What’s life really like in a globe-trotting, festival-topping, China-touring five-piece? Fiona Shepherd finds out
Since their formative days on Glasgow’s DIY indie scene, Franz Ferdinand have always been the band you want playing at your party. Their earliest gigs were at a series of now-legendary private-ish arty party nights they would throw in the ironically named Chateau, a rundown warehouse space just south of the Clyde. But they were destined for much bigger happenings – not least Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, which was quick to spot their potential and booked them to open the Concert in the Gardens in 2003.
Drummer Paul Thomson reckons this would have been about their 15th gig as a band – had it not been cancelled due to wild weather. Undeterred, the band went searching for an alternative gig that night and appropriately pitched up at a house party. “It was very last minute,” recalls Thomson. “I think there was a band that rehearsed in the flat so we just used all their gear. We were psyched up to play so we were desperately looking for another party.”
Thomson was particularly keen to return to Edinburgh’s Hogmanay – this time at the top of the bill – because of the many times he attended the street party as a teenager.
“The motivation for going into town in Edinburgh was to try to meet new people,” he recalls. “Everybody always seemed to be a lot friendlier on Hogmanay, probably because they were drunk. Obviously I picked up on that as a kid from going to Hogmanay parties at my grandparents’. Everybody is inexplicably very happy, having a great time, what’s going on here?”
Although Thomson grew up in Edinburgh, where he formed his first bands, his family hail from Glasgow, and he was duly enticed back west in the late 1990s by the grassroots music scene which spawned the likes of Mogwai and Bis and put Thomson in the way of a young musician/promoter called Alex Huntley – who would later go by his Greek family name of Kapranos.
“I knew there was something going on in Glasgow and I wanted to be a part of it. Alex put on my band at The 13th Note and suggested me as the drummer for The Yummyfur [Kapranos’ and Thomson’s pre-Franz outfit].” Kapranos also turned to Thomson in the early 2000s when he put together his next band with guitarist Nick McCarthy, newly arrived in Glasgow from Munich, and bassist Bob Hardy.
Thanks to a combination of talent, experience, chemistry and the stated aim to make music that girls would dance to, Franz Ferdinand swiftly progressed from cool local party band to Top 10 pop success with the stomping indie anthem Take Me Out, becoming one of the biggest- selling bands of 2004. A decade later, secure in their status as esteemed elder(ish) statesmen of the indie disco, they fused skills with LA art pop legends Sparks to become the mischievous FFS for a time and the Franz Ferdinand of old were gone, returning to the frontline at the start of 2018 with a new line-up, following the amicable departure of McCarthy.
“Nick decided he was going to leave before we did the FFS tour and the question was raised – do we want to continue making music? We knew we would have to do it slightly differently and use our imagination. It knocks you out of what was a comfort zone and spurs you to do something a little bit different.”
The first new Franz recruit was Julian Corrie, who records as synth pop artist Miaoux Miaoux. He immediately brought his arranging skills to bear on new songs which the remaining trio were working on. Franz Ferdinand became a five-piece with the addition of Dino Bardot, guitarist about town who had played in impish indie pop trio The 1990s and with Thomson in a reformed incarnation of The Yummyfur.
“I vouched for him as a musician,” says Thomson. “He played Purple Rain at a mutual friend’s birthday party, he did the solo and everything, and we thought it would be quite fun to be in a band with him.”
Bardot joined after recording was completed on current album, Always Ascending, another assured slab of indie dancefloor action, playful flamboyant flourishes and quirky odes to the NHS. To promote its release at the start of the year, Thomson blithely sported an NHS t-shirt for the band’s appearance on The Andrew Marr Show alongside Theresa May, who appeared to mislay her dancing shoes that day.
Since then, Thomson says, the band have barely “touched the sides” with a touring schedule which put the new band dynamic to the test, starting with four weeks in the US. “Almost within two shows it had completely gelled,” he says. “It was a nice bonding exercise and set us up quite nicely for the following 150 shows...”
The Franz story of 2018 has been one of festivals and venues. “It doesn’t feel like it’s been this intense since the second record,” says Thomson. “I’ve never played in a band that sounds this good live. Every show is still this amazing thing. We played in an old boxing ring in Santiago to 5,000 people going nuts. Buenos Aires was similarly mental.”
Other festival audiences have been tougher. “In Montreal, we played before the massively hyped group Brockhampton … lots of girls down the front eye-rolling,” laughs Thomson.
They were on safer turf in front of their home crowd at the TRNSMT festival on Glasgow Green. “TRNSMT was great fun. When you do Glasgow in the middle of jumping about all over Europe, you don’t always feel like you’re at home, but we’ve always had a good time at festivals in Scotland, going back to our very first T In The Park. I think we bought a case of McEwans lager in a pathetic attempt to be contrary…”
Before they return to Scotland to ring out the old, Franz will play their first-ever shows in China. “I’m curious,” says Thomson. “I know people who have DJed over there before and you have to let them know in advance what you intend to play. I think so far we’re OK. I don’t think we’ll be the ones to start a revolution.”
The Franz year ends, appropriately, on a stage in front of 10,000 revellers. Cheesy though it may be, Thomson is partial to making New Year’s resolutions and is sizing up this year’s options. “In 2009 my resolution was not to drink and I managed to do that for a whole year. That’s the only New Year’s resolution I’ve managed to keep. I think everybody resolves to be more productive and creative at New Year and we’re planning to do that anyway. We’re looking at making more music next year, so I don’t know if that counts as a New Year’s resolution.
“At the start of this year, we were on course for this record coming out. Our feet weren’t really on the floor at that point, the machine had started rolling already. When we first started this band I wasn’t really thinking beyond the next day. It’s pretty amazing we’re still touring after 15 years. One thing I will say about this amount of work and touring – at least you know you are alive!”
Franz Ferdinand play the Concert in the Gardens on 31 December