Exclusive interview with Justin Currie of Del Amitri
by Chloe McLaughlin
“Everyone’s gone mental,” he laughs “I saw a guy walking with his top off and I thought it was disgraceful… take your top off at a party, you can’t just take it off and walk the streets with it!”
Something tells me that Justin and I are going to get on…
Formed in 1983 in bonnie Scotland, Del Amitri has enjoyed roaring success with five top ten UK Albums, a top ten single with ‘Roll To Me’ and were featured on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. Not bad given they were formed out of Justin’s school band.
“A couple of guys were fellow guitar players and they joined me in my parents’ house and we started making noise.” Justin chuckles, “We got a drummer from a different school then the two guitarists left so we put some wee notes up on the music shop noticeboard to meet anybody interested in joining a band and writing some songs. We met a whole bunch of arseholes, then Iain (Harvie) came along and he was the first normal, intelligent guy we met so we said ‘come down’ and we wrote our first single and B side in that first session!”
From their humble beginnings in his parent’s house, Del Amitri has certainly come a long way. Now, the band are preparing for their first tour since 2014 and Justin admits that he’s looking forward to getting back out on the road.
“I’m really excited – it never wears off, the lights go down and you’re standing on stage, feeling that sense of anticipation – last time we were apprehensive before the tour as we didn’t know how it was going to go but this time we feel more confident.” Justin smiles, “It won’t be too different from what were doing in 2014 as we’re trying to have the whole gammit of the Del Amitri story but we’ll swap a few of the rarer things with other rare things.
We’ll maybe do one or two new songs too.” The tour will also see Justin return to Edinburgh Castle for the first time in 25 years – a gig that didn’t go too well in 1993 – and Justin is looking forward to putting his demons to bed.
“It’s one of those things you wake up in the middle of the night sweating because we made such an arse of it. It was a really fraught opening – I had the wrong strings on the bass and couldn’t find the first note. It was a terrifying gig at the best of times as it was the biggest headline gig we’d done. It was awful so we’re keen to make amends.”
Back in 1993, Justin was rocking a kilt; will he be getting it back out for this tour?
“I think that would be risking the curse of Edinburgh Castle!” He laughs, “that was a really beautiful kilt I bought in a charity shop for £25… now it’s entirely moth eaten!”
I suggest that if he’s shy of getting his legs out maybe he could try a pair of tartan trousers?
“I have a brilliant pair of tartan flares from the 70s with turns ups and a high waist line I used to wear occasionally at gigs if I was feeling jovial!” He beams, “But there’s no way I can still get into those!”
But while Justin is obviously partial to a bit of tartan, he isn’t particularly bothered about making sure he’s representing his clan.
“All that stuff is makey-uppy. If you like the colour, wear it.”
The tour will also see Justin visit the Manchester Apollo on 22nd July – is he excited to be playing up north?
“I really love the Apollo and the audiences are always brilliant. I kind of divide Britain into three parts – south of the Midlands is foreign to us, the Midlands doesn’t quite feel like another country and the north certainly doesn’t! England has graduations of ‘foreigness’ to us. The closer England is to Scotland the more it feels like home – it’s just a different mentality – a bit more grounded.
“That phrase an Englishman’s home is his castle is really true south of London but it’s not true in the north – that mentality doesn’t exist.” Justin adds, “We did a lot of writing and rehearsing in East Sussex and people in the rural parts wouldn’t speak to us because we were Scottish! We weren’t welcome. Apart from places like Brighton, south of London terrifies us!”
Thankfully the tour doesn’t take Justin so far south, but he’ll still be trailing up and down the country, so how does he relax in between shows?
“Touring for us now isn’t as crazy so the whole thing is quite relaxing. We have a bite to eat after sound check, we go back to the hotel watch a bit of telly. I still like the lifestyle – I don’t find it difficult – I love travelling, I love being in hotels and I love being in a van and having a laugh.”
However, throughout the years not every member of Del Amitri has enjoyed the lifestyle with the bands line up changing throughout its history and I can’t help but wonder whether Justin thinks this keeps the band fresh?
“No, we always wanted a stable line up, it’s just people left to have kids, a couple of people got fired so we never got that stable line up. Iain and I have been going since 1982 and Andy joined in the mid-80s but we lost a few guitar players and drummers – not always at our own behest.”
But while Del Amitri’s members may have changed over the years, the band itself has remained true to its Glaswegian roots. Glasgow has a rich musical history and Justin vividly
remembers looking up to people like Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr.
“They were the generation above us – they were drinking in pubs, doing gigs and we were still in shorts at school so we really looked up to them and still do.”
And Justin admits being in Glasgow and growing up Scottish has certainly influenced his music.
“Your environment always influences you. Most of my life has been in Glasgow and that’s where an awful lot of the songs come from. When you’re imaging stories or trying to visualise a song, very often the environment you’re in has a huge influence.”
Justin now finds himself going away and renting cottages on islands to write his songs but he’s careful not to get too bogged down in writing all of his songs in the same way.
“I find myself writing about clouds and seas and mountains!” He chuckles. “There are so many different approaches and you don’t want to get settled on one. Sometimes you start with a line or a chorus, sometimes a title and other times there’s something you’re thinking about and you want to write about it and you figure out a way of doing it.
“I do an awful lot of writing in my head without realising it. I’m not actively scribbling things down on a piece of paper or strumming a guitar, I’m cogitating so that’s why I often go away. I put myself in a very focused environment with no distractions and things come out quickly because it’s already written somewhere deep in your mind. For me, that’s the way to produce the best songs because you’re not being self conscious – you’re relying on your instincts.”
The focus obviously works as Justin tends not to rewrite his songs – in fact he does all the ‘nipping and tucking’ within the first 48 hours! “I find it hard to rewrite songs,” he shrugs.
Now, I can’t let Justin get away without asking about his nickname – Ruby! I wondered where on Earth it came from?
“Ruby was traditional rhyming slang for if you were going for a curry – you’d say I’m going for a Ruby. Our tour manager, Connor gave me that.”
And more importantly does he like a good curry?
“I love hot food, my Mum is a very good cook and she got right into her curries so how could I not?”
My time with Justin is coming to an end and so I’ve saved the best questions for last and come up with a quick fire round of questions that will answer all the important questions!
Lancashire Hotpot or Yorkshire Pudding?
Vindaloo or Korma?
Rangers or Celtic?
The Beatles or The Kinks?
Stovies or Haggis?
Oh, I really like both but I’ve got right into stovies recently. Stovies are great! Stovies, I’m going to have to go for stovies!
Irn Bru or a pint of bitter?
I love the concept of Irn Bru but I don’t drink sugary drinks and I quite like bitter so I’ll go for a pint of bitter!
Catch Del Amitri on Sunday 22nd July at O2 Apollo Manchester, Manchester