IDLEWILD ‘IDENTITY PARADE’
Idlewild have always been on the peripheries of the musical landscape. But as the frantic ‘You Held The World In Your Arms’ gives them their
first top ten hit, Get Rhythm asks… is this the start of something big?
Chris Merriman takes breakfast with the Celtic indie-makers. Pass the marmalade…
Coffee. Croissants. It’s all terribly civilised. As Idlewild luxuriate on their hotel sofa, you can’t help but be quite proud of
them. Their last album ‘1000 Broken Windows’ was received to rapturous acclaim on release, but never quite caught the public imagination in
the same way. But suddenly, the new album ‘The Remote Part’ has catapulted them into the big league – one top ten single, and with the
beautifully heartfelt ‘American English’ threatening to follow suit, it seems like the perfect time to relax, reflect, pour another latte,
and talk about the story of the single. Says vocalist Roddy Woomble,”It basically started off as just an acoustic guitar and vocals. But
we couldn’t think what to do with it, we thought of maybe keeping it as just an acoustic guitar and vocals but we met with Lenny Kaye and
he kind of sculpted the song into something else, he also changed our attitude to it. I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever written, it’s
certainly the first time we’ve written something with such a clear narrative”.
Lenny Kaye, for the uninitiated, is a former member of the Patti Smith Group. An Idlewild fan. Lenny was instrumental in forming the
direction that Idlewild have taken on ‘The Remote Part’. Another key collaborator was Stephen Street with whom they recorded early
incarnations of many of the tracks before retiring to a remote part of Scotland (obviously) to record the final versions with Dave Eringa.
But perhaps the most intriguing name on the credits is Edwin Morgan, the Scottish poet laureate. “‘In Remote Part/Scottish Fiction’ is
really two songs in one. It’s certainly the most ambitious thing that we’ve done. It’s a song of contrast. I mean it’s not a collaboration
as such, it’s not like he came into the studio and was jamming with us…”
(Pause for mental image and ensuing laughter)
“…I contacted him, wrote him a letter, because I’m actually a very big fan of him as a writer, so I was interested in finding out about
his life. It was never specifically my intention to get him to do something for the record, I was just interested in him writing
something. And then I went round to his house with a minidisc to record him reading it. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it,
but he’s got an amazing voice”.
Stream current single ‘American English’
In direct contrast to the rugged images of Scotland, America has also played a huge part in the new Idlewild. “I think the thing is,
over here, people have been able to watch us, and still see us as that
dodgy little indie band that played in their local pub. In America we were an unknown quantity and when we started appearing on TV people had a chance to form their own opinion and people had a chance to realise that there was some certain substance to the band that had naturally evolved – we came to them as a fully formed band”.
“We tend not to not have a stench of Scotland, more of a pleasant whiff.
It’s more heather than deep fried pizzas.”
So do you think that the British perception of the band has changed as a result?
“It’s certainly starting to, but there a still quite a lot of people who see us as this dodgy indie band – I mean what does that even mean
anymore? I think people are starting to realise with this new album that, even if they were aware of us before and didn’t like us, there is a bit more to us than that”.
So was it a surprise when you landed in the top ten, nestling in there with the likes of Gareth Gates and Pink?
“I always knew this record would do better by virtue of the fact that
it was being played a lot more and there’s been a lot more enthusiasm for this than anything else we’ve done. But I don’t really live in
that world, if you know what I mean, but its still nice, good in a way that it kind of validates, in my mind anyway, what we’re doing”.
And so we come to the eternal question. Idlewild are a Scottish band. Scottish music is dogged by preconceptions – be it of bagpipes, Jim
Kerr or Charlene Spitari. But the truth is, on one hand, Idlewild are completely different, yet on the other you could spot them as being
Scottish from a mile off. What is it about being from Scotland that is so influential in music?
“I think some Scottish bands sound Scottish because they’ve got a real sense of place, you can almost have it stamped on your head.
Culture! Heritage! That’s why when you go to somewhere like America every second person wants to claim some sort of link to it – you know
– “Oh my second cousin’s grandfather is from there”. It’s just a place that has so much to it. A lot of Scottish bands have got a real sense
of identity and who they are before they even pick up a guitar. Compare it to someone like Garbage – they were just the worst –
Shirley hasn’t lived in Scotland for about 20 years, but she was putting on a Scottish accent and going on about her granny and Robert
Burns, just coz she was playing in Glasgow. We tend not to not have a stench of Scotland, more of a pleasant whiff. It’s more heather than
deep fried pizzas.”
We’ve gone from poetry, to deep fried pizza in a very short space of time but the point is this – Idlewild are a band who know who they
Their new album is confident, and shows signs of a band with a sense of identity, a sense of purpose. They’re playing the festivals this
summer, and will certainly be a huge draw for anyone who wants a whiff of heather… or something.
The album ‘The Remote Part’ is released on July 15th 2002. The single ‘American English’ is out now.