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Songwriter facing pleasures and pitfalls of travel in time

If every cloud has a silver lining, Saint Jack - The Nectarine No9's 1995 masterwork - is a cumulonimbus, a harbinger of turbulence, terror and tumult.

BACK TO THE FUTURE: Davy Henderson will join fellow Nectarines to perform Saint Jack tomorrow as part of the East End Social programme of events for the Glasgow Games. Picture: Mark Mainz
BACK TO THE FUTURE: Davy Henderson will join fellow Nectarines to perform Saint Jack tomorrow as part of the East End Social programme of events for the Glasgow Games. Picture: Mark Mainz

And, according to its chief architect Davy Henderson, no little hope.

Tomorrow the former Fire Engines and Win frontman - currently ringmaster of a group whose moniker he owes to a quip he made to a journalist ("I thought: 'I want to be in a band called The Sexual Objects. What a great idea!' And I'm still laughing") - will join his fellow Nectarines for a one-night-only run through a record that sucked darker air and rocked harder than any of the four studio albums that bookended it, among them the debut A Sea With Three Stars, which, like Saint Jack, was one of the final Postcard releases before the label's pilot, Alan Horne, retreated from pop altogether.

Having agreed to perform the show ("I said yes right away; I don't like to turn things down and I still feel attached to Saint Jack"), Henderson, 53, was faced with the pitfalls and pleasures of revisiting songs he wrote - or made up, as he prefers to call it - in his early thirties.

"I thought: 'Oh God, it's really dark.' It's lyrically the most autobiographical thing I've ever done," he says, spooning cappucino froth into his mouth. "It's odd going back, even just to a pop song you've written, but that's the power of pop songs - you make them up and they stir things in you, especially if they're explicit, specifically talking about my parents dying. Unloaded For You is about that and it's kind of throwaway as well - 'How can you actually say this?'"

At the outset of the song in question Henderson, over a solitary VU-flavoured guitar, almost whispers the line: "You can't fall back cos your daddy's dead/For 10 years now so is your mother." Moments later he's thundering it out over a crooked rock chug, each beat like a punch to the gut.

"I remember for my 32nd birthday I was lying in a bath on my own," he says, impishly stressing the last three words while raising his eyebrows, "and I started writing or making up Un-loaded For You, and that was my present to myself." A sly smile spreads across his face. "I didn't finish it."

The direction the songs Henderson was "making up" at the time was, he says, particularly affected by the country and roots-dominated inquiries of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Gram Parsons as the sixties segued into the seventies, with an emphasis on drawing from his own life and avoiding ambiguity, "trying not to obfuscate". In his eighties arch-pop group Win, he recalls, he would sing about love but "it would never be joyous, it would always have to have more than one dimension".

Saint Jack, Henderson decided, would go the opposite way, and while reappraising the album was initially taxing there was a major pay-off.

"I thought: 'It's making me a bit sick,'" he says, "but once I started listening to it I thought: 'It's not.' It's full of silver linings, which I can't stop doing. Lots of writers do it." The album has a happy ending? "Absolutely, everything's got to have one."

He hopes this refutes the prevailing view in the music press at the time of the album's release that Saint Jack was an exercise in purging bitterness after the commercial failures of Win. "That's absolute nonsense," he says, suggesting Horne's "esoteric" press release might have played a part.

Henderson clearly recalls the recording sessions with producer Kenny Macdonald at Park Lane in Glasgow, where the band decamped from their base in Nottingham.

Their number swelled when the veteran punk poet Jock Scot fled London to join them, contributing one of Saint Jack's most memorable tracks, the bilious Just Another F*****-up Little Druggy On The Scene. "Park Lane is not a residential studio by any stretch of the imagination but we made it into one. We stayed for three and a half to four weeks. Kenny Macdonald was brilliant and let us take over. 'Whose turn is it to sleep on the pool table tonight?' And we had Jock coming up and taking up a corner or crawling inside the bass drum a couple of nights."

They were working hard, then? "Totally full on," he says, "but that's what we used to do all the time. Every single moment of the day I was making up songs, or listening to them, or what Francis Bacon calls scanning - which these days people call research - or sitting in a pub thinking about them. There was lots of alcohol involved."

The sum total of the scuzzily sparkling performances, Loki-esque presence of Scot and surface preoccupations of Saint Jack created the impression The Nectarine No9 dwelled in the gutter, a far cry from the life Henderson now leads in Dunbar with his partner and their two children. "Really?" he replies, flattered. "Let's keep that impression up. Maybe that's how my mind operates."

For now, he keeps his hand in music as and when he can. As for Saint Jack? "It's not all as dark as I Imagined it to be," he says, "but looking back it has a pensive lustre." Must be those silver linings.

The Nectarine No9 perform Saint Jack tomorrow at Rutherglen Town Hall, as part of the East End Social programme of events for the Commonwealth Games 2014. Doors 8pm

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