A four-piece rock band from Glasgow, Scotland, comprised of guitarist/vocalist Alun Woodward, guitarist/vocalist Emma Pollock, bass guitarist Stewart Henderson, and drummer Paul Savage, the Delgados escaped the cliché of British indie-rock, aiming for non-obviousness in both sound and form. Using stylistic contortions and avoiding ostentatious rock gestures, the Delgados build their songs from gentle acoustic foundations before cascading into glorious, yet disciplined sonic storms. The group’s clearly delivered lyrics deal with tangled emotions, sadness, and regret. “The Delgados’ music is lilting, crunching, gracefully melodic, altogether cathartic,” Jim Sullivan wrote for the Boston Globe. “They execute a deft weaving and meshing act; it’s intimate music painted on a big canvas.”
Although the Delgados, who also founded their own record label Chemikal Underground, earned rave reviews for both Peloton released in 1998 and The Great Eastern released in 2000, as well as admiration for their unique mix of fractured folk and psychedelic rock, Woodward believes that his group is simply another link in the chain of successful Scottish acts. “The first Teenage Fanclub album hit me exactly the same way the first Pavement album hit me,” he told Magnet magazine’s Jud Cost, admitting that he not only admires fellow Scots such as Orange Juice, the Pastels, and the Vaselines, but is inclined to occasionally borrow from them. “I wrote a song that was an unintentional rip-off of the Vaselines. Afterwards, I’m sitting there saying, ‘That sounds like someone.’” Moreover, the ever-growing music scene in Glasgow itself, added Henderson, feels almost fraternal, due in part to the city’s distance from London. “Bands do things for themselves,” he concluded. “You can go into Nice ‘N’ Sleazy’s on any given night, and Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian will be sitting having a pint with the guys from Mogwai and Eugene Kelly (Eugenius, Vaselines). It’s a really nice atmosphere.”
Taking their name from famous Spanish cyclist Pedro Delgado, one-time winner of the Tour de France in the late 1980s, the Delgados formed in 1995 after Woodward, Henderson, and Savage were asked to leave a band they played together in during 1993 and 1994. Out of revenge and frustration, the Delgados, augmented by Pollock, whom Savage had known from college, were born. They set about crafting songs, drawing inspiration from less obvious groups, everyone from the Incredible String Band to Hamish Imlach. “I don’t think it was a conscious rejection of anything in particular,” said Pollock, as quoted by Audiogalaxy. “We were just quite insular and weren’t concerned with trends in music.”
Besides the inclusion of an early Delgados track for a Canadian-released compilation, the group failed to gain label interest. But the Delgados, unfazed by the lack of bidding wars and contract offers, decided to take it upon themselves to release records by founding their own label, Chemikal Underground. From the beginning, the quartet was adamant that the label would not only serve as a vehicle for their own music, but for that of other aspiring groups in the musically fertile city of Glasgow. Since then, Chemikal Underground has channeled the careers of Mogwai, Arab Strap, Magoo, Cha Cha Cohen, and the Radar Brothers. “All of the bands have a certain sense of wanting to keep control of what they do and how it’s marketed,” Pollock revealed in an interview with the Daily Northwestern, “and while all of us wouldn’t complain if we sold more records, it’s not really our main driving point; it’s not why we do it.”
At first, however, the Delgados were often overshadowed by their own record company. As Woodward explained in an interview with the Toronto Star. “For a long time, the Delgados weren’t really a band—we were Chemikal Underground, the label. But we thought, ‘This can’t happen. We need to afford time for the band. This is what we’re passionate about.’” Following the release of their debut single “Monica Webster/Brand New Car”—a Melody Maker Single of the Week—the Delgados spent the remainder of 1995 and 1996 producing a series of eclectic singles that found their way to national radio. All of these culminated to form the Under Canvas, Under Wraps EP, named number three on John Peel’s list of the “Festive 50.” Peel, the influential English DJ, has been a keen judge of talent since the mid 1970s. He would later dub the Delgados the “best band in Britain” in 1998.
Members include Stewart Henderson, bass guitar; Emma Pollock, guitar, vocals; Paul Savage, drums; Alun Woodward, guitar, vocals.
Formed the Delgados and the Chemikal Underground label in Glasgow, Scotland, 1995; released debut album Domestiques, 1996; released Peloton, 1998; released The Great Eastern, included on the short list for the coveted Mercury Music Prize, 2000.
Awards: Spirit of Scotland Award, 2000.
Addresses: Record company —Chemikal Underground Records, website: http://www.chemikal.co.uk; Beggars Banquet, 580 Broadway, New York City, NY 10012, phone: (212) 343-7010, fax: (212) 343-7030, website: http://www.beggars.com; e-mail: beg [email protected]
The Delgados’ initial success also led to a slot supporting the group Elastica for a short tour of the United Kingdom. In October of 1996, the Delgados released their first full-length album, Domestiques, hailed by New Musical Express as a “dazzling debut which positively drips with diversity.” Such praise in the music press, coupled with headlining gigs at smaller venues at the end of 1996 and into 1997, helped establish the Delgados as a major player in the British underground music scene. Other highlights of 1997 included tours with the Wedding Present and Pavement, as well as performances at the T in the Park event and the CMJ music festival.
In August of 1997, new material emerged by the Delgados from a Peel session. Three of these tracks would appear on the group’s forthcoming album, and two of those were released as singles to great excitement and anticipation. “Everything Goes Around the Water,” released in March of 1998, earned the Single of the Week honor in both New Musical Express and Melody Maker. Another round of touring followed, including a guest slot opening for Cornershop in Milan, Italy. Returning to the United Kingdom, the Delgados joined Peel for his Evening Session program, where they played their second single, “Pull the Wires From the Wall.” This song provided the group with their first airing on Daytime Radio 1 and their first chart placement, landing at number 69 on the British Top 75. “‘Pull the Wires From the Wall’ is one of the most achingly beautiful songs ever written,” proclaimed Peel, as quoted on the band’s official website.
Peloton, released in June of 1998, was met with unanimous praise. “You could mention The Breeders and My Bloody Valentine, but they don’t even start to convey how Peloton forces itself to create something startling from the mundane,” wrote Tony Naylor in Melody Maker. “These dignified songs seemingly reinvent themselves in real time: odd structures, snatched guitar patterns, strange noises, samples, swirling strings, cut-ups and abrupt changes all serving to create something wonderfully odd.” American critics, likewise, offered similar words when the album appeared in the United States (via Beggars Banquet) the following year. Sullivan called Peloton “an engaging, expansive, bittersweet effort, the songs detailed and nuanced, with the singers swapping leads sinuously. The winsome music manages simultaneously to be lulling and jarring.”
At the end of the year, the record showed up on several “best of” lists, including claiming thirteenth place in Select magazine’s Top 30 Albums of the Year. The Delgados also shined in Peel’s annual Festive 50 with three entries; in addition to claiming both the ninth and thirty-seventh positions, the group took the coveted number one slot with “Pull the Wires From the Wall.” Live highlights from the year included appearances at Reading ’98 and London’s Meltdown Festival with Sonic Youth and Spiritualized, as well as an unconventional gig playing in Peel’s back garden for his wife Sheila’s fiftieth birthday celebration. That year, the group also toured throughout the United Kingdom and Europe supporting acts such as The Electric Sound of Joy, Six By Seven, and labelmates Magoo.
In the spring of 1999, the Delgados embarked upon a two-week American tour, then returned to Britain for the Glastonbury and T in the Park festivals and a performance at the opening of the Scottish Parliament. The Delgados additionally received an invitation to open for Pavement on that band’s upcoming tour of the United States, but declined because they had already booked studio time to record a new album. Beginning sessions for The Great Eastern in September of 1998, the group found the project both long and arduous; no mix, it seemed, would fit well. The Delgados decided to enlist the help of someone not involved in the recording process, but someone with a like-minded, adventurous approach. The first person that came to mind was Dave Fridmann, producer for the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and Mogwai. Fortunately, Fridmann agreed, and Henderson, Savage, and Tony Doogan, who had engineered Peloton, arranged for a trip to Fridmann’s upstate, backwoods studio in New York to finish the record.
Finally in April of 2000, The Great Eastern hit store shelves. Most agreed that the album was the Delgados’ most accomplished work to date, a miraculous achievement especially given its fractured and prolonged recording process. A set full of highlights— including “The Past that Suits You Best,” “Aye Today,” and “No Danger”—the Delgados went far beyond leaping over the notorious rock hurdle of the difficult “third album.” As Katrina Dixon asserted in the Scotsman: “It might be a bit premature to call it the album of the year, but potential contenders will need to be godsmackingly good.” In recognition of The Great Eastern, the Delgados in August of that year were short-listed for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize. They also won the Spirit of Scotland Award, an honor recognizing individuals who inspire and lead the way in Scottish culture. In support of the album, the group headlined a tour in the United Kingdom, followed by a North American tour beginning in November of 2000.
Singles and EPs
“Monica Webster/Brand New Car,” Chemikal Underground, 1995.
Lazarwalker LP (EP), Radar, 1995.
“Liquidation Girl” (split with Van Impe, a Delgado alter-ego), Boa, 1995.
Cinecentre (EP), Chemikal Underground, 1996.
Under Canvas, Under Wraps (EP), Chemikal Underground, 1996.
Sucrose (EP), Chemikal Underground, 1996.
“Everything Goes Around the Water,” Chemikal Underground, 1998.
Pull the Wires From the Wall (EP), Chemikal Underground, 1998.
The Weaker Argument Defeats the Stronger (EP), Chemikal Underground, 1998.
Domestiques, Chemikal Underground, 1996.
BBC Sessions, Strange Fruit, 1997.
Peloton, Chemikal Underground, 1998.
The Great Eastern, Chemikal Underground, 2000.
Billboard, August 5, 2000.
Boston Globe, May 5, 1999; May 7, 1999.
Daily Northwestern, May 7, 1999.
Magnet, August/September 2000.
Melody Maker, April 4, 1998; June 20, 1998; July 11, 1998; October 3, 1998; January 30, 1999; July 3, 1999; December 15-21, 1999.
Rolling Stone, August 17, 2000.
The Scotsman, April 2000.
Toronto Star, May 6, 1999.
Village Voice, May 18, 1999.
Audiogalaxy, http://www.audiogalaxy.com (December 19, 2000).
Beggars Banquet, http://www.beggars.com (December 19, 2000).
Chemikal Underground, http://www.chemikal.co.uk (December 19, 2000).
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