INTERVIEW: Arab Strap | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Getting the gang back together isn’t always a fool’s errand, yet few cases reap such handsome dividends as Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton’s resurrection of Arab Strap. Indeed, five years, dozens of rapturously received gigs and a superlative new album later, it’s easy to forget the Scots’ second coming actually began in Newcastle with a jam-packed warm-up show at The Cluny – surely one of the finest evenings the venue has ever hosted.

“It was the first gig we’d played for a decade, and the main thing I remember is that none of us realised how small the stage was going to be!” Aidan recalls. “I don’t think we knew quite how much space we needed at that point. There were six of us, so it was quite a struggle!”
Besides that 2016 show, the city
holds a bank of fond memories for the vocalist – from travelling down as a schoolboy for a Babes In Toyland show to frequently visiting the original Riverside during his teenage years. It’s a collection he’s every intention of adding to, beginning with September’s visit to the Boiler Shop. “It’s snuck up on us a wee bit to be honest, because none of us thought these gigs were likely to go ahead. It wasn’t until July that we realised: ‘Shit! This might actually happen. We’d better rehearse!’”

For punters, the new tour offers a first opportunity to experience fresh classics from March’s As Days Get Dark in the flesh – from morbidly seductive comeback single The Turning Of Our Bones to the pitch black melodicism of Here Comes Comus! and gloriously unsubtle social commentary of Fable Of The Urban Fox. Beyond making a mockery of any fan nerves, it’s a record which ranks among the very finest in a storied catalogue, and as Aidan reveals was conceived with half-an-eye on the coming shows. “Although only Malcolm and I played on the record, we did so knowing that we have a brilliant live band, so we very much had them in mind when we were making it. The band all do their homework – it’s me and Malcolm who’re fumbling around trying to get things to work and generally being a bit useless! We’re also very conscious that these gigs will be the first time a lot of people will have been out for a while, so we don’t really want to do many quiet ones. We’d rather people were just having fun! We’re doing the bulk of the new album, but there’ll be plenty of old songs too, including one or two we didn’t end up playing on reunion tour.”

When we split up, the feeling was that we were done – that we didn’t have anything else to do or say. We always want what we can’t have though, and I think that’s why people became more passionate about it again

For casual observers of a pair once labelled Scotland’s miserabilists-in-chief, this new, more jovial incarnation of Arab Strap may seem like something of a paradox. Certainly, the current mood of anticipation bears sharp contrast to the band’s initial mid-‘00s epilogue, a period Aidan admits felt at the time like closure for all concerned. “I do feel like the timing was on our side this time,” he offers. “When we split up, the feeling was that we were done – that we didn’t have anything else to do or say. We always want what we can’t have though, and I think that’s why people became more passionate about it again. I’m sure we made some new fans over those 10 years too. We were both pleasantly surprised to see how many young people came along to the gigs.”

What’s more, following a wealth of solo and collaborative ventures, this particular reformation represents that rarest of things; a duo reconvening while they’re in their artistic prime, more confident, creative and better equipped than at any stage during their original innings.
“I do think we’re a better band now,” Aidan agrees. “We didn’t really need an Arab Strap reunion. We could’ve quit
e easily continued with our separate careers – it wasn’t like a midlife crisis! The live band’s actually quite close to how we left it, but everybody’s better now at what they do. I know a lot more about programming and recording at home, and I definitely think I’m writing better lyrics than I did back then. You can tell sometimes when I’m singing the old songs that I’m slightly embarrassed by some of the err…primitive language; but at the same time, that’s what made it. I couldn’t possibly have written the way I do now back then, because I just didn’t have the experience.

“If you’d asked what Arab Strap meant to me five years ago I’d have said being young, but now I don’t know!” he concludes, reflecting on the group’s significance in 2021. “Before we made this record, Arab Strap was always about documenting my youth. Meeting my girlfriend, having our children; all of that came after Arab Strap, so it very much was a time capsule for me. I understand that it’s a big thing to some people, but doing the new record never felt difficult at any point. We just saw it as a natural step, did everything instinctively, and I think that’s why it’s worked. There’s a lot more going on, and I hope it’s a wee bit more sophisticated, but I think essentially it still has our character. Perhaps it’s just a way of proving that nothing ever changes and nobody ever learns!”

Arab Strap play the Boiler Shop, Newcastle on Thursday 9th September. As Days Get Dark is out now


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