CHANGE OF PITCH – by Alan Chadwick

For once Scotland has named a class team for the World Cup – Del Amitri – says Alan Chadwick.

Reaching the World Cup finals has always proved something of a double-edged sword for Scotland. The heady prospect of returning to the theatre of dreams clouded by the dread of hearing the rank, rotten song chosen to accompany it.

Ally’s Tartan Army and We Have a Dream are only two of the musical aberrations inflicted on a nation that seems to go into aural freefall whenever World Cup fever bites. Compared with these, England’s Euro 96 anthem Three Lions could have been penned by Lennon and McCartney.

Not this time.

For France 98 it really is going to be different. The Scottish Football Association’s decision to rubber stamp Del Amitri’s downbeat ballad Don’t Come Home Too Soon as the official song to wish Craig Brown and the boys bon voyage means that, whatever happens on the park this summer, musically at least Scotland can hold its head high.

The band’s blend of articulate rock having spawned hits on both sides of the Atlantic, Del Amitri will at least know their way around the Top of the Pops studio should the song prove a hit.

The group first came to public attention through the release of their eponymously titled debut album in 1985, and this summer they celebrate 15 years in the music business with the release of a greatest-hits compilation.

The World Cup song was, in fact, written last November in response to English-based newspaper jibes that Scotland should be preparing to book the first flight home from France.

“There’s this little nugget of hope, the suppressed voice inside all football fans in Scotland, that says maybe we can do something in the World Cup,” says lead singer Justin Currie. “And I just thought that this is probably the time when we won’t be on the first plane home. So I wrote it as a straightforward plea really.”

But the lyrics betray the wariness of a people once bitten. “The world may not be shaking yet/ But you may prove them wrong/ Even long shots make it,/ Don’t come home too soon.”

It was never intended to be the official World Cup song. “When that became a reasonable possibility, I just thought why not? I’d be quite proud to wear that badge,” says Currie.

Wearing the badge however has not resulted in World Cup tickets dropping through the door of Currie’s Glasgow home. Until they do, the plan remains to play a free show in Paris for Scots fans on the opening day of the event.

Millionaire status and the excesses of less talented contemporaries are something Del Amitri have never had to concern themselves with, a fact borne out by the modest rented flat Currie occupies in Glasgow’s west end. It is an economic state of affairs unlikely to change now that the SFA has given them its backing. While Scots may buy the single in their droves, it is unlikely the English will provide the push needed to give the band their first top 10 hit in the UK.

Deconstructing the quintessential Scotland World Cup song has never been difficult. It should whenever possible be sung by Rod Stewart, if only for the fact that he chooses to ignore his birthright and throws his lot in with the hopes of the Tartan Army. If Rod is unavailable then the mantle should pass to second-rate comics or pantoland rejects. And if that fails there is always BA Robertson. It should also contain a cheesy chorus simple enough for embarrassed players to sing while shoe gazing on Top of the Pops.

According to Currie, the fact that Don’t Come Home Too Soon fails to conform to the formula should not cause too much of a surprise. It is, he says, first and foremost a Del Amitri song whose subject just happens to be football.

“It’s not a terrace anthem. If you’re writing a football song, it’s very easy to slip into Flower of Scotland territory, which is a militaristic view of national pride that I despise. If people don’t think the song is triumphalist enough, then that’s more their problem than mine.” If the rumour is to be believed, other names considered for Scottish football’s answer to Eurovision included Rod Stewart, Texas and Wet Wet Wet.

“I actually feel quite sorry for Wet Wet Wet,” says Currie. “Because it’s something they would relish. In a way we’re probably the last band that anybody would expect to have done something like this.

“But then the competitive side of your nature comes out and you think why not give it to us? You could say we’re a bit like the Scotland team. Nobody really knows what to expect. And they’re not sure whether we’re going to do the business.”

He remains unfazed by arguments that the SFA stamp of approval is tantamount to a credibility by-pass, claiming, tongue in cheek, that Del Amitri have always been fundamentally uncool anyway.

Retaining a sneeky admiration for the verve of Ally’s Tartan Army, Currie believes the time is now right for Scotland to be represented by something a bit more emotive. He is also determined that the whole thing be carried off with as much class as possible.

This afternoon the squad will gather at a Glasgow recording studio with the intention of laying down some backing vocals. If it doesn’t work, Currie will have no hesitation on pulling the plug on the idea. The same criteria will apply to the video.

“It’s vitally important to me that the players don’t look stupid. Football players are football players. And pop singers are pop singers. There’s a halfway house between something you passionately believe in and doing something that’s pure showbiz.

“Hopefully we can avoid all the usual tartan-clad cliches. Saying that, when the time comes, I’ll no doubt be on Top of the Pops in my kilt and a ginger wig.”
Submitted by Doug Brown

Times of London: March 22, 1998