Winging their way back - the return of The Yummy Fur with John McKeown
Fans of reformed indie band The Yummy Fur may be excited to hear that John McKeown is learning a new song.
Admittedly, it’s by one of his heroes, Robyn Hitchcock. The band are preparing for a BBC radio session, and as the former Soft Boys singer is also on the show, they’re playing a song together.
McKeown expresses some sympathy for Hitchcock, whose bandmates, include Eurovision winner Kimberley Rew, of Katrina and the Waves. “He’s in a band with millionaires,” laughs the Blantyre-born singer.
That must be odd. And McKeown should know. “Our drummer and bassist are pop stars,” the frontman admits. “And our guitar player’s a postman”. Paul Thomson and Dino Bardot are both members of Franz Ferdinand, the latter with the Yummy Fur since 1997, while Brian MacDougall has that day job beloved of part-time musicians.
However, there’s no division within the band’s ranks. “It would be different if one minute they were in The Yummy Fur and the next moment pop stars, but we all grew uptogether – I’ve had 20 years to get used to it.”
McKeown has tasted, if not superstardom, a slice of the pop star life, in the 1990s, his post-Yummy Fur band signed to Rough Trade.
“That was cool, though not really a big shot at stardom. The only difference was we got to travel, see the world. “But sitting in a hotel pool sipping a cocktail because I wrote some stupid song… that worked out quite well!”
By way of contrast, Yummy Fur were the classic critics’ choice in the Britpop-infested mid-1990s – influencing rather than making their fortune, and perhaps predicting the next big thing. “The Strokes album came out and it was a gamechanger,with its edgy odd riffs," the singer recalls. "Guitar indie rock was something that sold, but we’d split up a year or so before that came out.”
We don’t know if The Strokes listened to The Yummy Fur, but one band who did are The Gossip.
“I went to see the Gossip,” McKeown recounts, “and in ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’ they did (early Yummy Fur single) 'Policeman' – the whole thing, pretty much... I was a wee bit worse for wear, and going ‘What’s that? I recognise that!’”
Singer Beth Ditto will, like a hard core of underground ’90s rock fans, be pleased to see The Yummy Fur return, and with a new sense of purpose.
“Occasionally we bring it out of hibernation for the odd gig,”McKeown says, “but this one this is based round the album” – ‘Piggy Wings’ a compilation of their ‘best bits’, on Mogwai’s Rock Action label. Realising that all their physical CDs and vinyl were long out of print and the music wasn’t available to stream, the band decided the time was right.
As the quartet prepared for an accompanying tour of the USA, selecting tracks for the record was simple.
“We just sat down and said, ‘if there was a Yummy Fur record, what songs would you like on it?’ We’d never had a hit, so the track listing wrote itself.”
Despite being a promotional device, there may be more to the reformation than that. “We have written one new song,” reveals McKeown, the constant factor in the band’s multiple lineups over the years.
“We don’t have keyboards on stage now,” he continues (Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos was responsible for synths in the band’s final incarnation) “so it’s pretty full-on rock. We used to be brilliant at one minute and right off the rails the next, but as me and Paul have been playing in bands, there’s something a bit more... not grown up, but I’d forgotten how headbanging it is.
“We just had a practice, honest to god my head was nipping, it was like being in a car factory for three hours!
“I wish I’d written some tender ballads!” he laughs.
“Saying that, you’ve got to be careful, there’s a chance that in 20 years time you’ll still be playing it.”
Is he perhaps now a bit too old for teen angst?
“Even lyrically it can be ‘that girl that dumped me’, and 30 years on you’re still singing it, trying to mean it, not go through the motions. But you’ve got to play it – it might be your hit!”