The Rankin files - St Jude's Infirmary
- Ian Rankin
- 1 November 2007
When Saint Jude’s Infirmary read on a website that Ian Rankin was a fan, they invited him to appear in the video for their single ‘Goodbye Jack Vettriano’. A year on, the Rebus author has penned lyrics for a song on their forthcoming second album while artist Vettriano is providing the cover art. Our guest editor catches up with his fellow Fifers as they take a break from the studio
Firstly can you introduce yourselves?
OK, we are Grant Campbell (bass, vocals), Ashley Campbell (guitar, vocals), Emma Jane (vocals), Mark Francis (guitar, vocals) and Alun Thomas (drums).
How is the second album progressing?
It’s been really slow, like advancing on Russia. Mishap has begat misadventure has begat tribulation. The actual playing and taping of the music went like a dream. The producer has guided us through the malaise like a shepherd. We have a siege mentality now: we know that if the first album was us caught on a train platform desperately trying to convince a lover to stay, then this album is us trying to write the great Scottish novel in five chords and a wall of reverb, or else die trying. We will deliver this as our crowning moment or as our bloody epitaph. Oh, and some guy that writes books about Taggart is gonna rap on a song about Lothian Road I think . . .
Have you got a title for it yet?
The working title is: and the pox and the hex ensued because it has been such a war of attrition against fate, finance and vintage drum skins.
You’re not yet in a position to give up the day job(s). Just how tough is that?
It can be like a second job – all the admin, the booking of vans, sending emails etc. The banal mechanics of being in a band is the most corrosive thing to our little gang. You wonder how bands that do this for a living can have all that time and squander it by making such unimaginative, unfocused, repetitive albums. I hope they are using the rest of their spare time constructively, in libraries or volunteering.
How did you get together in the first place?
Grant Ashley is my sister and Emma Jane is my cousin. I wanted to get a band together and it was easier playing Brian Wilson with my family than trying to find anyone at my high school who could play an instrument. Having girls in a band is a grand idea – it reins in the teenage brat in you. I sometimes have a nightmare where I’m in a band with my brother and Saint Jude’s are all big hair, cheap coke and boring teenage girls talking about The Stones.
Jack Vettriano’s become a fan. Is this the beginning of a Fife creative mafia?
More a cartel. We convene in the basement of the Adam Smith Theatre with Jocky Wilson in the Chair (Gordon Brown’s otherwise engaged) and ponder ways of screwing money out of the Arts Council and the EU.
What do you remember about your first rehearsal and your first gig?
Our first proper rehearsal was at Glenrothes and the guy that ran the rehearsal rooms had roadied for Nirvana. In the space of five minutes he had told us everything we would ever need to know, except how to tune our instruments. Our first 40 gigs were a triumph of sheer belief over ability: a two-stringed bass; a tinny, tinny sound; then huge metallic distortion. We always knew the sound from the first rehearsal, it’s only now that we can play that sound live. The gigs used to sound good in our heads because we could imagine the missing parts. The audience can now hear those missing parts I think.
Who does the songwriting? How collaborative is it?
Grant Ashley and I wrote the first album and most of the second. We sit down with a guitar and tape deck and bicker. Ashley has the patience of a saint, translating tongues. I sit and go ‘yadda, yadda, whoo, whoo’ in the vocabulary of a chimpanzee mocking a brass band. Ashley translates it into a melody perceptible to the human ear and dresses it up in a blanket of ego-less musicianship. The songs are chosen at random for the album; it’s really which ones we want to play in rehearsal. We don’t have favourites as it is like picking which orphan to adopt. Mark has written some stuff on the new album which is good as it brings another kind of sound and some more chords to our output.
Are things getting tougher for young bands in Scotland, or easier? Does the internet make a difference (in that you can set out your stall to the world so to speak)?
I think it’s as tough as it’s always been. Scotland has always treated pop, rock and experimental music as an immature passing fancy, not a vital, vibrant, important, populist art form. There is a snobbery and a deep misunderstanding of the economics of the modern music industry in the way that we, as a nation, support the arts. Bands have a gun to their heads to conform to the London music scene if they want to progress anywhere with the majors. The indie route is one strewn with corpses and debt. The maths of being on a small independent label in Scotland makes the kind of reading that killed the ship building industry. It’s a total myth that the internet has blown open the music industry: a myth fuelled by big labels that want to make new bands sound a little hipper.
What are your musical influences?
I think we all kneel at the alter of the Velvet Underground. I know it sounds like a cliché but I think for sheer breadth of scope and ambition they achieved more than any other band and in such a short window of opportunity. The Jesus and Mary Chain were always my Beatles and Stones. I think The Replacements are the greatest lost band of all time. I used to love Tom Waits and his was the first record I ever bought, but I kinda got sickened of him as he sobered up into self-parody.
Favourite recent bands?
Grant The Von Sudenfed album; Comets on Fire: stoner rock, krautrock rhythms, a heady mix between precision and chaos!; The Hiccups.
Ashley Black Kids and Two Gallants.
Emma Jane Panda Bear and eagleowl.
Mark Jens Lekman and A Place to Bury Strangers.
. . . and our favourtite new artist is Emily Ritchie
Where did the band’s name come from?
Either a) Where Casper the friendly ghost died in the original 50s comic book; b) West Indian merchant ship that took our Grandfather back from Burma in 1943; or c) Shooting gallery in Fife, named in turn after the old blues song, and then the patron saint of hopeless causes. Answers on a postcard, winners win a Saint Jude’s sack cloth in traditional Saint Jude’s mourning tartan.
If you had to describe your musical style in five words or fewer . . . ?
Noisy modern European folk music.
Is there a ‘Scottish scene’ or a ‘Scottish sound’?
I don’t think there is a ‘Scottish sound’ anymore, and if there ever was one it was really a Glasgow sound and Mogwai, to their credit, destroyed that. I used to think that there was something, maybe the climate, the geography, the architecture or the culture of Scotland that produced a kind of darker, brooding, more poetic sound, but I’m not sure. Willem De Koonig said great artists have no country. Or was it Johan Cruyff? However, as a nation we have batted above our weight in music as in all the arts.
Why do you thank Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on your first album Happy Healthy Lucky Month?
Mark On two occasions in the life of the album the ministering angels at RIE restored me to health – the first after an over ambitious pirouette on a dance floor opened my head and the second, rather more seriously, after a reaction to medication slowed my heart to the rate of a hibernating grizzly.
Final question (for the moment): does the ‘album’ have a future in an age of cherry-picking by download?
The obsessives, the romantics, the believers will always want that definitive statement of an artist’s vision and passion. The internet is great for discovering new bands and meeting contacts and even maybe selling records but it does takes away a lot of the fun and the innocence – the fanzines, the mix tapes, the letters.