Almost two decades on from their last album, Del Amitri easily remember the good old days, when a Glasgow indie band “who never really cut it as Orange Juice and Josef K copyists, which is kinda what we were” became, in effect, overnight successes.
Suddenly, after a still-born first album (1985’s Del Amitri), with 1989’s Waking Hours, hit single ‘Nothing Ever Happens’ propelled them to sharing a Top of the Pops stage with Phil Collins, then in the imperial phase of his solo career, newcomer Sinead O’Connor singing ‘Nothing Compares 2 U,’ and the premier of Public Enemy’s ‘Welcome to the Terrordome’ video.
Two years later, Del Amitri were still regulars on the nation’s favourite chart show. Promoting 1992 hit ‘Always The Last to Know,’ the band appeared on an episode alongside an En Vogue video (‘My Lovin’), Shakespears Sister (‘I Don’t Care’) and, performing smash US hit ‘Jump,’ adolescent rap duo Kriss Kross, they of the backwards-jeans.
In America the song they were promoting on TVam, 1995’s ‘Roll To Me,’ hit Number 10 on the Billboard Hot 10. It became a soundtrack favourite (everything from Family Guy to one-boy-and-his-dolphin “abomination” Flipper) and US jukebox staple that resonates (and generates royalties) to this day.
Equally, selling six million copies of half-a-dozen studio albums between that mid-Eighties debut and 2002’s Can You Do Me Good? does a great job of enabling you to, firstly, laugh about the cheap digs of Northern Irish comedians and, secondly, quit while you’re ahead.
Which is exactly what Currie and Harvie, the consistent core of the band since 1982, did after that sixth album.
“Iain and I took a hiatus after 2002 because we’d been dropped by Mercury and we thought: ‘Well, that’s a bit of a milestone — we’ve had major deals since our late teens,'” relates Currie. “So it felt like a good moment to take a bit of time off. And I just did anything that was offered — a bit of jazz singing with a big band, a bit with a folk-orchestra…”
“Ha, I missed that one!” chips in Harvie. “I spent a time as a record producer. I did three or four albums with Rough Trade, then worked with a young band from Berwick-upon-Tweed, then tour-managed them a bit, then worked in studios. So I’d drifted off the other way, which I quite enjoyed. But then the bottom started falling out of the studio industry as well, as bands started recording themselves. Which just started to make me miss our band.”
Currie similarly oscillated between feeling disgruntled and… gruntled?
“I did four solo albums,” the frontman says, “and some touring, including one on my own which I absolutely hated. You can’t look round at anyone and go: ‘Well, this is weird.’ And you’re meant to be a raconteur when you do solo shows, and I can’t do any of that. Then, after, you’re standing in the dressing room on your own. There’s no one to talk to! It’s horrible. So, aye, I really missed the band, too.”
In 2014 and again in 2018, Currie, Harvie and their band embarked on sell-out UK reunion tours. But by the time of the second run, the appeal of playing solely songs from the past began to pall slightly.
Heading into the 2018 tour, Harvie suggested they try their hand at some new songs. Currie had been writing solo songs, “but they’re all dirges, which you can get away with solo,” the singer admits cheerfully. But as it has been a long time since he’d written songs with the band in mind, he took himself off to a borrowed cottage on the Isle of Lewis and started writing songs that would suit a two-guitar set-up.
Down south, Harvie was writing, too. The pair realised that, without forcing it, they had created a bunch of songs that sounded “very Del Amitri.”
By the time 2019 came around, those songs had turned into the core of a very Del Amitri album and a new deal with Cooking Vinyl. Then, the night before lockdown in March this year, recording of that album was completed.
Fatal Mistakes is their first collection of new songs in 18 years, it was recorded “pretty much live” in three quicksmart weeks with producer Dan Austin (Biffy Clyro, You Me At Seven), and it’s the brilliant sound of a 35-years-young recording band settling into what they do best: melodic rock songs with lyrical bite, soulful comfort, heart-swelling uplift and the occasional just-the-right-side-of-gnarly guitar solo.
Now that they’re back, Del Amitri aren’t rushing — they’ve waited 18 years, after all. Songs from Fatal Mistakes will be rolled out over the coming months and into 2021, ahead of (they hope) a full UK tour.
What does it mean for a band to come back after so long away? It means embracing your past to create a new sound for a fresh tomorrow.
“Once I’d got my head round the idea of not sounding like the band we were then, I was much less paranoid!” admits Currie with a laugh. “You’re never gonna recreate that energy of when you’re 20. So you have to do what we’re doing now.”
That, Iain Harvie elaborates, means “shorter songs, with no big rambling guitar solos. We don’t need that big bollocks swagger that you felt you had to pull out when you were on the Rolling Stones’ stage at Wembley, or whatever other stupid things you ended up doing. It’s just us, and the songs, all of it played by all five of us — no guest players or session guys. We’ve never done that before!” he marvels. “So it’s a clean sheet, a new album, from a new band. It felt really free to make it.”
“You know, when we made Waking Hours,” reflects Justin Currie by way of conclusion, “we knew there was no one else at the time who was doing that: a classic rock-pop record, very song-based, but with guitar solos and proper melodic performances. And it occurred to us a couple of years ago that, again, in Britain there’s a space for this. No band of any generation are doing this. So this feels like the right time.”
Right time, right place, right band: Del Amitri are back and ready to rock with Fatal Mistakes. Although if you want to book them for a breakfast TV slot, they may have some questions.
Presented by Count Basie Center for the Arts