Cast your mind back to 2006. Tony Blair is your Prime Minister, England are at the World Cup, and, most likely, “Chelsea Dagger” is blaring out of the radio. It’s still being played today, and has over 6 million hits on YouTube. The first question, then, that I ask Baz Fratelli, the bass guitarist of The Fratellis – who are about to go touring their new album, We Need Medicine, from November – is to cast his mind back along with us. “It’s amazing,” he says, clearly happy to reminisce, “We actually often see ourselves as an album-focussed band, they are quite important to us as a whole and we like to think of our records as a composite.” At the same time, though, he says hits such as “Chelsea Dagger” are a huge boost to the group’s morale – “Any band would be lying if they said they didn’t love having a blockbuster that the crowd go wild for.”
We Need Medicine is supposedly a different type of album. Widely-regarded as a more understated, sophisticated sound to its “Chelsea Dagger”, chantalong counterpart, Baz is not so sure. He still identifies the album, and more importantly the band, as “fast-paced rock to get your blood pumping.” The record’s opening track, “Halloween Blues”, certainly fits the bill, and “Whisky Saga” too bears shades of “Henrietta”. But there is a noticeable shift and it is probably telling that the album’s title track has a more multi-layered melody, with piano riffs and folksy vocals. No matter what kind of music it is though, there is only good music and bad music, and when I ask Baz to sum the album up in three words, he responds with no hesitation: “Pretty f***ing good”. Good enough for them to play at Glastonbury, as they did in 2008? Baz remains unperturbed and humble: “I’m just happy to be where we are now, making music and people coming to our gigs.” Playing Glastonbury is not particularly on his mind, despite dreamily recalling, “Playing in front of 200,000 people, at night, that is just the absolute pinnacle.”
Since reaching that “pinnacle”, The Fratellis have been through a lot. After a second album which never quite scaled the heights of Costello Music, the band entered indefinite hiatus in July 2009 amidst rumoured in-fighting, with all three going their separate ways. Jon played with Codeine Velvet Club, Mince with Throne o’ Diablo, while Baz toured with The Twang. If you can recognise just one of those, you will have done well. Indeed, now that they have reformed, they all seem better off too. Absence makes the heart grow stronger, and Baz says they’re “simply having fun, enjoying each other’s company.”
Does he feel pressure to emulate the popularity of their first album? “No pressure,” comes the assured reply. Instead, you get the impression that, second time around, they are just hoping to savour every moment at the top. I ask what he’s looking forward to about the reunion most. “Touring is such a top experience,” he says as the group embark on a tour of the UK, US and Europe, “We have great fan bases in America, but the European leg of the tour is a whole other dimension. Every night, not only are you in a new town but also in a new country, with a new language and a new type of crowd.” How’s his French? “Pas très bon.”
As for the group’s camaraderie, Baz suggests that the reunion has made them savour that too. “We used to fight quite often, and get up to wild antics in general,” he admits, but they have mellowed along with their music, “Now we are just happy to be playing music together again, so we concentrate on that.” They still have a good time though, true to their roots and inspirations, The Who and The Clash, about whom Baz is only too happy to talk about. “They’re what we grew up on, and what we’re still growing up on,” he says, almost philosophically. He seems so utterly absorbed by the music of the 70s and 80s that I feel obliged to ask him whether the band have any musical interest in their peers and discovering new music. The response is enthused, as he deliberates which band to recommend to me.
“There are many current artists that I really like the sound of, but the last album I bought was Trouble Will Find Me by The National, and that was so good.” But The Fratellis are a band that generally prefer the party-vibe of old school rock rather than its slightly tamer, contemporary indie counterpart.
We talk freshers’ week and its own party-vibe, about which Baz is surprisingly experienced and knowledgeable, despite never having studied at university himself, since he has played at so many of them across the country. “I’ve always enjoyed doing them, the crowds get pretty raucous and that’s what live music is all about” he says, his voice half-tinged with regret that he hasn’t the time to play at any freshers’ weeks this year. Any advice in his absence? “Play ‘We Need Medicine’, you can have a good party to it.” You certainly can.
We Need Medicine is out now.