Idlewild are one of those bands that many of us grew up with, and as 2008 draws to a close the Scottish rockers are giving fans a chance to relive their youth by perfoming all the albums, in full plus associated B sides, just before Christmas (full details below) at a series of special shows in Glasgow.
To celebrate the occasion, DiS asked singer Roddy Woomble for a track-by-track retrospective on their first full album, 1998's Hope Is Important.
"Half of the songs were written throughout 1997 and around the same times as those that appear on Captain, the other half (including most of the singles) were written between tours in the first months of 1998, when we'd been branded as the 'next big thing' by much of the UK music press, and had given up university/employment to concentrate on touring etc. It was a time of adjustment to the (frankly gruelling) touring life around the toilet circuit in a van, and of meeting expectation from audiences at every venue. It's an incomplete album as it's the sound of a band split between their past and future and with barely any studio experience to document it properly. For that reason it did (and still does) exude a naïve rawness. It was recorded in batches, firstly in Chapel studios in rural Lincolnshire, and latterly in Pearse Street Studios in Dublin."
You've Lost Your Way
A very early Idlewild song. Rod [Jones, guitarist] originally sung it; I punctuated points with a scream or two. This song is a good representation of what we sounded like live at the time (albeit a bit tighter thanks to the advantage of multiple takes): very driven, abrasive and energetic. The only Idlewild song Rod wrote the words for. I have no idea what they were. One bit sounds like "When Gertrude goes down/I think she's meant a nosedive". He was banned from writing lyrics after this.
A Film For The Future
Nothing to do with the song 'You're So Vain' by Carly Simon. In fact, we were always surprised at the time when people mentioned that. Many of our early songs were based around a riff. Our original bass player, Phil Scanlon, was (and he would admit to this) not very good. Everyone followed Rod. When Bob [Fairfoull, Scanlon's replacement] joined things got better. Bob had great melodic ideas with his bass. So this was an example of Rod and Bob working together to make a better rock song. Lyrically it was more a reflection of my lack of interest in my studies as a film student than anything else, hence the "Nothing is certain" chorus. But it wasn't really meant to be about anything. It was meant to rock.
Every Friday we used to all hang out at the Art school in Edinburgh at a club called The Egg. Rod was a bit of the man about town (or so he thought) suited up, with his dyed pink hair all styled. This was still in the Britpop-era when people liked Menswear and danced to Sleeper records. I hated it all, but every week compulsively went along, sat outside smoking and moaning. I suppose much of the song is about this experience. Musically, it was our attempt at jangle-pop with a bit of distortion.
When I Argue I See Shapes
I remember writing this in the practice pad, a rehearsal complex in the Tollcross area of Edinburgh, and thinking that it sounded good straight away. The band had been working on it without me, and when I came in the melody came straight away and just seemed to weave in and out of the chords. We all loved Pavement and I think we thought of this as our homage, although listening back it doesn't really sound like them at all. Lyrically it came from something random that was shouted during one of the many arguments I had with my girlfriend at the time, over some nonsensical teenage trial I'm sure.
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4 People Do Good
When we formed Idlewild I wanted to be in a punk band. I'd been in pub bands, and bands that tried (and failed) to sound like The Velvet Underground and all I really wanted to do was rock out. This is the kind of tune that we came up with a lot. All the early sets were made up of songs that sounded like this. '4 People Do Good' was the best of a bunch. Lyrically it's a hopeful, straightforward punk-rock theme: "I've got no motives/4 people do good".
I'm Happy To Be Here Tonight
This is really an album made by a band with no idea how to put a record together. It could have been an album of '4 People Do Good's or 'I'm Happy To Be Here Tonight's had we had less, or more time. As it was, it turned into a fairly schizophrenic mix. I think this was also the song that started the (ten years and counting) REM comparisons. Lyrically, very bookish "Abstract lonely boys" abound, living through their "Chaos dream". You either love or hate this stuff.
Everyone Says You're So Fragile
Dangerously close to being pop-punk, a genre that all made us squirm with discomfort, and worry that we'd be lumped in with the other such bands in the UK at the time - Snug, Symposium, Midget etc. Not that we thought we were amazing, we didn't, but I guess we just thought we were more interesting, angrier and chaotic. But we also liked our melodies, and it was stupid to ignore our blossoming talent for coming up with good ones. The song was written quickly, with a single in mind since we were conscious that we didn't have many. We made it as poppy as we could. It didn't do very well in the charts, so we dropped the Brill building approach. We still play this song regularly though.
I'm A Message
Half the album was recorded In Dublin above a pub called Mahaffeys. You could phone down and they'd bring up a tray of Guinness. Rod and Colin used to go down and watch the football in the pub while Bob and I would sit up in the studio reading and listening to music ordering up pints. In between working hard you understand. Dave Eringa who has produced most of our stuff since always says he'd have loved a shot doing this song, I suppose it got so much better after a few years of playing it live that the recording stopped doing it justice. It's a great little pop song and still gets an audience pogo-ing. When we recorded it we'd never played it live. No special attention was really given to it.
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You Don't Have The Heart
One of the last songs written for the LP. The Jesus Lizard were another group we liked and the chorus in this one is a (failed) attempt toward their sound. Interestingly, Justine Frischman from Elastica was supposed to come and sing on the verses. It was all arranged and then she pulled out due to her tonsils flaring up or something. Salli, the girl who worked in admin at Deceptive Records, ended up singing her part at the last minute. This song was always good live. In fact, a live version appeared as a B side to 'Little Discourage'.
Close The Door
Not our finest moment. "It's an album track" Paul Tipler, the producer of this record, used to say, which is diplomatic-producer-speak for 'it's not as catchy or memorable as the other songs'. The "Barbecue lungs" lines was in reference to how many cigarettes we were all smoking at the time. There was a 'no smoking' sign on the door of the studio which Paul (a non-smoker) used to joke that we ignored because we couldn't see for all the smoke. Back in the days when smoking was allowed indoors.
Safe And Sound
Another leap toward something less noisy and abrasive. There's a violin on here played by a school teacher from Dublin. I was particularly proud of this song. It remained my favourite idlewild song until we wrote 'Little Discourage' the following year. The title came from a bit of graffiti spray-painted on a bridge over the northbound M6. We always knew how close we were to Scotland when we saw that safe and sound.
Low LightThis was the end of our set. Sometimes it'd been known to go on for ten plus minutes so Paul the producer had seen us live a number of times and knew that it would work better if we approached it like that. So it was all done in one take live in the studio at night after several cans of beer. Rod added a few extra guitars, but along with 'You've Lost Your Way', this song captures the band very much how we sounded in concert. It's angry, a bit teenage; yet within its punk-pop confines, vaguely free-form. No one is working to an arrangement, they're following me.
"And that was it. The record went into the charts at #53 and sold a respectable 60,000 odd copies in its first year, helped by the single 'When I Argue I See Shapes' charting at #19. The album found a small cult following in Japan and America, and we continued to grow in reputation as a live band, playing bigger venues around the UK. Ultimately, it's a messy explanation of what we were at the time, though I look back on it all fondly, the way one might recall a memorable holiday taken as a teenager. But it's what came after that I'm proud of the most..."
Idlewild play a series of shows performing all their albums in full, plus associated B sides, at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow next month:
17 Hope Is Important and others
18 100 Broken Windows
19 The Remote Part
20 Warnings/Promises and acoustic set
21 Captain and Make Another World
Roddy Woomble is currently touring the UK as part of John McCusker's Under One Sky project.