Travis: ‘It’s an easy choice to play the Isle of Wight Festival’

Nigel Rigden

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Nine years ago the ever-unpredictable Morrissey pulled out of headlining the Isle of Wight Festival less than two weeks before he was due to play.

Scottish indie-rockers Travis were the recipients of a phone call asking them if they’d step into the breach, a task which they more than ably fulfilled, even including a cheeky cover of the ex-Smiths frontman’s own hit Every Day is Like Sunday.

Guitarist Andy Dunlop now recalls that appearance: ‘It was brilliant. To be honest, it was the first time I’d been to the Isle of Wight – we came in by helicopter so we got a great view across the bay as we were coming in.’

Drummer Neil Primrose adds: ‘It was quite surprising to be asked.

‘I remember it was all very rock’n’roll with helicopters and flashy cars to take us back to London – it was all a bit Led Zeppelin.’

Andy says: ‘It was a great show. I’m always nervous about doing anyone else’s songs though – you know your own inside out, but it’s not the same when you’re doing covers.’

And now they’re looking forward to returning – the band are headlining the Big Top on Sunday night, making them the last band of the weekend to perform.

Neil explains: ‘The festival is synonymous with that rock heritage, and it’s gone from strength to strength.

‘So many festivals have come and gone – there have probably been too many festivals, but it’s the good ones that continue to function.’

‘It’s kind of one of those festivals,’ says Andy, ‘because of the weight of the name, it carries a lot of history with it and when we were first asked to do it, it was an easy choice because it’s got such a heritage to it.’

The band formed in the early ’90s, but it wasn’t until the line-up solidified around singer Fran Healy, bassist Dougie Payne, Andy and Neil that things became serious. Debut album Good Feeling in 1997 achieved some success – sneaking briefly into the album chart’s top 10.

But it was only with the release of second album, The Man Who, that things started to take off. And it was a serendipitous cloud burst during their Glastonbury set as they played Why Does It Always Rain on Me? that brought them mainstream attention. It went on to become the biggest-selling album of 1999 in the UK, selling a whopping 2.7m copies.

‘We were unavoidable,’ says Andy now, sounding almost apologetic. While things have calmed down since that peak, the band have remained hugely popular and last year they released their seventh album, Where You Stand – their first in five years.

The six-stringer says: ‘It’s kind of nice now. We’ve got the kind of heritage of those big songs, but we’re at a point where we can do our own thing. The pressure when we were really big was immense, you start second guessing yourself.

‘Not that I would ever complain about being successful, don’t get me wrong, it was brilliant. But now the pressure’s off so you can do what you want, and we still get to travel the world and play our songs – it’s not a bad life, you know.’

‘I’ve watched bands do the same as us after we got big, and there’s nothing you can do differently.

‘When you get that big, you go for it, you run at it full-on and you inevitably burn yourself out. There’s no other end game.

‘There was a point where we totally burnt ourselves out by touring and playing, and playing. And then we had a four-year break before this record, we played the odd show, but we walked away from it for a long while.’

Their relaxed attitude to inter-band relationships is one thing that seems to have helped keep them going.

‘I think when guys play music together for 25-odd years – we’ve been together since we’ve been teenagers – anything that does happen, it’s inconsequential,’ says Neil.

‘We’ve spent more time together than we do with our wives and loved ones. We’re lucky that way that we’ve got that brotherly thing.

‘We know when to give each other space and when to take a break.’

It’s a sentiment Andy echoes: ‘Travis is kind of a family, we’ve been together so long, and we’ve been doing this for so long, even if we said tomorrow: “That’s it, we’re stopping making music and touring,” I kind of think Travis would still exist.

‘There were times during that four years where we wouldn’t talk for six months because we were off doing different things, but when we’d talk, it would be like we’d last spoken the day before.

‘We can bicker with the best of them, but we are like a family.

‘We love each other, at the end of the day.’

That’s not to say that they’re entirely laid back – they relish being under-rated.

Andy smiles: ‘I’ve always kind of felt like an underdog, even when we were doing well. Because we tended to get a fairly healthy kicking from the press, you felt like you were swimming upstream anyway.

‘The reviews of The Man Who were awful – we thought we were done. And then it went on to do what it did – so we always have felt like underdogs. It’s as soon as you start to feel comfy and part of the establishment, then it’s over.’

And the feisty sticksman gets the final word: ‘We still enjoy it, but last year at the festivals we did, we rocked harder and played better than just about anyone else.

‘I think people still relish and appreciate that we’re one of the best bands out there.’

The Isle of Wight Festival runs until Sunday at Seaclose Park in Newport. Weekend tickets, including camping, cost £190, check for ticket availability.