Cult Classics: Start to End interview
We talk to the Start To End team about the inspiration behind their covers project and their plans for the future
If there’s a silver lining to be had in David Bowie’s death, it’s the birth of Start To End. At a tribute night organised at Glasgow’s Bar Bloc last year, Craig McMahon of soul-pop sextet Pronto Mama joined organiser Scott Murphy and a handful of other local musicians for a start-to-finish performance of Bowie’s final album Blackstar.
“I just wanted to do that with other albums that I liked,” explains McMahon, reflecting on the success of that night. “So I contacted Joe (Rattray, of Admiral Fallow) and Martin (Johnston, also of Pronto Mama) to see if we could put something together for a regular monthly thing.”
What resulted was Start To End, a unique musical event that sees the trio (and a rotating cast of supporting musicians) play a classic album, from – you guessed it – start to end. So far, the collective have tackled Radiohead’s In Rainbows, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and Daft Punk’s Discovery, with each event selling out The Hug & Pint’s cosy bandroom. Ahead of the next Start To End event (featuring Feist’s The Reminder) on 15 March, we caught up with the Start To End fellows to tell us all about doing the classics justice.
On living up to expectations
STE: “People turn up and you can feel that there’s a bit of skepticism, initially. As long as you do your homework though, you can make it sound good, and you just see people going ‘ahhhh’ – their eyes instantly light up when it actually sounds like what they’re expecting!”
“The biggest pressure can actually be the first rehearsals. You get like two rehearsals, maybe three, and you turn up and it’s like a three-hour stint in the studio. But everyone does their homework. The people in the band aren’t just random musicians – we know them and we’ve played in various things with them over the years. It makes it easier, and it takes the pressure off a bit.”
On the albums they’ve tackled so far
“The Radiohead one is, for the first one, a nice balance of ‘music geek’ and just a generally good album. If you can pull it off, you’ll earn the respect of musicians, but also the people that just like Radiohead would enjoy it anyway. It fits the bill as a cult album as well, it’s a less obvious [Radiohead] choice.
“In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is again kind of a cult album… and we thought it would be easy,” they laugh. “We decided on it, and then listened to it and there’s like trombones and trumpets and banjos and stuff. [We] kind of underestimated how much went on in that album! And we’d wanted to do Discovery, but Daft Punk is hard music. So we were like, why not just do it now, when we have a whole month and a bit [to practice]."
On what makes a ‘classic’
“These albums have kind of defined a part of your life. Speaking personally, but also speaking generationally, people of our age group kind of grew up on these albums. All these albums have a special place in people’s hearts.
“You naturally gravitate towards certain albums that you consider ‘cult’, more than the greatest hits, for example. People will say things like ‘oh, do a Queen album!’ and that’s obvious, but if you actually look at a Queen album, their hits are spread across multiple albums. It would be hard to pick one and have everyone know it.”
On the selection process
“We have it in our minds to try to branch out and do different styles and not just have male-centric records, or guitar rock albums. We almost got close to announcing that we were going to do Dr. Dre’s 2001… but then we listened to the album properly and went, nahhhhh,” they laugh. “It’s so long, and it’s so filthy!
“Challenge is definitely good, because otherwise it’s… not boring, but you want it to be, visually, something that’s really good for the audience to actually see, and not just hear. So if there’s a lot of weird instruments on stage, or a lot of strange ways to get a sound, then that’s what you’re aiming for.”
On navigating the Scottish classics
“We were talking about this the other day; about maybe trying to do a Mogwai record, for example. They’re without doubt one of the most successful products to come out of Scotland.
"It depends how far back you’d want to go. Maybe to do something like The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, there’s definitely an audience for that… or a Blue Nile album, although it would be tough, because they’re a lot of people’s favourite band, especially in Glasgow. We wouldn’t want to mess it up.
“They need to be of a certain era as well, because there’s a lot of Scottish bands out just now that have got great albums, but they might be at the gig!”
On the strangest suggestions they’ve received
“Darude’s Sandstorm. All three Carly Rae Jepsen albums. Also someone came up to us after Radiohead and was like, ‘you should do Radiohead next month again, another Radiohead album’. Just a year of Radiohead!"
The beauty of Start To End is that (along with a bunch of exceptionally talented musicians, and a liberal dose of Scottish humour), nothing is off limits. The strange suggestions “are part of the appeal,” they agree. “You can’t say, ‘Oh you’re wrong’… we might do K-pop or something that obscure… Frozen. A Disney sing-along. Any weird suggestion is usually a good suggestion!”