An Interview with Strathclyde Alumni: Emma Pollock

Emma Pollock’s musical career has seen her front the Mercury Music Prize nominated band, The Delgados, as well as being one of the key pioneers within Glasgow’s rich music scene by setting up the record label Chemikal Underground; signing award winning artists like Mogwai and Arab Strap.

But did you know that her career all started when studying Physics at Strathclyde? We chatted to Emma to hear about her student experience in the lead up to Strath Union’s feature within the Alumni’s magazine, Strathclyde People, and their big move to the Colville Building on Richmond Street in 2020.

Your first gig with The Delgadoswas in the Mandela bar in 94, how did you feel beforehand?

We only had 4 songs, and I was very nervous. It was my first performance, publicly, in a band, the songs were dead simple but I guess it was the start of something – we didn’t know what it was yet which was exciting, music is like that.

Before the band in 94, Paul [Savage] and I had met at university, we started going out and he introduced me to a lot of new music that was coming out of Glasgow at the time. Bands like Teenage Fanclub came through and released Catholic Educationa few years earlier, then Bandwagonesquecame out with Creation Records and it was massive.

It might have been in The Mandela Bar, but essentially this part of Glasgow – because it also had the 13thNote – is where everything kind of started, that’s where BBC DJ’s were meeting every week to do DJ sets – and they were all playing a lot of new music. That’s where we met bands like Bis – who we ended up signing – and Alex Kapranosfrom Franz Ferdinand… but our very first gig was here.

emma p

Photo Credit: Jannica Honey

How did you feel walking off stage after your set at Mandela?

Exhilarated and relieved that we got to the end.

That feeling doesn’t really go away, you can still get on the stage and be terrified if you haven’t played for a while, you’re always relieved when you get off but absolutely exhilarated. There was a feeling of wanting to do it again and so we all thought it was something to work for.

Is there anything you can remember that connected studying Physics at Strathclyde to going to a career in music?

No, not at the time, but I don’t think we necessarily understand the connections between what we are interested in, I’m still passionate and excited about maths and science, but I think the trouble was that coming out of uni in 1993, I don’t think there was quite as many opportunities to go and explore, with regards to science, compared to now – especially for women.

It was Glasgow as a city that ambushed me with its music because I come from a small town, Castle Douglas, where the only gigs I’ve ever seen had been in the school hall in Dumfries.

I think Glasgow’s music scene had more in common with Northern American college rock than with what was coming out from Manchester, although Oasis and Blur were at the time huge, it had more in common with the excitement and free feel of what was happening with bands like The Lemonheads. The Oasis thing that seemed to be happening felt like a million miles away compared to the identity we had in Scotland.

With nominations for the Mercury Prize and the SAY Award, did you actually think it would come this far?

There are a mix of extremes and emotions when you’re at the beginning of your career. Emotion which says ‘we’re amazing and massive’ and the other one that goes ‘this is just too hard’. It depended on what day of the week you would speak to us, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We signed an agreement for the record at a gig at the Barrowlands, went to London, had a look about for a deal and didn’t really like the way it felt – it was mid 90’s and there was bit of an Indie explosion with a lot of bands getting signed – we did get offered a deal but it didn’t feel right so we came back home and started our own record company. It became clear there was a path that became more self-determined than with a record company.

How important were smaller venues like the Union and the 13thNote within the Glasgow music scene in the 90s?

They are all hugely important because they are stepping stones to playing the gig you might play the next time you come to Glasgow.

The great thing about Glasgow as a music city is that it has had such a range of venues, a lovely mix of sizes. It means that anybody, be that in music or comedy, can all find a place in Glasgow and that is wonderful; every gig has a place in a city like this.

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By John Darley