London rockers go from A&R to center stage with Palma Violets 

click to enlarge Two members of the U.K.’s raucous Palma Violets began their rock careers as talent agents in London. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Two members of the U.K.’s raucous Palma Violets began their rock careers as talent agents in London.

When London teens Chilli Jesson and Sam Fryer met by chance at Britain’s Reading Festival a few years ago, neither had a clue how to write a song.

So they chose a quirkier path into showbiz: They formed their own talent agency, Thursday’s Children, named for the day they got paid at their straight jobs.

“We wanted to do something in music, but we weren’t particularly talented with guitars or anything. So we thought we’d try to get our foot in the door another way, because there are millions of bands out there,” admits Jesson, 19, who eventually picked up bass and — with Fryer on guitar — formed Palma Violets, now the U.K. buzz band of the year.

The pair, who play The City today, imagined a mini-Creative Artists Agency, but wound up more like Woody Allen’s sad-sack “Broadway Danny Rose.”

To apprise record labels of their scouting talents, Thursday’s Children sent out mysterious one-line letters with hand-drawn birds of prey.

“I’m still waiting on the replies, as we speak,” says Jesson, drolly. “But bear in mind, this was the most unprofessional business. We didn’t have a website or business cards, and we had one mobile [phone] between us. We really didn’t know what we were doing — it was just a delusion in our own heads.”

But the firm had high hopes. The duo hit underground clubs every night, looking for the next big unsigned thing.

When they found a prospective client, Jesson says, there was no big sales pitch.

“We’d just buy them a beer,” says Jesson, who unsuccessfully tried to sign Children and WU LYF.

“We really thought we were going to discover something new,” Jesson says. “But in retrospect, I actually learned so much from that experience. There are so many groups in London where you just don’t feel like they mean it. So I was seeing all these bands, and becoming more and more frustrated.”

Jesson did one thing right. He rented a room-office-crash pad in a rat-infested building called Studio 180, where he and Fryer valiantly tried to keep the agency going.

Soon, they started jamming on instruments there, adding keyboardist Pete Mayhew and drummer Will Doyle, holding popular basement parties and penning Libertines-kinetic singles like “Best of Friends,” which opens their new Rough Trade debut, titled “180.”

As an ex-A&R man himself, Jesson chuckles at how every major overseas label demanded Palma Violets-Studio 180 showcases, provoking a massive bidding war.

They went with Rough Trade’s Geoff Travis because he offered no bribes. “But we told the rest to bring us down food, beer, cigarettes, anything,” he says. “We used to just take those guys to town — they’ve got more money than sense!”

Palma Violets

  • Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
  • When: 8 p.m. today
  • Tickets: $15
  • Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.ticketfly.com

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Tom Lanham

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