“I’LL definitely be able to play the bass a bit better this time round,” laughs Franz Ferdinand’s bassist Bob Hardy, on the band’s second-time-lucky gig at Concert in the Gardens at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay this year.
Fifteen years ago and just starting out, Franz Ferdinand’s set on the iconic new year’s eve stage was cancelled thanks to heavy rain and high winds, and for the still relatively unknown foursome (Alex Kapranos, Bob Hardy, Nick McCarthy and Paul Thomson), it came as more than just a literal blow.
“Doing the Hogmanay gig back in 2003 would’ve been the biggest thing we’d done at that point – it was pretty huge for us,” said Hardy.
“But at around 6pm, they pulled it because the stage wasn’t safe I think. So it was a massive let down to get such an amazing gig and then to have it cancelled.”
Considering the band’s first ever gig was just under 18 months previously in May 2002, the trajectory of their success in getting the Hogmanay stage at this early time in their career was a good omen of the fast-tracked superstardom to come.
For Hardy especially, the fast-forwarded journey to fame was something he never really saw coming or had ever envisioned. The bassist only first began learning his instrument in 2002 and by summer 2004 was playing Glastonbury in a band that, just over two years earlier, had not officially existed.
“It really did move so quickly,” said Hardy. “I mean, I had always been a huge lover of music, but being in a band had never been something that was on my agenda.
“I couldn’t play any instruments until I learned the bass, so I was really playing by the seat of my pants for some of those earlier shows!”
An alumni of Glasgow School of Art – the recent fires of which he describes as “unbelievably sad” – Bradford born Hardy came to the city in 1999 in search of a music and art scene of which he was to become an integral part. Revered Scottish bands like Belle and Sebastian and Mogwai who had been a huge part of his teen-hood would also become friends.
Indeed, it was Mick Cooke from Belle and Sebastian whose bass Hardy was first to learn on after it had been gifted to Franz Ferdnand’s lead singer, Alex Kapranos.
“Alex had been given that bass guitar as a gift by Mick and I was just hanging out in his kitchen one night and he said, ‘want to learn this?’
“But it was just a social thing really, I never thought of starting a band. Belle and Sebastian were such a huge part of my teenage years so for that to be where the bass came from was really special.”
Friendships certainly seem to have played a big part in Franz Ferdinand’s success. Their beginnings came as the result of their own companionship made in younger years and London gigs which led to their signing by Domino Records was also thanks to a previous connection.
“One of our friends was signed to a label in London and all that official stuff. So when their manager heard some of our music he really liked it and we ended up doing some gigs down in London,” says Hardy.
“Then after that, we heard Domino were really keen to meet with us and work with us and next thing we were signed.”
Their Hogmanay dreams were also unthwarted back in 2003, thanks to friends in Edinburgh’s Marchmont who had a spare living room-come-stage ripe for some Franz invasion. It wasn’t quite what they’d originally thought their Hogmanay would be, but in true Franz Ferdinand DIY style, they made it their own.
“We knew friends of ours were having a house party, so we just went and played a gig in their front room,” says Hardy.
“Alex’s sister had friends who were in a band and they had electronic drums set up, so we took our guitars along and just had a jam.
“So we did technically play Hogmanay that year, it was just a different venue!”
Fifteen years later, a tonne of awards and a string of massive hits now under their belt, Hardy is just as excited to play 2019’s Hogmanay gig.
“We’ve been away pretty much all year so it’s nice to come home and have a really amazing show like that to cap it all off.
“We only got to do two Scottish shows this year, including Transmt which was amazing, but it’s great to be able to finish the last one in Scotland.
“We’re going to pause for the fireworks, so that’s quite a novel thing to do – stopping the gig halfway through to watch. We haven’t done anything like that before.”
And new experiences are something that after 15 years of touring the world are made even more special says Hardy. 2018 was “a crazy year” which saw the group touring their newest album, Always Ascending, around the world. But it was their debut trip to China that seems to have stuck with him most.
“The first gig we did in China was at a sort of classic club in Shanghai and we met a bunch of fans afterwards and did signings. Some of them had been waiting for 14 years for us to come, so it was really special. I don’t know how it’s really taken us that long to get there, but it’s nice when you’ve been touring for so long, to get to another country – one you’ve not actually been to yet.
“As you tour, the way you appreciate things becomes different. When you’re first starting off you’re going to all these new places around the world and it’s so new and you’re in LA or Sydney and it’s just complete overload, everything is just so exciting. And then after you’ve been touring for fifteen years, the focus of it changes to being on the show.
“I mean, it’s still great to be in these places, but the energy gets shifted from the location to the actual performance. It becomes less about the sight-seeing and the going out and it becomes more about the show and the audiences and realising how lucky you are to be able to be in this position, in front of all these different people.”
But touring and being away from home so much also took its toll on one of the band’s now former members, guitarist Nick McCarthy, who left in 2016. It hit the band hard, says Hardy, but the subsequent additions of Julian Corrie aka dance artist Miaoux Miaoux and guitarist Dino Bardot have brought a fresh element to their music – a more synthy, electronic direction they were always hoping to move in, he says.
“Obviously it’s a big thing when a founding member of a band leaves but Alex and I and Paul met up and just thought, well, we want to still make music, so we did,” he continues.
“I don’t think when we first started writing the writing process for the fifth album that we were 100% confident that the music would ever see the light of day but we were just doing it because that’s what we’d been doing for 15 years, we just kept at it and it worked.
“Julian then joined us to finish off recording the new album and Dino joined us to play live. I think at the beginning covering old Franz songs Dino would kind of try to mimic what Nick was doing to some extent, but over the course of the tour he made it more his own. He’s just an amazing guitarist, he’s just really fun to play with – he can do proper guitar solos – which is pretty impressive – so it’s been a really fun eighteen months touring with those guys”.
And building on the success of their 2018 tour, what can we expect from the fivesome in 2019?
“I think we’ll have a well deserved rest after Hogmanay, then will reconvene in the Spring and start working on some things, and then we’ll be playing some festivals in the summer.
And as for any new years resolutions?
“Just to be more excellent to people really. Yeah, just to try and be kind.”
Franz Ferdinand will be supported by Metronomy and Free Love at the Concert in the Gardens, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, 31 December 2018.