Interview: BMX bandits

KURT Cobain once proclaimed that "if I could be in any other band it would be BMX Bandits." The way this most singular of Scottish bands operates, he might have achieved that dream had he stuck around.

Over the years, many illustrious musicians, including members of Teenage Fanclub, The Vaselines and Belle & Sebastian, have passed through the ranks, later declaring that the best times they ever had in a group were their days as a Bandit.

"I guess when it's the BMX Bandits, it is a bit more like playtime," says Duglas Stewart, the one permanent fixture of the group. "Not that we don't take music incredibly seriously - it's the most important thing in my life. It's more important than paying my bills, which is a bit of a problem..."

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When Stewart formed The BMX Bandits in the mid-1980s, he didn't expect the group to last six months, let alone 25 years, but next month they will mark a quarter-century of services to outsider pop with a celebration gig as part of Celtic Connections.

Although the group has always essentially been Stewart's vehicle, its roots can be traced back to a bunch of friends from Bellshill (whose most notable pop export up to that point had been Sheena Easton), including Sean Dickson and a pre-Teenage Fanclub Norman Blake. Their escapist musical fumblings spawned an entire family tree of bands affiliated to what was later dubbed the "C86" indie movement, after the name of a tape given away by the NME in 1986, including tracks by The Soup Dragons and Primal Scream.

Dickson's Soup Dragons would go on to break the Top 10 with their single I'm Free but "indie" music was still a minority subculture in 1986 and BMX Bandits were divisive from the start.

"There would be a percentage of people who didn't fit in who really liked us and felt some empathy for what we seemed to represent, but unless we played at clubs made for that music, there was also a large percentage of the audience who would want to kill us," recalls Stewart. "There were a lot of early BMX Bandits gigs where we got told by the management to stay in the dressing room and then got taken out the back door."

The response was no different when the band went national. Their debut single E102 sparked a heated debate on Radio 1's singles review show Round Table and Sounds, then one of the big three music papers, called it "possibly the worst single ever made", presumably because of its unabashed DIY navety. Stewart freely admits that "I'm the most musically handicapped person I know who's actually in a group.But at the same time I think I've got quite a good capacity for melody and arrangement ideas. Sometimes it's labelled as being twee, but it's actually quite confrontational in a way."

Stewart may be the constant, but a fluid line-up has allowed the band to develop over the course of eight albums. He likens the rejuvenating influence of fresh members to "having a new pot of colours to play with" but agrees that there are certain qualities common to all Bandits personnel.

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"I think you have to be a romantic to a certain extent," he says. "You've got to be prepared to appear a fool to people. A lot of people in bands want to be perceived as cool but I think it's more courageous to stand up and say something that you believe in that people might mock you for. Most people in the BMX Bandits history have had that fearless quality. People might laugh at us but we don't care, we're having fun and we get the feeling there's other people out there who are going to enjoy this as well.

"It's not like a conventional band in that way. It sounds corny but I think it's like a musical family. Although certain people have left the band and have moved on to do other things, they're in the family. Norman and David and Francis are the brothers that I don't have and other members are like my cousins or my sisters. There's now 25 people in the family."

Seems like as good a time as any to meet them.

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• BMX Bandits play Oran Mor, Glasgow on 23 January. A new album, BMX Bandits In Space, and a documentary, Serious Drugs, will both be released in 2011