A Run for the Money

The Glasgow band has emerged from Eighties stardom the wiser and warier.
By Alastair Mabbott

The Scotsman Weekend, December 11, 1993

Kevin Rowland used to insist on taking Dexy's Midnight Runners out jogging to bind them together into a crack unit; and now here's Glasgow band Love and Money--three-quarters of them, anyway--tucking into identical plates of haggis, neeps and tatties. Nothing like band solidarity, is there?

"We've kicked against the pricks for eight years," confirms frontman and songwriter James Grant, once he's shoveled the last of the mashed neeps away and settled down to his Murphy's. "We've become incredibly strong as a unit because we've had to suffer." Love and Money's association with Phonogram Records left neither party with much love for each other, nor, ironically enough, with any money to speak of. Band and label parted company after their last album, Dogs In The Traffic, but their relationship still seems to be a sore point.

"I'm not averse to being patted on the back--no one is--but Phonogram never said: 'That's good.' They said: 'We're looking for something more commercial.' I had to get down on my knees and beg, basically, for some of the stuff to be included on Dogs In The Traffic.

That Love and Money were going to be tricky to market to the masses was apparent from the outset, and the band acknowledge that they have to shoulder some of the responsibility for that. Initial confusion over their intentions may be partly to blame for what came after; record company, media and public seemed to collude in whipping up an image of Love and Money as a brash, thrusting young band whose raison d'etre was success and the celebration of success. Or--a very Eighties concept, this--to provide an ironic commentary on pop stardom from the lofty heights of pop stardom. All of which was very far from the truth. "Things that were meant to be a joke, like "Candybar Express," came over as bombastic," says Grant, "and the next thing you know, we're over in New York mixing it and it's big news."

Phonogram hung on to the band for a further two albums--"I think they thought I was going to be the new Mark Knopfler or something like that"--and a truer picture of Love and Money slowly emerged from between the few cracks left by big-money producers: one of dedicated songwriters and craftsmen with an appreciation of roots and soul and a heartfelt desire to communicate emotion.

The new Love and Money album, littledeath (the title refers to catharsis, not apparently, orgasm), appears on Iona Records, a label which has quietly been building up an impressive roster of Scottish pop talent. Thirteen fragile tales of love and loneliness are garnished with tasteful rock and soul embellishments: an angry lead guitar pokes through here, massed backing vocals swell there...but in the end, all roads lead back to James Grant waxing melancholy behind his acoustic guitar.

"We've become quite cultish now, and I'm quite happy to play to small amounts of people if I feel that they really like us. But I feel that at this particular time, there isn't as much of a communion. I'm not trying to say Smiths, Beatles--I don't think we're that important socially. I just like, when we make music and play it live, to draw people into it and involve them. I have a sort of religious feeling, if you like, towards the music we play and I'd like to involve other people in that as well."

This isn't just an off-the-cuff remark. The more James Grant talks about his music, the more he defines his efforts and aspirations in terms of what the church either filled him with or denied him. The grotesque painting reproduced on the album sleeve appealed because of the "quasi-religious connotations" of crucifixion it held for him, obliquely reminding him of the tortured but perfect bodies of Christ and St. Sebastian, "the grand, sweeping gestures of Catholicism which signify suffering." Grant finds these very beautiful.

"Songs of suffering are usually songs of love," he says, citing as an example Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde. "Most of the songs I write are about personal experience. I write characters that are real people in life that become heroes and heroines in my songs. You take someone who's an alcoholic, like Paul Newman in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, and you glorify it so it becomes quite a beautiful image, although the thing itself is intrinsically bad."

He reveals, cringing at the thought of being considered pretentious, that he's trying to write a book, a tale based on the conflict between an old and a young priest. "I honestly think I will become reconciled to the Catholic Church, but...we'd a real fire-and-brimstone priest, and that's really stayed with me. Plus, there's a new catechism that's just been published that basically endorses the death penalty, and I find that really heinous."

He sighs. "I think practically every time I do an interview, I end up sounding like a guy who never has a good time, and that's not the case, but I feel that anyone who writes knows that you have to examine yourself, and people who write best examine themselves very very closely."

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