James Allan didn’t grow up dreaming of being a rock star. The Glasvegas frontman had a more modest goal: becoming a professional soccer player. “At school, anybody who played guitar was just weird,” he says. “In the east end of Glasgow, nobody played music. It was all gambling, going to the pub, going to football matches.”
Unlike most of his schoolmates, Allan, 29, nearly made it as an athlete, knocking around the lower rungs of several pro clubs’ systems before it became clear he needed a plan B. After several years of unemployment, that became Glasvegas. “Me and my cousin [Glasvegas guitarist Rab Allan] saw Oasis play on TV, and I thought, ‘I’m gonna do that,’ ” he says. “I’m quite oblivious to my limitations, which is a blessing.”
Once Allan got school friend Paul Donoghue to play bass and ex-shop clerk Caroline McKay to sit down behind the drums, the soulful tunes he had spent his years on the dole crafting became Glasvegas’ cinematic self-titled debut. In a Scottish burr so thick it makes the Proclaimers sound like Lou Reed, he tallies the emotional toll taken by absentee fathers (“Daddy’s Gone”), schoolyard fights (“Go Square Go”), religious strife (“Ice Cream Van”), and screwing around (“It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry”). All the while, guitars thick with reverb pile atop one another over McKay’s stark beats, constructing a grand, blood-pumping symphony of sound that nods toward the Jesus and Mary Chain, Morrissey, Elvis, and the Brill Building.
Effusive praise from, among others, exCreation Records boss/Oasis discoverer Alan McGee has earned Glasvegas the blessed (or is that cursed?) next-big-thing-in-Britain tag; the debut entered the U.K. charts at No. 2 last year and has sold more than 125,000 copies in their homeland alone. That may seem like a strange fate for a guy who until fairly recently still harbored dreams of becoming the next David Beckham, but Allan sees plenty of parallels between his former ambitions and his current ones.
“It’s all art,” he says. “Whether it’s soccer, American football, ice hockey — in hockey, it’s so brutal the way they smash each other, but then they’ve got to do something intricate and nimble. That’s the way it’s been with the band. There’s a lot of blackness, but there’s also a lot of blue skies and angels singing.”