Interview with the lead singer of Del Amitri – Justin Currie: ‘We were never cool, even back in the indie days’
Currie was, and soon will be again, the lead singer of Del Amitri, a band seemingly destined never to be hip, and an easy target for those of us who favoured the trendier Britpop outfits in the 1990s. I mocked their output more regularly than most, due to a couple of pals who’d play their albums on an endless loop during our long trips to watch the then similarly unfashionable Leyton Orient FC.
Actually Currie’s mournful sentiments were often pretty apt after a miserable away defeat, and – whisper it – I secretly rather liked some of those jangly guitar tunes. Still, the constant rotation led to an inappropriate amount of back-seat invective that, many years later, I find myself confessing to him. Rather than take offence, Currie apologises for the torment then becomes rather confessional too.
“We were never cool, even back in the indie days, doing Peel sessions and putting indie singles out; we did three gigs with The Smiths, in ‘84 I think. But for some reason we never had much cred, we were perceived as [Glasgow indie label] Postcard copyists, which to all intents and purposes we were; Orange Juice were a model for us. But it was quite painful, being in a trendy cool Glasgow scene and being the black sheep of the family. People really turned their noses up at us.”
Del Amitri went on to sell an awful lot of records in the 1990s, and broke America months before Oasis, but Currie is curiously self-deprecating about the band’s achievements. And so, 30 years after they formed, with a big reunion on the horizon, perhaps it’s time to reappraise this successful British export. I mean, surely everyone loves at least one Del Amitri song?
Nothing Ever Happens. Always the Last to Know. Kiss this Thing Goodbye. Stone Cold Sober. The boldly rational 1998 Scotland World Cup anthem, Don’t Come Home Too Soon. And my own guilty pleasure, an underrated, falsetto-heavy single from 1992 called Just Like a Man. The latter song emerged into a pre-Britpop era filled with “nothing, no decent rock music;” and yet his band were still ignored by the inky music press, despite an early brush with indie cred beyond that Glasgow scene.
“We weren’t a great band,” he admits, “but we were quite original and the lyrics were quite original, so I guess we were contemporaries with early James or something. Actually we were pretty much contemporaries of The Smiths, and The Smiths just went massive.”
They even made the cover of the Melody Maker early on, representing “the future of indie jangly music,” recalls Currie. But infighting at their label meant an infuriatingly long wait for the debut album, during which the inky mood changed. “Chrysalis completely f****d it up. We became a laughing stock of the music press, and that f****d us, that completely f****d us,” he sighs.
Still, they went on to secure a doggedly devoted fanbase, who’ve hung in there, just about. Their US breakthrough, the 1995 single Roll To Me, was widely derided, it being jolly, poppy and thus not the ‘real’ Del Amitri (even the musically upbeat Just Like a Man featured the chorus “I want to die/I want to cry.”) The band eventually fizzled out a decade ago after more record label wrangles, and an electronic album “which we really liked but no one else seemed to like so it never saw the light of day.”
Currie then went solo, but “hated the idea – ‘lead singer-songwriter out of f***ing band makes f***ing solo record’ – it always seemed such an ego trip,” and he admits that his albums “tend towards the slightly maudlin, introspective thing.” Indeed, even one of my old away-trip buddies lost the faith at this point, as the gloom descended.
That said, the recent third solo outing, Lower Reaches, is a chirpier, country-flecked affair, chiefly due to him flying out to Texas and letting a local band loose on the material, under the direction of producer Mike McCarthy. “He had to be quite obnoxious with me, which was the only way to keep my nose out of what he was doing,” says the singer. “I just sat at the back of the control room, blogging.”
While that record was being readied for a low-key release, Currie and guitarist Iain Harvie were also mulling over the big-stage return of Del Amitri, early next year. The long-awaited comeback tour is selling predictably well, and you sense that it cannot come quickly enough for the frustrated solo artist. How would he sum up the last ten years?
“Well, slow, I’ve never really been that busy,” he sighs, and goes on to reminisce happily about touring with the band, then a more troubling return from some recent solo gigs. “Even after three weeks I had a real problem de-pressurising, coming back and doing housework again. I couldn’t handle it, I just went to bed for three days, I could not f***ing hack it, because I just wanted to be out there getting the adrenaline hit every night.”
Currie is cagey about the likelihood of a long-term reformation, and a new Del Amitri album, but one suspects that he’ll warmly embrace the old touring routine. As one of his much-loved songs suggested, when nothing ever happens, we all sing along like before.
Justin Currie’s new single I Hate Myself for Loving You is out nowTagged in: britpop, Del Amitri, Justin Currie, Oasis
Recent Posts on Arts
- Scottish Book Trust Ask the Author: Cathy MacPhail's
- Lost in the Riots Interview: ‘If you’d told us we’d be going to Europe with this band four times, we would've told you to bugger off!’
- Scottish Book Trust’s Children’s Book Blog
- Friday Book Design Blog: ABCD awards 2015
- Crowds at Lahore Lit Fest ignore bomb risks and raise hopes for Pakistan’s future
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter