1 Horror films

MY mum is a great fan of horror films, so by the time I was six or seven I had seen a lot of things I probably shouldn’t have, like The Omen and Salem’s Lot. We would watch the Hammer films on TV at the weekend and I think I saw The Wicker Man when I was about seven. I think she just wanted to share them with me. I loved them and it really fired my imagination, inspiring me to write stories. For example, when I was about eight or nine, I wrote a sequel to Halloween not knowing that there was a Halloween 2.

Then, when I was asked what I wanted to be at school, I said, “a ghost hunter”, thinking it was a viable career option.

Halloween and An American Werewolf in London are probably my two favourites and what they have in common is excellent use of music. John Carpenter did his own music for Halloween but Werewolf used exactly the right music at the right time, so although I really wanted to make films when I was young, I was really aware of the effect that the music could have on them.

The only thing I wasn’t allowed to watch that age was The Exorcist. My mom would say to me it’s just that bit with the cross. So for years I was thinking “what the **** is happening with the cross?”.

READ MORE: Ian Rankin: 10 things that changed my life

2 John Peel

I’M from Falkirk, which has always been geographically disadvantaged in attracting bands to the town, especially when I was growing up. So when I started listening to John Peel’s show, it opened the door into another world. It educated me – and not just about music, but about people and places that I’ve never heard of. I would be up every night with my fingers poised on the tape recorder waiting to tape sessions.

Music is an escape for a lot of people, and while I’m not saying that I wanted to escape Falkirk, I was a teenager who knew there was a wider world out there and wanted to know about it. There was a small scene in Falkirk with like-minded people, but there weren’t very many of us. If you want scenes to happen you need venues for bands to play and places to congregate.

Listening to John Peel let me know that there was some kind of underworld out there. I do, and always did, love pop music. I loved going to Woolworths in the High Street, which was a dedicated record shop, with the week’s top seven-inch singles on the wall, but finding John Peel when I got a little bit older was like finding another level of existence that I didn’t know was there – another dimension.

3 Failing all my exams

I WAS spending far too much time involved in music Although I was actually pretty good at school work, I drifted away. I would go to Glasgow every weekend, working my way around the record shops and going to as many gigs as possible.

I begged my mum and dad to drive me to my first gig, which was David Byrne at the Barrowlands. They went off for a Chinese meal in the West End and I stood in a room of older guys who all seemed to be drinking and smoking – very few women there unfortunately.

This was what I lived for though and school really didn’t seem important at all, hence failing all my exams.

4 Booze

BY my pals’, and Scottish, standards, I was a late starter to booze but it definitely had an impact on the exam results as well.

Plenty of my pals were already at it, but I remember the first drink I had being absolutely disgusting. The uncle of a friend took us to the pub and, quite casually, said, “Do you want a pint?”. I was just about to turn 17 and he ordered me a heavy. It wasn’t a good heavy – in fact I remember trying not to boke. However, there was something a bit moreish about it, so I persevered.

Until then I had been quite quiet but when I got to 16 I more than made up for it.

5 Sleeves Records

IT’S the only other job I’ve had, and to be honest it was pure luck. A friend worked there and was moving on – to the music shop across the street. I had just turned 18, I was on the dole, and had no real prospects.

A job in a record shop was perfect for me at the time. I learned a lot about music during the time I was there. It’s like working in a library. I had it all in front of me and could hear things that I never normally would.

Shop work is a really good thing to do, because you get to know the people who come in and about the place where you live.

I fell out of love with it towards the end. A Virgin had opened, there was an HMV and an Our Price, so the shop started to become more involved with stuff like dance music. The reason I left was a hangover though. I went in looking terrible and the boss, quite rightly, had a go at me. So I thought, “F*** this I’m off”. Mainly because I really wanted to go to my bed.

Also, I was only getting half my wages. The council was arresting half of everything I earned because I refused to pay the Poll Tax.

6 Chemikal Underground

THE Arab Strap thing was never meant to go much wider than our circle of friends. I only ever sent away three demos and I know now that Chemikal Underground rarely listened to demos that came in, so we were lucky.

Meeting them shaped the way I’ve worked subsequently. Chemikal always took a real pride in being an independent label and being outside of that London bubble. I’ve worked with them for a good number of years, I’ve worked with Mogwai’s label Rock Action, and I’ve worked with a label in Manchester called Melodic.

There was one Arab Strap album on a major label, but it didn’t work out. We were so used to being part of the process and making decisions, that working with a major label came as a bit of a shock. There, it was a case of us making the record, handing it over to them, and everybody else making the rest of the decisions for you. So we left after that, and at our own expense as we were still due money from them.

So we went back to Chemikal Underground, who were great to take us back. The next album we made was The Red Thread, and it turned out to be one of the most popular. There was definitely a feeling of being more energised, being back at Chemikal Underground.

7 Our first gig

THE first gig we played was at King Tut’s in Glasgow. We never wanted to play live. Actually I thought I was socially incapable of playing live. Chemical Underground convinced us though, so we got a couple of pals from Falkirk to join us and did that first gig in, I think, October 1996.

Back to John Peel. The extent of my ambition was to do a John Peel session and that first gig was broadcast on his show. At that point I felt like I’d achieved everything I had wanted to.

Now, playing live is one of my favourite things to do. It took a while to get into it and a lot of the early Arab Strap gigs were an absolute mess, generally because we were really, really steamin’. At the time it was the way to deal with the nerves for me. We got a bit of a reputation for things being a bit chaotic and the shows were a bit hit and miss.

Being honest, we didn’t think we would ever do a second album but when we did and it was popular, we started to take things a bit more seriously. You write songs to communicate with people, and there’s really no better way to do it than by them live in front of an audience.

8 Travel

PLAYING live meant seeing the world. A couple of years before I hadn’t planned to travel anywhere. I always thought the idea of people going off for a gap year was pretty rubbish, but now I know that travel broadens the mind and it opens you up to new customs and cultures and ideas. I’ve seen things I would never have seen if I hadn’t been in a band.

We’re usually pretty good at making sure we have some time wherever we’re playing, rather than just arriving, doing the gig, and leaving.

In America, there can be two days of travel between gigs, so I’ve seen some fascinating but sometimes pretty terrifying places there.

We stumbled across a place called Reed Point, Montana – a tiny place. The hotel was above a bar, and every room was decorated like the Old West. Not only that, the wardrobes were full of western outfits, so we were dressing up and acting out the old west in this weird tiny wee hotel. The guy also let Malcolm hold a shotgun, which was particularly bold. I’ll never forget lying in bed at night and hearing that classic freight train sound way in the distance. It seemed to go on forever.

At the moment I’m even missing that physical sensation of travelling distances in a moving vehicle.

9 My EU passport

The National: Tim Farron has said that his party will vote against Article 50 being triggered unless the government agrees to a referendum on the final Brexit deal. Credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

I WILL never not be angry about Brexit. What’s worse is it was not about any of us, and all about the Tory party.

The first time we played outside the UK was in Europe and I was struck by how comfortable I was. Nowhere seemed that different to me. The cities had different elements but at heart they were pretty much the same and I always looked for the similarities. I felt I was part of something bigger. I wish I’d done more now.

The night of the Brexit vote I was on tour in London. I woke up to that news, went to a pub and everyone in there was as shellshocked. I felt a real affinity to the swathes of the English population who didn’t vote for it either.

10 Being a Dad

IT sharpens and softens you. Having children has made me more politically engaged. The world is no longer about me, but what happens when I’m gone.

I’m engaged with trying to make the world a better place, but it’s also completely shattered my nerves and I cry at the slightest thing on the telly.

It can be a deeply frustrating and infuriating experience, but it’s one that you couldn’t imagine living without.

When I was younger, I knew my heart could be broken, but now my heart can be absolutely destroyed with the slightest wee shrug of the shoulders.

I’ve spent the past 20-odd years writing about love and lack of thereof, but there is absolutely nothing more intense than your love for your child.

As Days Get Dark, the new album by Arab Strap is released on March 5 through Rock Action. www.rockaction.co.uk