywhere I’ve ever been to. I think it’s legendary. I just love Palace, man, it’s the most real deal team in the Premier League. You know, the community spirit and the stadium is amazing.”
The Kooks, named after a David Bowie track, are currently touring their fifth studio album, Let’s Go Sunshine. Featuring on the record is a Pritchard-penned track titled Swing Low – inspired by his football club and the drum situated in the Lower Holmesdale. “What I love about Palace is there’s so much heart. I wanted to write a song imagining going through the tunnel, preparing for the game. I was trying to put myself in that position, and write a tune that would evoke that emotion and fighting spirit. It was a fun thing to do, and I hope that people get that feeling from it.”
Living in south London once again, Pritchard has fond memories of his young adulthood in Croydon. “I just remember trying to get into pubs when I was underage. It was a stomping ground for me. I don’t know how much it’s changed, but I remember hanging out in parks, playing football and drinking White Lightning!"
Pritchard was destined for a life in the spotlight, but regrettably not as a footballer. “I played, but I have proper ‘two left feet syndrome’ – I can dance great, but football didn’t come very easily to me. I was a defender at school, and played until I was about 13. I then found music and girls, and I was much better at music and girls!
“Musically, Croydon was one of the first places I played – I can’t even remember their names, but little pubs that would let me take my acoustic guitar and play, so it’s a special place for me. It’s about time I came back to see how it’s all kicking off!”
Back in 2005 when the band first emerged on the indie scene, they were to receive a lot of stick from the music press for their stage school education, but Pritchard remains proud of their roots. He said: “It’s funny. There’s a similarity I think with The Kooks and Palace, we’re kind of like the underdogs. We were always the underdogs, there were rivalries at the time with the Arctic Monkeys and Razorlight and people like that. There was a bit of a ‘oh, stage school’ kind of thing. Now it’s completely shifted.
“We as a band, we had a good impact on the industry - being proud of doing pop hooks, and not being too cool for school. Yeah, we did go to a music college and were quite open about it. Then you saw how many people now come from those places and are proud of it. At the time, it was frustrating but you’ve always got to be proud of yourself – it’s always better to stand up and be honest and stay true to what you are. We are from BRIT School, and that’s who we are.”
The music scene in south London is firmly back on the map, albeit primarily due to a resurgent genre at the opposite end of the musical spectrum. But the attention and plaudits the area is receiving hasn’t gone unnoticed by one of its residents. “I really have felt it. Obviously, the grime scene with Giggs, Stormzy and there’s a lot of amazing music coming out of south London. Also you’ve got Bastille from Elephant & Castle.
“I live in Kennington now, and there’s definitely a shift in people’s perceptions of south London. There was a bit of snottiness about south, and there still probably is a bit.
“East London got so over saturated, and the music got a bit boring y’know? Another hipster band, another hipster band, you know what I mean? Another person with a moustache… so it’s exciting, there’s a lot of studios popping up too. I feel proud of it.”
It’s not just Croydon that’s got its swagger back, Palace’s players have received social media fame for their outrageous levels of “sauce”, a term that wouldn’t be out of place directed at the effortlessly stylish Pritchard. The frontman can see the fans’ point: “Ha!! Zaha is such a legend, he does look like a rock star.
“Being a musician you’re meant to look stylish, but footballers might be outdoing us at the moment potentially – so we might have to up our game! The one thing I don’t like particularly in football these days is the man-bun! I have a problem with that, that went too far.”
Image: Andrew Whitton
Fans around the world have commented upon the style of the Palace kits this season, with gents fashion magazine GQ Award naming it as the best kit in the league. “I saw that! It’s a fresh kit – it’s the colours, man. It’s a vibrant kit, and we always stood out on the pitch – I had a couple of kits back in the day, in the mid-90s. In the full Britpop era, with my Palace kit! It’s an amazing kit from a stylistic point of view – you don’t get much better than the Palace kit for sure, I love it. I might have to wear it at Finsbury Park to show the north Londoners!”
Turning attention to today’s fixture, is there a sense of divided loyalties for a proud south Londoner with a soft spot for Brighton? “I think it’s actually quite quality that Brighton are in the Premier League, and are actually competing now. Ha ha ha! Brighton is actually a real deal team, they have great supporters too like Palace do – so there are similarities there, which is probably why there is the rivalry.
“But at the end of the day, I’m a Londoner, and it’s time to come out of my shell and shout about Palace.” That’s settled, then.