Justin Currie, Scottish singer and songwriter with Del Amitri and successful solo artist, chats with Kevin Cooper about Del Amitri, the current state of the music industry, his latest album This Is My Kingdom Now, and his forthcoming tour of the UK with The Pallbearers.

Justin Currie is a Scottish singer and songwriter, best known for being a founding member of the band Del Amitri, and along with Iain Harvie, is one of only two members of the group to be present throughout its entire existence.

Having established the band whilst he was still at school in the early 80s,he went on to co-write many of the bands tracks with Harvie, but their most successful songs such as Nothing Ever Happens, Always The Last To Know, and Roll To Me were written by Currie alone.

Whilst Del Amitri have not officially split up, Currie has been working on other solo projects. In 2006 he was a special guest on Tom McRae’s Hotel Cafe Tour after writing and recording Rebound which was subsequently re-titled What Is Love For.

Currie’s second album The Great War was released on 3 May 2010, and a third solo album, titled Lower Reaches, recorded in Texas in 2013. His third album Lower Reaches was released in 2013 and his latest album This Is My Kingdom Now, was released recently. Currie is to tour to promote the album with The Pallbearers.

Talking time out from his busy schedule to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, this is what he had to say.

Hi Justin how are you?

Hello Kevin I’m good thanks how are you?

I’m very well thank you and let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s my pleasure.

And just how is life treating you?

I have to say that life is treating me rather well at the moment. It’s not raining at the moment, its looking good up here but let me assure you it won’t last (laughter).

Before we talk about the forthcoming tour and your latest album This Is My Kingdom Now, may I just ask, what is the current situation with Del Amitri, are they no more?

No not really, we are not at present a going concern, we don’t work very much but we do still get offers every now and then which we look at and if we fancy doing something then we will do it. Does that make sense? So at the moment it is not really the day job but on the other hand it is not dead as a concept.

I recently asked Tony Hadley the same question and he told me that ‘Spandau Ballet was something that he could dip in and out of’ whenever the mood takes him.

Yes, well it is a similar thing with us really.

And then the following day he officially announced his retirement from Spandau Ballet (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) well I have to say that I am sure that the same thing could happen to us, someone could say “that’s enough” and walk away. We didn’t gig for twelve years because being totally honest with you, nobody offered us any gigs. It was only after that amount of time that a few promoters started sniffing around and we thought ‘maybe we could do this, it could be fun’ and it was fun, so if the same thing was to happen again then we will definitely do more shows.

Moving on to your latest album This Is My Kingdom Now I have to say that I have been playing it for a few weeks and I feel that it is a great piece of work.

That’s brilliant, thanks Kevin.

Were you happy with the fans reaction to the album?

To be honest I don’t really monitor the fans reaction to those sort of things, I tend to try and avoid that. I have a circle of friends that I always give finished albums to quite a while before the official release date and I can always gauge from their reaction whether it is a goer or not really. Most of my friends didn’t really like the last album Lower Reaches which I released in 2013 but they all like this one and they have been phoning me after having had the album for three months telling me that they are still listening to the album which is a really good sign.

There are two tracks that I really like and they are Hey Polly and The Dead Sea. I think that they are fantastic.

Right they are two quite different tracks from each other. One is pure pop whilst the other is progressive rock (laughter).

(Laughter) well people are always telling me that I have an eclectic taste in music.

Yes well in my opinion that can only be a good thing.

Are you constantly writing?

Not actually siting down and composing but I am always thinking about writing but I don’t write very often. I write in small bursts of activity when a few songs come out. You will find that most writers walk around in a daydream most of the time and I think that daydreaming is the real writing.

Are you already thinking about the next album?

I’m not thinking about the next solo album at the moment. I have recorded four and I really do not have a great hunger at the moment to make another. I’m pleased with this one and I also really liked the first one, What Is Love For back in 2007. So in answer to your question yes, I would be normally thinking about another solo record but now I am thinking about doing something else. At the moment I don’t know what but I will be doing something other than a solo record. The album format is still vaguely alive but I wouldn’t mind trying a different format, perhaps releasing the odd EP or two, I’m still not sure.

It’s funny you mentioning the album format because I was going to ask you your opinion on the current state of the music industry. Is it in a good place or are we still suffering from the actions or lack of action taken by the few?

At the moment I think that it is in between shifting from selling huge amounts of bits of plastic and CD’s to everyone listening to streamed music. I personally feel that most of us will eventually end up renting music. That means of course that people will have very small record collections of vinyl. That is what I have started doing; it is a fairly workable model and the streaming services are now slowly but surely starting to pay the artists slightly better money. The problem has been the interim period where artists CD sales have gone through the floor not to be replaced by vinyl sales and the revenue form streaming services has been pretty pitiful.

That generation of artist have really struggled I think. However, I feel that once the streaming royalties reach parity with what CD’s meant to the artists, then I think that we will kind of be back to square one with a lot less vinyl lying around in people’s houses.

Would you place the current problems within the music industry purely at the door of Napster?

Yes I would, I totally would. These problems arose when the music industry failed to simply go out and buy Napster, which in my opinion was a massive mistake. I remember talking to record company executives in the mid-80s and a few of those guys had already sussed out what was to come and they were saying that in ten years’ time we would all have a box on our wall, your music would be piped in there and you would choose whatever it was that you wanted to hear. I thought that it was an awful idea because I was in love with buying records and everything associated with buying records but I have to say those guys have been proven to be absolutely right.

Admittedly it has taken longer than ten years, more like thirty years but that is effectively what has happened. However, those guys who had the vision were in the minority whilst the rest of them were utterly blinded by the amount of money that the record companies were making out of CD sales when everyone bought the same record again but this time on CD. Looking back that was kind of a bubble so now we are currently in the midst of a market correction, which is even more hideous capitalist speech (laughter). But as with most things, hopefully it will find its level.

The odd thing for us as Del Amitri is because we lived through that period where the recording industry was swimming in money so we had enormous budgets for videos, recording sessions, hiring musicians, recording albums and that sort of thing. However, those budgets now only really exist within the upper echelons of the elite artists within the music industry. That means that a band such as Del Amitri would now have to pay for everything themselves and do all of their own online marketing which would have meant much harder work than that which we had to do back in the day. We had money thrown at us and were able to experiment and make our own mistakes. It is a lot harder for young bands and songwriters starting out in the industry today.

You mention having a box on the wall but did you know that Rediffusion as far back as 1929 introduced the first cable radio service to customers who were frustrated with experiencing difficulties in tuning into weak radio broadcasts. They would put a box on your window sill and you could chose a radio station that they then streamed through your TV.

I have heard of this. I never saw one but someone told me about it. Its weird how all of these things sometimes do manage to come full circle. I mean social media is a modern day form of CB Radio (laughter). However, I have to say that I personally find it utterly terrifying just how much information people put online about their own lives which is openly accessible. You can now do pretty extensive research on somebody as soon as you hear about them, simply by checking out their online profile. I find that absolutely horrific. If you are coming at social media from a publicity point of view then the less you divulge about your personal life the better.

So as you can imagine people like me are extremely wary about that sort of stuff. I have now got to the situation where vague, candid, personal snapshots of me will appear on fan sites which people have got from friends of mine Facebook pages. So it has become impossible to control any semblance of how you are represented in public because these things just leak out. In some ways that is very democratising but in other ways it is utterly horrific because the whole culture of pop music and rock music is about presenting an image that goes with the music and that is part and parcel of the art of it. And if you can’t control that anymore it is really frustrating because I love pop music as a whole package.

I love a record for as much as what is on the cover as much as what is in the grooves of the record. Once that goes out of the window I think that you can lose an awful lot of the power and mystique of what artists are trying to do. But on the other hand it is very democratising in that it gives people access to the bands that they love a lot. I find it really tricky but I try not to sound like I am moaning about it because I try not to worry about it. It is quite difficult (laughter).

You are about to start your UK tour next Friday. Are you looking forward to being back out on the road?

Yes I am, I really am. I love touring and this time it is a decent length of tour. Last time out it was only a week so yes, the longer the better for me.

Do you still get that buzz out of touring?

Yes I do and touring for me is a different way of being. I am constantly on edge because there is a public appearance around the corner at any given time and plus the fact the scenery changes here at a different time every day. I really do love it and I find it all amazing.

So I have to ask, just who are The Pallbearers?

The Pallbearers are myself and three other musicians. They are three musicians who have played with me for years. There is Nick Clark on bass, Stuart Nisbet on guitar and Jim McDermott on drums. They are all really old friends of mine, and they have played on all of my solo records except for Lower Reaches which I made over in America. However, they have all played extensively on all of my other solo records.

You will be playing here in Nottingham at the Rescue Rooms on 28th October what can we expect?

Well I will probably take a couple of requests plus there will be quite a lot from the new record I think. I’ve not started band rehearsals yet so I don’t actually know just how many songs from This Is My Kingdom Now will end up on the set list but at the moment I am thinking that there will be quite a lot but I don’t know at this point.

Where do you stand on audience members and their mobile phones during a gig?

I know what you are talking about but in all honesty I don’t think that it is my job to police the audience. In fact most of the time it is the audience themselves who will police what other members of the audience are doing. I see my job as being there simply to play the music and maybe talk to them at some point during the evening. If people are having sex on the front row then that doesn’t bother me, I think that as long as they have got a ticket then as far as I am concerned they can do what they want (laughter).

Moving swiftly on, do you enjoy your time spent hear in Nottingham?

Yes I do, I actually do enjoy being in Nottingham. I like the feel of Nottingham, although I have never had a huge amount of time to explore it extensively but I have got fond memories of the city having some great second-hand record shops back in the 90s. I like the Victorian architecture and the city has a weird feeling of not only being in the Midlands, but also being in the North. Nottingham really does have a rather unique feel to it. Nottingham and Bristol although they are very different cities remind me of each other. They both have a kind of vibe about them that I really like. They have a kind of energy to them which is up there with Liverpool and Newcastle. I have always liked Nottingham, I have always got on with it.

Who has musically inspired you?

Well like most musicians of a certain age I grew up with The Beatles and then I got waylaid by appalling progressive rock in the 70s but I was fortunately saved by the cleansing fires of the pioneering punks of the late-70s. So the thing that inspired me to start a band was punk and postpunk.

You can’t say that progressive rock is appalling otherwise you will have a certain Rick Wakeman knocking on your door (laughter).

Yes, well in that case perhaps it is best not to say anything (laughter). Rick is a very funny man and his piano playing on David Bowie’s Hunky Dory is second to none. That is all that I will say about Rick Wakeman.

At what point in your career did you feel the most musically satisfied?

I have to say that making solo records has been very satisfying simply because it is not something that I ever thought that I would do. However, because Del Amitri went on hiatus I just filled that time writing songs and recording songs. I found that really satisfying. The very first Del Amitri record on Chrysalis was also very satisfying because the producer Hugh Jones took a very naïve band that couldn’t really play and moulded it into something that sounded like it was recorded on the West Coast of California in 1971, so that was really satisfying.

During a recent interview I asked a well know artist if they had any musical ambitions left to achieve and they said to make the perfect album. In your opinion does the perfect album really exist or is that the Holy Grail for musicians?

I personally would think that it is the Holy Grail but if you ask me and Iain (Harvie) from Del Amitri whether we had ever made a great record we would both have said definitely not. We always tried to make great records but we never thought that we got there. We were happy with them all when we finished them and we are very proud of them but none of them ever got compared to our favourite albums such as Zuma by Neil Young. That is simply a fucking timeless and brilliant record to which we never got anywhere close so yes, perhaps the perfect album is the Holy Grail.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

That would have to be either playing The Glasgow Barrowlands for the first time or maybe playing over in Australia back in 1990. That was a lot of fun and for a short period of time while we were over there we were pop stars (laughter). We were there for six months and let me tell you the whole experience was extremely funny.

What was the first record that you bought?

The very first record that I bought was Y Viva España by Sylvia.

Really. Would you like me to put that in or shall I gloss over it (laughter).

(Laughter) no that’s fine I was seven years old and I really fancied her. I was going to buy a David Essex single but having older sisters I thought that they may buy that (laughter).

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

That was Dr. Feelgood at the Glasgow Apollo.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Oh god there was something, Christ I’ve fucking forgotten what it was but there was something quite recently that surprised me. However, the most memorable thing is when I saw Gillian Welch live at The Barrowlands here in Glasgow. She played a new song which I had not heard before which at that time was called Throw Me A Rope but actually ended up being called The Way It Will Be. At the end of that I just burst out crying. That song had something really mysterious about it.

With the festive season rapidly approaching, what is Justin Currie’s idea of a perfect Christmas?

My idea of the perfect Christmas is being as far away from everybody who I know, and preferably holed up in a hotel in New York on my own.

On that note Justin let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. You take care and I will see you here in Nottingham.

Thank you Kevin it’s been brilliant and I will see you then. Bye.