It’s all too common for musicians to claim that playing in a band is their lifelong dream. For many people across the music industry, it genuinely has been the only ambition that they’ve ever had. However, it’s equally refreshing to hear Glasvegas’ James Allan (the frontman of one of Scotland’s greatest musical exports of the last 15 years), reveal his disdain for music as a kid.
“I used to think playing guitar was the most boring thing in the world,” Allen laughs. “I remember my step-dad reading NME in the car and thinking ‘why the fuck would anyone want to read that?”. Instead, James Allen pursued every boy’s other dream: professional football. Despite living his dream- with spells at Cowdenbeath, East Fife and Queen’s Park- Allen’s love for the beautiful game diminished as the appeal and understanding of music emerged. He began realising that he still wanted to entertain crowds, but with a guitar instead of a football.
A fresh-faced James Allan playing for Queens Park, before Glasvegas fame
“I used to sit in the cark park at the training ground until I finished the album I was listening to. I really didn’t want to go in. Suddenly, players started running past me who really should not have been running past me”. After a final spell at Dumbarton, where he played 16 times in two years, Allan called time on his playing career. “I was unemployed for a year and that was the best thing that could’ve happened”, Allan remembers. “I had fuck-all money and fuck-all to do”.
It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that Glasvegas have thrived off “bleak songwriting”; discussing the type of topics that should come with trigger warnings. As with his rise to indie stardom, Allan’s shocking yet beautifully eloquent songs are just as unconventionally successful. Glasvegas’ big hits contain little mention of love and romance, staples of most successful indie anthems, but much more distressing topics. For example, Glasvegas’ most streamed song on Spotify is “Geraldine”, a track that viscerally discusses the troubling nature of social work. Similarly, “Daddy’s Gone” is another of their big hits, but tackles having an absent father. The beautiful B-side to “Daddy’s Gone” is “Flowers and Football Tops”, a track addressing murder and abduction guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye. I can’t think of another band, with the possible exception of Car Seat Headrest, who have made a name for themselves from writing such “taboo” songs. Doesn’t Allan ever want to pack it in and write a love song?
“No, that’s much harder!” chuckles Allan. “When I’m on tour in Toronto on a Wednesday night, the last thing I wanna sing is a love song. I want people to feel it. If it shocks people, that’s a positive!”.
After six years, the Scottish outfit are back writing, recording and releasing- but with a difference. Instead of spending hours in a studio with a producer, Allan has gone all DIY on us and done it all himself. However, this might be why the outfit have been so quiet for so long. “It took me a while to learn how to plug myself in,” Allan admits, “a bit like the guy from Back to the Future!”. However, now that he’s got himself acquainted with the technology, the album is now all finished and set for release next month. After such a long break, have things changed in Allan’s approach to writing songs?
“The writing’s pretty much the same as our debut, to be honest”, Allan confesses. His aims for the record are also similarly traditional: “Something people like! Something people can connect to. That’s the thing about music and art: it means nothing if people can’t connect to it”.
Relatability is clearly something that Allan clings to as a musician, not in a crass and easily anecdotal way, but in a much more existential and emotional way. This made him the ideal musician to score Lorraine Kelly’s Dunblane documentary, which aired earlier this month, to immense critical acclaim. Whilst Allan is a specialist in writing music to make people “feel”, was this score an entirely different kettle of fish?
Not really. “It was all pretty natural,” Allan recalls. “I was asked to do it and didn’t really think it was a big deal. When I write, I go into a pretty hypnotic state so that wasn’t really a problem”. Sticking with TV and film, a Glasvegas track features in Alan McGee’s new Irvine Welsh-written, Danny Boyle-directed biopic, “Creation Stories”. Having worked with the music legend for the last few years, the band have become well-acquainted with the fellow Glaswegan.
“Alan McGee’s my pal. I’ve known him for a few years. Working with your pals can be a bit tense, but we’ve been fine”. But is McGee more of a pal or a hero, in Allan’s eyes? “My pal really. Obviously I think about the stuff he did before I met him, but he’s just a mate”.
Despite influence from the former Oasis and Primal Scream manager, Glasvegas still remains a family firm. With cousin Rab on guitar and sister Denise having been co-manager since the very beginning, Glasvegas is definitely the Allans’ band, perhaps with Alan McGee stepping in as a step-uncle. With family bands often- if not always- ending in tears, have the Allans’ been able to negotiate this?
“It’s been great to share these experiences together” Allan replies fondly, implying a sense of family harmony that the Gallaghers could only dream of. “With my sister, I’ve always looked up to her since she was a wee lassie, but we were the first band she managed and she took to it like a duck to water”. It seems that the Allans’ have not only survived the family/band experience, an achievement in itself, but loved it. Either that or James wants a better birthday present from Debbie.
Viva Glasvegas: Allan performing at the 2009 Lollapalooza music festival at Grant Park on August 8, 2009 in Chicago.
After a platinum record, a Mercury nomination and an impeccable touring record, what is Allan still desperate to achieve? After a long pause, he admits he’s happy to take each day as it comes. “I’ve still got my sister hassling me to send the artwork over!” Allan laughs. Even if James Allan isn’t desperate to seek out plaudits and awards, his understated eloquence and charming charisma is bound to attract it.