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Del Amitri's singer Justin Currie talks about the band's return with latest album Fatal Mistakes they are currently playing live on a tour coming to Inverness tonight (Wednesday)

By Margaret Chrystall

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TALKING to Del Amitri’s Justin Currie you are reminded of the band’s rich past but also encouraged to dream about the band’s bright future too.

Del Amitri Justin Currie (left) and Iain Harvie. Pictures: Kevin Westenberg
Del Amitri Justin Currie (left) and Iain Harvie. Pictures: Kevin Westenberg

Listening to their vibrant and vintage latest album Fatal Mistakes, you want to buy in to the future of a band that can do that.

Listening to the May release that is only now getting its live hurrah! with a tour that brings them to Inverness this week, you long to hear these songs played in a big venue, bathed in the light of a wide stage.

Also, maybe to indulge, to revisit with the band some of those many, many classic hit songs – Nothing Ever Happens, Kiss This Thing Goodbye, Always The Last To Know, Stone Cold Sober, Move Away Jimmy Blue, Roll To Me…

And both the past and the present of Del Amitri is powered by the songwriting Justin Currie has honed with cohort Iain Harvie through what was the full band experience back in these decades when music was different – from sleeping on fans’ floors across America in the mid-80s, being signed to major labels, getting to tourbus it through America in the 90s, and to adapt and survive into the chilly music life of playlists and Covid.

Justin is as wry and funny – and slightly melancholy – about life, the music industry and songwriting as he is in his songs. Though it’s sad to realise that these days, chatting about the traumas of archiving an ongoing life’s work is riveting common ground.

“I’ve resisted moving onto the digital domain for songwriting,” he answers my question. “The one thing that always means I can sleep at night is that everything I have written, there’s a final version of me singing and playing it on a cassette!” he laughs.

Yes, he does the cloud thing, as most of us do.

“I already pay for that stuff – but I just don’t trust it. It’s like that MySpace thing …”

He remembers how the first great online resource for music, just suddenly disappeared – “they said it was accidental”.

Listening to him talk in an impressively informed way about all of this, you suddenly start remembering all the wise songs that showed a savvy awareness of the political realities outside music that you can find in the Del Amitri back catalogue.

And the passion to get angry about things is present on this album, particularly the impressively furious-sounding rant Nation Of Caners.

What inspired it – apart from the obvious, trying to escape the reality of things like climate change by whatever chemical means you can?

“There are two ways to go, when you are facing climate disaster, it’s either pedal to the metal – take as many drinks and drugs as you want and just fiddle while Rome burns, or spilling blood on the streets.

“It’s one thing or the other because if you’re looking at scientific data which suggests that the global system is driving us to extinction within a century or two, then that either calls for a revolution or just heads in the f****** sand, da-de-da-de-da, I don’t want to know.

“And it seems to me that most people given the opportunity, who have not yet been directly affected by crop failure and sea level rise and the rest of it, they are pretending they don’t give a f***. They know it’s f*****. You are now seeing stickers from organisations – we saw a couple in the park the other day that are obviously way more radical than Extinction Rebellion (who are hippy really).

“But I think that is good.

“I’ve had my life, but if I was 19 and saw how much political inertia had rendered the future obsolete, I’d be f****** furious.”

Del Amitri get closer to their fans on the current live tour. Pictures: Kevin Westenberg
Del Amitri get closer to their fans on the current live tour. Pictures: Kevin Westenberg

Since 2014 and the live tour and album, Del Amitri hadn’t brought out a studio album – the last one before Fatal Mistakes came out in 2002, Can You Do Me Good.

So why this year – and probably, why not before this?

Justin said: “Agents started saying in 2013 ‘You might be able to make a bit of money on the road’. And we thought that might be fun so we did some practice sessions to see what that was like.

“But that was just about money, that wasn’t about being a going concern. And then we did more dates – we did a week of dates in 2018 and for those gigs we thought ‘Maybe we should write some songs?’.

“So I wrote some Del Amitri-type songs, we did one of those on the road and then it was actually our drummer, he was really keen to do a record and he kept phoning up and saying ‘We should do a record!’. And Iain was quite keen as well.

“I was very reticent about it, not because I was making solo records – Del Amitri is sort of my priority, it’s my life.

“I was only doing solo records because nobody was asking Del Amitri to do anything. So that wasn’t the reason I didn’t want to do it.

“The reason I didn’t want to do it was because I didn’t think we could do anything near what we had done in the past – and I don’t mean ‘anywhere near as good’ because that is a completely subjective thing.

“I don’t necessarily think we made a decent album in the 90s, but I know we put a lot into them, a lot of energy, a lot of time – and a lot of money was spent on these records.

“And I knew that we would never be in that position again. We would never have the same amount of time to commit or the same amount of money. So that sort of suggested to me that we would make an inferior sort of record.

“But I said ‘Let me write a bunch of things’. So I wrote a bunch of things that I was quite happy with and a bunch of things with Iain. And then at that point I said to Iain ‘OK, let’s go ahead and let’s try and make an album.

“At which point you have to get a set amount of money. We wanted to do it ourselves, we didn’t want to go down the fan funding route at all because we thought it was really dodgy. We tried to get a record deal, we couldn’t. So it was a case of ‘Do we want to commit that amount of money. And make an inferior record?’

“But within the first week in the studio I was pretty convinced it would be a decent record.

“If that hadn’t been the case, then I’m not sure what would have happened,” Justin says candidly.

Del Amitri, the full band on tour now. Pictures: Kevin Westenberg
Del Amitri, the full band on tour now. Pictures: Kevin Westenberg

And how did it feel in the studio recording after so long, and so long since the band had worked on a studio album?

Justin said “It felt very cosy and a lot less pressured because by the time you get to this sort of age you know what everybody’s limitations or weaknesses are.

“So you don’t try and force square pegs in round holes. You don’t try and get anybody to play something they either don’t want to play or that they are not capable of playing – which is not what you do in your 20s.

“In your 20s you are constantly trying to do things you can’t do, leading to all sorts of tensions.

“And the other thing that made it very collegiate was there was no record company involved.

“At that point we were paying for it ourselves, so we were completely in charge, so we chose the producer and there was really no discussion with anyone else apart from an ex-A&R man, a friend of ours we relied on for advice.

“So that was great, that was the first time we made a Del Amitri record without any pressure whatsoever.

“So it was genuinely enjoyable and when bands say this I never believe them because I never enjoyed making a record in my life!

“But we definitely enjoyed making this because it went very smoothly. It was just the right amount of time, three weeks – no more, no less.

“We got everything done by midnight on the last night.

“So it was just right, it was the Goldilocks album!” he laughed.

But if Fatal Mistakes was the Goldilocks album, the world was about to turn all Sleeping Beauty on them.

When they came out of the studio, Covid was about to land and shut everything down.

Justin said: “Yes it was pretty much the day before lockdown – we drove down on the Sunday and lockdown started on the Monday.

“So I think the album got put back three times for at least four or five months each time. But that was alright.

“The frustrating thing was just that eventually we were going to have to release it, not gigging around the release, which was very strange.

“It didn’t feel like you had a record out at all. It just felt like it was a distant rumour on the horizon that your record was out.

“It had a chart position which was deemed completely divorced from reality ‘cos you weren’t facing an audience nodding their heads to new songs. Kind of crazy.”

It also sounds as if Del Amitri weren’t even sure what kind of reception they would get for the album, or what kind of audience was even out there for them any more.

Justin explained: “We didn’t know they would still be there.

“We knew they would come out to see and hear the hits. But it’s a really different thing playing new songs. So we certainly had much lower estimations of how many people would buy the record, which we were right about.

“But that’s all to do with the fact we are not a current band. In the 90s we were on Radio One, we were doing a lot of promo work. We were in people’s faces, we were young, we were pretty. All those things that count for quite a lot.

“So we had no expectations this new one was going to be a success – in the way that an album like Twisted was a success or Waking Hours was a success.

“But we were surprised that people ran out and pre-ordered it.

“And we got the highest chart position which was fairly meaningless, but vaguely gratifying.”

It was number two in the Scottish chart and number five in the UK chart?

“Yes, and probably number 70 the week after,” Justin laughs.

“But we hadn’t known whether there would still be that interest – and there was, so that’s kind of gratifying and it didn’t feel too much like a vanity project.

“Also it just gave us new things to think about – doing shows.”

Now the shows are here.

And when you ask Justin what’s next, there’s a plan to tour in America which “is going to be very tricky”, for financial not Covid reasons, he says.

They hope to try and tour Europe at the end of this year too.

And there will be another album …

But right at the end of the interview, asking if he had ever thought of making a play or a film about those long American tours, Justin says that wouldn’t be for him.

“We’re one trick ponies,” he laughs. “I’ve learned over the years not to step outside what I’m vaguely … I mean, I still think I’m sh** at this!”

Del Amitri played Inverness Ironworks, on Wednesday, October 13 with support from The Byson Family. The album Fatal Mistakes is out now on Cooking Vinyl. Also, catch their film You Can't Go Back about 'friendship, fame, ageing and the creative process' and the making of the album, their first in 20 years. More on the band: www.delamitri.info

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