DEATH THREATS AND DREAMERS: MEET HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS
Monday night, late November. On Hope Street, office workers and the last of the Black Friday weekend bargain hunters tighten their coats and scarves against the sub-zero winds gnawing at any skin they dare to leave exposed. Renfield Lane is deafeningly quiet in comparison to the main streets of the city centre; the warm, yellow light spilling from Stereo’s panelled windows serves as a beacon against the frost in the air and a reminder of the impending festive season. I’m here to meet Stuart Neil of Harry & The Hendersons and I find him in a corner of the bar with a copy of a book on filmmaking and a black coffee. We talk about the band’s debut album, his thoughts on Scotland’s music scene and receiving death threats from an uninterested crowd at Motherwell Civic Centre.
“Harry and I started writing together in 2014,” Stuart begins, "Stow College’s label Electric Honey wanted to put a record out for us but the problem at that point was that the band was really only us and Megan [Airlie] and we thought, ‘Fuck’. The obvious solution was to draft in my brother’s band, The Mayans, to complete the line-up. They had been playing together since they were about thirteen so they were pretty tight. We brought Joss in on keys and that was that.”
With a line-up comprised of seven diverse personalities, one would expect creative differences – something the Rutherglen native denies. It would be incorrect to suggest that the band suffer from hive mentality though Stuart does concede that one particular event had a considerable influence on his band’s sound. “We were all doing really different things. Harry was doing this heavy rock thing and I was in an indie band. I remember we saw The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese’s seminal 1978 concert documentary on The Band) which had a big influence on the music we all listen to. The whole Laurel Canyon, California thing really had an impact on us, especially in our early days when we were just starting out but we all have other creative outlets outside Harry & The Hendersons, so when it comes to this band we’re really all coming from the same place.”
This may be true from an artistic perspective but not a geographical one, though they hail from Glasgow but with some members based in Edinburgh, the Hendersons understand the difference between the two cities better than most. Since the enforcement of Edinburgh City Council’s noise policy, it is estimated that 42% of all of the city’s venues have been affected by harsh regulations set in place to prevent
noise pollution, making it even harder for local and touring bands to find their target audiences. “There’s so much more going on in Glasgow in terms of the music scene,” Neil states, “I like Henry’s Cellar Bar and Stramash, there’s a good scene and a lot of good music going on there. There’s obviously more of a scene in Glasgow, but what I like about playing Edinburgh is that we don't really run into the same bands. You’ll meet people you've never heard of before but here [in Glasgow] you’re constantly running into the same faces, constantly hearing of the same bands. Scotland, in general, has a thriving music scene and there are no two ways about it and we’re lucky to count some of our favourite Scottish artists amongst our best friends as well which is great: people like Megan Airlie who used to be in our band, Les Johnson & Me who some of us play with and James Michael Rodgers, although he’s away living the dream in Berlin.”
Photo by: Georgia Harris
This year saw Harry & The Hendersons return to the studio to record their debut album engineered by Jamie Savage at Chem19, following in the footsteps of Teenage Fanclub, King Creosote and Arab Strap to name but a few. It has taken them 4 years to get here and their growth in terms of the strength of their songwriting is obvious, the songs are far more experimental than the acoustic pop of their formative years. The 12 tracks on the album play host to an eclectic mix of styles and a range of themes that they are keen to allow the listener to come to their own conclusions on. “People can make up their own minds about what the songs are about when they hear them but it’s really a result of how we view the world. We want to let people take what they want from it. Personally, I prefer when someone puts out music and it means something personal to whoever is listening. Music is like trying to communicate with people, isn't it? If they can’t relate to it then why would they want to listen to it? I think the fact that we’re not just 7 guys who played instruments separately and met through that, we started playing our instruments together, learned together and are pals outside of this. I think that comes through in the songs. There are still songs about girls and having no money but that’s just what we know”.
So how does this recording process differ to their earlier experiences? Neil explains that in previous studios they’ve felt rushed and bound by deadlines. This album has the luxury of flexibility and a larger budget, granting them time to play around with the songs, learn from their mistakes and ensure that they're completely happy with their work. “We've always been known for our vocals but we've extended that further because now pretty much everyone is singing. The drumming is great as well, Jamie got the best out of all of us. I’m really proud of the whole thing, we all are, and I hope other people like it too. The album is self-funded and it still needs to be mixed but we’re taking some time off over the holidays and the first single will be out in the new year. We have new management so we’re kind of starting again. Our earlier stuff was a one-singer-one-song type of deal but now when we write it's more of a free-form jam, everyone has more of an input and we’re a lot more adventurous. I don’t think there’s a song on the album under four minutes, which I didn't realise until we put them down. We weren't trying to write pop then either, I think some bands try to write a hit but that’s not how we go about it. We’re a difficult band to categorise in terms of genre because it jumps about so much, hence why we coined the phrase 'frog rock'.” Stuart laughs, “That’s just a wee joke between us, we’re genre hoppers. We did The Riverside Show for the second time last year and they asked us last what genre we were so we said that for a laugh but when they were introducing the song we played, they actually used the term which made us laughed at a lot. We used to get described as folk but we never really were, I think that’s just a lazy description because of the acoustic guitars and harmonies."
This year has been a productive one for the band, the highlight of which being headlining Rabbie’s Tavern at Eden Festival and their annual, month-long trip to Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival. But it hasn't been without its pitfalls. A gig at a beer festival in Motherwell’s Civic Centre was one of these lows, albeit, according to Neil, a very funny one. “We were running late and had about 20 minutes to load in and play. We finally got to the venue and they took all our gear and showed us to our dressing room, name on the door, the lot. We walked in the room and they gave us 4 cans of coke and a pack of nuts between 7 people and we’re thinking, 'We’re playing a beer festival, where’s the fucking beer?' About 2 minutes later, we’re whisked to the stage just as the current band are finishing. It was guys in their mid-thirties playing Sweet Home Alabama and the crowd was lapping it up. Harry asked a stagehand if there was any chance of getting some beers and he asked if it was in our contract. Harry just said, 'Aye,' even though we didn't know anything about a contract. So Harry leaves with this guy while we set up and comes back with one beer each which kinda set the tone for how the gig was going to go. As soon as we walked on stage the this really big crowd were like,'What the fuck?' Vincent was wearing his girlfriend’s floral patterned yoga pants for fuck's sake. So we started playing a kind of chilled out vocal harmony number but you could tell these people wanted Oasis. We’ve been in these situations before and we’ve chucked in some Chuck Berry or Rolling Stones, something people know and can dance to but for some reason, we didn't do that. The thunderous applause at the end of the set wasn't for us, it was because we were leaving. A guy in the crowd was making a motion across his neck with his finger and I still don't know if he was telling us to stop or threatening to slit our throats." he says as he descends into raucous laughter.
Photo by: Georgia Harris
The Hendersons will be bringing in the New Year with gigs in Edinburgh on Hogmanay and are embarking on a tour of Scotland and the north of England to coincide with the release of the album in summer. “I’m looking forward to getting this year over with as it’s been heavy for me personally and professionally, we spent it doing background work and building the foundations for a successful 2017 but it has been hard at times with some of the guys being in a different city. This year we found more of the music that we definitely want to be making and we pushed ourselves creatively. It’s taken years to get to this point but we are really excited for people to hear the new music so we can see their reaction. We’re just looking forward to getting out there, playing and focussing on 2017 which is looking to be a big year for us. We’re itching to get the ball rolling”.
With that, he puts his book in his pocket and heads off into the night. Harry and The Hendersons are Stuart Neil, Andrew Neil, Harry Mulvenna, Jack Richardson, Vincent Deighan, Gavin Lamont and Joss Kelly. Keep up to date with them on Facebook at: @HarryAndTheHendersonsBand.