Soft Boys Reintroduce Themselves

The Soft Boys fall into the category of greatest bands you've never heard of.

The British group was together from 1976-'81 and was the first place where rock fans heard from witty singer, songwriter, and guitarist Robyn Hitchcock.

Their 1980 sophomore release, Underwater Moonlight, is considered a classic — but it didn't gain that stature until after the fact, when bands such as R.E.M., Nirvana, and Yo La Tengo cited its influence on their work. Like the Velvet Underground and Big Star before, the Soft Boys were ahead of their time.

"I don't think people knew what to make of [Underwater Moonlight] when they first heard it," says Soft Boys guitarist Kimberly Rew, who went on to form Katrina & the Waves and co-write the 1985 Top 10 smash "Walking on Sunshine," as well as "Going Down to Liverpool" (later covered by The Bangles).

"It doesn't sound like something typical from 1980; it sounds like somewhere out of rock history," Rew says of the album. "It could be something from the '60s, when rock and roll was quite young. And, yeah, we made it in a time when there wasn't a big sense of history about rock and roll, but there is now. I do find that over the years, it's become much easier for people to accept it and fit it into the musical landscape."

Rew and Hitchcock certainly hope that's the case, because they've reunited with Soft Boys mates Morris Windsor (drums) and Matthew Seligman (bass) and are midway through a tour promoting the Matador Records rerelease of Underwater Moonlight, expanded with outtakes and other rare tracks from the group's canon. Because the group spilt sans acrimony, Rew says there's been no trouble putting it together; in fact, all three musicians have worked on various Hitchcock solo projects during the intervening years.

But Rew, 49, says not to bank on the Soft Boys becoming a going concern again. "I think that kind of depends on what really happens over the next couple of months. The proof in the pudding will be in [this] experience. And so far, so good.

"But we're not willing to put everything on Robyn's shoulders. He might want to do another project or a solo album, or another collaboration. Or he could pursue the Soft Boys as long as everybody really wants to do it. Right now it's too early to know that."