British indie enthusiasts of the late 90’s may remember melodic Scottish quartet Astrid. This particular XS Noize writer became a fan years ago after hearing their charming single ‘Distance’ on Radio 1’s The Evening Session in 1998. The four piece from the Isle Of Lewis released a few great singles and EPs before releasing the Edwyn Collins-produced debut album ‘Strange Weather Lately’ and its follow up ‘Play Dead’. They also released a third album in 2004 called ‘One In Four’ before splitting soon after. Drummer Neil Payne joined Texas, Gareth Russell played bass for Idlewild, as well as releasing some great solo material, Charlie Clark played with The Zephyrs and went on to form Broken Arrow, Cold Night Song and Our Lunar Activities. William Campbell formed Our Small Capital and The Open Day Rotation.
But now Astrid are back with the sparkling new single ‘Poison Reaction’, and their first new album in 15 years, titled ‘Fall Stand Dance’. The LP will be released via Edwyn Collins’ AED Records in July. XS Noize spoke to Charlie Clark from the band about the group’s return.
With a sound recalling the jangly guitar pop of Teenage Fanclub, the 60’s flavours of The Byrds, and the melodic alt-rock sounds of bands like Sugar, the brilliant Astrid were formed in Glasgow during the mid-90s. Willie Campbell, Charlie Clark and bassist Gareth Russell had all moved there from the Isle Of Lewis. They met drummer Gary Thom in 1997 and were soon discovered by Scottish indie heroes Belle And Sebastian, who invited them on tour as support act. They signed to the independent label Fantastic Plastic Records before releasing their debut EP ‘No Reason’ in early 1998.
Charlie Clark remembers the band’s early days. “We recorded ‘No Reason’ with Duncan Cameron at Riverside studios in Glasgow. It did really well on the radio and got some national play, which ended up making the gigs a little bit bigger. There was an EP that Duncan had recorded by Teenage Fanclub called ‘Teenage Fanclub Have Lost It’, which was a favourite of ours. So it was a big deal to us to record our first single with Duncan.” Their building success coincided with alternative music legend Edwyn Collins entering the Astrid story. Charlie explains “The manager of our label was on some London radio show where he met Edwyn. He had sent Edwyn the demos and that’s pretty much the whole thing came about with that one. We went straight into record ‘Distance’. For me, those were the best memories of Astrid.”
One night in 1998 I was listening to The Evening Session when my ears were alerted to a perfect slice of indie pop entitled ‘Distance’. Using only a handful of very basic chords and a lot of heart, they had somehow crafted a beautifully simplistic mini-masterpiece that was impossible not to fall in love with.
It was the lead track on the ‘Hi Fi Lo Fi’ EP, which was followed by 1999’s ‘It’s True’ and the debut album ‘Strange Weather Lately’, which were also recorded with Collins as producer. The former Orange Juice frontman also played Hammond organ on ‘Distance’. The album received positive reviews and sold well in the UK and in Europe. But the group never really broke through to the next level. They came close with the 2000 single ‘Modes Of Transport’, which ended up on Radio 1’s daytime playlist, with Simon Mayo making it his single of the week.
The second album ‘Play Dead’ would follow in 2001, with Thom now replaced by Neil Payne. Around the same time, with Astrid now one of the brightest stars of the Scottish indie, all four of the band were “absorbed” into supergroup The Reindeer Section, who also included members of Snow Patrol, Belle And Sebastian, Arab Strap, Mogwai, Teenage Fanclub and others. After two Reindeer Section albums, Astrid recorded their third LP ‘One In Four’, released in 2004 at a time when the focus of both mainstream and independent music had shifted elsewhere. It was a darker, more diverse record which was funded by the money made from The Reindeer Section. Although Clark referred to ‘One In Four’ as his favourite Astrid LP in 2013, he also admitted that by the mid-2000’s, interest in the group had waned. “I honestly think by that time nobody cared about the band anymore,” says Charlie “and I can only speak for myself, but I was fucking mental with drink and drugs back then. Doing way too much of everything!”
When Snow Patrol’s fortunes changed with ‘Final Straw”s commercial success, Astrid were invited along as a support act. But the band had no money and were travelling to gigs in a Ford Focus. Charlie remembers it as a bleak period: “It was unsaid, but I think we realized that we were flogging a dead horse, and our friendships were pretty fractured. It was actually really depressing”. They toured Spain and Japan to support the album but after Campbell quit, the remainder of the band soon decided to call it a day.
While Neil Payne joined Texas, and Gareth Russell went on to be a member of Idlewild, Campbell continued with the bands Our Small Capital and The Open Day Rotation, before launching a solo career. As well as forming Broken Arrow with vocalist Brandi Emma, Clark released his own solo material, which includes the wonderful ‘Feel Something’ EP from 2013. Fittingly it was released on AED Records, which is of course run by Edwyn Collins.
Clark and Cambell still kept in touch over the years. A few years ago there were hints of an Astrid reunion one day: “Willie Campbell and I have been joined at the hip since we were 10 years old, so we’re in touch all the time. I was Willie’s best man at his wedding too. It was weird for a while after Astrid broke up, but then it was back to normal life. I feel like we talked it all out over the years… I had such a blast playing with all the guys in Astrid, even through times when we all wanted to kill each other. But they are all such talented people, I would never rule out playing with any of them again. Willie and I talk about doing something together every two years or so but it is yet to happen but as I’ve learned through all of this, no need to rush it!”
Five years after that previous interview quote and Astrid are back. After Willie and Charlie reunited to write new songs together, they decided to put together a new line-up in 2016 for a series of gigs. Having received a warm welcome back, the band began recording ‘Fall, Stand, Dance’, their first new album in 14 years. Coming full circle, 20 years after ‘Distance’, and Astrid are teaming up with Edwyn Collins again to release ‘Fall, Stand, Dance’ on his AED label. The album was recorded in Los Angeles, California where Clark now resides, produced by Eric McCann and mixed by longtime Astrid collaborator Tony Doogan.
“Willie and I both feel that there was a gap after Play Dead and One In Four,” says Charlie. “In many ways ‘Fall Stand Dance’ feels more like an Astrid album and more in line with ‘Strange Weather Lately’. It’s just been amazing to get to play together again and the live shows have been brilliant. We’ve put a great band together.” The new Astrid line-up have indeed proved to be impressive, with a superb studio performance recently aired on BBC Scotland. As well as the core of the band Campbell and Clark, the line-up is completed by David Calum McMillan on drums, Paul Martin on guitar/keys and James Clifford from The Cosmic Rough Riders on bass. “‘Poison Reaction’ is about the regrets of early adult life living in Glasgow and looking back at life experiences with a different perspective,” says Charlie. It was the first demo that we got really excited about. It sort of became the anthem for the record and felt like the right choice as our first single. It had all the elements of an Astrid song but with a sense of maturity.” He describes ‘Fall Stand Dance’ as “our favourite Astrid record. Melodic, upbeat power pop”.
Listen to ‘Poison Reaction’ – BELOW:
The band will be opening for The Proclaimers on July 6th at Bught Park in Inverness. Other live dates include:
2/8 Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival
9/8 Stramash Festival
More dates are soon to be added, as well as shows with Edwyn Collins and The Vaselines later in the year.