The last time Franz Ferdinand were supposed to play Edinburgh’s Hogmanay’s Concert in the Gardens, the Glasgow-based band had recently caused a stir with their first single, Darts of Pleasure., Its follow-up, Take Me Out, was set to be released in twelve days’ time, while their eponymously named album was two months away from being unleashed into the world.
The then four-piece version of Franz Ferdinand featuring vocalist Alex Kapranos, guitarist Nick McCarthy, bass player Bob Hardy and drummer Paul Thomson were sired in Glasgow’s fecund DIY art and music melting pot, and were the cool kids’ new favourites. It was already clear to regulars on the scene at Optimo and Glasgow School of Art’s Vic Café that Franz’s new wave of post-punk disco cut from the stylistic cloth of indie obscurities by the likes of Josef K and The Monochrome Set was about to storm the mainstream.
Opening a Hogmanay bill headlined by Erasure and The Coral was a big deal, both for the band and event organisers who had secured a support act who were already shaping up to be the hippest and smartest band on the planet. The elements were against them both, alas, and how Franz Ferdinand would have fared is something we’ll never know, as the show was cancelled at the eleventh hour due to high winds.
While the shut-down left thousands of revellers understandably disappointed, when word started to filter out the next morning that, in true DIY guerrilla fashion, Franz Ferdinand had ended up playing an impromptu set at a student party in Marchmont, it became the stuff of Edinburgh gig-going legend.
Fifteen years on, and Franz Ferdinand are seasoned music biz veterans, with five albums under their belt, plus a one-off collaboration with Sparks as FFS, and have just spent the best part of two years on the international gig circuit. This added wisdom, experience and musical chops should pay dividends as a new-look Franz Ferdinand finally look set to play the Ross Bandstand as headliners of this year’s Concert in the Gardens in a line-up completed by BBC 6Music favourites Metronomy and Free Love, the Glasgow-based duo formerly known as Happy Meals. If the weather stays fine, this should make up for the plug being pulled all those years ago.
“It was the biggest thing we’d done at that point,” says Hardy, who’s just back from China after Franz Ferdinand played their first ever shows there. “It was so early in Franz Ferdinand’s life that I still got really nervous about every gig, and because this was such a big deal I’d been nervous for weeks, so it was really disappointing when it was rained off. Then we went to this party which a friend of Alex’s sister was having, we took our stuff and ended up playing.”
A lot has happened since then, so next Monday’s headline show feels like a homecoming of sorts.
“It’s so nice to come back,” says Hardy. “After playing all over the world it’s a nice way to round off the year. It also solves the problem of what you’re going to do on New Year’s Eve.”
Hardy and co were last in Edinburgh as one half of FFS, the once in a lifetime supergroup formed with supersonic pop heroes, Sparks. FFS’ holy alliance had debuted at Glasgow School of Art before playing a show as part of Edinburgh International Festival.
This year, half a decade after the last Franz Ferdinand album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, the band released their fifth album, Always Ascending. This was also the band’s first record since the departure of guitarist and founder member Nick McCarthy, and the first to feature new members Dino Bardot, formerly of The Yummy Fur, and Julian Corrie, who had carved out a solo career under the name Miaoux Miaoux on keyboards, synths and guitar.
While the sound on Always Ascending is in full possession of Franz Ferdinand’s recognisable pop bounce, Bardot and Corrie have shifted the dynamic slightly, even as their contributions have been absorbed into the fold by 20 months touring.
“It’s nice having new people in the band,” says Hardy, “and feels like a new band in many ways. Going back on tour to places you’ve been before you see it through their eyes, and that keeps things fresh.”
Hardy keeps things fresh as well by photographing each hotel room he stays in while on tour. Rather than capturing hackneyed images of rock and roll excess, he sets up a timer before checking out, and takes a picture of himself on the bed, with his face covered by whatever book he’s reading at the time. Having done this since the band’s early days, Hardy now has a collection of more than 400 photographs.
“We were in a hotel room in L.A. playing games,” Hardy says of the roots of his slightly obsessive hobby, “and I was worried of forgetting what it was like, all those private moments, which are what matters to me, so I started taking pictures. I enjoy documenting things, and want to have some kind of visual record of things. I tried taking sketchbooks around with me, but it’s difficult to find the time and the headspace to do anything with that, so I started taking pictures instead.
“It’s an odd one,’ he admits. “You don’t see my face in any of them, so you don’t see me getting any older, and seen en masse they become quite homogenous and quite absurd, but I can’t stop now. It’s an OCD thing.”
Much of Hardy’s visual sensibility stems from his time at Glasgow School of Art, and he was an artist long before he was persuaded to learn bass by Kapranos. While so far there have been slide-show presentations of Hardy’s images at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, there are now loose plans afoot to publish some kind of collection of them. Hardy plans to do this himself in tandem with Rachel Graham, a friend from his GSA days who works as a music publisher in France.
“I want to keep it quite low-key,” says Hardy. “I think I see it as a nicely bound book that’s available online. Both of us who are doing it are from the music world, so it’s sort of an experiment in how to put a book together.”
If all goes well, one might presume Hardy will be able to add an image of whichever hotel room he’s staying in over Hogmanay to his collection. Not so, it seems.
“I’m going to go back to Glasgow, actually,” he says. “I’ve developed this tradition of going for a run on New Year’s Day, so I’ve got to go back and do that.”
While the weather forecasts are good so far, what would happen if the elements turned against the Concert in the Gardens as they did in 2003?
“I’ll be so annoyed if it’s rained off again,” says Hardy.
Would Franz Ferdinand crash another student party, perhaps, or are they past all that now?
“We could probably manage it,” says Hardy, “but let’s see.”
Franz Ferdinand headline the Concert in the Gardens with Metronomy and Free Love at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, December 31.
The Herald, December 27th 2018