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Candid Camera: Roddy Frame opens up on new album Seven Dials

There is a line in White Pony, the opening track on Roddy Frame's fine new album, which says a mouthful.

Roddy Frame says he has written some of his best music after totally giving up using drugs and alcohol
Roddy Frame says he has written some of his best music after totally giving up using drugs and alcohol

It goes like this: "Sometimes you've got to stop and look around."

A simple sentiment, perhaps, but Frame appears to have taken it to heart. Seven Dials is his first album for eight years, and only his fourth since he shrugged off the Aztec Camera "brand" in the late 1990s. Sitting in a sun-streaked cafe near his West London flat, he certainly doesn't give the impression of a man in hurry. He picks at his fancy French toast, charms the waitresses and laughs a lot, all the while exuding a kind of Zen acceptance of tempus fugit.

"I think waiting has been good," he muses at one point. "It's hard to explain what I've been doing with my time, but who cares. I've never been about writing to a schedule and feeding the machine, because making music's not really about quantity, is it?"

The Postcard prodigy who wrote We Could Send Letters at 15 and became, by his own admission, "a very jaded 19-year-old" turned 50 earlier this year. He looks good on it. Pop-star lean, with skinny jeans, black leather jacket and a lively head of hair, swept up and greying only slightly, Frame is a fine advert for the benefits of an extended sabbatical.

Of course, he hasn't been entirely idle in the gap between 2006's Western Skies and this year's Seven Dials. A self-avowed perfectionist, when not exploring Europe with his girlfriend or "staring out the window", Frame laboured obsessively over these 10 songs. The album took almost as long to mix as it did to record, and he's still fretting about an out-of-tune vocal in On The Waves (I've tried, I really have, but I still can't hear it).

He also toured and recorded with Edwyn Collins, watching with astonishment as his friend of 35 years recovered from the aneurysm which almost killed him in 2005. "That's been amazing," he says. "We went for a walk when Edwyn first started leaving the house with his stick, and he said something about doing a gig. I sort of laughed - 'Well, hey, let's not rush things', trying to be kind - but two years later we were on stage. It was incredible. The first show was so emotional, and by the end of that little tour Edwyn was a couple of inches taller. To see the way he has recovered has been so inspiring."

Seven Dials was recorded at Collins's London studio and is being released on his label, AED Records. It adds an extra layer to a relationship which dates back to the days when Aztec Camera, Orange Juice and Postcard Records boss Alan Horne sat in the Equi Cafe in Sauchiehall Street, plotting global domination over their knickerbocker glories. Frame has spent quite a bit of time recently revisiting that period. At the end of last year he broke off from recording to play an emotional show at Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall, part of a short tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of Aztec Camera's classic debut, High Land, Hard Rain.

"Those gigs were like a dream," he says. "It all happened in quite a short space of time. The difficult bit was learning those early songs because they are so complicated, they really hurt your hands. I was cursing my 15- and 16-year-old self when I was trying to play Green Jacket Grey on that big Gibson guitar, but the gigs themselves far exceeded my expectations. People were so into it and it sounded great, man. It sounded like the record to me. The vibe was amazing."

Frame has always seemed an unlikely candidate for this kind of trip down memory lane. He may favour a more orthodox form of pop craftsmanship these days, but with Aztec Camera he indulged a decidedly forward-facing contrarian streak. He outraged indier-than-thou sensibilities by working with Mark Knopfler on their second album, Knife - "by the time we were being written about as being jangly, I'd jangled enough," he deadpans - while his biggest hit, Somewhere In My Heart, was a slick pop-soul confection which employed the cream of US session musicians. Visiting the David Bowie Is exhibition at the V&A last year, he was struck by his lack of sentimentality regarding his own past. "My philosophy has always been: destroy everything and move on. Immediately. I don't want to leave a trace."

He seems to have undergone a partial change of heart. "Believe me, those High Land, Hard Rain gigs were all about nostalgia, and it was lovely," he smiles. In future, he envisages taking a more active role in Aztec Camera's back catalogue. "Knowing me, it will take ages, but I think we could curate a really nice box-set. There's loads of amazing, weird stuff knocking about. I don't even mind all the dodgy pictures. You get to an age where you just accept it. I was cynical when I was younger, but as you get older it's all about connecting in a much more human way. What I feel more than anything now is a real sense of being less grudgeful and resentful about the past. I don't want to settle any scores."

He can still be waspish, though. I mention Simon Goddard's recent book on Postcard Records and he rolls his eyes and mutters dismissively. Morrissey's autobiography attracts even greater disdain. "I mean, was there an editor?"

Born in East Kilbride but resident in London for the past 30 years, Frame admits to feeling detached when it comes to the affairs of his homeland, specifically the forthcoming referendum. "I go back now and again but I don't have a huge opinion on the politics of it," he says. "My view is probably coloured by what I experienced when I was growing up in the 1970s. Labour were the good guys, the Tories were the bad guys, and the SNP were these odd, fringy types whose idea of Scotland didn't appeal to me. It was the kind of Scotland that Postcard Records made fun of, tartan and shortbread tins. My world in East Kilbride wasn't about any of that. My Scotland was T Rex, double nougats and Starsky & Hutch.

"I know independence is about different things now, more about society and the economy, but I'm wary of national pride. It's a short step to saying other people aren't quite as good as you. I'm for anything positive and radical, but instinctively I'm also a pulling-together rather than a breaking-apart kind of person."

Life is good but it isn't all sunny side up. The deceptively jaunty Forty Days Of Rain was written when Frame "was heartbroken and very disillusioned", while the fact that he jokes about the new record being "very sad and tortured" doesn't stop it being partly true. There are clear hints of emotional turbulence lurking beneath his chipper exterior, although the days of hardened rock 'n' roll excess are long over. He might fondly recall "running up and down the streets of Greenwich Village having these mad experiences," but he hasn't touched drugs or alcohol for many years.

"I managed to knock it all on the head totally, thank God," he says. "I'm a total addict, it goes through me like a stick of rock, and after a few drinks I was a different guy. The saddest part of it all was that I thought all the music and inspiration and words were in the bottle, and when I put the cork back in I had nothing. It's a total myth, because I definitely think I've written some of my best stuff since I stopped."

It's hard to argue. Alongside Surf, his masterful acoustic album from 2002, Seven Dials is comfortably one of the best records of Frame's career. He's clearly delighted that the early critical buzz has been hugely positive. "I used to say it didn't matter to me what people think, but you know what? It does matter," he says. "There's a lot of joy and emotion in this record, and I want it to touch people."

He takes a sip of tea and stares out of the window with the air of a man practised in the art of killing time. "It took me so long to get around to making this one, who knows if I'll ever make another?"

Seven Dials is out now on AED Records. Roddy Frame plays Aberdeen Music Hall on December 1 and Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on December 2.

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