Dylan Keeton has lived through his fair share of abject failures. For the better part of a decade, the bassist has been drifting in and out of tedious, menial jobs and underachieving bands in the grim, post-industrial urban sprawls of northern England. Witness was his last gamble, and last effort to make his voice heard amid the din of laddish bravado, he says. He never thought that he and friends Gerrard Starkie and Ray Chan would as Witness rise from the dusty basement of a Wigan chip-shop to the stage at the Glastonbury Festival of rock music. 'It's been a fantastic summer,' Keeton says excitedly from his pad in Manchester. 'It's been brilliant with the festivals, because obviously this is the first time we've ever done one. 'We all thought it would be such a nervous experience - and it's not at all, it's just a good time. They're all so well-organised that there's nothing really to worry about, except playing.' The irony is that Witness doesn't really sound like a band made for rock festivals. Their music hardly rocks at all, they make their guitars weep, not growl, and self-important, swaggering anthems are conspicuous only by their absence. The music of Witness echoes the darkness of groups such as Tindersticks and Lambchop, and hovers over a sunless world of smoke-filled bars peopled by desperate men resigned to their fates. Keeton understands that there is a chasm between Witness and their brash but popular peers - so even he was taken aback by how quickly the music-buying public has latched on to their sound, on the back of critical acclaim for their debut album Before The Calm. 'We really did think that until about album three you can't really expect anything much to happen - because our music is challenging and you can't just listen to it and hear a nice, pretty hook. You have to give it time and listen,' he says. 'We really didn't know what kind of state the industry was in, so we were pretty cynical about it and thought it would take time. 'It actually makes me feel good, because it means people are still willing to listen to music, give something which is going to take a little bit of work a chance.' The band began in April 1997, when Keeton, vocalist Starkie, and guitarist Chan - who have been bandmates for four years in defunct groupings such as Siren and High Mountain Jag - teamed with guitarist Paul Harte, and started jamming in the cellar of Chan's father's chip-shop. They were joined later by drummer John Langley and keyboardist Julian Pranskey-Poole after Harte left. But even before they all met, Keeton had been so frustrated by the hype that surrounded Brit-pop that he 'spent three years just totally disillusioned with the whole idea of trying to be in a band, when everyone around seemed to want to be Oasis'. 'The whole scene is so uninspiring that I just pulled out of it and worked by myself for three years. When I met Ray and Gerrard they [had done] exactly the same thing over exactly that time scale for exactly the same reason,' he says. As a band, they quickly became popular. Their debut single, Quarantine, was released only 10 months ago - and even then on their own little label, the aptly-named Valiant Records, and limited to 1,000 seven-inch vinyls. But that track will possibily go on to become a classic: Produced by Stuart Staples of Tindersticks, it is a powerful record of internal antagonism. With that and widely acclaimed singles on the album Island, a breakthrough seems near. Scars and Audition have been praised as refreshing pieces in a scene marred by macho rock 'n' roll wannabes. If melancholy is the essence of Witness, then Before The Calm is a diary of someone who feels vanquished and perplexed as an unsympathetic world closes in more closely than ever: it oozes pain, bleakness, angst and a desperate cynicism. When they reach low points, the band chose to drown their sadness with heavy noise - but what separates them from the average grungy angst merchants is that they avoid the obvious path of creating pompous anthems, replacing conventional choruses with stifling guitar feedback. 'Gerrard spent so many years not doing anything,' Keeton says of Starkie's lyricism, 'that he keeps slipping into a dream world and imagining himself to be a much stronger character than he actually he is. The characters in the songs are strong ones who have bad things happening to them but who have come through them. 'He was brought up in a small town like Wigan, in a pub culture where you don't show any kind of true emotion to your friends because it's a sign of weakness - and I think this is his way of exorcising all the emotions he can't get out in any other way.' Groups like Puressence and Travis have led many a band down the path of existential crises or pre-millennium awakenings this year but the subdued vigour of Before The Calm outran all of them. And now Keeton hopes that the acclaim that Witness has earned will encourage young bands to stick to their own creative guns against the pressure of laddish rock. 'We really hope other bands will be more confident in themselves, rather than just trying to play things that they think are going to make them big stars, and therefore sound like everyone else,' Keeton says. 'Hopefully, we can create a real music scene with creativity instead of things sounding the same all the time.' The entertainment pages are edited by Winnie Chung. Tel: 2565 2216; Fax: 2562 2485. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Dylan Keeton is enjoying rock music success after years of disillusionment. Clarence Tsui talks to him 'Gerrard . . . was brought up where you don't show any kind of true emotion . . . this is his way of exorcising all [those] emotions'