After the death of their keyboard player, Scottish band Camera Obscura can’t face re-forming, but singer Tracyanne Campbell is back – with help from Edwyn Collins
31 May 2018 | Malcolm Jack | The Guardian
When the sumptuous, soul-warming sound of Tracyanne & Danny’s debut track Home and Dry dropped unexpectedly in February, fans experienced a twofold reaction: both joy and relief.
In October 2015, a rare form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma robbed the life of Glasgow indie pop band Camera Obscura’s keyboardist Carey Lander. That is the exact word Lander’s bandmate and best friend, singer-songwriter Tracyanne Campbell, uses three years on: robbed. “We were all robbed of Carey,” she laments sternly, angrily. “And the band was robbed of our job.”
A crowdfunding campaign launched by Lander in her final days went on to raise more than £102,000 for Sarcoma UK, bringing some tiny semblance of light to the tragedy.
But after that there was only lingering sadness and silence, the group’s future left uncertain. Lander’s illness claimed the life of a much-loved and talented musician at just 33, but it also silenced a popular band in their prime.
So it is a relief to learn that Campbell was silenced only temporarily. Home and Dry was the first taste of a full album recorded in rural seclusion at Edwyn Collins’s cliff-top Clashnarrow studio, near Helmsdale on the north-east coast of Scotland.
A tender and crisply realised collection of panoramic pop vignettes and yearning love songs, it’s a collaboration with Danny Coughlan, the Bristol-based singer-songwriter known as Crybaby.
A close friend who shares Campbell’s love for ornate 60s guitar pop, Coughlan was the creative foil she needed to swap song ideas with by email in a delicate process of confidence and career rebuilding.
He once favoured more retro communication than email, though. “He sent me a song on a cassette tape and a handwritten letter, and I was like: ‘Who’s this weirdo?’” jokes Campbell, reflecting on how she first connected with Coughlan back in 2013, after a chance meeting between her publisher and his manager led to Crybaby twice touring as support for Camera Obscura.
“They like all that analogue stuff up there in Scotland, don’t they?” Coughlan recalls thinking, when he found out where Campbell was from. It seems a fair cop, actually, when he later describes delightedly raking through Collins’s crofter’s cottage full of classic guitars and equipment.
Prized discoveries included the original fuzz effects pedal used on Collins’s huge hit A Girl Like You. “I don’t think it had been in action for a few years,” he admits, before mimicking playing the song’s mighty riff with a series of disappointed raspberry noises.
Private, peaceful and nourishing, the studio and its surrounds were the perfect place to reflect and start afresh, and observe a daily ritual of strength and determination in face of adversity, courtesy of Collins, who has overcome two brain haemorrhages. “Edwyn’s in the cottage at the bottom of the hill,” Coughlan explains, admiringly. “He walks up the steps to the studio every morning with his walking stick: it’s 100 steps.”
Campbell says that Camera Obscura are “in slumberland”: the four remaining members all still talk or see one another frequently, but never to discuss the future. The prospect of so much as entering a rehearsal room again without their friend is still too daunting.
Was there ever a temptation to walk away from music altogether after Lander’s passing? “I wasn’t really thinking too much about music,” Campbell admits. “I was heartbroken; I was trying to deal with my grief, which was massive. That’s the thing about grief: it doesn’t end. It goes on, it just changes. We’re all still grieving for Carey. I know also that it’s important to not dwell on that. [With] my personality, I could have easily dwelled on that for too long. I think it was really important for me to keep Carey in mind and to find a strength to get past it. And I did that, I worked on it. It sounds weird to say, but I put a lot of work into it.”
The Tracyanne & Danny album could easily have been filled with 10 songs about their lost friend. In the end, one proved enough: the lovely Alabama, a breezy country-pop ode with strings, swooping pedal steel guitar and a vocal cameo from Collins. Campbell sings a bittersweet smile of a chorus: “When I’m an old lady, I’ll still miss you like crazy.”
“Carey and I were looking forward to being mad old ladies together,” Campbell says, when I ask what she thinks Lander would have made of that lyric. “We already were like a couple of mad grannies.”
At that thought, something that she admits hardly ever happens anymore happens, and tears well up in her eyes. Coughlan puts a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder. “She would have liked it,” Campbell asserts, quickly recomposing herself. “She’s part of it.”
Tracyanne & Danny’s debut album is out on Merge Records
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