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Are you ready for the hyperbole? I’m supposed to tell you about how this era-defining band sold millions of LPs* that all sounded like Best Ofs. That this is the best of those songs which made a generation feel sexy and alive with a blend of dance floor euphoria, electrifying guitars and an easy, erudite lyrical wistfulness. Man, I’m from Glasgow. This is a bit of a beamer. If my friends ever read this, I’ll get such a slagging. That they ricocheted around the planet playing to millions** of people, winning Brit Awards, Mercuries, Grammy nominations***, spearheading a renaissance in British bands, gaining red carpet fans like Kanye West, Hedi Slimane, Nile Rodgers, Marr, Gaga****, Hanks, Dogg and Bowie****, collaborating with icons like Jane Birkin, Daft Punk, Sparks, Justice and Debbie Harry along the way. That they developed a visual aesthetic that was as sharp and wiry as their melodies. Fuck.
It all seems a bit absurd. Especially when I think of how it all started. It was just me and Bob in the kitchen where I was a chef and he was a dishwasher, talking about what we’d do if we had a band. Having a laugh. Playing each other music we loved. Listen to that line in Famous Blue Raincoat. My brother, my killer? It’s so personal, yet universal. What about that Gina X song we were dancing to the other night? I love it. Yes, let’s make people dance. Play that Magnetic Fields song again. The one about the Lower East Side. Do you think people could think of Glasgow the way we think of New York when we hear this? I love how heavy this Shellac song is. Yes, but it’s bloke’s music. I’m sick of gigs where it’s a bunch of blokes nodding their heads. Most of our friends are women. Why can’t we make music for them? Let’s make them dance. Haha, imagine if we said we wanted to make music for girls to dance to? That’s funny.
It did seem funny. Thrilling. This imaginary band that was whatever we wanted it to be. My pal Mick Cooke gave me his old bass, but Bob said he was a painter, not a musician. Same thing I said. Sort of. Look, I’ll show you. There you go. It’s just two notes, but it’s a bassline. You’re now a musician. No I’m not. You just played music, so you are by definition… We never settled this one, but we did think it might be a laugh to actually get a band together.
We played with Michael and Charlie, but they went off to join Dino and Jason in V Twin. We needed a drummer. There was a party at Jo and Celia’s flat above Canton Express on Sauchiehall Street. A few of us chipped in and bought a litre of vodka. Put it down, turned around and it was gone. Who nicked the vodka? There was this weird looking wee guy on the other side of the room carrying it like a trophy. Words flew. Before fists followed, I said I don’t suppose you play drums do you? Yes. Just moved over from Munich. Right, Bob, we’re meeting this guy Nick at his flat tomorrow. He’s a drummer. What, the dick who pinched the vodka? No, he seems alright…
He was. It was good. He had an irrepressible enthusiasm and was a great musician, but did lie about being a drummer. Wanted to play standing up like Mo. Couldn’t play sitting down either. The songs started coming. Fast. Darts of Pleasure. Tell Her Tonight. Our pal Paul heard we were up to something. Wanted to play guitar. It was a laugh, but he wasn’t quite as good on guitar as Nick was on the drums. Paul, you’re an amazing drummer. Maybe you should… Bob went off to get a carry out and when he came back they’d swapped. Suddenly it sounded like a band. Not just any old band, but very… real.
Then jump to now. The end of 2021. We’re doing this album and I’m thinking about how to tell you why we would. I’ve always wanted to make a best of. They were such a big part of my life growing up. My parents didn’t have a huge record collection. They didn’t have every Bowie LP, they had Changes. The Red and Blue Beatles. Rolled Gold. For them, it was what they wanted to listen to. The best bits. The Hits. That’s the point of this record: the hits to the head, hits to the heart, hits to the feet as they hit the dancefloor. For me those records were an introduction, a doorway into the artist’s world. It was more, though. For the artists, it was a retrospective. A way to understand the progression of ideas with the perspective of the long term. An indication of where the future may be taking them. Like going to see a retrospective in the Tate, you could see the curve of development without the distraction of every detail.
It was a bit of a curve for us too. After the line-up was formed, we set ourselves up in an old warehouse in the Gorbals we called the Chateau. It was freezing and full of pigeon shit. Most of the windows were broken. In the basement we found a lot of overly powerful sunbeds from the 80s. For our first gig there, we set them up behind the band and they were the light show, someone flicking the mains on and off to make them flicker randomly behind us. Ah, yes. The mains. A pal of ours was a sparky and jumped the mains across the meter so we had free electricity. Paul’s neck was burned by the end of the gig when it was raided by the police. There was another gig, but it was raided sooner, so we moved on. Bob was relieved. Hated the place. Said it was a death trap. A year later, the staircase collapsed when someone we knew was carrying an industrial sewing machine up it. We moved to the semi-derelict old courthouse and jail in the East End. We rehearsed every day in a cell. Played gigs in the old courtroom, where rain fell through the holes in the roof.
We met Cerne who became our manager and Laurence and Bart from Domino in 2003. We felt ready to record. Domino felt like the right people to put a record out. They got it. There were strong bands coming across the Atlantic, but we wanted to make something different. We weren’t into the UK scene and we weren’t American. We felt more European, wanted to make music that sounded like the bold brutal lines of the Constructivist artists we were obsessed with. A Scandinavian felt like a good choice of producer, so we went to Malmo to record with Tore Johansen who’d made those beautiful Cardigans records. We had such a distinct idea of what we wanted to do, we were probably a pain the arse for a producer. No space for suggestion. It turned out alright though.
I reckon all artists feel like they are making something that is going to change the world, while presuming that no-one is going to care. That’s how it was for us anyway. All the ideas were there, but who cares? Then we released our first single. The reaction was astonishing. People were talking about us. The NME wrote about us. We CHARTED. Straight in at 44. Darts Of Pleasure. We could hardly believe it. Actually had records in our hands. Real ones. Black Plastic. With our music on them. What a thrill. We were playing towns where people didn’t know came to see us. We went to Paris. Berlin. We became so close. So tight. Time to release another single. Let’s bring together those Constructivist and Dada ideas inspiring us and make a video.
Then it went a bit nuts. The first time we played Take Me Out in a rehearsal room, I made a joke and said Oh, I can almost imagine that being played on the radio. I meant maybe once by Lamacq or Peel. None of us presumed anyone would really care. Then the album came out and we were sucked into a dizzying vortex of fame, tossed across the planet, not really knowing where we were. Top Of The Pops, Glastonbury, Taratata, Reading, Letterman, Roskilde, Fuji Rock, Mercury, Grammys, Brits, all those magazine covers… it was overwhelming. Dark Of The Matinée, Michael, This Fire. Joyous to see the joy these songs and performances brought people and totally exhausting. In 2004 we played 382 gigs. Nerves frayed and the band broke up for three days after a punch-up backstage at the Paris Zenith, but we got back together. Because the band was now who we were. It had become our complete identity.
Then we finally returned to Scotland. After the final gig at the SECC we went to a party at the Transmission Gallery in Glasgow. I wrote a song about it that night. It was weird being home. It felt like we hadn’t changed, but everyone else had. We found an old house a wee bit south of Glasgow and started set up there. We’d been frustrated by not having time to write on tour and the songs started pouring out in a great release. The sound was different. There was an overdose of adrenalin in our blood that seeped through our fingers into our instruments. Frenetic. Rich Costey came over from the states and he was a lovely guy to work on the production with. Smart, sensitive. We went over to New York to mix it. We were asked to play Live Aid 2*****, but Nick was getting married that day. Then there was a new single and we were back in the vortex again.
Do You Want To came out in 2005 followed by You Could Have It So Much Better. It felt a continuation of the crazy, but more. Saturday Night Live, Arenas, The Silver Seagull at Vina Del Mar. We went everywhere and the surreal became the normal. The Fallen, Walk Away. Andy Knowles came up to play with us. Still exhilarating, but how exhilarated can you get? And stay? By the end of 2006 we needed a wee break. Nick made his Box Codax LP, Paul played with Correcto and started a family, I produced the Cribs’ Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever, Bob… I don’t know. What did you get up to, Bob? I remember hanging out with you in New York. Then we all wandered back to Glasgow.
Towards the end of 2007, we set up in the old Govan Town Hall. A return to a semi-derelict building. We tried working with a guy called Brian Higgins who was behind Xenomania, who seemed to have a different perspective, but it wasn’t the right perspective for us. Then we met Dan Carey and worked with him through 2008, swinging microphones from the ceiling to get a doppler effect and using that echoey old empty hall as our reverb chamber. The songs felt different again. Maybe more so, this time. Lucid Dreams came out towards the end of ’08 followed by Ulysses, No You Girls and the Tonight album and a return to the road.
We toured for a couple of years. One of the most magical gigs we have ever played was headlining the Other Stage. Those lanterns rising into the summer sky above Glastonbury. By this time, festival gigs already felt like a bit of a best of. All of those songs that you knew connected with people. The obvious singles, then others, like Outsiders, which somehow earned their place and did something special.
By this time, it felt like we lived on the road and that’s how we ended up writing and recording for the next period. Starting with Bjorn Yttling in Stockholm, then back to London with Alexis and Joe of Hot Chip to make Right Action, over to Oslo to work on Stand On The Horizon and Evil Eye with Todd Terje and back to that old house in Scotland with Mark Ralph for Love Illumination. Right Thoughts Right Words Right Action came out in 2013 and we went back on tour again.
At some point on that tour, we bumped into Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks when we were in San Francisco for a gig. We’d met them ten years earlier when they had suggested we make music together, but it hadn’t happened. This time it did. Wrote a bunch of songs and released the FFS album in 2015. By this point Nick was totally exhausted and felt he had to live a life with his family and make music in a different, less intense way. We were all obviously sad about this, as we had been so close, but understood and he stayed with us to tour with FFS and has since made a great solo record and plays with some of his old Munich pals in a band called Das Lunsen Trio. He was a great part of the band and a very special musician. Still feels a bit odd to think of him in the past tense.
After that tour, Paul, Bob and I started playing together again in ’16. We talked about who we might like to join us. Our friends Paul Savage of the Delgados and Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai both suggested Julian Corrie who had been performing under the name Miaoux Miaoux. We knew and liked his records which had come out on Chemikal Underground. They were inventive and when we met up with him for a curry, we got on really well instantly. Soon, we were back in that old house, South of Glasgow making songs. It was invigorating. A new person brings a new perspective and again the songs sounded different. Like us, but not the same. We had wanted to work with Philippe Zdar for years, and when we were jumping between producers for RTRWRA, I’d spoken to him, but he’d said he wanted to make a whole LP or nothing. Now was that time. What a time it was, too. I have known few people who live life with such fervour as Philippe. He became a very good friend and we miss him terribly. Recording in RAK in London, then Motorbass in Paris are some of my happiest memories.
Always Ascending came out as a single in late 2017 and we when we were getting ready to go back on tour, we talked about asking someone else to join us. Previously, there had been various fifth members, like Andy Knowles and Scott Paterson who had joined us live at different times, and it always felt good. Now felt like a good time to do it again. Dino Bardot is an old friend from Glasgow. The same Dino that was in the V-Twin that Charlie and Michael played with. It felt so natural when he played with us. Like he was always there. The album came out and we toured. All over the world again, finishing in Latin America in December 2019.
Aye. Then 2020. All that shit. I rebuilt the studio in that old house South of Glasgow during the first lockdown. We felt pretty scattered, but were sending each other ideas and in spring 2021, got together to play again when the restrictions were lifted. But something wasn’t right. Paul said he just couldn’t do it anymore. At first we felt devastated. He was there through so much. We’ve been friends for way longer than FF were together and it felt like such a shock, but when he explained how he was feeling and where his life was, we understood. He will always be our friend. He’s one of the best guys you could know.
Suddenly there was an empty drum stool. Literally. The four of us sat in a room without Paul and it felt weird to say Does anyone know any good drummers? What about Audrey? Audrey Tait? From Hector Bizerk? She’s incredible. Do you think she might be up for it? Julian gave her a call and she came down that evening. We played and immediately, it was electric. The same, but different. Damn, she’s a great drummer, but also a good laugh and smart.
We recorded Billy Goodbye and Curious in that Old House a couple of months ago*******. Stuart Price came in and mixed it with some great post production ideas. After all this, there’s a great thrill of anticipation to be putting something new into the world again. I can’t wait for people to hear it. It also feels right to be on this record, because the point of a retrospective like this is to understand the past, how it leads to the present and points to the future.
I know you’re not supposed to write your own bio as an artist, but the one that had been written didn’t feel personal and this feels like a personal record. There is so much of us in it. The least I could do is pull my pen out and tell some of our story. I still feel a bit embarrassed about that first paragraph where I talk about how great we are, but I’ll probably leave it in. Our old friend Martin Clark got a solitary tattoo on his forearm years ago that simply reads “Why Not”. No question mark. I loved that. Still do. It kind of became our motto for the band. Form a band with Bob? Why Not. Play this old jailhouse? Why Not. Slow the song down halfway through? Why Not. Record in the old town hall? Why Not. Write the bio? Why Not. Release Hits To The Head? Why Not.
Aye, Why Not.
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