Fran Healy: Why I turned tables on critic for Travis film

Fran Healy says writing a melody is the hardest thing of all. Picture: Calum Buchan
Fran Healy says writing a melody is the hardest thing of all. Picture: Calum Buchan
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After a stranger walked up to one of Scotland’s leading pop and rock stars in a Berlin bar and told him how much he disliked his band it was to become the start of an unlikely friendship.

So when Travis frontman Fran Healy was looking for someone to help record an overseas tour, the cynical English music journalist Wyndham Wallace was an obvious contender.

Two years after he agreed to join the band on tour in Mexico, a fly-on-the-wall documentary has been launched at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Almost Fashionable, which was directed by Healy after he made a 30-minute promotional film for the band’s eighth album, Everything at Once, was drawn from more than 80 hours of footage show during a ten-day tour.

The hour-long film, which Healy launched with band-mates Dougie Payne, Neil Primrose and Andy Dunlop at the festival, is in the EIFF documentary strand alongside portraits of Whitney Houston and George Michael.

It is set to cast a new light on the sometimes tetchy relation ship between Travis, one of Scotland’s most successful bands of modern times, and the music critics who have often been reluctant to treat them seriously.

Healy, who lived in Berlin for several years, said: “I was on a night out with friends when I bumped into Wyndham, who was unknown to me at the time. The first thing he said was: ‘I’m not a fan of your band. I don’t like your work’ I was pretty taken aback.

“It was around three years later that we were discussing taking the same crew that I worked with on our short film crew on tour and were started thinking about filming in either Japan or Mexico.

“I wanted to create a picture of us at that point, bring a journalist and put a camera on us, and take a music journalist with us, to interview us and interview the fans. I just thought it would be much more honest and interesting if they weren’t a fan. Wyndham was really up for it. He’s a great sport and a great writer.

“The whole process has felt a bit like falling down a flight of stairs. That’s sort of how this whole thing happened. I remember at the beginning I wasn’t sure we’d make anything out of this.’

“What I learned is that critics start out as the biggest music fans of all. It’s like they’re someone who loves snakes but is then bitten and killed by one.

“It wasn’t so much interviewing us than him meeting raw, pure fandom. It was quite eye-opening for a music journalist to get so close to that. He realises something has happened to him.

“There is maybe a bit of a received wisdom about our band, that maybe we’re a bit of fluff. Critics crave this compleximity in music, but all the greatest, coolest artists, like David Bowie and Lou Reed, all had hits that were almost like nursery rhymes.

“To me, trying to write a simple melody is the hardest thing to do. You have to boil everything down to get a pure melody that nobody has ever used before. It’s like trying to make up a new word.

“But the simpler you make your melody it is looked upon as childish - it’s not seen as sophisticated.”

It’s also a bit of a contradiction to be a Scottish pop star. It grates with us a bit. There’s always a humility with it. Bands like Oasis or the Rolling Stones could not have come out of Scotland.

“If you do something that’s good other people will blow your trumpet for you.”