First Gig special – Franz Ferdinand

Wednesday May 15th 2002. Glasgow. Something big happened in the city that night as the rain, characteristically, lashed down from the heavens. If you are a football fan then, as well as the rain falling, you may recall how so to did a ball from a Roberto Carlos lofted cross, onto the boot of a certain Zinedine Zidane.

In the south side of the city, Hampden Park witnessed one of the most exquisite goals in Champions League history, as the Frenchman’s volleyed strike sealed a 2-1 victory for Real Madrid against Bayern Leverkusen of Germany, and the title of European champions for the ninth time in the Spanish club’s history.

However, just over 4 miles north west of the city, in a small, two bedroom flat above Nice and Sleazy’s, one of Glasgow’s best loved and renowned bar and music venues, something other than 22 men running round a field chasing a ball was happening that was to change the face of British indie-pop music for ever.

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Four young men, none of whom were actually from the city, arrived to perform together for the first time as group at a party arranged by two friends, both students at the famed Glasgow School of Art.

Their name, taken from an assassinated Archduke, was Franz Ferdinand.

The students in question were Celia Hempton, the London based artist famous for her paintings concerning the landscape of genitalia, alongside fellow artist Jo Roberston. They chose the Wednesday night to put on an exhibition to showcase their work, alongside that of fellow female students.

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The exhibition was entitled “Girl Art”, which, by Celia’s own omission, “was a kind of feminist joke in a way”. She continues; “The show was all female and the band all male. To be honest we didn’t think it through all that deeply. But I guess it worked though. It seemed like a fun, irreverent evening.”

My false understanding that it was only females in attendance was quickly shot down by Celia.

“It wasn’t only females, it was a mix. Although that would have been good, if we only allowed women in. Like it were a strip bar or some sort”, she says, laughing.

Jo’s bedroom was used as the exhibition space, while Celia’s bedroom used as the designated ‘performance’ space, from which Franz Ferdinand played.

“Bob (Hardy) was in our year doing the painting BA at GSA, while Manuela, Nick’s (McCarthy) girlfriend was in the year below us,” she recalls. “And we knew Paul (Thomson) from the previous band he was in, Pro Forma. And Alex (Kapranos), we would all hang out.”

Paul himself remembers the night with clarity.

Paul-Thomson-Franz-Ferdinand

“It was the Champions League final and people showed up late. Some friends of ours had organized an art showing in a flat, with the art in one bedroom and we played in the next. We only did 4 songs but because folk turned up late we played the same set twice. They all ended up on the first record. Michael, Auf Asche, Jacqueline and Tell Her Tonight.”

Before adding, “I was working in Directory Enquiries at the time so I came straight from work.”

To note, that record, 2004’s self-titled debut, sold a staggering 3.6million copies worldwide, including 1.27 million in the UK alone.

While around 50,000 people were in attendance at Hampden to witness Zidane’s moment of magic, around 50 lucky punters found themselves at the flat exhibition, with around 35 squeezing into the bedroom to see Franz take to the stage…carpet.

“We took all the furniture out and they played with their backs to the windows, which we had blacked out for the gig”, says Celia. “The vibe was very much – if you don’t have a venue for an exhibition – you find one, make one, and if you don’t have a venue for a concert, you find one, make one.”

The million dollar question was, how did the band perform?

“They were so good!”gushes Celia. “I kind of fell in love with them. It was great. All their gigs from that moment on were amazing, she finishes with a smile.

From that night forward, the band continued to put gigs on “for their pals”, without any hint or realization that they would achieve anywhere the success of which they have received since. For the band the focus was more on the day to day, as Paul confirms.

“We just knew it was a good band. I’d been doing it for years in bands like Pro Forma and The Yummy Fur. Usually what happens is you get someone to put your record out and go and tour for a week to promote it and try and get out of signing on (the dole) for that week. Go on tour and kip on floors and get drunk, and that’s your holiday basically.”

Certainly Celia could see the momentum that the band were gaining within the city, as the band went one better than play bedrooms, to play in abandoned prisons.

“The band were really instrumental in the energy that developed in both the music and art scene at that time in Glasgow, it was intertwined. There was a disused prison that we used for other art exhibitions and Franz would play with other bands and a place called ‘The Chateau’ which was a big building that the band got access to, for the same purpose.”

“I think there was something that took off in the scene that i was aware of, both in art and music in the early 2000’s in Glasgow, an energy and chemistry that happened because of various people’s drive and imagination… The band members were definitely part of that, instrumental in that i would say. Also the city itself, and the fact that it was possible to use these derelict spaces.”

With Paul adding; “I guess when people outside our social circle started coming to gigs then you’re sort of thinking that we might be onto something. With people who we don’t know hearing about us through not much effort on our part. We were just kinda doing it for our social group really because it’s what you do in Glasgow. Play shows and your friends come down.”

Paul goes on to credit Alex (Kapranos) with being the one who really motivated him and the rest of the band with the belief that something could happen.

“Alex taught IT to refugees and elderly people – teaching them how to work a computer. When we started out he had a proper job and a flat and a mortgage and all that. He had kind of given up on music because he didn’t think it was ever going to happen and then he really sort of pushed us when this came together. Whereas my life was, I was kind of living one day to the next, I was homeless and sleeping on Alex’s floor in the hall.”

“He was like, this was my last chance at this. Whereas I was so caught up in the now I didn’t have a long term plan. It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for his determination and drive.”

And thanks, in no small part to Alex, Celia and Jo, and the rest of those in attendance that night, we are able to look back on a night some 14 years ago that, without doubt, ranks up there with one of the most important in the recent memory of the Glasgow music psyche.

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