THE title of The State Broadcasters' gem of an album, A Different Past, is “a slight at the nostalgia industry”. We should instead, the accompanying blurb states: “embrace the world we live in today rather than revisiting our youth and trying to convince ourselves that it was all great fun”.
Released next week on Olive Grove Records, it's only their third album since Graeme Black and Pete MacDonald (also of label mainstays Randolph's Leap) formed the supergroup in 2004 and features tracks so exuberant they'd burn a hole through the sombre sobriety of 2012's The Ghosts We Must Carry. The buoyant I'll Sing With Ya! and Crap Village are group chant-a-longs which revel in the moment, and when former days are addressed, it's with a note of self-mockery or candid realism. That latter track, an acid-tongued rollick (definitely about “a particular crap village,” MacDonald tells The National) features Black singing: “that video, you made years ago, what were you thinking, wearing that jacket?”
Elsewhere, on the glinting Girls From The Catholic School, nights at the indie disco are reminisced about, only for the protagonist to soon find himself working at a call centre, dulled by relaying the same conversation, shift after shift. Feelin' Alive, an upbeat pop number showcasing the nimble fingers of harpist Gillian Fleetwood, seems at first to be Grade A 1980s wistfulness until the game-changing line: “society's dead, that's what she said, your dad lost his job”.
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“That's a key line,” says MacDonald, the “she” being Margaret Thatcher. “We sometimes look back and remember just the songs, the good stuff. No doubt that's partly due to the nostalgic programmes about pop. But it's like the not-so-good stuff of the day-to-day is forgotten. It's easy to forget what, say, living in Thatcher's Britain was really like. We now have unprecedented access to news from around the world, and it can just seem like the world is full of terrible things when some things are actually better.”
MacDonald cites the example of Scotland's status, at least on paper, as being one of the world's least homophobic countries. It's testament to changing attitudes that most find it bizarre, abhorrent, that just a generation ago, schools were prohibited from discussing “the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. Though MacDonald admits A Different Past, the bulk of which was written by 2015 and recorded in his Glasgow home, would not likely be the record it is were it written against the tumult of last year, every lighter song has its shadow, whether the rueful Cycle Home Drunk, the plaintive delicacy of the Fleetwood-sung Folding or the buttoned up, lonely grief of MacDonald's Braced Against The Cold. That song is the only track not to have been written by Black, though MacDonald's late grandfather appears on the excellent Let The Wolves Roam, his rich, lived-in larynx telling of the struggles of crofters in the Highlands and islands.
“He was a kind of historian and story-teller,” says MacDonald, who recalls visiting him in Skye as a youngster. “I had recently found these tapes of a documentary he'd made for the radio and it fitted well.”
Black will not be performing at these gigs. Recently on the band's Facebook page, he said: “During the making of this album I decided it would be my last involvement with the band. Leaving was one of the most difficult decisions of my life not least because I knew what we were making, what would eventually become A Different Past, was something really special.”
Joining Black, MacDonald, Fleetwood, bassist Cameron Maxwell and Stanley Odd drummer Andrew Samson on the record is new State Broadcaster David McGinty, the singer and guitarist previously known for his work with indie rockers Endor and offshoot duo Fake Major. MacDonald says the personnel change has prompted a reconfiguration of the band, with the new line-up having given a number of A Different Past's tracks their live debut at Celtic Connections. The Edinburgh launch features support from Olive Grove labelmates The Son(s) and singer-songwriter Hailey Beavis while the Glasgow night will be an all-ages, BYOB affair at St Peter's Church in Partick.
March 24, Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh, 7pm, £5. Tickets here.
March 26, St Peter's Church, Glasgow, 7pm, £5. Tickets here.
A Different Past is out on March 24 on Olive Grove Records