Ahead of their first new album tour in 20 years, Del Amitri frontman Justin Currie tells John-Paul Davies how Nothing Ever Happens came to be the band’s first Scottish hit and the true story behind their classic Top Of The Pops performance.
All Hail Blind Love, from your latest album Fatal Mistakes, could be a letter to a lover, but it reads more like an honest look at band dynamics. With just you and Iain Harvie as the only continual members of the band, is it like living in a long term relationship?
Absolutely, in lots of ways. Yeah, I mean it struck me because that song was written about being at a wedding anniversary. I was looking at a couple kind of owning up to the fact that not everything has been sweetness and light in 30 years of marriage, and I thought that had quite an amusing parallel in terms of what Iain and I have gone through over 40 years, or whatever the hell it is!
How does it feel getting the band back to the studio after almost two decades since the last album?
We were pretty trepidatious about it. And in fact, it ended up being the most enjoyable recording session on an album, ever, for us. There was always an awful lot of tension and pressure in days of yore. Whereas this time, we didn’t have a record label attached to the album – it was all self-funded – so it was a pretty happy camp. It has to be said there wasn’t really any tensions or anxieties when we were recording it: I think we genuinely enjoyed it.
Scotland is obviously important to you and you’re playing 10 Scottish shows on this tour, closing at Glasgow Barrowlands. Does it feel very different playing in front of your home crowd, your own people?
Yeah, Barrowland attracts a certain kind of an audience – a particular sort of Barrowland audience – where it’s much more raucous than if you play a concert hall or a theatre.
You know, we were always slightly resistant to being pigeonholed as a Scottish band, partly because we always had guys in the band that were from England. Although at the same time we did sort of toy, jokingly, with the whole tartan thing. And Iain was reminding me the other day that we used to have a tartan drum kit… we had a tartan guitar for a while! So I think we find that kind of amusing to play with in the States and in England.
But, you know, when we started out we were pretty much reviled and loathed in Glasgow. We’d actually go to England to find an audience that would tolerate what we were doing. We were perceived as being a kind of Orange Juice, Josef K coffee band, which to a certain extent we were. When I was at school and those early singles came out I just thought they were gods, you know. So we were perceived as riding on the coattails – after the vanguard had advanced.
So, Glasgow was really tough for us until we had a hit. And then once Nothing Ever Happens got into the chart, all of a sudden, lots of people would show up in stores and Scottish gigs. Which was brilliant, but we were kind of sceptical about it for a while. We’re thinking, “well where were you for the first 10 years?”
Do you think that was because the song had such a traditional Scottish vibe to it?
Yeah, and it was kind of accidental that we had accordion on there and a bit of cello. We knew a guy that played accordion, called Blair Cowan, who played with Lloyd Cole & The Commotions and at that time Andy, our keyboard player, wasn’t available. So they got Blair to do some parts and he brought his accordion along. So that came out of nowhere because we hadn’t listened to any folk music, just Bob Dylan and things. So it’s quite odd that we had that song that was rooted in that Scottish folk tradition.
But then I remembered that, in my generation, when you went to primary school and secondary school actually, there was one hour a week where you would learn Scottish country dancing to these fiddle, and accordion-based records off some big, clunky reel-to-reel tape machine. So I think that snuck in because we didn’t listen to any folk music on the radio or anything when we were growing up.
Cardiff will be the first full, electric show of the tour, after three acoustic shows in Edinburgh. What can fans expect to see and hear?
Oh, there’ll be a few new songs, we’re not sure how many – we’ll test them out on alternative nights. We’ll have rehearsed quite a lot of the album, but we don’t want to do too much of the album, in case people are going, “oh just play the fucking hits!” I mean, we always play the obvious things, and there’s quite a lot of obvious things, so you can drop the odd one and replace it with another thing. And we’re quite partial to playing B-sides, because a lot of the Del Amitri audience are really fond of some of these B-sides. So yeah, I think the main difference will be we’ll do three, maybe four things off the new record.
For me, your performance of Always The Last To Know on Top Of The Pops is a definitive 90s moment. You had the sideburns and the sheepskin jacket…
Oh I had the fucking stupid jacket on for that because I had flu and I was really sick. Yeah, we were on tour and I just got really stressed two days before Top Of The Pops and got a terrible fever. In a desperate attempt to keep me fit, we got some nurse to come out and give me an injection in the arse. Some vitamins which didn’t do any good whatsoever but I suppose I had some kind of placebo effect. So I ended up with that stupid sheepskin thing because I was really freezing and sweating.
So apart from being injected in the arse, what stands out for you after 40 years of Del Amitri?
Probably the Australian tour of 1990, when we made it over there. We kept delaying the Australian tour because we were so busy in the States. So we kept putting it back and putting it back and eventually we went over – September 1990 – by which time our album had been advertised on one of the big network TV channels, so we were on ad breaks in the middle of the news and things.
The single had charted and we got off the plane and everybody knew who we were, which wasn’t the case in America. It wasn’t really the case in the UK, not to the same extent. So that was pretty wild. We were young and the promoter was really brilliant and he’d take us out to clubs after the shows and all that stuff. So we had a total whale of a time in Australia. I mean it was like proper rock’n’roll – partying every night and we were young enough that we could actually sustain it.
We played a venue in Sydney called Selina’s, which is one of the loudest gigs I’ve ever done – the audience was so loud. And then we discovered later on about 80% of the audience were expat Glaswegians, so it was a bit like doing a Barrowlands gig in Sydney. It was utterly mental and it was really warm and just everything about it was magical.
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Fatal Mistakes takes swipes at the state of the world and, most specifically, the music industry. How do you picture the next decade of music making for Del Amitri?
We’re certainly intending on doing a second album. When that’ll be, we don’t know. It just depends how long we tour this for and I’m certainly not even thinking about another solo album. I really enjoy doing this. So, yeah, it’ll be another album at some point next year, the year after, I think.
A swipe at the music industry, really? Which song?
Actually, that’s taking a swipe at puritanical sorts that ban music. But I like that new interpretation, I might try and sing it that way.
Del Amitri play St David’s Hall, Cardiff on Mon 13 Sept. Tickets: £32.50-£58. Info: here
Fatal Mistakes is out now via Cooking Vinyl.
words JOHN-PAUL DAVIES
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