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Fran Healy: ‘Blondie is connected with really traumatic memories’

Travis frontman Fran Healy reveals the musical inspirations that made him the man he is today.
Fran Healy. The Boy With No Name vinyl reissue is out now Words: Laura Kelly @laurakaykelly Photo: by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

As is the way for many of us living through the ongoing pandemic upheaval, 2021 has found Fran Healy and Travis in a reflective mood. Looking back across their 20-plus year career, the Scottish alternative rockers are reissuing some of their best-loved albums.

This month, they’re revisiting their eclectic 2007 release The Boy With No Name. Frontman Fran Healy says it’s a dense album, “packed with some our most memorable songs”. Its lead single, Closer – which was released with a touchy-feely video featuring Ben Stiller – certainly feels timely once more. Featuring the refrain “Just need to get closer”, it’s a perfect soundtrack for the return of hugging.

Fran recently joined us on The Music That Made Me to talk about how he was shaped by Joni Mitchell, Michael Stipe and Roy Orbison – and to lament the dearth of real songwriters working today.

Heart of Glass and traumatic memories

The first song that I remember hearing and singing inside, was Heart of Glass by Blondie. It’s connected with really traumatic memories for me: going to school for the first time, leaving my mum and all these things. The melody was like a mantra that went round and round in my head, like non stop. And they were like kind of weird soundtrack to this fear. And so began 12 years of absolute, ‘I’m in prison’.

Roy Orbison on Jonathan Ross

When I was about 13 or 14 years old, I got my first acoustic guitar. The reason I got that guitar was that I saw Roy Orbison on a Jonathan Ross show called The Last Resort. It was a Friday night show, and Roy Orbison came on and sang Pretty Woman. This was years before the movie. Had I not seen that, I don’t know if I’d be here right now. I just got hypnotised and asked my mum to change my present at Christmas to an acoustic guitar.

Joni Mitchell fracks out the feelings

I went to an art course in Scotland when I was about 17 There was a teacher there called Gerry Kelly. He’s the best art teacher in the world, he’s amazing. Gerry’s a keystone for me. He would put on Joni Mitchell’s album Blue. There was something about it: the honesty or the quietness of it and the simplicity of it. I thought, well, I’ve never heard music like this before. I’ve never heard songwriting like that before. Before it was all very blokey. Joni came along, and that opened the door to this other write-about-what-you’re-feeling-inside style of songwriting. That’s when I started to want to express my feelings a bit more. I think songwriting or poetry or art, these are ways to frack feelings out of your system.

REM offers something more

I was going from the schoolboy sort of thing – which was U2, INXS, Simple Minds – to something a bit more. That was a four-piece band from Athens, Georgia, called REM. REM became the template band for me. I liked Michael Stipe’s behaviour on stage. It wasn’t macho, it was something else. That appealed to me. I mean, you wouldn’t really hear that in Travis’s music… but it’s there.

Pomme: a real modern songwriter

You don’t really have songwriters writing songs anymore – you have producers writing songs, and singers. When those people write songs, they’re writing from above the neck. There’s no fracking going on. If it’s been written from above the neck, it’ll just tickle your brain. And that will be it. If it has been written from below the neck, the hairs on your arms will stand up. You’ll stop in your tracks and you’ll pull the car over. It’s the closest we’ve got to a real magic spell. I don’t really hear much at the moment. But there’s an artist from France called Pomme that I am really into. It’s all in French, so I don’t know what she’s saying, but it is definitely coming from below the neck. You can tell.

The Boy With No Name vinyl reissue is out now.