Justin Currie, Scottish singer and songwriter with Del Amitri chats with Kevin Cooper about who inspired him to play the bass, his favourite Del Amitri song, the time period which gave him the most pleasure whilst in Del Amitri and their forthcoming tour of the UK.

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 remain present throughout its history.

With the band having grown out of Currie’s Jordanhill College School band, they came together after a teenaged Currie place an advertisement in the window of a music store asking for people who could play an instrument to contact him. The band was formed with the original line up of Currie on bass and vocals, Harvie on lead guitar, guitarist Bryan Tolland and drummer Paul Tyagi.

Currie went on to co-write many of the band’s songs 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.

When Del Amitri take a hiatus, Currie pursues his solo career which has seen him release four studio albums, the last which saw him tour it with The Pallbearers.

Whilst getting ready to tour with Del Amitri, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Justin how are you?

Hi Kevin I’m good thank you. It is very sunny up here in Scotland at the moment.

It is also very sunny here in Nottingham at the moment, just for a change (laughter).

I have to say that the weather has been really fucking weird recently. Where I am up here in Scotland it is usually pouring down with rain but at this moment in time we have had a total heatwave. It is totally fucking mental (laughter).

Swiftly moving on from the weather, let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

No, thank you. It’s really great that you are interested in what we are getting up to.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

I have to say that at this moment in time all is fine thank you very much for asking. I have been enjoying this weather and I have to say that I have actually got a bit of a suntan which I have had for about the last four years (laughter). We are all limbering up for the forthcoming tour and I am actually learning to play the bass again. I’ve not played the bass now for over four years so that should be interesting. There is a lot of stuff currently going on so I am quite happy. In fact all in all things could not be better.

Before we speak about the forthcoming tour, you and I last spoke in October last year just prior to you going back out on the road with The Pallbearers, how was that?

The tour went really well actually. I have to say that there wasn’t a duff gig on that tour. Usually whenever you go out on tour there are one or two really great gigs and a couple of duff ones but last year they all met a certain standard so I was really quite pleased with that.

During that conversation I asked you if Del Amitri were still an ongoing concern and you said, to quote “nothing’s happening at present, we are not at this moment an ongoing concern” and then four weeks later you announced the forthcoming tour. Just what happened in those four short weeks?

Well I knew that we were probably going to be doing some gigs but at that time I simply wasn’t allowed to tell anybody (laughter). I have to say that in my eyes Del Amitri aren’t really an ongoing concern. What we seem to do is whenever we get an offer that we all fancy, we get the band together, we bring everyone back in from their own personal spaces and rehearse. What you have to remember is that we haven’t rehearsed for the past four years let’s put it that way. So please do accept my sincere apologies for that Kevin, it was a case of my hands being well and truly tied.

Are you looking forward to getting back out on the road as Del Amitri?

Yes I am, I really am. The last time that we did this we were all extremely apprehensive about it because it had been such a long break and we simply didn’t know if we could still cut it or not. But once we had got the Glasgow show out of the way at The Hydro which is a really big venue, and is a very large and cavernous place for us to play, from that point on we kind of got into our stride and really loved it. In fact if I am honest we had the time of our lives. We are hoping that we can repeat that kind of energy and fun whilst ramping things up a bit. So whilst we haven’t at this stage figured it out, we are all certainly looking forward to it. The last time that we went out on the road, let me tell you, we were all shitting ourselves (laughter) whilst this time we are a bit more confident.

It must make you feel good knowing that you have already sold-out The Barrowlands up there in Glasgow for two nights running.

Yes it does and I personally can’t wait to go back and play The Barrowlands. One of the greatest experiences of my life was playing The Barrowlands and being honest with you, I never thought that I would ever get the chance to play there again. I was really disappointed that we couldn’t play there in 2014 so yes, I am very excited about that.

You play The Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham on Wednesday 25th July, just what can we expect?

Well the last tour back in 2014 was called ‘The A To Z Of Us’ where we tried to cover everything from the early years to the last album and that worked pretty well so we are intending on doing a similar thing but maybe leave out some of the B-sides, some of the album tracks and some of the older things whilst perhaps playing the odd cover or two. Having said that, I still haven’t found a cover that I want to play yet (laughter). So being honest the whole thing is still a work in progress. We are still in discussion to agree on what we can do to make this tour a bit different. I love playing Nottingham and I really do like The Royal Concert Hall.

Whenever I interview artists who have played there the one criticism which comes up over and over again is that it is too bright.

I know exactly what they mean. It has got quite bright white walls and it has a concrete brightness about it but the sound there is always very good. I have always loved the way that it sounds so much so that I always try to watch the opening acts whenever we play there because it has got a lively sound for a seated venue. It has what you could call a rocking acoustic.

Your fellow Scot Midge Ure always used to bring Ultravox to play there because he said that he thought it had the best acoustics in the UK at that time.

I have to say that I totally agree with him actually, especially when you consider when it was built. I find that the concert halls that they built after that time tend to be dead and very controlled whereas The Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham, especially if you turn up the PA system then the sound really does bounce off the walls. It reminds me of a smaller version of the Glasgow Apollo which had that big slappy sound. So yes, I have always really enjoyed playing there. It has got a good shape as well; it has a great ceiling height whilst not being too broad. It really is quite focused.

Somebody was once quoted as saying that it is like ‘a theatre on-board a ship’.

Yes, that makes sense. But you are right about it being too bright, I can actually bring that to mind. Even with the houselights down you can still see people in their seats and that can be quite irritating. I noticed that when we played the Hammersmith Odeon back in 2014, it had carpeted isles and the walls were painted cream. They had tried to make it decadent, posh and prestigious. However, somebody a few years ago figured out that when it had previously been a cinema, the décor had been really black because obviously you didn’t want things reflecting off the walls. So they have now taken it back to its original colour scheme which is charcoal and black and it now feels like a big rock club.

It feels totally different. It feels so much smaller than it used to but everything about it now is so much better simply because they have fucking darkened everything down. The thing about concert halls in general is that they are all multipurpose and have to house theatrical productions, opera and lots of classical pieces. A lot of classical halls tend to be very brightly coloured. I don’t know why that is but they tend to have lots of brightly coloured wood, together with cream paint. It just to be a thing and I don’t know why.

Two days before you get to Nottingham you are playing what is at the moment my favourite venue in the UK. You will be playing the Symphony Hall in Birmingham.

Yes, I have to agree with you on that one, that really is a great venue. We have only previously played there once, way back in the 90s, and I remember dreading doing it because I looked at it and thought that it was one of those modern halls that were acoustically treated, and I genuinely thought that it was going to be horrible. However, once I actually got inside the place it was brilliant; it has got a beautiful warm sound to it. It really is a brilliant venue. Having said that, we should remember that inside the venue is very bright as well but it has a round and very big sound to it.

The advantage that we have here in Nottingham is that the Concert Hall has a moveable ceiling. The acoustical canopy can be raised, lowered and tilted backwards to suit the changing musical needs of each performance. At its lowest settings, the canopy suits intimate chamber music; higher settings suit louder performers.

Really, I didn’t know that or should I say no fucker told me that (laughter). That’s really crafty; I wish that they had done that in the fucking Hydro. The Hydro sounds like a fucking box of frogs (laughter).

It looks nice though (laughter).

Yes I have to say that it does look nice. The only thing is that from my point of view is that the sound is fucking crap. The problem is that is has a concrete floor and there is lots of Perspex everywhere together with lots of concrete so it really is quite tricky sound wise.

I have to tell you that the worst venue that I have ever been to is The First Direct Arena in Leeds. Have you played there yet?

No we haven’t, so please do tell me what’s wrong with it (laughter).

Well firstly the stage is built on the long side if you know what I mean?

Yes I do and let me tell you that never works.

And the whole place is just simply a huge mass of concrete.

Jesus Christ, why do they do that? Is it new?

It held its first concert on 4th September 2013 when Sir Elton John played there. And I don’t know just who sit on these panels but the building has been nominated as one of England’s greatest landmarks, and actually won best new venue in the world in 2014. I hate to think just what the competition was (laughter).

(Laughter) that’s right it really does make you wonder (laughter). It’s amazing just how they can still get things so badly wrong after years and years of building music venues. The problem with those sorts of venues is that they are multipurpose venues. You can put tennis matches in them and they are viewed as exhibition spaces rather than a music venue. That’s what The Hydro is like, it works really well as a multipurpose venue but it simply doesn’t work well specifically as a music venue. There is a venue here called the SEC, which is now simply used for exhibitions, and that was notoriously the worst sounding venue in the world. Big American sound engineers used to come in wearing cowboy hats like Tom Petty and Neil Young and you could see them banging their heads on the soundboards shouting “Jesus fucking Christ” (laughter).

Anyway now that we have put right the music venues here in the UK I suppose that we had better talk some more about the forthcoming tour hadn’t we (laughter).

OKay if we must (laughter).

Are there any thoughts yet as to who will be opening for you?

Yes there are and I am pleased to tell you that we will have the wonderful Trashcan Sinatra’s supporting us for the whole tour. We are so pleased that they said yes because opening for someone on a British tour is a bit rubbish because you only get to perform for half an hour and get paid shit (laughter). So hopefully they will be able to get through the whole tour without ending up being totally skint (laughter). I really pleased that they are doing this for us because I have always been a huge fan of the Trashcan’s.

Are there currently any thoughts on a new Del Amitri studio album?

To be honest we have written quite a lot of Del Amitri type songs so we are certainly considering recording something. Whether we release any thing or not will depend upon the quality of songs that we manage to get down onto tape. So yes, we are certainly considering it that’s for sure.

So what is the expected shelf life for Del Amitri at this point in time, is it just until the end of the forthcoming tour and see how it goes?

Yes I think that’s a good assumption. After the tour we won’t be doing anything else this year and I very much doubt that there will be anything next year too. I think that next year we will tentatively dip our toes into going into the studio and attempt to make a Del Amitri record that has some link to what we did back in the 90s but what also represents what we are trying to do now. Or should I say what we would be trying to do now so that would be the project for next year I guess.

What about your solo career, will you be working on anything new next year?

Well the last year I have been writing songs with my Del Amitri hat on which is quite a different approach to song writing so I don’t have any plans to do any solo recording. I will most probably do a few gigs simply because I tend to get some interesting offers to play a few gigs every now and again. I love being able to go out there and play a different sort of set list. So in answer to your question, no, I have no plans whatsoever to record another solo album. I feel that four is enough for now.

You formed Del Amitri back in 1983, so to date, what has been your favourite period of the band?

Well 1990 was probably the most fun that we had in a single year because that is when we broke through at the beginning of the year. We were really busy, we went to lots of places for the very first time, for example we went to Australia for the very first time which was amazingly good fun. That first flush of success was just a joy because we had spent ten years toiling away in the wilderness. Having said that we didn’t feel like we were toiling away, we just thought that we were doing what we did. Once that commercial success comes along, a lot of the angst tends to slip away because the audiences are there, you are finally making a living and you are having a great time.

The conditions of your job improve, you get nicer dressing rooms, nicer transport, and all of the basic stuff improves from that moment on. So I would have to say that 1990 was certainly the most fun that we have ever had. Having said that, most of the American tours that we did except for when we were opening for other people, all of the headline tours that we did were just deep joy. You would find yourself on a tour bus for three months, going to crazy, out of the way places, meeting bizarre people, and that to me was always an adventure. We were very lucky to be able to do that because now it is much more difficult to do that than it used to be.

After many years on the road does touring still excite you?

Yes it does, big time. The buzz builds through the day, after sound check you get something to eat, then the buzz starts building again before you go on stage, so the adrenalin hit is a vital part of performing. I love it and I don’t think that I would continue to do it if I didn’t love it. I know that there are bands that all hate each other and go out on tour in order to make a living and I have to say that I would honestly rather work in a café than do that. Don’t get me wrong, since the events of 9/11, if you are flying around the States, American airports have become an absolute nightmare. Having said that you have to remember that American airports were a fucking joke before 9/11.

You could take a sack full of weed in your hand luggage and they simply wouldn’t give a fuck. They would occasionally stop you if you had a hand gun in your pocket. It was the most unbelievably laxed security ever when you compared it to the German approach to airport security after the so called Libyan bombing. They would be asking you your mother’s maiden name, what school you went to, and they would even check the serial numbers on your fucking toothbrush. In America prior to 9/11 getting on a plane was like hailing a cab in London. Let me tell you, the last American tour that I did, I did it in a van and I just drove coast to coast. That was absolutely fantastic, it was total freedom. You can stop whenever you want, go to wherever you want to go, it was brilliant.

Do you have a favourite Del Amitri track?

At the moment, oh god, I always like listening to Kiss This Thing Goodbye because to me there is something about the way that it was recorded. It was a very arduous recording process, but the song came out right. I can remember hearing that song coming out of someone’s pickup truck in Florida back in 1990 and thinking ‘fucking hell that sounds amazing’. However, when it comes to playing live, the ones that are really simple for me to play on the bass tend to be the ones that are the most fun to play live so things like Stone Cold Sober, Always The Last To Know, are always great fun to play. What is your favourite Del Amitri track?

I have always loved Spit In The Rain. I think that it is a fantastic song.

Really, well let me tell you that we actually managed to do a half decent version of that on the last tour which we had never quite managed to do before. To be honest I personally have never been that enamoured with the lyric of Spit In The Rain but it is a really good tune. For some reason it is the Glasgow taxi driver’s favourite song (laughter).

You have mentioned the bass a couple of times now. Who has inspired you when it comes to playing the bass?

Initially that would have been Jah Wobble, who was the original bass player in Public Image Ltd (PiL). I learnt all of the bass lines from the first two PiL albums. After that it was people like Peter Hook from Joy Division, when again I learnt all of the bass lines from their debut album Unknown Pleasures. I grew up listening to The Beatles so Paul McCartney was a subconscious influence but it is impossible to play like Paul McCartney, he is just so musical. After that it was dear old Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy, and Fred Smith who was the bassist with Television. Fred plays very simply and has got a lovely round tone, I really do like his style of playing.

Justin, on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been fascinating.

Thanks Kevin, good man, it’s been brilliant once again. You take care and I hope to see you in Nottingham.