I Am Kloot: 'I hope we're going to reach people who have never heard us' | Music feature

Nine years after forming, Manchester's men about town I Am Kloot look set to emulate Elbow

It doesn't take long in I Am Kloot's company to feel something has changed. Underrated, despite a fanatical hardcore following, the combustible, hard-drinking Mancunian outfit never seemed like an easy band to be in. But the trio sitting in a north London pub – frontman Johnny Bramwell, softly spoken bassist Pete Jobson and sanguine drummer Andy Hargreaves – are relaxed, joking and upbeat.

For a decade, since the release of their debut, Natural History, in 2001, Kloot have struggled to break through to the wider audience that other Manchester bands have reached. Bramwell has been around for even longer than that. Twenty years ago, in his guise as singer-songwriter Johnny Dangerously, he released the wonderful You, Me and the Alarm Clock, which didn't fit into the "Madchester" ethos of the era (the Guardian once included it in a list of the "greatest albums you've never heard"). Alongside Caroline Aherne in her Mrs Merton role, he presented Granada TV show Express!, too, and formed a band, the Mouth, with Bryan Glancy, a stalwart of the local music scene. (Glancy, who died in 2006, was the figure who inspired Elbow's Mercury-winning album The Seldom Seen Kid.)

As a songwriter, the 45-year-old Bramwell has long been seen as one of Manchester's worst-kept secrets, with a reputation as someone who would make sparks fly in any social situation, too. He formed I Am Kloot in the late 90s, and while none of the group's previous four albums has charted higher than No 68, their fifth is their most accessible yet. Sky at Night is produced by longtime friends Guy Garvey and Craig Potter of Elbow. Many will jump on that connection, but Garvey produced Kloot's debut, long before his own group's success, and in their early years, Kloot were the bigger band. Rather than stamping their mark on proceedings, it sounds as if the pair aimed simply to accentuate the nuances in Kloot's sound. "Very much so," nods Hargreaves over a pint. "They wanted to give it some colour and texture, but not make it an Elbow album."

It's also their most cohesive album yet, loosely themed around late-night drinking. "If one song set the mood it was 'To the Brink'," says Bramwell. This deals in fictional form with a couple of watering holes frequented by Kloot and Elbow: "Do you fancy a drink/ I know a place called the Brink/ Do you wanna go there?" According to Hargreaves: "That set the mood that it was going to be a late-night, smoky vibe."

Bramwell's songs, however, now hint at hope or the chance of redemption that was often hidden on their previous albums. "People kept saying we can always rely on you to have a right dig – there's nastiness in your songs, with a play on words," Bramwell says, "and I just thought if I kept encouraging that in myself I was going to end up, as a songwriter, down a cul-de-sac. I thought it was important to make an album where a lot of the songs are saying, 'Look, you might be getting worked up about this, but that shit's not that important.'"

It seems that critics have previously mistaken the black humour of Bramwell's lyrics – like those for "Twist", on which he sang: "There's blood on your legs… I love you" – for something darker. "Absolutely," he says firmly, "without a shadow of a doubt. But once you start getting written about in that sort of way, it snowballs…"

"It's like when people call Nick Cave the dark lord," says Jobson, "and they don't recognise the absolute hilarity in some of his songs."

Sky at Night was mainly written in the past 18 months, but contains a rerecording of "Proof" from their eponymous second album; a live favourite, the song was inexplicably not released as a single by the band's old record label, which left Bramwell thinking: "If you're not going to release that, I don't know what I'm ever going to give you that you'll want to release."

"It's hard to even track down the album that it's on now, so I hope we're going to reach people who would never have heard it otherwise. So, to me, it's justified," adds Hargreaves.

Christopher Eccleston featured in a video that was originally made for "Proof", and the Salford-born actor also has a cameo in the video for new single "Northern Skies", on which a reflective Bramwell ponders: "Where shall I go, on that big, black night/ Shall I take the coast road back through my life?"

Like Eccleston, film director Danny Boyle is a long-term fan of Kloot, as is novelist and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce. It's not hard to see why they are drawn to Kloot – there's always been a cinematic quality to the band's music – but Bramwell says he is inspired more by Harold Pinter or Philip Glass than any of his peers. "The power of melody and rhythm and space in music, and how we play, does a tremendous amount for how a lyric affects you. You might think it's the lyric but it's the whole effect of the song and that's the trick really."

Although Kloot are relaxed when I meet with them in London, on the two weekends either side of the interview I happen to run into Bramwell out on the town in Manchester – not at the Brink, but looking like he might later be heading to that metaphorical place. But it's reassuring to know some things never change.

Towards the end of the new album, on "Radiation", Bramwell sings: "Everything we ever thought we'd ever want, me and you, well, it just came through", words that feel as if they may prove prophetic. Elsewhere, there are wry reflections on broken dreams and love lost. "There's still plenty a lot of that," smiles Bramwell, "combined with plenty of alcohol."


Luke Bainbridge

The GuardianTramp

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