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Jamie R Hawkins on Del Amitri

Jamie R Hawkins is an Award Winning Singer Songwriter whose songs have won him critical acclaim in the UK and around the world – he has been described as “a powerful mixture of storyteller, philosopher and poet”, his lyrics as “poignant and witty” and his performances, “emotive and captivating”.

With three solo EP’s and a string of single releases under his belt, Jamie has gone on to find successes overseas as the writer and frontman for’ The Unshakeables’ and a record deal with independent Swiss label, Funk Street Studios.

His most recent endeavours have seen him join forces with fellow singer songwriters Phil Cooper and Tamsin Quin for an epic modern folk adventure in harmonies. ‘The Lost Trades’  will be launching their sound in March 2020

Here, Jamie discusses his love of Del Amitri.

Image result for del amitri
Del Amitri

I guess it’s the ego in every performing songwriter that causes them to baulk whenever anybody compares them to another artist – I mean, we all like to think there’s never been anyone as original as us, right? 

A good friend of mine once gave me some great perspective on this – that when people compare you to another artist, they’re basically saying, “Hey, I bet fans of (insert any artist here) would love what you do!” 

Which is why I go out of my way to find fans of Del Amitri.

Del Amitri are a Scottish band (formed in Glasgow in the Eighties) and like many Del Amitri fans, the first song of theirs I heard was ‘Kiss This Thing Goodbye’.

As I recall, I was sitting in a pub in Cornwall with my then girlfriend, going through the painfully drawn out process of splitting up with her and so it was particularly timely and poignant for me – hearing it for the first time was like Justin Currie (the founder and main writer for the band) was reaching into my brain and, using a kind of beautiful, precise poetry, was articulating exactly what I could not find the words to say. 

When I went out and bought their album, Waking Hours, I found that this uncanny phenomenon was not only exclusive to the one song.  I had found a band whose somewhat bleak but dogged outlook on life (with a dry sense of humour to match) was not that dissimilar to mine. 

Each song on Waking Hours is completely different from the next in tone, mood and melody so, at that time, it was difficult for me to put Del Amitri into a genre.  Just solid grooves, soaring melodies and beautifully crafted lyrics all held aloft by Justin Currie’s gritty, precise vocal delivery.

And the lyrics really are beautiful.  Here’s an example from one of the hits from Waking Hours; ‘Move Away Jimmy Blue’, a song about being stuck in a small town, doomed to live out a meaningless, predictable life of crime and debt:

‘A struck match faded like a nervous laugh

Beyond the halo of a naked bulb

And your low voice mingles with your other half’s

School friends in second hand clothes’

Waking Hours is not a cheery album by any means – ‘Stone Cold Sober’ talks about the heavy use of alcohol to dull the pointlessness of life and ‘Nothing Ever Happens’, appears to be an observation of society’s debilitating culture of apathy – there are relationship break-ups aplenty and no shortage when it comes to disaffected life perspectives.  That said, there is often the glimpse of an underlying sense of humour woven into the songs that seems to belie the grim narrative – almost as if the stories themselves are self-deprecating in some way.  To me, these songs capture that tenacious, indomitable Scottish spirit perfectly.

Del Amitri are billed as an alternative rock band but I like to think of their songs (particularly those from ‘Waking Hours’ and their followup album, ‘Change Everything’) as modern folk songs.  For starters, they utilise many of those earthy instruments and styles associated with that genre, but most importantly, the stories resonate with everyday people like me  – the ‘Common Folk’ if you will.

‘Change Everything’, when it was released three years later, was even better than I dared to hope it would be.  Slightly more upbeat at times but still maintaining that wonderfully gritty, underdog perspective with each song being different from the last.  ‘Always The Last To Know’ is the track that most people would recognise from this album – a great track indeed but not the strongest on the album – songs like the brilliant ‘As Soon As The Tide Comes In’ still maintained that folky storytelling vibe while ‘Just Like A Man’ introduced a soulful element to the repertoire.   If I wasn’t already in love with Justin Currie’s writing then this album cemented the love affair for me – in fact, it is this album that I go back to again and again.

And don’t even get me started on ‘Twisted’; this was the album that saw them rock things up without screwing things up the way many bands do when they make such a transitionary leap.  From the kick ass opening song, ‘Food For Songs’, and it’s equally kick-ass follow up track, ‘Start With Me’ the tone seems to be set – but then ‘One Thing Left To Do’ happens and you suddenly find a softer, more vulnerable side to the writing than the band have previously displayed. 

There is so much light and shadow on this album. ‘Roll To Me’ is an upbeat love song while ‘Crashing Down’ has you laying on the floor counting the cracks on the ceiling.  To me, the most beautiful song on this album is ‘It Might As Well Be You’ – set in a nightclub as the night draws to a close, it captures perfectly that crushing sense of loneliness and the reaching out in desperation, not for a sense of connection as such, but more as a distraction from grief.  This is storytelling at its finest.

Apparently, although ‘Roll To Me’ is the most successful of all their single releases, both in the UK and the US, the boys remain somewhat irked that what they considered to be a ‘throw away pop song’ turned out to be their biggest hit.  I agree with them – it is a great upbeat pop song but compared to the rest of the offerings on ‘Twisted’ it’s easy to see why they’d feel this way. (Worth noting that ‘Twisted’ was listed by Q magazine as one of the top 10 best albums in 1995)

I’ve seen Del Amitri play live a number of times and have always been blown away by their performances – a great live band who really know how to transfer their onstage energy to the audience.  This is something I try to emulate at my own shows – making the audience a part of the show gives a connection that they won’t forget in a hurry.

I could keep on for hours, banging on about their other albums and about the B-Sides (which were deemed worthy enough to be released as an album in its own right – Lousy With Love; The B-Sides’, but I feel I may have gone on too long already.

I will, however, finish by saying that Del Amitri and Justin Currie have been such a huge influence to me as both a singer and a songwriter.  Every time I write a song, I try and write it with the same kind of appeal both melodically and lyrically – of course, I want to make my lyrics clever, witty and powerful, but to keep them accessible and relevant to the listener is paramount.  I think I’m doing okay in that regard…

So, whenever somebody says to me, “Hey man, your sound really reminds me of Del Amitri” – Well, that’s just fine by me….

Many thanks to Jamie for taking the time to write about his love of Del Amitri for us.

Jamie R Hawkins: Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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