‘I’m no Liam Gallagher’
As the band gets ready to rock Belfast next month, The Courteeners' frontman Liam Fray tells Andy Welch why there's no way you would confuse him with the infamous Oasis star now
What a difference two years make. When The Courteeners released their debut album St Jude in April 2008, they did so amid a flurry of articles about frontman Liam Fray being gobby, outspoken and fond of spitting out insults about other bands.
In the great tradition of Manchester guitar bands he proclaimed, free of irony, that his band were ‘the best new band in the country', if not the world, and that St Jude was going to blow his contemporaries out of the water.
It was a divisive stance that on one hand captivated the hearts and minds of lads in their mid-to-late teens looking for rock ‘n’ roll excitement, while on the other, bored older music lovers who'd seen and heard it all before.
As he gears up for the release of second album Falcon, the 2010 vintage of Liam Fray is a markedly different character to the one we found back then.
He's every bit as affable as he was, and he's still as passionate, but gone are the bluster and casual insults aimed at other bands — Hard-Fi were on the receiving end of his vitriol last time we spoke.
“It's crazy how I was perceived, but a lot of it just stems from me swearing so much. I mean, how shocking,” he says with mock horror. “I suppose I also had an extraordinarily large chip on my shoulder too. I basically thought ‘I've got three songs, why aren't I as big as all these other bands?'
“Looking back, I am a much happier person than I was three or four years ago. I don't know what it was, maybe I was going out too much when I was 19 and 20, but I was really cynical,” he says.
“I'm still a realist, but I was totally cynical back then. I've got a spring in my step and I look around and the world isn't as bad a place as I thought it was, and that reflects in the new songs. People will still think I'm the same though.
“I didn't realise that once it was in print, that's what you are forever.”
He is, of course, dead right. There were those who wrote The Courteeners off when they emerged in 2007 because of Liam's Gallagher-esque demeanour, but it would be unwise to hold on to that opinion now.
New album Falcon will surprise anyone who hears it. Where St Jude borrowed heavily from The Libertines and blended it with the much-talked about Mancunian simian swagger, the forthcoming record showcases what a talented songwriter Fray has become.
“I'd love to be able to give an answer and say why this record is so different,” he says, “but I can't. I've got a bit better at lyrics, a bit better at writing music, we've all got a bit better at our instruments, so altogether, getting a bit better at everything has made us a lot better overall.
“There was so much written about me at the beginning which turned a lot of people off straight away, and everyone pigeonholed us,” he adds. “Our problem was that people knew too much about us. Take a band like MGMT for example. What do you know about them? Almost nothing, so people just say ‘It's a great record', which is how it should be. Our early reviews were more like character assassinations, but I think this record is just too good for that to happen again.”
Aptly titled first song on the album, The Opener, is a love letter to Manchester, written from the perspective of someone who has spent the last 18 months touring the world.
“I miss the city I love, but I've been having an affair.”
He sings of dabbling with destinations from LA to Doncaster, while the chorus refrain “My heart is here, here to stay” leaves no doubt as to where he really wants to be.
Elsewhere on Falcon there are more ambitious lyrics to be enjoyed, new, more sophisticated sounds and a wider range of influences and aims.
The biggest breakthrough on the album, however, is the current single You Overdid It, Doll. Its throbbing disco beat and guitars suddenly come back together.
U2's The Edge would be proud of a breakthrough for the band.
Liam is rightfully proud of the song.
“I remember our producer had this new toy to play with, so he plugged it in and it was amazing, making this like 'womp womp womp' sound, a really funky, Seventies sound,” he explains.
“I wasn't too sure about it but he put it on the song to try it and it sounded amazing and then I wanted it on everything, but you have to be careful with things like that, we can only use it on one in every 12 songs,” he says, smiling.
Lyrically, You Overdid It, Doll is about a friend of Liam's from his university days. The singer left his parents' house in Middleton when he was 18 and moved into a student house in Burnage — that Oasis connection just won't go away.
Like many students, he spent much of his first year drinking and missing lectures, but by the time his second year came around, and when his mates started buckling down to some work, he carried on.
He talks of drunken nights out, inviting hundreds of other nightclubbers back to his house for a party and waking up to strange people on his floor, but doesn't regret a thing.
“My work went downhill, I barely went in and there was a point where I had a look at myself and started to wonder what I was doing. The song is about a mate of mine who was even worse than me.
“If I was overstepping the mark, she was scary at times and there was no one pulling her back.”
Next month, the band kicks off its UK tour taking in all the major cities. Their hometown Manchester, however, is strangely absent from the list of dates, although they did sell out the 10,000 capacity Manchester Central in December.
It's an incredible feat for such a young band, and one Liam isn't going to forget any time soon.
“I asked for the house lights to be turned on when we were on stage so I could see everyone. I really regretted that, because that's when it hit me. That's when you know your songs are in people's hearts. I've seen it.”
The Courteeners play The Speakeasy, Queen's, on March 31. Doors open at 8pm. Contact Ticketmaster on 0870 243 4455