– THE DEAF INSTITUTE, MANCHESTER –
Backstage at The Deaf Institute, The Twilight Sad frontman James Graham leads me to a tiny room containing three bunk beds and room for nothing else.
“It is like when you were wee and your pal came to play PlayStation” he says with a smile.
Hailing from Glasgow, The Twilight Sad is not your run of the mill rock band. Combining moments of ear-splitting noise with folk-like tenderness, they create incredible soundscapes which are complemented by James crooning in his heavy accent.
The band is in town to play their phenomenal debut record ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’ in full. Hailed as a work of art by critics, the album garnered the band a small but dedicated fan base. Performing an album start to finish has been a trend in recent years but not usually for something released as recently as 2007. It is not a special anniversary, nor are the band calling it a day, so why now? “It was suggested to us and it was just something nice to do, it was a Christmas thing, two nights at King Tuts in Glasgow” James explains “and those shows sold out in three hours, and we’re like ‘what?’”
James’s surprise at the speed of the shows sales was genuine but elaborates that he was aware that people held their debut record with affection. “I’m weirdly proud of us for producing something like that at that age when I thought we were daft wee idiots”. Proud he should be, the album was regarded by many as the best of 2007, the same year as LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Sound Of Silver’.
The buzz around the Glasgow gigs coupled with fan mail the band received asking for a repressing of the debut culminated in a limited release of 500 copies for Record Store Day. James echoes the sentiments of Paul Weller when he declares his love for RSD being tempered with the frustration of things then appearing on eBay. He speaks with genuine pride about the interest in buying the album, mentioning he was inundated with messages from people who had queued with and without success to buy the LP.
We talk at length about past Manchester shows, highlights including St Philips Church at Sounds from the Other City in 2011 and here at The Deaf Institute with fellow Glaswegians Errors in 2010, both fondly remembered by anyone in attendance.
“I’m really excited for tonight, this venue is amazing, I always like Manchester crowds, they’re always vocal, they are like Glasgow crowds, the same kind of mentality. This is the first time we’ve sold out in Manchester so it should be pretty special”.
He’s not the only one expecting something special. When I arrived at half six for the interview, already revellers were waiting for the doors to open upstairs at the venue.
After this short run of UK dates, the band has a couple of high profile festival dates, Primavera Sound in Barcelona next month and then T in the Park in their native Scotland. The very first time I saw The Twilight Sad was on a bandstand at a now defunct Connect Festival in September 2007. James remembers the set and the line-up fondly and opens up that he wishes that Scotland still had a bigger alternative festival.
“I love T in the Park and can’t wait to play, but it would be nice to have something smaller with a leftfield, diverse billing, I think people are crying out for it.” While on festivals he scornfully recalls someone they were working with referred to them as ‘not a festival band’, something he is keen to refute. “It has to be the right festival, but we see some bills and definitely think we belong on them. Hopefully next year once the new album is out we’ll do a few more”.
James’s thoughts are not only on the band’s early years though and he speaks with great fervour about the upcoming record. For a man who wilfully describes himself as ‘a miserable bastard’ I’m privy to a lot of excitement from the frontman.
“I think the songs are some of the strongest ones we’ve wrote. I know everyone says that but I believe it.” Describing the album as not as ‘synth-heavy’ as 2012’s ‘No One Can Ever Know’, he says there is more guitar and a less insular sound. Fans of the debut will be excited to hear that there are “big sounds” with “two big songs on it as well”. There is also a back-to-basics approach to the record, recorded at Mowai’s Castle of Doom studio in Glasgow, the band were able to be at home and relax during the recording sessions. James believes the break they have taken from touring has enabled them to reflect on their achievements, making for a better record.
It isn’t all positivity though and the build-up making their fourth album sounds tough on all members of the band. “We were in a position where things weren’t great and it was a wee bit doom and gloom and if we were going to make a record it could be our last chance to make one. I’ve approached it like it was going to be the last songs I’d write”.
I don’t get the impression James still believes the next record might be their swansong and the band seem in rude health now. He is already looking beyond their impending fourth LP, though only to quip that guitarist Andy MacFarlane has left Scotland for London and the possibility that “the next one will sound like Chas’n’Dave but with me moaning over the top”.
As our conversation draws to a close, I ask James about the football shirt he is wearing, immediately he is conscious of how it may look, a Scottish band wearing a Scotland shirt at an interview in England. “I don’t usually buy Scotland tops but I really like Adidas. I’m not a pure ‘Braveheart’ Scotland fan; I’m not really into that, I just like football”. Unexpectedly, James admits he’ll root for England during the World Cup though, though like many of us, he doesn’t expect them to do too well.
On that note I leave James to get ready for the gig, and he leaves me in greater anticipation for the performance than I had thought possible.
Come show time and it is easy to see why James was so keen to perform. From the haunting opening ‘Cold Days From The Birdhouse’ the band sound incredible, a gear they never deviate from.
‘That Summer At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy’ provides the biggest (but not only) sing-along from the crowd, something most shoegaze-inspired bands can only dream of. While “the kids are on fire in the bedroom” might not be a lyrical hook you’ll hear on Radio 1 any time soon, those in the know bellow along with astounding commitment.
Few bands are capable of creating the power of the roaring intro to Talking With Fireworks. The explosion of noise mellows and gives space for James to regale majestically in his thick Scottish burr.
The self-deprecating humour which was so evident in the day has not escaped James, finding time to praise the light engineer for ‘making us ugly bastards look good’.
Highlight of the night is the stunning ‘And She Would Darken The Memory’. From drummer Mark Devine’s punchy attack to the astonishing wall of noise orchestrated by guitarist Andy MacFarlane, and of course James Graham’s unmistakable voice, everything that is brilliant about The Twilight Sad is demonstrated in these five minutes. Their dynamic range is something to behold and few bands can match their capacity for transition from quiet to loud.
When an album is as good as ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’, getting to see it performed track by track is something to be cherished. Every note here is flawless and the band feel tighter for having explored musical boundaries since the record was first written. There is time for two early rarities to close the show, both treated with the same rapturous energy as the nine track album. If the new material is as good as James has promised, then on tonight’s evidence, the world is in for a treat.