Anchored by singer/ songwriter/ bassist Justin Currie and guitarist Iain Harvie, Del Amitri spent the better part of two decades on the edge of mainstream success. Although Currie and Harvie “are from the dark northern country of Scotland, their songs are peppy, upbeat pop songs that are the antithesis of the heavy, dark Pacific Northwest sound.” AL That accessible, adult alternative sound generated a handful of top 40 hits in the U.S., including the top 10 “Roll to Me,” but never pushed them into the full-fledged acceptance they deserved.
“Currie’s voice is one of Del Amitri's greatest assests – a bit too dark to make it a ‘feel good’ band and much too knowing to sing songs about absolutely nothing. But although the band often tosses an edgy guitar into the gears of it’s songs, Del Amitri, like Crowded House, is at its best when it doesn’t try to rock too hard.” SC
Creating Their Sound (1982-1985):
Starting out as “contemporaries of the Smiths and Lloyd Cole” Furguson) and “wound up by the raw spirit of early punk bands like The Clash and The Buzzcocks,” BD “these guitar janglers hailed from Glasgow…arrived in the wake of…Aztec Camera et al” CF in the mid-‘80s. Currie says, “‘Post-punk was my big thing, though…early Scritti Politti. Postcard (an Indie record label) happened in Glasgow around that time, and that sent everyone scurrying for their acoustic guitars to write songs. We did all that for a while, and ended up desperately trying to deny it, because, compared to Orange Juice in 1982, it was the worst thing imaginable! We spent the next four years trying to toughen up, working out in the musical gym, but were never part of the ‘in’ muso crowd back then.’” BM
Currie says, “‘We’ve never been cool…We grew out of a close-knit Glasgow scene, but were the pariahs of it. We desperately wanted to be on the Postcard label with all those groovy guys like Edwyn Collins but we weren’t trendy enough or good enough. And then when Melody Maker trumpeted us as the new Smiths, the talent scouts at Chrysalis were despatched to sign us – only to report back that we’d already been on their books for six months.’” AS
Of their early style, Currie says, “‘It was almost like we weren’t allowed to have chords…Iain and the other guitarist, Brian, would just play melodies, and the bass would be a counter melody, a harmony to the guitars, and I just threw loads of words over the top.’” MM He elaborates, saying it was “‘getting four people in a room and saying, ‘play!’ And then when something good happened we’d record it. We’d do that for months on end and stick the best bits together. Then I’d go write words over it.’” BD “‘It took us about four years to write ten songs.’” MM
The Debut Album (1985-1987):
The resulting self-titled debut in 1985 was “a slapdash collection of frenetic, wordy, guitar-driven pop,” PC but “despite the obligatory well-received debut album (‘marvellously quirky; wonderfully British’ etc), the Dels” CF “created a critical stir for three whole seconds before” PC “receiving the less welcome parting handshake from Chrysalis Records” CF “for refusing to write hit singles to order.” MM
Of Del Amitri’s debut album, Currie has said “‘Radio wouldn’t touch us with a barge-pole and the only thing which encouraged us to keep going were letters from all these really obsessed people saying: ‘Your record changed my life.’” DS-T Since “no label in Britain wanted to touch the band” CF and “a lot of [those encouraging] letters came from America…“the band was sufficiently heartened to undertake a self-financed tour of the US.” DS-T They went hoping for “a quick deal with one of its more enterprising independent labels…but [it] became a two-month whistle stop tour of the whole country.” CF
America and the Mainstream:
“For the next two years the band lived in America, playing hundreds of concerts” (De Pellette) and “travelling light and sleeping rough on floors in the homes of their fans.” DS-T The experience even refined Currie’s “thick Glasgow brogue into a well-enunciated, soulful croak with a curious hint of a Midwestern drawl.” HR
“At the end of 1987 it returned to Glasgow, armed with a new attitude and fresh songs” (De Pellette). As Currie says, “‘The American thing was the last time we played songs from the first album,’ says Justin. ‘We also never wrote songs as a band again I started writing a few things on my own and I thought they were OK, which I’d never done before. We decided that it was an easier way to go we’d done the great, democratic everybody gets an idea thing.’” MM
“‘It was time for a change of musical direction, too,’ explains Iain. ‘We’d gone as far as we could go – we’d made the noise we made and people weren’t that interested.’” MM From a sound point, the band moved “to an easy-listening blues-rock blend somewhere along the lines of a spunkier Steve Miller Band – through guitarist Harvie’s jagged riffs can always be counted on for the occasional nod to the Faces and the Rolling Stones.” HR
“‘We were very angst-ridden back then,’ reckons Justin. ‘We’ve got that out of our systems. Other people’s teenage angst isn’t very attractive.’” MB
Currie says, “‘We’d always been caught between being a commercial band, with sensitive love songs, and a horrible indie band with funny noisy guitars and weird arrangements. And people didn’t get it for quite sensible reasons, really. Then as we got older and a bit better at what we did we realised that we were really a pretty straightforward rock-pop band – we weren’t on the cutting edge of anything.’” MM
“‘We’ve never pretended we didn’t want to be in the mainstream,’ Currie says. ‘I don’t mean in terms of sales, but in terms of ‘everybody should be able to get our music.’ To me, that’s one of the functions of pop music. You bring everybody together in a room to sing along a catchy tune.’” AL
“With the major-label/ mainstream music stigma, it’s easy to confuse ‘mainstream’ for ‘superficial,’ which Currie says is a mistake. ‘I don’t see why that tune can’t have a complex lyric attached,’ he says. ‘That’s part of pop music’s appeal. It can identify really complicated things in a really accessible way.’” AL
Waking Hours (1987-1990):
“After months of rehearsals, supported by part-time jobs, the Dels sent off some of their new demos. They caused something of a stir” MM finally signing a contract with A&M records after being wined and dined by numerous companies. Even though, as Justin says, they’d “written the whole album before we signed,’” MM the trouble of finding a producer to record with stalled things. Guitarist Iain Harvie, who along with Currie, is “a bit like Cyrano de Bergerac and his buddy, with Justin so eloquently putting into words the sounds Iain's guitar so effortlessly sculpts,” JL says, “‘For about two years after we signed we were just going in and out of studios with the same songs. That was kind of when the band fell apart…’ Long time drummer Paul Tyagi and rock beast guitarist Mick Slaven left the band.” MM
Finally, “after four years in hibernation,” SS Waking Hours “was released to a warmer critical response in August 1989.” DS-T “With its old-fashioned blend of rootsy pop-rock, the album was swimming against the tide of dance and modern indie music then sweeping the charts,” DS-T but the band got their first taste of commercial success, “selling in excess of 330,000 copies,” DS-T thanks in large part to U.S. Top 40 success of Kiss This Thing Goodbye.
Change Everything (1992):
On this “intensely personal release, Del Amitri achieved a level of musical and emotional catharsis they’ll likely never tap into again. And that’s okay. Because one brooding, underrated masterpiece is enough for any pop band.” HR Change Everything didn’t do much to change the fortunes of the Dels – they garnered another U.S. Top 40 hit with Always the Last to Know and the album hit #2 in the U.K. on the basis of that song and three other top 30 hits, but bigger U.S. success was elusive; the album stalled at #178.
“After three albums, Glasgow’s Del Amitri was selling records, but it seemed that no one would ever actually take notice.” SC “Both Waking Hours and its follow-up, Change Everything received positive critical notices in the States. Each had a moderate radio hit…but full fledged crossover proved elusive.” DS-B “Then, in 1995, the band released Twisted, and its brisk single Roll to Me flooded pop radio,” SC going top 10 in the U.S. It was “nothing more than a teasing, two minute come-on, [but] its lighthearted disposability effectively flushing out the sour vibes lingering from 1992’s Change Everything.” HR
Shockingly, even a top 10 hit in America did little to propel the album to any higher than #170, although the U.K. embraced the band once again – sending the album to #3 and giving the band four chart singles.
Some Other Sucker’s Parade (1997):
“Much of Twisted showed the group blossoming from faceless rockers into grown-up popsters. Some Other Sucker’s Parade continues the trend nicely, string the listener along with alternately bitter and sweet sing-alongs.” SC The album “relied heavily on the adult alternative jangle pop that made Twisted such a success, but failed to generate any lasting hits.” JM
Currie says Twisted “‘was made under the conditions: ‘Off you go, we don’t care when you finish, just give us the album – don’t care when.’ Well, your relationship with the record company is important, whether or not the guy that’s running the record label likes your stuff…so off we went and did this one as quickly as we could. The end result for us was that is was the vibiest record we've ever made.’” BM
Currie says, “‘with Twisted we were very conscious of not making another Change Everything…We approached this one for fun. It’s an accessible electric pop LP. I feel we’ve honoured our songwriting skills too, and obviously we have a new line-up. Our new drummer is fantastic, and our new guitarist has quite a bit of input, which takes the weight off me and Iain.’” TT
Can You Do Me Good? (2002):
While fans waited for a new album, “Hatful of Rain: The Best of Del Amitri, a much-needed career-spanning anthology that collected the prolific yet spotty group’s best tunes, was released in 1998 along with a companion CD, B-Sides Lousy with Love.” JM It took another four years before Del Amitri emerged again, this time with “the soulful and melodic Can You Do Me Good? in 2002.” JM Unfortunately, the long layoff did nothing to grow the band’s fan base; the album failed to chart in the U.S. and only got to a disappointing #30 in the U.K.
Can You Do Me Good? proved to be the last hurrah for the Dels. As Currie says, though, “‘It’s the end of a cycle. And I happen to think it might be good for us.’” NC “‘We’d had pretty much the same level of success since 1990,’ says Justin, admirably blandly, without displaying a hint of that little-boy resentment that can make rock stars so ghastly. ‘No massive failures, no massive crossover successes.’ The Dels were trapped in a softly fermenting career humus of their own making.” NC
Justin Currie, other projects (2003-2005):
“In 2003 [Currie] fronted the soul and jazz covers band Button Up for a short tour of Scotland together with The Proclaimers guitarist Stuart Nisbet and drummer Ross McFarlane – who also played with chart-toppers Stiltskin – bassist Gary John Kane and keyboard player Andy May.” WK
“From 2004 – 2006 Currie has regularly joined singer songwriters Eddi Reader and Colin McIntyre (aka Mull Historical Society) and Scottish folk band Blazin’ Fiddles to perform in Scotland as part of the project With Strings Attached.” WK
“In 2004 Currie also teamed up with Kevin and Jim McDermott (of Simple Minds) to record A Terrible Beauty, a semi-comedy ‘60s pastiche rock album which they released anonymously under the name The Uncle Devil Show.” WK
“Currie has also recorded a full group format album along with Iain Harvie that he has been trying to obtain a release deal for.
Justin Currie, solo (2005-2010):
“In 2003 [Currie] fronted the soul and jazz covers band Button Up for a short tour of Scotland together with The Currie also continues to perform live as a solo artist in the UK. In 2006 he was a special guest on Tom McRae’s Hotel Cafe Tour. In 2005 he wrote and recorded a new album Rebound…Several tracks…were previewed on both the Del Amitri Official Website and MySpace page. Rebound was subsequently re-titled What Is Love For and was released on Rykodisc” WK in 2007.
His second solo album, The Great War, was released in 2010, preceded by debut single A Man with Nothing to Do.
- BM Bassist Magazine. Interview with Justin Currie. (8/97)
- MB Max Bell, Vox Magazine, “Hangin’ with the Del Boys.” (5/92)
- SC Steve Ciabattoni, CMJ Magazine “Some Other Sucker’s Parade.” (8/97)
- NC Nick Coleman, London Independent, “Del Amitri: We Don’t Even Like Ourselves.” (4/5/02)
- PC Peter Cronin, Musician Magazine, “Highland String Fling.” (10/90)
- BD Bill DeMain, Song Talk Magazine, “Del Amitri’s Justin Currie – From Glasgow to Global.” (Vol. 3, Issue 2)
- CF Craig Furguson, Record Mirror, “Del Boys.” (7/29/89)
- JL Jane Larson, Amplifier, “Del Amitri: Where It’s At.” (10/93)
- AL Allison Linn, The Olympian, “Del Amitri’s pop an antidote for darkness.” (8/15/97)
- JM James Christopher Monger, All Music Guide
- MM Making Music magazine, “Success the Long Way Round.” (8/92)
- HR Hobart Rowland, Houston Press “Some Other Sucker’s Parade.” (7/17/97)
- SS Steven “Spaz” Schnee, All Music Guide
- DS-T David Sinclair, Times of London, “Quality Goods from the Del Boys.” (5/30/92)
- AS Aidan Smith, The Scotsman Publication. “High Priest of Uncool.” (3/22/02)
- DS-B David Sprague, Billboard Magazine, “A&M’s Del Amitri Seeks Place in U.S. Adult Alternative Scene.” (1/21/95)
- TT Teletext Articles. “Justin on SOSP.”
- WK Wikipedia