"I wanted songs like ‘Rock’N’Roll Star’ and I don’t know how the hell I ended up with ‘Daddy’s Gone’," the singer says, celebrating the tenth anniversary tour and reissue of Glasvegas's sensational debut
James Allan is amazed that ‘Daddy’s Gone’ is only celebrating its tenth anniversary – by his reckoning the song should be about forty-odd by now.
“I’m still surprised that our band, Glasvegas, how did that not happen before?” he says. “How did that first album not happen in 1977? I’d think it would be about 1978 in Glasgow when a punk band would sing the way I do and sing ‘Daddy’s Gone’. I’m glad they never, because it gave me a chance to be in a band and be able to express these things. It’s destiny or fate, but we’ve been really lucky as well.”
Even as they reissue it and tour the UK playing it in full to mark its tenth year, there’s something undoubtedly timeless about Glasvegas’s classic 2008 self-titled debut album. From beneath the neon wreckage of new rave clambered this monochrome behemoth of billowing emotion, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Phil Spector and The Verve rolled into one and snarling its way out of the Glasgow underground hiding their glistening tear ducts behind indoor shades. Anthems like ‘Geraldine’, ‘Go Square Go’, ‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry’ and centrepiece ‘Daddy’s Gone’ – a huge, heart-breaking open letter to James’s absentee da – tore at the heartstrings of a superficial era craving depth and raw emotion and sent the album to Number Two. At the time it wrapped the deepest sorrows and degradations of neoliberal Britain in the heroic textures of the Wall Of Sound and sepia Americana. Today ‘Daddy’s Gone’ sounds like a premonition of the emotional anti-machismo of Idles.
“There’s part of me that’s like ‘are you sure? Us? ‘Daddy’s Gone’?’” James says. “Because it’s me – it’s a three-minute snapshot of a perspective of my childhood. I thought we’d be like Oasis, I thought we’d have Oasis songs, that’s what I wanted, I didn’t want Daddy’s Gone’, I wanted songs like ‘Rock’N’Roll Star’ and I don’t know how the hell I ended up with ‘Daddy’s Gone’, it just happened, If I could choose I’d rather be in the Bee Gees, but it’s just not me.”
In the wake of ‘Glasvegas’ though, the band’s fortunes faltered. 2011’s follow-up ‘EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK \’ was written and tracked in a luxury Californian beach house a million miles from any rat-infested Glasgow tenement and reversed the aesthetic tone to one of bright whites and narcotic-sounding overconfidence. Perhaps their fans felt a blazing spotlight had been turned on their personal tragedies, but the new decade saw Glasvegas fade back into the underground. So as they ready their return with fourth album ‘Godspeed’, let’s play the rock’n’roll social worker…
What are your clearest memories of the first album’s rise?
“The NME was into the band before we made the album. That was such a massive springboard for the band being introduced to other people. When we were making the album, something had already been made of ‘Daddy’s Gone’, and there was probably quite a lot of anxiety from the label when we started recording the album. There was a lot of pressure that they didn’t want it to go wrong. People believed that there was a chance that this could be a special thing, so we didn’t want to fuck it up.”
Were there any points you saw it kicking off?
“We’d play a gig and we didn’t think anybody would be there and we’d walk out to play at King Tut’s, probably, and the place was full and everybody knew the songs. That was the first time I realised. We did a tour in the UK and the whole thing sold out straight away, and we played six songs on the tour. The set was six songs long, and one of them was a cover. Every night it was the same thing, people really passionately singing the songs. Half of me was trying not to act confused or surprised, like this is a normal thing, but inside me I did feel quite honoured, and that I don’t deserve what’s happening here. Then there’s the other fifty per cent going ‘this is the way it was always meant to be, this is the way I dreamt it’. And then we started going to Europe and it’s not just the Mancunian guy singing ‘Daddy’s Gone’, it’s the German guy in Berlin on a Tuesday night. I did feel proud. I’d never had that level of people believing in something that I do.”
What was the secret of the record’s impact?
“There’s something unique and rare, especially for a song like ‘Daddy’s Gone’, to make it that level of mainstream awareness. These are normal, really genuine sentiments that break through. Even for a lot of bands I love, when I think about the songs on their debut albums, they’re not as personal and the story of their lives as that was.”
What happened to Geraldine?
“She’s still a social worker but she tours with other artists as well. People in the social work, she’ll be meeting new clients and introduce herself, ‘hi , I’m Geraldine’ and they’ll say ‘Geraldine, like the song?’ They don’t know it’s actually her. That’s fucking mad. She’ll just kinda laugh along.”
How big did Glasvegas get?
“The last tour that we did on the first album was with Kings Of Leon in America, and before that there was U2, we played at Wembley with them and it was quite mad. We could basically book in anywhere and play with these songs. We’ve never been a big band, I don’t think. We’ve been quite a small band but a small band all around the world. When you talk about major hits, you notice that for other bands but you don’t think about it like that for yourself. It’s like looking in the mirror, you don’t think ‘that’s absolutely terrible’ and you don’t think ‘that’s absolutely wonderful’, it’s you.”
Did the band’s swift rise go to your head?
“I don’t think so. I think I had problems before, to be honest, some hard stuff before. Quite common, simple things that most people experience. Not really having any money, not knowing in what way to have an opportunity. There’s always been a case of me being full of mischief or full of wonder, and my sense of wonder sometimes gets ahead of itself. There was quite a reckless side of my personality that would grow. I’ve never been a creature of repetition, and playing show after show after show, I’ve never been built for that. When I get bored then I’m useless, I’ve never been built for that, being a consistent professional. Me and Rab [Allan, guitar] and Paul [Donoghue, bass], we weren’t very professional. I’m quite proud of the way we were because a lot of other people might be quite precious about certain things, we were absolutely not giving a fuck about anything other than having quite an extremely mad time. We were never reliable, we were curious as to just how psychedelic or extreme something could go in that way. But when it came to the music, we were so devoted. We were devoted to the music and nothing else. And with that bit there comes being a bit of a narcissist.”
For the second album you emerged in white outfits with what sounded like a Messiah complex in full flow – had you done too many drugs?
“I wore white before I wore black, which nobody knew. There’s a gig on YouTube that’s still kicking about where I’d just have white on, at King Tut’s maybe with ten people there. On the second album people would say ‘it’s different things that he’s singing about, it’s not his roots’, but there were songs on the second album that were supposed to be on the first album. But that’s okay… I just feel lucky that anybody would actually connect with any of it. You can look back a photo of yourself and think ‘I look so stupid in that’ but I’ve learned not to do that. You’ve got to love it and have some sympathy and understanding with that picture of you as a teenager, because that was you. It can fuck a lot of artists up, that doubt of ‘should I have done this?’ or ‘should I have done that?’. You’re always flapping around in the deep end trying to stay afloat. There’ll be times when people might connect with it a bit more or not, but if somebody doesn’t connect with it they shouldn’t worry too much, Look at The Velvet Underground. You just never know what the future holds with anything you’re doing, so don’t wait on somebody connecting.”
How did you deal with the second album not having the same sort of success?
“I guess I felt quite hurt or confused but I didn’t know that at the time. It took me a few years to realise I actually did show emotion. I guess I was… not arrogant or confident or cocky but my whole heart believed that this had a purpose and a value and I believed in my heart that everybody could embrace this in a completely positive way. Looking back at it, for me to think that seems quite naïve. Maybe that’s altered my expectations for anything else that I make. It’s so important that an artist experiences that. It would fuck me up even more if I never experienced disappointment.”
How do you feel about the debut album being considered your big moment?
“I’m used to the focus being on that first album, but in an ideal world I’d prefer that people were just as aware of other songs. You feel about the songs like pets, there’s all these cats and dogs and people prefer this dog and this dog and there’ll be all these other cats and dogs sitting there not getting any love or nobody caring. They’re your pets, you don’t want that. But when you’re kids starting bands, for anybody to be aware and connect with any bit of any song, I’m so fucking beyond lucky. Whatever happens next we’ve already been shown so much love that you can never think ‘poor me’.”
Is the reissue planned to remind people about the band then hit the with the fourth album ‘Godspeed’?
“I was talking to Noel Gallagher and I was saying to him ‘I’ve made the album, I don’t know if anybody else will… I’m spending all this time on it and losing health over these songs and I don’t know if anybody else will notice’. He was saying ‘yeah they will’ but I don’t know. It’s been a period of time where we’re flapping about in the deep end for a year. I’m making this one myself, producing and engineering so you’re like a mobile studio and I’m not a very organised person – I’m not very good at reading manuals either so I was trying to figure it out. From the beginning of the band when I was recording the first demos I probably did it a lot the wrong way, but sometimes doing things the wrong way you stumble across some different way of doing something, so even my weaknesses and limitations can sometimes come out as a strength. Your weaknesses can shape something quite unique and interesting.”
How’s ‘Godspeed’ shaping up?
“The others came so much quicker – this one has felt like I’ve been walking along this long road and there’s somebody walking towards me in the distance and they’re quite blurry and they’re gradually getting closer. Anybody else that’s not as mad as me would have given up, it’s been so long, but I’m the type of person where I’m not interested in that much but when I am interested in something I’ll see it through no matter what. This album is set in one night, the character in the story leaves the house and everything that happens on the album happens on that night. Things like American Graffiti are maybe a subconscious influence, and there’s a lot of Glasgow, a lot of the energy that’s in the city. The pain or the violence or the anger or the frustration or the humour or the love of strangers, it’s always extreme. It’s those extreme elements that are Glasgow really.”