Courteeners‘ frontman Liam Fray has spoken to NME about the band heading for Number One this week with the 15th anniversary reissue of their debut album ‘St. Jude’ – as well as plans for new material and touring the US with Paris Jackson.
Originally released in 2008, ‘St. Jude’ peaked at Number Four on the Official Albums Chart at the time and contained three Top 40 singles including indie dancefloor staple ‘Not Nineteen Forever’. In August last year, the band announced a reissue of ‘St. Jude’ along with a massive Heaton Park gig to celebrate the debut album’s 15th anniversary.
“I didn’t want people paying £300 for this album on eBay, so I said, ‘Can we repress it? Can we remaster it? Can we put the B-sides on there?’ Fine, fuck it – that’ll do!” Fray told NME. “That’s all I wanted. People can get that for £25 and not be ripped off by shysters.”
Now, the new edition of the record is currently ahead in sales and on course to be Number One on this week’s albums chart this Friday (January 20).
“It’s just mad, fingers crossed but it’s hard to know how to feel,” said Fray of the chart placing. “I love ‘St. Jude’, and I’m never going to say that anything else we’ve done is better than that because that’s the one that set the tone – but I feel like our last album ‘More. Again. Forever.’ was a real step up for us. We thought that would get Number One and then it didn’t so we were like, ‘Oh, fucking hell’.”
Fray continued: “People say that numbers don’t matter. Are you kidding me? This industry is literally built on a Top 10 every fucking week – so don’t say that no one cares! If it gets there, it’ll be really nice. It’s been a long time coming and it’s a big pat on the back for the people that have worked with us and all the fans that have been there for us at any point. It shows that there’s still a place for it and that people are into it.
“We feel pretty blessed. I thought I’d feel all rockstar-y and fur coat-y, but it just feels pretty nice to be honest.”
Around the time of the album’s original release, Fray had a reputation for his bold, confident and outspoken statements about the band. Looking back on that era, Fray admitted: “Maybe I just talked a bit too much back then. You can turn people off, can’t you? We could feel the arrows coming for us straight away.
“There was quite a lot of hipster stuff happening in Manchester at that time, and I was well aware that we were a guitar band. I didn’t care though – that’s what we were. I’m not gonna get the cowbell and a kazoo out because you want me to. I play the guitar and that’s the music I feel comfortable doing. I was fucking 20 years old. Maybe I was shouting about it too much and that turned people off, but I really believed in it. I believed that what we were doing was good, was passionate and was truthful.”
He added: “We weren’t trying to mug anybody off. We weren’t put together by stage school applications. We were friends since we were four-years-old. It was real, we were a gang and we still are. I’m proud of that.”
Asked about the staying power of the album and its ongoing popularity, Fray said that he felt there was an emotional depth to the record that continued to reveal itself.
“There were so many guitar bands that even I was getting fucking sick of it,” he admitted. “There was a bit of bite and attitude on ‘St. Jude’, but I was 20 so I was probably complaining about the wrong things. I was complaining about being jealous and emotionally inept because we were young idiots, but we were just living in our own little bubble.
“When you dig a bit a deeper, there’s a bit of the male emotional psyche in there, and thinking about those kinds of relationships, Guy Garvey [Elbow] did it, John Bramwell [I Am Kloot] did it, but there wasn’t a lot of that around. Have you seen Mayflies with Martin Compston? The male friendship thing isn’t done a lot on TV either. We had songs about friendship and falling apart, which we probably disguised with more guitars and harder drums.”
As for hearing the album’s influence on other bands in their wake, Fray explained that he wasn’t listening to much new guitar music but said: “Tom from Blossoms sent me a clip of him and Donovan doing a cover of ‘Fallowfield Hillbilly’ in a pub with their first band. It’s unbelievable. That’s incredible; that they liked our band and went on to do what they have.”
Shortly after the release of ‘More. Again. Forever.’, the world was plunged into lockdown due to COVID and the band’s plans for the record – including an Australian tour and second to top billing at Reading & Leeds festival – would go unfulfilled. However, Fray “felt lucky that we got the album out and we weren’t working on the frontline” and took to writing.
“Like everyone, life was up and down with personal stuff, but I’ve not stopped writing and I’ve got lots of songs for different projects,” he said. “I’m working on stuff with the band all the time, but I’ve got about 40 songs that fall into different categories between ‘Courteeners’, ‘side project’ and ‘other’, stylistically. That’s quite nice as I’ve never had that before. I can’t say too much, but I’ve been really creative. I’ve got some fucking cool stuff that will blow your fucking socks off.
“It was quite beautiful to just doodle around and get lost with music without the usual pressure.”
During that time, Fray also opened his own bar and restaurant – The Smithfield Social in Manchester.
“That has been a lot of work and really tough,” he said of the experience, “but giving 80 people jobs for two years and working with all these chefs, bar staff and whatever from all different walks of life – it’s been amazing. These people are on their feet all fucking night and then getting night buses home at midnight. I understand a big part of the night time economy now. It feeds into music venues and what’s being closed and lost.
“We’re still getting there, but I liked getting a menu together and designing everything after we gutted it. Being on the phone to someone about ordering tiles on a Tuesday morning, I was like ‘Fucking hell, I didn’t think I’d be this involved – I thought I’d just come in and test the Guinness twice a week. It’s been quite nice, though.”
When touring returned, Courteeners headed out for a handful of intimate shows in the US last year; even being supported by Paris Jackson.
“She’s lovely and really grounded,” Fray said of Jackson. “She fucking means it. She’s in a splitter-van with her band traipsing around the country. We spent a bit of time with her in the dressing room and it was cool.”
He continued: “The tour was really cool. We had no expectations as we’ve only been over there once and that was to tour with Morrissey about 14 years ago. Bowery Ballroom in New York sold out, Boston sold out, The Troubadour in LA sold out. These are smaller venues than we’re used to but it’s not like nobody knew us so I was happy with that.”
Asked if he had hopes of finally ‘breaking America’, the frontman replied: “It was just nice to get out there, but never say never! There’s no reason why we can’t get a couple of breaks and do a few TV shows next time we’re out there. It’s not as important to me as it was 10 years ago. Just that we could play a gig and 500 people wanted to sing ‘Bide Your Time’ with us is cool by me. I don’t expect 8,000 people to do it over there, because I get that over here where I’m from. That’s where the songs come from, so it means a lot.”
“It was old school, a laugh and important for the band as it helped us really reconnect and get the band back together.”
Here in the UK, Courteeners are gearing up for some massive shows this summer while also taking stock of their achievements so far.
“We’ve got Heaton Park coming up, we’ve got to get the support acts sorted out,” Fray said. “We’ve got Isle Of Wight Festival the week before where we’re playing before Pulp. The 18-year-old me is very excited; that’s going to be pretty special. There was talk of some ‘St. Jude’ shows in the winter but I don’t know if that’s overkill. If there’s demand, we’ll see. I’m thinking, ‘Let’s do this big one in Manchester and move on’.
“You don’t just want to be a tribute band to yourself from 15 years ago. That night in Manchester will be special – believe me. We’re still talking about some surprises.”
Speaking of the band’s current mentality, he added: “When we were 21, we were just living this dream and hurtling through. You get older and people have children and their real lives become more important than certain aspects of being in a band. Navigating all of that and those relationships is fucking tough, but I’m really blessed to share this with these guys in the band and the wider circle of everyone we work with. I’ve never worked with anybody I haven’t liked.
“This is a nice point to go, ‘You know what? I’m pretty fucking grateful for all this’.”
Courteeners’ 15th anniversary reissue of ‘St. Jude’ is out now. The band play Manchester’s Heaton Park on Friday June 9. Visit here for tickets and more information.