High Hopes: The London Souls

Tash Neal doesn’t remember the day early in 2012 when a BMW drag‑racing down Broadway smashed into the cab that was his band’s tour van. He woke up from a coma a week later to see his family crying with relief. His brain damage had been so severe, every law of science told doctors he’d die. The second day he was conscious, he motioned to his dad for his guitar. Playing three chords, “I felt like me.”

Hearing the record The London Souls had finished just before the crash was equally profound. Here Come The Girls is the second LP by guitarist/vocalist Neal and drummer/singer Chris St. Hilaire, the follow-up to a self-titled debut that had been produced by Ethan Johns in Abbey Road – symptomatic of both a band on the up, and classic tastes that left the twenty-something duo isolated. “What was hip in New York, like shoegazer bands, didn’t swing,” Neal remembers wryly. “If you showed any comprehension of pocket or rhythm or technical ability, it was not cool.”

Here Come The Girls is bursting with melodies, ranging from Isabel’s Arab Spring-inspired melancholy to heavier riffs, with a surging soul-rock vibe. For almost tragic reasons, Neal can objectively say he loves it. “When I heard the album, I didn’t know it was us at first, because I forgot that we’d made it,” he explains. “So I was like, ‘This is fucking awesome!’ And then when I realised this was us, I was like, ‘Holy shit! I’ve got to get the hell out of hospital and play this.’”

Another song had a similarly strong effect. “It was the day I left the hospital,” he reflects, “and I’m driving the car, and Here Come The Sun comes on, and there’s a synth part at the end.” He murmurs it. “And it hit me that I almost would’ve not heard that ever again.”

Neal had been in a coma for almost a week, and hospital for one more when he discharged himself. A year later, when the prognosis was to be ‘walking if he was lucky’, The London Souls started three ongoing years of touring. Did he push himself because he didn’t want to be beaten by what happened?

“There’s got to be some of that in me that went, ‘Screw this,’” he admits. “When I woke up, I didn’t want to believe it. So yeah part of it is, ‘What accident?’

“I have severe brain damage,” Neal explains of his life now. “I don’t have half of my skull. I have a metal plate in it. My vision’s changed. And you never know. We did a show in the south, and one of my brain surgeons came, and just had to bring it up. ‘The damage that your brain sustained, and you still being able to do this, defies science.’ You’re going to have some fear, because you know what’s on the other side. But on the other hand you were part of a miraculous situation. You beat the odds. It’s quite a trip indeed.”

Here Come The Girls is out now on Feel/Round Hill Records

Classic Rock 213: News & Regulars

Nick Hasted

Nick Hasted writes about film, music, books and comics for Classic Rock, The Independent, Uncut, Jazzwise and The Arts Desk. He has published three books: The Dark Story of Eminem (2002), You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks (2011), and Jack White: How He Built An Empire From The Blues (2016).