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Pale Came From Both Sides of the Tracks and Made it Out The Other Side Intact

Class may eat away at the heart of British society, but Pale, from either side of the tracks, can’t be stereotyped because of their background.

Life has changed a lot in the last 18 months for Alan and Lee, who make up the duo Pale. At that time, they were both between houses, living at Alan’s parents’ place in Richmond, South London, holed out in a garden shed making music. Alan’s mum wasn’t bringing them out chocolate shakes and his dad wasn’t hollering “you punk kids better keep that racket down” but his grandmother was talking about her memories of Nazi Germany.


It was a strange time for both of them. At the end of 2012, Pale went on tour with The Vaccines and Diiv, bringing their spare, emotional, moody electro pop songs to the public. They dropped their drummer and went on to play with Sky Ferreira. Having both toured separately in other bands or as session players with solo artists like Baxter Dury and Mr Hudson, both Alan and Lee had seen that big productions often resulted in a lot of money wasted, with Ian’s son (Baxter) and Kanye’s favourite white guy (Mr H) both failing to get large audiences despite the large outlays. Pale took it slow and in March 2013 released an excellent single, “Too Much”. The video has been watched by 350,000 people since then.

It was then, in the summer of 2013, that I went down to meet them. Getting off the train at Richmond, its spiritual connection to Surrey over London was evident even in the train station’s WH Smith. A Daily Mail supplement on the Chelsea Flower Show, The Royal Yearbook 2012 (“A Year to Remember in Pictures”) and whole magazines on the Queen and William & Kate (“Their Royal Life”) sat beside one non-Royal title: Mac for Beginners.

Pale’s time in Richmond highlighted a crucial aspect of their backgrounds. Alan’s father, Orlando, is a hugely successful barrister. Alan went to boarding school and describes his family as wealthy but dysfunctional. In the garden, by the shed they recorded in, Alan told me that, “Most of my adult life has been spent patching up the wounds left by the system I grew up in. It's in everything I do. I hate posh people, I hate snobbery and I hate the Tory government. I hate, also, that I am tarnished with the same brush”.


Lee, whose mother had bipolar disorder and gave him up for adoption after she “burnt down a few houses by accident”, comes from a very different background. In foster care until he was eight, he was adopted and his life became more settled. But while Lee came from a council estate in Northampton, parts of his childhood echoed Alan’s. “I had quite a similar early childhood because I was in foster care, so I was thrown in with lots of people”, Lee says.

Pale and mutti

Alan was six when he was sent to boarding school and Lee says that when he talks about “showers in dormitories, having to line up with all the other kids, it sounds familiar to me from my time in foster care”. At boarding school and in care, both young boys suffered. Now, they share a rare musical affinity. As Alan says, “Me and Lee come from different worlds, but we think the same, dress the same and like the same music”. Class may eat away at the heart of British society, but Pale, from either side of the tracks, can’t be stereotyped because of their background.

In the kitchen of the house in Richmond, I spoke to Alan’s father. He welcomes me to the house, tells me that he knows it’s an unusual place and introduces me to his mutti, Carola, an elderly German woman who has dementia and who, despite almost being taken to a concentration camp for doing cartwheels with no knickers on when she was a teenager, will no longer hear a bad word about Hitler.


I ask Orlando if he thinks mutti is happy and he tells me that he hopes so. She seems to take delight from a lot of what happens around her and is close to the two women who look after her, even going and staying with one of them from time to time (she sleeps in the same room as the carer’s 9-year old daughter). When I say goodbye to her, she replies with a “Heil Hitler”. Mutti likes Lee’s long hair and thinks that he’s a girl. She often believes he and Alan are married. In a way, she’s right.

A year later, I remember mutti’s words when I hear that Alan is getting married for real. Today, he has a six-month old child. His family’s house in Richmond has been sold. Alan and his wife are planning on leaving London. Lee lives in Shoreditch in a room the size of his bed. “Bit of a downgrade from Alan’s parents’ place”, he jokes.

The new circumstances have come with new music. Pale have just released an EP, The Come Back EP, which adds an unsettling and unusual note to their song-writing. The songs are like Chicago soul heavily filtered through romantic 80s pop acts and the pioneering synth work of bands like Neu and solo artists like Bernard Szanjer. But like the xx or How to Dress Well, their songs are accessible, not remote. The emotion of the music is understated but it bursts from the speakers. I play it to my own grandmother who, like mutti, has dementia. The stories pour from her now. She tells so many stories, it’s as if she’s decided that she must say everything she has to say before she dies. She smiles as she listens to the music. Smiles and tells another story.

“The Comeback EP” is out now

Follow Oscar on Twitter: @OscarRickettNow