by Margaret Chrystall
BEFORE their first live dates together in 11 years, Willie Campbell and Charlie Clark look back at band Astrid’s story.
"We didn’t quite really understand why people liked us, when we were younger," laughs Willie.
The core of the indie pop band with breezy, tuneful songs began on Lewis with the childhood friendship between Willie and Charlie.
They had bonded as 11 and 12-year-olds through a shared love of comics and music. Later fellow Lewisman Gareth Russell joined on bass and – when the band moved to Glasgow, drummer Gary Thom joined, later replaced by Neil Payne.
They started rehearsing in 1997, were noticed by Glasgow’s Belle & Sebastian and joined them on tour.
Astrid signed to label Fantastic Plastic. Their career saw two EPs, nine singles and three albums, from 1999 to 2004.
But by the end, both Willie and Charlie had become absorbed into "supergroup" The Reindeer Section which also included Snow Patrol.
And at the end of 2004, Astrid finished.
Willie and Charlie have gone on to many other projects.
Willie’s line-ups include Our Small Capital, Open Day Rotation, an album of Gaelic songs, Dalma, with Calum Martin and a recent new Gaelic music project Akutagawa with fellow Lewis man, writer Kevin MacNeil.
Now living in Los Angeles, Charlie has appeared as a guest with artists including The Zephyrs, Arab Strap, Mogwai and Snow Patrol.
With writing partner Brandi Emma, he formed Broken Arrow and later Charlie Clark And The Majestic 12.
This year he founded new record label, Indiscretion Records, with his wife Michelle Mondragon.
So why the return of Astrid – and in LA?
Willie said: "We haven’t ever really been out of touch.
"I’ve been married about eight years and Charlie was best man at my wedding – we stayed really close friends though people think we only just started talking to each other again.
"I had an opportunity to go out to LA to do some gigs.
"I was just going to play some songs from the new Open Day Rotation album – which still isn’t out yet," he laughed.
"But the more that me and Charlie spoke – he was going to be arranging some stuff for me over there – we thought ‘Well let’s write together or do a gig together’. Then it turned into ‘Let’s do an album’ and ‘Well, this is clearly Astrid’, so it just all fell into place like that."
Willie adds: "I think as soon as we started singing and playing together, it just felt really natural and enjoyable.
"We’ve just been sitting for hours singing together – and loving it."
Now 10 of the 30 or 40 songs Charlie and Willie worked on – sending demoes back and forward to each other initially – will be on what will be the fourth Astrid album Fall Stand Dance, due out later this year.
It’s back to the sunnier songs of the first two albums for fans who had seen a very different Astrid sound in their 2004 third album, One In Four. Later that year, the band split.
But the reception to the album was, it turns out, only a small part of the story.
Charlie said: "I think for us about the time we had done the third album, we had already done two with The Reindeer Section and that second one ended up being pretty well received.
"And after constant touring with Astrid’s first two albums, there was then this hiatus.
"I think, in hindsight, Willie and I are both comfortable with the fact that due to whatever other influences were going on, when we wrote the third album – we both loved that record – but I think it should probably have come out under another band name.
"It wasn’t an Astrid record, it was a bit more complex and I think, in retrospect, the songs were a bit more heavily structured and had no real connection with any of the ones people had loved about Astrid in the first place."
It’s the old Astrid that people are likely to hear with Fall Stand Dance.
Charlie said: "Going into this new album, what we really wanted to make was an Astrid record."
The two are having fun rehearsing together at Willie’s house – his young son and daughter often dancing around them.
Some of the old Fantastic Plastic team are involved – as is Joe Cokell, former CEO of Sanctuary Music Group, now a consultant for Kobalt Music Group.
The door is always open for the return of Gareth Russell too, Charlie emphasised, though Gareth is working with Chvrches.
And these days, though both have many projects of their own, they realise Astrid is special.
Willie said: "I think it makes us appreciate Astrid even more.
"We reckon this has legs because it’s so much fun to do."
Charlie added: "It’s our baby – we’re probably more protective of it than any other project because it comes from our friendship.
"And we’ve been through the wars together.
"And we kind of know that 20-odd years down the line, we’re going to be around for a long long time."
Astrid play the Ceilidh Place, Ullapool, on Wednesday, June 8; XpoNorth on Thursday, June 9 at the Ironworks, King Tut’s, Glasgow, on Saturday, June 11, the HebCelt Featival in Stornoway from July 13 to 16 and Belladrum (August 4 to 6).