Justin Currie formed Del Amitri in Glasgow at the dawn of the 1980s. The band meandered directionless until the autumn of 1982 when 17-year old Justin bumped into Iain Harvie, an 18-year old guitarist who had just returned to Glasgow from working on an East Coast farm.
It was, coincidentally, a time for hard choices within the Del Amitri ranks; whether to continue as penniless band members or to plunge into the warm waters of academia. While both existing guitarists chose to head for university, bassist Justin and drummer Paul Tyagi decided to carry on, the former using his student grant to buy a Revox.
The timely intervention of fate’s fickle finger found Iain Harvie in the right place at the right time, and before too long he was firmly ensconced in the Del Amitri ranks.
Their first single comprised the first two songs that Justin and Iain ever wrote together. Sense Of Sickness b/w The Difference Is appeared on the fiercely independent No Strings label.
When John Peel invited them down to London to record a pair of sessions for his hugely influential radio show at the end of 1983, major labels finally began to sit up and take notice, and in the spring of ’84, they duly signed to Chrysalis subsidiary, Big Star.
After the modest success of their eponymous debut album and the brace of flop singles – Sticks And Stones Girl and Hammering Heart – which it spawned, their honeymoon period with Chrysalis was most definitely at an end.
And so, at the beginning of 1986, Del Amitri were in a position of stalemate with their corporate paymasters. They’d built up a fair fan-base, having toured with the likes of The Smiths and The Fall, but with a set of newer, more mature material in the can they were unable to release a second album – purely because of their forthright failure to deliver a cynically crafted slice of commercial pop cheese. Irrefutably, something had to give.
The band immediately decided to capitalise on their mailing list. Using grass-roots fan power they defied the total lack of promotional support available to them by encouraging their fans to organise Del Amitri gigs in their hometowns on a profit-sharing basis.
And, in a final act of defiance, they encouraged their supporters to organise a sit-in protest at the Chrysalis offices . . .
Hordes of kids in ‘Release The Dels’ T-shirts converged on Chrysalis, and eventually, despite contractual obligations, the powers-that-be surrendered and freed Del Amitri from their asphyxiating deal.
Del Amitri – all fired up on the people power ethic of DIY touring – then embarked on a pivotal trip that was to have a profound effect on every subsequent aspect of their muse.
“We spent our last couple of thousand quid on fares and did the same thing in America,” remembers Justin Currie. “We wrote to fans and said; ‘Could you put a gig on for us?’ and all these people hired the equivalent of scout halls. They’d have a birthday party for somebody, sell tickets and give us the money. It was a cottage industry, but it did actually get us 12 coast-to-coast dates over a six-week period. It was supposed to be a sort of working holiday, but it turned into a sort of emotionally tortuous saga. It was a crazy, turbulent trip. We had no money at all and didn’t eat anything other than crisps. We came back from that and thought we could do anything.”
With a new line-up featuring guitarist David Cummings and drummer Brian McDermott in place, Del Amitri returned to Blighty renewed, albeit in somewhat reduced circumstances. As the dark days of 1987 drew to a close, Del Amitri finally exchanged signatures with A&M Records.
The first fruits of Del Amitri’s relationship with A&M emerged in the summer of ’89. But, the simultaneous release of their long-awaited second album Waking Hours and it’s attendant single Kiss This Thing Goodbye, initially elicited little response from media and punters alike.
That all-important hit single finally came in January 1990, when Nothing Ever Happens rocketed the, tangibly relieved, Del Amitri into the top twenty.
The band carried on gigging relentlessly and gradually consolidated their position in the chart with a reissue of Kiss This Thing Goodbye, Move Away Jimmy Blue and Spit In The Rain before unleashing their third collection, Change Everything.
With a line-up now augmented by the addition of Andy Alston on keyboards, the band continued to be frustrated by the folk-rock tag that had haunted them since Nothing Ever Happens.
Despite the fact that the band had actually completed work on their fourth album, Twisted, in May 1994, A&M – who were keen to promote Del Amitri as a radio band in America – decided to hold up its release for six months. The LP finally hit the streets in February 1995 and went on to sell a million copies, giving the band their first US top ten hit single, Roll To Me.
The first rule of thumb for the fifth Del Amitri album – Some Other Suckers Parade(1997) – was ‘no acoustic guitars’. Taking their lead from Crazy Horse and the Smashing Pumpkins, the band enlisted Mark Freegard (The Breeders/Compulsion) to further toughen up their sound.
The resultant din has been described as “The Faces kicking The Byrds to death in a Seattle whiskey bar”.
Vocals, bass, guitar