Mummy's boys

Travis, a much-hyped Glaswegian guitar band, will never be short of a fan. The mother of frontman Fran Healy took out a loan to pay for the recording of their first EP. It was money well spent, mam
Let's be frank. Britain needs another guitar band influenced by "classic songwriters" about as much as it needs another series of Can't Cook, Won't Cook. As everyone from Ken Hom to Noel Gallagher knows, however, there's always room at the top, and for some months now the popular music press have been adamant that Travis are the worthiest of the worthy.

Much hyped, and rightly so, this young Glaswegian four-piece first came to the fore last October when an EP released on their own Red Telephone Box label became a Melody Maker "single of the week" and sold out in days. The EP's lead track, a raw, thrumming anthem entitled "All I Want To Do Is Rock", was originally called "All I Want To Do Is Fuck" and showcased Travis frontman Fran Healy's goose bump-inducing voice and precocious songwriting talent. Andy MacDonald, the former head of the much-respected Go! Discs label was among those instantly smitten and, in December, Travis became the first band to sign to his new label, Independiente. This show of faith was welcomed by Healy's mother, and understandably so. "She's always believed in my self-belief," Healy explains. "She even took out a loan to pay for the recording of that first EP."

Healy is slightly puffy-eyed on the morning of our meeting and he's tucking into a fry-up as Travis's affable bass player, Dougie Payne, plays with the froth on his cappuccino. The pair first met while studying art at Glasgow University and bonded through a shared ability to mimic Rolf Harris with uncanny accuracy. It was some time before Healy convinced Payne that he should join Travis, however. "I was working in the Levi's store in town - that's how well my career as a sculptor was going," says Payne. "Fran popped round and we came up with a plan of action in my lunch hour."

"I was feeling really strange at the time, because my Grandpa - whom I was very close to - had just died and we'd been playing some pretty flat gigs," adds Healy. "I just withdrew from everyone for a couple of weeks. Then I decided that I wanted Dougie to be our bass player, even though he couldn't play a note at that stage."

Travis's full-throttle work ethic soon enabled them to leap that particular hurdle. Together with guitarist Andrew Dunlop and drummer Neil Primrose, Healy and Payne began rehearsing 50 to 60 hours per week in a room above their local pub, thrashing away at their set until Payne's bass-playing came up to scratch. Even now, they still like to crack the whip, and this year they've already played an alarming number of support tours back to back.

Given that their debut album hasn't been released yet, isn't there a danger of premature burn-out?

"No danger at all," smiles Payne. "The problem with a lot of bands is that they stop playing and start shopping as soon as they get their record deal. We still love touring, especially now that we've got our first sleeper bus."

Travis's forthcoming album, Good Feeling, was produced by Steve Lillywhite. As a knob-twiddler noted for his ability to capture incendiary performances from special, yet still nascent talents (witness his work on U2's Boy album, or The La's eponymous debut), Lillywhite was perfectly suited to the job. Healy has fond memories of the sessions for the album at Bearsville Studios in upstate New York. "It was funny, because Steve actually confessed to us that he was shitting himself about producing a band which recorded everything pretty much live. It had been a while since he'd worked that way," he says. "I've got some great video footage of him just completely losing it in the control room during a playback of one of Andy's solos. When my mum saw it, she was like `Who's that man jumping up and down, son?' "

As one might expect of an album written by a band whose members include three former art students, Good Feeling has a healthy regard for chiaroscuro. "U16 Girls", for example, is a thuggishly irresistible chant-along, while the wistful, Sixties-sounding ballad "Love You Anyways" is one of several songs on the album that demonstrate Healy's ability to crystallise his gut feelings in quite extraordinary vocal performances. The latter track, which he admits is "sort of dedicated" to his ex-girlfriend, is a classic story song. The journey on the number 44 bus mentioned in its lyrics takes Healy past Glasgow University, past the cinema that he used to visit regularly with his grandfather, and past other landmarks that have special significance for him. This is as much as he's prepared to reveal. "I hate discussing my songs," he smiles. It's at this point that both of them are suddenly distracted by a Pocahontas lookalike who pulls up in a Mercedes sports car outside the cafe where we're breakfasting. "That's another thing we've noticed since we moved down to London," laughs Payne. "The girls are much more exotic."

Travis's next British tour should be very memorable for them. The band have been a popular choice on the stereo at Supernova Heights for some time now, and they were recently confirmed as the opening act on all of Oasis's tour dates this month, apart from those at London's Earls Court.

How significant do Travis think the tour will be for them?

"Put it this way," says Payne, "we'll get to play to more people in a month than we'd normally get to play to in a year, so that's pretty significant."

"And we respect Oasis as songwriters," adds Healy. "Some people don't rate Noel Gallagher as a lyricist at all, but I thought it was really clever of him to take a phrase as familiar as `do you know what I mean?' and use it as a title. Now I think of the song every time I hear someone say that."

As the interview draws to a close, my sad rock infatuations get the better of me. I'd heard that Travis's official photographer is Scarlet Page, the daughter of Led Zeppelin's Jimmy, and I have to ask them what she's like. "She's really sweet: she hasn't got a bad bone in her body," says Healy.

More importantly, though, has she told them any fresh anecdotes about her dad?

"You'd have to hear them from Scarlet yourself," he says. "It's not really my place to say."

Damn and blast, but he's noble is Fran. Noble and blessedn

Travis's debut album, `Good Feeling', is out on Independiente on Monday

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