This article appeared in the Sunday Herald
I’ve just stepped off the train into Dundee’s lunchtime smirr, and the first guy I’ve asked for directions to the Doghouse, the bar where I’m due to meet The View, the city’s most successful recording artists since the Average White Band, is telling me a story about someone he knows who had to stop on the M90 and phone for an ambulance after the stitches from a recent vasectomy burst open. I thank him for his help and head on, reflecting that his bizarre, scabrous tale would not be out of place in one of The View’s songs.
Dundee, so we’re told, is all abuzz with new-found vibrancy and confidence. Its booming creative, cultural and biotech sectors ensure that it is one of the first cities mentioned in dispatches on regeneration; and like other regenerated cities – Manchester, Bristol, Glasgow – it now boasts a music scene that is the envy of other more boring places. Of course, the irony is that much of the best music in these towns tends to come from their unregenerated underbellies, and so it is with Dundee. For Oasis and Burnage, read The View and Lochee, for it’s this particular neighbourhood we have to thank for producing one of the UK’s most interesting guitar bands of recent years.
I’ve met The View before, in early 2007, just after their debut, Hats Off To The Buskers, had gone straight to No 1 in the album charts. They were on that year’s NME Tour, shockingly young, even shorter than I’d imagined and clearly determined to enjoy as much free booze as they could snaffle, lest perhaps someone came and took it away.
Two years on and with their second album about to come out, what has changed? The new record is more reflective and more rounded than its predecessor, and departs from the punky, anthemic indie script with string arrangements, bluesy strains and even a hint of Two Tone colouring the mix. In other words, it doesn’t sound like a band who can’t get into the US because frontman Kyle Falconer was caught with cocaine in 2007, are banned from every Travelodge in the land and had to abandon a gig last year because they were too drunk to perform.
And neither is there much rousing of rabbles going on at the Doghouse. Kyle, the only member of the band who no longer lives in Dundee – he has moved in with his girlfriend in London – is asleep on a sofa when I arrive, wakes up for Vimto, some loud burping and the interview, then resumes the foetal position as I’m leaving. In his upright phase he shrugs when I put it to him that album number two has the whiff of a new maturity. “Done a lot of growing up this last year,” he sings on one track, Glass Smash. And then there’s the line on One Off Pretender: “To be 10 different people, that’s easy / It’s easier than being yourself.”
“That’s about getting wrecked, and stuff,” he reveals. “How you play at being somebody else.” Doesn’t that come with the territory of being in a band and being successful and being schmoozed by a lot of people you don’t know? “Aye,” he says. “But that’s alright. Success hasn’t changed us. I don’t feel different to what I was. It’s more that people treat you differently. People might say you’ve changed or whatever, but it’s people that never knew you in the first place. I like it, being in a band. You see a lot of bands that don’t look as if they’re having a good time, and you think What’s the point?’ A lot of the stuff in the press about us is true, so you can’t really complain about it; but they deliberately make us out to be off the wall. We’re just getting up to the same things as any other band.”
Glass Smash, a slick blast of new wave, and Covers – more of which later – might both be construed as love songs. Both contain lines of understated beauty and tenderness, rendered, as ever, with a locution that is entirely the singer’s own. Yet there seems, at times, to be a mismatch between Falconer’s almost honeyed Celtic intonation and the kind of tabloid coverage of the band that might have put, if not The Stooges, then certainly Oasis in the shade.
Like the Gallagher brothers, The View share a penchant for the greyer areas of political correctness. The album, after all, is called Which Bitch? and Falconer’s explanation of Gem Of A Bird, its skiffly closing track, suggests a certain antagonism at work as regards womankind. “It’s about a bird I was going out with who was a wee bit older than me and was dead intelligent,” he says. “She knew a lot of words that I could never remember; but there’s a bit of irony in it, because it’s about how I knew better than her.” Not for me the role of feminist inquisitor to a bunch of 21-year-olds from Lochee revelling in their rock’n’roll inheritance, but you wonder if there’s just a hint of an attempt to wind people up.
The parallels with Oasis are instructive. Rumours that The View are now banned from the remote Welsh studio where they recorded Which Bitch? are enthusiastically scotched, and, if needed, producer Owen Morris could come to their defence. Morris worked with Oasis from 1994 until 1997, and it’s arguable that the two albums he has now made with The View gesture at the sort of music the Gallaghers could and should be making were it not for the fact they disappeared up their own backsides after Britpop. Which Bitch? has new layers of instrumentation and a broader musical canvas than Hats Off To The Buskers, but its melodies still soar and delve with working-class vim and vinegar. “We’ve still got the big tunes with choruses and tracks that go down well at gigs. We didn’t make a conscious decision to make a new sound or anything like that,” says Kieren Webster, the band’s bass player and co-songwriter.
Guitarist Pete Reilly fills me in on the Doghouse and its importance to the band’s story. “We practically lived here when we left school,” he says. “We’d rehearse for hours then nip across the road to buy 12p noodles from Lidl. One minute we were on the dole, and the next we were top of the album charts.”
I wonder what ructions they might have experienced, four lads from a scheme stepping out into the limelight armed with nothing but catchy songs about their native city. “If you’re born and bred working class, it’s always going to come across. It’s ingrained in you,” says Webster, who has just bought a new flat in Dundee. “But it’s not like we have chips on our shoulders.” Falconer adds: “Where you’re from is where you’re from, and that’s what you write about. It’s just that the majority of bands aren’t from where we’re from, but bands from London write about the same things we write about.”
There is, nonetheless, a ring of authenticity to the rebel yell of One Off Pretender. “It’s about being flung in the jail in Aberdeen,” explains Webster. “Me and Kyle were DJing in a club, and things kicked off on the dancefloor and we went to jump in for our mates.”
“Actually,” Falconer butts in, “we split the f***ing fight up. We f***ed off from the gig and jumped on the bus to go back to Dundee, but the police caught up with the bus and arrested us.”
On Thursday, the band are set to play a special one-off gig at London’s Hard Rock Cafe. It’ll be the first time they’ve performed two gorgeous new tracks, Distant Doubloon and Covers, with live strings and brass. The former twines snatched references to “Robbie Stevenson” and Treasure Island with street-wise Dundonian vignettes; it’s surreal, funny and possibly the best thing the band have ever done. Covers, meanwhile, is a charming duet they recorded with Paisley crooner Paolo Nutini, who just happened to be making his own album in a studio along the road from his fellow Scots in Wales.
Given Nutini’s heartthrob status, this collaboration might help his new mates get back on-side with the ladies. Because, men’s men or otherwise, and for all their swagger and front, it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that there’s more to The View than they want us to see.