Tales of Ordinary Madness

Not for nothing is James Grant's band named Love And Money. At home the television plays silently whilst the blues resound. Genuinely pathetic or playing for sympathy? Alistair McKay analyses, Graham Harrison pictures the band by the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

VOX, September, 1991

A guitar lies flat on the salmon pink carpet of a living room floor in Glasgow's leafy West End. On the arm of the white leather settee is a well- thumbed volume by Charles Bukowski. There are two piles of records, topped by Miles Davis' Sketches Of Spain and a compilation of Eddie Cochran's greatest. Afternoon TV flickers in the corner with the sound turned down.

This is the home of James Grant, singer and songwriter with Love And Money. it's been two years since the group was last heard of--time spent, if Grant's account is accurate, in emotional turmoil and record company wrangling. For the moment, the latter at least is over, with the release of Dogs In The Traffic, an album of finely wrought lyricism which sees Grant's songwriting finally reaching maturity. The songs are scarred with romantic betrayal, a complaint which clearly still troubles him.

"Most of my work is catharsis," he says, hesitant and clearly sincere. "I tell the truth. In songs, you share things with people that are impossible to share in a conversation. Well, only in the most intoxicated circumstances would you divulge how you felt about someone's breasts and how they really affected you, whereas in a song, people find it quite touching."

Grant's emotional inventory is bleak. He says the songs fall into four categories--sex, death, sex and death. Mostly though, they're about falling out of love, something he doesn't appear to have mastered. He still seems to be hurting from the fracture of a long-term relationship.

"I've had brief infatuations with people and they've had brief infatuations with me," he says. "For a couple of months, I had an extraordinary relationship with a girl. The highs and lows were really brilliant. I lived with someone for four years and went out with someone for six years. I'm glad I did these things but they make you unhappy sometimes."

The picture he paints of his daily life is equally joyless. "I've been in a wee world of my own for the last two years. I've hardly read a newspaper. I watch a lot of television. Well, you do when you're on your own. I tend to leave the television on when I go into other rooms because it creates the illusion there's somebody in the house. It's like the anesthetist, because you can always come in and watch Bob Monkhouse. If you're feeling really bad, it settles you down."

After the live show, guitarist Douglas McIntyre, a perfectly formed rockabilly looking like he's on permanent loan from The Blue Caps, offers his assessment of Grant's grim self-portrait. "It's not totally true. It wouldn't be a true picture of anyone to say they just watched TV all day. But put it this way--if someone set out to pretend to be a lonely bastard, people would soon see through it. Too much of it is true."

A long period of professional insecurity can't have calmed Grant's nerves. Phonogram had high hopes when they signed Love And Money, but the declamatory rock-funk of songs like "Candybar Express" failed to ignite the charts. Their second LP, Strange Kind Of Love, was a more mature work which staked a claim to the AOR market with overly smooth production, yet never quite crossed over.

Grant recalls a single traumatic moment when he sensed the group's direction was wrong. "I was doing a gig in Paris and I was down on my knees doing a guitar solo. I suddenly thought "What the fuck am I doing? This isn't me.' I was profoundly embarrassed. It hit me like a ton of bricks."

Corporate jitters were not eased when, last year, the group delivered the tapes for an album called The Mother's Boy, which remains unreleased, with only one track--the oddly cheerful "Papa Death"--salvaged for the new LP.

"I just wanted to change the way the band was perceived but I really went overboard," Grant says, crouching in front of the stereo. He puts on a tape of the unreleased work, then sits on the edge of the settee, hands over. his face. He stops the tape after one song, a strange and intense thing full of clanking drums and fretless bass, like Japan with a hangover. The chorus is "No matter how hard I try, I can't get you out of my mind." The verses talk of Vietnam, confusion and cheeseburgers. It's a song about life on the road. "it seems to me all roadies are really into pornography," Grants says flatly. "They drink like fuck all the time, take drugs all the time and watch porn all of the time."

Phonogram were not impressed, but the songs were a map of Grant's emotional state. "It was really depressing. It was nervous breakdown material. At the time, I was really getting into a misanthropic swing; it was like Bukowski, Celine, Rimbaud. I was getting right into all that and channeling all my energies into it."

Grant sees the new album, rightly, as "my finest hour the best collection of songs I've ever written. "He says he hopes it will do for Love And Money what The Joshua Tree did for U2 in terms of earning the band critical respect. But he remains unsure about its commercial potential in the face of computerized playlists and the British obsession with trends. "We don't look like extras from Ben Hur and I feel quite comfortable with that," he laughs. "In talking about making an esoteric record, I'm not trying to give the impression that what I want to do is appeal to a handful of broken-hearted students. I'm trying to appeal to as many people as possible and I've had a lot of arguments with the record company along those lines. I think this is our most commercial record to date, and I can only judge that by what I would buy. The music I like is by no means way left-of-centre. I like Tom Waits and REM. I love Lyle Lovett, The Rolling Stones and Simon and Garfunkel. It's not exactly far out." Although Love And Money's sound could happily sit shoulder to shoulder with the mature playing of Bonnie Raitt or John Hiatt, their American record company has passed on the LP. Grant seems unfazed by this, but remains hungry for appreciation.

"Jesus Christ, anyone that sits down with a guitar and a pen really deeply wants to be loved. It's a fact. No exceptions. Everything I do is probably an SOS to an angel somewhere in the world. If she reads it, she'll just have to seek me out and let me impregnate her."

He stops to consider the apparent arrogance of his claims. "I've always been someone who would rather be impressive than impressed. This is my life we're talking about here. I don't have a wife and kid, or a home, or a business, or a pub, or anything. This is it."

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