I’m not really sure when, or where I first heard Mogwai. I’d been aware of them for a few years without really paying much attention. More than anything, I remember seeing the name on a t-shirt at Connect Festival in Inverary, Scotland, back in 2007. Everyone wearing ‘Blur are Shite’ across their chest had me wondering. I’d heard of the band, but I hadn’t heard them.
This was when my musical diet consisted of pure guitar driven indie pop, bands such as Interpol, The Horrors, Arctic Monkeys, Kings of Leon and Arcade Fire. Stable bands that soundtracked your Saturday nights on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.
I can’t even remember if I caught much or any of their set that night as I waited for Bobby Gillespie’s Primal Scream to churn out the hits to the thousands gathered at the foot of the castle. But I returned to Glasgow with the idea that instrumental music wasn’t just shite like Robert Miles’s Children or Daft Punk’s ‘Da Funk’ – a song I heard play for 36 hours on repeat on a school ski trip to France.
I think it was around that time that I saw ‘Zidane – a 21st century portrait’, with my brother Mike and pal Andy at the GFT cinema. A massive Spanish football fan, I was surprised to hear that Zidane had took part in a film, and even more so when I realized it was done by artist Douglas Gordon, who hailed from the same neck of the woods as me, Maryhill in Glasgow.
To say I was spellbound was an understatement, sitting there chewing on some sweets while watching the elegance of the world’s greatest ever footballer digging his boots into the turf, all while backed by Mogwai’s shimmering, wonderous soundtrack. I remember leaving the cinema feeling drunk and a tad high after such a visual, aural spectacle. I was Mogwai’d up, well and truly.
With the release of Hawk is Howling in September 2008, songs such as ‘Batcat’, ‘the Sun Smells Too Loud’ and the ridiculously epic “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’ became fully ingrained parts of my daily routine, songs which transported me away from the inhumane existence that was working for a home insurance firm in a call centre in Glasgow.
Around this time, my brother jumped ship from Scotland and moved over to Italy to work as an English language assistant in the small town of Ferrara near Bologna. Not knowing anyone, or any Italian, his first conversation with a local said a lot about a yet unknown quantity for me, Mogwai’s level of support abroad.
A guy in bar asked Mike where he was from. “Glasgow”. “Glasgow ?,” replied the Italian dude. “Mogwai – our generation’s Pink Floyd.”
Jump forward to February 2011, and the release of Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’. After taking a call from an old Spanish guy called Manolo in a broom cupboard in Macsorley’s Bar one Friday afternoon, I quit my job and rented out my flat to move over to Northern Spain to teach English – copying my brother in doing so.
I got a job teaching English in an after school academy in the evenings, while during the day I taught the staff at the Bayer pharmaceutical factory in the town of La Felguera – the factory that produces 100% of the active ingredient for all the world’s aspirin. It’s maze of steel tubes and chimneys dominating the skyline, giving the provincial, stereotypical Spanish non-descript town a heavy Blade Runner feel.
Turned out the slow walk along the river there and back to my flat took me around 50 mins, around about the same time it took me to listen to Hardcore…in its entirety. And listen to it I did. For some reason my Ipod shuffle broke after I downloaded the album, so I only had that album on it.
For a full school calendar year, maybe two – September to June – I walked down the Nalon river in the mining valley of Central Asturias to and from the aspirin factory with Mogwai as my guide. I was in another place – far from the abandoned steel towers and mining industry relics surrounding me as ‘Rano Pano’ and ‘How To Be A Werewolf’ kicked in.
Still having not seen them fully in concert, I was gutted to be back home in Glasgow that August when Mogwai headlined a festival barely 20 miles away from where I stayed, in the seaside city of Gijon, in the grounds of La Laboral – Franco’s mega technical college complex and amazing place for a concert.
For that, I had to wait until June last year, when Mogwai put on two shows to celebrate their twentieth anniversary in Glasgow, after missing their concerts at the Royal Concert Hall and and Richmond Park in 2014. And what better place to see them than a Saturday night at the Barrowlands – one of, if not the, best venue in the country.
And it was tremendous. Ear-bleedingly loud. And as the band worked their way through an extensive back catalogue, I was glad to be in the position to have become well versed in most of their albums to date, as opposed to just the material they released post 2007.
Not long after the shows, I bumped into Stuart from the band about 2 am one Saturday night on Byres Road. After a brief stop and chat he gave me his email address, so I could arrange an interview for music website/podcast Scottish Fiction. A week later, I sat down with Stuart and had a blast discussing the band’s 20 years together and their plans for going forward.
With me was my Spanish pal Sara, a Mogwai fanatic herself, who, being her last ever day living in Glasgow, I thought would appreciate sharing a beer with Stuart. Although that day for her she recalls as being both the best and worst in her three years living there, as, moments before the interview while waiting for me outside Tennents bar in the West End, a nutjob ran out brandishing a kitchen knife and threatened her. Such is life in Glasgow. One moment running the risk of a hospital visit, the other having a drink with your musical hero in a reformed Church.
After visiting Barry from Mogwai’s pub, Das Gift, in Berlin while I was there a few times earlier on this year, it was nice to meet the man behind both the world’s best Twitter account and best jukebox in Germany. And as the band geared up to release Atomic, I sat down with Stuart once again to talk about it over a beer in Glasgow’s West End.
This time in less cosmopolitan company with my brother, a conversation had between Stuart, my brother and Paul from Franz Ferdinand at Christmas time during their DJ set in a Glasgow pub played itself out before our eyes. With Franz having played a few gigs in the Italian town my brother called home, Stuart mentioned that he’d be up for playing at the same place with Mogwai.
Cue a number of emails from my brother to the organizers, telling them to get Mogwai onto the bill, and during the interview Stuart got a message on his phone confirming the date. Ferrara, Italy, July 2016.
Well I couldn’t not go could aye? So here I am, drunk as hell, in my brothers flat. Earlier tonight Mogwai played what was regarded as the best concert in the town’s musical history, to a crowd of 1500 people next to the castle, performing their soundtrack to the documentary film ‘Atomic’ while it played on the screen behind them.
The post gig Laphroig whisky with the band backstage in their dressing room went down pretty well, discussing Glasgow’s best curry house, as I cast my mind back to nine years earlier and the ‘Blur are Shite’ t-shirt in Inverary. Funny how things play themselves out.
Your music has taken me somewhere nice, more so than any other band out there. And I hope it continues to do so.