THEIR biggest hit is an ode to their parents and 40 years later The Bluebells are still finding inspiration for songs at the heart of their home.

“My wee boy, Rueben, is 12 and had to write an essay about what his dad does,” says Bobby Bluebell, who wrote Young At Heart, the evergreen anthem that scored the Glasgow band a number one.

“I told him I was a musician. And he said: ‘No, dad, what’s your job. I can’t write that down.’ He asked me what my dad did and I told him my daddy was an engineer. As soon as I said it I could almost hear the song in my head.”

It is fitting, then, that this golden thread moment, the song Daddy Was An Engineer, opens The Bluebells’ first album in 40 years, tethering the generations together, decades apart.

The writer of that bittersweet poem to his parents, which paints an elegiac picture of young working class love in 1950s Glasgow from the next-gen perspective, didn’t go by the would-be comic-book character’s moniker that has followed him for 40 years in 
those days. When his tea was on the table, he was plain Robert Hodgens, who’d go on to start a fanzine and form a band with pals he made in Glasgow’s record shops and bars in the early 1980s. One of them was Ken McCluskey. 

The pair are on ebullient form when they meet with The Herald in Oran Mor in Glasgow’s west end to discuss their return to recording after a lifetime. They share reminiscences of driving to London in a mini to play The Old Grey Whistle Test, larking around in kilts on Top of The Pops, rubbing shoulders with Weller, Dexys and Psychedelic Furs, travelling the world with their songs, even appearing on Saturday Superstore and Tiswas, where they were honoured, naturally, to have been spat at by Spit The Dog.

With the backing of the city’s successful indie record label Last Night From Glasgow (LNFG), the band have just released In The 21st Century, only their second album and will launch it with a gig at St Luke’s this week. McCluskey, his brother and bandmate David, and Hodgens performed a handful of songs from the new LP at Dundee’s Caird Hall last month, at a fundraiser gig with Kathryn Joseph, Gary Clark and Deacon Blue for musician Keith Matheson whose arm was almost severed in an industrial accident. 

“We’ve a new album out, our second in 40 years,” quipped McCluskey, the band’s lead singer on the night. “We’re less prolific than The Blue Nile.” 
It’s a proud boast. Despite their lack of output, their popularity has endured. Their cameo in the penultimate episode of Still Game, performing at Winston’s wedding in the People’s Palace, was among the series’ best, and they’d become a fixture on the Rewind Festival circuit. It was those bookings, and the well-received re-issue of their debut LP Sisters by LNFG, which laid the foundations for In the 21st Century.

“It’s your mum in a cowboy hat,” says McCluskey of the nostalgia circuit gigs. “It’s fine. People are having a great time. But once you’ve done a couple it feels like the circus. You’re off just when you’re getting into it, travelling miles to do four songs. 
“We got well paid for it, but we were beginning to feel it might be better to do things on our own. We eventually thought we could do better than this.” Hodgens adds: “We were all sitting around a table with Captain Sensible and Richard Jobson at a Rewind in Dalkeith and we were all saying the same thing. They’ve brought their own records out since, too.”

The Herald:

The new album sounds pleasingly like The Bluebells, the easy jangle and earnest sentiment of their heyday remains. In the years since, Hodgens has become a DJ, writer and producer, most notably with credits on big-hitting albums by fellow long-lived Weegie band Texas. McCluskey – who writes and records as The McCluskey Brothers with sibling David – teaches music at Glasgow Kelvin College.

The band wrote four songs each for the new album, which they produced themselves. 
“I’m astonished at how well they fit together,” says Hodgens. “They’re brothers, which is a fantastic thing for me to hear singing wise –  those harmonies. But we’ve been friends for 40 years; it’s cohesive because we’re cohesive. And not just because we wrote the songs together.”

They say your friends – perhaps even your band – are the family you choose. Whatever your definition of family, it’s been at the heart of what The Bluebells are about for decades. Hodgens refers affectionately to days spent in the McCluskey family home in Bothwell as a much younger man, where music was at the heart of many gatherings.
“Their household was so creative. My dad was always on nightshift, and we’d have singing at Christmas or New Year. My song was Batchelor Boy, and my dad’s was Walk Tall, but it was constant in their house,” he says.

The McCluskey Brothers were the youngest two of five, the first three having been sent for private music tuition, but never taking it further. “We picked up their chord sheets and learned that way, and watching Top of the Pops,” says McCluskey. “In our house, if you could play a song you got to stay up later.” Both men are in their 60s and are fathers to teenage children (they couldn’t know the title of their biggest hit would be so prescient in their own later lives) and it’s a role referenced in the album’s standout, McCluskey’s winsome Stonehouse Violets.

“My 18-year-old son, Eugene, plays for St Roch’s Juniors under-21 development squad,” he says.

“A lot of the time you’re driving to places and you have to be there an hour or two before the game, hanging around places you’ve never been before: Lochee, Kirkintilloch, Beith, Kilbirnie. But these football parks have been a revelation. I love all the badges, the iconography, the honky tonk-ness of the whole thing. 
“I thought it would be nice to write a love song about it.”

McCluskey points to the list of junior teams like Bonnyrigg Rose, Dundonald Bluebell and Linlithgow Rose and the appeal, to a songwriter, of the juxtaposition of hard-hewn working lives and natural beauty

“I always liked that contrast,” he says. “One theory is that these miners were working down black holes and when they got up their hobbies were making something beautiful.”
The song references a flashbulb moment of beauty amid adversity from his childhood.
“I was in Stonehouse Hospital with a smashed knee,” he says. “I was there for a few months, and one day Miss World, Belinda Green, came in and gave me a kiss. It was amazing. It was on my tenth birthday.”

Four decades is a long time to wait but The Bluebells are telling tales again, each a lifetime in the making. “That’s why we called the album In The 21st Century,” said Hodgens. “For the first time since Young at Heart we’re writing lyrics that are about the things in our lives now. We’re intuitively on the same page.”

The Bluebells album In The 21st Century is out now. The band play St Luke’s with support from John Douglas of Trashcan Sinatras on June 4.  
They also play at Belladrum on July 27-29.