Nearly 40 years after the release of their debut Sisters, Glasgow legends The Bluebells find themselves in the 21st century recording all new material for the official second album. Aptly titled The Bluebells in The 21st Century, the 13 track LP – released on April 28th 2023 – is a creative collection of feel songs that bringing joy and nostalgia. Released by patron based indie label Last Night From Glasgow, I had the opportunity to sit down with founding member and singer/songwriter Ken McCluskey to ask the burning question of ‘Why Now?’

The Bluebells should need no introduction, but for the sake of our younger readers can you tell us who are The Bluebells?

The Bluebells are a Scottish pop band who formed in 1981. My brother David and I were in a band called Raw Deal when we met Robert Hodgens – also known as Bobby Bluebell – when he was writing a music fanzine called Ten Commandments. We joined forces and went on to form The Bluebells. We were going to put a record on a local label but at that time there was a lot of focus on young Scottish bands so there were a lot of A&R scouts coming up to gigs and we were convinced to sign to major label – London Records. We had a bunch of singles but none were very successful. The first one was called Forever More which reached like 80 in the charts. We worried the charts.

That’s not bad going! For a time where sales were based on physical copies and you didn’t have the power of the internet to promote, making the charts at all was a success?

We then had Sugar Bridge, and our third single Cath – that did quite well. The first real big single was I’m Falling which reached no.11 in the charts and then our biggest hit Young at Heart which got to no.8 first time around. Ten years later it was used in a Volkswagon advert and on the back of that it got to no.1.

So we had a few singles and we released an album Sisters in 1984 which we worked with people like Elvis Costello who produced some of it – he was a bit of a mentor to us. We went on tour with him and also a band called Haircut 100 who were really big at the time. We kind of got two audiences, the younger from Haircut 100 and the slightly older audiences from Elvis Costello.

The Bluebells

That’s amazing to hear how it all just came together. So here you are though nearly 40 years later releasing a new album. Is this your second album?

So we’ve had a couple albums out which were like basement tapes. One called Exile on Twee Street and then another Seconds. But these were just outtakes and demos that people were interested in. We put these out on some indie labels, and Seconds was brought out in Japan under Japan Vinyl (UK) LTD.

So did you have fans in Japan?

Yeah, Scottish music in general is popular in Japan. We went over at the time to do some promotion. But we did a lot of touring during our first time around, we toured all over Europe and had some hits in Germany. Germany and Spain were good territory for us, as was Scandinavia and even a bit in America. America was mostly on the college circuit, we were a college band over there but it was good fun.

Tell us what then, what events led up to the release of this new album?

We were approached by a record label called Last Night From Glasgow as they wanted to licence Sisters. But Sisters was owned by London Records. London Records was bought over by Universal which was then bought over by Warner Brothers- at least some of it was – but we found it with a French company called Because TV. We had to do some research to find out where the tapes were and we eventually found them and rereleased the remastered sisters two years ago…One the back of that label asked if we wanted to do another one – a new one. We all had a bunch of songs so we said okay and put the songs all together which we then recorded at Green Doors Studio – a wee studio in Glasgow.

How do you make that The Bluebells as opposed to a solo thing?

Basically we make a little map. Robert has a tiny wee recording studio at home where we can map the songs out. We can decide how long this song’s going to be, how many words in this verse, how many lines and we just play over the map. We all add to each other’s songs, whether that’s harmonies, guitar parts, keyboards. It was a good process.

The Bluebells play St Luke’s on 4th June

Do you have an album launch planned? Where can we see you play?

We’ve got an album launch on the 4th June at St Lukes in Glasgow, down by the Barra’s. We’ll play the full album and mix that up with some of the classics. We’re also playing Belladrum on Friday the 28th July.

Finally, whats your favourite song from the album The Bluebells in The 21st Century?

Blue Train. Blue Train is about a relationship that is causing you stress or anxiety so there is no point in being in that situation so you walk away from it.

Is that your song then? I ask Ken and he replies ‘of course’ as we both laugh. Why would he respond otherwise? What a pleasure it was to chat to an actual Scottish music legend and even more so to see that The Bluebells are back out there performing and recording fresh material that stands up against the best of Scotland’s music scene. I’ll end with this – a poster I spotted whilst leaving The Barrowlands earlier this week.

Blitzkrieg Record Shop Poster at The Barrowlands.

These auld yins still have ‘it’.