Let's be honest, Del Amitri aren't exactly up there with Led Zeppelin or The Who, but that's not the point. People either scratch their heads when asked about the band ('Del Amitri? Who's he?') or sneer at the lead singer's oh-so-tasteless sideburns, but again, that's not really the point. The point is that behind the image is a solid pop-rock band who have a legion of devoted fans and more talent than most.
If you can't quite believe that anyone would boldly claim in public that they like Del Amitri, listen to the music before slamming them. Whatever you do, don't buy the first album, but check out the bargain bins for Hatful of Rain, a collection of the band's singles and a highly recommended release, and then take the mickey. If you haven't fallen for them by then, that is.
The Fall and Rise of Del Amitri
Hailing from their native Glasgow, Del Amitri1 were formed in 1982 by the nucleus of 16-year-old Justin Currie (bass, piano and vocals) and his friend Iain Harvie (guitar), around both of whom the band still revolves. They were swiftly joined by guitarist Bryan Tolland and drummer Paul Tyagi, and started gigging in the city, dragging their schoolfriends along by the ears, and therefore making the gigs relatively successful.
The band recorded their first release 'What She Calls It', which was available on a free flexi-disc2 stuck to the local fanzine Stand and Deliver, the Dels featuring alongside The Bluebells. Next up the band recorded 'Sense Sickness', which was released in 1983 on the independent label No Strings, and despite the single being named Joint Single of the Week in Sounds, it failed to sell.
Undeterred, the Dels started touring with the likes of The Fall and The Smiths, and recorded a number of sessions for the highly influential DJ John Peel, cementing their cult following and bringing the band to the attention of Chrysalis Records. Ditching their current plans for a one-single deal with Blanco Y Negro, the Dels signed an album deal with Chrysalis (having been described by the man who signed them as 'a funny, strange, wee band') and started work on their debut opus.
Del Amitri was released in May 1985 and was slammed by the critics, partly because the band had been over-hyped prior to its release - indeed, the band had appeared on the cover of Melody Maker two months before the album appeared, and the paper had claimed that Morrissey and Lloyd Cole both thought Del Amitri were the best thing since sliced bread; meanwhile fellow music paper Sounds carried an interview that claimed the album was 'not just a fine album, but a monster, a masterpiece'. Strangely, the record-buying public disagreed and the band left Chrysalis when the album failed to sell.
Time to Wake Up
The Dels' loyal fans were undeterred by this setback - and, surprisingly, by the debut album, which they presumably thought was indeed 'a monster, a masterpiece' - and they set about raising the funds to send their favourite band off on a series of small, low-key gigs. This culminated in a low-budget tour of the US, where the Dels were spotted by A&M and were signed up in 1987. It looked like the hard work might be about to pay off.
A slight setback occurred when guitarist Bryan Tolland left the band just before recording commenced3, but he was swiftly replaced by Mick Slaven for the recording of the album, though he also left when the recording was completed and was replaced by David Cummings, who appears on the album cover even though he didn't play a note on the album itself. At the same time keyboard player Andy Alston joined the group, filling out the sound on the second long-player.
Touted as the Dels' breakthrough album, 1989's Waking Hours redefined the band's sound to be, well, much better, and even spawned two singles that made the UK charts ('Kiss This Thing Goodbye' and 'Nothing Ever Happens'). When re-released, 'Kiss This Thing Goodbye' even made the US Top 40, and Justin's wry lyrics (which weren't exactly audible on the debut album) won considerable praise.
Drummer Paul Tyagi left the band as soon as the album was finished4, to be replaced by Brian McDermott, and the Dels' next release was an EP called 'Spit in the Rain', which charted reasonably well and tided fans over to the next album.
The 1992 follow-up, Change Everything, saw the Dels bring in producer Gil Norton, whose production credits had included the Pixies and Pere Ubu. 'We thought Gil would make us sound like the Pixies,' said Iain Harvie on the album's release. 'Instead we just came out sounding like Del Amitri again. But if we started sounding too retro, Gil would tell us to stop it.'
Indeed, Change Everything was a development of the sound of Waking Hours, but it was definitely still a Del Amitri album. The first single 'Always the Last to Know' was a UK hit and a minor success in the US, and the band's reputation ensured healthy sales for the album, eventually pushing it to platinum status. Constant touring for the rest of 1992 only helped to bolster the Dels' devoted following, with 'Be My Downfall' reaching the UK Top 40. Most of the following year was spent working on the follow-up, and drummer McDermott left the band, to be replaced by Chris Sharrock for the recording of the new album, who then left to be replaced by Ashley Soan5.
The amount of time spent recording Twisted, which was eventually released in February 1995, demonstrated how much the band wanted to maintain the success of Change Everything. The record company, A&M, had told the band 'off you go, we don't care when you finish, just give us the album - we don't care when', and that's exactly what the band did. Relocating to a house 40 miles south of London, the Dels wrote and practised the new songs at the same time, eventually recording much of the material live in the studio for the album itself. The result was a collection of considerably varied music, ranging from the unashamedly jaunty pop of 'Roll to Me' and the bluesy 'Food for Songs', to the raw balladry of 'Driving with the Brakes On' and the driving rock of 'Start with Me'.
Producer Al Clay, who had worked with ex-Pixies front man Frank Black and had been responsible for production on 'Spit in the Rain', brought a raw edge to the sound that fitted well with Justin's scathing lyrics. It was surprising, then, that the totally unrepresentative 'Roll to Me' became their most successful single to date in the US, reaching the Top 10 and forming the backdrop to a bout of constant touring, although further single releases wouldn't trouble the charts greatly.
The Best Album Yet?
At the end of the tour guitarist David Cummings left the band6 to begin a writing career in TV and film; he was replaced by Jon McLoughlin, who was broken in on a short UK tour towards the end of 1996. Soon afterwards the band hit the studio to record a bunch of new songs as quickly as they could, a complete change from the 'take your time' attitude of Twisted. The result, 1997's Some Other Sucker's Parade, was a triumph, with a fuller, rockier sound and songs that generally fitted inside three minutes. Perfectly suited for touring, the 14 songs on the album showcased typically sarcastic and self-deprecating lyrics, and luckily there was no 'Roll to Me' to throw the punters off scent.
Heading off on a tour7, stopping only to shed Soan (replaced by Mark Price8) and McLoughlin (replaced by Kris Dollimore9) the Dels maintained the public's interest long enough for them to be chosen to sing Scotland's soccer World Cup song, the wonderfully-titled 'Don't Come Home Too Soon', which reached number 15 in June 1998. Capitalising on this topical return to the charts, September 1998 saw the release of Hatful of Rain, a collection of the band's singles, including one new song, 'Cry to be Found'.
Of more interest to long-term fans, though, was the concurrent collection of b-sides, Lousy With Love, which demonstrates just how consistent Del Amitri's songs have been over the years (if you ignore the first album, which both compilation albums thankfully do). Although it's obviously a collection of odds and ends, it's still a great album, something you don't often find with b-side collections.
Amazingly Del Amitri haven't lost any more members since the 1997 tour (though there's always time to lose another drummer or guitarist, of course), and there are plans for a new album release in early 2002, called Can You Do Me Good.
The main problem with explaining the Dels to the infidels is that it's impossible to pigeonhole them in any particular genre. As Justin said at the release of Change Everything: 'I feel sorry for the people that have to sell us to the public. It's a difficult thing to do; we can't even put a label on ourselves.' Listening to the albums, you can see why: containing everything from pop to ballads to rock to country, they cover a lot of bases. Although Del Amitri aren't likely to register in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, their devoted fans are devoted for one reason: they make bloody good music, bloody well.
Del Amitri Websites
There are two official Del Amitri sites, each with its own flavour. They're your best bet for all things Del, and there are more than enough rabid fan sites dotted around, if that's your scene.
Official US Del Amitri Site - Previously known as Alison's Del Amitri Homepage, this became the official Del Amitri site in the mid-1990s, and has recently undergone a major facelift. You'll find all sorts of goodies here, from band information to lyrics to tour details, and it looks great.
Official UK Del Amitri Site - As Alison's Homepage was quite an American-flavoured site, the UK site (this time run by an amenable chap called Kevin) became the second official Del Amitri site back in 1999. Here you can find another well laid-out site, complete with a comprehensive FAQ, details of the Del Amitri mailing list, and lots of intriguing bits of trivia.