Conducting an orchestra of memories and monsters in his head, hitting at them through his forehead with his hands, letting them explode through his fingertips in the way a stage manager mimes “Attention! There’s only 10 minutes left!”, he liked to sing like that, eyes closed.
Graham’s eyes would flicker open at the ends of songs, and he’d dizzily re-register where he was, where we were. That we were clapping and screaming loud. That there was a chap five rows back singing the lyrics to every song, with his arms aloft. That people were turning to each other grinning from the moment “There’s a Girl in the Corner” began the 15-song set. And Graham, once back among us, would look legitimately surprised and genuinely grateful.
He thanked us twice, for allowing the Glasgow-based band to keep going, to keep coming. “It’s been more than five years since we’ve played here,” he said, ”and I guarantee you it won’t be this long again.” At the merch table later, he thanked us a third time: “I’m emailing our booker tomorrow to tell him that Vancouver needs to be on the tours more.” And I don’t doubt that he would.
The last North American tour, however, hadn’t gone well.
“Not because of us, the band,” James said, just because, you know, some tours are really hard on bands. As he laid out the band’s t-shirts and 7inches on the merch table, their tour manager Chris was more direct: “They nearly packed it all in.” Cities weren’t as welcoming. But then the season changed.
Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave, their latest, was released in the tail end of 2014, at the right time. Their older albums had been brilliant, but this one hooked on. A tiny army of nerdy music critics swooned loud enough for everyone else to hear. That album lit a thread, and wooooosh it caught on. Dark indie pop, expansive guitar, temperamental lyrics, woozy ballads and anthems for those of us who never fit in.
So this tour was going great. Portland was brilliant! Seattle was brilliant! Even fucking Fargo was brilliant, said drummer Mark. And Vancouver was brilliant too – intense, with him up there doing his disappearing-into-his-head trick.
But lest ye imagine a black-clad Glaswegian emo-ing on stage, draping like a punk Morrissey across Robert Smith’s guitars, spitting “Where are your mirrors?” on repeat, there was humour too. It was in the lyrics. It was in the crinkled edges of a smile in guitarist Andy MacFarlane’s eyes – eyes that seemed to say, though tiredly, “Oh it’s all connecting, now. Good.” It was in the moment when someone yelled “Stirling Albion!”, and James replied: “Wow, uh. We’ve never had that yelled at us. Uh okay. WILLIAM WALLACE!” then mumbled something about “that being the most watched film”, then snorted at his own non-sequiturs.
And it was all over the setlist too. Maybe as an inside joke or an attempt to catch critics up, many songs were misnamed on paper. “That Summer, at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy” was billed as “Hit Single.” I mean, it’s shorter, right?
“I Became a Prostitute” was, simply, a very Scottish “Prossy,” (similarly Scots-ly, “Leave the House” was “Leave the Hoose”). “There’s a Girl in the Corner” was “Badlands”, “Cold Days from the Birdhouse” was ”Sheepdug” and “And She Would Darken the Memory” was “Rabbit”. Right, then.
And there was humour, or maybe just joy in us being able to hear “Nil” and “Alphabet” from album No-One Can Ever Know along with all the Nobody tracks like “Last January”, “Drown So I Can Watch”, “In Nowheres” and “Pills I Swallow.”
In my own head, the big chorus of “It Never Was the Same”:”We dance to save them all/We ask to save them all/We try to save them all/You didn’t have to kill them all” became a sort of late-night pub lock-in singalong. You can’t help but smile at those kinds of things in your head, even if those things are being killed.
After the show, Graham rested his hand on the bottle of 12-year-old Scotch I’d brought as a gift from home, though Aberfeldy’s distillery is nowhere near Glasgow, and he thanked us, me, yet again, genuinely, gratefully: “I know you’ve been saying a lot of nice things about us online, and I just really wanted to say thank you.” And I patted the bottle of Scotch and said, “this isn’t just for doing the photoshoot, it’s for the last album and the music. And it’s for not giving up.”
And James Graham, eyes opened, smiled wide. \m/
All photos by Richard Amies, with thanks to Heena Patel and the Twilight Sad.
Sorry, comments are closed.