If you were a musician, there surely can’t be anything more soul-stewing than to walk away from a band – be it by choice or by security escort – who subsequently go on to become hugely popular and successful in your absence. And just imagine how much worse it would be if you were one of its founder members, having suffered through all the terrible, terrible things that bands have to endure in the early days – THE POVERTY, THE COMPROMISED HYGIENE, THE HEAVY LIFTING – while they reap the rewards and spend their days laughing, counting money and laughing some more.
In this special feature, former members of Travis, Snow Patrol and Belle & Sebastian share their experiences with The Pop Cop. One of them suggested, “Maybe we could start a support group”. I think he was joking.
The band that would become Travis was founded in 1990 by Geoff Martyn (keyboard) and his brother Chris Martyn (bass), with Andy Dunlop (guitar), Neil Primrose (drums) and then Fran Healy (singer) added to the ranks. They were called Glass Onion until early 1994, before briefly changing their name to The Family and then finally to Travis, as whom they played the inaugural T in the Park in 1994. Geoff and Chris were asked to leave the group in 1996, with Dougie Payne coming in on bass. Geoff went on to form Kingpin and Jupiter And Teardrop as well as going under his own name. His songs have been featured on a number of American television shows including Scrubs, One Tree Hill and Brothers & Sisters. He currently plays keyboard with Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire.
Geoff Martyn, ex-Travis
We all stayed in the same flat in the southside of Glasgow and for a few of us it was the first time we’d left home. It was challenging and a lot of fun but it was very much a sink-or-swim moment in the life of the band. Looking back, there were probably tensions I wasn’t fully aware of. I was always busy working and perhaps that alienated me from the band given that they were mostly signing on, but I couldn’t let go of the 9-5.
There came a point where Fran started to lead the band given that he was coming up with all the material and that was essentially the reason we signed to Sony Music Publishing in late 1995. I’m 99% sure that the decision to change the line-up of the band came directly from Sony and that Fran was given the choice to do so or risk their investment, and ultimately his career. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t shocked by the decision, but just because you start a band, it doesn’t mean that you have control of it forever.
We used to record demos in two to three days, mostly at Park Lane Studio in Glasgow. While they weren’t all gems, Turn was in there from as far back as 1993, as was She’s So Strange, and I’m immensely proud to have been involved.
Seeing the band you’ve left soar in popularity is probably every musician’s worst nightmare, but I eventually got it all sorted out in my head and, rather than seeing it as a negative, I just got on with my life. You can’t let that kind of thing grind you down because if you do it never stops. I’ve been very lucky and have had some of the most rewarding musical experiences of my life over the last 10 years. While I’m proud of the part I played in the formation of Travis, it’s such a small part of my musical history now.
I don’t really mention the Travis association at all these days, and only used it a handful of times in the early years. It soon became apparent that wearing it like a badge meant that people had certain expectations and would judge you accordingly. It’s much better to stand on your own two feet – that way you’ve succeeded on your own terms if people like what you do. I’ve met and written songs with people over the years who probably have no idea about my time in Travis and I think that’s a good thing as they accepted me for who I am rather than who I was all those years ago.
Having never ‘made it’ in the same sense as my former band-mates, I’ve more than made up for that with a rich and varied musical career. I’m also very happy in my personal life with a great family around me, so I can’t really ask for more. I haven’t spoken to any of them for a few years now, but that’s more to do with the fact that life tends to get in the way for all of us and our paths haven’t crossed in that time. There’s certainly no animosity, though, and I’ll hopefully see them again before too long.
I still have a lot of respect for Travis as a band and Fran as a songwriter. They’re doing what they love, and I’m doing the same. I have never been happier and wouldn’t change what happened even if I could.
With Snow Patrol finally enjoying mainstream success with their third album Final Straw, bassist Mark McClelland was sacked in March 2005, the day before they flew to Ireland to start writing Eyes Open. A statement on Snow Patrol’s website read: “Over the last 18 months touring has taken its toll on the rest of the band’s relationship with him.” In September 2007, Mark issued a writ at the High Court in London seeking 25% of the group’s earnings since his departure. In 2009, the lawsuit was settled out of court, two days before trial. Mark has since formed the band Little Doses, with his wife Kirsten Ross on vocals. They released their debut album Rock Riot Soul in March 2012.
Mark McClelland, ex-Snow Patrol
I thought my relationship with the rest of the guys was solid and secure – we had been through so much and were just starting to get somewhere. We were always on the same page musically, that’s why the band worked so well.
But there was a really weird Yoko Ono situation happening, with a load of pressure to allow someone to join the band who was a friend but couldn’t play an instrument, which was a total nightmare. I wanted us to be as great a band as possible and was against this. Weirdly, I had suggested that Paul Wilson (the guy who replaced me on bass) join the band on keys. My lack of enthusiasm obviously caused friction but I thought we would just talk about things, take it to a vote. I was totally blindsided by what subsequently happened.
I was very confident of winning my lawsuit, however no similar case had ever made it before a judge so the result of what he would deem a fair settlement was a total unknown. I could have won and still gone bankrupt – that was a large consideration in the decision to settle with the last-minute offer and no doubt a large consideration for them when making that offer. It cost me everything I had. My team switched to ‘no win no fee’ after the money was gone – it was like suing some multinational bottomless pit and they knew it. It was hardcore.
The out-of-court settlement did feel like a vindication, however I’d rather have been treated with some respect to start off with and offered a fair settlement then and there so we could have avoided the whole bloody affair. However, having that positive experience, a win, as my last word with the band has been healing. I’m in a much happier place now. I’d rather not be bitter and focused on the past, those emotions can totally override your life.
Final Straw was a big record and the songs off it are still played and bought worldwide. That gives me the freedom to spend time bringing up my daughter and writing music. For that, I am very grateful. I am aware that many great musicians have put in just as much hard work without it being recognised.
Little Doses is something I am passionate about. I don’t mind small gigs. I was only out of them for about a year when Final Straw exploded, an incredible year it was, but during those worldwide tours we started smallish again in each country we visited. It wasn’t all arenas, so with Little Doses it was back to what I knew best.
What I missed most was the behind-the-scenes team that Snow Patrol had spent years putting into place. That’s the real engine room of any band – they fight your corner, get you good gigs and supports, get the record company to spend money on advertising etc. They multiply every bit of effort the band put in. Without them it’s a hard, lonely slog.
I’m an idealist. I’d love for the music industry – even just the independent part of it – to be merit-based and a level playing field. You make the music, people hear it, they make their own mind up about if they like it. That’s how it seemed to be back when I fell in love with music, swapping Afghan Whigs LPs for Dinosaur Jr/Sebadoh mixtapes in school. That’s what the internet revolution promised. Unfortunately, the music industry doesn’t seem to work like that any more.
Playing in Little Doses is a reward in itself, though. I don’t need chart positions to justify what I do. In the early years of Snow Patrol our conviction was that being one person’s absolute favourite band was an admirable aspiration. I still stand by that.
Stuart David played bass in Belle & Sebastian from its formation in 1996 and took lead vocals on three songs (A Century Of Elvis, A Space Boy Dream and Winter Wooskie) before quitting the band in 2000 to concentrate on Looper. A decade on from the release of their third album, Looper are putting the finishing touches to the fourth – they have already posted the intro song on YouTube. Stuart is also known for his fiction writing. His novel, Peacock’s Tale, can be downloaded for free and he is considering writing a sequel to his first book Nalda Said.
Stuart David, ex-Belle & Sebastian
Most of us considered B&S to be Stuart Murdoch’s vision. The main disagreements I remember were when he wanted it to become more of a collaboration, and quite a few people in the band wanted it to remain his vision. That was sort of like the opposite of musical differences. Sometimes we disagreed over the process, for recording and stuff. But not over the music.
I think Stuart had realised I was ready to leave on the morning of the meeting. Stevie [Jackson] was surprised. He phoned me afterwards and said, ‘What just happened? Did you leave the band there?’ He said he hoped we would play together again sometime. That was very sweet. Neil [Robertson, the band’s then manager] says I’d already announced I was leaving on the internet beforehand. I don’t remember that, but maybe it’s true.
The band certainly seemed to start functioning well after that, looking in from the outside. There was a point early on where it was maybe more me, Bel [Isobel Campbell] and Chris [Geddes] helping Stuart to do things in the idiosyncratic way he wanted to do them. But then it all probably became a bit of a muddle and a tussle later on.
I was disappointed that Paper Boat [an unreleased Belle & Sebastian song that Stuart David sang on] never made it onto a record. We did have a bit of an argument in a car park in America about whether it should be a single. I didn’t say anything, though. I think I just listened. It was probably the right decision not to make it a single. It’s a bit trite, musically. There is a recorded version but I don’t think I’ve got a copy.
The new albums have quite a few songs – Dear Catastrophe Waitress, Your Secrets, Perfection As A Hipster [from the God Help The Girl record] – that we played when I was in the band, and from bands I was in with Stuart before B&S. I like the newer songs too. The most impressive thing is the way Sarah [Martin] is developing as a songwriter. I love her songs on Write About Love. I probably preferred the shakier production from the past, though.
When Looper started out we played some quite small places. But it was only a year or two since we’d been playing small places with B&S, so I was still used to it. A few days after I left B&S, Looper went on tour with The Flaming Lips for three months in America, visiting the biggest places I’d ever played. We’d done our own headline tour in America with Looper before that, playing 400 or 500-seaters. Then, after The Flaming Lips, it was 8,000 at T in the Park and on to the Royal Festival Hall in London with Cornelius. We didn’t really rough it.
We were able to live for about 10 years on syncs in films and ads [Looper earned £500,000 in royalties after part of their song Mondo 77 was used by Xerox]. It’s great to be able to fund your music that way and give it away for free.
I’ve tried not to exploit the Belle & Sebastian association. It’s a bit like what people say about having a famous parent. It opened a lot of doors for Looper but then people had certain expectations of us that didn’t really fit. Quite often your record company wants to promote to the B&S audience, but I’ve usually done as much as I can to dissuade them.
At the moment we’re making a new album and working on a retrospective boxset of all the Looper albums for Mute. They’re going to put out a Best Of too. If I could grow our audience enough to fund each new album on PledgeMusic or Kickstarter, and make one every year, that would probably be enough for me. And hopefully get back to playing 400 or 500-seaters.