The band that would become Travis was formed by brothers Chris and Geoff Martyn. Andy Dunlop, a school friend at Lenzie Academy, was drafted in on guitar, along with Andy Dunlop on drums, although the latter was replaced soon after by Neil Primrose. The line-up was completed by a female vocalist, Catherine Maxwell, and the band’s name became Glass Onion, after The Beatles song of the same name. Parting company with their singer in the spring of 1991, they auditioned for a new vocalist. Having met each other through Primrose pouring him a pint, an untrained art student, Fran Healy, then joined after being invited to audition by Primrose. Healy joined the band on the day he enrolled at The Glasgow School of Art, in the autumn of 1991. Two years later, with the option of music holding more appeal, Healy dropped out of art school, and inspired by song writers such as Joni Mitchell, assumed songwriting responsibilities. With brothers Chris and Geoff Martyn on bass and keyboards, in 1993, the fivesome released a privately made CD, The Glass Onion EP, featuring the tracks Dream On, The Day Before, Free Soul and Whenever She Comes Round. 500 copies of the EP were made and were recently valued at £1000 each. Other songs they recorded but were left off are She’s So Strange and Not About to Change.
The band named themselves after the Harry Dean Stanton character Travis Henderson from the film Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984).
Travis have twice been awarded best band at the BRIT Awards, and are often credited for having paved the way for bands such as Coldplay and Keane (Coldplay’s Chris Martin has called himself “a poor man’s Fran Healy”, while saying that Travis “invented” Coldplay “and lots of others”).
The band won a talent contest organised by the Music in Scotland Trust, who promised £2,000 so that Travis could deal-hunt at a new music seminar in New York. Two weeks before they were due to leave, however, the prize was instead given to the Music in Scotland Trust Directory. When sent a copy of the directory, the band noticed that it seemed to feature every single band in Scotland—except for them.
The band showed promise but had yet to evolve into a decent line-up capable of fulfilling it and spent several years treading water. According to their publisher Charlie Pinder: “They were a band that everyone in the A&R community knew about and would go and see every now and then. But they weren’t very good. They had quite good songs; Fran always did write good songs.” While on a visit to Scotland, American engineer and producer Niko Bolas, a long-time Neil Young and Rolling Stones associate, tuned into a Travis session on Radio Scotland, and heard something in the band’s music which instantly made him travel to Perth to see them. Healy: “He told us we were shit, took us in the studio for four days, and taught us how to play properly, like a band. He was ballsy, rude, and New York pushy. He didn’t believe my lyrics and told me to write what I believed in and not tell lies. He was Mary Poppins, he sorted us out.” The band recorded a five-song demo, which included the song All I Want to Do Is Rock.
With the sudden death of his grandfather, a grief-stricken Healy shut himself away, refusing to talk to anyone. Emerging a week later, and with a clear vision of where he now wanted Travis and their music to go, Healy dispensed with the band’s management and publicity agent. Having been repeatedly knocked back by the British record industry, the band couldn’t afford to stay around the country for another few years and so decided to move to New York, feeling that the U.S. might be more suited to their style of music. However, before leaving Healy told the band that they should send the demo to Charlie Pinder of Sony Music Publishing, who they had known for a few years and regularly sent songs to, saying: “If he’s not into it, then we’ll go.” Pinder was immediately impressed by the song All I Want to Do is Rock, which he felt was a dramatic change for the band: “It was harder, more exciting, sexy; all things that they never really were. They turned a corner.” After performing a secret gig for Pinder and his boss at Sony, Blair McDonald, they were signed to Sony Music Publishing. The immediate impact of what was a very secret deal was that the line-up was changed – keyboard player Geoff Martyn was removed, and the bassist, Geoff’s brother Chris, was replaced with Healy’s best friend Dougie Payne – and the band was moved to London, where they were given a rehearsal room and a house
Produced by Steve Lillywhite of U2 fame, Travis’ first studio album, 1997’s Good Feeling, is a rockier, more upbeat record than the band’s others to date. Recorded at the legendary Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York, the place where Travis favourite The Band recorded, the album contained singles such as All I Want to Do Is Rock, U16 Girls, the Beatle’esque Tied to the 90s, Happy and More Than Us.