John Lydon – Nick Churchill’s Interviews

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Nick Churchill Interviews

Nick Churchill has kindly given exclusive permission to to revisit some of his classic interviews from the past few years or so, also his reviews and selected articles from his own archive. We hope that you enjoy these as much as we do and feel free to share them accordingly! First up, none other than John Lydon.

As the first new music from Public Image Ltd in 20 years is released, John Lydon is donning his showman’s hat and talking it up, a one-man army of startling soundbites. The album, This Is PiL, is out on May 28 and is Lydon’s attempt to assimilate all that’s happened to him in his 56-year journey from cradle to stage. Self-funded and released on the band’s own label, PiL Official, John’s still doing it for himself.

It’s the only way he knows how. Savaged by the self-appointed arbiters of cool for participating in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here and starring in a TV advert for Country Life butter, John couldn’t give a hoot. He wanted to get Public Image Ltd back on the road and in the studio… and there’s only so many Sex Pistols reunions the world can take.

Ah, the Sex Pistols… still gobbing after all these years – though spitting was never actually young Johnny Rotten’s thing. Winding up the public was though, which is why he’s given the green light to re-issue God Save the Queen in time for the Jubilee bank holiday weekend. The fact that PiL’s album comes out the same weekend is, of course, a complete coincidence.

John still loves the Pistols, but accepts the band is a dead end. He is absolutely consumed by the endless horizon of PiL though. It’s his creation, everything he wants it to be – and more. Passionate, pluralist, cantankerous, quirky, awkward, PiL is John Lydon at his unmediated finest and there are few things finer.

As the good folk of Bournemouth will be able to see when PiL play the O2 Academy on July 31 – a mere 36 years after the Council banned the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK tour from the Village Bowl.

“’Ello. ’Ello. ’Ello.” The voice on the phone is unmistakable as it unintentionally intones the  stark opening to Public Image, PiL’s 1978 debut single. What follows is a 40-minute private audience with one of modern music’s most iconic figures… and he doesn’t disappoint.

’Ello John, pleasure to speak to. You’ve taken your time getting to Bournemouth so what are you bringing to share?

I come bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It has been a while and it’s been an uphill battle financially. They’ve had a stranglehold on me for years for nearly two decades, but I won’t take no for an answer. It might take me a very long time to get a yes but here we go – yes yes and yes!

Public Image is, I mean I put everything I have, my heart and soul into it, that’s just the way it is. Although I’ve been attached to some very large labels from time to time they weren’t really helping it to run along.

It’s very upsetting to think of all the bands that those labels have signed which are just pale imitations of PiL. It’s a bizarre world we live in, but, you know, you’ve got to have resilience. It’s what made Britain great.

I get the sense you don’t care for the music business too much?

It’s a bit like the blitzkrieg really, or the Blitz of London, without being too amateur dramatic about it, but record company shenanigans are a little bit like it – the nightly raid into your psyche, the endless intrusions by these creatures – why can’t you write a hit? But I have, there are many of them. It’s really about the demise of the record industry, which they brought about themselves. They deserve it.

In the same way I’ve had few things to say about the Royal family, but as individual people I don’t mind most of them. The trouble is record companies become institutions very quickly and that’s when it goes wrong.

There are new labels, a few little ones, and we’re working with one or two of them so the hope is they don’t go that route. As soon as you stop being able to phone up your record company and speak to a human being you know it’s over. Once you hear that automated voice telling which box to dial into, you know it’s the end of the line. Virgin was a lovely company, back when they had that place in Vernon Yard… God, that was a long time ago.

It was, John. I wonder if you’d go on holiday to Jamaica with Richard Branson now as you did after the Pistols split in 1978. What was that all about?

Yes, well he was the only one at the label I was still vaguely attached to who knew anything about reggae, who was warm to the ideas. It was very good because emotionally it helped me no end. It was a very difficult period after deciding to break up the Pistols and he helped me right through it. It warmed me up to the idea of starting a new band so I did.

I learned how to write songs in the Pistols and then I learned how to deconstruct with PiL. For me, I have to know what the rulebook is, then set fire to it. It’s a bit like reading the Bible, you read out the lines that you need and lose the drab. I’m no evangelist, no fundamentalist! The music really is an amalgamation of all the influences from birth until that current point isn’t it? But it isn’t copied you have to be true to your environment because once you stray outside of that you end up with art nouveau jazz and that don’t do anyone no favours.

Punk’s angry tide washed away an old guard and sent the bloated prog rockers running for cover. Now that the punk generation is as old, than those it deposed do you listen for what your contemporaries are doing?

No, because it interferes with what you’re doing so I don’t listen out for it, but every now and again I hear something and I’m either disappointed or pleased and leave it at that. There isn’t a huge wall of judgement going on, not now. There used to be – I loved taking the mickey out of The Clash, but they gave me all I needed on a platter, it was so easy. They definitely helped.

But I tell you who’s come out of it well – Paul Simonon. What he’s doing in Barcelona, his artwork is stunning, absolutely stunning. Creativity doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with music and he’s at the point where he’s making something wonderful. Shame it’s all Spanish themes but he does live out there and you do have to be true to your environment.

Where do you get your energy from John? You’re 56, what keeps you going?

It’s compulsive in a very weird way. It’s not an obsession but it is obsessive, the need to be creative and to be challenged by the effrontery of the powers that be, of their lies. That peeves me. And there’s the fuel for the engine, while there’s pain in the world I won’t be short of a song or two. It really annoys me at how those freedoms that have been so hard fought for have been allowed to let slip by the way. It is such a controlled state that we live in. Back when the band was starting it was done with a brutal police force, now it is done with a camera on the street corner. It’s all removed from reality, from the humanity. We’re all part of the machine now and do not have a separate agenda. But they’re not interested in the crime, or stopping the crime, they’re interested in the fine. They’ve finally managed to turn crime into a money making machine which is horribly impressive in its own way.

Got all your own teeth?

Actually I’ve not got all my own teeth. Just lately I’ve had four implants in the front of my mouth because the infections were overwhelming. I only hope it doesn’t affect my singing voice. Mind you I can feel the weight of all this titanium, I’m magnetised – very useful for picking up safety pins.

That would’ve been handy once upon a time…

Still is actually, safety pins are always useful.

Is it hard work to be John Lydon, PiL singer, agent provocateur, polemicist and commentator? When can you just be John from Finsbury Park?

There’s a lot of love in what I do, I’m all about love. When I was in the Jungle that was entirely me, that’s how I am. I want a cup of tea I’ll go and get the wood. I want a shower and I’ll use the bloody great pond that was there. That was me. It’s pointless to be anything other than yourself when there’s that many cameras pointed at you – far more than CCTV anyway. What I can’t be doing with is people moaning about what they can’t have or can’t do. Just do it – half the fun of everything is doing it for yourself. I won’t be molly-coddled into acceptance and programmes like Mock the Week make it easier for politicians to get away with it, they’re not helping. They make fun of politicians and we have a snigger and suddenly all’s well with the world. Well, I’m sorry, but all is not well with the world. It’s the British way though, too politically correct. We’ve got to get back to shock tactics, that’s where human beings thrive isn’t it? Go and talk to the old folks in the neighbourhood, the old boys and girls, they have tremendous things to say, great stories, learn a bit. It’s worthy to be in their company, be honoured, get used to the old lot, they’re not to be ignored and spurned, that’s how they end up alone and defenceless. Get over it.

Are there people you look up to, people who’s advice you heed?

It’s easy for me to say this at 50-plus, but I’ve always been that way, I’ve always listened to the adults around me, always have. I listened to Pete Townshend – ‘I hope I die before I get old’, what were you thinking of there, Pete? Ridiculous. Something I never fail to point out to him when I see him. But I’ll tell you this about Pete Townshend, he is a good fella though. Always helpful, he’s not a selfish bleeder, he looks out for young bands, he does. He gives them studio time and hints and let’s you in on a few tricks of the trade, there’s not many in this industry that do that.

Talent needs to be nurtured and encouraged…

You need to feel you’re part of something. When we started with the Pistols it was just a wall of hate like we had no right exist – is that how that load of old codgers is behaving? They need to understand. I would welcome hearing what they had to say but I think they took too literally that Never Trust a Hippy thing because I think deep down they all knew that’s what they were. They’d got their safety, their positions and their careers all lined up for them and they didn’t want change. But change is wonderful – you change your underpants, change your music!

Your passion for music seems undaunted by the passing of time?

You should learn from music, not imitate, but expand on it. I don’t like that world dance stuff because I find what happens is it’s all concocted from these wonderful flavours of different cultures and concocted into elevator music where the beats become very monotone. It’s painting by numbers and that would be the antithesis of me. Finding the real stuff happens quite naturally if you get yourself out and about. And again, you must listen to the old fellas, they’ll tell you a thing or two. You realise the more you travel, people are generally the same the world over – good-natured, deep down inside if you give them a chance.

How was America? There’s a lot of anti-American feeling in this country because we think the American people are like their politicians.

It’s just a veiled jealousy, it really is. Those fellas, they really do believe in get up and go, you know. They don’t sit back and moan, it’s not the American way and I love them for that. That’s not our way though, but the colonies are doing well!

You’re back in London now so was it time for a change, or is it work?

My family’s here – business too sometimes. It was police harassment that drove me out, it became monotonous it was so regular – constantly visited on a Friday night. Don’t know what they expected to find. It got that I got to know one or two of them, I’d see them in the pub in the week and they’d apologise to me for last Friday’s raid – ‘Sorry about that’ – and we’d laugh. That’s a very British response. It’s how things really are, not the way they’re supposed to be. We forget that each individual policeman is just like us, they’re part of a community, with families and things like the rest of us, they’ve got to get along, they’re not their job. It’s not really a Them and Us in anything, not really. It’s all Us.

You must have noticed some changes though.

We’ve got this current thing with Red Ken and Boris, has that made it yet to the rest of the country?

It’s like a Punch & Judy show…

It’s become a real Punch & Judy show, yes, thank you, we’re on the same wavelength. It makes people look away from the real issues. That’s how Labour got away with what they did last time. They spent more time advertising themselves than they did on doing anything. What a mockery they made of us, the damage is done the Labour Party threw it all away and for what? They became, well I don’t know, just a corrupt organisation above a bookies on the high street. I’ve got to begrudgingly say I used to like the Iron Lady – hated her politics, hated what she was doing, but at least she meant what she said. The lady’s not for turning, up until the point she turned, there goes the let down yet again. Even though you might not like them or disagree bitterly with them, you do like the sense of at least they mean what they say. Power corrupts. They get used to no-one saying no, that’s it…

A bit like rock stars then?

Oh yes, absolutely. This vision of pop stars meeting back stage at the festivals and getting on with each other, whoa, no way! Kin’ hell it’s the seven deadly sins re-enacted. It can be highly entertaining, but when you’re nervous and you want to get on and do your bit it can be very, very annoying to have to put up with them. I tend to shy away from it, but then again that seemed to earn me the reputation of being slightly aloof.

Do you cultivate your separateness?

Yeh, I find that what a lot of people are trying to do is steal your thunder, to keep you unoccupied on the job in hand. Particularly if they’ve just come off they don’t want you to go on and be better, whatever that means. In music, the principal of competitive behaviour shouldn’t exist.

But they try to turn music into a competition, look at the glut of so-called talent shows.

American Idol is currently unwatchable. It’s not really interested in music, it’s searching for characterisation of things that people know – territories and avenues of music explored 30 years ago and they now just want a theme park version of that. It’s always here’s the rock singer and no doubt they’re wearing a fringed jacket with long hair, the country singer. It’s misrepresentation and breaking down of things into departmentalised boxes and remove the genuine hostility. American Idol couple of years back approached us, they wanted to use Pretty Vacant for a singer they had on called Bo Bice. He was the rock ’n’ roller and he was the bloke I was referring to earlier in the fringed leather jacket and long hair. There was no way on Earth I was gong to give permission for this, never ever. With all the hardcore elements of the song removed.

Incredible, a total lack of understanding…

Well, that explains Simon Cowell… but then the Pussycat Dolls wanted to do a version of Pretty Vacant too. I’ll tell you, it’s a constant battle to try and preserve the sanctity. I’m not being overly precious and many bands do do cover versions, but it’s when these kind of institutions try to co-opt you, you have to say no, you really do. That’s why we turned down the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame because they were trying to co-opt us into a dead institution that never gave us any help in the first place.

There’s still a massive demand for the Pistols’ music though and you’re re-releasing God Save the Queen for the Jubilee.

We’re re-releasing them in chronological order and if you want them on vinyl that’s all well and good, there it is. No harm done and it’s not being rammed down your neck. And for me, it’s an unfortunate coincidence because it comes out at exactly the same time as we’re releasing this new PiL record, it’s almost like Universal what are you doing to me? It’s intriguing though to compare the two.

As it was when the first PiL album came out just around the time the last few Sex Pistols singles appeared – the ones without you. What can we expect from the new PiL?

Prepare to be stunned! I hope it’s everything that has happened to me in that record, otherwise what the hell am I doing this for? Of course it is, the longer you live, the more you learn, the better you will be at portraying the truth and the more accurate I hope I’ve become in my songwriting. I don’t mind exploring my faults in a song, in fact they’re full of them because that’s all part and parcel of learning to grow up, the honesty. But when I put myself on a stage I know that I’m begging for an open wound! There’s no protection at that point, I’m not hiding behind an image and I sink or swim by the thrill of the moment. I enjoy that, but I panic like fuck before I’m on. But for me, the most honest I am in my whole life is those moments on stage.

The current PiL line up is a mix of old and new faces. Guitarist Lu Edmonds and drummer Bruce Smith worked with you in the 80s, while bassist Scott Firth is new to the band – a tough gig being as previous PiL bassists like Jah Wobble and Jonas Hellborg have left big shoes to fill.

It’s very hard to pull it off because we like to play for two and a half hours. Lu and Bruce are very tuned into one another and I’ve known them for years and the new bass player is phenomenal.

That’s quite a difficult thing to do for a young man to come in and not be an imitation of something that’s gone before. We like our bass in PiL but it’s not a regime, it has to find its place. I loved Scott the moment he turned up with his resume – the Spice Girls and Steve Winwood – I said: ‘Genius! This is exactly what we need.’

PiL has had something like 49 different members! We joke about that, but in a weird way Public Image is kind of university of music, it’s a music school. We’ve launched so many different careers. It’s a shame some of them aren’t grateful, but they got their diplomas, what more can they ask for? They’re my babies and I love them, every single one of them. There’s no resentments or anything in me like that and everybody who knows me knows that.

People do take exception sometimes though, don’t they?

Yes, isn’t that great? That’s how us as a species are. We all know when we see mistakes what makes you so angry is that you’re aware you have those mistakes in yourself, you’re really hating yourself and it’s kind of a learning lesson for a few of them out here. I went through that very early and learned that running around badmouthing doesn’t get you anywhere… unless it’s the Sex Pistols. We just love to do that with each other. There’s a camaraderie in it that we never understood.

Do you still have fun with those chaps?

Yes, yeh, I really do. The Sex Pistols is a finite part of history and mustn’t of course be forgotten, but I don’t know if we’ll do more because I can’t write a song for them. As soon as I get pen to paper I want to put it into PiL and I can’t help that – I just love PiL so much.

Public Image Ltd  – This is PiL
Out May 28 on PiL Official through Cargo UK Distribution

This Is PiL
One Drop – “It is about my early youth in Finsbury Park. Fantastic! Hello, we’re all teenagers don’t you forget it! At any age, stay young.”
Deeper Water
Terra-Gate Human
I Must Be Dreaming – “Well, you know, I must be to put up with these governments.”
It Said That
The Room I Ate In – “That’s about drugs and council flats. And there’s a tragedy that still continues.”
Lollipop Opera – “It’s basically a beautiful bunch of background noise and music to sum up Britain and all its wonderful ambidextrousness.”
Reggie Song
Out of the Woods

Nick Churchill

Nick Churchill has written professionally for more than 25 years. Currently a busy Journalist undertaking a wealth of celebrity interviews and human interest features to writing speeches, generating web and media content and production scripts. His first book, Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Beatles & Bournemouth – got great reviews. He has also worked on projects for Duncan Bannatyne, Harry Hill, James Caan, Scott Mills and Peter Dickson, the voice of The X Factor. His obvious passion for words and natural genuine integrity is most refreshing.

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March 14, 2014 By : Category : Articles Eyeplugs Features Front page Punk Tags:, , , ,
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Lloyd Cole – Nick Churchill’s Interviews

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Nick Churchill Interviews

It’s 30 years since Lloyd Cole first troubled the charts. Not that he’s particularly celebrating the fact, but three decades is a milestone in whatever walk of life becomes a chosen path. Chart star, cult figure, folk singer, deep thinker, golf swinger (when last reported he was playing off 6.5, fact fans, but has been 5.3), whatever your view of Lloyd Cole, amusingly, he was once described as a ‘talkative bookworm’ , there’s plenty about the man to pique the interest.

This August he’ll make his first visit to the Jurassic Coast to play the Purbeck Folk Festival. Playing solo, he’ll mine his back pages for songs to play and maybe even try out a brand new one.

Having come to the fore fronting The Commotions and wracking up hits like Perfect Skin, Brand New Friend, Lost Weekend, Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? and Jennifer She Said, Lloyd has since pursued a solo career that has seen him assimilate a range of styles from orchestral pop and sparse folk to synthesised soundscapes and edgy rock.

Through it all the quality of his writing, always literate, peppered with cultural references and laced with humour, has remained beyond question. In 1995 he scored a minor hit with Like Lovers Do from the album Love Story, co-produced by Stephen Street, desk jockey of choice for the likes of The Smiths and Blur.

Since the turn of the century he has explored a largely acoustic setting for increasingly folk-inspired albums such as Music in a Foreign Language (2003) and Broken Record (2010). Last year, he released Standards, his 10th solo album and only his 2nd since 1995 to feature a full band of musicians, including power pop godhead Matthew Sweet and sometime Lou Reed drummer Fred Maher.

Lloyd Cole headlines the Sunday night (24th) at Purbeck Folk Festival, which runs from August 21 to 24 at Wilkswood Farm, Langton Matravers, near Swanage.

But first he took time out from a hectic touring schedule to field a few questions…

Congratulations on the Standards album, as a listener it felt like Lloyd Cole had come home, how did it feel to make?

Well, the basics were done with Fred Maher and Matthew Sweet, so that was a return to something not done since 1991. But the recording was in LA. So pretty far from home and the mixing was in Bochum, Germany, again far from home. The album sounds pretty much as I wanted it to and maybe the palette is familiar, but the sound is a good deal more electric and, well much louder, than anything I’ve done before…

Was this the right time to make an electric album with a full band?

I guess so. Later finally asked me on…! After almost a decade in self-imposed exile as a would-be folksinger, I developed an itch I wasn’t expecting. It seemed that there were aspects to my old life in rock and roll that I missed. Tour buses and product managers, certainly not. But the interacting with musicians, the camaraderie and the joy of hearing one’s music enhanced and elevated by the aesthetic of others, absolutely.

You manage to reference a pretty good record collection’s worth of artists in the lyrics on the album, where do they come from?

They just surface. It’s what I do. Like a tic.

How did you imagine your musical career would pan out 30 years when you first started to make a Commotion?

Every album always feels like the last one. Even Rattlesnakes. My retirement plan was supposed to kick in after a 45…

The whole experience of making Standards was, for me, rewarding, perplexing, fabulously enjoyable and heinously stressful. Singing with a rock and roll band in the studio I felt exactly as I did in 1987 or 1995, and then I would see my reflection in the glass of the gobo and wonder who this old guy was…

What drives you to get up and write songs these days?

If I have an idea for a song that excites me, or an idea for an album that excites me, sometimes one leads to the other. I need some spark. There are enough Lloyd Cole songs out there. We don’t need any more unless they can have a chance to be great. I’m happy we got these songs finished, because I’m not sure I’ll make another record like this again.

What have you got in store for fans at the Purbeck Folk Festival in August?

The same as always with my solo show, songs from 1984 until 2014.

Just down the road is the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club, where Peter Alliss cut his teeth. Do you fancy a round?

I won’t have my clubs with me this time, but I will definitely bear that in mind for the future, thanks.

Are there any similarities between songwriting and playing golf, does one prepare you for the other at all?

Golf is what I do to escape the rest of my life. I try not to think about anything other than getting the ball in the hole.

Your previous album Broken Record was part-financed by advance sales and artists are making increasing use of crowd-funding to get records made, do you welcome the way the music industry is having to change? Is it a good thing?

No idea. I did it out of necessity. It’s a lot of work and I don’t plan on doing it again, but I’m thankful to those who made it possible.

What’s coming up for Lloyd Cole; any ideas for your next album?

Top secret, but there is plenty afoot. There will be at least two major releases, or re-releases over the next year or so. And I’m on tour all year, it seems.

Purchase tickets to see Lloyd Cole at Purbeck Folk Festival HERE!

Web Links:

Photography by: Kim Frank & Doug Seymour

Nick Churchill

Nick Churchill has written professionally for more than 25 years. Currently a busy Journalist undertaking a wealth of celebrity interviews and human interest features to writing speeches, generating web and media content and production scripts. His first book, Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Beatles & Bournemouth – got great reviews. He has also worked on projects for Duncan Bannatyne, Harry Hill, James Caan, Scott Mills and Peter Dickson, the voice of The X Factor. His obvious passion for words and natural genuine integrity is most refreshing.

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April 8, 2014 By : Category : Eyeplugs Features Festivals Folk Front page Gigs Interviews Music Pop Tags:, , ,
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Eddi Reader – Nick Churchill’s Interviews

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Nick Churchill Interviews

Eddi Reader headlines the Friday night of Purbeck Folk Festival on August 22nd 2014.

More than 25 years since she topped with charts with Perfect, Fairground Attraction’s relentlessly jaunty debut single, Eddi Reader has just released her tenth solo album. Vagabond is as fine a collection of songs as any she has shared with us, from the restrained passion of the opening cover of I’ll Never Be the Same, in which she pays homage to Billie Holiday, to the Gallic flavour of the self-penned Midnight In Paris 1979 and the gentle ache of Boo Hewerdine’s closing track, It’s a Beautiful Night, it’s an album of great depth and feeling. That it was created against the backdrop of Eddi’s partner in life, love and music John Douglas being diagnosed with an incurable illness, seems to make its over-riding sense of optimism all the more remarkable. Thankfully, John is now well on the road to recovery and Eddi is looking forward to touring this year and making her first visit to Purbeck for the folk festival over August bank holiday. Eddi started her career singing backing vocals for the likes of Gang of Four, Billy MacKenzie, Eurythmics and The Waterboys, before fronting the short-lived but spectacularly successful Fairground Attraction.

As a solo artist Eddi has released a string of hit albums including her eponymous BRIT award-winner from 1994, Candyfloss and Medicine (1996), Simple Soul (2001), Peacetime (2007) and Love Is the Way (2009). In 2003 she released The Songs of Robert Burns with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, a project that lead to her being awarded the MBE in 2006 and updated with the release of a Special Edition album in 2009.

She has produced Vagabond herself withmany of her long-term musical collaborators including her husband John Douglas (Trashcan Sinatras), Alan Kelly, Ian Carr, Ewen Vernal, Roy Dodds (Fairground Attraction), John McCusker and Boo Hewerdine, who’s also appearing at Purbeck Folk Festival, which runs from August 21 to 24 at Wilkswood Farm, Langton Matravers, near Swanage.

Also appearing are Turin Brakes, Lloyd Cole, Idlewild, The South, Chris Wood and Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo.

Eddi, congratulations on Vagabond, you had to overcome a few hurdles to get it made, is it the record you set out to make or did it evolve over time?

I instinctively move forward. Urges to record dictated the practicalities of it all, then working became the focus of my daily routines. Letting go of the world around me and recording is tough to do as a mum, house keeper etc, but once I’m doing it there’s no-one more surprised than me at what turns up musically. It’s a joy to see what gets pulled out of the moment.

It seems to have been very well received, is there a kind of relief that people ‘get’ the record?

I’m pleased with its different parts, I can go no further. If others ignore, or adore, I can tell you I am grateful for any attention. I am confident that songs well expressed have their own path and I can’t take sole credit for how they turned out. On behalf of all the musicians and the engineer Mark Freeguard I can only stand beside them and say: ‘I agree! It’s bloody brilliant!’ But I am the worst critic. I would still be messing about with it if the organisers of my tours hadn’t pushed deadlines on me. Letting it go out into the world is the hardest bit.

The album features many familiar collaborators – almost your repertory company – are you a benevolent dictator when it comes to writing and recording, or is it a more democratic process?

I never have any fights, except when attitudes and egos are pushing into the calmness of the empty space. I’m quite manipulative to get what I want. I’ll provide the organic vegan food/booze/cigarettes/paracetamol for all the various characters just to have the energy in the room relaxed. I’ll sometimes have to shut myself away in a vocal booth so as to make sure my own ego shuts down. I am not very good at remembering to say ‘Good morning’ before I start, I’m super single-minded about getting the music ‘fix’ over and above human social activity. But I can apologise.

How’s John?

Getting better all the time. Thank you.

When you were starting out did you have a plan? Did you think you would still be making music 35-odd years later?  

Nope! I just threw myself at the wind and went where it took me.

I’m sure there are elements of a career in music that become routine over time (the cycle of writing, recording, touring perhaps), how do you keep it fresh?

Well, this new batch of recordings I’ve only just realised was the first release in four years! I’m not sure where all that time went. I’m also quite happy with my ability to see only this moment, I have many stories and memories but once I’ve moved on, life is a fresh page every day. I can be at home two days and have forgotten that I’ve just been on tour for three weeks. Then I start itching for the door. Or start to reason with a rude person on Twitter or something. Just to change their perspective.

What is your proudest achievement?

Probably managing to not mess up my kids too much. They are two very lovely young men now.

We’re really looking forward to seeing you at the Purbeck Festival this summer do you know this part of the world at all?

I’m just going to Google all about it and make it an adventure. I expect never to forget it once I’ve experienced it!

How are festival crowds different to theatre audiences and do you have a preference?

Theatres are cosy and it’s great to sing in rooms made for oratory, but festivals are exciting in that people who never experienced my thing and are walking past at the back, wandering around, might decide to stand and check it out, so potential for encouraging new audiences is great. Also the whole place is infused with a kind of: ‘I’m on my weekend kick-back, break’, so people are relaxed and at ease. Great to join in with that atmosphere.

What’s next for Eddi Reader?

Today? I continue my de-cluttering at home, watch my catch up rubbish telly, cook meals for my men, they never come home to eat ’til the middle of the night. Beyond that, my touring starts up again in April taking me through the spring and summer to Japan and Australia in the autumn. I have 10 or so tracks from the Vagabond sessions left over. I’m gonna start investing some time in them. They might become the start of a new album I’m not sure. I’m excited about reading my young seven year old niece my favourite childhood book, Mary Poppins by PL Travers –  “she’s another woman who uses the wind to push her around”!

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Photo credits: © Genevieve Stevenson & Kenny Mathieson

Nick Churchill

Nick Churchill has written professionally for more than 25 years. Currently a busy Journalist undertaking a wealth of celebrity interviews and human interest features to writing speeches, generating web and media content and production scripts. His first book, Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Beatles & Bournemouth – got great reviews. He has also worked on projects for Duncan Bannatyne, Harry Hill, James Caan, Scott Mills and Peter Dickson, the voice of The X Factor. His obvious passion for words and natural genuine integrity is most refreshing.

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April 29, 2014 By : Category : Folk Front page Interviews Music Pop Showplug Tags:, , ,
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Idlewild – Nick Churchill’s Interviews

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Nick Churchill Interviews

Reformed indie rockers Idlewild are to play their only mainland UK festival date with an acoustic show at Purbeck Folk Festival on Saturday the 23rd of August.

The Scottish band released their last album Post Electric Blues in 2009 and since then frontman Roddy Woomble has released two solo albums, while guitarist Rod Jones has released material under his own name and with his band The Birthday Suit, most recently the excellent A Hollow Hole Of Riches in March.

Idlewild formed in 1995 and have released six studio albums to date including the breakthrough 100 Broken Windows (1999), The Remote Part (2002), which spawned the hit singles You Held The World In Your Arms and American English and Warnings/Promises (2005) with the top 20 single Love Steals Us From Loneliness (2005).

Singer Roddy Woomble released his first solo album My Secret Is My Silence in 2006. Produced by John McCusker and featuring Kate Rusby, Karine Polwart and his wife Ailidh Lennon, it topped the UK folk charts and was followed in 2008 by Before the Ruin, recorded with John McCusker and Kris Drever, featuring Radiohead drummer Phil Selway and Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub. His third album, The Impossible Song & Other Songs (2011) has a sleeve drawn by Mairi Hedderwick, creator of Katie Morag, and his latest solo record, Listen to Keep, came out in March.

Purbeck Folk Festival runs over the Bank Holiday Weekend, 21-24 August, on a 600-acre sheep farm in the heart of the beautiful Isle of Purbeck. Having won the Fatea Music Award for Countryside Festival Of The Year, it offers four days of fine music, great food, fancy dress, art interventions, film and magic on Dorset’s stunning Jurassic Coastline.

A firm favourite with young folks, families and old folkies alike, it also boasts a beer festival with 40 local real ales, 20 ciders and even a Dorset pils lager!

Idlewild join previously announced headliners Turin Brakes, Lloyd Cole, Eddi Reader, The South, Nizlopi, Chris Wood and Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo.

Roddy, thanks for taking time out to field these questions …

We’re thrilled to be able to welcome Idlewild to Purbeck Folk Festival and you’ve got a tour of the Highlands and Islands planned, what’s the idea behind playing unexpected venues?

No grand plan really. We wanted to get out and about and do some gigs while we are working on our new record, to get back into singing the older songs and start trying out the new ones. I love the Highlands and Islands so any excuse to spend time there is fine by me. Purbeck is a place I’d never been to. So it’s all worked out really well.

Why is now the right time for a new Idlewild adventure?

It felt very natural to start working on an album. Five years is a good time away from anything. It was no more complicated than asking Rod if he fancied making a new and interesting Idlewild album. He did and that was the starting point. Over a year has passed since then and we are now about half way through recording, so it’s a good time to play some gigs.

How did the Idlewild regrouping happen after five years of doing other things?

Of course we all still kept in touch and saw each other, so it was just a question of organising some time to write songs. We always had a plan to make a new record, we just all needed a break from the cycle that we had gotten ourselves stuck into, which was bringing everyone down, and not helping the music.

How’s the new album shaping up?

Like I say, we’ve been taking our time with it, producing it ourselves in Rod’s little studio, and also up in Mull. It’s more experimental than other Idlewild albums, shades of a country/folk influence, but largely quite noisy and guitar based. Good tunes throughout though.

Will you approach the band in the same way as you did before, or are these older heads also wiser – I wonder if you’ll be wary of record company interventions for instance?

To me it is a new thing now, which is what is exciting. Rod and I are still the driving force, creatively at least, but having new members (multi instrumentalist Lucci Rossi, and Andrew Mitchell on bass) has made it feel different and taken the songs to a new and interesting place. Sales-wise we will probably do almost everything ourselves. We are very lucky to have plenty of fans, so we will sell the record directly to them.

There must have been some amazing experiences along the way, but if you had the time again would you do anything different?

It was a shame that the band basically fell apart when we at our most popular, commercially at least (2002), but we were young and didn’t really know what we were doing, so no, it was all a part of the learning process.

You and Rod have both said you’ll keep your other activities running alongside Idlewild, how will you know which is a solo song and which is an Idlewild song?

I write my solo material generally with Sorren Maclean and Idlewild songs with Rod, so it’s quite easy to separate.

How does running a band that backs your solo work differ from fronting Idlewild?

Good question. They feel very different from each other, to me anyway.

I think you’re playing the festival as an acoustic set up without a drummer, how have you adapted older material to suit the line up?

Playing acoustically is very natural to us as it is how our songs are written and developed. Colin Newton (drummer) won’t be with us for these shows, mainly because drums tend to force the songs into a place they don’t need to be, acoustically at least. They also make everything too loud!

I play most of my solo band gigs without drums so it’s a line up that I’m used to – lots of space for the melodies, and a nice laid back feeling.

Away from music what gets you up in the morning?

Children… and B&B guests!

What do you know of the Purbecks?

Not much, but there is a pub close by – the Square and Compass. I’ve always wanted to go there for a pint.

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Photo Credit: © Simon Murphy


Nick Churchill

Nick Churchill has written professionally for more than 25 years. Currently a busy Journalist undertaking a wealth of celebrity interviews and human interest features to writing speeches, generating web and media content and production scripts. His first book, Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Beatles & Bournemouth – got great reviews. He has also worked on projects for Duncan Bannatyne, Harry Hill, James Caan, Scott Mills and Peter Dickson, the voice of The X Factor. His obvious passion for words and natural genuine integrity is most refreshing.

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June 3, 2014 By : Category : Features Festivals Indie Interviews Music Tags:, , , ,
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Nick Churchill’s Interviews Alex James

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Nick Churchill Interviews

NC: It’s late autumn in the year 2000 and the Britpop party was over long ago, leaving its most creative mixers with almighty post-Millennial hangovers. One of its most dedicated bons vivants, Alex James is sitting at his glass-topped kitchen table in the basement of his home in Seven Dials, off Covent Garden. Over there is the double bass he used on the previous year’s hit single Tender, as copious tea and too many cigarettes (his Camel, mine Silk Cut) fuel a lively, chatty conversation of many things, of cabbages and kings.

Blur have spent most of the year on a break as reports emerge that dark forces have been threatening to swamp the band. However, a new single – the musically adventurous groove of Music Is My Radar – is on the cards and Blur: The Best Of compilation is due on October, affording hungry critics (if not the band itself which saw the release as little more than another piece of ‘product’) the chance to review Blur’s sonic progress and considerable achievements since their 1990 debut, She’s So High.


They didn’t tour in support of the compilation and it would be another year before they reconvened in London to start work on the album that would become Think Tank. Not long after, guitarist Graham Coxon was asked to leave and the remaining three members continued recording in Morocco and finally in Devon.

By the time the album came out in 2002 the musical landscape was barely recognisable from that of the mid-1990s that had been Blur’s hitmaking peak. Parklife, Country House, There’s No Other Way, The Universal, even Song 2 had fused punk, 60s psychedelia, music hall and pure pop to provide Britpop with a cor-blimey soundtrack and the band lived lives to match.

The songs on Think Tank though captured a more mature band of musicians, in control, deep in thought and anxious to explore a vast musical palette that would inform singer Damon Albarn’s subsequent music with Gorillaz and The Good The Bad & The Queen. It was a record made by three men (and a cast of collaborators) who had completed a long and riveting journey over the previous 12 years and needed to go their own ways – Albarn deeper into music, drummer Dave Rowntree into politics and the law; and Alex into starting a family (he married Claire Neate in 2003), farrning and cheesemaking.

Blur’s reunion in 2009 was one of the most welcome of recent years and saw Graham happily back in the fold. For now, their future remains unwritten.

The full extent (and maybe some more) of Alex’s partying was revealed in his rock ‘n’ rollicking 2007 autobiography, A Bit Of A Blur, as was his most public apology to his long-standing then-girlfriend Justine with whom he’d been in a relationship since they were teenagers together in Bournemouth, but on that autumn day in West Central 2, Alex was presenting the acceptable face of being young, gifted and good looking in the wake of London’s longest and grooviest party since the swinging sixties.

Especially as his mum is going to be reading this in the Echo!

Alex1_0000_Layer 1

NC: How’s things?

Oh, mum’s really excited, I feel like a 21st century Max Bygraves!

Blur’s history is really that of the 1990s. We’ve all seen the headlines, heard a few of the rumours, partied to the hits and sweated at the gigs. We’ve been having a ball, but it looks like you’ve been having a bigger one.

I guess popular culture is inevitably analysed in terms of decades and fortunately we formed in 1990. But there’s been two babies arrive in the band as well so I think we all kind of thought we’d have a bit of a break this year, an underline if you like. Graham and Damon both have little girls. Things have changed. I’ve had 10 years as a pop star, it’s my normal life.

So, you’re pretty used to it all then?

Yes. Yes. You get used to everything. Camus said that after three weeks in prison you stop thinking about everything else. I’m sure he’s right. Even in the ridiculous days of when we were on the news all the time life still takes on a routine. When you’re on tour it can it is brilliant, but your time is organised so effectively that the only choice you end up with is what you want to eat. It can be like that, but you learn how to organise yourself. It’s really bad manners to moan. I’m not moaning. Pop stars who moan, it’s just very bad manners to do that.

But the life is alien to most people – it seems incredibly glamorous – so can it ever be just a job?

I don’t know if it is just a job actually. Being a musician is easy. All you’ve got to do is think about music 24 hours a day. It’s never really felt like a job.

You did well at school, Bournemouth School, and went to Goldsmiths to do French, you weren’t destined for music. Or were you?

It’s funny that it is something that if I told my careers officer I wanted to do this he’d’ve told me to get a fucking life, but the point is that music is actually Britain’s fifth biggest export industry. It is a viable thing to aspire to. It’s kind of taken as a given that you know what you want to do and it’s actually one of the hardest things you have to do is decide what you want to do.

If you know what you want to do you’re really lucky. I worked in Safeway for a year – horrible!

Probably in a town like Bournemouth there aren’t the possibilities that there are somewhere like London. Blur are very much a London phenomenon. It’s the old story: people come to London and meet each other. That’s the hardest thing to do is to meet the people.

You were a regular face in the crowd on the Bournemouth music scene of the mid- to late-1980s. Things were pretty good for a while back then weren’t they?

There was a brilliantly vibrant music scene in Bournemouth when I was growing up. It wouldn’t have happened if there wasn’t. I still keep in touch with some of the Readers Wives and some of the Farkle Family. The bass player from the Farkle Family is an A&R man at Echo Records, Darren Woodford. He’s done really well, he’s got Moloko and they’re really good. A lot of people are teachers, which is worthy.

Did you have ideas to be a professional?

No, I always told everyone I was going to be a rock star. Wanting to do something is kind of 80% of it, it really is.

What about when Blur got together? In the early days you were called Seymour and you’d been in bands in Bournemouth, did it feel like a long term band?

I don’t think we’ve ever sort of envisaged the end. Especially when you’re young like that you think everything’s going to last forever. We formed as friends really and that’s the best way really for these things to happen I think. It has to be on that basis. It would be unbearable to be anything else, it just can’t work. You can’t be in a band with people you hate. It’s horrible when people do fall out – usually about power struggles.

There have been all sorts of reports about tensions in band as you moved on from The Great Escape into the darker waters of the Blur album.

Yeah, but during There’s No Other Way me and Graham we having fights with each other in people’s cars and in radio stations. There’d be punch-ups and we got all that out of the way quite early on. I think all you want to do when you’re 21 is getting fucking pissed and show off and you’re given unlimited capacity to do that with big amplifiers and loads of booze!

Which you may have embraced more readily than the others?

Well, the whole of the music business is carried out in pubs and bars. From the moment you sign the deal the booze starts flowing.

Silly question, but was it fun?

It was Operation Fun, I think it has to be. I think people can tell when you’re bored.

As a fan it’s always interesting to watch a band grow up. You follow the songs and hear a bit about how the people involved are growing as people. Other things become important. There are marked changes between the Blur of The Great Escape and the Blur on the Blur album and again into 13 which seem incredibly personal.

The words were the last thing to get written on that record. I think what we were trying to do with that record was convey some attempt at emotion. If you can do that then people… I think you’ve just got to keep yourself interested and once you learn how the industry works you can operate a lot more effectively and efficiently. You got to keep thinking of new reasons to get up in the morning. The only thing you’ve got to go on in making music is your state of mind and it’s a natural thing to do to change.

It’s inevitable really. All great bands do it. You have to be bold but you can get into trouble, especially kids –  they can tell if you mean it. That was something that ended up becoming a bit of an albatross really when it escalated with Oasis when sales became the ultimate test of whether something was good or not. The bands that I liked when I was growing up – The Smiths, New Order – I suppose Blue Monday sold a lot but The Smiths never sold many records, but they’ve gone on to become the most influential band of the 80s probably, especially amongst American bands. I don’t think they ever even toured America, did they? They’ve gone on to become, you know, you couldn’t have REM without The Smiths.

Did Blur set out to make something that would last?

When you start out you’re just absolutely convinced of your own genius. Even when I was in bands in Bournemouth I thought they were the best band in the world – and, who knows, they may have been, but… All novices want to destroy the machinery and then become part of the machinery. I am an old fart! The last part of growing up.

It wasn’t long ago you were writing columns like Alex James Is Unwell for Select magazine, and something similar in The Idler.

I can’t remember writing that. I think we all walk very close to that line, don’t we? “And so far from satisfaction,” Joni Mitchell.

Can life in Blur be a bit of bubble? Is it difficult to take yourself out of it? You still visit your parents in Bournemouth quite often, is that your great escape?

Definitely, being in touch with some kind of some kind of normalness. The great thing about being in a band is that there’s four of you to keep each other sane, in no matter what kind of petty way. It is a playground, the music business – it’s all ‘He doesn’t like him’, ‘They’re a gang’, that kind of thing.

Any regrets?

Je ne regrette rien. Depending on how you’re feeling today you either regret everything or you don’t regret anything.

So there’s no middle ground?

If you’re happy then there’s an infinite number of ways of getting to that point.

Do you feel lucky, punk?

Yeah, you think it’s fucking lucky I bumped into these guys, but then you think it’s a fucking good job my parents met. So, yes, I feel fucking lucky.

I try and analyse it and I think all you can say is that you’ve got to take your chances. None of us had any idea what a life in the music business had to offer really, we just had some vague aspirations of being paid for being drunk and gorgeous! We all took a risk really. To find something you like doing you have to. You do meet, you can have everything, but something’s got to happen as well, something extra’s got to happen; I think what that extra thing is that people have got to like it!

There’s a lot of mystique attached to the music business but the longer you go on doing it, intellectual property is just as substantial a commodity as bricks and cement. I’m all for debunking the mystique of music really. We’ve spent a long time playing together and we’ve got good at it.

How long can it go on, can Blur be this generation’s Stones?

I like the way Marianne Faithful [with whom Alex wrote some songs] has aged more than the Stones. I think she has always kind of reflected how old she is in her music. They’re a nice bunch the Stones, god bless ‘em, but I think REM have done it very elegantly, thank fuck for REM. They didn’t really go globally massive until about their seventh album.

You’re 31 now, do you worry about dignifying your age?

It doesn’t matter how old you are. It’s not something you really contemplate. It’s not something I contemplate very often. As long as you’re willing to adapt to the way you feel you can’t go wrong. The future is top secret isn’t it? We’ve all become in demand as songwriters and producers. There’s plenty of ways it can go. I wouldn’t trust a record producer under 30.

Alex1_0001_Layer 2

Country House – can you explain that?

What were we doing there? It just all got a bit… It was our baroque period. I think! What the hell we were doing taking that round America, it was complete blind optimism. It is a beautiful little cul de sac in the history of pop culture, but it’s a fucking odd record.

An oddity?

It’s veering towards a kind of musical, The Great Escape was a musical really, it wasn’t an album. It was a stage musical with a chorus line.

Strange tour too with Damien Hirst’s stage set design incorporating those giant burgers and pill. Was that done to get up the noses of Oasis – even a little bit?

When we making that record we weren’t thinking about them at all. That just came to light afterwards really and then we kind of made our bed and it wasn’t something that was ever going to… It’s an odd record, very sort of doom-laden. It’s the bleakest record we’ve ever made. Country House is up, but it’s about this guy who’s a knackered, twisted, failure of a man who has run away from everything.

Not just your record company boss Dave Balfe then?

He was chuffed to bits actually. Noel Gallagher lives in a big house in the country now, doesn’t he? It’s kind of ironic.

You’ve recently acquired a euphonium, why?

The truth about that was my dad wanted a euphonium and I got them to give me a free one if I had my photo taken with it, so it seemed a fair trade. I have a blow on it when it comes out at Christmas. Sugar Town by Nancy Sinatra, that’s the best bit of euphonium playing and it just gets better.

How’s your musical? [* It had been reported Alex was working on a musical with songwriter Jez Ashurst, with whom he later co-wrote ex-Coronation Street actor Richard Fleeshman’s second single, hit Hold Me Close]

I’ve seen Jez a few times, but it’s a three year project that will most likely break a man! That’s something to do for when I go bald I suppose. It’s a genre that needs reinventing I’m sure, but it’s a lot of work though. It’s like drug habits or something – everybody’s got one. How’s your musical? Talking about your lumbago!

What’s next for Blur?

I will definitely make another record. We’ve got expensive lifestyles to support. Probably around Christmas-time I think. It’s been good. We’ve all gone off and done our own thing so we can bring that back to the band. It does feel like coming home. I’m all for everybody doing that.

Is it daunting to step off the rollercoaster and take a break?

It was only a six-month break. There’s so many things you want to do and you haven’t got time because you’re always on fucking tour.

You don’t always get as much time to make music as you’d like?

That’s very true. It only takes three months to make a record and 18 months to market it and the cost of the thing. It costs. You can get…

[breaks to arrange lunch with a friend] (in faux American accent:) Let’s have lunch: that’s life in the music business!

So, you can get a top producer for two grand, you can get a studio for two days for around a grand a day, that’ll get you the best studio. You can make a number one record for four grand. But you can’t get it to number one unless you spend another two hundred grand on a video, marketing, touring, doing TV shows always costs the record company money.

The product itself doesn’t take much time and energy – four grand when you think about you sell half a million of them. It’s the great thing about pop music. Something that films suffer from is that it takes two years to make a film and there’s so much money at stake but by the time the thing comes to the light of day it has been focus grouped to hell, I mean, they change the ending if focus groups don’t like it, so there’s very little freedom.

But four grand? Fuck that, get on with it. It’s all about just having one great idea; and, you know, I’ve done it and that’s a bloody great thing.

The 90s was a decade that was defined by its music in a way that the 80s wasn’t I think. Three minutes can change your whole being. JK Rowling said that in the Harry Potter books, that music is the strongest magic of all – maybe I’m a fucking magician!

There have been questions about your fidelity to Justine…?

We split up for a year or so, but we’re back together. Known her since school. It’s still the person I will spend my life with – that’ll look good! It’s been said before but fame is an aphrodisiac, I’ve not really been made famous in the way that Damon has. If you want to dedicate your life to shagging you can, you don’t have to be in a band to do that… Hello darling! (Right on cue, Justine comes in upstairs.)

So, would you say you are more sensible now?

Yeah, balanced. You have to have something to come home to otherwise you just drift around the world, don’t you, if you don’t have that sense of home?

What are you excited by?

I’m perpetually thrilled by everything and awed as well. I think it’s important never to lose your sense of awe. I’d hate to be jaded.

You have some fairly stellar circles of friends, but do you still have the eyes of a fan?

Yes, but I’m sure they do as well or they’re not fucking human.

But some of them get so huge they must lose touch forever, how about the Stones?

There does come a point when you think: ‘Actually it’s not going to stop, I’ll be living in La La Land forever’ and once you’ve worked that out then you can carry on.

Are you there?

Yeah, maybe.

Could you envisage doing something other than music – writing or acting perhaps?

I’d like to write, writing’s good [he does a monthly column for Q magazine]. More than act I think. It’s that old thing of falling into the trap of thinking you can do everything just because you’re good at doing one thing and a lot of offers do come your way. I like to work in food, become a food scientist and research the properties of seaweed.

Can you cook?

Yeah, Yorkshire pudding. Like all men I can cook one thing. My grandad was a cook – at the [five star] Royal Bath Hotel in Bournemouth.

How often do you get back to Bournemouth?

Four or five times a year. My sister doesn’t live in Bournemouth any more, she lives in Farnham, at college. It’s just really evocative and as you get older you start to really cherish childhood. I can’t imagine a better place to grow up than by the sea. People are less tainted.

You were a regular at the Hot House [club, now Sound Circus] a few years ago.

That was great. Bacchus was good, that’s a shame that’s gone. There’s a lot of nightclubs in Bournemouth. It definitely did me good growing up in a kind of pleasure haven, but I guess this is a tourist resort where I live now.

Are your wild days behind you?

I hope so. It’s not so elegant to be wild in your 30s is it? When you’re younger it’s like being put in a speedboat and you say: ‘How fast can this go?’ I think everyone has a fairly wild time in their 20s – your 20s are for getting drunk and as long as you know when to leave that behind you’ll be all right.

Do you, or did you, have a problem with drink?

That’s a thing you’ll have to ask the others! I think if the work’s getting done. Getting drunk is fun, but you have to stop drinking sometime. As long as there’s someone drunker than you then you’ll be all right. Some good advice – as long as you take one day off a week to phone your mum.

How did your parents react to those reports?

Well they’d go: ‘Are you drinking too much?’ Then they’d come up here and get absolutely hammered in the daytime! I don’t think it was a problem, but there’s booze everywhere you go.

Anything stronger?

Not really, I think booze is the best rock ‘n’ roll drug, especially when you’re travelling as it just levels everything out and increases your sense of possibilities.

You’ve said there’ll be another Blur record, but what about the long term?

For sure. You have to take it one record at a time. I think the reason we’re not touring anymore is I think it’s the records you are remembered by, ultimately.

So, will you tour?

Yeah, you know. That is something we will do but we’ll be more relaxed about it. Because of the global nature of the industry when you’ve had hit records you’ve got to be everywhere at once so it does get a bit mental. I reckon we’ll just get a bit more relaxed about it and get on with it.

What do you do for kicks?

I fly aeroplanes. I’ve been into Hurn a few times and got really shouted at last time for taxi-ing the wrong way. I fly little ones, I’ve got a real old banger of a plane. There’s a discipline to flying planes which I like. Getting a pilot’s license, there’s a lot of Zen about it – you learn a lot about yourself and being responsible. It’s a good way of touring as well and you can smoke in your own plane!

The drummer was flying and we had to go to Manchester or something and we said can’t we take your plane and he said yeh, and we got in and it was 40 minutes to Manchester, fucking hell! This is great!

I had a go. I’ve got a real old banger for an aeroplane, nothing flash.

I wouldn’t say I wake up in the morning and go ‘Where am I going to get my kicks today?’ not like when I was 25. I read a lot.

Do you get bored?

Probably, I must do.

Are you dangerous when bored?

I think I have a lot of my best ideas when I’m bored; or at least idle. Let’s set The Lord’s Prayer to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, that was a good idea.

Ever fancied doing the rock star thing and living abroad?

I’ve always liked France. I was doing a French degree when I was at college. I don’t have loads of homes. People who have lots of homes and don’t live in them are silly – you can only live in one place at a time. Something about France though, everybody’s got another country don’t they?

Maybe after the second best of album?

Goodness knows, but it’s kind of nice just to be in one place for a reasonable length of time. I always imagined myself living in the country when I was little, but I’m a total city mouse. New York, Barcelona, Paris, London … cocktails! It’s very damp in the country, have you noticed?

Purbeck, that is one of my favourite places in the world. Kimmeridge is somewhere that I’m drawn back to again and again and again. It’s just so utterly timeless and kind of austere. The Purbecks are a lovely secret that we shouldn’t tell too many people about. I’m drawn there as much as anywhere really.

Can you foresee fatherhood?

Yes, I do actually. Two of the band have just become fathers so I don’t want to look like I was just joining in there! I think people are having babies later in life and I would like to have kids one day. Maybe we should get a dog first and see if it dies!

How are you with gadgets?

I rejected and refused to acknowledge technology for years, but now I’m just completely up for gadgets these days – anything that requires a battery I’ll have one! The internet’s not quite as good as watching telly yet; I think it will be soon. We’re kind of Stone Age cybermen, aren’t we? It’s very exciting.

Dave’s our computer faculty really. I’ve become very fond of Japan actually in the way that everything is designed to last you two years and is then thrown away. It’s a different way of doing things to us but it’s equally valid if the technology is going to be better in two years.

We’re an old country, resistant to change.

Yes, and we’re obsessed with our past in a very smug way with Americans!

Do you think the internet will bring everyone closer to everything?

It’s just one more media, it’s great. It’s just going to make it easier for everybody to have access to stuff.

How you do deal with getting recognised in the street?

I usually put a hat on. When you‘re hatching your little schemes you don’t want to be noticed, but it takes a lot of energy. But then everybody’s famous these days. How many people are in the national papers regularly every year. Probably something like one in a thousand people is in the papers every week, it’s not that unusual.

More people are famous for being famous though, what do you make of Big Brother?

That was a brilliant job, I loved that show.

Have you earned your fame?

I’m not really famous though, I’m in a famous band. It’s very convenient really, I only get recognised by people who like the band.

So you get the pluses and not the minuses?

Hopefully, yes! I know famous people and I’m not like them.

How do you judge if it’s all worth it?

I still feel like I want to get out of bed in the morning to do it. I don’t think you ever get to the point where you feel like you’ve achieved anything. As soon as you do achieve anything, you’re on to the next thing to the point where you just go: ‘rRght, finished’. Memory is not what the heart desires, you’ve got to keep it coming.

Is that a pressure?

Some people react badly to pressure and some people don’t. You would say this is a high-pressure business.

How do you contribute to writing Blur songs?

It’s pretty much like you see it, the drummer plays the drums, the bass player plays the bass, Damon sings and Graham plays the guitar.

Damon will turn up with something usually as he writes most of the stuff on acoustic guitar, so it’s like a vocal melody probably with no words or maybe one line and then we just bash it around. The new single, [Music Is My Radar] he just brought in a little squeezebox thing he’d bought for 99p or it came out of cracker or something and it was that and a rhythm.

You just become a production team, on the new record the drums are brilliant. Everybody’s really pulling their weight on it.

I think we just all enjoyed hammering it out together. We thought we were making a b-side. We’d recorded what we thought was going to be the single so there was no pressure at all and we were just able to go in there and totally let our hair down. You can make music, or you can make records like that these days because it all goes onto a computer and you just edit the best bits together. That’s how this record was made, half an hour jam.

We’re so familiar with each others’ sense of musicality or whatever and you can communicate after playing together for such a long time. Damon is the driving force, but there’s only room for one of those in a band really.

Is Blur a democratic band?

No I don’t think so. Anyone who tells you a band is democratic is lying. I think we’re all totally flying. There is a dynamic there, there has to be, but there’s always a point where he’ll just say fuck off!

That’s why it’s relevant that we’re a band. There’s something about the four of us playing together that works, there’s a chemistry there that’s genuine and as long as that exists we’ll continue to make good music. Who knows how long it will last for? We’ll know when it’s not there.

Any chance of a solo album or project?

The thing about music is that it’s a very collaborative process. Even if you wrote and produced or whatever on your own you’d still have to have a record company or a video made or whatever. Normally you are collaborating with a band or you are collaborating with a producer. Learning how to collaborate is a big skill to master. It’s not one person.

Does music excite you in the same way in always did?

Yeah, if not more because I kind of know more about how it all works. We’ve always got lots of other collaborations on the go, about half of which work. Just odds and sods appearing in a record shop near you soon!

You mean like Fat Les?

I think we might do the French football song. I’d quite like to enter Fat Les in Eurovision, I think that’s the future of that band. It’s a good cast. Fat Les will probably end up being a musical, you got a good cast for a musical there. God knows what’s going to happen there.

Fat Les does Country House?

No, Jerusalem – a 200-year-old poem and an orchestra! Yes, it’s a bit Country House in spirit. I think the Country House video – Graham hates it – but it’s very colourful. But you know if you’re going to get an artist to make your video you know you’re going to get good colours.

Would your parents give interviews?

I’m very nervous about my parents being exposed. I’m sure my mum would like to do it, but let me talk to them. I feel like I trust you but it’s very easy for them to look foolish.

They are obviously very proud of you.

I’m proud of them. I try and kind of keep them away from it all – it’s not a real situation. It’s fucking ruthless out there.

If you’d only ever had one big hit, what would be your legacy?

Well, Song 2 earns the most, so that would be it. It’s on its third car now, I shit you not! The Americans want to release it again, it’s still being a hit in America. It’s crazy, four years later. It’s just ridiculous. If you get a couple of records away in America you’ve made it. It kind of has a knock-on effect in all these weird places like Madagascar.

The industry and our perception of success are very western-centric.

A third of the world doesn’t have electricity so how do they play their guitars?

If it ended tomorrow, would you owe anything? Are you comfortable?

You’re never quite comfortable enough, you can always get a bit more comfortable. There’s a guy called John Kennedy who runs one of the big labels, used to be lawyer – a lot of people who run big labels are lawyers, particularly in America. He said the only way to make a lot of money out of the music business is to write your own songs, record your own songs, be able to play live to a lot of people and sell a fuck lot of records for a long time.

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You mean like Chris de Burgh?

Lady In Red. It’s my mum and dad’s favourite. I think it’s a beautiful song, I wish I’d written it, but I’d change the rhyme dance and romance.

He meets his market?

I don’t know if you can do that, but you have to believe in it. I’m sure Jackie Collins thinks her books are brilliant, but I think you’ve got to believe what you’re doing is brilliant otherwise it just doesn’t wash. I’ve tried doing music that way, but it doesn’t work.

I don’t think The Great Escape was any more contrived than Blur was really, The arrangements were a lot more elaborate, but the core of the thing was there were more devices involved, singing about a third person or whatever, but you can only sing about yourself really and there’s only about five things you can say: I love you, I hate you, I’m bored, I’m angry and vindaloo!

Where did you get your first bass?

Southbourne Exchange & Mart for 50 quid, sold it when I was at school. It’s a real shame some of those shops have gone.

Was Graham he first person I met having got out of the car at college?

Yeah, stupid isn’t it? Scary. But when you look back at the whole of your life you think your parents might not have met.

You changed the name from Seymour to Blur, did that sound like a big band’s name? Did you still have that confidence?

Oh, totally. You’ve got to have. It doesn’t happen unless you’ve got that confidence.

So you sit in the pub, talking about being famous? Did Seymour do the same?

Yes, so did [Bournemouth band] The Rising. If you talk about it seriously enough it will become real. As well as actually talking about it you’ve got to become pro-active and take what is the next step. The old drive thing.

You can sit around being a genius all day, but you’ve got to stick yourself in people’s faces. That’s what cuts the mustard. It’s amazing, the quality of the music that is made In this country is amazing. You can go to Camden on any night of the week and see three great bands, fully formed. They need to get money spent on them. It takes a million quid for a major label to launch a band. It’s a lot of money.

Do you fancy finding a protégé?

I ran a label for a while, but if you have a failure with that kind of investment, any kind of failure will sink the whole thing and that’s what happened to us. We tried to compete with major labels at Christmas time with a record that was never going to get on the radio. It was all good but proteges are all very well but you can’t really control creativity at all. That is just kind of learned, it just happens.

You’ve got more freedom in Blur though.

You have to earn that. Certainly, early on, it was very regimented and the purse strings were being held by other people. You’ve got to go into the studio and do this…

When people are doing that you either learn how to stand on your own two feet or you get knocked over. It’s very easy to see the transition in the life of the band between the first album which does have some great moments but it was A&R-ed in a very particular way to fit a market that existed at that point in time, which we benefited from no doubt.

Modern Life Is Rubbish, the second album was just completely against the grain of everything that was happening, but that is the only way to proceed. I think you have to make your own world and live in it. If we hadn’t have had people saying exactly what we should do we probably never would have worked out what we wanted to do, so it cuts both ways.

Modern Life Is Rubbish seemed to herald a change that nobody was expecting – is it your best album?

It didn’t have the singles on that Parklife did, but three of the songs on that record were done on the same day. They were great times actually, believe it. When you first thought you’d found a direction and you’ve had a vision and you were totally convinced of it and you don’t care who else believes you or what anyone thinks.

It was the first Britpop record. The American label wanted us to re-record it with Butch Vig who made Nevermind and we said no! Why? Because at that time there was just nothing else happening in this country. There was Suede I suppose, but they were never going to be our pals were they?

Probably not, but it had kind of foretold the Blur v Oasis thing.

It had. It’s a fucking playground, I told you.

Who hates you at the moment?

I think we’ve all grown up a bit and grown out of it.

Nick Churchill

Nick Churchill has written professionally for more than 25 years. Currently a busy Journalist undertaking a wealth of celebrity interviews and human interest features to writing speeches, generating web and media content and production scripts. His first book, Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Beatles & Bournemouth – got great reviews. He has also worked on projects for Duncan Bannatyne, Harry Hill, James Caan, Scott Mills and Peter Dickson, the voice of The X Factor. His obvious passion for words and natural genuine integrity is most refreshing.

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August 5, 2015 By : Category : Eyeplugs Features Front page Indie Interviews Tags:, , , , ,
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