AN archive clip of The Kevin McDermott Orchestra performing the title track of their debut album on a late night TV arts show still packs a punch. The first time I saw the Glasgow band, on Halfway To Paradise on Channel 4 in 1989, it made such an impact that I wanted to find out more.
But tracking down the singer was like the plot of a John Le Carre espionage novel. I was instructed by a go-between to phone The Halt Bar in Glasgow and leave a message only with a named staff member.
My request would be forwarded to an intermediary, and then passed to McDermott. As it turned out, this fail-safe system proved highly efficient. McDermott contacted me within a week, and there began an enduring friendship.
“It was pre-mobile phones, and it wasn’t because I was trying to avoid anybody … far from it,” he revealed. “It was literally the only way you’d find me. The Halt Bar was like the womb for me, both creatively and recreationally.
“I’d cash my wages cheque in the local bank, then head straight to the bar. It was betwixt and between, not quite the city centre and just on the fringe of the west end. The place had this little cloak of invisibility about it. It was the perfect location.”
Lines of communication to McDermott are now more direct. I got him on the phone last week to reminisce, re-evaluate and – most importantly – enthuse about the album, which kickstarted his career.
McDermott cut his teeth as a musician with local acts Popgun and The Suede Crocodiles, who released a single, Stop The Rain, on indie label No Strings in 1983. Three years later, he appeared on TV rock show The Tube to promote his solo EP, Suffocation Blues.
I remember seeing this cocksure, gum-chewing singer and thinking … he looks wired to the moon.
McDermott was interviewed by Paula Yates, and his performance of Independence Day is available on YouTube. One fan has helpfully posted subtitles on the clip, saying: “Arrogant wee s**** … or a mixture of red wine and nerves? Song speed 90mph.”
McDermott recalled: “That appearance was showbiz, rock ‘n’ roll, with a little bit of smoke and mirrors. I invented a yarn that three copies of Suffocation Blues had been pressed with one side deliberately left blank.
“I said I was prepared to visit the people who bought these special copies – one of whom was in America – to play the missing tracks in their home. It was complete nonsense. I made it up. But the story did the rounds, and The Tube took the bait.
“I was youthful, enthusiastic and a little bit spiky. I was also nervous, and it came across as though I was being a wee bit bolshie. But at the time, appearing on The Tube was a big deal. So, I was proud of myself for actually getting there in the first place.”
Mother Nature’s Kitchen was recorded at Park Lane Studios in Glasgow and released on Island Records. McDermott was in very good hands when he signed the deal, for the label had introduced U2, Bob Marley, Roxy Music, Free and Grace Jones to a global audience.
“My demo featured only two songs, Wheels Of Wonder and Angel,” he said. 
“I had no manager, no agent and no promoter. Nothing.
“I touted the tape around major labels and got it to Dave Hill at Island.
“He was a former manager of The Pretenders and I was a huge fan of the band – and, in particular, their guitar player Robbie McIntosh. I’d been watching them on TV, thinking ‘I want that guy to play on my album.’
“As fate would have it, Robbie had just left the group. So Dave put us together. It was one of those rare occasions where 2 + 2 really did make 4.”
Within weeks, they were holed up in Glasgow laying the foundations for Mother Nature’s Kitchen.
“My brother Jim was on drums, with Steph Greer on bass, so it was a pretty tight unit,” said McDermott. “Robbie is a signature guitar player. I wanted that sound on my record.”
The origins of the album were borne in the most unlikely of circumstances. McDermott also worked as an apprentice draftsman in Yarrow shipbuilders in Glasgow. Many of the songs were written in his early 20s, and on company time.
He told me: “Yarrow’s was on the banks of the Clyde, so there are a lot of seafaring or maritime references in the songs such as Slow Boat To Something Better and Statue To A Stone. That comes from the fact I was scribbling ideas in the drawing office.”
The band locked themselves away in a rehearsal room in Yorkhill Quay to prepare for their first trip to the studio.
“It was a tiny little space called The S***house, which was very well named because it was a converted toilet on the dockside,” he recalled.
“Before Robbie came to Park Lane to begin recording, all his guitars arrived first. I’d never seen so many guitars outside of McCormack’s, the music shop in Glasgow.
“We had no producer, so the whole session was pretty much like a gang hut mentality. Everybody brought their creativity, sensitivities, sensibilities, and their humour. From the get-go, the talent was in the room. We just shared the experience. There was nobody to tell us the right way or the wrong way to do things. This was pre-samples, so anything you hear is really just off-the-cuff playing. We knew how we wanted the record to sound.”
They worked on a collection of tracks including Wheels Of Wonder, Healing At The Harbour and What Comes To Pass with engineer, Kenny MacDonald. “Robbie didn’t stay in a hotel. He lived with me in my room and kitchen flat in Maryhill for the duration,” McDermott recalled, laughing. “My phone was ringing off the hook for him. After one call, Robbie said ‘That was Pete Townshend. He wants me to join The Who’. My nose was right out of joint. I’m thinking you’re gonna chuck my band for The Who.
“But Robbie said ‘I’ve told him I can’t – ‘cause I’ve already said yes to Paul McCartney’. So Robbie did the dirty on us. He went off to join The Beatles.”
Guitarist Marco Rossi from Greenock was later drafted in, on McIntosh’s recommendation. The sessions could not have run much smoother. “I thought I had a good body of work to make a record, and that’s not me being conceited or arrogant,” said McDermott.
“I write continually. I always have a notebook handy. People say the strangest things, or thoughts just occur to you. The trick is to remember them. It’s like waking up from a dream. You’ve got to write them down immediately, or it’s gone. I still have the notebooks for the album to this day.
“Of course, my handwriting, grammar and attitude is now very different. But what speaks to me is the process of ink on paper. You can underline things. Asterisk things. Or draw attention to important words. So these are journals to me, as well as being points of reference to who I was, aged 25.”
The group benefited from a total lack of pressure from Island, who were confident they would produce the goods.
McDermott said: “Nobody at Island was asking us to be the next this or the next that. We were given a blank canvas. So fair play to them for letting us do that. We didn’t even have an A&R man or a producer.
“I had no pretentions to be anybody except Kevin McDermott. And that’s not an arrogance thing. When we produced the goods, I don’t think Island could believe their luck. The top guys came up to Park Lane, we sat them down and ran the tapes. The looks from them said we had delivered.
“I’m proud of the records I made previously. But Mother Nature’s Kitchen is my debut album simply because it’s guitar, bass and drums. We entertained ourselves in the studio and that feeling transferred itself on to tape.
“I only arrived at that sound because I was in the room with the right musicians at the right time.”

The Billy Sloan Show is on BBC Radio Scotland every Saturday at 10pm.


'We lived in the now'

MOTHER Nature’s Kitchen transported Kevin McDermott around the world, and he shared the spotlight with some of his musical peers. 

The band opened for Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker and Status Quo at Celtic Park and Wembley Stadium in 1991. 

They played with Simple Minds, Sting, The Alarm and Melissa Etheridge. The album also took them across the Atlantic. 

“I’d spent time busking in the States. So to go back there on a proper tour bus, and be living in decent hotels, felt so much better,” McDermott said. 

“To crack America, whatever that means, you have to be seen to actually be in America.  Sometimes there was not a lot of glamour involved. But just the fact that songs I’d written in Yarrow’s had taken me around the world was enough. We lived in the moment every single day. I loved it.” 

The group shot a video for Where We Were Meant To Be in a crumbling mansion in Laurel Canyon – the former home of legendary escapologist Harry Houdini. 

“The house has since been renovated and it’s become a bit of a tourist attraction, but back then it was absolutely dilapidated and falling to bits,” he recalled. 

“The Red Hot Chili Peppers booked the place right after us and set up a studio to record their album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik.  But they were spooked, big time. It was a very creepy place.” 

Two years ago – to mark the 30th anniversary of Mother Nature’s Kitchen – the band performed the album with a three-night residency at The Admiral Bar. 

“I’m not really big on hanging my jacket on anniversaries,” he said.   

“It’s disrespectful in a way. I don’t need it as a marketing device to sell a T-shirt or a hoodie. But I would still play it for people who bought it, and have supported me in all my other ventures over the years. 

“Cliched as it sounds, I believe when you put a record into the public domain, it no longer belongs to you. I knew exactly what I was doing when we made it. It validated my instincts then and it still validates my instincts now. 

“Mother Nature’s Kitchen belongs to anybody who’s invested in it for their own reasons. I like to be presented with the prism of somebody else’s experiences.”