Autumn music special - The Fratellis
From bar room to boardroom seems like a long way in the music industry, but not as far as the drop down from being flavour of the month to becoming a bitter one-album wonder. Miles Johnson takes a look at Scotland’s newest musical phenomenon, The Fratellis, and ponders their resilience against the hardships of the music business.
In the wake of Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys it seems that record companies have adjusted their tactics. Every year now sees a selection of hatchling bands being signed, tooled up and sent over the parapet to face the artillery of the Top 40. Most get shot to pieces, succumbing to a slow second-album death in the industry mud of no man’s land, but every so often they storm the mainstream, ready to stare Jonathan Ross right in the eyes.
Glasgow three-piece The Fratellis have just arrived on the front line. They’d played only eight gigs before being snapped up by Island-Universal just over a year ago, and their brand of punk-inspired guitar stomp has in recent weeks seen their single ‘Chelsea Daggers’ cuddled up to every national radio playlist, subsequently charging to number five in the singles chart. Led by guitarist and singer Jon Fratelli the band, who have all adopted the surname Ramones-style with only bassist Barry being christened as such, are tipped to be the latest in a wave of Scottish acts to achieve widespread commercial success.
But how much of this near-instant ascendancy lies with the band and how much with a boardroom of sweaty record execs, shrewdly planning the next ‘grassroots’ rock phenomenon to thrust upon the land? And with so many similar acts gallivanting across British stages, skin-tight jeans and sculpted haircuts glistening, what makes them any different?
Chris Scott, the man responsible for the Fratellis’ marketing at Island-Universal records, is quick to dispel any ideas that their success so far has been pre-orchestrated. ‘That’s not the case at all. It did all happen very quickly for them but they are a strong band and Jon is a particularly talented songwriter. It’s not like we all sat around a table and went, “Right, we’ve got this band with some songs. How should we make them up?” The raw materials were already there and we have just marketed them the best we can.’
The Fratellis have certainly provided their label with enough ‘raw materials’ to refine than most, creating a self-mythology around themselves unmatched since Pete Docherty, then in The Libertines, span tales about former bandmate Carl Barat being born in a kitchen sink. Where others go through the tedious process of placing ads to recruit members, The Fratellis, they allege, came together as the backing band for a wedding singer, earning their beer money by sauntering through cheesey classics as newly-weds slow danced under dim lights. Romantic indeed, unless you choose to believe the other rendition where they met working at a touring fairground.
Rumours about their conception aside, it seems clear that The Fratellis possess an instantly appealing quality as David Duffy of O’Henry’s, the diminutive Glasgow venue where they played their first gig in early 2005, recalls. ‘Yeah a real buzz had got around about them. We only hold about 50 people but over 100 turned up to see them so a lot couldn’t get in.’
Most bands are lucky to play their first gig to more than three men and a poodle, but Duffy doesn’t see their instant sell out and swift success as a result of good fortune. ‘It’s the songs, really. They have this catchy indie element but there are heavier, punkier parts too. Their lyrics also just tell brilliant stories’.
Still, it is one thing to sell out small shows in your home town but another to burst into the top ten. Dave McGeachan from Glasgow promoters DF Concerts sees a favourable environment for Scottish acts as well as catchy songs as the driving force behind The Fratellis’ rapid rise. ‘After Franz Ferdinand and other bands like El Presidente and Snow Patrol, being Scottish is no longer a hindrance to commercial success. Obviously, the record company has been doing a certain amount of planning but there is definitely a real rawness to them.’ McGeachan, like many others, is also predicting that the Fratellis’ blitzkrieg upon British music will continue its momentum well into the new year. ‘They’ve already been selling out pretty large venues but I can see them being placed high up the bill on T in the Park and probably go on to do an arena tour.’
Any band that experiences the breakneck success that The Fratellis have, whether the musical second coming or not, are bound to be viewed in certain quarters with envy and suspicion. Still, something that no one can doubt is their rapidly increasing popularity, with their debut Costello Music predicted by Island-Universal to go gold. As singer/songwriter and new industry darling-on-the-block Paolo Nutini wisely opined in a recent interview with The List, in their business ‘you’ve got to make sure you’re getting everything you can out of it now because if you’re not, then who is?’ At the moment, at least, the Fratellis are having a ball (or wedding, if you like), and are on a trajectory that could see them beaming out into living rooms across the country by Christmas. Only time will tell if they will go on to ‘do a Franz’ or succumb to a bad case of the second album blues.
SECC Glasgow, 7 Dec.