Interview – Glasvegas (repost)


At the start of 2008, I interviewed James Allan of Glasvegas. This interview disappeared for a while, but since it was done the band have been signed and dropped from Sony. I always intended to repost it – thanks to Ryan of the Cactus Mouth Informer blog for making it possible to do so.

Every so often, along comes a band who drive all who hear them into a frenzy. The movement gathers pace, and tries to get knocked off by the cynics who sneer ‘hype!’, out of nothing else than sheer jealousy. And yet sometimes, even the cynics are silenced, as they heard something that goes against what they have heard before, and the band themselves are pleasantly taken aback by what’s happening.

At the moment, it’s the latter position that Glasvegas find themselves in. They are soon to release their third single ‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry’ which will be out in time for Valentine’s Day. It’s the follow-up to ‘Daddy’s Gone’ which was runner-up in the NME writers’ tracks of the year list for 2007. ‘Cheating Heart’ has already gathered the track of the week in NME, and it looks like commercial success is soon to follow for the Glasgow band, who haven’t even been signed yet. Although they hail from Glasgow, their sound is unquestionably different from the likes of Franz Ferdinand or The Fratellis, owing far more to influences from the 1950s and 1960s.

A few weeks ago, I rang up singer James Allan for a chat. He’s a very accommodating, friendly young man, who is extremely modest.

I begin by asking how the band came together. It transpires that James and guitarist Robert are cousins, while bassist Paul was in Robert’s class at school. The lineup is completed by Caroline on drums and the band are managed by Denise, James’ sister.(They don’t seem to do surnames).

It’s easy to assume that once you’ve been featured in NME that you’re already halfway there to having made it. Has the coverage for ‘Daddy’s Gone’ changed anything for them?
James considers this, and says that whilst he doesn’t think they’ve had more coverage from it [in the NME] they do seem to be reading about themselves a bit more.

‘Daddy’s Gone’ tells the story of a boy whose Father left home, and his defiance that he won’t ‘be the lonely one…forget your dad he’s gone.’ With it’s anguished ‘All I wanted was a kick about in the park, for you to race me home when it was nearly getting dark.’ Treading very carefully, I ask if the song is autobiographical. James replies that ‘some things are [written] from personal experience, other things are common knowledge.’ He adds ‘I’m not telling anyone anything that they don’t know already.’

Glasgow has always had a vibrant music scene, far more in-your-face than Edinburgh. Franz Ferdinand’s success has prompted a number of English A&R men to head north of the border with their cheque books. Here on 17 Seconds, when I first wrote about the band a month ago, not only was the feedback very positive, but also a lot of people commented that they didn’t have the ‘Glasgow art-school sound.’ So was this intentional? Who does James consider to be Glasvegas’ influences?
‘ Fifties doo-wop and rock’n’ roll, sixties girl groups and Jerry Lee Lewis.’This is a pretty accurate reflection of their sound. Over a month since I first heard them, and I don’t think I can sum it up any more than this. And I love the fact that James sings in his own accent, which is what makes it so distinctive.

So does he consider them to have any contemporaries in Glasgow? ‘Not really! I don’t know a lot of the bands, I’ve not seen them.’ He confesses to having only heard Teenage Fanclub a few months previously. Whilst people writing about them might see Glasvegas as being the latest band in a line of Glasgow bands that stretches back to Franz Ferdinand, Teenage Fanclub, the Pastels and before, James doesn’t consider himself or his band to part of anything like this.

One of the things I have to ask him about is the band’s gig in a Prison. On their website, it features pictures of them playing at Barlinnie prison in Glasgow. Some people might think there’s no point in playing in a prison -inmates are hardly likely to be able to get passes to go and follow these bands round the country -but there is a tradition of this, perhaps most typified by Johnny Cash and the live albums he recorded in prisons in the late sixties at Fulsom Prison and at San Quentin. ‘[The prison gigs] were one of the things we’d wanted to do since we started the band. It’s quite hard getting the disclosure form, he chuckles [as a teacher, I can identify with this. The disclosure form allows you to be able to work in places like schools and prisons]. It transpires they’ve actually played four or five prisons in Scotland. So what was it like?

‘It was pretty real! A lot of things…there were certain things I expected, and other things I didn’t [imagine] happening. I’m sure we’ll do more [gigs in prisons].’ He adds thoughtfully: ‘It’s heartbreaking in some ways…not that you feel sorry for them, that they shouldn’t be there, but sorry that that’s their way of life.’ One experience in particular that stood out for him was Polmont prison.

‘They were all wearing the same uniform. At first I was probably like an alien to them. You’re going into their zone and expressing yourselves. But people seemed to be really moved.’ Even weirder, after the gig, back in Glasgow he met Carl Barat from the Dirty Pretty Things who’d just played a gig himself, in very different surroundings.

The band will be on tour by the time you read this. Their homecoming slot at the Barrowlands Ballroom, the legendary Glasgow ballroom, which has hosted pretty much anyone whose mattered over the years, has sold out. Is this a big deal for them? ‘Glasgow’s always a special place to play, no matter what capacity you’re in. We’re playing with The Wombats.’

The aforementioned ’It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry’ will be out soon as well, and like ‘Daddy’s Gone’ and debut ‘Go Square Go!’ will be self-released. These two 7” singles have become collectable extremely quickly, there are a couple of mint copies of the ‘Daddy’s Gone’ 7” going for £50 on eBay. ’Even trying to get copies of the singles for our mums is difficult!’ says James.

And speaking of singles, what about their debut? And what a record deal? How many record companies are chasing and jostling for Glasvegas’ signatures on a contract just now?

Chuckling, James calls through to Denise to ask her. The answer comes back: ‘Too many!’ Not in the tone of arrogance, but someone who seems genuinely surprised that this is happening. As for the album, they haven’t even recorded it, and James reckons it will be at least three months before they can get in the studio. ’We’ll squeeze it in, it’s just getting the time.’

Perhaps their most high profile admirer is Alan McGee, the man responsible for signing Oasis, the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine. Anyone who is one of McGee’s friends on MySpace will have received one of his regular bulletins about the band. To this extent, some people are actually convinced Alan McGee is Glasvegas’ manager.‘If I was them, I’d have the same assumption,’ says James. He is clearly grateful to McGee for his enthusiasm and the fact that he’s a friend and a fan.

So finally, given the excitement about Glasvegas, would they move to London to further their career? James seems genuinely taken aback and surprised by this question. ‘I’ve never thought that far ahead!’ he says modestly. ‘It’s really unpredictable. Just take it as it comes. It’s crazy moving somewhere for your career.’

>Glasvegas -‘Daddy’s Gone.’ mp3

2008 Festive Fifty and albums…advance warning

Just to let you know folks, as well as the Christmas posts I’ve been doing over the last few weeks, I will be posting my annual Festive Fifty and lists of all the best albums of the year, including this year – for the first time -another list for re-issues and compilations. I’m still trying to finalise both lists, as well as worrying about all the albums I haven’t heard this year. But as I have heard over 160 new albums this year, hopefully the list will be pretty comprehensive, as comprehensive as one person’s list can be.

Two things I want to say now:

1. Glasvegas are not featuring.

You heard. I’ve thought long and heard about this, and have decided that as they refused to comment on the mp3 debacle back in October that I won’t feature them. I haven’t been able to bring myself to listen to them since then, anyway. Is this being childish? Um, no, I think their behaviour, smacking as it does of the outsider kid who suddenly negelcts all they’re old friends once they’re accepted, is unacceptable. So if you can’t deal with this, umm, too bad.

And if you think that a professional magazine wouldn’t do this…GET REAL!

There’s a wonderful article here which I was consulted on.

2. Aberfeldy won’t be featuring either.

This is for completely different reasons – as I have helped put the record out, I think it would be a little biased to do so. Obviously I think the ‘Claire’ single is fantastic, but it might seem like favouritism, and as a teacher, that’s something I try to avoid.

Obviously, I am not for one moment suggesting that anyone else follows suit. It would be great if anyone chose to include the Aberfeldy single in their list!

2007’s Festive Fifty topping entry:

Emma Pollock -‘Adrenaline.’ mp3

It’s David vs. Goliath…

…oh no, hang on, it’s not. A mere nine months after 17 Seconds bigged them up and interviewed them, Glasvegas are going head to head with Metallica in the album charts.

Is it about sales? Well, no, but it’s a sign of how far a band can come…watch this video from the UK’s ITN news.

Glasvegas v Metallica in the battle of the bands
Glasvegas v Metallica in the battle of the bands

Amusing, no? Although the idea that for running a race you get chocolate and fizzy drinks (note to non-scots: in scotland ‘juice’ is the name given to fizzy drinks, not necessarily something that comes from fruit), perhaps speaks volumes about Scotland’s health issues…

Anyway, 17 Seconds is firmly routing for Glasvegas in this battle.

Gig review: Glasvegas

Glasvegas, Edinburgh Liquid Rooms, September 7 2008

…and still they rise. With just a matter of hours to go before their debut LP is released, Glasvegas headline Edinburgh’s Liquid Rooms. Their current UK tour has completely sold out, this date sold out within 24 hours, and tickets are changing hands for £50 on ebay. Right the way up the street, the touts are begging to buy tickets (about time they were clamped down on, once and for all).

So, can Glasvegas cut it live? You betcha. The sense of expectation once inside the Liquid Rooms is intense. Making our way up to the balcony, Mrs. 17 Seconds and I and our friends can barely see the stage, but we’re swept away by the atmosphere. With chants of ‘There’s only one James Allan’ and ‘Here we, Here We, Here We f****g go’ the sense of expectation is immense.

And from the minute they wallk on stage, until they walk off, Glasvegas deliver. And how. They come on stage, tear straight into ‘Flowers and Football Tops’ and it’s brilliant. They don’t pause for breath for the next forty minutes as they play songs from their self-titles debut. ‘Lonesome Swan,’ ‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry,’ ‘S.A.D. Light,’ Polmont On My Mind,’ ‘Geraldine’ all go by in almost a blur. The band acknowledge the audience, but don’t milk it, preferring instead to make the music speak for itself. ‘Go Square Go’ gets a rapturous response. ‘Ice Cream Van’ reminds us of how sad and epic they can be. Finally they finish with ‘Daddy’s Gone’ the song that’s gone from a limited 7″ to a major anthem in the space of less than a year.

No longer the next big thing, Glasvegas are the sound of now. We walk out, on a wave of good feeling that lasts right into the next day. This is a band who matter.

[Thanks is due to James Allan, who when I interviewed him said they’d stick me on the guest list next time, and his sister/manager Denise who did. And not least to Ken for getting Mrs. 17 Seconds in as a +1).

Glasvegas’ debut LP Glasvegas is out now.

Glasvegas’ mySpace

Album Review: Glasvegas

Glasvegas -‘Glasvegas.’ (Columbia/Sony)

…And so here it comes. Possibly the most anticipated debut of the year, and one of the most anticipated debuts from Scotland ever. Unknown and unsigned a year ago, the fever of anticipation surrounding Glasvegas is such that you can already sense some people sharpening the knives, ready to cut them down to size. Sometimes I feel there’s a sense of ‘indie snob’ mentality ingrained not just on the scottish psyche but Britain as a whole.

Which is a damn shame, frankly. Because, forget that they’re getting so much civerage, Glasvegas deserve it, frankly. Over the course of 10 songs in forty-one minutes, this is a debut that sets out its’ stall and lives up to the promise like we needed it to. Right from the gorgeously long intro of ‘Flowers & Football Tops’ (re-recorded from its’ place as the b-side to the original version of ‘Daddy’s Gone’) to the final notes of Ice Cream Van, this is a brilliant album from start to finish.

Comparisons have been made with the Jesus and Mary Chain, Phil Spector and sixties girl bands, but Glasvegas are ploughing their own furrow (one which will hopefully not be filled with A&R men looking for copyists). There’s a desperate sadness and yet uplifting euphoria often at the same time. Perhaps Glasvegas have mastered the art of taking songs that can be as sad, lonely and angry as Elvis Costello’s ‘I Want You’ with the euphoria of the singalong songs from Oasis’ first two LPs at the same time.

‘Daddy’s Gone’ will almost certainly inspire-mass singalongs at festivals, and if this doesn’t move you, God help you. The angry retort of a boy whose Father has left the family can bring a lump to my throat, no matter how many times I’ve heard it. (Excuse me, just something in my eye. *Cough*). ‘Stabbed’ on the other hand is a short and ultra-bleak almost-meditation that takes Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata as the musical background for its’ tale. And best of all, it’s one of those albums that you have to play again the minute it stops; this is starting to cause discussions in 17 Seconds Towers already.

Do yourselves a favour: I’ve been bigging up this band, and so have many others, for months. Know what? They deserve every bit of praise that comes their way.

Don’t copy this, go and buy it.


Glasvegas’ website/Glasvegas’ mySpace

Glasvegas – Scottish indie’s Next big Thing for 2008?

A few years back, 2004 I think, I got a phonecall from my little brother, to tell me how much he loved the latest compilation tape I’d made him. In particular, he said, what he really loved was ‘Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now?’ by the Wedding Present, particularly because David Gedge sang in his own accent.

It’s particularly this honesty of singing in your own accent that is one of the things that appeals about Glasvegas. (Seriously, in the 80s, Big Country didn;t feel comfortable singing in their own scottish accent, and the proclaimers were mocked for doing so). Bigged up by Alan McGee for sometime (and if you are foolish enough to let this put you off, it’s your loss), Glasvegas’ single ‘Daddy’s Gone’ was the runner-up single of the year in the NME writer’s poll. I heard it after I’d finally done the 17 Seconds 2007 Festive Fifty and was promptly kicking myself. The description of the band as being like ‘doo-wop’ with guitars is not far off. the sense of aching sadness that ‘Daddy’s Gone’ delivers is something really special. If this doesn’t move you, more fool you.

Glasvegas are currently unsigned, and Daddy’s Gone sold out long ago on 7″, though it can be bought on iTunes. Their official site is here and their MySpace is here.

Here are a few tracks -which have admittedly been floating round the blogosphere for a little while, but which I think you should hear:

Glasvegas -‘Daddy’s Gone.’ mp3

Glasvegas -‘Geraldine.’ mp3

Glasvegas -‘Go Square Go.’ mp3

Glasvegas -‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes me Cry.’ mp3

As always, if you like what you hear, let me know, and go and make friends with them on MySpace.