I got an honorary Doctorate last Saturday from the brilliant Strathclyde University. I had to prepare a short acceptance speech.
Hello, good morning.
My name is Fran Healy and I sing and write songs for the pop group Travis.
I feel incredibly humbled by this honour and want to thank whoever thought I was worthy of it. When I received the invitation I seriously thought it was a wind up. I called my office and told them to investigate but between that and them getting back to me, and while the fantasy lasted, I called my mum to tell her, expecting her to lose her shit, but she cooly informed me the University of Strathclyde had been in touch…
Anyway, here I am, dressed like you lot and feeling a little like an olive in a fruit salad.
In accepting this awesome honour, I was asked to talk for afew minutes about something important to me, so I have chosen to talk about vocation.
When I was 8, the local priest, Father Curry, gave a little talk to the boys of our class. His cool name was lost on me at that age. Had he been a curry, he would most definitely have been a Korma- sweet, mild and very creamy. He was there to talk to us about the priesthood. He told us we would know if we wanted to be a preist because God would tell us. Well this blew my mind. God would actually come and tell me he wanted me to be a priest? This, Father Curry explained, was a vocation… a calling, if you will. That evening I lay in the dark awaiting the call. My heart stopped when I heard the phone ring in the other room… but it was just Auntie Babs calling to see if mum had heard from Granda that day.
That was the first time I heard this word and for 7 years I never gave it much thought until I attended the open day at Glasgow School Of Art. It was during the student loan demonstrations of 1988 so the Macintosh Building, which housed the painting department, was like the Marie Celeste. For 2 hours I wandered it’s empty corridors and massive rooms with their massive windows, paint spattered floors, bold charcoal drawings of naked men and naked women pinned to the walls, paint brushes still wet with oil paint and the smell of turpentine. The only person I met was a 4th year student working on her degree show. She was in overalls caked with paint, standing on a ladder working on the biggest painting I had ever seen. Her name was Jenny Saville. (She went on to be a british painting superstar) We chatted for a while and then it was time for me to go back to school. I sat in Chemistry that afternoon trying to focus on amobeas but could not stop thinking about that building, those overalls…and the smell. That night in bed I got the call. “Be a painter… wear ooooveralls… loooook off into the middle diiiistance, smoke French filterless cigarettes, be cooooool.”
I spent the next 3 years dreaming of The Glasgow School Of Art, of being a part of it, part of the Elite Paint Squad and when I got accepted it was the biggest day of my life up till then. However the honeymoon was shortlived. First year was rubbish. The tutors were all alcoholics who spent their time at the Vic Bar hitting on the 1st years. The students followed suit and by my second year I found myself in Sandy Moffat, the head of the Art schools office begging him to allow me to continue. They were throwing me out. I put on an Oscar winning performance with tears and everything. PLEASE LET ME STAYYY!!! I begged. He relented. But the moment he gave it back to me, I realized I didn’t want it.
It was at this point my real vocation came into sharp focus, the seeds of which had been sewn secretly one night 6 years earlier.
I was watching The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross. He introduced some guy. The guy came on stage dressed in a black suit, with black hair, wearing black shades and no doubt wearing black underpants. He carried a bright, cherry red, big bodied electric guitar. His name was Roy Orbison. The song he played was called Oh Pretty Woman. I was mesmerized. After the show I asked my mum if I could change my Christmas present to a guitar. I chose one out the catalogue and on Christmas day, started playing it and kept playing and playing and playing. Because I didn’t know any songs, I wrote my own. When I played one to a friend, he didn’t believe I had written it. My next success came at the school talent show with a song slagging off the headmaster. It was called Peter Mullen Blues. We didn’t win but were told off the record that all the judges (teachers) would have voted for it but feared a total bollocking.
I joined my first band, Strange Relationship not long after this. We were really really shit. I joined my second band Medicine Hat a year later. On another occasion I performed the Joni Mitchel song Urge For Going on the last night of the Castle Toward Art Course in Dunoon and made everyone cry. I thought, ”hmmm…” The day I matriculated into Art School I auditioned for my 3rd and final band, Glass Onion. When I left Art School I changed our name to Travis after Harry Dean Stanton’s character in the Wim Wenders movie Paris Texas.
Travis toiled and toiled and played loads of shows. Record company people started coming to see us and passed on us again and again and again. Hopes were raised and dashed for 6 years. Some friends of mums, would occasionally ask her how I was getting on and she would always proudly say he was still doing his band… “Ohh really,” they would say. “That’s nice.” Because there was no man in our house, my uncle Martin took me aside one day and gave me the “ Do you realize you will have to look after your mum, son.” Speech. “I think maybe you should think about a proper job.”
Around that time, my girlfriend and I had a conversation along the lines of her saying “ You know Franny, what you’re doing with the band it totally impractical… The chances of you getting a deal are so remote blah blah bah…” For a second I agreed with her but then suddenly the penny dropped. I told her that actually what she was doing was maybe impractical, afterall, she didn’t know what she wanted to do but had chosen a course in Politics Philosophy and Economics because, well, she had to choose something… I told her, even though my chances of success were miniscule it didn’t matter. I had no choice. I had found what I had to do. I had found my vocation- my calling.
In accepting this honorary degree today I want to congratulate you all on yours and hope that, if it hasn’t happened already, at some stage, however impractical, however crazy, however far down the road it drags you, you get your calling too.