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