Good Feeling, the 1997 debut album by rising Scottish alt.rockers Travis, pushed all the right buttons as Britpop tailed off. Helmed by U2 producer Steve Lillywhite, it was an exuberant rock record with across-the-board appeal, and while it yielded only cult-level sales, it snuck into the UK Top 10, turned heads aplenty, and strongly suggested that their second album, The Man Who, would score a mainstream breakthrough.
The Glastonbury performance
With momentum gathering, The Man Who hit the racks on May 24, 1999. A deflating experience at the following month’s Glastonbury Festival, however, made the band briefly question if things were heading in the right direction. When the heavens opened just as Travis launched into The Man Who’s plaintive “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?,” it seemed to speak to a dejection the Glaswegian quartet were feeling.
“I felt it was an average show,” Travis frontman Fran Healy told The Quietus in 2014. “When it rained, everyone was in their summer clothes and they were miserable. We did the rest of the gig, walked off and we were all a bit depressed about it.”
When Travis trooped offstage, they had no idea that their career was about to make a dramatic U-turn. They genuinely didn’t realize that their 16-song set – now released as Live At Glastonbury ’99, along with the new, super-deluxe edition of The Man Who – had gone down a storm.
Behind the scenes, the media set to work, and the story of the band’s unexpected Glastonbury triumph was plastered all over the press the following day. In its wake, Travis’ sudden rise to critical and commercial acceptance was so meteoric that The Man Who’s consummate quartet of singles – “Driftwood,” “Writing To Reach You,” the yearning “Turn” and the aforementioned “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?” – all cracked the UK Top 20, while the album shot to No.1 in the UK. It remained there for 11 weeks and eventually sold nearly three million copies in the process.
Superficially, it’s the kind of story that makes you believe truth really is stranger than fiction. Yet, with hindsight, The Man Who’s inherent quality also reveals that even if the rain hadn’t intervened at Glastonbury, the album would still have made an impact.
Recorded mostly at Mike Hedges’ French château studio with OK Computer producer Nigel Godrich manning the console, the record found the band paring back Good Feeling’s rockier tendencies while emerging as pop classicists of note. The Man Who’s primary currency was unquestionably introspective balladry, but when that accounted for a quartet of classic singles in addition to irresistible fare such as the rich, John Lennon-esque “As You Are” and the glorious, stripped-back “Last Of The Laughter,” it’s no surprise that guitar-pop fans of all persuasions eventually succumbed.
The record’s reception and legacy
The Man Who continued to serve Travis well for another 18 months. Select magazine’s choice of the record as their Best Album Of 1999 was indicative of the band’s reversal of critical fortune, while further industry accolades, such as a 2000 Brit Award and an Ivor Novello Award for “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?” kept Fran Healy and company in the spotlight. In the wake of the album’s success, a new breed of introspective British bands, including Coldplay, also emerged, showing that Travis’ pastorally-inclined guitar-pop had chimed perfectly with the times.
“I think [The Man Who] just caught that slightly autumnal, pensive, slightly melancholic mood, which people seemed to respond to,” Travis bassist Dougie Payne reflected in a 2018 interview with Scotland’s The Herald.
“I’ve always characterized it as the soundtrack to the Britpop hangover, but I also think a lot of The Man Who walks that line between sadness and joy and how they interact. It has such a specific atmosphere, you just can’t put your finger on it.”