Interview: Saul Davies – 'Scotland’s full of English twats who think they’re Scottish'
James' guitarist talks on Girl at the End of the World, living in Scotland and not being forgotten
‘It’s an interesting time for us,’ says James guitarist Saul Davies. The band have long since escaped their status as 1980s indie also-rans and crossover Madchester and Britpop-era success story to become one of British music’s most enduringly familiar success stories. ‘There’s a lot of stuff out there, isn’t there? A lot of bands, lot of artists, lot of films, lot of games, the internet: there’s a lot of shit going on. It’s easy to forget a band, so when people tell us they like the record and they want to talk about it, it’s quite gratifying really.’
The record in question is Girl at the End of the World, the Manchester-formed group’s 14th album in precisely two decades since Stutter in 1986. As heard on the comeback single ‘Nothing But Love’, there’s a folksy, homespun edge to it, even if the group have returned once again to electronics (Brian Eno is involved again). Davies explains that it’s an album which sounds very much like the place in which it was written: Scotland.
It wasn’t a cosmetic or convenient choice, but rather one born of where many of the band’s senior members now find themselves. Although singer Tim Booth lives in America, bassist James Glennie has lived a few miles north of Ullapool for almost a decade. While he still retains the Liverpudlian accent of his birth, Davies was raised in Scotland from the age of eight. First he lived in Paisley around 1974, because his parents taught at the nearby Kibble School, and then the family settled in Callander. He moved back there three years ago with his young family and sent his children to the same school he attended.
‘I was living down in London and hating it,’ Davies remembers. ‘One day I just said, “kids, do you want to go to school in Scotland?” London was awful, I feel for people who have to go through that, and I feel so privileged that I’m able to just decide, “we can live anywhere, so let’s live somewhere cool”. My wife, bless her, agreed. It feels like I’m joining a circle; I know every inch of these places as I ran, cycled and fished in them in the 70s and 80s. I had no ties for many years and I enjoyed touring the world living out of a case, but then I had kids and started rediscovering an affinity with these places I once knew.’
Girl at the End of the World was written between the Tolbooth in Stirling and in a house in Gairloch where the band stayed for a few weeks. ‘The Tolbooth gave us the top room to write in and lots of gear, and we just went in and made a racket,’ he says. ‘They were so kind to us; we did a mad show for about 70 people in their theatre to say thank you. To my ear there’s a weird Scottish flavour to the record, a Celtic kind of theme. I guess you can’t help but be influenced by the place you’re in.’
Last year Davies took his family even further up north to Sutherland. ‘At the end of my road there’s a sign which says, “Land’s End: 58 miles”. I can sit in the glass room at the side of my house and it’s an incredible reminder of the power of the place I’m in.’ What can he see? ‘Fucking nothing! And everything. That’s a really strong reminder of our place in the world and it’s why I love writing up there. You just batten down the hatches and get lost in it. In Scotland there are very highly urbanised and contemporary attitudes to modern life sandwiched up against some of the most stunning and violent natural landscapes on the planet.’
He speaks eloquently and at length of Scotland’s music scene and its political energy, lending evidence to the idea that understanding a country or a culture can be easier without a leaden sense of over-familiarity. ‘Scotland’s full of English twats who think they’re Scottish,’ he laughs. 'And you can quote me on that. But my granny was from Govan before she moved to Oldham and she used to tell me stories about what it was like to be brought up there in 1915 or whenever, literally sharing shoes and all that, like in any urban centre in the UK: Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester, wherever. She was a displaced Scot who went elsewhere for a better life, and I’ve always taken her experience of that with me.’
James play SSE Hydro, Glasgow, Thu 19 May; The Girl at the End of the World is out now on BMG.