September 19, 2008

The Men Who Are Still Going Strong

By Gary Flockhart

CALL whimsical rockers Travis anything you want - just don't call them 'nice'.

"Yeah, that bothers us," admits bassist Dougie Payne. "The word 'nice' annoys me, but I think what annoys me more is that we seem to be unfairly maligned in the press.

"I don't know what we've done to offend these people," he adds. "But you know, we do get a pretty hard f****** time from the press. And I don't think it's warranted."

As million record sellers who have twice scooped Brit Awards for best album and paved the way for Coldplay, Keane and Snow Patrol, you'd think such criticism wouldn't grate.

"Ach, you know, you've always got something to prove," admits Payne, whose band play the official launch night of the Capital's new 1500-capacity music venue, The Picture House, on Thursday night. "Once you've made a great record you just want to get it out there, and the press, by writing certain things, can really do some damage to that.

"It's not like weeping into your pillow, but we just get a little f****d off with it," he retorts.

The Glasgow quartet no longer shift records in the huge quantities they once did - though it remains to be seen if their forthcoming sixth album, Ode To J Smith, bucks that trend.

The record hits the shops at the end of this month, and Payne says he's no idea how well it will sell. "I've honestly got no clue," he laughs. "I don't know. I remember us saying to each other a few years ago, 'how do you think we're perceived' and we'd no idea. We still don't."

The bassist, who is married to Trainspotting star Kelly Macdonald, is nevertheless delighted with the album. "I think it's a great one - and that's all we can do," he says.

Formerly called Glass Onion, Travis formed in Glasgow in 1995.

The band's early days weren't successful. "The band was like any other Glasgow band ... they were sh***," is lead singer Fran's Healy's honest assessment. "They didnae know whether they wanted to be Hue and Cry or Deacon Blue or Tinsel Town and the Rain."

The frontman dropped out of art school to concentrate on songwriting full-time, and his band began playing around the Scottish toilet circuit.

The turning point came when Travis played La Belle Angele in Edinburgh and Healy was told that his grandfather had just died that day. "I was really close to my granda and something just clicked," he recalls. "Keeping people in bands or sacking them from bands is a hard thing to do because it's about mates. But at that point I didn't care anymore, I knew exactly what had to be done: the line- up had to be changed and we had to move to London. The penny had dropped."

Payne was brought into the band, though as bandmate Andy Dunlop remembers, "He couldn't tie his shoe laces", let alone play his instrument. He soon picked it up, though, and before long Travis were leaving their native Glasgow for the bright lights of London.

With a knack for crafting catchy pop songs with breezy, singalong melodies, mainstream success wasn't long in coming.

Having released their debut album, Good Feeling, in 1997, the band's breakthrough came with 1999's The Man Who, which reached No.1 in the album charts and spawned the hits Why Does It Always Rain On Me?, Writing To Reach You, Driftwood and Turn.

Their third album, 2001's The Invisible Band - featuring Sing (the most played song on British radio that summer) and the McCartney-esque Flowers in the Window - brought even greater success, spending its first four weeks atop the charts, and selling in four weeks what The Man Who sold in six months.

The hits have become less frequent in recent years, though there's high hopes for new album Ode To J. Smith, their rockiest to date.

After a tour ending in November last year, the quartet gave themselves a whirlwind four months to write and record the new album.

"After touring with the last album [The Boy With No Name] we finished up in South America, and were quite buoyed by the way we were playing," explains Payne. "We were feeling really good about the whole thing, and wanted to get another record out as fast as we could.

"So we went into this little room in London - you know, the spirit of The Clash and all that," he laughs, "and did two weeks writing in December and another two weeks writing after Christmas.

"We then went out to play the songs in front of a handful of people - five shows in tiny clubs to about 200 people - and basically got the songs up to speed and ready to play in a studio," he continues. "It was great, the songs kind of came to life ... songs we loved playing and were excited by. Then we went into the recording studio in February and did the record in two weeks."

With the new record done and dusted, Payne remembers that it felt "brilliant". "I think it was the first time we managed to get what we like live on record," he enthuses. "We're really happy with it."

Looking ahead to Thursday's gig, Payne says the band are excited about playing the brand new Picture House venue. "Have you been there yet?" he enquires "Was it a cinema? Fantastic!

"Last time we played Edinburgh ... oh God, I don't think we played Edinburgh on the last tour did we? [Travis did in fact play the Liquid Room in April 2007].

"I think it's been quite a while now. I seem to remember us doing the Playhouse with Teenage Fanclub for a benefit show in 2003 or 2004. And I think we played there in 2004 on the singles tour.

"So anyway," he adds, "we haven't played our own show in Edinburgh for a long time - it's gonna be good."

And what songs can fans expect to hear?

"I reckon it's gonna be a long set list," he laughs. "We've a lot of songs to choose from. There's a lot off the new record, because there's good songs on it to play live, but we'll do the hits as well to keep everyone happy."

A lot of bands wouldn't bother what the fans think ... then again, Travis are too nice, apparently.

Travis, Picture House, Lothian Road, Thursday, 7pm, GBP 19.50, 0844-847 1740

Fran Healey on Travis' greatest hits...


"I think it's about how if you go around and you don't really do anything with your life, basically, if you act like a bit of driftwood, you'll end up like a bit of driftwood."


"It was written at the same time as All I Want To Do Is Rock on this little island off the west coast of Scotland. It was the first time I'd gone off to write somewhere, done it properly. It's kind of a list of wishes."

Why Does It Always Rain On Me?

"I went on holiday after we did the first record and it was like supposed to be sunny and it like, p****d with rain the whole time I was there and it was a sh*** holiday but I got this song out of it. I wrote it to cheer myself up and it's done us good."

Writing To Reach You

"Writing To Reach You was actually inspired by Franz Kafka's Letters To Felice. He wrote to this woman he was in love with hundreds of times, yet never met her. None of her replies are in the book, so you have to piece together their relationship. I was reading that one day, and Wonderwall came on the radio. I nicked the chords, then changed the rhythm and the melody. I'm pleased we managed to draw on Kafka and Oasis in the same song."


"Written in Spring 1999 the day before going in to do B-sides for Turn (We Are Monkeys, Rock 'n' Salad Roll). I was sitting strumming my guitar watching MTV with the sound down and there was something on about swing beat. I started humming what sounded like a verse part and took it into what then sounded like a natural chorusy part and because of the swing beat on TV, I sung "...if you swing, swing, swing etc..." I loved the freeness of the chorus melody next to the downness of the verse melody."

Flowers In The Window

"This was written in Mike Hedges' studio in France in June 1998 during the first sessions of The Man Who. Mike had said that every band that had recorded in his chateau had written a song and I was like, 'no way am I gonna be writing a song' I just didn't feel like it.

"Until that point I had always written in the privacy of my own bedroom tucked away secretly where no-one could hear me. But one day whilst sitting at his grand piano with my guitar on my lap and the sun blazing in through a huge bay window and some time on my hands I came upon the opening piano riff, the Dan Dan da da da Dan. Because I couldn't play the piano fluently I found the chords on the guitar and got a melody for the verse and the chorus and most importantly filled the six syllable vocal hook with what I could see in front of me. Which was the most beautiful flowers in Mike's garden through this huge bay window."

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