September 5, 2008

So That’s What All the Fuss is About

By Gary Flockhart

IT'S a frustrating way to start an interview - standing at the side of the stage at Birmingham's Barfly, Glasvegas' James Allan struggling to make himself heard as his band continue to rehearse minus their singer.

Disconcertingly, he keeps talking for a full five minutes before he realises it is just not going to work. Eventually, he forms a plan. "Rab, have you got the keys to the van?" he shouts out to his towering guitarist cousin through the noise. "I'll just get the keys off Rab, then we can go and do the interview in the van.

"Sorry, a bit noisy in there," he says once inside the band's transit van. "But we were late getting here this afternoon, and we have to rehearse for tonight's show - you know how it is."

It was the first night of the band's current 16-date tour of the UK, which kicked off in Birmingham this week, and calls at the Liquid Room on Sunday night before ending on September 25 at Nottingham's Rescue Rooms.

Following hot on the heels of their Capital gig, Glasvegas will also be performing a special free show and signing session at HMV's Princes Street store at midnight on Sunday, for which fans can collect free wristbands from the store only from 9am on the day of the gig.

The exponential rise of the four-strong troupe from Dalmarnock - from playing tiny venues in their native east Glasgow to packed slots at Glaston-bury and T in the Park - has been nothing short of phenomenal this past year.

And it has owed much to music industry mogul Alan McGee - who spotted them playing third on the bill at King Tut's, a la Oasis, before declaring them to be "the best Scottish band for 20 years".

With their self-titled debut album due for release on Monday and expected to enter the charts at No 1, Columbia Records-signed Glasvegas, also comprising drummer Caroline McKay and bassist/ backing vocalist Paul Donoghue, are the band everyone is talking about right now.

But what their singer won't entertain is that he's feeling any added pressure by the froth-mouthed hype that surrounds his band.

"I guess [having a No 1] it's something that I do think about a lot - but only because people ask me all the time, which forces me to think about it," laughs Allan, who before forming the band played football for Falkirk, Gretna and Queen's Park.

"If they didn't ask me about it, then no, I probably wouldn't ever think about it.

"Basically, when you talk about number ones what you're talking about is how you gauge the album, how it ranks, etc," he continues. "But to me, to me it's beyond No 1. That's because I had all the struggles and the doubts, all the lows when I was in New York [recording the album], all the joys and the euphoric highs when I felt as though I was painting the picture the way I wanted to.

"In the end, I struggled so hard to make the record the thing that it is - so basically I've succeeded already," he adds.

"But then, I'd succeeded when I made the demos at home, because all I was trying to do was to express myself with some sincerity and authenticity.

"At the end of the day, I've got to sit down and ask myself - you know, when I'm trying to get to sleep at night, and you pose those questions to yourself - have I done that? And I believe I have, so it went to number one in my mind already. It's beyond that already, so whether it goes in the charts, who knows?"

Recorded at the beginning of the year, the album features the critically acclaimed singles Geraldine and Daddy's Gone, and was produced by Allan and Rich Costey (Muse, Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand).

The first thing that strikes about these songs is the thick Glasgow accent Allan sings in, though the frontman admits this particular quirk is more by default than design.

"I've not got many options, really," he laughs. "But anyway, I think it's a really beautiful accent, a really exotic accent, and that's first and foremost the reason.

"Secondly, there's many guys in the history of popular music who do the same thing, be it Johnny Cash, Hank Williams or Elvis Presley.

"They do the same thing really, so I guess I'm just being myself, quite simply," he adds.

A quick listen to the record and it doesn't take long to see what McGee first saw in this band - like Oasis, Glasvegas have that ability to unite football terrace types and fey indie kids with their melodic mixing of vintage rock and pop with intense guitars.

"You've probably got a point there," he laughs. "But it's quite hard for me to see it like that, me being me. It's like me saying there's a lot of comparisons between me and Elvis. It's quite hard to talk about yourself like that. But I get what you're saying now that you've mentioned it."

As for McGee's vociferous support of the band, Allan welcomes the heads up. "I say to anybody, I can't actually complain or moan because there's probably a lot of artists out there who are trying to get their art out to people and it can be quite tough to do that.

"So I think the pressure's on them really, a lot more than it's on me. I don't think there's any great pressure in people saying that they believe in you. So I can't complain about anything.

"But it's a really funny thing with Alan, and sometimes I laugh, because he's one of the guys, isn't he? There must be some kind of magic dust sprinkled on him.

"You could always say it's just coincidence that he's backed all these great bands, but I think not. I think there must be something to him - do you know what I mean? I believe there is something special about the guy," he adds.

If, as expected, the album does chart highly a week on Sunday, Allan knows the way people perceive him could change. Not that he's about to start acting the big rock star.

He says, "I think that you've always got to ask yourself: 'What's your agenda?' and 'Why are you in it?' If you were in it for the wrong reasons from the beginning, then you are just going to continue to have the same ethos and agenda and attitude that you had before.

"By the same token, I also think if you start off with some of the more soulful reasons of wanting to be involved in with art/ music, then I think you would carry that on as well.

"The way I see it, if you're a d*** from the offset, the same's just gonna accent that, blow it up and make everyone see what a d***head you really are - do you know what I mean?

"That may be just how I see it," he adds with a shrug before heading back to join the rest of the band for rehearsal.

Glasvegas, Liquid Room, Victoria Street, Sunday, 7pm, GBP 8, 0131- 225 2564; HMV, Princes Street, Sunday, 12pm, free only with wristband

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