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The Scottish music scene takes place inside a space the size of a college campus. Visit a few selected pubs and clubs in Glasgow's West End, and it's likely you'll bump into a member of Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai or Franz Ferdinand. I've been writing, talking about and following Franz Ferdinand since the beginning. Like most Scottish heroes, they are surrounded by myth, the odd bit of legend and some right old bullshit. So what's the truth?
Timemagazine has proclaimed the band to be hotter than a Paris Hilton download; Brad Pitt, Robin Williams and Elijah Wood are avowed fans; Kanye West says the "white crunk" are his favorite rockers; Snoop announced on stage that he wants to perform with those "'Take Me Out' guys"; and the band's songs promote the latest PlayStation Portable, as well as appearing on EA Sports' recent Madden NFL and NHL games.
Franz Ferdinand is adored by Scotland, despite three band members' being (whisper) English. Yep, that's right. Scotland's greatest export since Ewan McGregor is predominantly English. But Scotland doesn't care. They've adopted them as their own.
After graduating with a degree in theology, Alex Paul Kapranos (named Paul because of his mother's crush on the Beatle) worked as a welder, a van driver and an English tutor for asylum-seekers. Another job before pop stardom involved wearing an orange boiler suit and face muzzle while running around terrorizing people with a petrol-driven chain saw. But his job at the haunted house didn't last long after he turned up drunk, wearing a stale and sweaty boiler suit.
Kapranos, a regular on the Glasgow music scene for years, worked as a promoter at the 99p Club. Local bands wanted cash for playing, so Kapranos created a venue where music fans paid 99 pence to enter, allowing the bands to split the money. Mogwai was one of the groups Kapranos helped. He still remembers front man Stuart Braithwaite as a pudgy 15-year-old in a velvet jacket.
Later, Kapranos performed as keyboardist with '90s indie group Urusei Yatsura, and as guitarist for ska-punks the Amphetameanies (which also included Belle & Sebastian's Mick Cooke on trumpet). He spent time playing bass for indie-pop collective the Yummy Fur, before fronting the eclectic group the Blisters, which later became the Karelia. That band recorded one album, Divorce at High Noon, which sold 500 copies.
Guitarist Nick McCarthy moved to Glasgow from Bavaria, the apparent drug-death capital of Germany. Excited by the Germans' inability to lock their cars, he spent his youth as a teenage joy rider, irresistibly nicknamed "McCar-Thief." Obsessed with Roy Orbison, the compact, brittle Englishman earned a reputation for dressing wildly, often walking around Glasgow looking like a circus ringleader in top hat and tails.
He first met Kapranos at a party while dressed as Adam Ant. McCarthy stole Kapranos's vodka, and the pair exchanged blows, with Kapranos bursting McCarthy's lip and smashing a tooth. The feud ended when Kapranos spontaneously asked McCarthy if he could play drums. McCarthy, a classically trained pianist and double bass player, lied and said he could. Kapranos still believes McCarthy exaggerated his drumming ability to put an end to his beating.
Bass player Bob Hardy moved to the Glasgow School of Art from Bradford, England. He shared mutual friends with Kapranos, but their own friendship was delayed when Kapranos overheard Hardy telling jokes about dead babies. The pair did eventually bond, and Kapranos started teaching Hardy to play the bass guitar after receiving one as a gift from Mick Cooke (you remember him: the Belle & Sebastian guy). Hardy, a former gardener's assistant, had no musical experience prior to these lessons, but had actually gone to Glasgow because of his love for the music scene, and particularly for his future benefactors in B&S.
Drummer Paul Thomson is the only true Scot in the band. Thomson met Kapranos while posing as a nude model at Glasgow School of Art. Kapranos saved the drummer from a life of getting naked, working as a laundry assistant and literally offering his ass to science. Thomson had sold fat from his buttocks to a clinic for 250 pounds: They took a chunk from each cheek, stitched him up, and within a few weeks he was able to resume a sitting position. Despite the pain, three months later and desperate for cash, he did it again.
The band started playing gigs around Glasgow in 2002. After considering the name Partee Styx (phew!), the band approached its fourth gig nameless. Struggling for ideas, the quartet settled down on the sofa to watch some horse racing. A stallion named Archduke Ferdinand raced home to victory, both in the race and in their pursuit for a band name. And thus was a moniker born, referencing the unlucky Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose 1914 assassination triggered World War I.
Franz Ferdinand played for the first time on May 22 of that year in a teenage girl's bedroom. The girl was Celia, and the show was titled "Girl Art." The bedroom was transformed into a neon-lit art studio, and the band performed before 80 screaming girls.
Initially, the boys took a casual approach to playing, often switching instruments. McCarthy and Thomson started out as drummer and guitarist, before swapping roles permanently.
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