Glimpse of the Light – The Supernaturals

the supernaturals


A land of stunning natural beauty.

A land that has helped shape the modern world thanks to the enlightenment and its contribution to science and medicine.

A land of outstanding artistic, literary and musical heritage.

In the interests of fairness it’s also worth pointing out that it is a land where the people have decided that the best means of attack in a street fight is to use your own face as a weapon and where the Bay City Rollers still sell out venues that bands who actually care about music would struggle to half fill.  Oh…we also deep fry everything.  That’s not a stereotype, it’s an absolute statement of fact.

From this greedy and fairly pleasant land have come more top ranking bands than seems fair.  For every lump of hideousness like the aforementioned Bay City Rollers there are three or four bands that could bend your mind, melt your heart and lift your spirits; Orange Juice, Josef K, The Pastels, bis, Aztec Camera, Love and Money, Hipsway, Belle and Sebastian, Primal Scream, BMX Bandits…all incredible bands with more wonderful songs between them than the entire “Now…” back catalogue could muster between now and the end of the world.

During the Britpop years there were a handful of hardy Scottish souls who could be tossed into the scene…The Gyres, Whiteout and Travis (for at least one album) were all part of the scene.  One other band also appeared at this point and contributed one of the toppermost and poppermost albums of the entire era.  That band were The Supernaturals and they were ace.

Lead singer and guitarist James McColl had been influenced by all the right sorts of bands before forming The Supernaturals in 1991.  “For me it was those 60’s and 70’s bands like The Monkees, The Move, Slade, Madness, Blondie and The Police.  As far as the band was concerned though it was bands like The Cardigans, Teenage Fanclub, The Replacements, Fountains of Wayne, You am I and a LOT of the Britpop bands; Dodgy, Boo Radleys, blur, Oasis and so on.  At that time those bands would put out records and everyone would buy them, share them and we’d take bits of them!”

After a few years of touring relentlessly and releasing two mini-albums on cassette (“Big 7” and “Dark Star” were both released in 1993) the band eventually came to the attention of Andy Ross at Food Records and were signed in 1995.  James recalls; “We were touring around the Highlands of Scotland doing our own thing, writing songs and then, in the early 90’s the British music scene came ’round to our sound, why was very lucky for us in retrospect.”  They spent the bulk of the following year writing, recording and touring.  It wasn’t just the fact that they were touring but who they were touring with that catches the eye.  The list of bands they supported reads like a fantasy Britpop festival line-up…Ash, The Bluetones, Menswe@r, Sleeper and Dodgy.

“Martin Rossiter saw us playing keepie uppies during a soundcheck and came down with a pair of Cuban heeled boots and a 3 piece suit on and did ball tricks worthy of a Premiership footballer.  Gene were really decent guys as were all of those bands.  We had bought most of their records like “Giant Steps”, the Dodgy album and the first couple of Bluetones singles.  Me and Derek had been to see Dodgy at King Tuts along with about 8 other people on their first tour.  We were fans basically.  You’d finish your set then enjoy watching bands you liked.  Pretty good really looking back!  Took it for granted at the time.”

“Smile” was the first single released from the, as yet, unreleased debut album and despite the fact it failed to chart (at least in 1996) it served as a fabulous snapshot of the band.  The influence of The Monkees and Madness are obvious, it’s a wonderfully upbeat, jolly melody undercut by some deliciously off message lyrics; “See the sarcasm in my smile”, “You’re life’s a mess”, “Every silver lining has a cloud”. 

The next single was “Lazy Lover” and this time the public were paying a bit more attention and it broke the top forty, peaking at number 34.  It’s a genuinely funny piece of pop magnificence.  A tale of a relationship beyond repair as the male of the species just can’t get the energy up to get into bed with his “delicious” partner, he’d rather be doing something else instead.  Like Half Man Half Biscuit, McColl had the ability to write things that were funny without ever slipping into “novelty” record territory.

“It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” arrived in 1997 and delivered on the promise of those two singles.  12 bona fide, solid gold, authentic, genuine pop songs that had your fingers snappin’ and your heart jumping into your mouth.  From the sublime “I Don’t Think So” to the ridiculous(ly brilliant) “Stammer” this was an album that dared you to lift the needle, hit skip or fast forward…you couldn’t because every song was the equal of the one before it and the one after too.  It’s an album that plays like a greatest hits collection.  Two more singles (and the re-issued “Smile”) saw the album thrust its way into the top ten.  Did James ever dream of this sort of success?  “No..we honestly didn’t.”

A second album arrived in 1998 in the shape of “A Tune a Day”.  It served to confirm the fact that this was a band who cared about the only things that really matter in music; tunes and words.  The problem was that the world was slowly beginning to turn their backs on Britpop…the backlash was in full swing and nobody was safe from its effects.  The three singles from the album tell a tale, charting at 25, 45 and 52 respectively.  That, I promise you, is no reflection on the songs or the album as a whole.  Time had been called on British guitar music.  Specifically time had been called on British guitar music that was being played by people who hadn’t gone to performing arts schools.

The Supernaturals managed to release a third album “What we did Last Summer” in 2002 but that process left them a bit broken; “We put a lot of work into that album and by the time we actually got it out 2 years later we wanted a break and were skint.”  That, it appeared, was going to be that but apparently not as James explains “The core members of the band still hung out now and then and when we decided to rehearse again it wasn’t a huge leap or uncomfortable.  We were having a barbecue when someone suggested it and so we’re making a record this year and we will play a few gigs.”  What about the past?  “I quite like the band being called Britpop.  It was the last big British guitar scene before the N.M.E imploded and the internet destroyed record sales.  Like Glam or New Romantics it’s equally loved and hated.” 


***huge thanks to James and David of The Supernaturals for their help with this piece***


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