Jon Fratelli visits his old college

THERE was a familiar face at Cumbernauld College last Tuesday when The Fratellis' lead singer Jon - who is originally from Condorrat - paid a visit.

The former St. Maurice's High School pupil was there as part of the celebrations for the opening of the college's new Audio and Media Technology centre, and he said he was very impressed with the new facilities. "The equipment in the department is fantastic. I had a go, with the students showing me how to work it, and they are already professionals."

He added that there were plenty of changes since he was last there: "It's really great. I did a music course here years ago when I was at high school and I haven't been back here for a while."

The 300,000 installation means students can record and edit music and film to industry standards, and it includes a studio built around an Audient Recording Console with outboard equipment from legendary audio companies such as Neve and Avalon. There are also seven Digidesign Pro-Tools HD systems and Avid video editing systems.

Students also got a chance to ask Jon about his experiences of the music business, in a question and answer session. Questions ranged from the sensible, such as who his favourite bands are at the moment, to the more obscure - like 'what's a Fratelli?'

The frontman was first asked about earning a living before he got signed, and he said: "It took a long time - I started playing when I was 17, and I was 26 when we got signed. I couldn't afford not to work. It took me a while to get to what I thought was good enough to get somewhere."

As for what advice he would give to unsigned bands, he was emphatic that they should keep working hard and not be discouraged if they're not successful immediately. "It's a bit cliched," said the 28-year-old, "but never give up - you've got to keep going."

He also told the audience that The Fratellis were signed relatively quickly, only six or seven months after he started that band, but prior to that he had had seven or eight years of really trying and constantly getting knocked back.

The band's debut album Costello Music peaked at number two in the album chart, and BBC Radio 1 listeners voted them the Best Breakthrough Act at the Brits in February this year. And Jon said that he used to say in interviews that a Fratelli was a Glasgow chippy - although found that this didn't translate so well overseas.

The band is also due to play at the SECC on Saturday (September 29) - so what's it like in a chart-topping band? He realises that he is very lucky, he says. "I love it - everything about it's great. It's the only job I was ever cut out to do."

When asked his favourite places to tour, he said America and Japan. As for the land of the Rising Sun, he explained: "Music fans there are a completely different breed and they all do choreographed dances to our songs. One time they were all doing the same dance to Flathead."

But you can't beat the home crowds: "I still like playing back here," he admits. There have been many memorable performances - but once, he explains, that was for all the wrong reasons. When asked what their worst gig was, Jon says that it was in Glasgow for lots of A&R people - and they fell foul of technical gremlins as well having visited the bar beforehand a few times too many. "We thought we'd blown it," he laughs.

And he had plenty of advice for up and coming bands, saying that they should try and write as much as they can while they can. "I always think you should already have half of a second album when you're writing your first - there's less time later on."

"I think songs are really important - it sounds obvious but it's true. There's a whole lot of other bands out there that to my ears sound pretty similar."

As for more practical aspects of putting together a band, he says: "Get personalities that can work together. We were a four piece for a while but it wasn't working - you've got to be a little bit ruthless."

As for his influences and favourite current bands, he says he always goes back to The Beatles and Dylan, and explains that this dates back to the fact that he wasn't allowed to get a CD player until he was 18 so had to listen to his dad's records. As for more modern music, he says he likes Bright Eyes.

The band is now in pre-production for their second album - and now have their own studio in Glasgow where they will be recording. This is particularly handy, Jon says, as it avoids him having to be away from home for months at a time. "It couldn't be more perfect," he said. "I only live five minutes round the corner."

The visit also went down very well with staff at the college, with principal Martin McGuire saying: "The appearance of Jon Fratelli added a real 'rock n roll' atmosphere to our opening. His question and answer session, as well as his willingness to spend so much time signing autographs and posing for photographs, was much appreciated."