Interview with I Am Kloot’s John Bramwell

‘Do you fancy a drink/ I know a place called The Brink/ Do you wanna go there?’ sings John Bramwell, his right foot elevated on an empty Becks crate, as is his way. One of his finer lyrics, with that subtle play on words, it makes for one of the most tender tracks in the I Am Kloot back catalogue. It is met with such fervour by the Glasgow faithful that have packed out Óran Mór, however, that it ends up descending into what Bramwell calls a ‘brilliantly shambolic’ singalong.

It feels just right that I Am Kloot should be working their magic at Óran Mór, which takes its name from the Gaelic for ‘great melody of life’. After all, that is what this Manchester three-piece does best; write great melodies about life, the good and the bad, the ‘drinking and disaster’, as Bramwell informs the crowd on more than one occasion. The band are a formidable live act partly due to their propensity for playing older, more intimate venues. Óran Mór, a 19th century converted parish church, is a perfect example of this. According to the lead singer, this is quite deliberate, ‘it’s quite well-known, and I do get into a bit of trouble for it, but I just don’t ever want to play academies. You see band’s posters, don’t you, Liverpool Academy, Manchester Academy … It’s very dispiriting.’ He adds, ‘for me the perfect sized venue is about 500 or 600 hundred people. If more people want to come, I’d prefer to do a second night, rather than move up to the bigger venue.’ It comes across quite clearly that I Am Kloot are determined to make every gig unique, and Bramwell says that one way of doing this is to play ‘different shaped rooms,’ to create a ‘whole different vibe’ each time.

Another way is to ensure songs aren’t over-rehearsed. ‘I think we play with a bit more flair than we used to’, Bramwell explains. ‘We’re not a band that rehearses and rehearses. To me, it often sucks the life out of music, it’s just too broken down. The main thing to do is not to over think anything and just do it. I’m always amazed that as soon as we start playing, even if we haven’t played [a track] for years, I seem to know the lyrics pretty much straight off. Andy’s [drummer Andy Hargreaves] the same. He’s like,“I don’t know how to play the drums on these songs!”, and then, as we start playing and rehearsing, he plays it bang on, exactly as it should be, straight off.’ Indeed, the band only rehearsed two times for this tour, which seems remarkable when watching them perform. Hargreaves, like the best drummers, seems to have a flawless sense of how to serve a song best, and his rhythm often borders on the hypnotic. Bassist Pete Jobson, meanwhile, shows his versatility, allowing the band to take their songs in directions and to a level that would be beyond many three-piece bands. Little surprise, then, that you can find him playing on Nadine Shah’s new album, one of the freshest and most exciting of recent times. With this in mind, it is perhaps a surprise it has taken them this long to bring out a live album. Hold Back the Night, released on April 6, is the reason this tour is taking place and, reflecting on its release, Bramwell hits the proverbial nail on the head, ‘I just think we’re ace live. I thought it would be horrible for the general public not to get a chance to hear it.’ This may be somewhat tongue in cheek, but I Am Kloot have always been a quietly confident outfit, and they have every reason to be.

Something about these songs seem perfectly suited to Glasgow. Not just the beating heart of Scottish popular culture, but also the city of Paul Buchanan’s Downtown Lights. The night has been a recurring theme in I Am Kloot songs, and Bramwell explains why this might be the case, ‘I’m up visiting my mum today, on the hills outside Manchester where I grew up, showing my girlfriend the view I had as a kid. On the beginnings of the Pennine, where I grew up, the view at nighttime … you’ve got all of Manchester lit up beneath, it’s quite amazing. The view stretches 20 odd miles in every direction. This view I had of the city at night was good, quite a romantic thing. I think that helped me want to write.’ Despite this, Bramwell is sceptical of the idea that Manchester itself, famed for its musical history, brings out the creative talent in songwriters, ‘I’m not a massive believer in this, I think talent is talent really. I think Manchester is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The view I had as a kid of the city lit up, I don’t think it mattered what city it was. I think Tony Wilson thought, “we can make something of this”. I prefer to believe more in the individual than the surroundings, which I suppose might be a bit of a romantic thing to say.’ The last point is an important one. I Am Kloot’s music brings to mind the songs of contemporaries such as Richard Hawley and his Coles Corner in Sheffield, perhaps because the landscapes from which they were borne are somewhat similar, and the way their lyrics create a beauty in the rugged characters and bars of post-industrial Britain. They are, however, primitive comparisons which belie the individual talents that underpin the songs.

This may become even more obvious in the next stage of I Am Kloot’s career, as they pursue a more experimental sound. Writing the soundtrack to 2014’s BBC One drama From There To Here, in which the band recorded not in the studio together but individually, opened the band’s eyes to new ways of writing and recording, which Bramwell is keen to take into the future. ‘I think it’s important that you don’t use the same process every time. We’re all going to come up with some pieces of music and throw them into the pot. I think, six albums in, you’ve got to break your own way of doing things. I think we’ve got enough ‘song’ songs, that we can do that [experiment] for an album. It’s about time we did, in fact.’ This should make for a fascinating progression. I Am Kloot are brilliant at writing ‘song’ songs, full of subtlety and clever depictions of the world around them, married to gorgeous melodies. Clearly, though, they feel part of their musical potential is still untapped, a thoroughly exciting prospect. Bramwell plans to augment this with a new solo record of his own, ‘On the songwriting front, I’m probably going to do a solo album that’ll be out next year as well, which I really want to do. A stripped-down record, just down to the guitar and voice really. My finger style playing, quite classical way of playing, is something I’d like to highlight on a record.’

This tour, then, feels like a perfect opportunity to pause and celebrate their story so far. For the first time in four years, the band are back to being a three-piece, having taken on extra musicians to augment the luscious orchestration that defined the tracks of 2010’s Sky At Night. We speak on the 14th anniversary of their debut record, Natural History. Bramwell admits he doesn’t listen to it all that much, but laughs and adds that when he does, ‘I can’t believe how choirboy-ish I sound! I don’t have a gnarly voice or anything now, but there’s a kind of rasp and richness to it that wasn’t there when we started out.’ That richness and rasp is on top form tonight, and seeing many of the songs from Natural History performed live is a reminder of what a unique record it is, with the songs immaculately produced, but sounding like they were being performed for you in your own garage. Nowhere is this more prevalent than ‘Over My Shoulder,’ with its rasping, absorbing bass hook that thunders around Óran Mór. The future may hold exciting new pastures for I Am Kloot, but tonight serves as a timely reminder that when it comes to writing ‘song’ songs, great melodies of life, few have managed it better.

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