Coldplay 'bodysnatched' our sound, says Travis singer Fran Healy

By Steven Brocklehurst
BBC Scotland News

  • Published
Photo of TRAVIS and Fran HEALY, Douglas Payne, Fran Healy, Andy Dunlop, Neil Primrose (Photo by Benedict Johnson/Redferns)Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Man Who was a massive hit for Travis

When Travis released their second album 20 years ago it was "slaughtered" by the critics but it went on to be a massive success which influenced a generation of pop stars.

Keane, The Killers and Amy Macdonald are among the artists who cite The Man Who as a major influence on their musical style and career.

Coldplay's lead singer Chris Martin is on the record as saying Travis were "the band that invented my band and lots of others".

In BBC Radio Scotland documentary The Man Who at 20, Travis' frontman Fran Healy says Coldplay "bodysnatched" their sound because it was the most popular music around in 1999 when they were recording their debut album.

Healy says Coldplay remain at the top of the music business two decades later because they have since reinvented themselves by adopting the sounds of other big names, such as U2 and Arcade Fire.

He says his own band, on the other hand, reached the top of the music business, had a look around - then came back down.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Travis in Glasgow in 1997

The Glasgow band have released six studio albums since The Man Who but have never reached the heights of that record, which featured songs such as Writing to Reach You, Driftwood and Turn.

Despite its eventual huge success, Travis' second album was not an immediate hit.

It was not as upbeat as their first and was originally dismissed as "dour, sad, depressing, low key and really quiet", says Healy.

He said it was not what the music press were expecting and they hammered it.

The Man Who landed at number five when it was released in May 1999, but before they played Glastonbury at the end of June it had been falling down the charts.

Image source, Getty Images
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Fran Healy of Travis performs on stage at Glastonbury in June 1999

Jo Whiley, who presented the TV coverage of the festival, told the documentary about the pivotal moment when Travis played their song Why Does It Always Rain On Me? and "the heavens opened".

"It is like a magic song with special superpowers that made the heavens open and rain," she says.

The performance caught the public's attention and the album climbed to number one, where it would spend nine weeks.

Within a year Travis had won the best band and best album awards at The Brits.

Twelve months after they made it rain, they returned to Glastonbury as headliners.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Fran Healy and Travis recently performed the album at Glasgow's SEC Hydro arena

Why Does It Always Rain On Me? was written in Eilat in Israel, Healy tells the documentary. The chorus refers to the fact it was raining in such a sunny country, while the verse captures the more metaphorical rain of his feelings about their first album not doing well.

A lot of the songs on The Man Who were written for their first album, Good Feelings, but Healy says they could not record them properly because they were "not that kind of band". The songs needed to "ripen".

Travis's members describe their breakthrough album as the sound of "being dumped".

Tom Chaplin, from Keane, another band who came on to the scene as Travis were riding high, says he remembers falling head over heels in love with The Man Who.

"I thought the songwriting was really beautiful," he says. "They became a massive inspiration for us setting out on the start of our dream."

'A profound impact'

Scottish pop star Amy Macdonald taught herself to play Travis song Turn on the guitar when she was about 12.

"Nothing had as much of a profound impact on me as that album did at that time of my life," she says.

When the album came out in May 1999, the band could not get arrested, says Healy.

Within a year the music business wanted every band to sound like them.

One of them was Coldplay.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Coldplay have stayed at the top of the music business for 20 years

Healy says: "One of the things I noticed was Coldplay and the chiming guitar. I thought: 'Oh my god, they totally took Andy's sound'."

The Travis singer says the difference between the two bands was that Chris Martin of Coldplay wanted them to be the biggest band in the world.

"I think Travis wanted to be the best band in the world," says Healy.

"REM are the best band in the world. Part of their journey involved going up to the top of Mount Everest and going 'that's a nice view, the air is a bit thin, can't breathe - let's go back down'.

"There is no-one up there and it is quite barren and lonely. But Chris is still up there. He's up there playing tennis with Bono."

He says Martin has taken popular movements in music throughout his career so he can remain at the peak.

"But you have got to ask yourself, why would anyone want to remain at the top of Mount Everest where there is no-one to talk to?

"You can't really write from the heart up there. You need to be on the ground.

"When people have compared us to Coldplay I have always thought that is quite funny because I could not think of two more different approaches to art."