To those of us who've long suspected that signing off your final album with an anthem called 'There Is No Ending' might preface a comeback: today, vindication.
Twenty years since their formation, and a decade since they parted ways, Scottish cult-pop duo Arab Strap are reuniting for three birthday shows – or funeral anniversaries, call them what you will – in London, Manchester and Glasgow this October.
They'll also release a remix of their 1996 debut single, 'The First Big Weekend of 2016', courtesy of Glasgow-based electro-pop producer Miaoux Miaoux, which is available for streaming and download from June 16.
Aside from an acoustic set at Glasgow's Nice N Sleazy five years ago, vocalist Aidan Moffat and guitarist Malcolm Middleton have not performed as Arab Strap since their final (secret) show in Japan in 2006, following the release of their sixth studio album, and swansong, The Last Romance (2005).
The notion of anniversary gigs was first raised at the band's wake, says Middleton. “I think the day we went to the pub and split up, we made a joke about Arab Strap getting back together in 10 years' time to celebrate. So that's basically what this is: a chance to enjoy the music we made once more.”
“Also,” adds Moffat, “we wanted to celebrate it while we're still relatively young and don't look too embarrassing on the stage.” Contrast this with his recollection of the band's first-ever gig at Glasgow's King Tut's Wah Wah Hut, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 1, thanks to super-fan John Peel: “I remember bringing a cowboy hat to wear for one song and looking like a right fanny. That's about it.”
Arab Strap's Glasgow anniversary gig will take place at the Barrowland Ballroom, almost 20 years to the day since that King Tut's show. Yet their live debut, recalls Middleton, was never intended to happen at all. “We weren't planning on playing live, but Chemikal Underground booked the gig and we couldn't say no,” he says.
At the heart of that inaugural gig was their infamous debut, 'The First Big Weekend' (Chemikal Underground) – described by Steve Lamacq (BBC Radio 1 / 6Music) as, “the most perfect pop song ever”. But that, too, says Middleton, happened by accident. “We'd already finished our first album [The Week Never Starts Round Here, 1996] and Chemikal asked us to record an extra song, to 'test the water'. This was that.”
“There wasn't really a great deal of writing to it,” remembers Moffat. “Just a guitar part and a beat on a borrowed drum machine. I didn't have any lyrics left, so I typed out what we'd done the previous weekend. We ran through it once at Malcolm's mum's house in the morning, and by teatime we'd finished it in the studio."
Twenty years later, 'The First Big Weekend of 2016' is, says Moffat, “great fun – it's probably how it should have sounded the first time. We knew we couldn't really do much to the song because the story has to stay intact, and by extension the arrangement, but we wanted to give it more of a thump and modernise it a bit.”
Moffat and Middleton have barely drawn breath since Arab Strap called it a day: they've made myriad solo LPs, and more. Moffat's new film, Where You're Meant To Be, (directed by Paul Fegan) is released this month, and there's been an award-winning two-album tryst with Bill Wells, a children's story book (The Lavender Blue Dress) and an emotional robot band with art-rock collective FOUND (#Unravel). Meanwhile, Middleton has joined forces with David Shrigley (Music and Words), had a Top 40 hit single (We're All Going to Die), honed a 1980s instrumental alter-ego (Human Don't Be Angry) and his latest solo album, Summer of '13, came out last month.
In light of all this alt-pop action, there's no talk of new Arab Strap material or future plans, but here's to three big birthday parties to revel in old songs, old times. Here's to hugs and pints and shy retirers; to hey fever and oxytocin; to packs of three and big weekends and drunkards musing at the bar. Here's to where it all began.