Rating: NNNNNDespite the fact that one's hung over and the other's still a shade green from food poisoning, the Delgados'.
Despite the fact that one’s hung over and the other’s still a shade green from food poisoning, the Delgados’ Stewart Henderson and Alun Woodward can’t help but smile.
They’ve got good reason. The Scottish quartet’s new The Great Eastern album is the kind of sweeping pop record most bands make once in their career. It may clock in at just 45 minutes, but there are several hours of ideas crammed inside.
On their third disc, the foursome manage to strike a perfect balance between deceptively simple songs and admittedly grandiose arrangements. Layered underneath the vocals of Woodward and guitarist Emma Pollock are strings, a brass choir, a dulcimer, vibes, accordion, flutes and pretty much any other instrument lying around their Glasgow studios.
It’s a beautiful recording, the Delgados’ best. After years of watching other bands on their Chemikal Underground imprint blow up, it seems to be the Delgados’ turn.
Sane folks are already pegging The Great Eastern for record-of-the-year honours, and a track was added to the BBC Radio One playlist alongside George Michael and Whitney Houston. “It’s taken us six years to get down to the level of Whitney and George,” Henderson cracks.
“Since the album was finished, I think we’ve all had the sense that we did something special,” Woodward offers, picking at a bowl of minestrone during a recent promo trip.
“There was an agreement within the group that this album was going to be as ambitious as possible,” Henderson continues. “The first tracks we recorded were with strings, so once you do a song like that, you set a tone for the rest of the album.”
“We recorded seven days a week for six weeks,” Woodward interjects. We got one evening off, when we played the opening of the Scottish Parliament, and even then we went straight back to the studio afterward.”
In fact, the Delgados put so much stuff to tape that the idea of finishing The Great Eastern seemed impossible.
After a three-day attempt to mix one track, the band decided to turn to mixmaster Dave Fridmann, whose work with the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev betrays a keen ear for epics.
Fridmann makes the record sound massive but not cluttered, and doesn’t lose the Delgados’ songs in the swell.
“I was really nervous,” Henderson laughs. “We’d recorded the whole album with our friend Tony Doogan, but it became pretty obvious that we couldn’t mix it, and I didn’t think he could either.
“Once we decided to work with Dave, I was dreading telling Tony. I called him up and said, ‘Well, you know, we’re thinking about maybe mixing with Dave Fridmann,’ and he says, ‘Aw, thank fuck! I’ve been shitting myself for days thinking about mixing the record.'”
Record-of-the-year talk is all well and good, but the real question is, what does John Peel think? The Delgados have become the legendary BBC DJ’s favourite band, a position previously held by the Fall, the Wedding Present and I-Roy.
“I think he likes it,” Woodward smiles. “He’s brilliant. We had a party in Glasgow and he was the DJ. As he walked through this crowd of 1,000 people on the way out, the room just parted and everyone just started chanting ‘John! John! John!’ He claims it was his most rock-and-roll moment.
“Two years ago, we were touring Europe and he had us up to the farm to play for his wife Sheila’s 50th birthday party. He said he could think of no better gift,” Henderson laughs.
“We ended up spending all day up there, sitting in his living room watching the football results and playing records.”
THE DELGADOS The Great Eastern (Chemikal Underground/Beggar’s Banquet) Rating: NNNNN