My Firsts: Malcolm Middleton of Arab Strap | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, February 25th, 2024  

My Firsts: Malcolm Middleton of Arab Strap

Never Listen to David

Mar 03, 2021 Photography by Kat Gollack and Paul Savage Web Exclusive
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My Firsts is our email interview series where we ask musicians to tell us about their first life experiences, be it early childhood ones (first word, first concert, etc.) or their first tastes of being a musician (first band, first tour, etc.). For this My Firsts we talk to Malcolm Middleton of Scottish duo Arab Strap.

Arab Strap also features Aidan Moffat. This Friday they are releasing As Days Get Dark, their first album in 16 years. The band’s last album was 2005’s The Last Romance. Since then Middleton and Moffat have remained active with solo work and other projects. The duo formed in 1995, releasing their debut single, “The First Big Weekend,” and debut album, The Week Never Starts Round Here, in 1996.

Previous collaborator Paul Savage, formerly of The Delgados, produced As Days Get Dark. “Paul brings comfort and trust,” said Middleton in a press release announcing the album, “and a sense of continuity.”

Middleton added about recording the new album: “We’ve had enough distance from our earlier work to reappraise and dissect the good and bad elements of what we did. Not many bands get to do this, so it’s great to split up.”

Read on as Middleton talks about an early injury, his first kiss, his early musical influences, getting fired for the first time, and why you should absolutely, never, under any circumstances, listen to David.

First time you had to go to the hospital?

When I was ten I went on a five-day school trip to the Lake District (NW England). It was boringly scenic but we had great fun abseiling, canoeing, and doing archery. We stayed in a converted mansion house and for most of us it was our first time away from home for more than a night. We ate sweet & sour chicken on the first day and it was depressing. Anyway, about halfway through we played a game called “Night-line” where we were blindfolded and tied to a rope via a belt clip and marched through the estate while the teachers whacked us with branches. As we were going over some rocks someone in front tripped and started a domino effect causing me to swing upside-down while still attached to the rope and split my head open on a rock. There was blood and a girl fainted and I had to go to hospital for stitches and get a big jag on my bum.

First person you kissed?

Kirsty, when I was 14, after she invited me to her Girl Guides Easter Disco at the local community center. The Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” was playing. I finished with her two weeks later because my friend David told me I was too young to be tied down. Then he went out with her straight after. Never listen to David, people.

First record your parents played for you?

Probably something by Scottish folk kingpins The Corries. On a sunny, rainy Saturday afternoon while I was trapped inside. They still make my ears vomit with their smooth cardboardery harmonies. I’d probably love them now, but it’s too soon. First album you bought?

With money, Like a Virgin by Madonna. It was very special. I’d had more important albums before, usually rented from the library or copied from my sister. So the first one that was really important to me that I listened to on repeat was Prince Charming by Adam & The Ants. Music seemed very special to me from a young age, even more so when I realized I could get into my own stuff and not just THE CORRIES.

First favorite band?

Frankie Goes to Hollywood. I really got into them. I was too young for punk so I didn’t get any of that, but the Frankie tunes were so exciting and over-the-top, melodramatic, and melodic. I had posters everywhere and bought all their singles. I thought they wrote “Born to Run” until I was in my 20s.

First favorite song?

“Jolly Roger” by Adam & The Ants. I was wearing the cassette out until my Dad ripped it from the stereo and hid it. I listened to it just now and it’s not as good as I remember.

First musician you had a crush on?

Probably Madonna. I thought she liked me too until I realized she’d released more than one copy of her album. Later on I was a very confused 11-year old when I heard “Papa Don’t Preach” for the first time and wondered what the fuck she’d been up to.

First concert you went to?

Bryan Adams with T’Pau supporting. I somehow managed to jump in with my sister and her friend on a bus trip to Glasgow to see Bryan. Maybe 1987? Years later I did a “My First Gig” feature for a magazine and Carol Decker from T’Pau wrote to thank me for mentioning them, but the letter was lost in a pub somewhere, or so I’ve been told.

First music festival you went to?

Reading ’91. Myself and Stuart The Postman were supposed to get a lift with John, but he went to see Babes In Toyland in Glasgow with Aidan on the previous Tuesday night and destroyed his car. So we hid on a sleeper train and arrived 3 days early and didn’t bring a tent or any money. We had a great time though. The Fall, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Iggy Pop, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin (I think).

First time you got drunk?

Easter 1987. Planning to go to the local roller-disco on the Saturday afternoon, me and a friend got someone to buy us cheap lager on the Friday after school. We buried it in the woods and went back for it the next day. Hair thick with gel and ears ringing with The Beastie Boys (this was just a few weeks after Kirsty), we also had Lucozade bottles filled with parents-drinks-cabinet cocktails. Needless to say, I got absolutely hammered, passed out, and was kicked (rolled) out of the disco. So I got the bus home, washed the scent of my first cigarette from my hand in a puddle, and was home by 6 p.m. for a baked potato with cheese and coleslaw. First job you had?

I was a Bacon Boy, and very proud of it. I’d walk the streets on a Wednesday evening chapping on doors asking if anyone would like some “bacon” delivered on Friday. Streaky or smoked? Then I’d call my “contact” and get the required amount of “bacon” delivered and head back out on the Friday to seal the deal. I made 15p for every pack I sold and could sometimes make as much as 45p in one week. First time you got fired?

I worked at Tesco supermarket when I was in the middle of being a moody teenager. I was probably listening to way too much metal so my hair was getting long and my shoulders more slouched (from the weight of the metal). My manager asked me to stop wearing black army trousers to work but I didn’t want to sell out so he gave me an ultimatum. Metal won. First computer?

A Commodore Vic 20 bought for us by my gran. She quit smoking in the late ’70s and continued to save her cigarette money to buy fancy electronic goods and holidays. It was basically just to make a massive point about how much of a waste of money smoking was. I think she enjoyed showing people that more than the actual stuff she was buying. So we got this computer one Christmas and had loads of fun. Games were Oh Mummy!, Blitz, and Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. On cassette, so each game took about 20 minutes to load, causing valuable family time staring at a loading screen. First band you were in?

Rabid Lettuce, 1991. Me on bass, Meph on vocals, and Scott on drums. We were amazing but ahead of our time (still). We played about three gigs before Meph left (musical indifferences) and then we formed Pigtube with a new singer (Kev). We had songs like “It’s All Puke,” “Rip Your Face Off With A Fridge,” “Asteroid,” “Mr Cranberry Pie,” and “Callum” (“Callum, you got depressed/Callum, tried to kill yourself/Callum, you got depressed/Callum, tried to kill yourself!”). Good times. First professional recording session?

After Pigtube failed to make it (circa 1992) and were banned from playing in Falkirk for covering a Dwarves song (S.F.V.D.) at a family-friendly outdoor concert, myself and drummer Scott decided to branch out and answered an ad by a local band. They wanted to enter a competition to write a song about AIDS and win some studio time, so we joined, came in second and won two hours and recorded the song “Do What’s Right.” It has slap bass and came out on a CD with three other bands singing about AIDS. A huge deal back in Falkirk in 1992 (being on a CD).

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