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Illegal single a sign that Embrace have returned

When a band is told that its first single in eight years is illegal, it clearly hasn't lost any clout.

reunited: Embrace's latest single Refugees is their first in eight years.
reunited: Embrace's latest single Refugees is their first in eight years.

Such was the case when Refugees, the new single from Embrace, reached the ears of the authority that decides what's suitable for radio play. Refugees was judged "too dynamic" and therefore illegal. Cue a hasty downward adjustment of decibels.

"Yeah, it was just too dynamic, man," says guitarist and songwriter Rick McNamara, not altogether seriously. "I pictured having bobbies at the door to arrest me, but it never happened."

As an illustration of how time has passed since the last release by the Yorkshire five-piece, McNamara says he knew he was on the right track with Refugees when his daughter heard him mixing it and said it was "awesome". When the band last released a record, she had barely started school.

"We never planned such a long break," he says. "We had been working absolutely solidly for six years with a week off here and there, but it was more that we had been eaten up by the industry machine. It was pulling us in different directions.

"The album Nature's Law was only about a third done when the company heard a hit, so forced a rush release. The company wanted us to get records out in the current tax year - loads of considerations that had nothing to do with the music."

McNamara admits that the band didn't do themselves any favours in the early years, refusing to do Top Of The Pops unless they could record the playback in Abbey Road with a full string section.

"It was crazy. We had a culture of saying no to stuff. And then we got dropped from Virgin - and after that we started saying yes."

Yes worked, and Embrace had three Number One albums, six Top 10 singles, with Nature's Law reaching Number Two. So 2.5 million record sales later and after arena shows and festival appearances, they were approached to write and record the England World Cup Song for 2006. World At Your Feet was another Top Three hit, but in hindsight... "Doing that is a bit of a regret for me. Also, the extra pressure was definitely pulling us apart, so we decided to take a couple of months off to see how we felt. And it felt really good."

With a studio in his home in Halifax, McNamara started working with young bands, producing and co-writing. It initially felt fresh, like the early days of Embrace, but there were frustrations at their lack of grit. "They would do one album, then either fall out or realise there wasn't enough money in what they were doing, so split up. For me, I had put so much into it, so I started to write for myself again."

When he had around a dozen new songs he played them for his brother Danny, the band's vocalist, and with a positive reaction knew it was time to get the band back together.

The original line-up of the McNamara brothers, along with bass player Steve Firth, keyboard player Mickey Dale, and drummer Mike Heaton had all had separate musical projects during the hiatus.

"When we got together, it was great. We worked through the ideas at my place, getting the sound and some rules down for what we would and wouldn't do. I think we have more focus - the sharpness is back."

Recording at his home studio ("it's not rocket science whatever people say, it's just turning on the recorder and playing..."), they were able to develop the impressive sonic breadth evident on Refugees and across the EP. "Being at home has been great in another way. My kids are 13 and 10 now. If I'd been in Embrace I would have missed all their junior school years."

The Scottish shows are the first after two secret gigs in Bradford and Halifax last year. So secret, they played in complete darkness.

"It was difficult. We had to rehearse in pitch black rooms too. At first we looked at night vision goggles but they were £600 a pair and I couldn't see the guitar anyway. The gigs were meant to be something different, but once someone cheered, the rest joined in and the place just erupted.

"That's one of the reasons we're doing the first gigs in Scotland. You don't get any chin-strokers, it's just people who want to enjoy themselves. At T in the Park my amp blew up and nobody knew because the crowd were singing so loudly. We know the crowds will be kind to us."

Embrace play Fat Sams in Dundee on Thursday, February 13; The Lemon Tree in Aberdeen on Friday 14; The Loft in Forres on Saturday 15; and Ironworks in Inverness on Sunday 16. The Refugees EP is out February 17 and a new album, Embrace, is released on April 28.

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