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True North headliner John Grant feeling great ahead of Aberdeen show after recent illness

John Grant will play True North Festival. Pic supplied by Hordour Sveinsson
John Grant will play True North Festival. Pic supplied by Hordour Sveinsson

There is suffering for your art but American singer John Grant took it to the extreme when recently playing shows despite being floored by illness.

The 53-year-old revealed he waited 18 months through the coronavirus pandemic for his first lockdown show – only to be struck down by illness on the day of the performance.

Furious at the cruel timing of the ‘vicious’ illness  through sheer force of will John dragged his aching and ailing body on stage and delivered, as always, a stunning performance.

Besides, as John said, London’s Alexandra Palace is ‘a perfectly beautiful place to die’.

Thankfully for Aberdeen fans John has fully recovered and is excited to be headlining The Music Hall on Saturday as part of the True North festival.

American singer songwriter John Grant has released The Boy From Michigan. Photo by Hordur Sveiensson.

John said: “It’s been a rough couple of days.

“I had two big gigs in London but on the day of the first one I was taken violently ill.

“You know how you can get hit by food poisoning or stomach flu. I hadn’t felt that bad in years – it really knocked me.

“I had been waiting for these gigs for a year-and-a-half and then this – I was so angry.

“I was angry at how vicious it was and how complete the paralysis was.

“That’s just the way life is -it seems that without fail it is always something.

“I just thought to myself the Alexandra Palace is a perfectly beautiful place to die.

“I did those shows anyway and it was kind of through stubbornness.

“Then I had a day off in Glasgow to sleep all day and finally I felt it pushing off.

“After that I played Barrowlands which was epic and I was feeling much, much better.

“Today I feel in great spirits – it is better than a kick in the head from a cold boot as my dad would say.”

We’re all coming out our holes, peaking out

True North organisers have attempted every year to secure John for the festival since it was launched in 2015.

Finally the stars aligned and the singer/song-writer will play The Music Hall to promote acclaimed new album Boy From Michigan.

His fifth studio album journeys from John’s childhood in Michigan, through his adolescence into adulthood – all wrapped up and contextualised with his disgust at the ‘American Dream’.

Relishing performing in Aberdeen, John admits the set-list will ultimately be decided by the atmosphere and connection with the audience.

John Grant ahead of Aberdeen show at True North festival. Photo by Hordur Sveinsson

He said: “We are all coming out of holes and peaking out, looking around.

“There are so many variables in what kind of set to do.

“What are people going to react to? What’s the vibe?

“You don’t know who the audience are that you are dealing with yet.

“It is an individual entity every night.

“It is a case of checking each other out and trying to find out the way of the land.”

The American Dream is not for weak, soft-hearted fools

Boy From Michigan was recorded during the coronavirus pandemic with friend Cate Le Bon on production duties.

John insists the pandemic did not influence the album.

Instead, it was his concern at the rise of right-wing factions in the United States and the divisive US election of 2020.

He watched the election afar from Iceland where he has lived since 2011.

On ‘existential angst’ within the pandemic, he laughed: “I think I have been feeling that way about things since 1978 anyway.

“It’s funny because the whole pandemic thing brought up stuff that reminded me about the fear of growing up when I was younger.

“I don’t say this in any haughty manner but you must have had your head in the sand not to think something wasn’t going to come around and kick us again.

“However it is the political situation in the States that really brought me to my knees. It is getting worse and worse.

“That thing that was let out of the bag over the last five years, that is never going away again.

“Those people are so emboldened and proud of their views, proud to scream them out and they are not hiding anymore.

“Sadly, there is no shame in being a full-on white supremacist who hates gay people.”

George Orwell – it pales in comparison

It is fitting that John, who has been a powerful and visible role model for LGBTQ+ should be one of the headline acts at True North where the theme is ‘Rise Up‘.

True North will celebrate diversity, equality and freedom of expression.

Uncompromising, John makes it clear on Boy From Michigan’s title track his concern about the United States as he sings ‘The American Dream is not for weak, soft-hearted fools’.

He said: “We are the ones that have always been screaming at the top of our lungs this (USA)  is paradise on earth and if you weren’t born here you are sad.

“It has spilled over into the rest of the world, all this bragging and advertising- making sure people are distracted 99% of the time.

“Yet we have never acknowledged how we began our civilisation – it is rotten from the beginning.

“I think about what can I do, what am I doing?

“But I am saturated in it. I grew up in it and bought it hook line and sinker just like everyone else.

“This is the journey that went into this record, the grotesqueness of the way we have presented ourselves to the rest of the world.

“And the poison that we have spilled out into the rest of the world.

“The pandemic itself I sort of ignored it by immersing myself in the record.

“The content of the record came from the stuff I was reading in the news everyday.

“George Orwell – it pales in comparison.

“It all feels like a mess and I just want to be six years old again and run down the hallway of the Methodist church into my father’s arms and just have him hug me and tell me that everything is going to be alright.”

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