Date: July 29, 2010
Location: The Captain’s Rest, Glasgow
Interview subject: Louis Abbott, Admiral Fallow
Background info: Admiral Fallow are without doubt one of the finest Scottish bands The Pop Cop has ever heard, yet the story of their success is by no means an overnight one. Having played for over three years as Brother Louis Collective, they changed their name to coincide with the release of their debut album Boots Met My Face in the spring. In truth, it wouldn’t have mattered what they called themselves. The record is unignorable. Louis Abbott’s stark, soul-baring lyrics speak of an apparently troubled upbringing, while the music swirls from its acoustic-pop foundations with cunning use of clarinet, flute, stand-up bass, melodica, piano, brass and strings.
The roar of Great Western Road traffic shakes the rickety table outside The Captain’s Rest where Louis is sat with a coffee having an afternoon smoke. It’s an unseasonably warm summer’s day in Glasgow, the city Louis moved to from his native Edinburgh in 2006 to study percussion at RSAMD and, as it turned out, meet his future bandmates.
The album they created, Boots Met My Face, is one of stunning contrast. Verses of mischievous childhood antics preclude choruses of disturbing violence. None of it is fictional and Louis’ astonishingly clear vocal annunciation ensures no bruise or scar is concealed under the weight of other instruments.
Three nights before we meet, Admiral Fallow had played a sold-out gig at King Tut’s where there were very tangible clues that these incredible songs had outgrown the domain of the group’s friends and family. The crowd sang loudly to Squealing Pigs, girls danced in the front row and boys choked up during Four Bulbs, which all six members performed a cappella and without microphones.
The Admiral Fallow bandwagon is much more than just hype and hyperbole. Lo-Five Records have already ordered another 1,000 copies of Boots Met My Face to be printed after the first run of CDs sold out; the BBC Introducing team put Admiral Fallow on their T in the Park stage which has led to daytime airplay on Radio 1 and Radio 2; the band have also been snapped up by the same London booking agency which organises concerts for the likes of Daft Punk, Glasvegas and Kylie; and former Beautiful South singer Paul Heaton even offered them a tour support live on 6 Music.
Unquestionably, this is a band going in one direction, but what I’m most fascinated by are the events that inspired the songs which are opening these doors. Lyrics from the likes of Four Bulbs (“the noose around my neck has tightened too much to take”) and Subbuteo (“boots met my face and knuckles cracked me black as coal”) suggest Louis has had a particularly tough time of it growing up, something that initially he seems keen to downplay.
“I had a good upbringing in terms of my family life,” he says. “It wasn’t perfect – my parents are separated but whose aren’t these days, you know? School was tough but I think it’s really tough for everyone.”
Were you bullied? “I wouldn’t want to say ‘yes’ because that just sounds like ‘poor me’,” he replies. “I was by no means massively picked on by a lot of people. Yeah, there were a few folk growing up who really treated me badly, but I think everyone goes through that to an extent. Even the ‘popular’ kids at school get abuse at times. The older you get, the more you realise it doesn’t matter and you shouldn’t lose sleep about it. But at the time it fucks you up a bit.”
Some of the lyrics in Subbuteo clearly point to abuse manifesting itself in a physical attack, and Louis reveals the full extent of the incident which scarred his teenhood.
“The early part of Subbuteo is quite a bittersweet look at the stuff I did as a young kid with my pals – playing football, messing about in the woods – but it gets a bit darker,” he says. “The album title comes from a particularly shitty thing that happened when I was about 15. I was out getting some groceries for my mum and I got jumped. It was a sizeable gang but it was only really two of them who…”. Louis pauses for a moment before carrying on. “One was a guy I’d gone to primary school with and hadn’t seen since. He kicked the shit out of me in front my little brother who was 11. I was battered unconscious. They only stopped because a woman came round the corner and saw it happening.”
The harrowing events of that day understandably stood with Louis for a long time.
“I didn’t really go out for about three years after that,” he admits. “I didn’t like getting on buses, I didn’t like going in the neighbourhoods where I knew those boys kicked about in case I bumped into them again. I went back to the place where it happened for the first time two weeks ago. I didn’t really feel anything but if I saw the guy again I think it would affect me somehow.”
Louis’ experiences as a teenager is a theme he visits throughout the album.
“These Barren Years is about school life,” he continues. “It’s that age when you’re starting to discover women but it doesn’t happen for you because you’re spotty and useless at talking to them. The chorus is a sort of hopeful refrain. I have younger brothers and I’ve watched them go through that period as well so it brings it back.”
Louis wrote just one love song for the album, the opening track Dead Against Smoking, but he claims it only recently struck him just how sombre his lyrics can be.
He recalls: “We were in the BBC studios in Nottingham in April to do an acoustic session and the DJ said to me, ‘Man, the songs are so dark, you sound like you’ve had a tough time of it’ and I started wondering why everyone thought I was such a miserable bastard. Only since he said that did I sit down and look at the lyrics and they really do sound like I’ve had the worst time of everything.”
Relocating to Glasgow seems to have given Louis – and his confidence – a new lease of life, although his personality didn’t necessarily change for the better at first, leading to the quarrel that inspired Squealing Pigs.
He explains: “I was not long through here and I wasn’t behaving very nicely to people. Probably over-indulging too much. A good friend of mine sat me down and said, ‘Look, you’re behaving like a dick, stop it’. I was quite taken aback because no one had ever done that before. At first I was like, ‘This is bullshit, why are you saying this?’ and I was annoyed for a wee while, but you just need to take a step back and think about things a little. I realised he was probably right.”
Louis also blames alcohol for another unsavoury encounter which motivated him to write the lyrics to one of Admiral Fallow’s new tunes, The Way You Were Raised, now a staple of their live set.
“It should be an anti-Buckfast song because it just gets you in trouble,” he says. “We started this ritual of drinking Buckie on stage back in our earlier days as a band. I was walking down Sauchiehall Street after a gig and a guy threw something at me. Normally, I would say ‘Fuck, he’s thrown something at me, walk faster!’ but because I’d had a bit too much too drink I turned and squared up to these two massive guys. I think they were quite taken aback. They were like, ‘This guy’s tiny, is he being serious?’. Luckily, Kevin, our clarinet player, was there to usher me away. But we got followed up the road and it could have been a lot worse.”
What does the “I bruised my heels” line refer to? Louis laughs. “I got really angry that these two guys had got away with throwing this thing at me so I was stamping all the way up the road and going mental, in a total craze,” he recalls, shaking his head. “The next morning, and for about three weeks afterwards, my heels were wrecked, I found it painful to walk. I think my left heel is still fucked.”
It took almost four years for Admiral Fallow to create their masterpiece and you get the impression that Louis would happily wait another four to ensure the band can deliver a worthy successor to Boots Met My Face.
“We’ve already got a handful of new songs which we’ve started to work on, hopefully quite a nice progression on from these ones, but we’ve still not quite settled on where we want to go,” he says.
“One of my biggest beefs in music is when people churn out record after record that is pretty much the same because one of them has worked. Bands I respect greatly are ones that evolve record by record. I don’t understand how Oasis managed to forge out a 15-year career churning out the same bullshit record. Bands like The Shins really excite me, when it’s catchy but also has a bit of depth. That’s an important side of what we try to do as well, which is why it took us quite a long time to write the songs for Boots Met My Face, but I think it sounds quite cohesive because we recorded it very quickly. We’re all proud of it.”
Admiral Fallow’s debut album, Boots Met My Face, is available to buy here.
Admiral Fallow – These Barren Years