‘Success is all surreal to me’

Frontman: Del Amitri's Justin Currie
Frontman: Del Amitri's Justin Currie
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THREE decades have passed since Del Amitri reigned the airwaves.

But now, the band’s founder and frontman Justin Currie is back as a solo artist, with a full UK tour.

And he’s happy with his lot when it comes to being a one-man band. “I am an absolute monarch as opposed to co-chairman of the board. The dressing rooms are a bit lonely and the rider is very sad but on the other hand I can’t sack myself - or if I do I can immediately have myself reinstated.”

His solo work allows him to express himself in a way he wasn’t able to do with the band: “Lots of songs you write don’t suit a rock band, though sometimes there’s no harm in trying to fit a sardine into a drinking straw. But groups get pretty fed up if everything you bring to them is slow, grim and pretentious. We singers inevitably slope off to indulge our wet-dreams of being taken seriously. Always a mistake but a joy to attempt.”

His last album, What is Love For? was inspired by Elektra records founder Jac Holzman, as Currie explains:

“I didn’t title WILF, Jac Holzman did, after the opening track. It was supposed to be called Rebound, which I preferred. But when a man like Jac Holzman makes a suggestion you have to consider it and he made a very strong argument.”

The album was hailed by critics across the industry. “I’d not had decent reviews for anything I’d had a hand in since the first Dels’ single in 1983. The old adage is correct - hang around for long enough and you become respectable.

“I’d have been lying if I’d said the dismissive reviews of the nineties when we were being ‘successful’ didn’t hurt but commercial failure hurts even more unless you’re a terrible snob in which case mainstream recognition destroys you. So success insulates you from critical negativity to a great extent. You can justify your existence by pointing at the audience numbers. Now I point at the quality of their leisure-wear.”

Currie was a teenager when he formed Del Amitri, but though his adult life has been dominated by his rock and roll career, he’s not unfamiliar with the world of labour. “My life hasn’t been very rock and roll. I was busy with my band for ten years but most of my time has been spent in front of the television. I was a waiter and a chef and a barman in my teens and twenties and that was way more rock and roll, believe me. I went from our first record deal to washing dishes in a hamburger joint without passing go in 1986 and then went to America with no money and slept on floors and picnic benches for 12 weeks. I’m not spoilt, I’m ruined. Ruined by Rock.”

But while Currie is happy with his solo career, he still misses the camaraderie of a band. “It’s great fun being out with ten, twelve guys. Solo tours are grim socially - the dressing room after my shows is like a morgue, it’s awful.”

Del Amitri were a chart band, with TV appearances and wide-spread appeal. But that fame brought its surreal moments, according to Currie. “Success - and ours was very modest - is all surreal as far as I can fathom.

Fame, or renown, is absurd beyond belief. Nobody who experiences it isn’t going to be warped by it.

Then you reach a stage where you can’t handle not being famous. It’s a fascinating ride.”

One of the manifestations of fame, according to Currie, is that people lose control around those under the spotlight.

“People go mad around you. I walked into Boots the day after the Dels - Del Amitri - had been on national TV the first time and the girl behind the till screamed and ran away. I only wanted some toothpaste. A corporation bus driver wouldn’t let me on his bus once because he said I shouldn’t have to take the bus anymore. People look into your eyes and tell you the oddest things, the most personal information. You get used to it very quickly and being in a band helps a lot. And having management and crew guys who’ve worked with successful acts before also helps. I was chased down the street in Melbourne by a policeman who turned out to want my autograph. I thought he was going to arrest me for jaywalking.”

Currie’s music is preoccupied with the nuances of life, the doubts, the grey areas. “I tend to write what’s circling around inside my chest,” he says, “It’s about what’s nagging at my subconscious. You ruminate, you ponder and little things come out of nowhere. Whether it’s all a colossal waste of time, I don’t know. I write very few good songs, in my opinion so most are just experiments or failures. But the good ones I stand by.”

Justin Currie plays at Sheffield City Hall on Tuesday February 26.