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The Delgados


Ahead of headlining Deer Shed 2023, Emma Pollock of Scottish alternative rock band The Delgados discusses the group’s reformation, revisiting their discography, and how the emergence of illegal streaming in the noughties radically changed the music industry.

“It would be lovely to build on those listeners that have been with us or were with us at the beginning.” Emma says, in reference to The Delgados’ reunion after 18 years apart. I suppose that’s part of the ambition of any band getting back together, they hope they can build a future that carries some new people along as well.” It was back in 2019, whilst three of the four members – Emma, husband Paul Savage and Alun Woodward – were attending the wedding of Stewart Braithwaite, guitarist of fellow Scottish band Mogwai, that the idea of reuniting came about. Fourth member Stewart Henderson couldn’t make it, but was soon involved in the plan. “We had to take it in bite-sized pieces because the idea of it was a great one – we all felt excited about it, but the job at hand was enormous.” Then the global pandemic slowed down the process. “It was only in 2022 that we were able to pick it up again and think, is it possible? It's one thing to say you're going to go back together, but what does it mean? What are we actually going to do? The first thing we thought was, wouldn't it be great to just get out there and play some shows again?”

The Delgados’ initial run spanned from 1994 to 2005, releasing five studio albums. Their third release, The Great Eastern, earned them a coveted Mercury Prize nomination in 2000. Blending alternative rock, noise-pop and tender orchestral sounds with gritty lyrics are situated in Scottish social realism and strike the balance of tragedy and hope, laid bare through Emma and Alun’s dreamy vocal interplay “An awful lot of what I was pulling from lyrically was family stuff, my experience as a young teenager and what it was like to live in the rural community of Galloway and then move to a Glasgow,” Emma recalls. When talking about performing these songs again, she describes it as fondly as a memory jog. “When you're writing songs in your mid-twenties, you're still dead young, your pool of experience is obviously very different to now. As a much older person who's been away from those songs for 18 years, it's odd, yet delightful. It's not often you get a chance to revisit your early years like that in such an intimate form.”


In the interim of their split and reformation, the four continued in the industry in various forms, with Emma and Alun pursuing solo careers – the latter under the stage name Lord Cut-Glass. A debate comes up for Emma when asked if her long-standing experience as an artist has improved or changed her craft. “You begin to ask really fundamental questions about whether art comes out of experience or instinct – do you really need experience to make a great thing, or do you just need to have the will and passion? Of course you get more experience the more you do something, and I dare say, maybe I'm a better songwriter now, but there’s the argument that the innocence and gung-ho attitude that comes with being 25 and in a band is that it can’t be matched again.”

Emma then thinks about the listener experience: “The way fans of music relate to lyrics is very individual. It's almost just as important as the lyrical content itself because the listener will never really understand where the song has come from for the artist – but in a way that's fine, that's okay! It's the interpretation that's unique to the individual, and I think that's the way that art should be. I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong way. It's more a case of what does it mean to you?” She continues, “if you have the liberty and the privilege of being able to create something unique, you've got the power to better it, until you say, “right, that's it, it's finished.” At that point there's a swap, when everybody gets to hear it and never again shall it be changed. It's a really interesting thing within the arts; you create something in the privacy of your own world, and then it's almost like you flip a switch, put the lights on and everyone else is allowed to see it, but you can't change it anymore.” The subject matter of their music is still painfully relevant, and their personal sound suggests why The Delgados’ music stands the test of time.

During their time as a band, they also founded the independent record label Chemikal Underground, with artists such as themselves, Arab Strap and Mogwai on their roster to this day. During this decade of constant working, however, the band began to notice the drastically changing nature of the music industry. “We saw this bizarre arc through our career – right slap bang in the middle [the year 2000] there was a pivot, where physical sales began to stall”. With the infamous Napster and Limewire wreaking havoc on the industry, the indie scene was hit hard. “The alternative market was always the one on the fringe. It’s been quite catastrophic for the industry and a lot of people have had to leave it.” This contributed to The Delgados calling it quits in 2005. “We packed a huge amount into those ten years, and we probably burned ourselves out to some extent because there was so much going on.”

Emma also raises concerns for new indie artists trying to get out there: “Unfortunately, I think we're only seeing the emergence of new artists who can afford to take part, which is really worrying because art should be able to be made by anybody. It used to be the record and publishing companies gave you an advance, but that’s not happening anymore. Bands [like us] were given a platform based off of faith in the market. The industry was making so much money and investing in the future of thousands of young artists, but that’s all dried up.” The streaming model became the main source of profit for the modern industry, and Emma shares her concerns. “What is making money now is the back catalogue, but they've already got the rights, they don't need new acts. This is the trouble! It's much easier to just sit and just let the money roll in. It becomes extremely difficult to ask the industry to put the same amount of faith into the future, when the future doesn't make as much money.”

Considering their near-two-decade break, they decided to concentrate on their existing catalogue (for now), giving listeners the opportunity to hear the tracks that garnered them  popularity in the alternative scene. “That was always one of the most exhilarating parts of being in a band, when you get to play the songs you've written. You're always on your own, with each other, but it's when you get out and play in front of people that you begin to really understand what it is to be in a band, because a lot of it is about being with people who want to share that with you, which is something that we'd missed.” The band then embarked on a five-show tour in January 2023, finishing with a homecoming at The Barrowlands in Glasgow, an experience Emma jovially describes as amazing. “We were almost speechless. It was a very odd atmosphere in some ways because we couldn’t quite believe we were there, and I don’t think the audience could believe they were there, and everybody was a wee bit like “is this happening? This is really surreal.” She laughs with fondness and a hint of incredulity at what the band have achieved since reuniting, and there’s more to come. Deer Shed isn’t their only festival this summer; they played Primavera just last month, as well as Green Man coming up.


As a reclamation of personal ownership, the band are reissuing their fourth studio album though their own label for the first time. Hate will be available on vinyl and CD on Chemikal Underground on August 4th. It will also be available earlier at Deer Shed on Sunday 30th July, the night the band close the festival. Emma nervously laughs as she says, in reference to being the closing act, “I’m trying not to think about that!” She continues, “I just want us to get down there and play a great, great show for people, because when people go to a festival they don't always know all the acts they're going to see, they don't know everybody on the bill, so it will be a chance for us to play in front of people who are perhaps less of a captive audience in comparison to January [the tour], who were probably fans from back in the day.” She is humble in her expectations, though it seems likely that The Delgados’ Deer Shed performance will be a highlight for many attendees. It will be a return for Emma, who’s played here as a solo artist – “that was back in 2016, and it was great, I loved it. It was a really welcoming, warm and joyous festival to be at – and a lovely site. I’m really looking forward to coming back.”

The Delgados’ Deer Shed performance will be a highlight for many attendees. It will be a return for Emma, who’s played here as a solo artist – “That was back in 2016, and it was great, I loved it. It was a really welcoming, warm and joyous festival to be at – and a lovely site. I’m really looking forward to coming back.”

The band are reissuing their fourth album “HATE” on the 4th of August via Chemikal Underground. Available on coloured vinyl and CD, with a few copies at Deer Shed for an exclusive early purchase.

Juan Francisco Sanchez 1.jpg
Words by Abbey Morley
Photography by Eva Vermandel
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