After five albums, including the award-winning The Great Eastern, The Delgados split up 17 years ago … Now, just as surprised as their many fans by an unexpected reunion, they’re looking forward to playing live again.

THE internet might have been part of the reason why The Delgados split up.  Seventeen years later, it’s essential in their plans to get back together again.

“We’ve been looking at old videos on YouTube to try to figure out how to play the songs,” says Emma Pollock, lead singer of the much-loved Glasgow indie rockers, not even half joking.

“We’ve been rehearsing for a few months now. But we need to get those songs under our fingers again. That’s where they are.”

The Delgados released five albums between 1996 and 2004, saw their LP The Great Eastern nominated for the Mercury Prize, and straddled the seam between analogue and streaming in the industry. The growth of the latter – both illegal and eventually legal – played a key part in their disbanding. Making a buck in a world where content is all but free became a bigger ask than when they built a popular head of steam in the mid-1990s.

The Lanarkshire band split in 2005, with Pollock making three solo records in the years since.

Last month, they finally went public with the secret they had harboured since 2019 – their first UK tour since 2005, culminating in a Barrowland homecoming in Glasgow next January.

HeraldScotland:

Plans were hatched after the four members of the band – Alun Woodward, Stewart Henderson, and Pollock’s husband Paul Savage – were thrown together to travel to Mogwai singer and guitarist Stuart Braithwaite’s wedding shortly before the pandemic.

“It had been mentioned in the past and we’d always chuckle and move on,” she said. “But we shared a car up to Stuart’s wedding and afterwards Alun suggested getting the band back together. It was a real surprise.”

Weeks later, the four Delgados were in The Titwood Bar in Glasgow’s southside, plotting a return that would have happened in 2020 had Covid not gone on tour first.

For Pollock, getting the band back together involves parallel processes: as solo artist, and, now, singer in the band whose demise spawned a career where it was her name on the line-up, ticket and album spine.

She said: “It was exciting, but it was also weird, wondering how we might all get on. It was lovely to think we were a band again, but I thought I need to learn how to compromise again, and be part of a group. You can’t always bagsy the front seat.”

Pollock speaks openly about the tensions that played a part in The Delgados’ demise in 2005.

The four formed their own record label, Chemikal Underground, in the mid-1990s, which went on to become one of the most important independent labels in modern Scottish music history and with it the equally storied studio, Chem 19, run by Savage. 

That both remain going concerns 20-odd years later tells some of the story.

“It was a difficult thing to be in at the end, running a record company, studio and the band,” said Pollock. “We all needed to be away from each other for a while, all those things piled on top of each other. Be careful what you wish for, because sometimes if you want to jump into all these things as a younger person, and your record company grows, it becomes a huge maintenance project.

“The band was such a huge personal relationship for all four of us, and was quite intense. At points we didn’t always see eye to eye.

“It was time to give ourselves a break, and we all wholeheartedly thought we were splitting up. We all didn’t want to be in the same room as each other. It was like family, like siblings. Nothing needed to be said, but we all had different things we might expect of each other, or be aggrieved about.”

For Pollock and Savage, the additional dynamic of being a married couple brought its own delicate considerations.

“That’s been a positive and a negative. One one hand, we had the ability to talk things over at home, when Alan and Stewart might not necessarily have had the chance to do that with their partners in the same way.

“But it’s difficult to be in a band with a partner if you have a domestic moment in the rehearsal room. The rest of the band don’t always know at what point it’s a domestic and what point it’s a band argument they can get involved in.”

While each of the four have retained an involvement in the running of the label, the  years away have seen them diversify. Savage is a producer and engineer with credits on records by the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Deacon Blue and Calvin Harris, Henderson joined the fire service, and Woodward is an archaeologist.

Pollock has recorded a fourth solo album, her first since 2016’s In Search of Harperfield, which has been delayed by the global backlog in vinyl pressing.

She said: “We would like to be writing again, but one step at a time. We’ll take the live stuff, get into it and see how it feels again. But this isn’t a temporary thing. We’re not just coming back to play five shows. That would be terribly frustrating for everyone. And it would be difficult to walk away from.”

The live shows will be a return to the band’s trademark live recipe of gossamer and thunder.

“Something that was tough and strong and loud and bustling, and something that was beautiful and angelic. Bringing that together was always a joyous thing and I’m a little overwhelmed at the prospect of going back to that,” said Pollock.

Meantime, her solo pursuits continue. There were collaborations with Paul McGeechan’s Starless project at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall last month, as well as an appearance as part of the feminist Henhoose collective at Glasgow’s Dandelion Festival and role in the curiosity that is the Album Club (a book club for album fans), held sporadically at Glasgow’s Laurieston Bar and giving rise to an unlikely album featuring, among others, artist Douglas Maxwell.

But she never crosses her streams.

“I’ve never sung a Delagdos song as part of a solo set. How can I build a credible solo career if I’m going to reply on the past like that. It’s not good enough. I can’t have people standing there shouting ‘Accused of Stealing’ when I’m trying to promote new songs.”

She will perform with cellist Pete Harvey when she appears at Summer Nights at the Kelvingrove Bandstand with Billy Bragg in July, and also at Jupiter Rising, at Jupiter Artland in West Lothian.

It’s all part of what keeps her moving through an industry that has been challenged by everything from streaming to a pandemic. Pollock recalls documentary maker Niall McCann’s film Lost in France, a coming of age retrospective featuring The Delgados, Mogwai and Franz Ferdinand in all their 1990s naivety on a tour to France.

“I have memories of that, of being on a bus, leaving Glasgow to go to France,” she said. “Being able to travel from your country just because you play music, something you never thought would be possible. Travel, communication, meeting other people.  All because of songs. I still feel it now.”

 

The Delagdos play Brighton, London, Manchester, Sheffield and Glasgow Barrowlands from January 20-25, 2023. Emma Pollock will perform at Summer Sessions on July 28 at Kelvingrove Bandstand and Jupiter Rising, West Lothian, on August 26. Album Club, on which Emma and Paul Savage feature, is out now on Last Night From Glasgow records.