After 11 years, Willie Campbell and Charlie Clark had much to catch up on. A meeting in Los Angeles last year led to a collaboration that produced 30-40 songs, and now they are ready to release a new album and will be back on the road together this summer as a re-formed Astrid, the band they founded in the mid-90s.
Together with fellow Lewisman Gareth Russell, and Gareth Thom, they made three albums and toured Europe and America before splitting in 2004 at the end of a tour supporting Snow Patrol.
The intervening years has seen them work on solo projects and with other bands. Campbell is a founding member of the Reindeer Section, featuring Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody, and has released two albums with The Open Day Rotation.
He has also issued an album of Gaelic songs and has written music for a Gaelic project entitled ‘Akutagawa’ with producer Colin Macleod, writer Kevin MacNeil and violinist Jane Hepburn.
Clark was also part of the Reindeer Section and later appeared as a guest vocalist and musician with artists including The Zephyrs, Arab Strap, Mogwai and Snow Patrol before setting up home in Los Angeles. With writing partner Brandi Emma, he went on to form Broken Arrow in 2014 and, later, Charlie Clark and the Majestic 12. This year he also founded a new record label, Indiscretion Records, with wife Michelle Mondragon.
So an Astrid reunion had not even been thought about until last year when Campbell had the opportunity to visit LA with the intention of doing some solo gigs and perhaps writing something with Clark.
“I’m not sure how the conversations went exactly, but the more we spoke the more we figured we might as well put an album together”, recalls Campbell. “We started sending demos to each other and picked ten songs that we thought worked best out of a batch of 30-40 tunes.
“We recorded a full album while I was there. We work really well together and have our own different projects for certain types of songs. Charlie's solo EP was great and Broken Arrow are a fantastic band, but we both agree Astrid has a specific sound that we wandered away from with our last album. This new stuff is a bit like our ‘back in the day’ sound.
“You can hear we're having fun in the recording. We maybe competed a bit with each other when we were younger, but there was none of that this time. It was a brilliant experience. He's writing the best music and songs he ever has. It was the easiest album to make by a long way.
“Musically it's still pretty energetic, but we both feel confident that these are better songs. Harmonies are very much to the fore. Charlie's acoustic and my electric are still there. It all sounds more sure of itself. It's a bit like it used to be but better, we think.”
Clark agrees: “Even though it’s been 11 years since we worked together it did not feel like that at all. Willie and I had so much fun with everyone making, in all honesty, what we feel is the best Astrid record yet.”
A new single and album will follow, as well as a tour which will include an appearance at the Hebridean Celtic Festival from 13-16 July in Stornoway.
“Where better for Astrid to do their first home gig?” says Willie. “We're grateful to HebCelt for giving us this opportunity to perform.
“We always got such amazing support when we played at home but never performed at the festival. It’s great to think that people that would have listened to us in school will now be in the crowd with their kids. It's going to be a buzz.”
So does Astrid have a future given the various projects both Campbell and Clark are already involved in? The latest Open Day Rotation album has been delayed since January while the Astrid re-union continues, and Clark has two solo EPs planned for next year.
“We agree this is something we'd like to continue with”, says Campbell. “It's been so easy and enjoyable. We're both in other bands with albums pending so of course we'll go off and do that after this Astrid album is all done with, but it feels like it's got legs for sure.”
This year’s HebCelt will also feature, among others, Runrig, Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Hayseed Dixie, Julie Fowlis, King Creosote and Breabach.
The festival has grown from a small event attracting less than 1,000 fans, to an international showpiece for roots, Celtic and traditional music, generating more than £20 million for the local economy over two decades.
Last year, it marked its 20th anniversary by hosting its biggest number of live performances ever with more than 50 hours of music and arts events staged in the main arena in the grounds of Lews Castle, as well as An Lanntair arts centre in the town centre and other venues in rural areas.