This article originally appeared in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on November 29, 2013.
The Beatles were wrong. James Grant was right. All you need is love… and money.
In 1986, Grant’s Glasgow soul-pop poets Love and Money issued a debut album entitled All You Need Is… whose title served as a social critique, manifesto, and set-up for a joke with his band as the punchline. It underscored the singer-songwriter’s vision of deadpan romance, cynicism, classic pop, rock‘n’roll, dreams and realism – and launched a band who would go on to tour with Tina Turner, woo Duran Duran, and create a classic Scottish pop album in 1991’s Dogs in the Traffic.
Following a stint in Friends Again with The Bathers’ Chris Thomson in the early 1980s, Grant formed Love and Money in 1985. They split in 1994, but have been reunited since a Celtic Connections performance in 2011. Meantime, Grant has pursued a successful solo career that’s seen him work with folk torchbearers Karen Matheson and Donald Shaw among others. This weekend, he’s the star guest at Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain’s annual St Andrew’s Day bash in Glasgow, where he’ll be accompanied by the RSNO. “It’s very flattering to be asked,” says Grant. “I’ve worked with Phil and Aly in the past, and they’re two of the finest musicians you’ll ever meet, Plus, if things get too lighthearted, I’ll be there in the wings to drag everyone down,” he quips.
Grant has a gorgeous disposition for songs about love with a sting in their tale. They’re variously disorientated (haunted funk-psalm Strange Kind of Love), diffident (the lurking jazz-pop of My Love Lives In A Dead House), lost (burnished-country valediction Looking for Angeline), or abandoned (Glasgow pop landmark Jocelyn Square). Then there’s his romantic meteorology, on 1991’s bright and beautiful Winter: its nagging melancholia embraces chaos and depression (“shine on, shine on, in the beauty of the storm I weather”), and promises hope in the guise of passion (“you could crack the stormy sky with a single burning kiss”). Who would not, could not, fall for such love songs?
And the money? Oh, they had the money. In the 1980s, their label Phonogram invested millions in the band, who infamously racked up debts of almost seven million pounds. (A scenario perhaps referenced in last year’s Love and Money comeback LP, The Devil’s Debt). “The 1980s was the age of excess, and I’m incredibly fortunate have been part of it,” Grant reflects. “There’s a lot talked about money being lavished on us, but it was all on our music and marketing – we were on wages of 150 quid a week,” he says. “Money kind of didn’t matter in those days. We never took it too seriously.”
This attitude was common in 1980s Scottish pop: Lloyd Cole wryly titled an album Mainstream, Deacon Blue did the similar with When The World Knows Your Name, and Love and Money’s funk-strutting debut single, Candybar Express, had tongue firmly lodged in cheek. “When I wrote Candybar Express, I was in the back of the van with Friends Again,” Grant recalls. “I thought, ‘I’ll write a song like Wham’s Young Guns, only it’ll be more cynical’– and so I did. Then one of the guys from Duran Duran heard it [Andy Taylor, who produced the single] and it got out of control,” he says.
But he has no regrets. “I think it’s one of the most sarcastic songs ever written, I’m proud to say. The unfortunate thing is that it wasn’t a worldwide smash, which defeated the purpose to a point, and made it a bit of an albatross around my neck. I suppose I’ve been anxious to prove I’m a bit more than a haircut ever since.” It bears noting that in 2002, Grant released an LP called I Shot the Albatross, whose measured fusion of music with poetry (MacCaig, Blake, Rimbaud) was at odds with the pop excess of their debut single.
There’s a lovely continuity than runs through Grant’s canon: perhaps the letter in 1991’s Looking For Angeline is the long-awaited reply from 1988’s Jocelyn Square; and there are dreams all over the shop, from the sage counsel of 1998’s great pop hope, Hallelujah Man (“dreams don’t become their people; people become their dreams”) to the perpetual reverie of 1991’s Winter (“I wish this dream would end”). It renders Grant’s body of work familiar and coherent, despite its varied musical styles, which veer from funk to folk via country. The other constant is his luxuriant baritone. “Oh, I hated my voice until quite recently,” he counters. “I have to say, I’m really comfortable with it now, but it’s taken me a long time to get here. I’ve forgiven myself for my voice, if you like.”
He continues: “I suppose part of it is that I was firmly enrolled in the Blue Nile school of music for a long time, in the sense that everything had to be perfect and every note had to have meaning. And I think that’s a good school, but when I started working with Karen [Matheson] and Donald [Shaw] it opened my mind to a more natural approach. Making music with them just didn’t seem to be a problem,” he offers.
“So, now, when I do things – Love and Money, or this Phil and Aly thing, or even if I do something with Friends Again – if it’s fun, then I’m up for it,” he says. “That’s where I am these days.”
There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.
RSNO St Andrew’s Party with Phil and Aly, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, November 30, 7.30pm. James Grant also plays Aberdeen Lemon Tree on December 8, and Glasgow Tron Theatre (Celtic Connections) on January 23 and 24, 2014.
Jazzateers interview w/ Love and Money’s Douglas MacIntyre (The Herald, June 2013)
Lloyd Cole interview (The Herald, June 2013)
Deacon Blue interview (The Herald, September 2012)