The Electrics: The Scottish roots rock band

Monday 1st February 1999

After 10 years of hard work, roots rockers THE ELECTRICS are in fine fettle. The band's frontman Sammy Horner spoke to Mike Rimmer.

The Electrics
The Electrics

The release of The Electrics' latest album 'Living It Up When I Die' was the cause of a minor celebration here in the Rimmer household because it has seemed so long since the band had released any new material. Rarely seen south of the border for anything more than a brief raiding party of a gig or two, the band seem to enjoy playing in Celtic climes as well as their legendary sorties out into Europe. And now a fab new album!

Perhaps The Electrics' frontman, vocalist, composer and bassist Sammy Horner is sulking at the friendly response to their last effort to conquer the English soul with their brand of good time Celtic Roots'n'Roll. The Glasgow-based Irishman jokes, "Last time we played in England somebody stole all our gear so we're scared to go back," he laughs. "We thought it was a threat! We still love playing here in God's own country, as the Scots call it, and Ireland which actually is God's own country."

Strangely, many people think that Sammy is Scottish and the cover of the new album, though hilarious, isn't going to help! Sammy describes it, "It's Braveheart himself, William Wallace. I don't know where they got that painting from but it had him standing with all these guys coming at him. I said to the record company, 'It looks a bit violent doesn't it?' and they just thought it was funny. The Americans have got a very odd idea of what's funny. I said, 'Well, I spend a lot of my time working with little kids and talking to them about non-violence and I think this looks kind of wild.' So they asked me for some suggestions so I said, 'Stick a guitar on him and an amplifier and that'll do the trick,' and they did. But I think the band is known as a Scots band which doesn't bother me. I've lived in Scotland almost as long as I've lived in Ireland. Five out of six of us are Scots so that's fine."

The band recently celebrated 10 years together, which is a quite an achievement, so how did the band celebrate? Sammy describes the party! "We had a big show in Glasgow and we went mad. Normally with the kind of budget you get to work on in the UK you get a half decent PA and a half decent lighting rig and a wee hall at a wee club somewhere. But we actually hired this big place, something like a 600 seater, and we got a video company to make montages of video clips of the last 10 years of members of the band past and present at festivals and some stuff that we'd just hand held ourselves, and video clips of stuff we've done in the States. We hired in this huge lighting rig and the best PA we could get our hands on and we went for it. I was actually blown away because I would have been happy if 300 people had shown up but it was packed. There just seemed to be a genuine affection for the band and what we've done over the past 10 years. People were there who had known us from the very start, people who had come to see us when they were 18 and now they're married with kids. They were there and could remember all the early stuff, and there were kids who have come to see us with the more recent stuff there jigging away at the front. It was pretty touching actually." Sammy seems almost misty eyed as he recalls the night of the gig, "It was good fun, and we did about a three hour show." But he confesses, "I find it difficult remembering all the words to all the songs this time. Imagine what it'll be like when I'm 90 or something! We'll have to get autocue or something, Aerosmith and Rolling Stones both use it," he laughs. "Mind you they have to; they both have to wear glasses to see it I think."

I point out that the new album is very celebratory and Sammy tells me about the band's recent tenth anniversary celebrations. "We started the night off by playing some of the very first ever tracks we ever played in Glasgow 10 years ago. While we were rehearsing for it our guitar player asked me if I'd noticed that all our early songs were about Hell and judgement and now all our songs are about Heaven.) said, 'Yeah, it's just because we're getting closer mate.'"

It's true that the album does have a focus heavenwards but it also retains a sense of down to earth spirituality, which is characteristic of both Sammy and the band. A good example is "Have A Jar On Me." Sammy tells me about the genesis of the song, "It was one of those very odd situations where our church were having weddings last year and some people wanted to get married in the local pub, and so they were. I was sitting in this pub with the bride and groom walking down the middle of the pub with all these dudes sitting around the bar with their pints looking. The whole atmosphere in the place was really good but it was kind of strange when the minister spoke about the wedding at Canaan in Galilee and it suddenly dawned on me that Jesus was saying 'fill these jars up with water and have a jar on me.' So it came out of a real situation where people were actually saying have a jar on me."

The band are now signed with the American company Five Minute Walk which leaves them in the strongest place in their 10 year history when it comes to getting their music out to the public. As Sammy tells the story, the deal was fairly straightforward to set up. He recalls, "The president of the record company was in Germany when we were playing a show two years ago at Christmas. He saw us, and we'd just finished our deal with a German record company, and he asked us to sign. Originally he wanted us to spend a couple of months a year out there but we couldn't do it. We offered him four weeks a year because of the schools work that I do and also because the guys have got jobs. Originally he wasn't too sure about that and then he came back and said 'Sure, I think you guys could be great here."

All of this opens up new opportunities for the band but it's clear that there's a price to be paid. Sammy agrees, "To put that into perspective four weeks out of your annual leave is just about all of your holidays. So the guys do give a lot of their time to it. Plus you're talking about another three to four weeks recording a year, so you're looking at eight weeks we give to the States every year."

Sammy is both excited and cautious about America, "There are certain opportunities out there that are great but there are other things that are very strange." He elaborates, "It's possible to spend your entire life playing to a totally Christian audience in America. I've spoken to lots of bands in America that play solely on a Christian circuit and they have quite rightly reminded me that that does not mean that people who are Christians are not completely screwed up. I don't know if this sounds very critical of the States but I think that perhaps nowhere more than the USA can people who go to church be really strange. You're talking about a place where you aren't allowed to have a pint of beer but perhaps dad's on his fourth wife. So there're strange values. I never thought I'd be culture shocked in America because I speak English but in fact I have been very culture shocked sometimes,"

One of the things that I most appreciate about the music of The Electrics and also Homer's lyrics are the way in which Sammy continues to present a world view which may be dressed up in good time music but is well considered. The song "Hey Paddy" may be about the ministry and life of St Patrick but its application is just as relevant as we head into the third millennium. Homer describes the song as "a bit of a history lesson mixed up with a little bit of mythology."

Sammy explains one of the reasons St Patrick was significant. "He went right to the top whenever he wanted to change things and there was a thing called the Great Antiquity which is really a meeting of three druids, three lawyers and three kings who would make decisions concerning tie country. Patrick was the first Christian to actually get involved in that. So it ended up that he actually gave a voice to many of the missionaries that would follow because he got sanctions from the legal people, from the governing people, and also from the established religion of the time. Therefore the missionary work in Ireland really took off largely because of Patrick. It's really just a song that says 'Look it's alright talking about it but if you think the world's messed up, and you think you can really go for it like old Patrick did then with our blessing please take over from The Electrics and Delirious? and every other band that's in the country and just get up to the mike and just do it,"

The album is packed with cracking tunes and Horner is an excellent storyteller as the song "Yer Man McCann Can". Sammy confesses, "It is a true story. Bill McCann was a man who was about two years older than me at school and I really didn't like him. When he was getting married I knew the girl he was getting married to. He was so unpopular that no one even wanted to go on the stag night with him. So my friend and I decided to take him out before he got married and that was the stag night, the two of us and Bill McCann. He slipped up a little bit and the marriage fell to pieces. But about nine to 10 years ago he really had a very deep experience with God and realised that he was in such a mess. He just wanted his wife and family back, and went back and told her that he'd met with God. But she was a very wise girl. She just said, 'You want me back you're going to have to start dating me, taking me out, treating me right.' So they started dating each other again and now he's really one of the main guys in his community. He's really serving God and doing what all of us should be doing in loving his family and loving his neighbours. In fact I phoned him to ask him if he'd mind after we'd done the track and he said no. I phoned him about a month ago to see if he liked the song and he said he'd almost worn his laser disc out. I think it's a great story."

The new album was recorded mainly in Scotland with Nashville producer and legendary session player Phil Madeira. Sammy explains how the contact was made, "We met' Phil Madeira about '93 when we were in Nashville. We recorded an album called 'The Whole Shebang' with Buddy Miller and Phil played Hammond on the record. We were doing a show in Franklin one night with Buddy and Julie and Phil turned up to jam with us. Ever since then he's been saying, 'Hey man, I'm the man to do your next record.' When we got this American record deal and we got budget details, I emailed him and said, 'Look it's not a big budget but we'd love to have you do this.' He was real keen."

Unwittingly I had a part to play in The Electrics choosing Phil as a producer. I had interviewed Phil for a feature in Word's Premier magazine and Sammy explains that "our guitar player was reading the article on Phil and he was describing where he was when he heard that Rich Mullins had been killed. He said that he was down at the local tobacco shop getting his pipe tobacco. As soon as my guitar player read that he said, 'This is the guy for us,' which doesn't seem like the greatest qualifications for a producer. But I think what Paul was saying was that this was a guy that wasn't too bothered about what the Christian people are going to think about smoking a pipe. Within CCM you'll have people who'll smoke a pipe or have a beer and stuff but would never admit that to a magazine. We just appreciated that kind of honesty with him. He's very earthy and he's the kind of guy where what you see is what you get. On the other hand he's the kind of guy who'll never miss an opportunity to talk about his faith. Even when he was staying at the bed and breakfast just across the road he went out for a night just to talk to the guy about his faith. So I was very impressed with how he spoke but I was more impressed with how he was."

The involvement of Madeira brought some amazing guests to the project including Stuart Adamson from Big Country, Julie Miller and Phil Keaggy. Not that Sammy didn't already have enough musician mates, judging by the name checks in the album's title song. He says, "The title track is my favourite track because I got the chance to name drop!" He laughs and then says rather mysteriously, "It was just inspired by a plonker who completely wiped out the global belief in after life whether you believe in the Christian point of view or not. I just thought 'Nah, I'm not having it.' When I was studying theology I was going to do a dissertation on heaven and the only books I could find were Presbyterian books which I'm sure were very good but after about two chapters I didn't want to go because they were so depressing! Then I just got to thinking about it and all the great people that are going to be there apart from the fact that the Lord himself is going to be there, I think it's going to be some kind of a great party."

Listening to this new set of songs on 'Living It Up When I Die', I'd be more than happy if The Electrics are the houseband when I finally make it to the party going on upstairs!

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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