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Del Amitri

Emerging from out of the golden era of Scots indie bands when Postcard Records was the hippest namedrop on the block, DEL AMITRI’s early, acoustic-orientated approach brought inevitable comparisons to ORANGE JUICE, AZTEC CAMERA and their ilk, while leader Justin Currie’s subtly sardonic lyrics marked him out as an aspiring wordsmith. However, it would take steady progress and a whole decade to pass by for the Caledonian crooners to make the grade. Who was it that griped `Nothing Ever Happens’? They’d definitely no sense of irony.
Formed 1980, in Glasgow, aforesaid singer-songwriter/bassist Justin Currie (cousin of Nick “MOMUS” Currie) enlisted drummer Paul Tyagi, plus guitarists James Scobie and Donald Bentley; incidentally, DEL AMITRI means “from the womb” in Greek. As the latter pair departed in pursuit of university places, in stepped acoustic strummers Iain Harvie and Bryan Tolland.
The first fruits of their labour arrived two-fold by way of `What She Calls It’ (for an oft-forgotten shared flexi-disc with The BLUEBELLS; given away free with issue #6 of the “Stand And Deliver” fanzine), and their double-A debut single, `Sense Sickness’ (b/w `The Difference Is’), released in August ’83 for the soon-to-be defunct NoStrings Records.
A punishing round of local gigs; including a number of prestigious support slots to The SMITHS et al, Currie and Co’s profile was slowly filtering through when they attracted the interest of Chrysalis Records. Signed to this major label in ‘84, the quartet issued their debut LP the following spring. The eponymous DEL AMITRI (1985) {*6} was a competent set that showcased the band’s intelligent, XTC-styled jangle-pop/rock; maybe with better promotion `Sticks And Stones Girl’ and `Hammering Heart’ might never have flopped.
Indeed, the initial press reaction was encouraging and the future looked bright. Then a dispute with the record company left them label-less. Lending a new meaning to the term “grassroots following”, DEL AMITRI’s loyal posse of overseas fans were pivotal in the success of ensuring an American tour; also promoting gigs and providing an accommodation alternative to the dreaded tour van. The surprise success of the jaunt led to another major label venture; this time with A&M Records, who were far more successful in garnering an all-new roots-y DEL AMITRI sound off the ground. Throughout the interim “wilderness” years, both Currie and Harvie had been carefully honing their writing skills; the more mature approach paying off when `Kiss This Thing Goodbye’ bubbled under the UK Top 50. Released almost simultaneously, their long-awaited follow-up album, WAKING HOURS (1989) {*8}, attracted great reviews; but it was missing Tolland, who was replaced by ex-BOURGIE BOURGIE guitarist, Mick Slaven; keyboardist Andy Alston was credited at this stage as their fifth member.
A promising new decade was kick-started when the aforementioned `Nothing Ever Happens’ rocketed up the charts to No.11 and, in no time at all, DEL AMITRI’s debut album was jostling for a Top 5 place. A world-weary diatribe on societal inertia, the track’s earthy sound – if not its tone of barely concealed bitterness – was characteristic of the more accessible path DEL AMITRI was now cultivating. With his legendary side-burns and windswept good looks, Currie also became something of an unlikely sex symbol. The frontman was certainly the groups focal point as their signature tune gate-crashed the US Top 40 that May; follow-up single, `Move Away Jimmy Blue’, did likewise in Britain.
By the time exclusive single, `Spit In The Rain’, was knocking on the door of the Top 20, in late 1990, no one scarcely noticed that a fired Tyagi, and in turn, Slaven, had opted out; their respective berths filled by Brian McDermott and David Cummings; Andy Alston had already been integrated into the 5-piece group. Maybe the astute title of their third album, CHANGE EVERYTHING (1992) {*7}, was a clue to the upheaval. More polished and chart-friendly than any DEL AMITRI release to date (it was produced by Gil Norton), the album narrowly missed the No.1 spot; its immaculately-crafted soft-rock spawning another major transatlantic hit in `Always The Last To Know’; followed intermittently by mid-table volleys, `Be My Downfall’, `Just Like A Man’ and `When You Were Young’.
The band’s stateside standing was such that they were invited on to Late Night With David Letterman, whilst an invitation to perform at the 25th Anniversary Woodstock ’94 festival was warmly anticipated by everyone bar McDermott, who departed for reasons unknown. A fill-in drummer was found in Ashley Soan. However, he was not fully on board until after the recording of their Al Clay-produced fourth set, TWISTED (1995) {*7}; Chris Sharrock (ex-ICICLE WORKS) featured instead.
This record hardly broke new ground, though hit singles percolated through `Here And Now’, `Driving With The Brakes On’, `Roll To Me’ (also a US Top 10 entry), and `Tell Her This’. The fact that DEL AMITRI appealed in general to the American market was hardly surprising; their reliably safe, inoffensive coffee-table roots-rock, ideal fodder for FM radio. That said, all their albums of this period – with the exception of “Waking Hours” – hovered around the lower end of the Billboard 200. Note that David Cummings would leave thereafter to become a TV scriptwriter.
Never being the trendiest of “pop/rock” bands, DEL AMITRI avoided most of the backlash presented to their peers; Currie and Harvie carving out their own little niche with relative success almost guaranteed.
1997’s SOME OTHER SUCKER’S PARADE {*6} was a prime example of the “safe” word, but not for passing “auxiliary” members, Ashley Soan and fresh guitarist Jon McLoughlin, who bailed after the sessions; sadly, the latter was die of diabetes complications in March 2005. The aforesaid Top 10 album did have its moments, but only the single `Not Where It’s At’ could be deemed a success; the title track only just dented the Top 50.
As the whole of the Scottish nation geared up for the impending football World Cup of summer ‘98, DEL AMITRI had another take on the matter in hand when they were commissioned to pen a hit theme. With a canny sense of gloom-and-doom humour that most of their countrymen acquired, the candid but wry message was thus: `Don’t Come Home Too Soon’. As it turned out, a poignant song that predictably fared better (hp#15) than the Scots’ performances against Brazil, Norway and Morocco.
Bolstered by a minor hit, `Cry To Be Found’ (as it happened, not the follow-up track to those coming home), DEL AMITRI geared up to sign off at the troubled A&M via a Top 5 “Best Of” album (sub-titled “Hatful Of Rain”). As Mercury Records took over proceedings, DEL AMITRI’s first hiatus of sorts was underway; new guitarist Kris Dollimore (ex-DAMNED, ex-GODFATHERS) and drummer Mark Price would have to bide their time to allow Justin and Iain to write the songs that would comprise 2002’s CAN YOU DO ME GOOD? {*6}. The last-chance-saloon for the band to achieve similar sales-figures of previous sets; an impossible task indeed, it nevertheless unveiled swansong chart entry, `Just Before You Leave’, a light and breezy soul number that reflected the mood of the album; other tracks such as `Out Falls The Past’ and `Cash & Prizes’ hadn’t lost ‘Amitri’s melodic appeal, synonymous with the outfit’s earlier works. However, despite the odd but effective review, the album as a whole disappointed.
DEL AMITRI didn’t quite split; they just went on an indefinite hiatus, awaiting a time when respect would turn full circle.
As the years rolled by, Currie’s initial highlight was a collaboration with the KEVIN McDERMOTT ORCHESTRA for the pseudonymous Uncle Devil Show (one set: `A Terrible Beauty’ – 2004). The singer finally unveiled a solo set, “What Is Love For” in 2007; further sets “The Great War” (2010), “Lower Reaches” (2013) and “This Is My Kingdom Now” (2017), all weirdly enough, hit the lower reaches of the charts. Iain Harvie, meanwhile, was no slacker, and prior to helping get DEL AMITRI back together, he produced the likes of The MACCABEES.
Though it might yet be possible for another studio album to emerge before Justin and Iain don their pipe and slippers, they did at least deliver a fresh double-set, INTO THE MIRROR: DEL AMITRI LIVE IN CONCERT (2014) {*7}; into the Top 75. That was despite its independent status.
© MC Strong/MCS/1994-2004/BG/MCS/GRD // rev-up MCS Nov2018

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