A Brief History of Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead Before Slowdive and Mojave 3

written by John Kupchik

This is my attempt at writing a brief timeline of what came before Slowdive and Mojave 3. Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead are two musicians/singers/songwriters whom I respect and admire immensely, and information about them prior to Slowdive is basically nonexistent on the web. I thought it was about time someone did something about that, and this is what I have tried to do here. It isn't much, but it is more than was available on the web before. I still don't know much about Neil's life prior to Slowdive, so most of it is little tidbits about Rachel I have gathered. I hope this will serve as a useful and interesting resource for Slowdive and Mojave 3 fans everywhere, and that they will be able to see the events that led to Rachel and Neil's great contributions to music. This page is dedicated to this brilliant musical duo whom we all (should) know and love.

1970 Neil Halstead is born on 7 October in Wokingham, England (near Reading).

1971 Rachel Goswell is born on 16 May in a small village outside Reading, England.

1976-77 Neil's family moves to Sonning Common in Oxfordshire, and that is where he first meets Rachel (at school when they were about six years old).

1978 Rachel begins to learn guitar from her father at the age of 7.

Sometime in the early-mid 1980s Rachel and Neil begin to take classical guitar lessons from Rachel's best friend's mother. They continue to pass eachother often, as they attended the same schools. Their friendship develops further.

Sometime in the early-mid 1980s Neil does a paper round, saves up some money, and buys his first electric guitar.

1984 Rachel gets obsessed with Grace Jones.

1985 Rachel gets obsessed with The Smiths.

Sometime in the mid-1980s Rachel discovers the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees from her older brother.

1988 Rachel and Neil get together and form the band the Pumpkin Fairies, along with future Slowdive bandmates Nick Chaplin on bass and Adrian Sell on drums (the latter was not in Slowdive very long).

1989 The Pumpkin Fairies record and release their 7 song cassette demo. It was recorded on 2 Jan 1989 at Reading Berks Rehearsal studios, when Neil was 18 and Rachel just 17. The tracklisting is as follows:

1)everything you breath
2)stephanie says***
3)fifteen million smiles
4)you make me feel
the matter with me
6)dream on..
7)(untitled ghost track)

All tracks written by Neil except ***Velvet Underground.

Approximately a few dozen cassettes were made, complete with B&W photocopied j-cards. The cover image is a picture of Rachel looking up, complete with poofed out goth hairdo, looking sorta like a cross between Robert Smith and Siouxsie. They were sold at the few gigs they played in Reading, and given to friends. It is uncertain how many copies have survived to this day. On these songs Rachel was the only vocalist, although Neil does sing backup on "stephanie says". This song (albeit a VU cover) was the first example of how perfect Rachel and Neil's voices harmonised. On the whole the songs sound highly derivative of My Bloody Valentine, sort of gothy in the English sense. But throughout there are definite signs of what Neil and Rachel would later write, definite hints. Rachel's vocals are up front and prominent, and sound surprisingly good for her young age. Neil's guitar work consists of mainly basic chords played through fuzzy effects (primarily distortion). The song "whats the matter with me" is probably the highlight of this demo, a wonderful whimsical little acoustic ditty with Rachel singing and Neil plucking away on the guitar. It sounds very quirky in a charming Syd Barrett sort of fashion. A really brilliant song that wouldn't sound all that out of place on a Mojave 3 record. The bonus track at the end is of unknown origin as it isn't listed in the credits. It is a recording presumably from 1988 in Rachel's parent's garage, where they practised. It sounds as if it was recorded on a boombox or a cheap portable cassette recorder. There's some talking at the end, and it's rather interesting to hear Rachel's high-pitched, youthful voice. Rather surprisingly, Neil's voice doesn't sound too different from what it is now.

So a few months later the Pumpkin Fairies were no more, and Slowdive emerged in October of 1989. Destined to fade away into the annals of musical history totally unknown and forgotten, the Pumpkin Fairies are nevertheless important as they were the very beginnings of the musical partnership of Rachel and Neil, giving the world (or at least a few dozen people in Reading) a glimpse of the greatness to come.

1989 (Autumn) Neil has a place at University to read English Lit, but doesn't take it up because Slowdive are signed to Creation at the time...

...and it is here where the story ends and continues on into Slowdive, and further on to Mojave 3, and somewhere near on the horizon, into Rachel and Neil's individual solo careers...


I was recently contacted by Neil's mum Pamela. She graciously gave me some more tidbits about Neil's early years, which I've tried to fit into the above timeline, but the exact dates are unknown so it's sort of a general estimation. I've decided to just post her words below, directly as she sent them to me, in order to reference what information I got from her, as well as to have perhaps a more cohesive summation of what might appear a bit vague on the timeline above:

Neil was born in Wokingham which is near Reading. We moved to a place called Sonning Common in Oxfordshire when he was small and that is where he met Rachel at School when they were about six years old. They lived in the next road and her parents and I still live in the village. They progressed through School together and as you know they had the same guitar teacher and learned classical guitar. Neil did a paper round and bought his first electric guitar. He had a place at University to read English Lit which he did not take up as Slowdive were signed at the time.

contributions, questions, comments, corrections, etc. kindly send to blueskied AT this page was created on 18 April 2001. updated on 27 September 2003. many thanks to Pamela Halstead for the info.

Originally appeared at John Kupchik's website
Copyright © John Kupchik