Camera Obscura
Camera Obscura
Label: Merge Records
Genre: Rock / Pop
Online: Artist Website


Gavin Dunbar had a shop, a record shop. Actually, it was more of a room with some shelves in it. On these shelves sat Gavin's music collection - records, tapes, CDs, videos. On the walls you'd see big posters - New Order, Peter Cook, Partick Thistle, Jesus Jones - we're going back a bit, I should point out. I always thought the shop was too big for Gavin's collection, but he wasn't having any of it. (Gavin also had a T.A.R.D.I.S., but I don't have much space here.)

Gavin would sit in this shop for hours everyday listening to music, drinking tea or Irn Bru and reading old copies of Melody Maker. Friends would drop by for a chat sometimes, or he'd nip out at lunchtime to meet them for a fly half and get the bloke in the shop next door to look after things for a bit. (This bloke was an ex-copper who quit to sell bongs and dream catchers. He lived in a freezing hut with no running water in the middle of rainy nowhere, so I imagine he'd have a lot of use for a bong.) Sometimes the shop smelled of egg sandwiches. So really it wasn't a record shop at all, it was Gavin's bedroom, only in Virginia Galleries, with a cash register instead of a bed.

Still, every now and then, Gavin's bedroom had visits from people he didn't know, and some of these people became customers. Two of these were John Henderson and Tracyanne Campbell. They met on a college course where they show you how to press buttons so other people can make music.

Every so often, they'd come in and trawl through the entire stock. It never took longer than a few minutes. One day, after standing in the shop whisering to each other in a manner that made Gavin nervous, they came up to the counter.

"Er...can we put a poster up?"

"Aye, just stick it over there."


Tracy and John had been writing songs and decided that that was pretty much how it was going to be. So the poster was an advert for band members. After they left, Gavin had a butchers. He'd been playing bass since we were kids, often with me on guitar, in bands of limited quality, in pubs of limited atmosphere. We even played in a leisure centre once. Led Zepelin and Depeche Mode in the same set, and i'm not kidding.

John, Tracy and Gavin met for a drink to decide if they liked each other, which they did, and that's how it started really. They'd meet a couple of times a week in Gavin's dad's shed and muck about a bit. Tracy was on guitar, Gavin on bass and John on "things". John is still on "things" these days but he's also getting quite good on the guitar now. They'd practice away until Gavin's dad shouted. Sometimes Gavin's mum would give singing lessons.

A couple of guitar players came and went, until they settled on one called David Skirving. David had written a couple of songs as well, and before long they had enough songs to go out and play. It started in the Halt Bar on Woodlands Road, where they had an open session on Saturdays. They got up and played three songs. I was in the audience and the smell of fear was almost enough to put me off my pint. I went to see them a few times and the smell never got any weaker. But they kept at it.

A man called Lindsay Boyd wanted to start a small record label. He put out an advert for bands and this one, now called Camera Obscura, went to meet him for a drink. Going for a drink is the best way of getting to know someone. The good thing about this is that if it turns out you don't like the person, you still get to have a drink anyway. But they loved each other and two singles were born - Park and Ride and Your Sound. They got on the radio!

They had no drummer then but enough drummers liked them, so they were able to borrow from other bands until Lee thompson showed up.

Lee lived in Glasgow and Peterhead and Fife and Stirling and Aberdeen and then Glasgow again. Before he went to college, he worked in a sausage factory. You know those meatloaf things where you've got a ham centre, surrounded by sausage meat and pastry, with an egg, miraculousy intact, somewhere among it all? You've seen them trust me. Well, Lee made them. After that, he worked at a conveyor belt in a carrot processing factory, ensuring that the carrots that reached your table didn't look like the ones they had on That's Life. You should be grateful, really. But he gave that up after a rabbit that had probably just been looking for something to eat got into one of the machines and ended up on the belt in carrot-shaped pieces. Lee doesn't eat meat anymore.

There's a place in Glasgow where you send posters and leaflets advertising your show or museum if you have one. You pay them some money and someone goes all over the place putting them up for you. I worked there for many, many, many years, the self-styled 'Poster King of Glasgow'. A grand title which conveys neither stauts nor prestige, unlike the title officially awarded to Gavin - King of Partick - by the neds of that particular kingdom. (Look up neds on the internet under "Glasgow".)

Anyway, I worked there and eventually Tracyanne came to work there. ( I was sort of her boss there. She's sort of my boss now.) Gavin came to work there when his business empire collapsed around him. Virginia Galleries are sadly no more. Lee came to work there, after a brief stint working in a big record store that's not fit to lick the boots of Gavin's eggy, empty old Bagpuss-like shop. John and David weren't as desperate as the rest of us. They never came to work there.

Almost everyone who worked in this place played an instrument. Lee played the drums. In 1999, he became Camera Obscura's first full time drummer. Not long after this, David left to work on new songs of his own. Round this time I had left my old band where I played bass and looked like a tubby Jesus. Tracy asked me if i'd like to come and help out on guitar. I said yes. Lindsay, who is Andmoresound, also plays keyboards and like me, eh, stuck his two bob in towards the end of 1999.

We rented a rehersal room in Maryhill in Glasgow. For those of you who are unfamiliar with gritty, no punches pulled, TV cop shows, Maryhill police station was the workplace of Detective Chief Inspector Taggart, who solved an awful lot od "murrdurs" (They actually filmed it at Partick Police Station, probably at the request of His Royal Highness). The room smelled mostly of dead things and rubbish and we got tired of it after a while, but we had a laugh and lots of ideas that became ,Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi.

So the record is out, we've toured a bit and done a couple of sessions on the wireless. I've been a bit fuzzy with the times places and facts of all this stuff. I probably always will be. But that's pretty much how it happened so far. We're currently thinking about what to do next. If anyone can remember anything else, do write in.

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