Duglas T. Stewart on what it means to be a BMX Bandit

Scottish indie legend Duglas T. Stewart speaks about his 26 year career as frontman of BMX Bandits, their conceptual new LP and the film about the band Kurt Cobain wanted to join

Feature by Michael Pedersen | 23 Nov 2012
  • BMX Bandits

Duglas T. Stewart is the founder of BMX Bandits; a pop spokesman for love, magic and fairytales. Whilst BMX Bandits have shared members with many brilliant Glasgow bands (such as Teenage Fanclub, The Vaselines and The Soup Dragons), Duglas T. Stewart has been the effulgent yellow yolk that’s spanned it all. Kurt Cobain claimed on a New York radio show that if he could be in any other band it would be BMX Bandits... and, well, flocks of us convincingly concur.

As best you can, tell us what it means to be a BMX Bandit?
It's pretty much everything I am. It can make every-day life a bit tricky to navigate but I don't think I really have a choice any more. For other people I think it's put quite well by something Norman Blake said. He said 'to be a BMX Bandit you need to be unafraid of being ridiculed or thought foolish by others.'

Who were the original members of the BMX Bandits?
The original line up was Sean Dickson and Jim McCulloch, who both were also in The Soup Dragons at that time and two of Jim's friends Willie McCardle and Billy Wood. At the start Sean and I were very much the group's leaders but it naturally became more my thing and Sean concentrated more of The Soup Dragons.

Who’s currently in the band?
Jim McCulloch re-joined the group a few years ago. Another ex-Bandito who has returned to the group is Finlay Macdonald. Finlay played on the first two albums that we made for Creation Records. There's Rachel Allison, who joined in 2005 and Gareth Perrie who is also a member of Randolph's Leap. David Scott has also been a Bandit since 2005. Jamie Gash is now our drummer. I've known him for around 15 years and he also plays with David Scott in The Pearlfishers. I like having Rachel there, she sort of looks out for me and makes sure I'm okay.

Who are some of the past members you’ve seen come and go?
I think there have been 26 members in 26 years. Some names people might recognise include Norman Blake and Francis Macdonald of Teenage Fanclub, Sushil K Dade of Future Pilot a.k.a., Eugene Kelly of The Vaselines and Stuart Kidd who seems to play with more Scottish groups today than possibly any other musician. Others like Stevie Jackson of Belle & Sebastian and jazz outsider Bill Wells have been guest Bandits live.

But let’s face it you’re probably a Bandit for Life? Unless of course you get expelled!?
Well BMX Bandits has become not so much a group but more an extended musical family. People who've played with us in the past haven't completely left and could and sometimes still pop up on new recordings or at shows. Norman has played on every album since he officially left the group in 1991. On the new album Sean Dickson and I have written our first track together since 1986. I sometimes worry everyone might grow tired of me and leave me but I'm glad they seem to be happy giving so generously of their time and talent to my vision.

You recently had a feature length documentary film Serious Drugs made about you and the band which premiered at Glasgow Pop Fest late last year? How did that come about and how did it turn out?
I met a guy in Monorail Records one day and his name was Jim Burns. He told me how much our album My Chain had meant to him, how he felt it had offered him hope at a bad time in his life. I was very touched by this. Jim told me how he wanted to make a film one day and I think I gave him encouraging words about doing that. A little while later he said he'd like to make a film about BMX Bandits. I told him I'd be very happy for him to do that and would try to be as helpful as I could. I also told him that it had to be his film and not mine and I didn't want to see anything until it was finished. So the first time I saw it was in the GFT at the premiere with everyone else who was there. I really think it's a beautiful film. He trusted me when he opened up and told me how my music had touched his life and I decided to trust him with the story of my life and my music.

It’s safe to say that you sit at the top table as regards Scottish Pop royalty and that as a patriarch you do a fine job – performing with, promoting and producing up and coming talents – a most venerable trait in the music sector. Can you tell us about some of the folks you’re excited about?
I notice some of my peers seem to have lost their appetite for new exciting music but I still wake up in the middle of the night or can't sleep when I should because I'm too excited by new groups. Some of my favourite new Scottish groups are Randolph's Leap, TeenCanteen, Jesus, Baby!, Adam Stearns & the Glass Animals. I get excited about these groups releasing records that will become big parts of people's lives around the world and about the groups experiencing exciting adventures in the studio and playing to new audiences. I've always been like that, David Scott said I've spent much more of my time and energy trying to make people open their ears to other people's music than my own. I remember championing people like Bill Wells and Belle & Sebastian and even Teenage Fanclub when it seemed like almost no one was willing to listen and shedding real tears of frustration when people weren't interested. I sent Alan McGee at Creation Belle & Sebastian's first demo but he didn't "get it" at the time. He later told me that he now loved them and wished he'd signed them back then.

Tell us about the new album? And what can we expect?
It's called BMX Bandits in Space. It's made up of lots of little musical snapshots of love, remembered, mis-remembered, imagined and dreamed, viewed by our hero who is drifting through time and space. It's also a story of our hero trying to find a way of forgiving himself for his life not turning out how he wanted it to be and about trying to find his way back home. There's lots of musical flavours in it and there is heartbreak and tears but also laughter and hope and beauty. As well as the current BMX gang and Norman and Sean on it there are also collaborations with Japanese pop group Plectrum and Argentinian bossa-futuro one man band Cineplexx. There's a track written by Carla Easton from the aforementioned TeenCanteen, which I think sounds more like a quintessential BMX Bandits song than anything I could ever write. Norman has told me he thinks it's our best album so far and thinks it could raise our profile a bit more. It's a very romantic album.

BMX Bandits in Space is out now on Elefant Records. http://elefant.com/bands/bmx-bandits