Two Happy Songs, One Regular Party Album
“A Band, a Guy, or an Italian Dish?’”
The blend of acoustic and electric instrumentation, rustic touches, and clever lyrics that characterize Del Amitri’s music has made the Scottish pop ensemble difficult to categorize. Despite several successful singles and consistently positive critical notices, the band’s sound had seemingly failed to capture the ear of the mainstream listening audience. Since their start in Glasgow in 1983, Del Amitri’s music has changed subtly over time, becoming rougher and harder, but this has been a long-term artistic goal rather than an attempt to achieve a prescribed sound. In 1990 Justin Currie, the band’s lead singer, told the Chicago Sun-Times that the band members felt that the key to success would be “to either have the arrogance or the stupidity not to listen to what other people say…. If you allow people to manipulate you into doing things you don’t want to do, then I think you’re cheating yourselves and the people who buy your records.”
Currie writes the majority of Del Amitri’s material and almost always serves as the band’s spokesperson. He comes across as clever, cynical, and bluntly modest. In
For the Record…
Original members include lead singer, pianist, and bassist Justin Currie (born December 11, 1964, in Scotland) and guitarist Iain Harvie (born May 19, 1962, in Scotland); joined by Bryan Tolland on guitar and Paul Tyagi on drums for their first tours and single; guitarist David Cummings and drummer Brian McDermott joined the band, 1985; later, keyboardist Andy Alston was added to the line-up; Twisted marked the departure of Cummings and McDermott, and the arrival of guitarist Jon McLoughlin and drummer Ashley Soan .
Group formed in Glasgow by Currie and Harvie; first single, “Sense Sickness,” was recorded for the No Strings independent label; signed by Chrysalis to do their first album, Del Amitri, on Chrysalis’s subsidiary, Big Star; following a 1986 U.S. tour the band was signed by A&M.
Awards: Platinum album award for Change Everything.
Addresses: Record company —A&M Records Inc., 1416 N. La Brea Avenue, Hollywood, CA 90028.
an A&M press release, Currie mused: “Obviously a lot of our songs are quite poppy. But we always set out to make something that sounds like a cross between Neil Young, the Beatles, and the Undertones. It never ends up sounding like that—it always ends up sounding like a pop album, and quite bland.” In another instance, the singer-songwriter compared his craft to dishwashing and juggling. The harder, more cynical side of Currie is revealed in his lyrics, as in the line from the album Waking Hours, “Whole generations thinking of themselves as infidels and pop stars/While the bomb loses patience we line up and just lean against the bar.” Often his songwriting leans toward the dark and melancholy, whether he’s reflecting on social problems or heartbreak.
“From the Womb”
As a teenager, Currie, with guitarist lain Harvie, formed the band in Glasgow in 1983. They adopted the name Del Amitri (“from the womb” in Greek) and recruited Bryan Tolland on guitar and Paul Tyagi as a drummer. The fledgling band recorded “Sense Sickness” with the No Strings independent label, toured with groups such as the Fall and the Smiths, and recorded sessions with famed British DJ John Peel. By the time Del Amitri signed with Chrysalis Records to record their first album, a new line-up was in evidence, with Tolland joined by second guitarist David Cummings and drummer Brian McDermott replacing Tyagi.
Expectations for Del Amitri were high. Prior to recording their 1985 self-titled release, the band appeared on the cover of Melody Maker. The magazine labeled Del Amitri as the next British group expected to achieve international stardom. However, conflict subsequently arose between the band and Chrysalis, and the band’s prospects skidded to a halt. In an attempt to revive their fortunes, an independent Del Amitri went on the road with the help of a large fan base, who booked and promoted Del Amitri shows themselves. In 1986 the band toured the United States playing borrowed instruments; the success of this tour resulted in a contract with A&M Records the following year.
Two Happy Songs, One Regular Party Album
In 1990 Del Amitri released its second album, Waking Hours, which Michael Rubiner described in Rolling Stoneas an “exercise in melodic, midtempo guitar rock, leavened with folk and country,” adding that “the record is more heartland fare than nouvelle cuisine: unhip, maybe an honest meal.” After bemoaning the long lapse between Del Amitri’s recordings, Stereo Review writer Parke Puterbaugh assessed the album as “honest, wise, and charming” and the band “as winsomely enthusiastic as ever.” In the attempt to describe Del Amitri’s music, other reviewers have drawn comparisons to Jackson Browne, Steely Dan, and the Beatles; in articles written during the early 1990s, they were often yoked stylistically to their labelmates, the Gin Blossoms. Yet Del Amitri’s lyrics have always drawn especial praise from critics; People’s Jeremy Helligar asserted that the “band’s take on heartache has always sounded authentic and impressively clever.” Michael Lipton noted in Request that Currie and Harvie “appear to draw from a bottomless well of inspiration.”
Further proof that the band’s fortunes were on the rebound came with their next recording. In 1992 the band produced Change Everything, an album thatwent platinum and included the Billboard Top 40 hit “Always the Last to Know.” Writing for Los Angeles’s Daily News, Bruce Britt called the recording “a refreshing collection of unabashed pop tunes.” On this album, Currie, Harvey, Cummings, and McDermott were joined by keyboard player Andy Alston. When Del Amitri recorded their next album, Twisted, the band’s roster included Currie, Harvie, and Alston, as well as newcomers Jon McLoughlin on guitar and Ashley Soan on drums. This album was touted as a solid follow-up to Change Everything as well as an artistic high point for the band. In a Billboard interview, Currie proudly noted the stylistic changes evident on this album: “If you’re a melodic band, as we are, it’s very easy to sound twee…. This is the first time we’ve been able to make a record as raucous as we wanted to.” Guitarist lain Harvie pointed out the thematic shift in Twisted in an A&M press release: “On the previous album, Justin just sort of hid in his bedroom and wrote miserable songs…. [Twisted\’ ] got two happy songs on it…. For us, that’s a regular party album.”
“A Band, a Guy, or an Italian Dish?’”
With Twisted, A&M prepared to give Del Amitri the extra push needed to increase recognition. Product manager Brad Pollack described the band’s identity problem in Billboard: “It’s like‘s Del Amitri a band, a guy, an Italian dish?’” The record label planned to mount an extensive in-store promotion to lure record shoppers. Despite these problems, Del Amitri appears to have at long last found its audience. David Sprague noted in Billboard that the band has benefited from a growing “mature-yet-adventurous” group of adult listeners who support fringe bands such as Del Amitri; Sprague suggested, “Now thatx adult’ and ‘hip’ can be used in the same description without a trace of irony, Glasgow’s Del Amitri may finally attain its long-predicted American breakthrough.” Del Amitri responded by pursuing business as usual. In 1996, after finishing yet another tour, the band returned to the recording studio.
Del Amitri, Chrysalis, 1985.
Waking Hours, A&M, 1990.
Change Everything, A&M, 1992.
Twisted, A&M, 1995.
The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, edited by Colin Larkin, Guinness Publishing, 1995.
Billboard, January 21, 1995, p. 15.
Chicago Sun-Times, May 25, 1990.
Daily News (Los Angeles), October 14, 1992.
People, March 20, 1995, p. 22.
Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA), April 24, 1996.
Request, April 1995.
Rolling Stone, October 29, 1992, pp. 65-67.
Stereo Review, July 1990, pp. 80-81.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from A&M Records publicity materials, 1995.
—Paula Pyzik Scott
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