Callum Beattie’S no stranger to grafting. Even when he was playing Glastonbury he was still touting to fans to come and watch his gig. He may have supported some of the biggest names in music but you can still catch him busking in Edinburgh. Susie Daniels chats to Callum about why he won’t wait for recognition to come knocking on his door and how his recent music video had him in floods of tears…
Anything exciting happen when you were touring in the US recently?
I was walking down the street in New Orleans with $40 in my pocket about to get a dollar burger from Macdonald’s when this guy in a BMX bike rides up with his hand in his pocket.
I thought, ‘here we go’. He said, ‘I’ve just got out of prison here’ and showed me his prison tatts – I think that was to look tough – and said, ‘Give me your money’.
I said, ‘listen mate, I’ve got $40, I’m about to buy a Maccy D, why don’t you let me buy you one, and he did! I wasn’t going to look tough with my tatts. I’ve got a few but they’re stars and sh*t though with my accent I think he sh*t himself because it sounds unpredictable. (laughs) I think it’s cause all Scots are painted out to be bad in soaps so they think we’re hard.
While you were in Memphis you stood in the same spot Elvis recorded his first song. How did that feel?
At 8am I used to blast Elvis songs and my dad would take me to a pub on Sunday and at 10- years-old I’d place an upturned ashtray on the floor for tips, shake my leg, have a wee lip tilt and sing, ‘All Shook Up’ and other Elvis songs. I remember my dad encouraging me. You just get addicted to it!
In the video for Some Heroes Don’t Wear Capes, released in December, you invited your dad to sit at a table with you and be filmed as he heard the song for the first time about how inspirational he had been. Sounds poetic and yet brutal to be so exposed. Why did you do that?
That song opened a can of worms for me. I thought, if I’m gonna be that open and write a song and let people know about my insecurities, I’ve come this far, I’m not gonna do a sh*t video with someone famous. I had the idea of letting my dad hear the song for the first time facing me. The first 45 seconds I sat down and it was a bit awkward.
I felt grateful and didn’t have any bad thoughts of my childhood but out of nowhere it became this heavy mental breakdown and tears. We had to chop up the video as it was a bit heavy for the viewers. My dad’s a shy and quiet man. He said, ‘I didn’t realise you had all that hurt and anger’. I wanted him to have something special to remember.
The lyric lets listeners know you were from a single-parent background, brought up by your dad. How did that come about?
My mum decided when I was younger she didn’t want to be around. She wasn’t happy. I was eight years old. For the first few years of her leaving I had abandonment issues and resentment. Seeing my dad upset, it always bothered me. I have a sister and brother but I was the youngest. I get on very well with my mum now.
In the ‘Talk About Love’ music video, released last month and filmed in New York, you are giving away ‘Free Hugs’. How did that work out for you?
Folk were looking at me like I was no right in the head. On the first day I did random nice things like hand a bottle of water to a jogger but they looked at it as if to say, ‘is this spiked?’ I was giving homeless people socks. Once people get into it loads of people appreciated it and it made them smile. It made me feel great. People that give money to homeless people, they are doing it for them but also for themselves.
It releases endorphins, makes them feel good and it’s good karma! I like being nice to people. Me and my dad went to Romania for the weekend a few weeks ago. There were so many poor people and lots of homelessness. My dad was leaving a couple of quid under people’s heads as they slept rough. There should be a national, ‘Nice Things Day’ that you have to do every year before you hit 20-years-old. Like conscription!
How’s life going for you? Any collaborations and do you write your own music?
I write most of my songs and I write for other artists. I’ve written for Sigma, High Contrast and a couple of German artists. (laughs) All the sh*t songs I give to everyone else and I keep the best for me.
Your debut album is out in May. You’ve been recording at Parr Street Studios in Liverpool. What was that like?
It’s where The Smiths recorded and Stereophonics and Coldplay recorded their first and second album there. I recorded with the same producer as Coldplay for most of the tracks on my debut album! I asked him if I could send a couple of songs and he said he’d love me to. I also recorded in a studio in Leith owned by the guitarist from Idlewild.
How long did it take to produce your album?
It’s been 15 years in the making to the point where I wanted to record an album. In terms of recording it took two years. I’ve done a lot of touring. I can’t wait to let people hear it!
You have a very calm and confident aura in all your music videos. Is that what you’re always like?
I probably don’t look nervous but inside I’m sh***ing myself most of the time.
You’re from East Lothian but grew up singing from a young age in Edinburgh. What was it like growing up playing music there?
I used to play in pubs. In a Leith bar called the Lock Inn. I played every Friday night. There were the usual punters who had problems with drink and had to drink through straws because their hands would shake if they picked up the glass. There was a local woman who came in, sat down and opened her legs. She wore no pants. She was the local prostitute.
Next door there was a Chinese takeaway and one of the drivers got punched outside the pub and died. That was the sort of gig I grew up singing in. That was my apprenticeship. It was brutal.
Is Easter Road a football song?
No. It was all about playing in that bar and the people you’d meet. I didn’t write it to be a football song. I wrote about where I grew up. It wasn’t perfect.
You’re back busking in Edinburgh. Why still busk?
I’m not the type of person to sit and wait for a Graham Norton Show offer. (laughs) I’m not taking any chances. Jools Holland (show) would be unbelievable or the US James Corden show!
You’ve played Glastonbury. What was that like?
I was playing the acoustic stage. I was on tour and turned up on Friday night at 11.30pm in pitch dark. I thought artists had a camping area but the only place we could find to pitch our tent was next to the toilets. It was f***ing stinking. I was with my dad and I’m struggling to put the pole through shouting, ‘dad’ and he’s nowhere to be seen.
He’s down the hill with his phone in the air watching Radiohead. I wasn’t playing til Sunday so it was a big build up. I started singing ‘Some Hero’s on stage and started greetin’. I saw Jimmy Carr at the front of the crowd as I was on some list as hot tip singers to watch out for. I was walking round the crowd beforehand saying, ‘I’m playing on the acoustic stage, come over and see me’ to everyone.
Callum Beattie’s April gig has been cancelled due to coronavirus