Interview: Travis’ Fran Healy
The Scottish group’s frontman and talismanic songwriter talks about telling the truth, being “the shittest” and making ‘The Man Who’
Formed in Glasgow in 1990, Travis are a Scottish rock band comprising singer-songwriter Fran Healy, bassist Dougie Payne, lead guitarist Andy Dunlop and drummer Neil Primrose. The group is widely claimed as having paved the way for other bands such as Keane and Coldplay to go onto achieve worldwide success throughout the 2000s, particularly through the band’s second studio album, The Man Who.
Four singles were released from that influential record: Writing To Reach You, Driftwood, and the Top 10 hits Why Does It Always Rain On Me? and Turn. Fueled in part by the band’s triumphant appearance at the 1999 Glastonbury Festival, The Man Who went on to spend a total of 11 weeks at No 1 on the UK Albums Chart.
More than 18 years since its release, Travis have extended a celebratory tour that started in 2017, playing The Man Who live in full to delighted audiences across the UK. What a perfect excuse to reminisce with the group’s affable frontman, Fran…
Take us back to when you first picked up a guitar.
“I remember standing in my kitchen in my mum’s house in Glasgow and I must’ve been about 17 years old, or maybe a bit younger. As soon as I got a guitar when I was 13, I immediately started writing because we didn’t have a record player – oh no, we did by that point, but I didn’t have much music. I had just one tape with loads of rock ‘n’ roll songs, like Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran, and I would listen to that all the time. When I got the guitar, the first thing I tried to learn was Pretty Woman – I’m still trying to learn that!”
What sort of guitar did you have back then?
“The thing is I’d seen Roy Orbison playing the song on Jonathan Ross and I got my mum to change my Christmas present to an acoustic. It was an Encore from the Grattan’s catalogue – the action was about a centimeter, so it was like cheese wire. I didn’t know how to tune a guitar or anything about it, so when I got it I tried to do the riff and failed miserably. Then I tuned the guitar to, what I didn’t realise was, an open tuning and learned Three Steps To Heaven by Eddie Cochran. I didn’t know what tuning it was but it meant I could put my finger like a barre, up and down the fret.
“Not long after that I started writing songs because I didn’t really know that much. But when I was 16 I realised that everything I was doing was total shit! I thought, ‘How do you get better at this?’ Then I stumbled along for a little while and there was a teacher I met on an art course, when I was about 17 years old. Me and a guy called David Bell were up late in the dormitory trying to write songs, and this teacher came in. We were supposed to be asleep, so first of all we shat ourselves and were about to put the light out and hide the guitar. But he asked what we were doing and we said we were trying to write a song, so he sat down and started explaining songwriting to us.”
Can you remember what he said?
“He looked at what we were doing and said, ‘You’re doing this all wrong. You’re supposed to write what you’re feeling. It’s important to tell the truth when you write. I wrote a song when I was your age.’ I had a Stephen King book called Different Seasons and he opened it and wrote down this song on the first couple of clean pages of the novel. Then he told us the chords and sung a bit to us, and we ended up performing it at the end of the art course. I’d been singing and, at the end of the song, I looked up and almost everyone was crying! I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a really powerful thing.’
“After that, I got to know the teacher Jerry well and he would play a lot of Joni Mitchell, and I began to see that you’ve got to be honest at all times. Whatever you write, don’t just write words, write stuff that is the truth. I think there are two parts to songwriting: there’s the melody
and there’s the lyric. For me, the melody is the most important and if you get a good enough melody, the right lyrics will find that melody.”