Solo Can You Go?


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Sometimes I think my own musical career – however shambolically it may be hurtling down the line as the days fly past – has happened in reverse.  Whilst I was always drawn to the work of singer/songwriters like a fervent moth might be to a particularly alluring flame, I had grown up convinced that such a destination was the preserve of the older gentleman.  I was content with the fact that I would get to this more serious of plateaus eventually, once my youthful and exuberant face-down-in-a-toilet-bowl-phase as the frontman of a blistering rock n’ roll band was well and truly over.  In short, I didn’t want to be a solo artist quite so early.

I tried my hardest to form a band at school, but for some reason my fellow pupils saw better than to join musical forces with a nervous young man who had opted to learn two seemingly incompatible instruments in the classical guitar and saxophone (this was before Bon Iver made the honk of a conical-bore woodwind contraption cool, kids).  Undaunted I arrived at University brimming with optimism, hopeful that I might meet the Lennon to my (James) McCartney, only to discover a bunch of law students who thought “Big Star” was something that required a telescope rather than a pair of headphones.  It wasn’t until my friend told me of an advert pinned to the notice board of the Queen Margaret Union seeking a guitarist (“Must like Teenage Fanclub and Pink Floyd” it read) that my faith in humanity was restored.  I auditioned and subsequently joined this merry band of players from the North of Scotland: we wrote songs and gigged; got offered a record deal and got hastily dropped; and then suffered the horrendously tragic death of one of our members (a story for another time, perhaps).

I was naturally scarred by the whole experience.  But after a significant amount of time away the bug returned and I decided to push on by myself, boat against the current.  I took on a residency in a local bar and began to enjoy the freedom that writing and performing alone afforded me.  No sniping! No creative differences! No logistical nightmares booking rehearsals!  Just me, myself and I, and I loved it.  I released three records, toured mostly solo acoustic in some far off corners of the globe and answered to no one.  In my head, I got to be Dylan, or John Prine, or Jackson Browne.  But the days grew long, dear listener, and I grew weary.  Far from the idyllic existence of my favourite troubadours, my reality soon became a series of service station stops in a beat up old Mazda with only Terry Wogan for company.  And so I began to hanker after the companionship and bon moments that being in a band could bring.  After all, what use is a bad review if you don’t have somebody to hold the newspaper while you dropkick it?  And so, I’m happy to report, at the time of writing I currently belong to a band of 7 members with a new record due out imminently.

The reason I’ve been thinking about all of this is because Justin Currie is our Record of Note on the show this week with the beautiful Lower Reaches.  It’s another articulately beguiling record, and a possible fitting end to what could be a pretty special trilogy of solo albums if rumours are to be believed that a reunion is on the cards for the band he made his name with: Del Amitri.  Y’see, he earned his corn, enjoying great critical and commercial success (with the odd testing period too, of course) with his band before he tried out a career as a solo musician.  And in some ways solo records are so much more fascinating when you know the history of what went before.  Think the triumphs: Peter Gabriel after Genesis, Paul Buchanan after The Blue Nile, Ozzy after Black Sabbath. And then the disasters: step forward, Mr Mick Jagger.  Whatever their respective merits, they allow you to put into context the life and the work of the writer with the added knowledge that he or she might just be breaking free from the confines of band living.  Good or bad, it’s always interesting.

From Dingle, Paul Buchanan performs Family Life

So on this week’s Roddy Hart Show, alongside the usual new and the good, we’ll take some time to celebrate the efforts of the solo man (and woman).  But we can’t do it alone: Thursday night at 10.05pm on BBC Radio Scotland is the place to be.

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