BACK in 2006, before the recession, bankers’ bonuses and a coalition government, England were looking forward to the World Cup in Germany and the band of the moment had ‘the world at their feet’.
Embrace, the five-piece Yorkshire outfit with Coldplay’s ability to churn out melodic pop-rock anthems but with a rawer, more authentic edge had just had their most productive year yet.
They had hit No 2 in the UK singles chart with Nature’s Law, had scored a No 1 album with This New Day and had been asked to create the summer anthem that would propel England to World Cup glory.
The official England song World At Your Feet got to No 3 in the charts but you suspected all along that Embrace’s hearts weren’t really in it. The football team duly exited the World Cup on penatlties (again) and the band turned their back on the charts and disappeared for seven years.
Now, at last, they have decided to poke their heads back above the parapet with a new album and tour - but no new World Cup song.
So, where on earth have Embrace been?
Drummer Mike Heaton explains.
“There was never a split,” he says. “In 2006 we had done a lot of touring, the album had done really well and we took on the World Cup song, rightly or wrongly.
“It was a crazy year and at the end of it we thought we had lost a bit of direction. We weren’t sure where we were going.
“Bearing in mind that it took us five years to be signed, we had been together and busy for a long time, since 1991.
“So we all decided to take a break and we started doing other things.
“It was our first chance to do that, as our complete focus had been on Embrace for 15 years. I started doing a bit of teaching, working with young musicians, mentoring – it was nice for a change.
“Then time just marched on. But we always thought we had unfinished business. As a band, there’s a lot more we want to say and do. So eventually we started writing again.”
The result was Refugees, the stand out track on an EP that reintroduced the band.
Mike says: “That set the bar and showed what we needed to do to make the new album the best we have ever done.
“We have our own studio so we would go in, write and record whenever we had chance and that has taken more than four years to get it where we wanted it to be. Once we were happy, that’s when we said ‘let’s get back out there’.
“I think we needed to step away, as when we came back we all felt completely recharged. It’s one of the reasons we are still around and have been successful, because we haven’t rushed into each album.
“The only time we did that, with the World Cup song, it was a mistake. So now we stay true to ourselves an do things when we feel they are right.”
So does that suggest that Embrace regret signing on for the 2006 England anthem?
Mike says: “It’s mixed feelings. Sometimes I think it was a terrible thing to do but at others I think it was great because it had a big impact on the profile of the band.
“But none of us really like football. We just watch it when a World Cup comes along like a big percentage of the country.
“Basically, we were pushed to do it three or four times. We ended up doing it on our own terms and that meant it wasn’t an overtly football song. But they still wanted it and used it and it was successful but maybe it was just not what Embrace are all about.”
Mike admits that there were a lot of record industry insiders urging the band to capitalise on all this commercial success by recording a quick follow up album and then getting back on the road.
“Everyone was telling us to get straight back on it,” he says. “But after a year, the record label said ‘you are not going to do this are you? OK, just take your time’. After 18 months our manager said: ‘Don’t rush. You have been away so long it won’t make any difference now. Just get it right’.
“Every year the record company would ring up and say ‘have you finished it yet?’ and we would say ‘nearly’.”
After such a lengthy absence it seems appropriate that the band’s sixth studio album will simply be entitled Embrace.
So what can we expect?
Mike says: “It’s not as different as we thought it might be, although the influences go back to a very much darker time for music, Joy Division, New Order – lots of bass riffs.
“It’s more complex musically but it still has the same identity in the lyrics and the big melodies and choruses.
“It’s a big melting pot of ideas but the whole hangs together really well.”
What is clear is that the fans have been patient and are eager to welcome the band back.
“Refugees has been incredibly well received,” says Mike.
“We then put the tour on sale and sold 10,500 tickets on the first day and a secret gig we did sold out in 45 minutes. So people have waited.
“I think it’s because we have been so loyal to our fans and we have always let them know they are important and that the only reason we are on that stage is because they have bought tickets.
“We have always been close to our fans and that’s paying off now as they are coming back in droves, which is heartwarming.
“People grew up with us and the music has stayed with them. You can’t necessarily expect to come back on the same level, but the enthusiastic response has been amazing.”
And, after 2014, will it be another seven years before we see Embrace again?
“I can answer that one now,” says Mike. “It definitely won’t be another seven years. I don’t think that will be feasible again.”
The new album ‘Embrace’ will be released on April 28. Embrace can be seen at Birmingham’s O2 Academy on Saturday, May 10, and Rock City, in Nottingham, on Sunday, May 11, on their new UK tour.