THE truth is, Justin Currie says, he was worried that they’d be too old. When the idea of doing another Del Amitri album – the first since 2002’s Can You Do Me Good? nearly 20 years ago – was first mooted by his bandmate Iain Harvie, the 56-year-old frontman was not in favour.
In fact, Currie says, “I was dead set against, because, rightly or wrongly, I still like a lot of the things we did in the 1990s. I’m quite proud of them. And I thought if we do something as old men it’s just not going to have the same energy.
“And then eventually I got my head around the fact that it doesn’t have to have the same energy. It just has to be good.”
Turns out, it is. Fatal Mistakes, recorded in three weeks last March just before lockdown, and set for release this May, sounds exactly how you imagine a new Del Amitri album should sound. A set of well-crafted songs, with smart lyrics and hooks that dig in and dig deep. It sounds like an album not made by weary fiftysomethings, but by five musicians who have remembered what they are good at.
It’s Friday, 5pm, and if the world were normal, Currie admits, he’d be in the pub right now. But given there’s a pandemic he’s stuck at home in Glasgow answering emails, contemplating his position in the music industry and telling me about what he’s missing.
“I’ve been in a pub four times since March because I got the fear a wee bit,” the singer admits. “I didn’t really want to go out when they started lifting restrictions. So, when they reopen the pubs, I’m going to make use of them every f****** week because I really regret not doing it.”
He’d be a good bar companion, I suspect. He’s funny and sweary and could probably afford to stand a round or two.
Indeed, Currie admits he is probably weathering the pandemic better than most.
“It’s a lot easier for me than it is for every other musician I know because we have a royalty stream from the past that keeps us afloat. We can probably get through this year without live income.
“But if you’re 25 and in a group that sleeps on people’s floors and makes money selling T-shirts and CDs on tour you’re absolutely done. And all the freelance musicians I know are scoofed and are just driving delivery trucks.”
That income stream comes from the turn of the 1990s, of course, when Del Amitri were a hit machine. Top 10 albums. Top 20 singles and conspicuous sideburns.
That was then. After Can You Do Me Good? Del Amitri stopped being a going concern for a while and Currie went his own way. “I recorded four solo records which were trying to be as not Del Amitri as possible,” he reminds me.
But the band got back together in 2014 for tour dates and after touring again in 2018 the idea of an album didn’t seem quite so impossible.
With a line-up that includes Andy Alston on keyboards and percussion, Kris Dollimore on guitar and Ash Soan on drums, and produced by Dan Austin, the album drew on Del Amitri’s strengths as a live band.
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Both Harvie and Currie brought new songs to the table and Fatal Mistakes is the result.
“With this record, we were trying to be Del Amitri. Which is not difficult because that’s what we do, I guess.”
It’s an album that is suitably age-appropriate, you could say. Ageing and mortality inevitably rear their head.
“I was one of those people who got to my forties without anyone close to me dying and then suddenly there was an avalanche of people shuffling off their mortal coil,” Currie explains. “And you do find yourself writing about that because it’s on your mind. I think that’s just an inevitable part of the ageing process.”
But mostly the album is a sweet brew of guitar-led ballads and love songs with the odd outlier, notably closing track Nation of Caners (bonus points for the title) and Close Your Eyes and Think of England, which is “quite obviously a Brexit track,” Currie points out.
“I wrote all these songs right up on the north-western tip of Lewis,” he explains. “The house I was borrowing just looks straight out onto the north Atlantic. Next stop, Newfoundland. I did feel at that point the whole country was unmooring itself from mainland Europe under the auspices of effectively English nationalism, which is quite a terrifying beast. Scottish nationalism is a terrifying beast at times, but English nationalism is an especially terrifying beast. So that’s where that came from. Staring out to sea and thinking where are we sailing to?”
Is Nation of Caners Del Amitri’s Scottish state-of-the-nation song, I ask? “Maybe. It’s just one of those songs where you write a sh**load of lyrics and then figure out how you’re going to sing them.”
How do you think you’ve changed as a lyricist over the years, Justin? “I don’t think I’ve changed a lot. I still tend to use too many words and show off. I’m still trying to prove that I’m clever, which, I think, is a terrible flaw in a songwriter.
“I’m not as bad as I was. The first Del Amitri album was just a complete gusher of f****** metaphors and adjectives.”
I’m as old as Currie is (older in fact), and so old enough to remember the first incarnation of Del Amitri; the band’s indie hopeful years, all short hair and earnest intentions.
Before we talked, I listened to the band’s debut single Sense Sickness, possibly for the first time since it came out in 1983. Actually, it holds up pretty well.
Its creator agrees. “Somebody is making a documentary about the making of this album and they had me put Sense Sickness on and I hadn’t listened to it since the eighties. I thought, ‘Well, that’s totally of its time. Early James, maybe a bit early Prefab Sprouty.
“I was actually quite pleased with it. But when you’re 56 and you’re looking back at stuff you wrote when you were a virgin it’s hard to find a connection.”
Four years separate the band’s unloved eponymous debut album in 1985 and Waking Hours in 1989. The latter contained their first hits, Let’s Kiss This Thing Goodbye and Nothing Ever Happens. Four years and a huge jump in radio-friendliness.
“We didn’t feel that we consciously changed, but I think we were more ambitious than we would have admitted at the time, having been resolutely been a post-Postcard Glasgow indie band that did Peel sessions and played small university campuses.”
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Two things changed the band, he says. The first was going to America and meeting their contemporaries who were hip and yet loved mainstream rock albums too.
“We went to America and then thought, ‘Who gives a f*** if there are guitar solos and a bit of posturing. The audience are allowed to have fun.”
Currie and Harvie also took over all the writing duties, “and for some reason the songs that we wrote that way were quite obviously much more mainstream than what we’d been doing.
“We swithered with signing an indie deal and then thought this will not succeed unless it’s in the mainstream and that means we need to be on the radio, and we need to have a major record company. So that became the aim. The songs told us what genre we were in.
“The first album was such a huge flop in every respect. So, I think we were slightly embittered and spurred on by that and I think we thought, ‘F*** it, these songs sound like they could be hits. Let’s try and make that happen.’”
They did. Soon they were turning up on Top of the Pops, The Big Breakfast and making inroads into the American market.
“We found that the instant enlargement of the audience and widening of the audience extremely gratifying. We found it utterly vindicating. All these people, these trendy knob ends in Glasgow, had slagged us off for being misfits who were sh**, who were never going to get anywhere. And then suddenly to be in the charts was very satisfying. Revenge is sweet.”
Now here we are in 2021. A new single, It’s Feelings, comes out this week, learned that he’s not too old after all. At the same time, he’s old enough to have a pop life to look back on.
“We’re definitely the lucky ones. We’ve got a story to tell. We’ve had a life in music and 95 per cent of it has been an absolute blast.”
If the pubs were open, we could raise a glass to that.
It’s Feelings is out Friday. Fatal Mistakes will be released on Cooking Vinyl on May 14
R.E.M., Danni Minogue and Frank Carson: Justin Currie on the strangeness of being a pop star:
“The worst one was The Big Breakfast [TV show]. We were doing a gig with R.E.M. in Cardiff Arms Park. We had a great gig and at least three of the guys in R.E.M. came up to us in catering and said, ‘Look, we’re having a party after the show and we’d love you guys to come along.’
“And then we realised we had to drive to Blackpool to go on The Big Breakfast at stupid o’clock the next morning. We were furious that we weren’t going to get to go to this party and hobnob with our heroes.
“The Big Breakfast dragged us off the bus at half five in the morning and stuck us in a Portakabin. So, we sat drinking crap Nescafe for about four hours.
And we were looking at our watches going, ‘Does this programme not finish at 9 o’clock?’ And it was five to nine.
“Then suddenly Dannii Minogue – I don’t know why it was Dannii Minogue and not a production assistant – ran into the Portakabin and said, ‘You’re f****** on …’ I don’t know if she swore…
“They shoved us on this stage and there were all these children jumping about who had obviously had too much sugar. And as soon as we started miming the song, I literally saw the credits rolling on the monitor. I was like, ‘We could have been in Cardiff getting pissed with R.E.M.’
“And I looked around and they brought on a dancing spoon and a dancing egg and I was so furious.
“I also vaguely remember Frank Carson the comedian was on and he’d been forced to dance with us on stage and he’d obviously spotted that I was going south very quickly. So, to try to cheer me up, between every line he leaned over and shouted, ‘You’re a w*****.’
“It was so stunningly surreal that it pinned me to the spot.”