The Blue Aeroplanes are back with their strongest collection of songs since Beatsongs in 1991, ‘Welcome, Stranger!’. We spoke with lyricist/poet and frontman Gerard Langley ahead of the band’s UK tour.
NE:MM : “Welcome, Stranger!” – a ‘one world’ – pro asylum / immigration message?
GERARD: I had the title before it all kicked off. I think I might have had that old Bette Davis film ’Now, Voyager’ in mind. In my head it had a comma and an explanation mark and I thought that might be a good title for something else. Then I did a bit of research and found an old Big Crosby song (Well, did you evah!) with a song and an exclamation mark and I thought ‘I like that.’ But if I didn’t want to stand by the inclusive sentiment of Welcome, Stranger I might have changed it, but I didn’t.
NE:MM: With the rise of the fascist right across Europe and the US – what are your feelings on the political situation and does this feed into your lyrics and the music of Blue Aeroplanes?
GERARD: It’s a complete disaster. I’m in a relationship with a Slovakian girl. It’s all going the wrong way. I think the zeitgeist is for separation, politically. I’m an inclusive kind of person. I once wrote a song called ‘One World Passport’ and don’t forget that Bristol (where the band are from) was one of the very few cities that voted Remain, it’s a very inclusive city.
NE:MM: Would you consider allying yourself and the band to a particular political party, personality (Corbyn?) or cause? (as UB40 and Paul Weller have done)
GERARD: This has become a very common discussion point in the punk and post-punk era. The problem with using, in effect, polemic is that you’re only possibly going to convince people who listen to your stuff, and what if the opposition write a better song than you? From my point of view it’s always been more about raising consciousness.
NE:MM: You lecture at BIMM on songwriting and the music business. Do you detect in today’s youth less engagement with music and if so, why do you think that is? Do we have an under-educated music audience and, does that result in sterile output?
GERARD: The main difference between our generation and college students today is really down to the absence of five full length newspapers per week promoting that week’s music. There was Sounds, Melody Maker etc and we all knew the same bands and we knew where we stood in relation to artists like David Bowie, without having to think about it. They don’t have that shared knowledge because what they’ve got is the whole of the internet.
NE:MM: How do you feel about releasing a new album into that environment? Are you worried that it might be difficult for the record to find an audience beyond existing fans?
GERARD: I don’t really care much about that, to be honest. The last record we put out (Anti-Gravity in 2011), we didn’t put in shops or offer out for review. What happens to the new record is pretty much in the lap of the Gods. I think over the last few years things have changed, 6 Music have got their act together and they pick up on certain things, but nowadays you have to have good material but you also have to have something unique about you.
NE:MM: I saw you with A-House and Sleeper at Princess Charlotte in Leicester back in 1991. I think the venue has now gone and of course lots of small venues under threat by gentrification / new housing etc. You have part ownership in the Fleece (capacity 450) in Bristol? Thoughts on this worrying trend? The Fleece under threat at all?
GERARD: Yes it has been. Someone bought offices next door and turned them into flats. We registered a protest and raised a petition of 40,000 signatures in less than a week and Chris went down to Parliament a few times and they’ve now changed the guidelines – principle of first use. As a result the flat owners had to pay for soundproofing the Fleece. There’s definitely quite a shift in public policy now because the govt has begun to realise that too many venues are being lost.
NE:MM: Did The Blue Aeroplanes owe much to touring small venues in the early days? Why are small venues important?
GERARD: Small venues are essential because how can a band come in at the O2 level? Small venues allow you to build an audience. When we started out we didn’t play Bristol that much we just wanted to get to London as soon as possible even if we were third on the bill at a shit pub. Better not to do that, grow a local audience is what I advise my students.
The Blue Aeroplanes play O2 Academy Newcastle on 13th January 2017. New album “Welcome, Stranger!” is now available to buy digitally.
I started NE:MM as a magazine back in August 2013 and took it online in March 2014. I have always had a passion for music, and a desire to help popularise music of the type I loved. That led me to promote as 'The Outsider' and 'Common People' until recently and who knows, the promoter bug may bite again soon. As I age I find my own tastes developing and so my enthusiasm now extends to classical, jazz/funk and metal, whereas it used to sit squarely in the pop/indie/folk box. I hope it's infectious and through the efforts of the many volunteer contributors to NE:MM I hope it helps you find new music that you can feel passionate about too.