Roddy Woomble, frontman of the Scottish punks, chats about Brexit and band history with Don O’Mahony ahead of their Mitchelstown gig
“I CONSIDER myself to be a European; Scottish first, European second,” proclaims Roddy Woomble, frontman of melodic punk outfit Idlewild.
“I definitely want to remain part of the European Union.”
It is the afternoon of June 23, the day the United Kingdom voted on the proposal to exit the European Union, and there is still no hint of the cataclysmic outcome to this referendum. At this stage, reports were suggesting the Remain vote would be carried 52% to 48%.
Within 12 hours the defining numbers would come tumbling in and with it the accompanying sense of shock.
“I don’t think people are that stupid,” Woomble assured me from his home on the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides.
When it came to the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, the singer was firmly in the exit camp.
“Scotland wants to be part of Europe,” he says.
“That was one of the things that was actually fuelling Scottish independence, people were voting because they were worried that England was going to leave the European Union.
“I like the fact that I can travel anywhere in Europe. And if I wanted to I could go live in Berlin or wherever. I think that that freedom is important.”
One can only guess at Woomble’s current thoughts on the matter but, like the band he fronts, he’ll no doubt adapt and persevere. Emerging in 1995 as a shouty punk rock band, Idlewild evolved at a pace, effortlessly embracing melody without sacrificing their scuffed charm.
“We always trusted our instincts,” informs Woomble.
“As a group of musicians we were always honest about who we were and our abilities and I think that people really responded to that early on. I mean, when we started off we were interested in punk rock and we wanted to be a loud, abrasive, noisy band like Minor Threat and a lot of these American hardcore bands. And we loved The Smiths. And we kinda wanted it to be a combination of that.
“And then as we progressed and got better at writing songs we realised that harmony-driven songs was where our talents lay. We started becoming increasingly more kind-of melodic. At this point we were signed to a major label and we ended up being quite successful commercially in the UK charts for a number of years.
“And then, of course, we moved on from that and we started to try out different styles of music. And then we took a break for a while and I made some solo records, which were definitely more acoustic based. And then when we got back together to play a few years ago the music had evolved again.
“So I think the thing about the band is we’ve always done what was right for us at the time.
“The early records are fairly rudimentary noisy records, and now I think there’s an air of kind-of… I hate to say sophistication but, musically, we know what we’re doing and we can really explore different ideas now. I think the music we’re [currently] making is really the best we’ve done but we couldn’t have made it had we not had all the other records and all the other experiences that led to it.”
That evolution from the rudimentary to the more nuanced came from their exposure on their travels to other types of music such as jazz, while Woomble’s solo albums have seen him embrace folk.
The tone of his voice has changed alongside the music from the plaintive yearning of the early records to a more mature timbre.
“I wasn’t really comfortable being a singer,” he confesses.
“I used to copy my favourite singers who were all American so I had a weird American-Scottish accent on the early stuff. And then obviously as I got more comfortable with who I was a person and also as a singer I was singing in my own voice. And now I’m nearly 40 and I’ve sang for 20 years so I’ve got more of a confidence in the way I sing and I can command myself a bit better as a vocalist.
“Although at the same [time] I’m a punk rock kid at heart so I never wanted to get too slick. I’m never going to be able to do vibrato or all that kind of stuff. At the same token I can’t scream anymore so I just try my best with what I’ve got,” he shrugs.
After a three-year hiatus, Idlewild returned with their seventh and most musically expanded album, 2015’s Everything Ever Written. The subsequent tour saw the band play their biggest shows to date.
“I never expected anything like that,” says Woomble. “Because our expectations were low we were really surprised by it.
“And now we’re making another record, so I’m really positive about it.”
Idlewild play Indiependence on Friday, July 29.