The band was formed in the early 1990s by the Preston-born Avy (vocals, guitar), who dropped out of her Illustration degree course in Brighton to dedicate herself to a career in music, recruiting American-born Oxaal (guitar, cello, keyboards) and multi-instrumentalist Gavin Cheyne on bass.
The band naturally gravitated towards a cinematic alt-country expanse within the stories and hidden meanings in Avy’s acoustic-based writing. Bringing experimental and ambitious arrangements into the mix created a testing ground for genre-clashing, sometimes challenging work.
The band signed to Nude Records after being championed by Brett Anderson of Suede and released their debut album Matinee in 1994, which was described by CMJ New Music Monthly as “moody aggression with bite”, and by Allmusic writer Ned Raggett as “an enjoyable, moody debut”. Original members included Toby Shippey (trumpet), Dil Davies (drums, percussion) Alan Stirner (guitar) and Nick Wilson (keyboards, trumpet, percussion). Four singles in 1995 preceded the band’s second album, The Valentine Tapes, which included Dickon Hinchcliffe of Tindersticks on violin. They toured extensively with Suede and played with Gallon Drunk. The band continued with various line-ups under Avy’s direction, including drummer Steve Hewitt joining the outfit following the departure of Dil Davies. They released a limited edition 500 vinyl boxed set featuring cover versions of lounge classics and a thrash feedback version of the Serge Gainsbourg penned “Je t’aime… moi non plus” which remains a rarity. Following the demobbing of original members after the second album’s release, Avy, Adrian Oxaal and Jessica Fischer (bass/cello) played to appreciative audiences in New York and Los Angeles in 1997.
Avy subsequently collaborated with Robin Guthrie on unreleased material in the late 90s before marrying and settling on the South Coast.
Oxaal went on to join James. Toby Shippey became a founder member of Salsa Celtica. Steve Hewitt joined Placebo before going on to form his own band Love Amongst Ruin. Avy has re-recruited Oxaal and is returning with Sign Of The Sharkboy, subsequently widening their remit by creating artworks and animated stop motion films to accompany new audio tracks.
The bands eclectic style has been compared to My Bloody Valentine, Mazzy Star, Drugstore, Tindersticks, and Mojave 3. On the band’s second album, Allmusic identified a “blend of country, blues, post-punk textures”. Avy’s vocal delivery is in turns stark, atmospheric and intimate, and has drawn comparisons with a diverse number of female singers, from jazz composers such as Annette Peacock through to Kate Bush, Siouxsie Sioux and the late, great folk singer Nico.
Each member of the band brought their own individual influences. Avy came from an experimental arts, ‘non-musician’ background. Steeped in Northern working class folk traditions, and citing widely differing acts Sonic Youth, Julian Cope and Tracey Thorn as influences, she met Oxaal, who was impressed with Avy’s acoustic compositions, and claimed they had a similar feel to artist Suzanne Vega. He became a key figure within the Sharkboy line up, bringing his classical training in cello and piano, to offset some of the more raw arrangements and inviting jazz drummer and percussionist Dil Davies to join up. Together with guitarists Alan Stirner and Gavin Cheyne (who took up bass for the duration), brass player Toby Shippey was eventually replaced by a 2-piece brass section that gave the band an ambitious range that defied compartmentalisation.
Sharkboy retain their sense of experimentation and cinematic themes. Avy continues exploring the world of narrative love stories both visually and musically.
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