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Mogwai guitarist Stuart Braithwaite: 'Music can make dreams come true'

Before Mogwai, Braithwaite was a music-obsessed teenager in East Kilbride, who dreamed of sharing a stage with The Cure. Then one day that dream came true

Spaceships Over Glasgow: Mogwai, Mayhem and Misspent Youth by Stuart Braithwaite is out now

Spaceships Over Glasgow: Mogwai, Mayhem and Misspent Youth by Stuart Braithwaite is out now (White Rabbit, £20). Illustration: Jimmy Turrell

Stuart Braithwaite’s new book, Spaceships Over Glasgow, recalls life before Mogwai, when the bands he listened to changed his world

When I was young I was lucky to be surrounded by some brilliant people. My family always encouraged my sister and me to do what made us happy, not just what would make us money. My dad was Scotland’s only telescope maker, and the house was a magnet for weird and wonderful people. I feel so grateful for having been shielded against normality. 

When I was about 12 I started getting guitar lessons from an amazing guy called Harry who lived above an Indian restaurant in Hamilton. He played me Heroin by The Velvet Underground and it blew my tiny mind. I didn’t know anything could be so powerful. The chaos, honesty and the sheer beauty of the sound opened up a world that I didn’t know existed. I lived in rural Lanarkshire so didn’t have a clue about drugs, New York or anything that contextualised the music, but I loved it all the same. 

When I found out that the demonic noise John Cale had conjured on the record was the same noise that swamped Psychocandy by The Jesus and Mary Chain I wanted to get an electric guitar so I could try and make some of it myself. Finding out that the Mary Chain were from East Kilbride – a short drive from where I went to school in Strathaven – piqued my curiosity furthermore. Knowing that the creators of this endlessly intriguing sound spoke like me and walked the same grey Lanarkshire streets as me planted a seed of possibility. If they’d done it, why couldn’t I?

My big sister Victoria had great music taste and it was by taking her record collection that I found my way in music. She was into The Stooges, Pixies and biggest of all for me – The Cure. I obsessed over all of The Cure’s albums, and by the time they were about to release Disintegration in 1989 I was a fully fledged fan. I counted down the days till its release like Christmas, even dreaming about what it would sound like. Disintegration was the first record I ever bought and it didn’t disappoint. It was a work of utter majesty. The Cure were the first band I ever saw.

That summer I went to see The Cure in Glasgow at the SECC, my first-ever concert. The experience literally changed my life. I’d watched live videos, but nothing compared to seeing the band live in person. The sound was bigger than anything I’d ever experienced and just being in the same room as so many like-minded people was transformative. I lived in the countryside, and rock’n’roll was an escape into a different world. Music was an obsession for me and all I thought about every day.

Around then I had a dream that I was in a band (something that was only a flight of fancy at this point) and was playing a gig with The Cure in a big field. It was a prophecy of sorts as 14 years later, now playing in my own band, Mogwai, we were invited by Robert Smith to play with them at Hyde Park in London. Pay attention to your dreams. They just might come true!

As much as music has been the guiding light in my life I think that the people that I’ve met through it have been even more defining. Earlier this month we lost the wonderful Mimi Parker from Low to ovarian cancer. It’s such a heartbreaking loss. Low are among my favourite musicians, and wonderful people too. Mimi had one of the most beautiful voices and was a sweet, kind, funny person.

The first time we played with them was in Edinburgh in 1996 while I was still a teenager. We were tearaways and always as drunk as we could get away with. Low – teetotal mormons – had different leisure pursuits, but treated us kindly and warmly that night as they continued to over the following decades when our paths crossed.

I looked out the poster for that gig to reminisce, and of the five bands playing that night I’m still friends with members of all of them. You never know when you leave the house that the people that you meet on that night can change your life. 

And recently we lost another legendary person to the world that I was lucky enough to know. Kiko Loiacano was a pharmacist, a tour manager and one of the most wonderful, eccentric people I’ve ever met. It was Kiko who introduced Mogwai to Super Furry Animals. He was a real gentle soul who truly believed in the power of rock’n’roll and friendship.   

Music creates bonds that pass through decades and centuries, and the music itself can be timeless. People will still be listening to Low when everyone reading this is no longer around. When writing my book Spaceships Over Glasgow, I realised how lucky I’ve been to have met so many wonderful people and to get to play my music all over the world. Music really can make dreams come true.

Spaceships Over Glasgow: Mogwai, Mayhem and Misspent Youth by Stuart Braithwaite

Spaceships Over Glasgow: Mogwai, Mayhem and Misspent Youth by Stuart Braithwaite is out now (White Rabbit, £20) You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

Mogwai play Scottish shows in December, and tour the UK in February 2023. Visit mogwai.scot for more details.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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