THE Codeine Velvet Club first convened publicly less than two weeks ago in a former porn cinema off Argyle Street in Glasgow. The venue, now better known as the Classic Grand, was apparently chosen because it was cheap, but its atmospheric art deco interior and proscenium stage were also part of the attraction.
So what/who is Codeine Velvet Club? "It's a band," says club member Jon Lawler. "It's a club," says its other member, Lou Hickey.
It's actually a new collaboration between Lawler, better known as frontman of riotous indie trio The Fratellis, and glamorous Glaswegian chanteuse Hickey, which they liken to "John Barry playing with a rock'n'roll band". They have an album poised for release in November which bears out that comparison beautifully.
As The Last Shadow Puppets is to Arctic Monkeys, so Codeine Velvet Club is to The Fratellis – a widescreen musical romance swept up in sumptuous strings and jazzy brass arrangements, which has arrived like a gorgeously gift-wrapped surprise.
This Scottish Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra met less than a year ago when Lawler's wife suggested that he write a song for her friend's album. Lawler was feeling restless, despite a much-needed break between Fratellis albums, and liked what he heard of Hickey's solo material (he freely admits that he would have passed otherwise). He was already toying with a number called Vanity Kills, but didn't want to give Hickey sole custody. So they started writing together, passing ideas between themselves. Hickey's solo album plans were put on hold and Codeine Velvet Club was founded.
"I'd never written a song with anyone else," says Lawler. "It was a cool way to work. It meant we had an album quite quickly, because you're desperate for the next day to come – you wonder what songs you're going to find tomorrow. But it was odd at first trying to write from a female perspective. Because I don't really know what that is – I tend to switch off when I'm being talked at or given a row…"
"I did help you out with some of that…" notes Hickey.
Until recently, the Club remained quite an exclusive affair, with only a tantalising abridged video clip of Vanity Kills on their skeleton website. Since playing that debut gig at the Classic Grand, they have added the full version, plus footage of a John Barry-meets-Phil Spector-via-Wizzard track called Hollywood, featuring Lawler and Hickey backed by a sharp-suited five-piece band, including brass section.
Quite rightly, there are sartorial requirements for entry to the club. "You can't do this in jeans and T-shirt," remarks Lawler, who has subsequently developed a close working relationship with his tailor.
The dress code has been less of a shock to the system for Hickey, who describes her solo work as "gay jazz" and has been a regular performer at burlesque gathering Club Noir over the past few years (as a singer, it should be noted, not doing some routine with fans).
"It's indulging a childhood fantasy," she says, "because I grew up watching all the old Hollywood movies. It's nice to put on a vintage dress and go out and sing these big jazz songs."
Lawler did actually spend time in Hollywood, residing in Chateau Marmont, the legendary Sunset Boulevard haunt of everyone from Greta Garbo to Lindsay Lohan, while writing songs for the album. "I was just trying to connect to that dark idea of the old Hollywood to spark some ideas for lyrics," he says. "I love the place, there's something about it. It's like Disneyland for adults."
Back in Glasgow, Mick Cooke of Belle & Sebastian provided the score for Nevada, the swooning centrepiece of an album steeped in the bygone tradition of ostentatious orchestral pop.
"Loads of those 1960s pop records had quite complex arrangements, that was normal then," says Lawler. "Like Downtown (by Petula Clark] – it's a bit cheesy, but it's a brilliant arrangement. The instrumental in the middle with the whole orchestra playing, it just makes you laugh every time."
"It's so epic, and it lifts the song to a higher place," adds Hickey.
However, a couple of numbers on the album don't stray too far from The Fratellis' hectic indie knees-up – Little Sister simply adds a frantic jazz trumpet arrangement and I Would Send You Roses is a straight-up rocker, originally written for Roger Daltrey after The Who frontman suggested he and Lawler should work together.
"I wasn't letting him away with it," says Lawler. "The plan was that I would write a bunch of songs and the Fratellis would be the backing band. But it never quite worked out. He went on tour. I thought in some way this record needed a rock'n'roll moment, and now I'm really glad we got to do it."
"It's my favourite song to do live," agrees Hickey, "even though it really kills me. It's just really intense. It's one of those songs you just get lost in."
Codeine Velvet Club is a welcome wider showcase for Hickey's evocative voice, while Lawler is re-energised by the shock of the new after an intensive few years leading an established band. He foresees a fertile future for the group.
"I like that idea of going back to the start again because I remember that, first time around, it was a hell of a time," he says. "You almost don't mind that you might be shot down or it might be a complete disaster if you know that there's also a chance that it might go the other way. That must be why it's exciting."v
Codeine Velvet Club is released by Island on 16 November. The band play Homecoming Live's Final Fling at the SECC, Glasgow, on 28 November codeinevelvetclub.com
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