In conversation with... December
Every fan has their own special story, and we are happy to share these with you all. Today, we continue our series of conversations with the Scottish band December, a group who jumped into the U2 community's collective consciousness last year with the release of their charity single Alison Stewart. Since then they have teased the community about their forthcoming cover of A Sort of Homecoming, which is released today (and we have the video for it embedded below). To mark the occasion, we took the opportunity to talk with them about how U2 inspired them to form a band, why they wrote Alison Stewart, and their own particular U2 memories.
Introductions are in order first. Your band is called December, but who are the people inside it and how did you form?
Scott: We are a bit of a collective these days with Ails on lead vocals, Scott, Stephen and Paul on guitars and vocals, Grant on bass and we have 2 drummers on the books for our current album and gig commitments, Graeme and Kenny. We’ve been around in various incarnations since the 1990s and named ourselves after an early Waterboys song which U2 fans would love if they checked it out. We went through a cycle of management and record deals in 2004-05 and are now releasing independently in the UK. It’s fair to say we wouldn’t be in music or be songwriters at all but for the influence and inspiration of U2. Can I also take this chance to say huge thanks to you guys at U2gigs for all you do in capturing and documenting U2 concerts. The quality and the information are always so great and we really appreciate it and have done for years.
Tell us about how you became U2 fans. What song or album did you hear that sparked it, and how?
Scott: Under a blood red sky initially but Bad at Live Aid changed everything for me as it did for so many others.
Ails: At high school in the eighties, a bit of a lost soul and I'd read about U2 in Smash Hits magazine and heard Sunday Bloody Sunday (War Version) on the radio. The passion got me. I then managed to scrape some money together and buy the album and that was it. When I saw Live at Red Rocks, I cried like a baby and have done every time since when they step on stage.
Stephen: Achtung Baby (The Joshua Tree had passed me by!). I first heard The Fly when I was working in a record shop as a teenager and everything that then followed with Achtung Baby was incredible. The opening 'ticks' at the start of Zoo Station still fill me with excitement. I listened on vinyl and it's still my favourite album (ever, not just by U2).
Graeme: As a kid we had family friends whose son was about 4 years older than me. When we were visiting, he played me (and let me borrow!) ‘Under a blood red sky’. At 9, years old this was not music I had heard before, but knew it was something that I had to listen to and get to know. ‘I will Follow’, ‘Gloria’ and ’40’ were the songs that resonated. Watching Live Aid 2 years later sealed the deal.
Does that piece of music still resonate with you now? What song and album are your current favourites?
Scott: my list of favourites has stayed pretty static over the years. Bad, With or without you. The Unforgettable fire is still my favourite album.
Ails: Yes. There's always passion and they play like there's never going to be another chance. Current favourites, Out of Control and Unforgettable Fire as a complete work - see Graeme (drummer) for further flaff ;)
Graeme: I still love everything on ‘Under a Blood Red Sky’. When the band played ‘I will Follow’ on the Pop Mart tour, I copied the track to my minidisc and listened to it on loop. However, the album that has stuck with me and gets played regularly is ‘Unforgettable Fire’. ‘A sort of homecoming’ is a song that I always loved, but didn’t understand until I got a bit older and lived in other places. Also, the second side of that album is a masterpiece, you have songs that evoke incredible imagery and mood such as ‘Promenade’ and ‘4th of July’ that are then punctuated with ‘Bad’, which surprises you and wakes you up. In today’s world where people (including me) tend to listen to individual songs, it is an album that has been beautifully curated and requires a listen the whole way through.
Some people have particularly crazy or funny (in hindsight) stories about what they experienced to buy a particular album or single. What is the strangest thing you've done as a fan?
Scott: Ails and I have done the overnight queuing thing back in the days of real, paper tickets and before the internet but that is normal behaviour I guess for U2 fans of our vintage. But probably the most unusual thing we’ve done was the whole Alison Stewart project which had us asking complete strangers for help in making a film about U2 in Dublin.
Ails: There's a really cool thing the whole band got to do a few months back, however, I'm not allowed to tell you about it. Boo. Other than that, nothing weird but I camped out all night in Glasgow just to get tickets for the Joshua Tree tour.
In November you released a song called Alison Stewart for Chernobyl Children International, a group that she is a patron of. Many people join groups because of celebrity activism, but you took it a step further. What inspired you to write a song for CCI, and how did writing it come about?
Scott: In early 2014 we heard Eric Church’s song Springsteen which was obviously a tribute without becoming pastiche and our immediate thought was to ask why no one (so far as we knew) had honoured U2 in that way. We were in the early throes of the writing for the album we’re just concluding now and after our initial thoughts the song came pretty quickly. And it seemed to have a narrator which was a new seam of writing for us. We felt it worked well being from Alison Stewart’s perspective and wanted the song to honour her and the role she played in supporting and steadying Bono in the early years. She’s also an inspirational figure in her own right and we’ve found since releasing the song that many U2 fans feel the same. So the song ended up being about their early years and the Live Aid appearance. And then of course we heard that U2 were about to release an album about their early years and a tour which would be heavily influenced by all the Dublin locations we saw in the SOI tour.
It also led to an album which has 13 songs all named after someone who has inspired, helped or influenced us in some way (from country singer George Jones to Maria McKee to Aaron Sorkin to Kenny Dalgish, Scotland’s greatest ever footballer!) The writing of the song and the recording of the video in Dublin with the kindness from the U2 fan community which came afterwards have easily been our greatest experience as a band. We were overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers and by all those in Dublin who helped us. We wanted the song to do some good and if it made any money for that to go to a charity that Ali Hewson supported and CCI came to mind. We were very grateful to Fiona Maher and Adi Roche of CCI and we hope the song over time raises some decent funds for an amazing and worthwhile cause.
Today (January 31) you are releasing a cover of A Sort of Homecoming, which you have been teasing online for some time now. Why did you choose this song, and what was the recording process/mix arrangement like?
Scott: We don’t really need to say much about this to a U2 audience I’m guessing. It changed everything didn’t it when it kicked off The Unforgettable Fire album. One of U2’s finest moments. We always felt U2 songs were either too sacred to cover or too dangerous in that we would fall so short of the original that we would either look daft or incompetent. It was after Alison Stewart’s release when Ails and I were over for the second last Dublin gig and visited Hanover Quay again that something just clicked and it felt right to go home and try it. We demo’d it at home with an atmospheric backing track and just acoustic and voice and it seemed to work. We shared it with some folk we trust and including some U2 stalwarts who are well known online and got a vote of confidence which led to us agreeing to release it. We hope it’s well received. We’re doing what we swore we never would! It’s a lament really and has some of their very best writing and lyrics.
You cite U2 and Bruce Springsteen as two inspirations for forming a band and forging a musical career. How have they influenced your own style of music?
Scott: Yeah U2 and Springsteen have been there all of our lives and are pretty much agreed upon by most of the band as the best there has ever been. For Ails and myself The Waterboys and Maria McKee and Lone Justice are in the mix too. We’re trying to be honest, passionate songwriters and to write exciting, emotional, heart on sleeve stuff. We’re trying our very best to write songs that make people feel the way we felt when we heard songs like 40 or Thunder Road for the first time. A tall order I know but there’s no point in doing this unless you think you’ve got a shot at writing something great. We live in hope!
As a live concert website, we're very interested in hearing about the fans live experiences. When was your first concert? What live moment do you find particularly memorable?
Ails: The Joshua Tree tour in Glasgow 1987. Bono, came on – we could just about see him in silhouette. They started with Streets, the crowd went crazy and I fainted in the crush! I was pulled out and Scott after me and we enjoyed the rest of it once I’d recovered. When you look back at the setlists at that time they were incredible.
Graeme: I saw the Joshua Tree Tour in 1987 when I was 13. It was my first ever concert and set and absolutely unrealistic bar for everything else I was going to see afterwards!
Scott: Elevation, August 18th 2001, in the heart at Earls Court, London. Grant and I were down from Glasgow for that one. We’d never been that close before. The whole coming on with the house lights on was so impactful.
No fan gets to see every concert. What concert do you most wish you could have experienced?
Scott: Redrocks, Slane 2 (Graeme’s wife Nicky was in the heart!] and the recent one at the Forum in LA.
Graeme: There are a few I would like to have seen: Zoo TV in Sydney – I lived in Sydney for many years and the combination of the weather, summer atmosphere, inclusion of Zooropa and the Irish/Australian relationship would have made that an amazing show to be at (as captured in the video); Concert at Brooklyn Bridge – I love New York and always have wanted to live there for a short period of time. I would have loved to have seen this one with my wife Nicky.
Ails: Live at Red Rocks. Though I'd have probably passed out with excitement.
What songs would you love to see the band play? What songs will you never get tired of hearing?
Scott: When the snare cracks in on With or Without you is always awesome. I’d love to hear Surrender again sometime. Also ASOH.
Graeme: I would like to see the band do what Pink Floyd did a couple of years ago and play a full album live in sequence. If I got this wish, then I would like to hear (in this order) ‘Under a Blood Red Sky’ (Gloria is a great opener), then ‘Unforgettable Fire’, ‘Achtung Baby’, then ‘Zooropa’ and because this is a wish and dream list, Johnny Cash would close with ‘The Wanderer.’
What is the best live performance (song, album, or concert) that U2 have ever released? Why?
Scott: ASOH off Wide Awake in America – it’s incredible. Between the drum lift and the crowd noise and the amazing new take on the lyric and the tune by Bono. Seems to just capture a moment. They don’t seem to have played it much since then which is a shame.
Stephen: For me, 'With or Without You', on Rattle and Hum. I love the look of the stadium, the simplicity of the stage, the elegance of the performance and how the camera travels around Adam's back showing him really going for it. Not to mention Larry as he moves to the snare drum and Bono's vocals as we 'shine like stars in the summer night...'! I wouldn't change a thing about it.
Graeme: I love PopMart in Mexico city for its sheer scale, ambition and energy.
What tour is your favourite? Why?
Scott: Again Elevation because of Earls Court on Saturday 18 August, a show that meant a lot to me. Stay, into Bad into Streets…although Glasgow 2 on the current SOI tour takes some beating, it was a transcendent performance.
Stephen: Zoo TV, due to the spirit of reinvention. It was so exciting to watch a band that had overcome its fear and modesty and grown into stadium conquering rock stars.
Graeme: Elevation 2001 - I saw two shows, one in Manchester and the other in Earls Court in London.