As I approach the front door of the Showbiz house, I notice that it’s decorated in many unusual and pretty doorknobs that have been made from seashells in Bali. After a Japanese song is played in full for the doorbell, the door swings open to reveal a tall, slender, sharp-dressed man. ‘You’re early!’ he exclaims both friendly and brisk, before striding down the hall in such a Dahl-esqe Wonka manner that I half expect his house to be made of chocolate.
Grant Showbiz is one of the very few who, during the short, implosive career of The Smiths, witnessed managers, producers, crew and friends pass by, while he himself managed to sustain his tenure as a sound man that almost completely bookended The Smiths’ fertile five year period (from 5th gig onwards through to production of ‘Rank’). He is such an excitable and luminous person to talk to; the memories fizz out of him like as a freshly capped Coke that somebody shook up before they opened: ‘with The Smiths it was just me making what they did sound great! They didn’t need any musical direction; Joe (Moss) just said to me – ‘make Morrissey’s voice as loud as the rest of the band!’
He very generously shows me around his happy home, which is filled with delicious treats because, luckily for me, all of his personal memorabilia is down from the loft as it undergoes a conversion. There rare t-shirts, posters, singles, sound check tapes, postcards… every door opens to another room of treasure: the studio is piled up with records, what used to be his upstairs bedroom is full of rolled up posters, books, tapes, videos, bags and boxes of pictures… and when he goes looking for one thing he becomes excited to uncover another. Even his bathroom has framed gold discs and Frank Chickens posters. He has kept every jigsaw piece of his musical life for The Smiths, The Fall, Billy Bragg or Frank Chickens, as well as his own band – Moodswings - the five artists in whom he has invested his enduring loyalty. Seeing it all laid out like this (most of it Smiths) is giving me a peculiar floating sensation, because I know I’m seeing something special, precious items that ought to be in the V&A, encased in glass, ready for a future exhibition.
On his style of working: ‘You have to be receptive, dedicated and caring… I don’t know the names of things. I have made a real conscious effort not to try and learn anything technical, like the model numbers of compressors. I am probably unlike most sound engineers because most sound engineers know what they are doing. I just have my ears!’ On the sound of The Smiths: ‘The Smiths were looking for the ‘other’. I believe that they were looking for something that hadn’t been done before, business-wise and everything else’.
His favourite childhood toy is Action Man, he likes cheese n’ onion crisps and for a biscuit he’ll scoff a shortbread. When he’s not touring with Billy Bragg or producing The Fall (or standing on a chair) he gets very busy on his free nights, reading to his little son, Taro.
J: Happy birthday! Please say your full name.
G: Grant Showbiz.
J: Why did you change your surname?
G: I dropped out of Uni in 1976/77 and immediately got involved with the squat scene in London. I was working for a guy called Steve Hillage, a guitarist at Virgin Records. Through him I met a band called ‘Here and Now’, a bunch of real stoner hippies. I was eighteen and I knew nothing but even knowing so little I was still the most together guy out of all of us because I could put the equipment on stage and set it up. That was back in the day when there was a free festival scene in the UK and we’d have three days notice to play, so everyone would wait around for three days, no toilets, shops or places to sit. Eventually we’d play and that would be the event! Gradually we got into the music business and I got us a record deal. I was kind of the manager and the sound man. We did a big free tour of normal venues in 1977 and I had this attaché case on the bus. When the rest of the band saw it they started shouting: ‘You’re just showbiz! You’ve turned into a complete showbiz freak!’ They took the attaché case that had all the money and information about the gigs and threw it out the bus window as we were headed up the motorway and after that no one called me anything else.
J: Do you think that ‘Showbiz’ sums you up?
G: I do, yes. In that kind of way, I just thought, I am showbiz. As a teenager I loved to follow Bowie, Lou Reed, get the autographs, I’d try to get on stage… all of that I loved. Everyone had a punk name in 1977 and that was mine.
J: And with that… could you describe yourself in a sentence?
G: Yes. Loud, talkative, happy and lucky… very lucky to walk into the Smiths.
J: You seem to maintain very long relationships with bands.
G: I’m not a career guy, working with hundreds of bands. You could sum me up as The Smiths, The Fall, Billy Bragg and Frank Chickens, and my own band, The Moodswings. It was really nice to see Mark [E. Smith] yesterday because I’ve known him for thirty-five years. I’ve worked with Billy for nearly thirty years. I’m still friendly with Johnny [Marr] and we exchange emails occasionally. I find people that are talented and I become their friends because I love what they do, and I’m happy to work for them for as long as they like, sometimes for nothing. Billy is probably my closest male friend. We were just in Australia touring together. We played to the biggest audiences we’ve ever had. It was really odd because there are very few other bands or singers from our era who aren’t playing the oldies circuit for 300-400 seat clubs. We were playing to 3000 people on our biggest tour ever! This is weird when you’re in your fifties! [Laughs]
J: What are you doing with The Fall at the moment?
G: I just finished an album. Well, certainly yesterday’s conversation indicated that had happened. But I’ve already finished it three times [laughs]. Making a record with The Fall is unlike making a record with anyone else.
J: If you could work with anyone outside of these four acts, who would it be?
G: I’d like to work with Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst. He’s really brilliant, I think he’s a genius. He started releasing cassettes when he was eleven or twelve. He had a number one in America a few years ago in 2004. He has gone from being quite political to being quite mystical. I just love his lyrics.
J: Would you like to work with Morrissey again?
G: I’d love to work with Morrissey but I don’t think it’s on the cards. You never know. I imagine that one day we’ll get to the ‘Mott The Hoople moment’ when we’re seventy-three and think, actually, I’m not going to be able to do this in a year’s time… so let’s just get together and do The Smiths one last time.
J: Who should be at that reunion?
G: Everybody really, Mike Joyce is the first guy I got to know in the Smiths. I used to sleep on his floor in Manchester. It may have just gone too far now… although who knows… age does funny things to people. I talk to people now that I thought I’d never speak to again.
J: You have an amazing record collection. Do you tend to listen to the same albums all the time?
G: I have about six thousand records. I’m always trying to find new stuff, not the stuff I’ve got. With my son being born I’ve started to realise that I have a lot of favourite records I don’t listen to anymore! So I’m going back to listen to records that I love, ones that I haven’t listened to for fifteen years.
[Grant puts a tape on. Live music of The Smiths plays].
J: Oh my, what tape is this?
G: This is one of The Smiths sound checks. I don’t know which one [Money Changes Everything is playing]. I recorded a backstage video too. I don’t know why it’s called ‘Reel Around The Fountain’, I never called it that. A lot of it was filmed on this:
J: You should make a DVD of ‘Reel Around The Fountain’.
G: The quality isn’t that good.
J: When you listen to these sound checks again, are you listening as a sound man or as one who enjoys music?
G: Both, I think. In the in beauty of things that you do there’s an awful moment when you finish a record or live gig and you can see all the holes and it drives you mad. All you hear is the mistakes and eventually you have to let go. Then five years later on another listen there’s this amazing thing that happens where you’re like ‘there’s something really wrong with this track… what is it?’ You can’t remember that terrible thing that caused you sleepless nights of worry and then you’re like, ‘oh this sounds great! I did a really good job!’ [laughs].
[Frankly Mr Shankly plays]
J: This sounds fantastic, even without Morrissey’s voice.
G: This is when they were learning the tracks, in soundchecks. I wonder what’s on every cassette I have. They’re all years old. There’s something totally different on the other side! When I turned it over and heard this I was like, ‘Grant, what are you like?’ [Laughs].
J: I notice that you have many collectables.
G: Yes! My downfall was the attic because I could just put stuff in there and forget about it. Since the loft conversion I haven’t got the attic space anymore so I’m just digging out and recovering/keeping stuff that’s great. I’ve probably got about fifty Smiths t-shirts, all the originals. I’ve got this Fred Perry style Irish Smiths tour t-shirt which says The Smiths in green with a shamrock. I’ve got about half a dozen of those.
J: How did you begin working with The Smiths?
G: I am blessed! Johnny and Andy were at a Here and Now gig when I was stood up at the mixing desk with my red green and gold cardigan that I used to wear, from M&S or somewhere. I was shouting at the band on stage, trying to organize a very late soundcheck, because that’s what I used to do.
J: What were you shouting? What sorts of things?
G: I would say: ‘That was rubbish! Stop playing’ or ‘Really, you’re supposed to be off now’ or ‘actually you should be starting…why are you still setting up the drum kit’ or the drummer would say: ‘can you put echo on the bass drum’ and I’d be like: ‘do you really mean that?’ You can talk through the monitors on stage from the mixing desk so that they can hear you but I always thought that was boring so I’d put my voice through the PA. I liked standing on a chair. I just wanted to be the lead singer, and I couldn’t sing. Then I wanted to be the lead guitarist but I couldn’t play guitar so I ended up as the roadie, then worked my way up to become the sound guy, and ended up doing a national tour of France with Planet Gong – who were Here and Now plus Daevid Allen - but I knew nothing.
J: You faked it with Here and Now? You must have had some, basic technical knowledge…
G: No. I didn’t have any technical knowledge at all. The first gig I ever did was a free gig in Hyde Park, September 1976, and it was the Steve Hillage band supporting Queen. Fifty thousand people came, or so they say. I was the guitar tech for Steve. I went out front to look at the mixing desk and I had been getting into the different sound of records since I was a preeteen. I knew that some records had more bass, and some other records didn’t have enough bass, and other records where you couldn’t hear the vocals, or some where the vocals were too loud. So I had some vague idea. Later on I’d be sitting around smoking spliffs and talking with my mates about records. Then Steve Hillage took me under his wing and taught me little tiny bits about stereos and soldiering irons and sh*t like that. I don’t know why then I went out and watched the Queen gig from the mixing desk. Their sound engineer was called Patrick Humphries, who, in his day was the go to guy for great sound, he did Pink Floyd and people like that. So he turned up, and there were all these kind of minions and they were saying things like: ‘we’ve got the two stereo compressors in place’. He was obviously a little bit drunk, and he sort of went: ‘I’ve got these [points to ears] it’ll be alright’. I was like [screams] oh God! Eureka! You can be drunk? And all you have to have is a pair of ears? I’VE GOT EARS! And that was it. And Queen sounded astonishing.
J: Is that the most important thing that a sound man can do?
G: I am probably unlike most producers and sound engineers… because most of them know what they are doing [laughs]. I have made a real conscious effort not to try and learn anything. I always wanted it to do with my ears, how it sounded, you know, and I’ve made some brilliant records and I’m a fantastic producer and sound engineer. But I don’t know the names of things or the model numbers!
[William it was really nothing comes on the sound check tape].
J: What has kept you making these brilliant records then?
J: Talent, ears…
G: Mainly luck. You’ve got to be talented and not a twat but luck is needed. This is what I tell the college students that I occasionally lecture. Sometimes you’re in a recording studio, and you just sit back and the genius falls out, but a lot of the time it’s trying to recognise a good sound and get people in the right space to create music. Being aware, accommodating and not missing that special moment. I remember when we [Billy Bragg] were doing ‘Mermaid Avenue’ with Wilco and we missed one take. Jeff Tweedy (from Wilco) was on my arse like a monkey! And he was right. We were still recording on tape in that session and from then on those reel to reels recorded every single thing we played in the studio.
Once I was producing in Iceland with The Fall and there’s a song called Hip Priest which is on ‘Silence of the Lambs’ soundtrack and I had to turn round to the engineer and say: ‘This is a song! This isn’t them tuning up!’ Cos it starts with a lot of fiddling going on. I was like: ‘Start the f**king tape! This is a f**king song you know’ and that was a take and it was a brilliant take, and who’s to say if we hadn’t have got it then, we may never have got it. So it’s being receptive, dedicated, caring. That’s why I can’t work with a lot of people because I have to f**king care. I can’t check in like it’s my job. I never wanted a job. The last straight job I did was a postman between school and Uni. I only did that to get the money to go to Jamaica to find Bob Marley. That didn’t really work out, but I got back alive!
J: So you were doing a Here and Now show, and Johnny and Andy turned up to that. How did you get talking?
G: Manchester was a big area for us. They came to a gig at the Poly, we were a mess, turned up late, did the soundcheck in front of the audience. I think Johnny and Andy appreciated the deviation from the norm and the theatrical aspect of it as much as anything else. Someone doing my job should have been unnoticed and dressed in double denim, instead there’s this strange maniac conducting this mad panto. Often punk bands would support us, it was free to get in, and people smoked dope in the venue.
This was how it worked - we’d phone up a Uni and say: ‘Look, you’ve got to entertain your students. We’ve got a PA and a band. We’ll come and entertain and you don’t have to pay us a penny’ and they were like: ‘yeah, great!’ Then we’d go and do the gig, we were the security, and if we turned up late or if we’d found some magic mushrooms the day before, setting up the PA might take days. Sometimes We’d turn up & the kid who’d booked us hadn’t got the proper permission and they’d say ‘you just can’t play now’ so we would set up outside in the grounds of a college. It was wild & outlawish. There was no one looking after us and we were a f**king mess at times. We didn’t get paid. We’d pass a hat round at the end of the show and go: ‘If you think it’s a good idea that we get to the next gig, give us some money.’ God knows what happened in that gig, but I’m sure they were both there.
J: So you didn’t get talking to Andy and Johnny that night?
G: No. What happened was my name came up at Rough Trade about five years later because through Here and Now I had done the sound for The Fall. More great luck! Mark E Smith said ‘come and produce our second album’. Imagine! It was Mark who dragged me from the squats/free festival scene into the actual music business. So I had a no.1 album in the independent charts in 1979. Obviously Morrissey knew about The Fall, and The Fall were on Rough Trade. Rough Trade said that The Fall can be difficult at times but Grant is organized and can make them sound great, and he’s also on time, and vaguely seems sane. I guess Scott Piering or Geoff Travis said come along and see what you think of this band [The Smiths] and if you want to work with them. Johnny and Andy knew me through Here and Now, so there were three people in the band who knew who I was. I was a little bit of an outsider then, but capable of doing the business.
J: How were you an outsider?
G: I was just odd and weird. Living in squats and buses, outside the law and living on little or no money. The Smiths were looking for the ‘other’. I believe that they were looking for something that hadn’t been done before, business-wise and everything else. The Smiths eventually broke Rough Trade, they made it in a funny sort of way by being bigger than any band on the label… then smashed them up. Rough Trade’s ambitions got so huge on top of a crazy tottering foundation of making it up as they went along, that they crashed and burned at the end of the day.
J: You met The Smiths at ULU?
G: Yeah, it was backstage.
J: How were they? Did you get along?
G: Well yes, they were amazing. They were like The Beatles and The Stones in that they had a complete identity, language, style… they had Andrew Berry’s haircuts who worked out of the Hacienda, very important about the hair. They had their top collars done up, beads, jackets… and they looked unlike anything I had ever seen before. They used words like ‘handsome’ and ‘charming’. Words that I hadn’t heard… sort of Dickensian.
J: How polite and elegant.
G: Yeah! Wonderful, wonderful! You see it in all the great bands, they’re like a gang that has a language that you don’t understand that you just really want to understand cos you’ve never heard it before. They looked great, their lovely manager was there too, Joe Moss, who seemed more like a father or older brother, and I was used to managers being quite sharky… and he was just f**king brilliant! And they really liked me! [laughs]. They were supporting The Sisters of Mercy for f**k sake.
J: I love the Sisters of Mercy.
G: He’s still going isn’t he?
J: Andrew Eldritch? Yes but he has lost his hair now. And hair was so important, with the hat and the dry ice.
G: Ah! The dreaded hair. Such a nightmare when you base your career on hair. I saw Cheap Trick at SXSW in Austin, Texas and back in the day, the singer was a gorgeous androgynous boy in his time with the hair. When I saw him at SXSW he had the hat on, and then three quarters of the way through the set he took the hat off and was like: ‘Yeah! I’ve gone bald! Dig it!’ He didn’t actually say that, he just took the hat off for three songs then put it on again [laughs].
[Vicar in a Tutu plays on the sound check tape]
G: They did a clever thing which is they started off vaguely in the dark margins… there was a New York Dolls thing about them at first… I actually saw the Dolls in 1974. Johnny Thunder was playing his guitar with a rag doll at the Rainbow Rooms in Biba’s - a huge outrageous department store in Kensington, everything was in black and gold, even the baked beans. Someone in drag stood on a table and fired a starting pistol into the air to start the show. Then at the end of the gig I went back to the hotel and hung out with them!
J: [Laughs] How did you do that?
G: I still don’t know! I don’t know to this day! I was with my best mate, we had hooked onto Bowie at his Hunky Dory stage and we couldn’t get close to him, damn we tried… somehow we lucked out with the Dolls.
J: This was just through enthusiasm and fandom?
G: Yeah! Just literally, like ‘hey that’s happening down there, let’s go’. So often we’d sign into school for the afternoon then bunk off down the motorway. I’ve got a phial of glitter that Bowie gave me somewhere. I remember very clearly that Lou Reed came over with a band called ‘The Tots’ and I had the album and I put it through the window and said ‘can I have your autograph?’ and Lou Reed autographed it and gave it back to me. I said ‘can I have The Tots autograph?’ and he said: ‘Yeah, sure’ and he picked it up and wrote: ‘The Tots’ and gave it back to me! [Laughs] One of the great moments of my life!
So anyway, we were young, and I went to a gig where Bowie had a mime teacher. Bowie did mime every night on stage. He had a mime troop and the Rainbow Theatre and we were filmed. I would pay huge amount of money to find that footage. My fifteen year-old self babbling about Bowie. We had older girlfriends who dressed us in drag. We must have looked so gorgeous! [Laughs]. One of the gigs in Aylesbury was filmed for Bowie and ended up on YouTube and the guy I went to the gig with is there holding a poster! And I was stood next to him and I’m not there! Where am I?! I’m like: ‘There’s you! Where’s me?’ And he comes back three or four times! And every time I expect to see myself and I’m never there! [Laughs].
J: When you were working with The Smiths from virtually the beginning to the end, did you see many changes within the band over time?
G: It was so incremental. When you are inside it you don’t notice changes. We didn’t think it was going to end and it all seemed so natural. We were all together in the van all the time, it seemed.
J: Who was in the van?
G: Joe Moss drove the van. Oli, the swiss roadie, me… and the band. That was it. That’s how it began. It was an open van, with mattresses in the back. Morrissey would sit up front most of the time and the rest of us would be in the back of the van rolling up. I noticed that producers were always in the studio, this is why I wanted to be a live soundman as well. The producers would never get to travel to all these countries, see all these amazing gigs, meet all these girls and drink all that wine.
J: What was the banter in the van?
G: Morrissey was very funny. Everyone was very cool.
J: Did people call you Grant or Showbiz?
J: Do people still call you Showbiz now?
G: Yeah! Billy [Bragg] still calls me Showbiz [laughs]. They don’t call me ‘Grant’!
J: Tell me about this picture.
G: That’s me and Billy with Al Green. We went down to Al Green’s church. He had been on a two week fast which seemed to consist of wine and water. He’s the greatest singer in the world. He comes to the UK over every two years and I still see him.
The last time I saw him I went with my friend May, who is a very statuesque blond woman. We sat right at the front of the Hammersmith Odeon. Al Green came over, handed her a rose and said: ‘that’s the sort of woman I like!’ [Laughs].
J: In terms of gigs, what would you say was the Smiths turning point to success?
G: I’d say Norwich was the turning point where the gigs started getting bigger. I was like ‘hang on there’s quite a few people here and they’re all going bonkers and trying to get backstage’. And I had loads of friends! Where did all these friends come from?! Coach loads were coming in with the gladioli t-shirt on and that’s when I knew that the true faith started. We got some bigger gigs and Oli started to get pissed off because he had loads to do – one guy roadieing for loads of people. They were like: ‘Oli where’s this where’s that’ and he was like ‘f**k this I’m going to get stoned’. He drifted away, we got a bigger van with seats in it, we got John Featherstone [lighting engineer] who was very important, he started to make it look really interesting. Johnny got a guitar tech, so gradually everything got bigger. Then we had a PA company, we had Oz McCormick who babysat me. If I know anything technical it comes from Oz. He was the guy that made sure everything was going well when I was going mad standing on the desk having a great time.
J: What’s your favourite gig?
G: The Salford gig was great. I can’t remember being pissed off with any gig. We gave good gig! Barrowlands was incredible. When the Glaswegian crowd liked you they made the same noise that was made at other gigs when they hated you! Those weird gigs in the Shetland Islands were mad too.
J: At the Barrowlands you were on a coach.
G: Yes, by this time we had a coach. Then there was Andy’s drug problem. In Ireland I started to think; this is a bit odd, why doesn’t somebody do something. Andy isn’t playing the right riffs; oh wait, he’s alright again now. But he’s your mate! What can you do? I just sort of thought it would sort itself out.
As soon as Joe left there was no management. I remember I went to Japan with Kazuko when The Smiths were starting an American tour. I phoned the agency and said ‘how am I going to get from Japan to New York?’ and they said ‘we haven’t got a ticket’ and I was like: this is really weird! So I just phoned up Johnny from Tokyo and told him. Half an hour later Johnny had me a ticket. That’s the sort of thing he had to do. Every moment that the record company tried to say ‘we don’t want Grant involved anymore’, love their little hearts, Johnny and Morrissey stepped in.
J: What did you say to the Smiths when they were on stage? What musical direction did you give them?
G: Well, a singer is never going to be too loud, that’s the first thing. But I don’t like loud volume. Or cymbals. Or treble-y brightness. When operating a PA you’ve got the speakers on either side of the stage and then you’ve got the volume that’s coming off the stage from the guitarist’s amplifiers. I’ve played with guitarists that have been so loud I don’t have them in the PA, which can be difficult because then they can’t be controlled. The guitarist is zooming away and you need to fit everything else around that volume. There was no such problem with Johnny or Andy, it was just me making what they did sound great. They didn’t need any musical direction. Joe [Moss] just said to me ‘make Morrissey’s voice as loud as the rest of the band.’ I still go to so many gigs where you cannot hear the singer. With killer singers and incredible lyrics! Really it’s so easy to make a band sound great… why don’t people do it?
J: When you look back at your younger self, is there anything you would have done differently?
G: No. I think everything worked out in a really nice way.
J: Are you still in touch with Johnny?
G: Yes. Johnny is one of those genuine nice people. I saw him last year at a Stooges gig with Angie and they were holding hands like teenagers in love. A couple of years back we met in LA and he had ‘45RPM” logo from early Tamla Motown single tattooed on his arm and I had been wanting to get a tattoo myself for a long time – I do copy Johnny so much [laughs]. Thirteen is my lucky number, there are thirteen letters in my name and I was born on the thirteenth so I saw Johnny’s tattoo and almost within a day I had gone to the same tattoo parlour, The Shamrock Social Club on Sunset Boulevard, where Johnny has all his tattoos done.
J: Thirteen is quite a superstitious number.
G: Some people get very worried about it. When I went to India they were very concerned about it.
J: Did you bump into Morrissey while you were in Oz with Billy?
G: He was just about to come out. Following us around, funnily enough.
J: When did you last see Morrissey?
G: Probably about eight or nine years ago. He came to a Billy Bragg gig. We had a nice chat. I wish I had more time to stay and talk with him. I miss his viewpoint on the world.
J: What did you do after The Smiths broke up?
G: A lot of people were washed up on the shore by the huge tidal wave of The Smiths. Not because it was a horrible thing, it wasn’t The Stones in 1972, but , The Smiths were so amazing that people didn’t recover from it because they could never achieve anything like it again. Again - I was so lucky - I just carried on. I’d met Billy during The Smiths so I just smoothed straight into producing a gold record with him and started touring, so my life was still exciting.
J: You produced ‘Rank’. Was this a natural evolution of your work at their live gigs?
G: Yes. In a funny way it was a bone that they threw me. I just knew how Rank should sound. I would have loved to make a studio album with The Smiths as well. If you ask me what’s my one regret, that’s it. But I think Rank defines what they sounded like live. I think of it as one of the great live albums with no additional overdubs.
J: Do you consider it your personal career high?
G: ONE OF THEM, The Mermaid Avenue stuff I did was incredible, with Woody Guthrie’s lyrics being given new music by Billy and Wilco. I also loved making ‘Moodfood’ with my own band Moodswings.
We sold half a million records in the US and I was finally on stage. At thirty-five years old to be performing with people like Chrissie Hynde and have a record deal and do videos, I felt so lucky!
The Smiths is one of those great things that I did. My life has been blessed. I have this delightful incredible son, and I never thought I’d have a son, or that he’d be this amazing. I’ve just made an album with The Fall, which is the best album they’ve done in years. Now I’m about to do two months in America with Billy! What’s not to like..?! [Laughs]. Know what I mean?
J: I wish I knew what you mean! Can I ask you just some quick fire questions now?
G: I don’t do quick answers, do I? Let me show you a poster! [runs off]
Tulane University, New Orleans
[I follow Mr Showbiz into what used to be a bedroom but is now covered floor to ceiling in memorabilia from the loft. He shows me a selection of t-shirts, some of them unworn. He searches for a box of diaries, one particular diary that Morrissey gave him…but can’t find it. He finds the Klaus Nomi intro music. He has the cassettes of animal noises for Meat Is Murder. He has the mix tapes that Morrissey made for him to play before the shows. He tells me that during the work for the loft conversion the builders took away two skiploads full of stuff. ‘I am closer to getting organised’ he laughs].
G: Morrissey lovingly gave me an animal liberation type diary. It says ‘to Grant’ and all that sort of stuff on the front. In my way I made lists in it everyday then crossed them out. So I have a diary of things that are crossed out. I have no idea what I did on those days!
J: Did you meet Kazuko when Frank Chickens supported The Smiths?
G: No I had a club called the idiot ballroom and she turned up to do a gig as Frank Chickens and it was love at first sight.
Kazuko and Taro
J: Do you go to Morrissey shows now?
G: I saw him at SXSW and I just thought he was great, absolutely great. ‘Your Arsenal’ for me is the great Morrissey album. I love that.
J: Are you a vegetarian?
G: Yes, but I eat fish. Very early on when Meat Is Murder came out the whole band became vegetarian and the catering became vegetarian but there was secret burger eating going on amongst the crew.
J: What’s your favourite drink?
G: It used to be pernod and lemonade [laughs] but these days it’s a wheat beer. I’m not drinking at the moment though.
J: What is that you’re drinking now?
G: It’s orange and raspberry juice with fizzy water. Would you like some? It looks horrible doesn’t it?
J: I thought it was like a protein shake or something like that.
G: [Adopts deeper ‘manly’ voice] Ah yeah! It’s algae! I don’t eat solid food! [Laughs]
J: What’s your favourite pizza topping?
G: Marinara, with seafood.
J: Crisp flavour?
G: Cheese n’ onion
J: Thing to do on a Friday night?
G: Read to my son before he goes to bed.
J: TV show?
G: Peep Show
J: Smiths song
G: Changes every day… I like A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours.
J: Morrissey song?
G: Can’t think of one at the moment.
G: Don’t usually have breakfast
J: Childhood toy?
G: Action Man
J: If Morrissey walked in here right now and said: ‘Alright Showbiz?’ what would you say?
G: How lovely to see you! How’s life treating you?
J: If Morrissey came to your house, what snacks would you put out for him?
G: Some Inspiral Raw Kale Chips.
J: Are you coming back to Twitter?
G: I may do, yes. My son takes up all of my time at the moment. I’m even considering stopping touring… but we’ll see.
J: Could you write a note to my mum?
G: Yeah! Does everyone write a note to your mum?
J: Can I take a picture of us together?
G: Sure. My head looks bigger than yours. Can you go in front of me a bit?
Follow Grant Showbiz on Twitter @zombat or friend him on Facebook here
I would have loved to spend more time with the effervescent Mr Showbiz, in particular to talk about the ‘Reel’ video he made and his production of those six Smiths b-sides… but I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. After all - it was his birthday - not mine.
You can tweet me @marriedtothemoz or email firstname.lastname@example.org
© All content is copyright Julie Hamill 2013. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without consent from Julie Hamill is strictly prohibited.
She’s standing in a corner, pulling a face saying nothing, and I’m already laughing.
The chairs are arranged in a rectangle shape around a table, set up like a party, and we - the audience - are her guests. One of the chairs, marked ‘Morrissey’ is empty, and teenage Amy Lamé is hoping that Morrissey will sit there – after all, he has been invited – but will he come?
Amy Lamé‘s one-woman-play Unhappy Birthday is set to hit the Camden People’s Theatre again this year - from 14 May to 1 June - after a sell-out run in 2012. This play is a must see for the Morrissey maniac - it is unique, fresh, unconventional, irreverent, hilarious and totally unforgettable, because it’s a reflection of us. Amy’s tale of late teen pop crush/mad fandom holds up a mirror to any boy or girl who has ever blue-tacked posters of their icon onto wood chip.
The ‘party’ is completely interactive, with games of pass the parcel, dancing, singing, Moz-e-oke, cake and more unusual pursuits such as endless quiffing and hair spraying, where tears ran down my face as she emptied the giant can.
Do not panic if plucked from the party guests to participate (Amy will always look more mental). She lays the path to look back and laugh at what some of us once were - nutty teens who poured all fibre of feeling into a Smash Hits pull out poster. By revealing herself, she connects with this teen truth; whether the face be Micky Dolenz, Simon Le Bon or Steven Le Moz. Unhappy Birthday is funny because it’s true.
The soundtrack to the party is all Smiths and Morrissey and the party guests are fully encouraged to sing along, flail arms and pop poppers.
It’s impossible not to get caught up Amy’s crazy happy energy, brave confessions and unhinged behaviour. After all, you did it too (and heaven knows you were miserable then).
Amy will be hosting an after party on May 17th in the bar, exclusively for the #Mozarmy. (I’ll be there with my head on it, please come and join me).
Unhappy Birthday runs from 14th May to 1st June at the Camden People’s Theatre and tickets can be purchased from Camden People’s Theatre. Watch a short youtube vox pop clip from last years party guests here:
For more reviews visit www.unhappybirthday.net
Twitter: @Amylamé/ @scotteescottee (Director) #Unhappybirthday Always mention you’re #Mozarmy for extra party poppers!
Amy and Julie after Unhappy Birthday in Camden 2012
© All content is copyright Julie Hamill 2013. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without consent from Julie Hamill is strictly prohibited.
1991 cover shot by Gino Sprio
Monday 8th April sees the re-release of ‘Kill Uncle’, Morrissey’s much maligned and ‘difficult’ second studio album. With a lukewarm reception and a peak at number eight in the UK charts, it was considered a poor follow up to the roaringly successful number one album ‘Viva Hate’.
‘Kill Uncle’ was the black sheep of the album shelf that dared to explore; but the commercially unfamiliar ‘Morrissey territory’ dubbed it it barely playable on the radio and thus it struggled to make itself heard or be considered as a ‘Morrissey classic’.
Twenty-two years on, the importance of ‘Kill Uncle’ cannot be under-estimated. The fans rate it as one of the most treasured and heavily played Morrissey albums of all time; containing some of Morrissey’s most experimental and enduring songs to date, and the album that sets the metamorphic scene for the further blossoming of Morrissey’s brilliance.
‘Kill Uncle’ was Morrissey’s giant step away from all things Smiths. His first album ‘Viva Hate’ was co-written and produced by Smiths-producer Stephen Street. The romantic, melancholic beautiful debut - containing the hits Suedehead and Everyday is like Sunday – was immediately revered and adored by the fans, a warmly received solo album six months after the split, to rightfully lean on the shoulder of ‘Strangeways’ and stand proud as the Morrissey album for Smiths fans.
On ‘Bona Drag’ Morrissey continued to work with Stephen Street, as well as meet with some new writers, amongst them Kevin Armstrong [Piccadilly Palare] and Clive Langer - who birthed the musically epic November Spawned A Monster - only made better by Tim Broad’s Death Valley lust-fueled video of Morrissey at his most provocative. But Bona Drag was still a compilation of singles and b-sides, some of which were played on by ex-Smiths Andy Rourke, Mike Joyce and Craig Gannon, such as the pop-infused (and also newly re-released) Last of the Famous International Playboys and eminently danceable Interesting Drug.
The revolution came when Morrissey cut all apron ties with The Smiths and moved on, to find the ‘perfect’ tapes of Mark Nevin and the Madness piano-production of Clive Langer, to make the fresh and steely ‘Kill Uncle’. It was here that Morrissey made his first solo album; the Morrissey album for Morrissey fans; stripped back, laid bare and open to musical experimentation. In Our Frank his trademark lyrics are as brilliantly funny as ever: ‘sick all over/your frankly vulgar red pullover’ and in Driving Your Girlfriend Home they are deeply lovelorn: ‘how did I end up/so deeply involved in/the very existence/I planned on avoiding. The high and almost woozy musical listening effect of Girlfriend is at times so real and wonderfully queasy that it could be the listener swaying as they ride along in the back seat.
The music darts and jerks in Sparks-influenced ‘Mute Witness’ starting out with dramatic digs then building to a fast crescendo, the timing and pounding of the Paresi drums deliberate start/stop most notably brilliant. Then at the other end of the KU spectrum is the melodic confessional-box ballad ‘There’s a place in hell for me and my friends’ breezing gently and very lightly, a good gust of wind possibly floating it into the clouds (the new substituted live version has a weightier and more substantial arrangement).
This is an irreverent and quirky album, and the listening experience has to be a committed and involved one, an investment in a track-by-track discovery of who is Morrissey?
Morrissey’s work with Nevin served as a springboard into rockabilly territory; with Kill Uncle’s bouncy Sing Your Life leading to later, greater moments such as The Loop and Pregnant for the Last Time. It was Nevin that also wrote the I know it’s gonna happen someday - which features on his subsequent album ‘Your Arsenal’ - a gut wrenching ballad-of-hope which was later covered by Bowie, one of Morrissey’s (and Nevin’s) musical heroes.
Arguably, ‘Kill Uncle’ really was Morrissey’s first solo album, seeing an embryonic and moldable Morrissey - solo for the first time; writing lyrics and performing to music that reflected his vulnerability, bravery and insecurity of that period. It is not - and never will be - the Morrissey album for Smiths purists, but it is the album that marks Morrissey’s committed and true step forward into fresh and gentle solo territory; the album that transformed him into the formidable, indestructible and unique force of musical history that he is today.
2013 ‘apt’ cover shot by Kevin Cummins: ‘come, take my hand, this is me’
Kill Uncle is released on Monday 8th April with two extra tracks, ‘Pashernate Love’ and Herman’s Hermits cover ‘East West’. Digitally remastered and sounding beautiful, it also includes a newly performed live-in-the-studio version of ‘There’s a place in hell for me and my friends.’
You can buy it here.
Tweet me: @marriedtothemoz
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© All content is copyright Julie Hamill 2013. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without consent from Julie Hamill is strictly prohibited.
Frankie Boyle greets me with a smile and hug in the foyer of One Aldwych hotel. He holds the door open as we enter the lift. When we reach the room for the interview he politely asks me what I’d like to drink, orders coffee with full fat milk - ‘let’s go crazy!’ – then cozies himself in an armchair.
There are no pointy digs or distasteful remarks, it’s just Frankie, speaking politely, plainly, and being very funny - occasionally twisting and tugging at his formidable beard – which now resembles a burning bush. His voice is quiet - just a notch above a whisper, and I’m a little discombobulated by this gentle kindness because the Daily Rags would have me believe he’s some kind of evil word-wizard with a tongue that could slice bacon; but in person he’s really more of a ginger Dumbledore.
On-stage, he’s not for everybody. To watch one of Frankie’s gigs is to see freedom of speech at its most extreme. He rebels against convention and societal ‘rules’ of acceptability. He’s crude, rude, he swears, and he goes to the most forbidden places to find his material. Here is a man that dares to talk about the British ‘untouchables’ in a way that the media, and some of the polarized public believe is in scandalously bad taste. No-one has escaped the wrath of Frankie - politicians, celebrities, sportsmen, pedophiles, the catholic church and Royals in particular - have all fueled his furnace: ‘I’m just trying to be funny!’ he shrugs, laughing like a siren.
But millions of people in the UK who watch the shows of black-hearted Frankie find it to be a hilarious and freeing experience. They love his brutally honest comedy and the damning way in which it’s delivered. They attend his sold out gigs, watch his DVDs and read his bestsellers, welcoming his refreshing stance as one who makes jokes about typically forbidden territory that’s normally only sniggered about in the pub behind a cupped hand.
Frankie will joke about whatever or whomever he likes because he is primarily driven by an advocacy of free speech – that it should be truly free without constraint or judgment and not determined by mainstream media: ‘It can’t just be at nuclear crisis point, or at climatic crisis point where you’re allowed to say anything! People need to throw off the shackles of conformity and what’s acceptable because they are living on a dying rock.’
He explains that his jokes are a proposition, a way to provoke thought: ‘If I tell a joke, it’s not my position on something, it’s just a way of discussing serious things, and saying ‘what about this, what about that’ under camouflage.’ In this controversial regard, I can’t help but compare him to Morrissey. Both are language provocateurs that use shock tactics to slam home a point; whether it’s the abuse of animals - or in Frankie’s case - the hypocrisy of the British press.
I met him the day before his last gig ever – a gig for Comic Relief about addiction hosted by Russell Brand - where Frankie’s final five minutes of damnation were due to be delivered: ‘I’m going to implode - really badly.’
We talked about comedy, family, his teenage years, and the bands he was into: ‘I was most into The Smiths at around fifteen, sixteen, especially Hatful of Hollow. They were on an arc ahead of their fans.’
His favourite biscuit is the dainty pink wafer and he plans to spend his retirement ‘fighting off the zombie hoards from the apocalypse in three years time… or possibly this summer if it’s hot enough’.
J: Please say your full name.
F: I’m Frankie Boyle. I’m actually Francis Martin Boyle.
J: Does your mum call you Francis?
F: No, my mum calls me Proinsias. It’s my name in Irish.
J: Oh I’ll have to get the spelling of that.
F: (laughs) Well I had better get it as well.
J: Does she still call you Proinsias? [The Irish form of Francis, originating from St Francis of Assisi. Means “little French man”].
F: No. She calls me Frankie now. Everybody calls me Frankie. My granddad was Frank, so I’m Frankie. My parents are from Donegal. They came over when they were teenagers. It was a migration in those days.
J: Can you describe yourself in a sentence?
F: No. (Laughs) I’m such a complex, many-faceted jewel. Maybe that’s the sentence. I’m an enigma wrapped in a riddle lowered from a window onto a horse, ridden by a child.
J: What brings you to London?
F: I’m doing a gig at Wembley tomorrow for charity, which is about addiction, but it turned out to be also part of Comic Relief. So I am going to implode… really badly.
J: Are you going to slag off Comic Relief?
F: Yeah. That’s the first thing I’m going to do [laughs].
J: You studied to become a teacher?
F: Yeah. I did English at Brighton then I went up to Edinburgh to do teacher training. I was working in mental health. I worked in an asylum for a year and then community care homes with schizophrenics. I wanted to work with people with learning disabilities, but in mental health you can’t be promoted without a mental health nursing qualification before going into social work or teaching. So that was the plan, until I started doing comedy.
J: So if you hadn’t ended up in comedy you could have been in mental health?
F: Something like that. I applied to Learning Disability Associations and also The School for the Blind.
J: Do you look back at that time and pluck material from it?
F: I did a joke on the first DVD. It was pretty funny. But there’s patient confidentiality and privacy around that job.
J: How did you end up in comedy?
F: I started as a schoolboy at sixteen. Doing open spots here and there, like a party piece almost. On average, it went quite well. Then when I was twenty-three and doing my teacher training I started doing stand up and open spots in comedy clubs and I was compering within a couple of months for one of the nights.
J: Do you like being the compere?
F: No, but it’s something you can do to get a lot of stage time. When you’re starting out the average spot might be five minutes but as a compere you can maybe get forty minutes.
J: Are most of your pals comedians? I sometimes see you on Twitter chatting to other Scottish comedians - Limmy, Greg, Kevin…
F: No not really, it’s weird, they are friends but I know them much more on Twitter than I would socially. It’s sort of like that now isn’t it? Life has got a bit like that.
J: When you were growing up, who were the comedians that you enjoyed?
F: Billy Connolly was one. I just got an album again that I love called: ‘Bing Hitler live at the Tron’ by Craig Ferguson. I liked the English 1950s/60s thing too – Round the Horne, The Goon Show, Monty Python, P. G. Wodehouse and Oscar Wilde. That was before I knew of The Smiths at all.
J: My mum and dad used to listen to comedy albums.
F: There were no grooves on those!
J: There’s no other comedian like you – how would you describe your brand of comedy?
F: I hate the word ‘brand’ though. I think it’s a big part of what’s wrong with the world. There are many things I think are wrong with the world [laughs]. Everybody thinks about himself or herself as something to market. Even Stewart Lee saying ‘oh Michael McIntyre is like ‘this’ and John Bishop is like ‘that’, it’s kind of like a weird way of saying ‘they’re not like me’ and trying to market himself. People in their forties are probably the first generation who grew up with an ‘advertised’ life. I remember looking through those little catalogues and obsessing over objects which probably my parents never had. Before I was on Twitter - some young student at a gig said to me: ‘oh you should be on Twitter, it’s a great way to market yourself’. I said to him: ‘what do you do?’ and he said: ‘nothing. I’m a student’. So he’s thinking of himself as an idea. I think that’s dangerous to think as yourself as a brand, what is a brand?
J: In this instance, it’s just a way of distinguishing your comedy from other types of comedy.
F: Sure. I just think it’s a way of selling things without a salesman.
J: On the spectrum of all comedians… you’re, well, you’re way off that spectrum into shocking/what shouldn’t be said territory… aren’t you?
F: Yes but not on a spectrum of people. There are things that people would hear down the pub that wouldn’t shock. What society has said is that there’s a public order of what can be said, and there’s a private order of what can be said. So there’s this idea in Britain that ‘oh you can’t say that!’ You wouldn’t do a joke about a disabled celebrity child in public, right? But the reason that that idea is tolerated is because what can be said in public isn’t controlled by the public. This is what’s allowed: you can write a letter of complaint because of something that has been said, or you can tweet to your two hundred followers or whatever, but ultimately what’s in the public domain is decided by Rupert Murdoch and by people who have a lot of power.
J: Are you trying to represent the private ‘stuff’ that’s not allowed to be said?
F: No, I’m just trying to be funny! [Laughs]. But what I’m also trying to do is say that you’ve got to be allowed to talk about anything, as a culture, intellectually or in any way. It can’t just be at nuclear crisis point, or at climatic crisis point where you’re allowed to say anything! People need to throw off the shackles of conformity and what’s acceptable because they are living on a dying rock. That’s the first place that I come from.
J: A few days ago Morrissey said that the rhino is now more or less extinct because of Beyoncé’s handbags. I think that there’s a similar approach to your comedy, to say something controversial in order to provoke thought. Do you agree?
F: Yes. But do people look for that or do they not? One of the reasons they don’t is to do with class. If I was an Oxbridge comedian from a certain set, people would say ‘oh I can see what he’s doing there’, but I’m not, I’m a Scot, an ‘ethnic’, and you don’t get that, and it’s an advantage not to have it because you can surprise people more. Morrissey is such a great quote machine, and the papers have so much space to fill, people like him are used in that way.
J: Is anyone safe from your stand up routines? Is Morrissey safe?
F: He’s certainly safe from my routines, yeah. I’d pass. I don’t know enough about him now.
J: You’ve got quite a lot in common. You both hate the monarchy, some politicians… you might end up quite good pals.
J: Aside from Morrissey, is there anyone you wouldn’t talk about?
F: Not really. I just want to be honest. I think people fail to understand the idea that jokes are a proposition, they are not a positioning. If I tell a joke, it’s not my position on something, it’s just a way of discussing serious things, and saying ‘what about this, what about that’ under camouflage really. Everything is a proposition, and under that you can talk about anything. There isn’t a line really.
I don’t think you’re ever really funny unless there’s something else in there. I never really find anything funny if it’s just ‘ba-boom’.
J: What does your mum think about your jokes?
F: Almost nothing. Completely disengaged.
J: She never phones you up and says ‘Frankie, you went a bit too far there’?
F: The only time she has ever really talked to me about it was when I was a club comic and Michael Barrymore was on telly with ‘My Kind of People’. She went: ‘Is this kinda…. what you do?’ and I went: ‘Yeah. It’s pretty similar!’ [Laughs]
J: Do her friends must come up to her and say things?
F: Yeah. I think that does her head in. But also you must remember I was an alcoholic until I was twenty-six, so this is brilliant for them [laughs]. I’m sure they thought I’d be dead at thirty. Everything is gravy for them now.
J: Well done for not having a drink during all this time.
F: oh… how long is it… since 1999. It’s good.
J: Do you worry about your kids seeing you on TV or picking up one of your books?
F: Not really. They literally couldn’t care less.
J: They don’t know that their daddy is on the telly?
F: They do a wee bit, but they just don’t care. They’re not interested. It’s a different class of life; a middle class life for kids. It’s so stimulated. They go to horse riding, karate, it’s just like, I’m the the guy that takes them places (laughs).
J: Do you play tricks on them?
F: No. They’re too delicate. I jumped out at my son the other night in the dark. He started to cry.
J: Do you think that a Scottish accent allows you to get away with more mischief in comedy?
F: No, less. It’s the way Britain works, quite a patrician system. Forexample, a lot of the things that Jimmy Carr says are a lot less acceptable than what I say, with a lot less point behind them, so he gets less flack probably because he’s posh. There’s a whole idea of comedy about the cultural voice and versions of it. Chris Morris says stupid things in the patrician voice, but that’s been about since The Goons. It’s kind of important, accent. You can imagine what the character in the sitcom with my accent is going to be. It’s not going to be the boss [laughs].
J: He might be - the scary boss!
J: In Tramadol Nights the Scottish children swear in the sketch for ‘The Magic Wee Hing’ do you think if the kids had different accents it might have been different?
F: Well ‘The Magic wee hing’ had a posh accent. I wrote that and did the voice. The puppet terrified my boy. I had showed him a wee bit of the video, the posh voice doing ‘Hello children!’ and he had been down the park and seen it sitting on a tree stump talking. Then he saw it in the house and he was like: ‘get that thing out ma house!’ so I took it down and left it at the bottom of the stairs to put out. It was the first thing he encountered in the morning and he had a fit. So the Magic Wee Hing is in the shed.
J: You were brought up a catholic, do you believe in God?
F: No, not really. Not in the sense that people mean ‘God’. I think that the universe might be conscious; so the closest I’ve ever got to that is in Hinduism, Vedanta. I guess that’s even a scientific point of view [laughs].
J: Do you experience catholic guilt?
J: So do you look back at stuff you’ve done on stage and think ‘I shouldn’t have said that’?
F: No. I’m not guilty about my work, no, not at all. If you’re going to feel guilty about something then don’t say it. I’ve definitely had that in the past, for jokes and thought, oh, that’s not really on, so I’ve not done them. There’s very few I’ve regretted because I think so carefully about everything before I do it.
J: How do you prepare?
F: I write all the time. Then I start to pull it together and do short shows. I start to do open spots, maybe twenty or thirty of those, then I try to do longer spots, like gigs.
J: Is that when you just ‘pop up’ in places?
F: Well I do the Stand but I’ll also do a theatre or a mixed bill when I’m not announced. Or charity gigs. If you’re looking for a tough gig – i.e. does this work outside of the fans or the people that come to see you – the charity gigs are good for that. I’m just really checking if the words work. All in all I may do 100+ gigs before I start doing a tour.
J: Do you have a group of hardcore fans that wait for you at the stage door?
F: They’d have trouble catching me! [Laughs]. Not really. If you advertise yourself you’ll get a bunch of people that are into you. If you’re going to tour it you’re looking for jokes that will work in Hull on a Wednesday night. I don’t really see the faces, I’m in 2000-seaters or something like that.
J: What were you into as a teenager?
F: Joy Division, The Smiths… I was really into Lord Of the Rings. I was quite sort of bookish. Nowadays if you’re into something it brings you together with a lot of people, so you can’t really be something like a Smiths fan anymore, because that hooks you into lots of others. It could even hook you into sex! This big social group! When I was a kid it was quite isolating being a Smiths fan. You were one of four people in the whole school… and then that thing became really important. I was into the Smiths, Talking Heads, The Fall and Joy Division. I was really f*****g depressing! It was also the eighties, and I hated the eighties, despite never knowing anything else. I hated Stock Aitken and Waterman, the whole style of the thing. Everything about it appalled me. I hated The News of The World, Thatcher, everything about the eighties was appalling.
J: What was life like at school?
F: It was pretty non-descript really. I was quite an outsider but I had a really big pal, so I didn’t really get bullied. My buddy was six foot five. I was also quite verbally aggressive, even as a little kid [laughs]. I listen to a lot of comedy and read a lot of funny things, I had a good sense of humour. In our school people were bullied into a nervous breakdown. It was brutal, like a zoo. There were two, maybe three guys that I look back on now and think: ‘they were gay guys’. I think I was in my thirties when I realised that wee guy that everybody picked on and spat on… he was an outsider because he was a non self-confident gay guy, and those guys were absolutely brutalised. People used get covered in spittle in the classes. I got taken off their wall of fame. If you ever want to know if you’ve made it, get taken down off your school’s wall of fame [laughs].
J: So if somebody came up to you in the playground and tried to be your pal, you’d just use a put down to get rid of them?
F: Yeah. It’s more of a protective thing. It’s hard to explain to people now. School isn’t like that now. I was at a school with two thousand kids, some of them educated in an annex. There was a portacabin… a playing field. It was like a prison yard. Some of the bullies like, died, got killed. This wee guy – his dad chopped his head off. I remember his dad, he was a drunk and somebody inked his son’s jumper. He went up to the kid at the train station with his butcher knife and cut this kid’s jumper open. Years later he chopped his kid’s head off.
J: He chopped his own kid’s head off?
F: Aye. Cut the one wee guy’s jumper in two that inked his jumper, then ended up - cut his own kid’s head off.
J: That’s awful.
F: There are loads of people who are dead from that time. Loads more who are dead from heroin addiction, alcoholism. I’m only forty!
J: Why did the school take you off their wall of fame?
F: I did some jokes about one of the teachers in one of my books.
J: Oh… I won’t ask. How did you get into The Smiths?
F: My brother’s pal. I remember him playing it on cassette.
J: Is that your older brother?
F: Yeah. He’s forty-three now. I remember I liked it, but I wouldn’t say that [laughs]. Then I saw Heaven knows I’m miserable now on Top of the Pops and sort of got into it then. I was most into The Smiths at around fifteen, sixteen, especially ‘Hatful of Hollow’. I didn’t get ‘The Smiths’ album until the end, so I had missed out on that, but The Queen Is Dead, Louder Than Bombs – I taped that at the library. I loved them all. The Smiths were on an arc ahead of their fans. I remember listening to The Queen Is Dead at the time, and thinking ‘well that’s not quite what I hoped it would be’ and then I came back to them because they were all a development each time. It’s almost like all art is the wrong way round. People start out doing real crisp things to prove themselves, like the Beatles, in Hamburg and James Joyce’s Dubliners. It’s only towards the end that they start to experiment. We should have a culture that supports that! James Joyce’s first book should have been Finnegan’s Wake! [Laughs]
J: What was it about The Smiths that appealed to you?
F: For me it was a time I was alone in my life, a time of isolation. I just imagined that The Smiths were about this poetry of aloneness… but it’s not at all! I listen to it now and it’s about disappointment and being taken advantage of! It’s very funny. But I translated it into what it meant for my virgin self at that time. It’s isolation when you’re surrounded by people: how alone you could be when in a relationship, how alone you could be in a social situation. I think I also see the beauty of stuff like that. [sings I don’t owe you anything] ‘Drunk on stolen wine…’ that’s a really beautiful song but it’s things he can’t say to that girl or boy, it’s his internal monologue. Maybe he knows that they’re going to go out with someone else [laughs].
J: Did you ever see The Smiths live?
F: No. I don’t like live music. I prefer the records. The things I like best live are the things that sound most like the records. That’s probably no way to appreciate music, but then I’ve not no musical ability. I’m really into rap now. I like word-pictures and how it all works together. A comedian called Phil Kay got me into rap. He’s into improvisation. He’s a genius. Half the time it doesn’t go well because he literally improvises about what’s in the room, every time. He got me thinking of it in terms of how words work together.
J: Have you seen any band live?
F: Yeah, The Fall, they were great. About seven/eight years ago at The Renfrew Ferry. Loads of heckling, people throwing stuff. They just played through it really loudly. At the same time you could see that Mark E Smith was able to keep writing great stuff because of adversity. It’s hard to survive being rich and loved. With Mark E Smith there is this completely unappreciated side that keeps him in that bubble where he can keep writing.
J: He has just finished another album. Supposed to be their best album ever.
F: If you’d said that about any other band I wouldn’t believe you, but the fact that it’s the Fall that might well be true because he’s still ‘out there’. I think you need to be culturally isolated to write well. It comes from the shamanic, on the edge of the village, no place in society.
J: I’m sure I’ve seen a picture of you with quiff. Did you used to try to look like Morrissey?
F: Definitely. That’s what I looked like anyway. I had a load of Smiths t-shirts.
J: Were you more into Morrissey or Johnny?
F: I was into Morrissey. I like words.
J: Was there a Smiths song that you liked in particular?
F: Too many to mention but probably Suffer Little Children was a real… well horrible… but at the same time great piece of art. For some guys in their early twenties to write something like that! Everything off Hatful of Hollow resonates too, particularly How soon is now.
Photograph: Rex Features/SIPA
J: I thought you were going to say Still Ill because of the iron bridge.
F: Ha! I wasn’t even in that ranking at that age. That seemed like an exotic dream me to going under an iron bridge to kiss a girl! [laughs].
J: When did you meet your first girlfriend?
F: At Uni. I think it was that way at that time in Glasgow. If you wanted to be around girls you had to go to parties and be in the socialization of f*****g morons! You had to expose yourself to risk. I did do that, by getting drunk. You couldn’t really be as drunk at home, but by being away you could solve your social phobias by being three drinks in when you arrive somewhere. Drinking did a lot for me! I could never go to AA but drinking definitely helped for a few years.
J: Do you ever get the urge to drink again?
J: What was your drink of choice?
F: Beer. Just beer. It’s an interesting way to get hooked on alcohol because you can’t really keep going unless you’re going to be thirty stones. Spirits are the big killer. Connoisseur-ship, in general. I lived in a flat with another guy who was a dry alcoholic and he had been into fine wines and whiskies and stuff like that. I just thought, this is never going to last because you’re addicted to luxury chocolates and I’m addicted to… chocolate tools! [laughs]
J: [laughs] Chocolate tools! We used to get them off the van for the dog!
F: For the dog? Ha ha! I love that cheap crappy chocolate!
J: The van was great. The chocolate tools were always in a box at the front.
F: Single fags! Only 10p!
J: Consulate and you won’t get caught!
J: What other bands were you into?
F: I was into Talking Heads too. I think that the fact that things have enough gaps in the meaning for you to make your own meaning appealed to me. ‘Stop Making Sense’ was like a huge thing, because nothing could ever mean to me what they had created. We actually had Talking Heads on in the house all the time.
J: Do you follow Morrissey’s solo work?
F: I followed Viva Hate, Bona Drag and Kill Uncle. I started to check out after that. There’s the odd flourish but I think it’s impossible to do what he did again. There’s that thing in comedy, where people think audiences want Bill Hicks. But they don’t really, they don’t have the capacity to sit and listen to Bill Hicks. You wonder how much it would work now. Not only can anyone else be Bill Hicks but even Bill Hicks can’t be Bill Hicks again. If he was about now, he wouldn’t be doing Bill Hicks, he’d be doing something else, more relevant. Morrissey can’t be eighties Morrissey again.
J: Why not? Because he needs eighties popular culture to rebel against?
F: Well, that’s a point, but I think that belittles what it was. It’s just hard to survive success. It’s all about being in a bubble, not being integrated, being on your own, listening to it on headphones, behind the sofa, in your room on vinyl. It’s not that long ago that people listened to full albums but people don’t do that anymore. We had this on Tramadol Nights, sketches that were such a big fight to get on, like four minutes long. They were like: ‘people don’t watch sketches at four minutes long’ and we were like: ‘they will!’ The sketch that got the most complaints was actually about the length of time. They f*****g hated it. It lasted three minutes fifty. I did an album recently with Glenn Wool. I deliberately didn’t put it on Sound Cloud or even iTunes because I don’t want people to listen to it for three minutes then give up. I want folk to download it then go listen to it on a long car journey or on their earphones, or sit in the bath, where you’ve got them and they can get into it.
J: I downloaded it yesterday and have it saved for a long journey. I did listen to a bit, it sounds like you two had a great laugh making it.
F: We’re not stoned, honest [laughs]. I’d rather five hundred or a thousand people listened to it than it got podcast status. I’m a bit like that with The Smiths as well. You have to take the time to listen to it.
J: Who do you think should play Morrissey in a film of his life?
F: That’s a good question. Michael Fassbender [laughs]. I don’t think you could do a film of his life.
Photograph Gerhard Kassner/Berlinale
J: Really? I think it would be great.
F: A film of his real life would be good. I’m sure that his real life would be interesting! I heard that Morrissey was about at the time of the Moors Murderers and he was scared.
J: He was born in 1959. The kids were only a few years older than him. I would imagine being quite scared too, if I lived there at that time.
F: There’s a good book about it: ‘One of Your own’ [Carol Ann Lee]. It’s like ‘In Cold Blood’. Brilliant. All about their past before they met. And it goes along, and you have a lot of sympathy for Hindley, and then the murders start and you just lose it all, and then see it from both points again. You do a flip a few times in the book. It’s quite an interesting story when you read her book. But it’s sad. Psychopathic. I mean, Ian Brady had a motorbike, and he used to disappear for days at a time, and you think, what the f*** was he doing then? There’s a mad Genesis P-Orridge song about it Ian Brady Very Friendly. Its basically testimony read out in a weird voice over some throbbing guitar. It’s horrible.
J: If Morrissey was to walk in here right now and say ‘alright Frankie?’ what would you say?
F: [Laughs] I’d leave you to him. I can’t imagine he’d be anything other than appalled at me. I can’t imagine we’d have anything in common. I’ve always found it weird that people want to meet that they admire. There’s something a bit Catcher In the Rye about that. I’ve never felt that urge. Someone I really love – Gene Wolfe – an American Tolkien, brilliant, a real genius. Anyway I met someone who said ‘I know Gene Wolfe, come over to Chicago and you can meet him’. I just think, that would be totally intimidating. Their work is what it means to you.
J: So your interpretation of their work might change if you meet them?F: Totally. I know Grant Morrison, best comic book writer ever. I asked him maybe one thing, about his comics, once. That was enough for me [laughs]. Mark Millar said to me: ‘How do you choose comics? Are you going for a new comic?’ and I said: ‘If I know the writer, I’ll buy the comic. If the comic doesn’t have the writer on the front, it must be s*** so I won’t buy it. If they’ve not bothered to credit the writer on the front page, f*** it.’ He said: ‘that’s because most people don’t buy it for the writer, they buy it for the artist!’
J: Have you met Billy Connolly?
F: No, not at all. I’d quite like to meet him. I’d imagine he’d be socially a lot easier than Morrissey!
J: So what would you say to Morrissey if he walked in here now?
F: I’d say ‘would you like a cup of tea?’ and I’d order some tea.
J: What if he was coming to your house. What snacks would you put out?
F: Vegetarian. Maybe some veggie sushi. I went vegetarian for a year, on the back of Morrissey, but I couldn’t handle it. I can’t cook. My mate that I toured with, he just ate egg sandwiches. In our lifestyle you have to live off Service Stations and it’s a nightmare. But even if you’re at home you have to cook, and I can’t.
J: You twist your beard a lot.
F: I want to shave it off at the minute, that’s why. I do that [twist it] when I’m thinking. I don’t read enough, but it means that I think more. There’s a great book by Alan Watts, ‘The Book’. It’s all about how to think about death and life, and he starts off by going: ‘If you want to think about what life is about, it’s not about reading’ [laughs]. It struck me when I read it, I just thought, that’s a great point, there were whole civilisations that existed before reading came along. I’ve found that by concentrating more on thinking as a general concept, the downside is that I arrive at things and then read Nietzsche had thought of something five times better and managed to boil it down to a sentence before me.
J: You’re quite well read and philosophical aren’t you?
F: I think I’m philosophical but I’m not well read.
J: While we’re on Nietzsche, what’s your favourite biscuit?
F: Those pink wafers. My great aunt used to have tins of those and nobody else liked them except me.
J: Did you eat them a wafer layer at a time?
J: As you get older you’re not allowed to eat biscuits that way. Society has determined that an adult with a Jammie Dodger can’t eat the top bit then the jam then the bottom bit, you have to eat it ‘normally’.
F: Depends if anybody’s watching or not. Imagine sitting watching The Wire aged forty eating your biscuits funny [laughs].
J: What’s your favourite album?
F: It’s probably this collection of Bob Dylan’s greatest hits that I have on CD. I thought the CD was great because you had to carry them so you could listen to three in a row on a train. Great if you’re an artist. I’d listen to this Bob Dylan album and it would skip in so many places because I’d had it for so long. One of the places it skipped in was in the middle of the crescendo of Rolling Stone. I’m writing a new book so I might actually put some new theories in about songs l like.
J: Have you had any strongly worded letters: ‘Dear Mr Boyle … I was appalled…’
F: I did a routine about Downs Syndrome that got a lot of flack. The point was that having Downs Syndrome isn’t a big deal, it’s probably worse if you have much older parents, than if you have Downs. In a weird way, it was supposed to be an empowering routine. But this woman at a show got upset about it, partly because she wasn’t listening, she and her husband were checking their phones and I’m like ‘what are you doing?’. I guess they were just not listening. The routine was about older parents buying their Down Syndrome kids out of date presents, and they thought I was saying Down Syndrome kids all have out of date clothes or something. And a whole load other people who didn’t hear that routine have to relate to it by its status: ‘I’ve heard that you said a bad thing’ which is sort of like ‘I’ve heard that this record isn’t that good, but I’ve not listened to it’. That’s how we relate to the world; through a web of status. It’s increasingly ill informed because there’s so much information now and so little time to process it.
J: Do you think that people need to experience something like that in order to make a joke or write about it?
F: Have you heard it? [Downs syndrome joke]
J: I’ve read about it but I haven’t heard it. I am a prime example of what you just said.
F: You’ve read a quote from the blog of a heckler. It’s a joke about having older parents and them being nightmare.
J: So everything that’s written in the papers is wrong?
F: Not just about this [laughs] about much more important stuff than this… weapons of mass destruction…
J: I know, but I think it’s interesting because you’re in the paper a lot for what you say and people speculate…
F: Well… that’s just the starting point. Don’t believe what you read in the papers. Everything is partial.
J: You’re retiring after tomorrow’s gig. How are you planning on spending your days?
F: Fighting off the zombie hoards from the apocalypse in three years time… or possibly this summer if it’s hot enough.
J: What’s your favourite crisp flavour?
F: Cheese and onion probably, but I can’t eat crisps anymore, past that point in age. I’m too old for crisps.
J: Favourite drink?
J: TV programme?
F: I don’t watch TV anymore.
J: Pizza topping?
J: Thing your mum says?
F: I don’t think we can print any of that [laughs].
J: Childhood toy?
F: A bear. He was called ‘wee bear’.
J: Comic book?
F: The Filth by Grant Morrison. I just bought some comics today. I bought Flex Mentallo by Grant Morrison.
J: Smiths song?
F: The whole of Strangeways.
J: Thing to do on a Friday night?
F: Go to bed.
J: Would you host our Mozarmy quiz one week? [@mozarmyquiz]
F: Fine! Yeah. No problem.
J: Could you write a note to my mum?
F: Yes, sure.
J: I’m off to buy your DVD.
F: Oh I wouldn’t do that now [laughs].
Download Frankie’s album with Glenn Wool here. This week Frankie retired from stand up for good, but you can still tweet him @frankieboyle.
Alternatively you can block him. It’s a free country.
Tweet me @marriedtothemoz
Email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Platinum producer of pop Clive Langer is best known for his work with Madness, Dexy’s, Elvis Costello and many other artists for his ability to effortlessly churn out top ten hits with his partner Alan Winstanley. He has achieved success over four decades with hits such as My Girl, Cardiac Arrest, Our House, Lovestruck, November Spawned A Monster, Absolute Beginners and Come on Eileen. He is the writer of the epic Shipbuilding; a highly poignant ballad surrounding the social and political contradiction of the Falklands war written for Robert Wyatt with lyrics by Elvis Costello. He is a founding member of the cult band Deaf School since 1978 (still touring today) and he has a sharp sense of style and detail, wearing shiny oxblood wingtips, a vintage style polka-dot scarf, Buddy Holly glasses, a neatly arranged Brylcream quiff and the cleanest most well kept fingernails I have ever seen.
Clive became Morrissey’s producer during the time of the ‘Bona Drag’ Ouija Board sessions. After co-writing November Spawned A Monster, he went on to take the production reigns of Morrissey’s most experimental and irreverent album: ‘Kill Uncle’ [co-written with Mark Nevin] injecting it with the more ‘quirky’ sound of Steve Nieve’s pianos.
At the time of release ‘Kill Uncle’ took a pummelling from the press. Through the years, fans have had to rush to the defence of sublime, melodic and lyrical gems such as Driving Your Girlfriend Home, King Leer and Our Frank; feeling that the album had been unfairly dismissed and never given proper credit during a time of ‘Madchester’ change. After Clive’s prior successes, the reception of ‘this album was a bruise to his pride: ‘Umm, it hurt… All the papers wrote similar things… I thought, ‘people just don’t get it’.
I met him in Foyle’s bookshop café on Charing Cross Road, followed by a quick trip to the Pillars of Hercules around the corner for a necessary Suggs-induced hair of the dog (where I tried very hard to steal Clive’s scarf). He spoke in brief sentences with a relaxed tone as he reflected on his gentle and kind friendship with Morrissey. He described his fondness for him during the Hook End days when they lived, worked and ate together: ‘we’d stay up into the early hours, walking and talking… I would look at him and say ‘are you all right? Do you want to go home now?’
On the chance to write together again: ‘ I always felt like I had unfinished business with Morrissey… I just wanted to write more with him. I would have loved to develop a song writing partnership with him’.
He gets his hair cut in Camden: ‘six quid’. His favourite Madness song is Our House, crisp flavour is Salt n Shake and his wingtips are from Trickers.
J: Please say your full name.
C: Say my full name? Even the bits that other people don’t know about?
J: Yes please!
C: Clive William Langer, after my grandfather who was Bill Baptist. So I was Clive William.
J: William It was really nothing…
C: I wasn’t a Smiths fan. I was busy! I mean I liked the daffodils and everything but musically, melodically I didn’t get a lot of it, except How soon is now which had amazing guitar. But I appreciated them. I liked them. I was in the studio 6/7 days a week at that time. One of the guys who first produced them, Troy Tate was in the studio with me when I was doing Teardrop Explodes. I knew Troy so I was quite interested in what he was doing. I was aware of The Smiths, but I didn’t get sucked into the phenomena. I always told Morrissey that really. I didn’t pretend to be anything I wasn’t. I was so busy with Madness and we were just having hit after hit so I didn’t really listen too much… but I was aware of it. I wouldn’t go home and play other bands records unless I wanted to steal something!
J: You’re not on Twitter anymore Clive [@SirCliffHanger]. Why’s that?
C: I went on Facebook for forty-eight hours and then shut it down. It was enough. All these people contacted me that I didn’t really want to talk to. I don’t mind saying hello to people but I don’t want a long dialogue with people from school…
J: With Twitter you can talk to people you don’t know.
C: I don’t mind strangers, I don’t mind having a conversation with people. With Deaf School I have had a lot of emails from people and I enjoyed talking to them.
J: I had been told that you don’t do interviews, and you don’t have an email.
C: I do have an email! I just don’t like chatting much. Maybe I’m too hungover. [Laughs] I’m hungover today because of last night. We were celebrating! Madness just picked up an award from Poland yesterday. They played there in the eighties and gave the money they earned to Solidarity (they couldn’t spend it anywhere anyway because they couldn’t export the money). So they all got these medals.
J: Was it a heavy night?
C: Wine. Brandy. Vodka… we [Suggs and I] are both used to drinking. We first met when he was seventeen. We’ve been drinking ever since. It’s a quick way to get to know people I suppose.
J: It has been a life-long collaboration for you and Suggs.
C: Very much a life-long friendship. Especially since he’s married to Bette Bright who is the girl singer in Deaf School, so I knew her since 1974 and I’ve known Suggs since 1978.
Bette Bright/Deaf School
J: You went from playing in Deaf School to producing Madness.
C: I was suddenly put on a rollercoaster. After Deaf School, I had my own band - Clive and the Boxes - and we toured with Madness. The first album I ever produced was ‘One Step Beyond…’ I was just a bloke in a band that had made a few albums and knew a bit. I kind of knew the process because I worked with Alan Winstanley who has the engineer expertise and is a producer as well… it meant that we could just make these records. When ‘One Step Beyond’ came out. I remember listening to it the day after thinking ‘this is a load of rubbish!’ Then suddenly it was a hit, and all the singles were hits. It was a stepping-stone. Then I did a Bette Bright album; Teardrop Explodes… record companies wanted me. I then went on to work with Elvis Costello and Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
J: What was Kevin Rowland like to work with?
C: Kevin wanted to work with us because he was a big Deaf School fan. He used to come and see us in Birmingham. In those days he was very strict. It was hard to get close to him, but I’m closer to him now. He worked his band like an army. They did all the moves that they do live, in rehearsal and in the studio. Everything was really choreographed. It was so different from Madness, who were flexible. Kevin’s albums were kind of almost done. I’ve always felt guilty [about being credited as producer] on Come On Eileen as Kevin did so much. I enjoyed doing the Dexy’s album but it was a different experience than what I was used to.
J: Do you enjoy working with bands that have lots of members?
C: I do yes, because it means that the arrangements can be more complex, and if someone wants to put a bit of brass on their records, or a bit of strings, then they can. With Dexy’s we used brass and strings together. That was kind of a bit of a breakthrough for their sound I suppose. To me that was quite normal working with Madness.
J: Do you have a favourite Madness track or is it a bit like asking who’s your favourite child?
C: I just feel pretty proud of Our House when I hear that. Does that make it my favourite? Maybe. I remember Our House was out in America - around the same time as Dexy’s - climbing the charts and I was very proud of it because I had done a lot to shape it.
J: Any others?
C: My Girl was my original favourite track.
Madness are a singles band. Their 21st single got to number twenty-one and they’re still selling. I went to the Palace when they were on the roof, which was just incredible! They are playing over ten thousand seaters everywhere now, including the O2, it’s the biggest tour they’ve ever done.
J: The new Madness album is getting great reviews.
C: It was a bit too close for me to their last one. I had spent a couple of years doing the one before and I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to go in again.
J: Lovestruck is another, later classic Madness pop song with unique, quirky lyrics.
C: Yeah, that’s Lee (Thompson).
J: He is a fantastic songwriter. That’s a great era for Madness as well.
C: Yeah. Lovestruck was like a second coming for Madness, during the mid nineties.
J: Were there ever plans to put lyrics to One Step Beyond or one of my favourites: The Return of the Los Palmas 7? [Barson/Bedford/Woodgate]
C: No. With every album we were asked to do an instrumental. It’s just part of Madness, starting with One Step Beyond. For Return of the Los Palmas 7 Mike Barson had a book of sixties hits - and I think - if I remember correctly - he reversed a Cathy Kirby melody.
J: Do you think that Madness get the recognition they deserve in terms of awards?
C: It will all happen now because this year has been so big. They are seen as an English treasure now. Playing all these festivals, getting through to the young kids. Everyone just sees them as an evergreen now, as opposed to old Madness. They’ll get their lifetime achievement very soon.
‘Receiving a gold disc for Madness greatest hits once again!’
[LtoR TOP: Holly at USM, Lee ‘Kix’ Thompson, Suggs, Steve at USM, Mike ‘Barzo’ Barson
LtoR BOTTOM: Clive, Woody, Chrissy Boy, Chas Smash]
J: Whom are you working with now?
C: My son is in a band called ‘Man Like Me’ and they’ve been supporting Madness for the last few weeks. I’ve been playing with them, I play guitar on one of their songs. I’m also writing stuff on my own at the moment with Deaf School. I produced three tracks for Madness this year and also worked with a guy called Eugene McGuinness, I finished his album last year. But there’s not much work for me these days.
J: Why’s that?
C: Well to get me and Alan into the studio is quite an expensive experience because we don’t work computers really. We just didn’t see the end. Kids can get music for nothing now, whereas I didn’t see the end of the CD, or the album. But people don’t need to buy a record now, so I don’t get the royalties. Our careers kind of ended because everyone’s got a laptop at home to record stuff. At home I So I help my son out and we do bits and pieces.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DG6JaOBBytk - London Town
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Gm9rxNxyDU - In the kitchen at parties
Clive’s son Johnny on the right: ‘The one that takes his shirt off’.
J: Describe your partnership Alan Winstanley.
C: He’s a really good engineer, and I’m more from the arranging/songwriting side. I’d just leave him to do a lot of the sound work.
J: When Langer/Winstanley produced in the eighties, the competition was Pete Waterman and Trevor Horn. Did you pay much attention to their stuff?
C: Trevor Horn was our main competitor when we were doing really well. I think he was making Two Tribes in one room and we were doing ‘Goodbye Cruel World’ in the other. We had finished a whole album and Trevor was still working on the drums for the single. But his records were amazing and I used to enjoy listening to them.
I didn’t like Pete’s stuff, but I liked him because he was always a supporter of ours in the press. He seemed like a nice enough guy. I just remember once Trevor Horn won an award and we didn’t, and Pete wrote a half page letter to Music Week as to why we should have won it. I always liked him for that.
J: When you look back at your plethora of songwriting and hits, what do you see as your finest moment?
C: Shipbuilding with Robert Wyatt.
It wasn’t paid for, it wasn’t a record company job, it was just something I wanted to do. And I dreamt that this guy would sing it. So Elvis wrote the lyrics because I couldn’t come up with anything. I said I want this for Robert Wyatt, and Elvis wrote it for Robert Wyatt, and that’s why the words are the way they are. I didn’t know that they were going to be as poignant as they were, but that became no.1 in the independent charts and when I heard it away from the studio I just couldn’t believe it had happened. I was influenced by Strange Fruit from the ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’ album, and they ended up adding Shipbuilding to the later pressings of that album. So I was influenced by this album and then my track was on this album! That was great, it was no music business bollocks, just something from me.
J: Do you have any regrets?
C: Not regrets, but there are certain things I shouldn’t have taken on. Not really good enough. I wasn’t good enough. It was tempting though, for the money, and I never wanted to do it for the money but we were spending, on studios, on our lifestyle…
J: Were you leading an indulgent lifestyle then?
C: No, I was more indulgent later, only because, well I like eating out, and I used to be happy if I could eat out and get a taxi and I thought, that’s amazing… kind of all I wanted really. Then I had a son, and a house, so we had a few luxuries but I never felt really indulgent, but I never saved money. I liked to pay for bands to eat, I like to buy them dinner, I thought that was a nice thing to do.
J: Any wild nights that you remember?
C: Last night (laughs).
J: What time did you get to bed?
C: Not too late, probably one or something. I’ve had a few days of really late nights. We had the 02, then my wife had a party at her work, she has a gardening company and they’re all young kids… so I’ve been indulgent recently [Laughs].
J: What do you think is the most important thing that a producer can do?
C: I think make the band feel comfortable, really. Make them enjoy their record.
J: So with Morrissey…
C: We might have to go to the pub in a minute…
J: … the pub?
C: Yeah. Let’s go to the pub. We can start again with Morrissey.
J: So you started with Morrissey when you picked up from Stephen Street on Ouija Board?
C: Yeah. I don’t know whether he wanted to go to Hook End, or EMI wanted us to work with him there. We set up and started working. I knew he was quite sensitive and so I said, we don’t have to do this, we’ve been asked to work together. Let’s go have a drink, so we went and had a pint of Guinness, me and him, and sort of agreed that we wouldn’t carry on, and that was all fine. And then when we got back the band were kind of running through Yes I am Blind, which sounded really good, so we kind of looked at each other and said well, let’s see this through. And that was it. I think they sounded great, those two tracks.
J: So a little strange at first…
C: It felt awkward, and then we went for a little walk, and then it wasn’t awkward. I think I normally do that with people if we’re half way through an album and people are losing their confidence, or whatever, kind of talk to them, but I wasn’t thinking I was going to sort the problem out, I was just thinking that I would have a nice day with him. It worked out, and when we got back things were working musically, so that was that.
J: Do you listen to ‘Kill Uncle’ now?
C: Occasionally. I mean that came after November Spawned a Monster. We had established a relationship. He was changing from Kevin [Armstrong] to Mark [Nevin]. Kevin Armstrong was the best writer I’ve worked with in a way, so that was a bit difficult for me, because I relied on Kevin musically for different things.
Mark was a different kind of guitarist, he was more folky. I sort of saw the whole album as poems put to music, as opposed to trying to create the perfect pop song. I didn’t think too much about its commerciality, more about the music being right. They felt like vignettes rather than big pieces. It was quite an intense experience because we were all living together. But I really liked it. I think Andrew [Paresi] and myself were both really pleased with it. He was probably my closest ally at that time because he was there all the time and Mark was coming and going.
J: There was a notable shift from guitar to piano in this album.
C: I got Steve Nieve in and quirk it up a bit. But it was based on Mark Nevin’s guitar parts that he played really well. He probably would have been more inclined to do a Fairground Attraction kind of thing, and I wasn’t excited by that. Mark seemed to like everything we did, I never really argued with him. I just pushed it down the direction that I imagine the record should sound like.
J: Morrissey is a fan of Madness. Were you/he driving this album to have more piano sound?
C: Well sometimes I’d say, ‘well it sounds a bit like Madness’ and he’d say ‘good’. I knew he liked Sparks so I wrote the music for Mute Witness in that style. I was used to writing that kind of dink-dink-dink-dink-dink stuff for Deaf School.
J: Our Frank is very Madness.
C: Yeah, Our Frank is very Madness. Carl and Suggs were invited up to Hook End at that time, as well as people like Vic and Bob. I had to look after everyone [laughs].
J: Was Hook End kind of a party central then?
C: Yeah. [Laughs]. Well it was a fourteen-bedroom, sixteenth century manor house. Twenty-two acres, swimming pool, sauna. We had bought it from Dave Gilmour. It had the biggest control room in Europe. Later we sold it to Trevor Horn. It meant that we were secluded from the rest of the world, and had people running around making us too much food. So it was our own world. The weird bit of the week was going home for a Sunday, because you just felt like an alien from living in another world, with Andy Rourke and all the regulars. Sort of living in Morrissey’s domain, no meat or fish. I think one day a week you were allowed to eat shellfish or something like that.
J: Was working at Hook End a bit like living in Morrissey’s house?
C: Well it was our house, but when he was there he set some of the rules and boundaries… sometimes broken.
J: What were your favourite tracks off Kill Uncle?
C: I like Driving Your Girlfriend Home. I really like the way it goes from one side of the stereo to the other. It goes ‘turn left’ and the musical effect is that we swing around the corner with him. It was visual, musical input that made it more 3-D. I really like the whole song, the melody, the lyric.
J: I like the drums. The brushes.
C: The good thing about all these songs is that we just put them together. They weren’t a band. There were musicians around who were always there but if we didn’t’ like the drums we could take them off and put them on again. Andrew would hang around and say ‘I’ve had another idea for that song’ and we could do it. So that was really quite a rare thing to happen at that time, because well, normally when you record with a band, you’d record the drummer, he’d go home, then the guitarist… These days it’s easier because of computers.
J: How did you feel when ‘Kill Uncle’ was received less favourably by the press?
C: Umm, it hurt.
J: It must have been quite a shock for you because you were used to producing hits.
C: Yeah, it was. I knew it was a really good album. The late Tony Wilson didn’t help. Just when it came out he was key speaker at one of those new music things in America and he was part of this whole Madchester scene, and Morrissey had gone off and done this quite subtle album. He slated it, to the whole of the music industry, and just said how great the Happy Mondays were etc, and how sh*t Morrissey had become. All the papers wrote similar things. But I knew the album was really good. What hurt was that people didn’t get it. I was really pleased when I spoke to you, and you said it’s a really popular album with Morrissey fans. Well that’s what it’s supposed to be. I have seen it in the bargain basement a lot, but I’ve seen a lot of my records there [Laughs].
J: It is respected for being experimental, as well as beautiful and melodic.
C: Morrissey didn’t like things being worked on too much. He started to say that rough mixes should be the final mixes. After this we lost our control. He had other ideas and moved onto more rockabilly stuff.
J: Yes but don’t you think that he has moved on with every album? No two Morrissey phases are the same…
C: Yes… especially, I suppose, by using different producers, musicians, yeah, they’re all different.
J: He went on to work with Mick Ronson. Did you follow the later work?
C: Initially I did, I liked what they were doing. My head’s a bit more poppy than that, I wanted to get more pop music out of it that what he was doing. I always felt like I had unfinished business with Morrissey… I just wanted to write more with him. I would have loved to develop a song writing partnership with him.
J: Would you like to work with Morrissey again?
C: If he asked me. If he gave me my book back [laughs].
J: He borrowed a book from you?
C: Derek Taylor’s biography. He’s the Beatles press guy. He signed Deaf School to Warner Brothers. He had limited edition hand made books, photographs and everything, all history, copies of tickets of the Beatles at Shea Stadium, pictures of Deaf School, I’m in it and everything. All hand signed and numbered. I was given one by Rob Dickens, who was the head of Warners at that time. Then Derek died, so that was my book, it went.
[Fifty Years Adrift in an Open necked shirt, 1984, 2000 printed, collectors item now worth £2750.00 http://www.alibris.co.uk/booksearch?qwork=2303156]
J: If Morrissey was to walk in here right now and say ‘Alright Clive’ what would you say to him?
C: Where’s my book? [Laughs]. I’d probably give him a kiss. I saw him out of a car window about ten years ago in the Parkway. Waved to him. He waved back. I doubt if we’ve both changed that much. I spent a lot of time with him, we had a lot of adventures. We’d stay into the early hours, walking and talking. He wasn’t used to social situations, and I’m more sociable, if you like.
J: You were quite protective of a younger Morrissey?
C: Yeah. I would look at him and say ‘Are you alright? Do you want to go home now?’
J: That’s really sweet.
C: That’s how close we were. That’s why I was in his world. He’d do nice things like, buy my wife some make up or give her a present.
J: There was a great fondness there between you.
C: Yeah. I’d go to his door and knock on it and say ‘It’s Clive’. Sometimes he’d open it, sometimes he wouldn’t.
I just remembered, it was Christmas he wrote me a note that said ‘The only thing that’s really making me happy is November’. That was really nice. I’ve still got it somewhere. A special card saying thank you.
J: Speaking of your finest pop record…
C: November? Well we recorded it, and I listened to it, and thought it was really good. I thought, what about if we split it in the middle? When I wrote music for Morrissey, I didn’t know what was going to be the chorus or the verse. He knew I had an idea of what I thought, but he’d sing right over my chorus and put his chorus where you weren’t expecting it. I didn’t accept this with November. I was more strict then. I thought, if we go into this adventure in the middle, where someone is giving birth, the music is about giving birth. It took it to a different level. We had a guide vocal on it, pulled it apart, and then he spoke to Mary Margaret O’Hara, and that was amazing to get her.
J: It all works really well. Some nice bongos while she’s giving birth… She’s wailing but there’s still pop going… Keep dancing! Keep dancing! Brilliant.
C: Well I wrote it all on the piano. The guitar riff [sings: ‘dong-dong-donk-a-donk-a-donk-donk]. I was probably trying to do a Stones thing or something. Maybe a bit like The Last Time or We Love You but slightly different. I always liked writing songs were the riff kept going but the chords would change underneath.
J: Morrissey’s lyrics have been a source of great hilarity.
C: He’d normally come in and do two or three guide vocals for us so that we could understand how it was laid down, which would help me. We’d just burst out laughing. Every song would move you in one way or another. That’s where I became a fan. I was a late fan of Morrissey’s and The Smiths. I enjoy The Smiths a lot more now, than I did then. I wasn’t listening hard enough. I tend not to. Lyrics come to me later. I like the whole package of pop. I’m used to I get around by the Beach Boys.
J: Lyrically, not that great in comparison…
C:[Laughs] Yeah but great sound!
J: Although they did write one of the best pop songs ever in history.
C: Good Vibrations?
J: God Only Knows.
C: They wrote millions. Surf’s Up is another. Suggests the end of surf, it’s over, it’s amazing. Check out ‘Holland’ it’s a great album, some great songs on it.
J: I would imagine November is quite a difficult track to do live?
C: Yeah it is. When Morrissey was touring with the first rockabilly band he performed it in Madison Square Garden. I was like, this is an amazing moment for me. Incredible.
J: He did Ouija board at Hop Farm. It was beautiful.
C: Johnny Marr said he liked Ouija Board. I had dinner with him once. I said I’d worked with Morrissey and he said that he really liked that record. I remember walking into Warner Brothers and somebody stopping me and saying ‘didn’t you write November Spawned A Monster with Morrissey?’ When I said yes, he patted me on the back and shook my hand!
J: Can I take a couple of pictures of you? Do you want your scarf on?
C: Do you want my scarf on?
J: I want your scarf!
C: I’ve only just got it! It was Madness merchandise, a sample, the manager had a couple and he said ‘oh I’ve just been given these’ and so he gave me one about a week ago.
J: Can you get me one?
C: No. I think there were only two, sorry [Laughs].
J: If Morrissey was coming to your house, what snacks would you put out for him?
C: Beef Jerky [Laughs] Umm… I can’t remember if he likes Marmite. I’d probably put Twiglets out. He wasn’t a health freak. I might like to put out some nuts and things like that but he might want crisps.
J: What kind?
C: Plain crisps. I’d put plain crisps and Twiglets out.
J: And for dinner?
C: I’d make him a spinach and mushroom pie with mashed potatoes and some mashed up swede.
J: What is your favourite crisp flavour, Clive?
C: I don’t eat crisps. At school I used to get a packet of cheese and onion crisps and squash them up when we had double physics – my friend did the same – we’d see if we could make one packet last for eighty minutes [Laughs].
J: Tiny bit by tiny bit? Did this help you concentrate on the lesson?
C: No. It just helped me get through a double period of physics. I just didn’t understand physics past how a lightbulb worked. I wanted to, but I couldn’t.
J: Did you like school?
C: I was at a grammar school in north London. Julien Temple was one of my best friends. But by the time I got to exams, I got five o-levels, one of which was art, and I had given up. I just wanted to go to art college and form a band. I went to Canterbury Art college, and one of the tutors there was Ian Dury. Then I went to Liverpool Art College, because Lennon went there. Just a week ago I found out that Liverpool are awarding me a degree. Thirty years on…
C: Someone asked on my behalf and they didn’t tell me until it was agreed. Yeah it’s great. By the time I had finished college I had my first album. I had left a term early. The album cover went on to win Music Week cover of the year award. I didn’t design it but I lived with the guy that did. It was an amazing piece of art really.
C: But as far as crisps go… [Laughs] These days I’d go for something a bit more exotic. A posh plain. But not a Kettle chip, not one that breaks your teeth. Just a nicely made crisp. I like the blue ones. Remember those? You might be too young.
J: I remember them. Salt ‘n’ Shake? I’m not that young. They were so unhealthy. Tudor crisps were nice as well. Great flavours.
C: I don’t know them.
J: What’s your favourite TV show?
C: I like that Borgen. The Danish series, I thought that was really good.
J: What about soaps?
C: Well, Borgen is a kind of soap, my wife watches Eastenders and I have a little look now and again.
J: No Corrie?
J: Any favourite soap characters?
J: Favourite Smiths/Morrissey song?
C: How soon is now for the guitar, because I’m a guitarist. Driving my girlfriend home. I do gravitate towards that. Whereas November I have to be in a certain mood. Driving I can just put on and enjoy it.
J: Favourite pizza topping?
C: These are all very high carbohydrate foods you’re asking. If I was going to Pizza Express I’d get a salad Nicoise.
J: Good point. What would you eat for a typical dinner then?
C: A piece of grilled fish and some vegetables.
J: Favourite vegetable?
C: I was going to say tomato but that’s not a vegetable. I’m really happy with any green veg that’s fresh. I’m happy with broccoli but not too much. I like all vegetables really.
J: Do you eat meat?
C: Not much, but I do eat it. I don’t often order it. My wife is a vegetarian. But I cook it for my parents on a Sunday.
J: What’s your favourite drink?
C: A good red wine. A good Cotes du Rhone but at Christmas I’d go for something a bit more serious, like a Bordeaux.
J: I love Chianti Classico when it comes in the casket…
C: Then you put a candle in it when it’s finished?
C: As a kid we used to go to this restaurant that had those bottles with my parents, reminds me of that. I really like an Italian Tuscan wine called Brunello di Montalcino. I’ve been to the village in Tuscany a couple of times. There’s about twelve different estates. It’s a good wine for Christmas day.
J: What is your favourite movie?
C: West Side Story comes to mind, but Being John Malkovich… Taxi Driver… oh… Bladerunner? Too many to mention.
J: Did West Side Story get you into rockabilly?
C: I’m not a connoisseur of rockabilly. I like fifties rock no roll but I’m not a fanatic. I like rock n roll, blues. I love the sound of rockabilly records but I don’t go home and listen to it.
J: What do you consider to be the best pop song ever written?
C: Probably has to be Strawberry Fields Forever. It’s a ridiculous question because I’ve probably got twenty.
J: Well one from your top twenty.
C: Friday On my Mind… I might have had one too many now.
J: What’s your favourite childhood toy?
C: Skalextric. 1962/3. You put the track together with little clips and the car had two bits of stuff that collected dust underneath.
J: Did it come off the tracks?
C: Yeah… all the time…
J: Okay. Favourite band to see live?
C: Hendrix was pretty good. Family and Captain Beefheart. Exciting, exotic, full of energy. Going to see Family again in February.
J: Are you going to see Johnny Marr?
C: No. I don’t know that much about him, but I appreciate what he does. I often go and see bands that I’ve worked with.
J: Were you ever into the ‘synth’ sound of the eighties?
C: Well I was brought up with Terry Riley. He started electronic sequence music. He did an album called ‘Rainbow in Curved Air’. It verges on modern classical music… That’s what started it all off. Kraftwerk after that. I didn’t like eighties electronica much. Giorgio Moroder was really good though. He did that amazing dance record… I feel love with Donna Summer. I was in the same studio when Human League were doing their record and we were doing Come on Eileen at the same time. It kind of says quite a lot, cos our route was very classic and theirs more synthy.
J: I think you have a very strong idea about what you like, and what you definitely don’t like.
C: Yeah, I do… I don’t know what that’s all about [Laughs].
J: Where do you like to eat?
C: This week I like The Empress in Victoria Park Village. Run by a really nice guy. Otherwise there’s too many, Les Cornettes in La Chapelle-D’Abondance. It was exciting to go to Tribeca Grill in New York too.
J: Who cuts your hair, it’s great!
C: Thank you! My rockabilly mate Steve or six quid in Camden town. I ask for a fifties rockabilly look.
J: Could you write a note to my mum?
J: Would you like to host our twitter quiz one Friday night? @Mozarmyquiz?
C: No thanks. I’m afraid of Twitter.
J: We’ll go easy on you.
C: Okay… maybe I’ll do one with Andrew, if he helps… around February.
J: I’m sure he’d love that! Finally, Clive, are you sure you want to keep that scarf?
Cool Uncle Clive Langer is not keen to come back to Twitter, but I can pass on your messages, or you can contact him via the Deaf School website [Click on the button ‘contact deafschoolmusic.com’]. Ask him how to change a light bulb…
Is this thing on…?
Fifteen minutes with Samuel Preston, singer/guitarist/songwriter with The Ordinary Boys and fan of Morrissey
From the day he received Boxers from his brother on his twelfth birthday Sam Preston has never shied away from evangelising that Morrissey has been, and still is, a significant influence on his music career.
His band, ‘The Ordinary Boys’ took their name from the track on ‘Viva Hate’, and it was during their first interview for the NME that Sam began referring to himself as ‘Preston’. He has the signature quiff and glasses; tattoos of lyrics (‘come Armageddon, come’ and ‘sweet and tender’) and he describes Morrissey as his ‘surrogate father figure’.
In a later, extra-ordinary turn, Morrissey became a fan of Sam’s band, choosing one of their songs, Little Bubble to appear on a compilation album he put together for the NME in 2004. In the same year both Morrissey and The Ordinary Boys performed on Jools Holland, and Morrissey asked the Ordinary Boys to appear with him at Meltdown.
It could be argued that Sam’s ‘surrogate father figure’ helped him on his way… but the fact is that great writing was always in Sam’s genes. His grandpa is a Professor Emeritus of English at Princeton University and his mother and brother are successful published authors. He has a remarkable family tree, branching back to his great-great-great-great grandfather, The Right Honorable Earl Grey. Sam has chosen to spend his natural, literary inheritance of songwriting on The Ordinary Boys; where his influences of Morrissey, The Specials, The Cure and Madness are all echoed in the cake mix of indie-pop-ska he plays.
On stage he is the irrepressible and resilient Preston, bouncing off his infinite energies to Boys will Be Boys, Talk Talk Talk, Lonely At The Top and Run This Town supported by the loyal fans in The Ordinary Army. Off stage he is a more reserved Sam, who, post gig, prefers to ‘devour a Bolaño’ on the tour bus. It is this warm and bookish, sensitive Sam I meet; his boyish and innocent demeanor only heightened by a très jolie charity shop bought Arran jumper that any mother would love to cuddle.
Sam talks about his desire for fun and spontaneity in his life, and how he is fueled by the nervous energy he has housed inside himself since he was a child: ‘I never really think things through much further than one or two steps… it stops you doing things that would be fun adventures if you think too much’. It is this impulsive energy that has pushed him to lead a life-in-fast-forward, including three successful Ordinary Boys albums, several highly publicised television appearances, a ‘Prestelle’ marriage/divorce and, most importantly, a chance to meet his heroes; one of whom is Terry Hall, who appeared in the video for the Ordinary Boys single, Seaside.
Recently he has been enjoying working steadily as producer and writer for other artists. Unsurprisingly he has the urge to return to the limelight once again, and he relishes the thought that another Ordinary Boys album may be against all odds of public success: ‘That thought excites me more than if everyone was just waiting for it’, he grins.
He prefers popcorn to crisps, bakes homemade bread and loves to ‘pickle’. His favourite Morrissey album is ‘Vauxhall and I’, which he describes as ‘a masterpiece… with a hanging atmosphere.’
J: Please say your full name.
S: Samuel Dylan Murray Preston.
J: Where do the names come from?
S: Samuel is after my grandpa, Samuel Hynes. Dylan is Dylan Thomas - my grandpa is a big fan of his. Murray is a family name. There are a lot of writers in our family - my brother has a new novel out, my grandpa is a writer and Professor Emeritus of English at Princeton University and my mum wrote a book about autism.
J: Really? That’s fantastic.
S: Yeah, she specialises in it.
J: Can you describe yourself in a sentence?
S: [Laughs] The most interesting people can’t!
J: ‘Happy knowing nothing’?
S: The absolute opposite of that. The Ordinary Boys was meant to be a slightly ironic name. We were so young when we started the band. It was the same with me dropping my first name. I just so loved Morrissey I wanted to copy everything he did.
J: Did you consider other Morrissey inspired band names?
S: Well, I managed a band and we were called ‘This Charming Management’. I was in a hardcore band called ‘Viva Hate’. I had a previous band called ‘True to you’. I still feel kind of shameless about how much he influences me. He has always been such a big part of my life and always will.
J: Do you think he knows the extent of his influence?
S: Yes I think he does. He put us on a compilation of bands he was interested in.
J: Little Bubble is a glorious song. Why didn’t you release it as a single?
S: It was a b-side and we weren’t very precious about our early b-sides at all. A lot of them are better that some of our later album tracks. I’m very fond of Little Bubble.
J: How old were you when you got into Morrissey?
S: I got into him at the tender age of twelve when my brother bought me Boxers for my birthday. Alex is a huge Morrissey fan. Then I moved to Philadelphia when I was a teenager and found this whole group of kids who liked hardcore and The Smiths were included in that. I still feel closest to that group of friends even though they’re so far away. It’s always interested me the hardcore music and all those kids seemed to like The Smiths too.
J: I don’t think you’re alone in being a fan that liked to copy Morrissey, the quiff, the outsized blouses…
S: Yes! It’s fine to do it because we’re all doing it [Laughs]. But when you’re in a band you’re expect to have a least some original content.
J: Morrissey has influenced you quite heavily. The name of your band, your surname as first name…
S: That was so flippant! It was our very first NME interview, and I thought, ‘I’m just gonna be ‘Preston’. No one had ever called me that before and it’s what I wanted to be.
J: What do your family call you? Sam?
S: Yeah. No one calls me Preston. It’s such a pretentious nod to Morrissey! The NME put it in the article then it stuck.
J: I’ve even seen a tour picture of you holding a cat…
Photo by Jake Walters
S: The picture of Morrissey with the cat on his head cheers me up whenever I feel down. I have it bookmarked on my phone, so if I’m a little bit blue I’ll look at it. The two main things that cheer me up are: the picture of Morrissey with the cat on his head; and I like to think about the fact that Paul McCartney called his last album ‘Kisses on the Bottom’. That cheers me up! [Laughs].
J: When I listen to the Ordinary Boys I can hear all of your musical influences in your work; Morrissey, The Smiths, The Jam, The Specials, Madness. Your sound is a bit of a cake mix of those influences isn’t it?
S: Yeah. I think that’s true. It’s funny as well because I managed to meet all of my heroes. I got to perform with Terry Hall; I’m almost as big a Terry Hall fan as I am a Morrissey fan.
I think at the time people were grumpy about the fact that we wore our influences so heavily on our sleeves. It was just a product of so much love for that music. I still listen to the same music. I’m planning on doing a new record this year, with the band. I’m not sure on what level yet. Just because I feel like it all went a bit off piste with the third record and I feel like I got a bit too… well… I just tried so desperately hard to make something ‘new’ that I had lost sight of what music I can enjoy playing. This new record will be closer to hardcore stuff, faster, louder.
J: Your voice is quite gentle on Seaside.
S: Yeah well maybe my voice over proper hard core would be quite an interesting contrast. These beautiful… almost quite Bing Crosby-esque melodies with harder rock n roll is something that Morrissey embraced in his later albums. Maybe as we grow old we soften the edges a little bit.
J: When you pick up your guitar, what do you like to play?
S: I love The Stray Cats. I’m best at playing rockabilly guitar.
J: So you must have enjoyed Morrissey’s rockabilly band then.
S: I did, very much, yeah.
J: Tell me about your meeting with Morrissey.
S: I remember the day so clearly, I have no idea how I managed to take it all in my stride. I asked what music he was listening to at the moment, and he said ‘I’ve been listening to a lot of Partridge Family’ [Laughs]. I was just like, that’s why I love you.
J: What excited you the most during that time?
S: I think the very early days; going on Jools Holland and having Junior Murvin to my left, and Morrissey to my right. Knowing I was going on tour with Morrissey the next day was amazing. I got really close with Alain Whyte and ‘You Are The Quarry’ signed by every band mate. I had set out to meet Morrissey, that had happened, and I was left with the feeling: ‘what next?’ But Morrissey was always really nice to me, really sweet.
J: How did it feel to be asked to join him at Meltdown?
S: Meltdown was such an honour. Our drummer at the time got thrown out for trying to hug moz during his set!
J: I read that you went up to him and said ‘Hi I’m Preston’ and he said ‘Yes I know who you are…’
S: Yes! I can’t tell if that was good or bad! [Laughs]. There are photos of us together but I can’t find any. I have been trying to hunt down those photos. One of my good friends is in Doll and The Kicks, so I managed to get out to see them backstage in Ireland, and I saw him again then.
J: Was he pleased to see you?
S: I think so, yes. I like to think so. We had a nod of acknowledgement. It was the same when I saw Nick Cave. I don’t want to be that guy who’s going up to someone and going: ‘Remember me mate?!’ so when I saw Nick on the train, I remembered I had dinner with him and Will Self a few years ago. I just said ‘hi’ and went on my way.
J: Did he recognise you?
S: Nick? He seemed to, yeah. Will Self is a huge Morrissey fan and when I was doing the third Ordinary Boys album, I had drinks at the Groucho with him to discuss lyrics for that album which I think is why they have… a much more… I don’t know… that third album is a kind of a concept album. A weird album.
It’s a bit kind of bloopy and electronic, which is something that I have completely come out the other side of. I got into it five years ago and it was all I listened to. It seemed really progressive and creative because there is no limits to the sound it can make.
J: Where is your musical core? Is it the harder stuff?
S: I’m quite confident that I’m a strong lyricist. I enjoy it. I want to do something really heavy. I still listen to heavy stuff, and I like to go to those shows. It all goes back to the hardcore teens.
J: Is 2006 Sam Preston different to the 2013 version?
S: Yeah, maybe. I just can’t imagine back to then because it’s so different to how I am now, shy and awkward. An example of that was when I saw other bands success as a personal attack on myself. We’re all friends and I’m happy about it now but I remember I took the Kaiser Chiefs along to the record label and was like: ‘You have to sign this band, I really think they’d be great’. Eventually I persuaded my label to sign them and then they sold millions of records and I was like, ‘Oh.’ [Laughs]. But now I’m really proud of them and think it’s fantastic, because they are lovely guys.
J: I remembered The Ordinary Boys exploding onto the scene. You always seemed to be in a rush.
S: Yeah… I think that’s very accurate. It’s true of my life in so many ways that… I think the journey is always so much more exciting. I get bored of it in the end, when I get there. It’s been long enough that if we were to bring the band back on some level then it will probably be even more of a struggle than it was the first time. That’s kind of exciting though, I like that challenge.
J: Whom are you working with now?
S: I’m working in songwriting and producing. I had a big number one with a song I wrote for Olly Murs called Heart Skips a beat and then having had the number one I got bored with it again. It’s a frustrating way to live your life. I appear to crash when I get there. But I do have a sense of urgency. I want to get this Ordinary Boys record done. I’ve written one song! [Laughs]. I have had a bizarre request to sing for an existing band too.
J: You can’t say who?
S: No. It’s a pretty weird one. I’m just excited to get somewhere. And I can never turn down anything that seems like it’s going to be fun.
J: Can we talk about your tattoos? What’s this one behind your ear?
S: This one is a Jean Michelle Basquiat crown.
S: I’ve got Morrissey ones too:
S: I’ve also got ‘sweet and tender’ on my arm. I know hundreds of people with Smiths tattoos. I have a friend who has ‘little charmer’.
J: What’s the significance of the triangle?
S: My friend told me that it was the most intensely painful tattoo she had ever had so I just did it out of curiosity. I’m not really one for worrying too much about the significance of my tattoos. Tattoos are quite silly really.
J: And was it painful?
S: Oh my God it was the absolute worst!
J: You sampled Siouxsie’s Happy House on Dressed to kill. Are you a fan of hers too?
S: Yes! There’s talk of Siouxsie writing with me, which would be… incredible! She did email me to say that she really liked Dressed to Kill.
I’m doing a project at the moment with the artist Dear Prudence where I’m writing and producing with her. She has a song called Coming Apart again and that’s very Siouxsie influenced.
J: Dressed to Kill is quite clubby isn’t it?
S: I was deep into my electronic phase then.
J: Were you producing your own stuff?
S: Yes, with a friend of mine. But I missed the guitars, I don’t want to do any of that anymore. I’m glad that it was a one off.
J: Shall we talk about your TV appearances? Do you want to/not want to?
S: I don’t mind talking about them. That’s fine.
J: To me, you seemed very at home in the Big Brother house.
S: Weirdly, it was one of the happiest times of my life.
J: You looked contented.
S: I can’t think what it is. It was just really weird because lyrically I had always talked trash on that world, and it seemed so ridiculous for me to go in and be in it. But I learned a lot.
J: As a viewer it was great to watch the playful chemistry between you and Chantelle.
S: Yeah, it was fun, but I think the relationship was a product of that situation and it was always doomed to fail. I wish someone had told me: ‘Dude, by the way, think about this for a second’. But again, it’s that urgency that I have, running at a thousand miles an hour.
J: You were put in the spotlight by the media when you left the house. Was it terrifying or did you love it?
S: The thing is… that at that time, what I think is sad is that I feel I neglected the band. I think that’s one of the reasons why two of them don’t even pick up their instruments anymore. Will doesn’t play guitar anymore. I wonder if I had done something differently and taken their musical careers into consideration a bit more what would have happened, rather than getting caught up in the Big Brother press. But then, they both have careers that they love now.
J: What do they do?
S: Will works for the Guardian and James is a sound engineer.
J: Do you still keep in touch with Chantelle?
S: Yeah. We talk on the phone.
J: Was it reparative going back into the house for the second time?
S: Well I just felt that I had done some damage since I left the first time, so I wanted to remind people that I am a nice guy really [Laughs].
J: Would you go back in for a third?
S: It’s a weird thing to imagine now. I couldn’t do it again. I’ve become agoraphobic and misanthropic with age! [Laughs] I never really think things through much further than one or two steps. I think it’s a wise thing to do. It stops you doing things that would be fun adventures if you think too much about it. It’s much better to just go for it: ‘That cake looks going so I’m going to eat it. It doesn’t matter if it makes me fat’. Just do things.
J: I liked it when you walked off Buzzcocks. I thought they pushed too far.
S: I regret doing anything where there’s video evidence of me at my worst. I didn’t handle it too well.
J: Do you have regrets about your TV appearances?
S: I think if there’s anything that plays on my mind that would be near to a regret is that there are Ordinary Boys records that could exist that just don’t because other things distracted me for so long. I’ve had recent conversations with my label that look after me for my songwriting. I’m still making them money but they all say: ‘you’re going to struggle to get a new Ordinary Boys record, it’s going to be hard to get radio plays’. I just think that just excites me more than if everyone was just waiting for it.
J: You’ve got the fan base.
S: That’s true. I did put a little tweet up about it and everyone was really positive.
J: The ‘Ordinary Army’ seem very loyal. Do you shout them out at gigs?
S: Yeah! I know them all! All the real hardcore ones I know well.
J: Do they turn up to gigs looking like you?
S: Yeah! I guess so. Maybe they should skip the middleman and go straight for looking like Morrissey! [Laughs]
J: Have you still got that gold jacket you wore on Buzzcocks?
S: Somewhere, yeah.
J: If you don’t need it anymore…
S: Yeah! You can have it! I should get rid of it! [Laughs]. It was funny that I wore the most absurd thing of my entire life!
J: It reminds me of what Morrissey wore in the Dallas tour. I did wonder if it was a nod to that.
S: Yeah! Not a conscious one…
J: Did you keep in touch with anyone from Morrissey’s band?
S: I kept in touch with Gary Day for a long while. It was always fleeting moments with Morrissey. He’d get whisked up to the stage and whisked back. It was conversations in hallways. Or if I was in the dressing room with the band he’d come in. He never lets people watch him from the side of the stage, and I would get a note from him saying, ‘you can watch from the side of the stage’. I think it’s just an irritating thing when people watch you from the side, for any band. The show that you’re giving isn’t there, it doesn’t project to the side, but if it’s someone you really love you can almost see it through their eyes a little bit, which is really exciting.
J: If Morrissey walked in here right now and see you in your nice jumper and say ‘Alright Preston’ what would you say?
S: Again, it’s that thing when you meet somebody, it’s horrible to be that nagging guy, but I feel that we would have a really long nice conversation. I feel like he did guide me through the early part of my career by talking about us in interviews, taking me on tour. Maybe because I feel through his lyrics he was some kind of surrogate father figure, which is true for a lot of people I think.
J: What’s your favourite Morrissey album?
S: ‘Vauxhall and I’ is his masterpiece. PG Wodehouse’s masterpiece was ‘Right Ho Jeeves’, and ‘Vauxhall and I’ is Morrissey’s. I think that record has such an atmosphere… such a lot of sounds on it, with a hanging atmosphere.
J: If Morrissey came to your house what snacks would you put out for him?
S: I’m actually very much into pickling at the moment. I’m a big pickler. I do nice sweet pickles. You eat them with bread and butter. It’s a really fun thing to do. I’d give him some of my pickles.
J: Do you put a frilly top on the jar?
S: You don’t need a jar for pickles, that’s for jams. You need a seal.
J: Who got you into pickling?
S: My mum does it.
J: Did your mum knit that jumper?
S: No I got this from a charity shop.
J: What is your favourite crisp flavour? Do you like crisps with your pickles?
S: I’m not a huge crisp fan, really. I actually would go for popcorn. The Pret a Manger popcorn is my snack of choice.
J: Would you put popcorn out with pickles then?
S: No, I’d make homemade bread.
J: You bake bread as well!?
S: [Laughs] I love to cook. I do a nice baked eggs with Merguez.
J: You’re not a vegetarian?
J: Do you have a girlfriend at the moment?
S: [stretches arms] I have a line I’m pursuing [Laughs].
J: What’s your favourite Morrissey single?
S: Possibly Boxers because I received it as a gift and was at the age where, once you get a record you just play it and play it and play it. And also I think as a Morrissey song it feels kind of forgotten. It’s a sad lyric. When you’re really young music is much more effective at creating images in your head. I remember hearing Strange Little Girl by the Stranglers and I didn’t know it was about Siouxsie Sioux at the time. I can remember the image I had in my head. I remember the images that the Beatles conjured up. I can think what I imagined when I listened to Boxers. It makes the record richer.
J: What’s your favourite thing that your mum says?
S: Everyone makes fun of my mum because she’s American. If I ever talk about my mum, for some reason my friends will say: ‘Sammy! Your meatballs are ready!’ I guess maybe that, but I don’t know how often she actually says it!
I have a great relationship with my parents. I’m terrible at romance, you see. If I don’t have the right advice I’m just doomed to walk off on my own. So I talk candidly with both of my parents about that. My brother is grown up, married and has kids and here they still have a thirty-one year old son still asking them what to do about girls.
J: Do you want that for yourself? To get married and have kids?
S: I do but I’m terribly picky. I don’t think I ever really was, but because of the whole Chantelle thing, then a long distance relationship after that, it has become really important for me to have complete common interests now… I think maybe because Chantelle and I didn’t. The whole problem with that is that my interests in books, film and music are pretty weird, and I’m very passionate about all of them.
J: Who is your favourite author?
S: I love Bolaño and I devour everything that he’s written. I read a lot. I think Will Self is a great writer as well. My brother has become friends with him. I love all the hipster books.
J: Favourite movie?
S: I really love ‘Badlands’. I love those rich visual movies.
J: Did you get into ‘A Taste Of Honey’ and ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’?
S: I did! It was almost like homework! I love the New York Dolls now too. But there was a time where I didn’t ‘get it’. I wonder if I conditioned myself to love them as part of my homework for Morrissey [Laughs].
J: Have you got a favourite childhood toy?
S: I have a cabbage patch kid, that I still have, completely bald with a plastic head, so I called it Thomas Hard-head [Laughs]. It’s at my mum’s house in France.
J: The video for Lonely at the Top opens with you on a single bed. Did this resemble your teenage bedroom?
S: No. My childhood bedroom was really big, even though our house was small. There weren’t enough bedrooms so I had to be in a kind of conservatory. The rain would come down on the inside. It had a few plants in it.
J: Is this where you started your acting career?
S: I used to love acting when I was younger! I was in a movie ‘Christabel’ with Liz Hurley, and I was in The Muppets and I was in ‘Drowning in the Shallow End’ with Paul McGann so I saved up a little bit of money for a guitar and I bought a record player for fifteen pounds. It was in very early nineties. It was huge, bigger than me, and took up almost all of the space in my room.
J: Were there posters on the walls?
S: When I was really young it was The Pixies and Dinosaur Jnr.
J: Do you have a favourite Ordinary Boys caper?
S: We were terribly boring and sensible as a band. There were many times when I swung from lights and cut my hands and bled. But then we’d reside to the tour bus and read books. We weren’t rock n’ roll, there was no drug taking or anything like that.
J: You were good boys then. Were you a good boy when you were younger?
S: No, absolutely terrible, horrible, brat. It felt like I had Attention Deficit Disorder as well so I was just a handful. I still feel like I run on this nervous energy. People have told it to me enough times and I’ve started to see it. I just sort of run for a little bit, then get exhausted, then start running again.
J: Could you please write a note to my mum?
J: Would you host the Mozarmyquiz on Twitter one week?
S: That sounds like fun! Yes I’d love to.
Who said you should never meet your heroes? Not the ordinary boy.
Follow Sam on Twitter @samuelpreston or find him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/smlprstn
Photo courtesy of guardian.co.uk
Photo from Spencer’s archive
[Co-writing credits: Wide To Receive, Lost, Now I am a was].
When I contacted Spencer Cobrin for a ‘Fifteen minutes’ I tried to persuade him that it would make for a better interview if we talked in some way, preferably face to face or on the phone, so that I could get to know him a bit better. He very politely turned me down, protesting shyness and luddite tendancies towards Skype and telephones. I explained to him that I really only wanted to ask him his favourite ice-cream flavour, to which he replied:
‘Lobster flavored ice cream, licked, not bitten. LOL. See? This is why I do not give live interviews!’
Although he drummed with Morrissey for most of the nineties, Spencer hasn’t drummed in years, only on an odd session, and has turned his attention to, amongst other things, real estate and signing talent for music licensing company MuseIQ.
When we emailed back and forth (over the course of two months) about his time in Morrissey’s band he confessed to suffering with terrible stage fright before gigs. He revealed details about going back to a fans house and witnessing a fight where Gary Day was thrown in the air; and explained, how one of the most truly beautiful and much loved Morrissey songs came about: Lost.
He classes his drumming style as ‘emotional’ and this also may be true of his time with Morrissey. As he sensitively recalls his memories of drumming with the band his emails become, at times, bittersweet, and his tone casts a small shadow over a what-was-once-special and fond experience, as he writes how he keeps in touch with ‘sadly no-one’ and describes himself as feeling ‘jaded’.
Spencer has closed his drumming chapter in the world of Morrissey, and, after much soul searching, has moved on to a new and different life in music; and a happy home in Brooklyn with his girlfriend and their cat, ‘Lion’. On seeing Morrissey again he says: ‘I’d probably give him a hug’.
J: Please say your full name.
S: Spencer James Cobrin. My name is Anglicized, coming from a Jewish family I was named after my deceased great grand parents Samuel and Jacob. My last name is from a village on the Polish/Ukranian border, Kobrin. If you want to get really fancy pants, Cobrin in Japanese, Ko-Bu-Rin, translates loosely as Ko lonely Bu warrior (in the) Rin forest.
J: Can you describe yourself in a sentence?
S: I’m a tad shy and somewhat self-deprecating.
J: Why did you decide to do this interview on email?
S: I need to mull things over beforehand, I get self-conscious.
J: What are you doing now, and why did you decide to do it?
S: I am involved with a music-licensing agency called MuseIQ, based in Brooklyn, New York where I live. They approached me a few years ago to see if I had any tracks I would want to include in their music production catalogue, I saw that they didn’t have an artist component and they agreed that I would sign talent to the company for licensing purposes so I picked up the A&R sticks. I do some work in real estate, give piano lessons and diligently practice aikido. I was recently sponsored by my dojo, Brooklyn Aikikai, to travel to Athens for a grueling seminar, it felt like a three-month tour packed into three days.
J: How would you describe your style of drumming? Do you still drum these days?
S: My style would be emotional if you can call that a style, it’s not technical, it’s not flashy, it’s simply from the guts. I haven’t drummed in years apart from the odd session or sit in. After I left Morrissey I turned my focus to writing, first for a band, then to film and advertising.
J: What was life like on the road with Morrissey? How did you guys prepare for some of the big venues that you played?
S: Life on the road was so many things; very exciting, totally exhausting, emotionally fraught plus I suffered terribly with stage fright. In regards to preparing I don’t think it was ever a question of the size of venue, rehearsals were about knowing the songs inside out and then giving it all on stage wherever we played.
Morrissey and Spencer shot by Linder Sterling
J: How did you deal with your stage fright? Did you have any methods?
S: There was nothing I could do to combat the stage fright, I just had to suck it up as best as I could. Initially it would occur an hour or two before we went on stage but then it progressed to where I would feel it coming on not long after waking up, so essentially I would suffer from it all day! I’d try to distract myself as best as I could but it was pretty hopeless.
J: Do you have any favourite gigs or tour stories?
S: There was the time after we had played on Johnny Carson show. Gary and Alain were hanging outside the hotel talking to fans, one fan invited us to a house party so about six or seven of us piled into a car, I had no idea where we were heading. We raced down the freeway for about an hour and ended up in a suburban district. There were some knuckleheads in the kitchen and I could see things were getting a bit tense. I went into the living room where everyone was watching our performance on the Johnny Carson show we had taped a few hours earlier. The next thing I remember is looking over to the other side of the room and seeing Gary flying through the air with a pile of guys on top of him, it was a mess. The police showed up and arrested Gary. We bailed him out at 4am then packed as quickly as possible for the airport. This was just the start of the tour!
J: Which tracks did you look forward to performing?
S: On the ‘Kill Uncle’ tour it would be Angel, Suedehead, November, Playboys, Everyday. Later on, Glamourous, Fatty, Disco, Speedway, Shoplifters, Do Your Best.
J: Did you socialise with the rest of the band outside of the studio?
S: Alain, Gary and myself played in various outfits and hung out at places like the Klub Foot, Dingwalls, upstairs at the Electric Ballroom and other North London rockabilly clubs. By the time we finished our first European and American tour with Morrissey I don’t think we could stand to be around each other we had been together so much.
J: Who do you keep in touch with now?
S: Sadly, no one.
J: Your cheeky appearance with a Cornetto in ‘We hate it when our friends become successful’ was very funny. Who’s initial idea was it, and why?
S: Ha, it wasn’t anyone’s idea really, I was just being a ham, I told you I was self-deprecating. It did cause a bit of a fuss between friends, roommates, even my family, I thought it was hysterical, some people take things so seriously, I just shook my head and quietly laughed back at them.
J: Was it your idea to make Morrissey laugh with the close up?
S: I just put it close to his face, I guess he liked it. J
J: Morrissey is quoted as describing your work on Southpaw Grammar as ‘a great personal joy’. How does that make you feel? [Mozipedia by Simon Goddard, p. 76].
S: I never heard that from him, nice to know after all these years though. Maybe he could see how much I had grown under his wing and how much I contributed in spirit to the recordings.
J: Which single that you drum on do you feel most proud of?
S: It would have to be The Operation, I had worked and worked at trying to improve my drumming skills but I just couldn’t make anything stick, I felt at a complete loss, I was also very hard on myself, but coming off the road and going straight into record that album (Southpaw Grammar) something shifted and clicked into gear unexpectedly and I immediately went up a huge notch whereas I had been on a plateau for years.
J: Tell us how the beautiful ‘Lost’ happened. Did you ever try to persuade Morrissey to make it an A-side?
S: By the late nineties I was living in the East Village, New York between tours and I would get up early and sit at the keyboard to write. I wrote and wrote and that was how the demo for ‘Lost’ came to be. Morrissey was going to release it as an A-side but he changed his mind later after I left the band.
J: Did Morrissey ever come to your house? What snacks did you put out for him?
S: He came over to the apartment I was living in in the East Village (NY) and we had pizza.
J: Do you listen to the music that Morrissey makes now?
S: Not really, it doesn’t inspire or fill me with emotion of any kind; as opposed to older material which gets the adrenalin going.
J: How would you feel if a chance encounter happened with Morrissey now? What would you say?
S: I’d probably give him a hug and be happy to see him again after all these years. I don’t harbour any grudges, if you can open your heart you can conquer anything.
J: Have you any plans to join Twitter?
S: No, but you can find me on Facebook:
J: Would you host the Mozarmyquiz on twitter one week? You do it from the comfort of your chair, at home. It’s 4pm NY time every Friday, from the @Mozarmyquiz account.
J: What is your favourite ice cream flavour?
J: Childhood toy?
S: My fathers air rifle.
S: Ludwig Black Beauty snare.
S: Toasted cheese sarnie.
J: Pizza topping?
S: Olives, mushrooms and extra cheese please.
J: City in the world?
S: Undecided, still want to travel to many more.
J: Morrissey track?
S: Lost, ahem.
J: Smiths track?
S: There Is A Light…
J: Drink of choice?
S: Changes, right now it’s Rhone Valley, 100% Syrah, any vineyard from the north or south region, still exploring, amazing stuff, pricey.
S: The Warriors
J: Time of day?
J: Thing about New York?
S: My dojo.
J: Song in all the world?
S: How about, Billy Butler, The Right Track
J: Please could you type a note to my mum?
S: Hi Pat,
Greeting from Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, New York! It seems that Julie is a tad sad with my answers to some of her interview questions, do you think you could you cheer her up with a cup of tea and a delicious cheese sandwich? :)
Hope you are well and enjoying your Sunday.
J: Thank you Spencer. If you could choose one word to sum up your musical experience, what would it be?
J: Do you think that you will ever return to the UK?
S: Maybe, via Spain! Gracias.
‘Spenny Ramone’ by Linda Peng
© All content is copyright Julie Hamill 2012. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without consent from Julie Hamill is strictly prohibited.
I don’t like tea. But Stephen Street is standing in the Milocio studios kitchen, squeezing tea bags very tightly against the side of two mugs whilst asking me if I take sugar. ‘No, just a spot of milk please’ I reply, thinking: there’s no way I’m asking for coffee now, that’s Stephen Street’s tea, he’s made it, and I’m going to drink it.
He’s dressed casually and yet impeccably neatly, wearing a grey wooly jumper with a high collar and a striped scarf around his neck that he doesn’t remove. He is most charming in his manner and listening carefully I am able to decipher a very slight rhotacism with the letter ‘r’ in his speech, that, accompanied with a gentle smile, makes me warm to him instantly.
I follow him (with tea) as he walks quickly and purposefully through two huge soundproof doors, into the neat and tidy not-a-button-out-of-place studio he works in producing magical albums.
As he settles in his chair behind the mixing desk he describes how his time with The Smiths and Morrissey changed his life. At twenty-four, Stephen was a comfortable and natural extension of the band, on the same journey at the same age (one year younger than Morrissey) with the same level of experience and same ambitious goal: to make the next Smiths album greater than the last: ‘[The Smiths] is a very powerful album. By the time we got to Meat Is Murder we were using different techniques, sound effects etc so that was a step on. And we stepped on again for The Queen Is Dead, then on again for Strangeways. There’s obviously great tracks from each album that I’m very proud of but overall the improvements are incremental.’
Now, at aged fifty-two, he is still excited about the work he did back then, and is engagingly youthful as he disappears back into the memories: ‘You see this sometimes with bands; for whatever reason all the stars just align and for whatever reason it’s like a juggernaut that can’t be stopped’. Occasionally he looks to the floor to find his answers, particularly when talking about the Smiths split: ‘I can remember Mike [Joyce] sitting there, looking really down, and thinking, I’ll look up in a minute and see Johnny come through the door.’
Since parting company with Morrissey after ‘Viva Hate’, he has gone on to work with many successful bands such as The Cranberries, Blur and The Courteneers. His approach to producing albums is about capturing and delivering the ‘brand’ of the band at that time: ‘When a person releases an album it’s like a fashion house working on their collection for the season, it’s how they feel they want to put themselves over at that point.’
Described by Andy Rourke as ‘very attentive [and loved] by everybody’ and by Johnny Marr as ‘totally partisan’ [A Light That Never Goes Out, Tony Fletcher, p. 466] the appeal of Stephen Street is his inclusive approach: ‘I try and make each member of the band feel important thoughtout certain key processes of the record. Everybody is very, very important, whether it be the drummer, the bass player or whoever.’
His favourite Smiths song is This Charming Man, he’s known to Blur as ‘Streetie’ and he cites the incomparable and epic ‘Strangeways’ as his finest moment.
I give the tea five stars (engineered and produced by Stephen Street).
J: Please say your full name
S: My name is Stephen Brian Street and I’m a record producer.
J: Where does the Brian come from?
S: My dad’s name.
J: You’ve always had the name, ‘Street’?
S: Yes it is my real name. Some people have asked me that before in the past, have I made my name up to be ‘cool’ – but no.
J: Your name is very memorable. Did you find it helped in your career?
S: Not really. When I was at school I was called ‘Street’ or ‘Streetie’ - which what Blur called me later on in life – but no, I’ve never really thought that much about my name.
J: Can you describe yourself in a sentence?
S: Oh God, that would be… er…
J: You can come back to me on that later if you like.
S: Yes, it’s very hard! [Laughs]. I’m not very good with words, you see, Julie, that’s the thing, it doesn’t flow off the top of my head like that and I get… I’m not good at the one-liners!
J: Ah… I’m sure that’s not true! When you were growing up what music were you into?
S: The first time I was really conscious of really becoming interested in music was kind of the end of the 60s and 70s when Marc Bolan came through. My parents didn’t have a record player, but there was a radio, and I remember hearing the Beatles and the Stones. Mum and Dad didn’t get a record player until about 1970, one of those big long bits of radiogram furniture with a radio at one end and a turntable at the other. I think the first record to be bought were those awful Top of the Pops covers records. But I remember I wanted a record player in my room so I got a flip top single BSI player with the speaker at the front. The first records I bought were Electric Warrior by T-Rex and Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars. I had my black case from Woolworths that had my albums in and my smaller black case that had my singles in. They meant the world to me.
J: The cases with the briefcase clip on the front?
S: Yeah! I’ve still got all those singles and some went missing over the years. I’ve still got Ziggy Stardust and the original Electric Warrior album. That means a lot to me. From there, I discovered that only nine months before he had released Hunky Dory, and before that, The Man Who Sold The World and Space Oddity, so I threw myself into that, just loved it, this new guy who had suddenly arrived from the heavens with all this fantastic music. He was a huge inspiration.
J: What’s your favourite Bowie track?
S: Hard to pick one out just like that, but I’m still a huge fan of the Ziggy album, I love Soul Love. It wasn’t a single or anything like that, it’s just so Bowie.
J: I love the intro to Soul Love.
S: Yes! [makes ‘Tss-tss-t” intro]. It’s fantastic. I’m a huge believer that when a person has a good partner such as Johnny and Morrissey and Damon with Graham it’s worth its weight in gold. Mick Ronson was an incredible part of that sound.
J: Did Mick’s work influence you?
S: Yes, definitely. Mick Ronson was a great arranger of Bowie’s ideas. He took them to another level. When I was younger I used to look at album covers and see names like Tony Visconti, I was interested in the idea of finding out what they did. So I suppose even then I was interested in being a record producer. From reading record covers I got a schooling in record producing.
J: What do you think is the most important thing that a record producer can do for an artist?
S: To portray the image that the artist has got at that particular point in their career; that life. To put it over in the best possible way, without tarnishing it. When a person releases an album it’s like a fashion house working on their collection for the season, it’s how they feel they want to put themselves over at that point. ‘These are the songs for 1975 or 2012’. The producer is the person who takes those songs and puts them into a package.
J: So you ‘brand’ the album.
S: Yes, at least as far as taking it to the point of release. Or putting it on the ‘catwalk’ if you like. It’s a bit like being a film director as well. Got a great script, a great bunch of actors, with a good cameraman and sound engineer, just need to make it a good finished product.
J: You started as an assistant at Island. What was that like?
S: It was about ‘82 or ‘83. They were going through a refurbishment of the studio at the time and my first job was varnishing the wood that went up on the walls! It actually felt great because I felt like I was part of the team. I had some experience recording because I had been in a band so I wasn’t totally green to what went on. But I was always watching, asking questions, ‘what does that button do? So I got a good grip and understanding of some technical aspects and also just the etiquette side of things, like how to work without upsetting anyone. Within two years I was at the point I was able to start engineering sessions myself. I was at a really good place. There are places that you can go to where you end up being a tea boy for years. But the engineers there were very good and it was a good learning place.
J: And it was around this time you were introduced to The Smiths during the ‘Heaven Knows’ session?
S: Yes. My studio manager said to me ‘there’s a band coming in at the weekend’. They were beginning to book outside acts into the studio to make it more of a commercial proposition so that’s why we were open that weekend to Rough Trade booking a band in. I said to the studio manager: ‘Who’s the band that’s coming in?’ He said ‘It’s a band called The Smiths’. I was like ‘Wow! Great!’ because I had seen them literally two weeks before doing This Charming Man on Top of the Pops. I think is one of their best ever performances, people still refer to it these days. I was like, ‘yeah I’ll definitely be up for that’. So they came in on the Saturday when I was the in-house engineer. Obviously John Porter was there as he was working with them on that. Girl Afraid was mixed at Island but John took away Heaven Knows to mix elsewhere. I just strove to impress them as much as I could. I think they appreciated the fact that the engineer had turned up to the studio and heard about them, made it quite clear that I dug what they were doing and stuff. So at the end of the session Johnny and Morrissey thanked me and took my name, and indicated that they’d be in touch. So obviously I was over the moon. The next thing they did was William, which was done by John too, elsewhere. I didn’t get involved in that, but I didn’t realise until years later that there is a thank you to me on that sleeve!
I kind of thought that was over and the end of it all, but then, thank God a few months later Geoff Travis phoned me and said the band want to make the next album, producing it themselves, and working with an engineer that they trust. And that was the start of me working with The Smiths on their albums.
J: In Tony Fletcher’s book it is written that in your time with The Smiths you made each individual feel special, that their contribution was incredibly important.
S: I always try to do that, with any band I work with. I don’t always focus just purely on the lead singer or guitarist. I try and make each member of the band feel important throughout certain key processes of the record. Everybody is very, very important, whether it be the drummer, the bass player or whoever.
J: How would you describe your connection with The Smiths?
S: Well it helped that I was just slightly younger than Morrissey, so we were all in the same age bracket. We shared lots of music that we all enjoyed. We just managed to click on a personal level. I was very aware that it was a professional relationship, but it was a good one. Very positive. I just loved working with them, and making ‘Meat Is Murder’ was a huge challenge because I had never worked outside of Island Records before, so to me it was my first job as a kind of freelance engineer working with a band that was much revered and that had so much attention. It was a bit of a steep learning curve.
J: You were all on the rise together.
S: Yes, it was just incredible.
J: Do you have any favourite memories of that time?
S: Travelling in that big white Mercedes! I think it was Dave Harper that was the driver. He drove us around between Manchester and Liverpool. Kirby, in fact, which is where we started the session. Just being in this big white Mercedes was fun.
J: Where did you all sit? Who was up front?
S: If I remember rightly there were two rows of seats facing each other like a cab. So I’d just be in the back with the rest of the band. I remember sitting there once and Morrissey was showing round the artwork for Hatful of Hollow. I was so excited, I was like, even though we’re working on this new album, there’s this compilation coming out which everyone was going nuts about. You see this sometimes with bands; for whatever reason all the stars just align and for whatever reason it’s like a juggernaut that can’t be stopped. It’s exciting when it happens because it doesn’t happen that often.
J: Did you gravitate towards one person in particular as your ‘pal’?
S: No, they were a gang, It was a working relationship. They were close knit, I was very much a Londoner and they were Mancs. They were friendly towards me but I don’t think I’d ever be one of their best pals. I don’t know if Mancunians are suspicious of cockneys! [Laughs]. We got on great, we were friends and I warmed to all of them.
J: What do you think of when you look back at your younger self in this picture?
Photo taken from ‘A Light That Never Goes Out’ [Tony Fletcher]
S: What was I doing? Sucking my lips in? [Laughs]. I’m just a young man there. I was dreaming of being a musician and a player and it was nice for me to know that I was one stage removed from that. I was helping a great band make records.
J: When you look at that young man and you remember his dreams and aspirations, do you feel you’ve done him proud?
S: Yeah! It’s funny because there I am making records and thinking well I’ve given up on the playing side of things, I’m going to be behind the desk producing. Then two/three years ago I’m on stage with Pete Doherty at Glastonbury playing guitar. If someone said to me you’re going to be on stage at Glastonbury I’d think they were mad. But it’s funny how life turns out.
Photo taken from www.stephenstreet.net
J: You have made many significant contributions to production of Smiths albums, most notably with ‘Strangeways’. Do you consider this to be your finest moment?
S: Yes. For me it’s my finest moment because I was on a learning curve. I had more skills as an engineer and mixer at that stage of their career than obviously two or three years beforehand. I was able to do things sonically that I couldn’t do before.
J: It’s quite a different album, much more polished, elevated, epic.
S: It was a conscious decision to do things a bit differently. We were all keen to do more work in the studio. You can see the graduation happen through the years. Look at ‘Meat Is Murder’ compared to the first album. The first album is a kind of raw encapsulation of what they did live, which is great. It’s a very powerful album. By the time we got to ‘Meat Is Murder’ we were using different techniques, sound effects etc so that was a step on. And we stepped on again for ‘The Queen Is Dead’ then on again for ‘Strangeways’. There are great tracks from each album that I’m very proud of but overall the improvements are incremental.
On the wall of Stephen Street’s studio
J: You were on a learning curve, you had brought the band to the peak of studio work, one album became better than the last, more experience was gained… you end up with this epic finish that heightens every talent in the group… where are The Smiths headed next?
S: Well, I thought at the time they were going onwards and upwards. The next step to becoming a global touring band. It was there for the taking. America was going nuts over them, which I always found surprising because British bands really struggle to break America, and it was interesting, why did The Smiths become so big in America, because they’re not very… American! [Laughs]. At the time they were back to a four-piece again, which was making Johnny focus a bit more on his guitars, pushing himself without Craig. I sort of got the impression that this was it: make an album then go on a good solid eighteen months touring. It was a machine gearing up to do things. There was talk of the EMI deal happening, the next big step, a multinational record deal, as opposed to Rough Trade. I got the impression that there was still an interesting bunch of chapters ahead.
J: So the platform was set for world domination…
S: Yes. That’s why I was so surprised when the split happened because I didn’t see it coming. I could see the pressure that Johnny was under but I didn’t see it coming.I never thought that the band would split up permanently. I thought they’d make the album, take a bit of a breather then get back on the road after the summer and start touring.
J: Did you ever go on any of the tours?
S: No I was never asked. They had a good sound man, Grant [Showbiz] so it wasn’t necessary, really.
J: Did you go to see the band live?
S: Oh yes, I’d go and see them. I saw them play Oxford around the second album. Good show.
J: Morrissey sent you a few letters/postcards. Do you still have them?
S: I do, yes, most of them. I don’t know if I’ve got all of them. There’s one on my website.
J: When the Smiths split up it was a tough time for the fans because there was pressure to choose between Morrissey’s voice and Johnny’s music, to decide who to follow. Was it the same for you?
S: When they split up I just thought well, they’re going to get back together again. So when Geoff Travis phoned me to ask if I wanted to try a session with Ivor Perry [Easterhouse] I said yes. We did that session over a weekend but it was obvious it wasn’t going to work. Wasn’t anyone’s fault, just the chemistry wasn’t right. I can remember Mike [Joyce] sitting there, looking really down, and thinking, I’ll look up in a minute and see Johnny come through the door. I knew there was a desire to try and keep the ball rolling. I wasn’t picking sides. If Johnny had phoned me straight away and said I want you to come an engineer a session I would have done that.
I knew that we finished Strangeways and there was nothing left in the can. I had some ideas from my four-track demo at home. So I thought, you know, there’s no harm in trying. So I wrote a little card: ‘Forgive me for being presumptuous but if there’s any ideas on here that you feel would be useful for recording as b-sides please let me know’.
J: What was on the four-track?
S: I think the original Everyday Is like Sunday is on there. I think Angel might have been on there, and maybe Suedehead. There were a few works in progress.
J: And this was you mucking about on the guitar?
S: Guitar, bass, drum machine. A basic backing-track. I sent them off in August then got married and went off to Paris for five days. When I came back there was a postcard from Morrissey that said ‘I want to make a solo album.’
J: How did that make you feel?
S: Very excited, but at the same time, full of trepidation, because I thought, this is a lot. I’m taking on a lot here. But I thought well, if Morrissey feels that he can do it with me, then that’s a big bonus. I don’t think I ever thought I was going to upset Johnny because I kind of still thought that Johnny and he would get back together. I really thought that’s how it will play out, that Johnny will come back.
J: What did you do next?
S: I dropped everything and worked on that record. I just sat at home, writing and writing and sending cassettes of ideas to Morrissey. He came round one afternoon to the two-bedroom maisonette and sang down some ideas into a microphone. I can’t remember which songs, I think one of them might have been I know very well how I got my name. We then discussed who we were going to use, and he wanted to make a clean break, so I knew Andrew [Paresi] was a good solid drummer and I had worked with Vini Reilly as well. I also knew he came from Manchester so he might click with Morrissey on a home level. His guitar style was also completely different to Johnny’s – kind of ambient – but I though I could tailor it a bit, and it would be interesting to see if it would work. So I called Vini round to the flat, and he met Morrissey there, and it was like, okay well let’s give it a go. So the studio was booked and we went in to do our first session together. Andrew, Vini, Morrissey and myself.
J: Would you say that you went above and beyond the call of duty to make Viva Hate?
S: Absolutely. It was August that we talked about it. By October we had the first session underway, where we recorded Suedehead and I thought, we’ve got something here. I went home and wrote some more songs, out of which came Late Night, Maudlin Street and Break up the family. It was incredibly hard work, right up to the day before Christmas Eve. I made myself ill, I had a stomach ulcer, I couldn’t get out of bed on the last day and I had to get the engineer to record the vocals for Break Up the family and then I comped it later. We drove home the day before Christmas Eve then I didn’t hear from Morrissey for a good couple of months after that.
J: What’s your favourite track on that album?
S: I still love Suedehead. And Break up the family. That was me trying to push it a little bit, make it funky. The percussion loop was influenced by Lionel Ritchie’s All Night Long. [Laughs].
J: I can hear it now!
S: I couldn’t be Johnny Marr. I couldn’t start with guitar lines. I was just trying to do things that were interesting in a production way. Like Alsatian Cousin with its hard and dirty ‘dun-un dun-un dun-un’ at the beginning. I was just thinking, how can I make songs interesting, without having to rely on my guitar playing!
J: Bengali in Platforms has a lovely gentle sound.
S: I love that song. I know it got a lot of stick but I just love the middle eight section on that.
J: It always makes me want to do a little light tap dance.
S: It’s great. Vini’s guitar playing on it is really very nice as well. I remember Morrissey saying to be that he wanted a long, rambling, kind of something that Patti [Smith] would do, something major that was different to anything else. So I was trying to make something interesting on Maudlin Street before even the guitar playing started.
J: I don’t think there’s a bad song on there.
S: I think it’s patchy in places, I don’t mind if you forget me could have gone missing for me. I do love the line ‘rejection is one thing…’ but I’m not proud of what I did as a producer on that track, I think I could have made it better. I listen to that one and I go: ‘Oh! Stephen you could have done better with that…’
J: Really? I love the pace of I don’t mind.
S: I love Ordinary Boys. I don’t know why Morrissey decided to take it off the reissue. It’s great.
J: Going back to Strangeways. ‘Okay Stephen, shall we do that again?’ Why did you keep this on?
S: Because normally when a track finishes you hit the stop before people start talking; but for some reason the tape was still rolling when he said it. I always remember talking to him about some Marc Bolan tracks where you hear Marc talking, and how as a fan, you really kind of like that. So I said to Morrissey: ‘Shall we keep it on there? People hear your singing voice but don’t very often hear you talking.’ It was kind of an in-joke too, because it’s like, me saying it to him too, or him referring to himself in the third person. I know he never called himself Steven, but we all know that’s his first name. It wasn’t an egotistical thing, it was a joke, him talking, who’s he talking to…
J: It was such a treat for the listener.
S: Yes. A treat for the fans [Laughs].
J: Your work has a lot of little jolts and treats in there. Particularly with false fade out on That Joke Isn’t Funny anymore and Some girls are bigger than others.
S: True. That’s something from the producer or engineer’s point of view that’s like a little surprise or jolt. Plus a little bit of Beatles influence. There were always little treats for the ear.
J: Were there ever conversations regarding the Stephen/Steven similarity?
S: We never really referred to it. No-one ever, ever called him Steven. We joked once about how my name is spelt wrong and his name is spelt correctly [Laughs]. I think he said: ‘It’s bad enough being called Steven with a V, let alone a ph’. Something like that.
J: Would you work with Morrissey again? If he knocked on that door and said ‘Alright Stephen’ what would you say?
S: Do you know, it’s funny because about two years ago I was lying in bed thinking it’s a real shame we haven’t been in touch for many years. So I wrote a really friendly letter and gave it to my manager and asked her to get it to Morrissey. We met up for dinner in London and had a really lovely evening. We got on great, exchanged emails and talked about remastering the Viva Hate reissue, which we went on to do.
J: Have you kept in touch with Johnny?
S: I saw him at the remastering of The Smiths stuff. He texted me and I hung out with him for a couple of days doing that. It was really nice.
J: Could there be something there, in the future?
S: I would like to work with Johnny again but I think he has his own path, and his own engineer and studio that he uses. I really like his new single. I have a lot of professional respect for Johnny.
J: Did you follow Morrissey’s career after you stopped working with him?
S: I did. Initially I followed it really closely, then I thought well, I’ve got to move on now really. I tried to stop being so obsessed. I liked Irish Blood, English Heart.
J: You must have been blown away when you found out that he was working with Mick Ronson and Tony Visconti.
S: I was. I love that album ‘Your Arsenal’. I really like that record.
J: If Morrissey came to your house, what snacks would you put out for him?
S: I think it would be a bowl of crisps. When we were making ‘Meat Is Murder’ the band survived on crisps and chocolate bars. It was amazing. And eggs.
J: Apparently he gave up eggs earlier this year.
S: Ah. I was going to go for scrambled eggs on toast [Laughs].
J: What’s your favourite Smiths record?
S: This Charming Man. It’s just so exuberant; the whole thing is bursting with energy. You hear that guitar break and it explodes.
J: What about one that you produced… Last Night, Death of A Disco Dancer…
S: I love those tracks but There is a Light is a track where all the components worked together and made it beautiful.
J: Do you have a favourite Johnny record?
S: I liked what he did with The The. But I thought Get The Message was a great single.
J: What’s your favourite pizza topping?
S: I like fennel and salami. In Pizza Express. Check that one out.
J: Fennel and salami? Meat is not murder, then, for Mr Street?
S: I do eat meat I’m afraid.
J: What’s your favourite restaurant? Is it Pizza Express?
S: [Laughs] I do like it there but there’s a nice Italian in Putney called Entocatoti. It’s got a great wine list. Fantastic.
J: Is wine your drink of choice then?
S: [Laughs] Yes. I guess so.
J: Red or white?
S: Depends on the season [Laughs].
J: What do you like to do on a Friday night?
S: I like to go for a nice meal or a drink at the end of the week.
J: Do you ever stay in on a Friday?
S: I tend to stay in more on Saturday nights than on Fridays…
J: See, thing is, we have a twitter quiz - @mozarmyquiz – that we’d love you to host one week.
S: Oh right! Yes! I can do that for you one week. Lets do it in the New Year.
J: Would you write a note for my mum?
S: Yes I would.
J: Finally, if you could choose one word to sum up your time with The Smiths and Morrissey, what word would you choose?
S: That’s a difficult one. I told you I’m not very good with words… Em… it’s two words: Life Changing
J: That’s a great summation. I think you are good with words.
S: Well, maybe those two.
You can follow Stephen on twitter @streetstephen. He’s currently making a new album with Pete Docherty, working with a band called Summer Camp and a singer called Mimi (based in Germany). He says he’s not good with one-liners for interviews.
Okay Stephen, shall we do that again?
© All content is copyright Julie Hamill 2012. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without consent from Julie Hamill is strictly prohibited.
Fifteen minutes with Tony Fletcher, author of ‘A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of The Smiths’
Tony Fletcher’s latest biography: ‘A Light That Never Goes Out – The Enduring Saga of The Smiths’ looks big, thick and serious when it lands on my door mat. It features four smile-free Smith-faces on a black cover, not looking at each other, suggesting the air of a ‘whodunit’ and a possible role for Regis. As a self-confessed slow reader with a plodding pace, I was worried about getting through it in time for an interview with the author. It took me three weeks and four days to finish, after which I felt nourished, enlightened and excited to meet him.
It’s true that Smiths and Morrissey books are well-trodden paths and that famous knock of Johnny on Morrissey’s door has been thorougly documented, but ‘A Light That Never Goes Out’ is a bit like thinking that all the chocolate in the selection box is finished; then going on to find another untouched, unopened selection box behind the couch. The ‘Mars Bar’ chapter is in the second meeting of The Smiths; when Morrissey knocks on Johnny’s door, climbing up to the attic passing pictures of Coronation St heroes to reach Johnny’s record-shop bedroom. Here the book flips perspective to reflect a new view and is in no small way due to Fletcher’s in-depth interviews with Johnny Marr over the course of two years of extensive research.
Glimpses into young Smiths’ characters are revealed amidst a social and cultural back-drop of the seventies: Johnny and Andy as boys with guitars strumming along to ‘Peace Perfect Peace’ at Sunday mass; Morrissey leaving St Mary’s at lunchtimes to go home to his mum for dinner; and Johnny getting egg’d after being sacked from The Co-Op (then walking home in the snow like a ‘frozen omelette’). It is this narrative of vivid 3D images that make the book cinematic: the build up of the four individual paths coming together to rise and fuse a chemistry of music and poetry that the world had never seen before - then end it all spectacularly - just shy of the release of the final album.
Author Tony Fletcher has secured his own place in Smiths history. His nineteen year old self conducted Morrissey’s first ever TV live interview at the Hacienda in 1984. Technical difficulties aside, he remembers the evening vividly, reflecting on how the four young Smiths were never apart: ‘They were very closely huddled together, like The South Park kids… I remember they would walk around together, cross the room together, go to the stage together…’
Tony’s life long relationship with music and literature began - incredibly - at fourteen – with an interview from Paul Weller for his school fanzine. On meeting Weller: ‘I deliberately didn’t put the school badge on my blazer, so that I could look like a mod’.
[Tony’s band ‘Apocalypse’ went on to be the last ever support group to tour with The Jam].
We managed to cover most aspects of his life – including his other published biographies and his style of writing. We talked about the Hacienda (when he shared a dressing room with Madonna) and of course… his favourite sandwich filling. We even had a brief drift into the existentialist nature of The Smiths… but by this point, my mind had already been exploded, blown up and bombed by the fizz and excitement of Tony’s tales, so we parted, and I floated home in the wrong direction.
J: Please say your full name.
T: Anthony John Fletcher. I don’t know why my parents chose that name, I guess because it was popular at that time.
J: Please describe yourself in a sentence.
J: What line of work were your parents in?
T: My mum was an English teacher and chorister. My dad was a professor of music, musician and author. If you think about it, it makes complete sense that I’m a music author; it was in the genes.
J: They must be very proud.
My mum has a shelf of my books. She even read my X-rated novel: ‘Hedonism’. I sent it to her because I wanted her to have every book of mine. I said to her: ‘just put this one on the shelf, you don’t have to read it’. She got back to me later, saying: ‘Oh it’s great it’s just like Irvine Welsh! Like Trainspotting!’ I was like: ‘Mum! You’ve read Trainspotting?!’
Mrs Fletcher’s book shelf
J: [Laughs] Who shortened your name to ‘Tony’?
T: Paul Weller.
J: What! I wasn’t expecting that answer…
T: I know! When I started Paul Weller took me under his wing, to a large degree, and he always called me ‘Tone’ or ‘Tony’ and it was evident that ‘Anthony’ was just far too middle class. I was fourteen.
J: How did you know Paul Weller at fourteen?
T: I wrote to him after I started my fanzine at school. During the Summer of ’77 there was something going on in music. I was sitting in a maths lesson, reading ‘Sounds’ under my desk and thought that starting a fanzine would be fun. We did four issues that were pretty crap but I really enjoyed doing it. So about a year later I wanted to step it up and wrote to a bunch of people to get interviews. Paul Weller was one of them. He wrote back and said: ‘Yeah come up to the studio we’re making a new album’. It was ‘All Mod Cons’. I wore my new black school blazer as we were moving up from third year to fourth year. I deliberately didn’t put the school badge on, so that I could look like a mod. The first words he said were: ‘Oh alright, have you come straight from school then?’
J: Ah… crushed! He was young himself then too…
T: He was around twenty. There was an interview he gave where he said that he couldn’t write teenage anthems anymore because he was twenty.
J: You’ve had a lot of jobs: the magazine, TV Presenter; DJ, novelist, biographer…
T: I have to say… not one of those is actually a ‘job’. They are all basically to do with avoiding having to do a job [Laughs]. The closest we ever got was at the end of Jamming - now www.ijamming.net - when it had an office, which I enjoyed, but it got too nine to five for me at that point with a PAYE scheme. But other than that, I’ve never had a job.
J: Because you’ve never wanted one?
J: Which one of those areas of ‘socio-cultural experience’ - not job - did you enjoy most?
T: Well there was a danger of me being like a jack-of-all-trades when I was younger. If you start out doing something and it takes off, you need to have incredible presence of mind to resist temptation to do other things. The weird thing is that I started the magazine because I thought it would be fun but the truth is I thought I’d be in a band. We had a band at school.
J: What was the band name?
T: The band was called ‘Apocalypse’. God awful name, but we did release a couple of singles – Paul Weller produced one – we toured with The Jam, we were the last ever support group with The Jam. We did all right.
J: Were you the singer?
T: I was not. I’ve got an awful singing voice. I wrote part of the songs as guitarist, keyboardist, but part of the problem with the group was with two writers and there was competition for songs, as opposed to partnership. I didn’t set out to be a writer until much later in life. I’m really glad I wrote books like the Bunnymen and the REM book and I had a busy career as a freelance journalist. When I moved to New York, I had a room mate who was waiter in the VIP room at the Limelight, so we started an alternative night there, where I was DJ, he was host. I mention that because it was too good to turn down. Eventually when I got married I came back from my honeymoon and packed in the club and decided to focus on my writing. I’m proud of all these things but they are all very connected to music and media. I also worked for ‘Rapido’ for a while, that was fun. In fact it was the most fun job I ever had because I worked remotely, with no boss. The first thing I did for them was with Samantha Fox, and it went from that to Keith Richards and James Brown. I spent a day with James Brown where he called me ‘Mr Fletcher’ because it’s the BBC. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid for it.
J: Where do you live now?
T: The Catskills, NY. I lived in Manhattan first, then Brooklyn, then moved up to the mountains. It’s a natural progression once you have kids. I knew when I got to New York it was where I wanted to be. So after living in Manhattan for a while we moved to Brooklyn. It was quite a run down area at the time, but a very special block in Park Slope.
J: Park Slope is a very upmarket area now, isn’t it?
T: Yes but it wasn’t at the time. There was gunfire at night and cocaine on the corner. Having said that, it was a multi-cultural block with stoops and my older boy got to grow up in a culture where kids play on the street. When we moved we sold it to a banker couple, because that’s what the place had changed into.
J: Why did you move from Brooklyn to the Catskills?
T: I wasn’t moving forward, in my life and my relationship, in Brooklyn, so something needed to happen, and then our second kid came along and that was it. We already had a very small place in the Catskills to go to on the weekends, but we kept finding ourselves in that Sunday evening thing where we’d drive back to the city and were like: why are we doing this? We spoke to a few other couples that had settled up there and they recommended it. There are so many artistic people up there, musical, creative; it’s a wonderful place to live.
J: Let’s talk about that interview at the Hacienda.
T: [Laughs] Okay…
J: When you look back at yourself, what do you think?
T: That is the one piece of my very short-lived on-camera career that I cannot bear to watch. I realise now being older how to handle a situation like that. It was just very tense. It was Morrissey’s first interview. I had interviewed Wham and Elvis Costello live, so I was used to that, but this was the first ever live outside broadcast and it connected back to another live broadcast in Newcastle, so they were running two live shows at once. That might seem easy these days but it was a real big deal then. In the Hacienda they had these ‘Factory All Stars’ on stage and they were really cool members of New Order, A Certain Ratio and Section 25, doing something together to a backing track. The producer said to us: ‘Right you’re up in the balcony; they’re playing down there, when we count you in they’ll kill the sound and you’ll carry on with Morrissey’.
J: … and they didn’t kill the sound…
T: That’s why it’s embarrassing because they counted us in and I went to start talking and it was so noisy! The Hacienda had famously bad acoustics anyway, and Morrissey couldn’t hear me! And I couldn’t hear him. And he’s tall! So I was like shouting up to him but it’s evident that he can’t hear me so I made the mistake of looking to camera like: ‘Are we on?’ The faces of the Director next to the camera just dropped and they sent someone off to the soundboard. What could have been a really sharp two minutes, it was me just shouting at Morrissey and him shouting back at me.
J: [Laughs] It has a beauty all of its own… you’re both young and awkward and it captures early Morrissey. I think it’s lovely to watch how people develop.
T: That’s interesting, from my perspective it was difficult, it was hard. It was great that people watched it because it was his first TV interview.
J: I think you should forgive your nineteen year-old self.
T: I don’t think I can forgive myself for that jacket! [Laughs]. The Michael Jackson jacket! Having said that, it’s a Johnsons jacket so I’m assuming that Johnny Marr would approve.
J: How were all four of the Smiths that night?
T: They were new and they were very eager. I was talking to Johnny about this memory - that they did have that ‘gang’ mentality – despite what we now know about the financial set up. All four of them were very closely huddled together, like the South Park kids. They all came in to give Morrissey their support and I remember they would walk around together, cross the rooms together, go to the stage together…
J: I love that image. The Hacienda was full of young talent that night. Madonna was there too wasn’t she?
T: Yes, Madonna was there, she shared our dressing room, and they gave her a little blind to change behind.
J: Madonna shared your dressing room?
T: I cannot think why, at nineteen, I needed a dressing room, but we needed somewhere to be in between, like a green room, and Jools Holland was in Manchester so he might have needed one.
J: How did you end up presenting The Tube at nineteen?
T: Because of doing the magazine. When The Tube started they did a story on Jamming and put it out half way through the series. Then they invited me up to be on live, which really was amazing. They said they were going to keep in touch, called me in the summer and did some testing.
J: How did you come to write the Echo and The Bunnymen book?
T: When my magazine packed up in 1986 and I was in debt one of my really good friends told me that there were some problems with trying to get a Bunnymen book together. Barely a week passed between Jamming going under and me being in debt to be asked to write this Bunnymen book. It’s never been so easy since because I approached Echo and The Bunnymen and said ‘Are you interested in a book?’ and they said ‘Yeah.’
J: Are you happy with your books?
T: The writing has got better over the years. The R.E.M. first edition just got a final update. I was re-reading it and pretty happy with the writing, and thought it’s okay, it’s good, it’s fine. The novel is great but it was a hard sell. The Clash book doesn’t really count in the sense that it’s not a biography but I really enjoyed doing it, just writing about the music for once. The book on the New York City music scene I’m really proud of.
J: What advice would you give to young writers?
T: Write everyday. If you can’t write everyday then you’re not a writer. That’s how you’ll answer that question, and in a way it will take over. I don’t pick up my guitar everyday, but I do write. If I was meant to be a musician I would be picking up my guitar everyday. You know what you are based on the fact that you can’t live without it. I think writing is really hard as a creative endeavour because it’s so solitary. If you’re in a band you get feedback from other musicians, and even if you’re a solo musician with headphones on the music is feeding back to you, so you can stay up all night working on that. With writing, there’s nobody out there to filter work. I’ve got nobody really that I could give half a book to, nobody I’d trust. If you have a piece of music it’s much easier to get a demo recording. The solitary aspect is a tough endeavour.
J: True, but I think what you said about the musician and the music feeding back to you rings true for writing too. Reading over or enjoying writing about a character and their development can be rewarding and sort of, ‘the petrol’ for the next bit.
T: You’re talking about fiction now?
J: Yes, sorry.
T: I think with non-fiction, you get to the point that there’s so much paperwork, and it’s research all the time. It becomes work. I think it’s harder, certainly for me.
J: And there’s the pressure to be factually accurate all the time.
T: But I think when you’re writing fiction and the characters go off and it’s like you’re watching them running around the room it’s really quite fun.
J: Was there a point in your life where you clicked and thought: ‘That’s it! I’m a writer’?
T: There’s genuinely a part of me that still thinks ‘hopefully one day I’ll be a writer’. I read other peoples books and think they’re better than mine. But I also have people tell me I’m a good writer.
J: I think you have to have those insecurities to spur yourself on.
T: Absolutely. Michael Stipe has insecurities and he’s a genius. The answer would probably be when the Keith Moon book came out. Barely a week goes by where I don’t hear someone say it’s a great music biography and that blows me away. But at the same time, I’m like, well how the hell do I follow that up?
J: You interviewed a lot of people for ‘A Light’, most significantly Johnny Marr.
T: I think Johnny was the most important interviewee for the book. If Johnny hadn’t co-operated it would have been hard. I did ask Morrissey - a few times - but I figured we wouldn’t get him. Johnny holds the key to The Smiths legacy. The number of people I went to talk to who said: ‘Does Johnny know about this?’ and I had to tell them yes; then they were like: ‘Okay well if Johnny’s alright with it then yeah, I’d love to be part of the book’.
J: Did you hear back from Morrissey?
T: His assistant assured me that he had received the letters. It would have been wonderful if he’d decided to write back with why not, but he didn’t and that’s that.
J: Before we get into the book, can we talk about the cover? It looks a bit like a murder mystery… Morrissey is facing away from the other three, it’s set on a black background, nobody is smiling… obviously I know what happens at the end but if I didn’t I’d be expecting maybe a death… or a prison sentence…
T: [Laughs] That’s great if that’s what you thought. A few people have likened it to the cover of ‘With The Beatles’. We wanted something quite classic. The idea was that The Smiths didn’t need an introduction, so we didn’t put anything on the back cover either. It was just like, this is The Smiths, this is the book, these are the people. I hope that worked, I have a nightmare with covers.
J: It does. It has a very authoritative air. Is it an ‘enduring saga’ or a ‘complete history’?
T: When I did the synopsis I just came up with ‘enduring saga’ and it stuck. I sold it as that title. The idea is that The Smiths are an ongoing fascination, and that’s why it’s enduring.
J: Within the introduction you talk about why you wrote it: to set The Smiths in a socio-cultural and political context, with in-depth family background. Why did you approach it this way?
T: It’s a pattern in all my books, it’s massively important to set the cultural scene. My book about the New York City music scene has seventeen different chapters like that, all about the social, economic, immigration context and how that produced disco. I thought it was really important. That first chapter of ‘A Light’ – about Manchester - took me more time to write than any other chapter in the book.
J: Which other Smiths biographers do you admire?
T: Johnny Rogan’s was a really important book when it came out. When he wrote that book people didn’t really know about The Smiths. I think that’s partly why his book was so successful.
J: It had a controversial title too.
T: Oh, yes. It was an important book. I am also very clear in my book for praise of Simon Goddard’s ‘Songs that saved your life’. A great book for the real Smiths fanatics. It’s quite possible you can’t jump into my book unless you’re a real Smiths fanatic too.
J: To me, ‘A Light’ suggests a serious, authoritative and heavy read, but in fact the joy of reading it was in the many colourful demonstrations and glimpses into character.
T: I think details are important. Morrissey drops details into his lyrics for example - a rented room in Whalley Range – it’s all truth that adds colour. My favourite stories in there are the ones that I could identify with. I’m the same school year as Johnny and Andy and I went to a grammar school that became a comprehensive the same year as theirs did so I felt I could identify with a lot of what they went through. Ivor Perry telling me that Morrissey was stopped for his lunch money on Kings Road intrigued me. They wouldn’t beat him up; it was more of a tax really. I was a weaker kid when I was younger and in those days it was accepted. It is what it is: ‘Give us your lunch money, yep, fifty pee, now walk on.’ I don’t take any delight in reporting that but I think a lot of us who grew up in England at that time will identify with this.
J: Please tell me what these symbols are at the start of some of the chapters, and what they signify – the first one is on p. 20.
T: Ah! Well spotted. It’s a spindle, the centre of a record.
J: Ah! Of course it is!
T: Do you want an exclusive?
T: That record, that says ‘A Light that never goes out’ (p. 19). The idea was to have a 7” single. It’s a tribute to what The Smiths always wanted when they started - an indie record with a classic punch out label. It’s there partly to remind you that The Smiths were maybe one of the last great vinyl bands. They made 45s, and that’s what this band is about. We scanned an actual rare Smiths record, that’s the Rough Trade label, and we just put in ‘A Light That Never Goes Out’. It’s important to me that it was a Smiths record. That’s the first time I’ve ever told anybody that.
J: Thank you. Is it your favourite Smiths record?
T: Those change day by day.
J: Every author/biographer/Smiths fan thinks that the story began when Johnny knocked on Morrissey’s door. Do you think that is when the story began? Johnny and Andy were messing about and swapping guitars for years before that happened, developing sounds together.
T: Johnny developed The Smiths riffs after that though. And Morrissey had the poems ready just waiting for someone to come along and accompany them. I think the answer is that it started at that door on Kings Road, when Johnny knocked on the door with Stephen Pomfret. It’s that Patti Smith line - Morrissey looked at Johnny - ‘the boy looked at Johnny’ and said you’re the one I’ve been waiting for.
J: I love that Morrissey was just waiting for something to happen, rather than going out and looking for it, almost as if he just knew there would be a knock on the door.
T: I think that’s a very existential conversation, there’s just no answer to this… Morrissey is sitting indoors, waiting, just waiting… and it happens. And it shouldn’t! Because everything says ‘Morrissey! You’re wasting your life away, running out of opportunities…’
J: He just knows it’s going to happen.
T: There are no explanations for this. What would have happened if Johnny hadn’t knocked on his door? Well that’s hypothetical, and he did, it happened, if you want to get conceptual and spiritual about it you could say that Johnny was always going to knock on his door.
J: One of my favourite chapters in the book is when Morrissey goes round to Johnny’s house for the first time, and again there are connections and commonalities, the landlady with the Corrie pictures…
T: I took the description of the attic room from what Johnny and other people said, because everybody has always talked about when Johnny went to Morrissey’s door, so I thought I’d flip it round. Johnny is four years younger, a real jack the lad, room full of records, I can imagine Morrissey might be intimidated the first time he walks into Johnny’s room.
J: Were there any really challenging areas when you were writing the book, where you just thought, I need to persevere and get through this…
T: I think sometimes… there’s a certain formula you try to avoid when writing about an album. I tried to make sure I wrote about each album in a different way. Trying to find a way to write about an album… do you talk about it song by song, or about the making of the album, or review the finished album as a complete entity? That’s hard for a biographer.
J: Your opinions creep into the book quite a lot, particularly in the Strangeways chapter. I’m not sure you share the opinion with Morrissey and Johnny that it’s their finest album…
T: No I don’t. Do you?
J: I’m all about The Smiths first album. I like the discovery. It’s unpolished, fast, exciting, slightly harsh and wild in parts, gentle in others.
T: Some songs came out better than others… The Hand That Rocks The Cradle is one.
J: So if it’s not Strangeways or The Smiths, what is your favourite Smiths album?
T: I think Meat Is Murder and The Queen Is Dead really stand up as albums, and will continue to do so. The Queen Is Dead is the stronger political statement. It’s classic great lyricism - but it’s not as much Queen Elizabeth as I had thought in 1986 - it could be any queen, including a drag Queen. Meat Is Murder is a great album, and knocked Born In The USA off number one. That was a massive achievement, and it stands up as Northern, indie. The Queen Is Dead is the conventional masterpiece that sounds better on American radio. Strangeways tarnishes the view because you listen to it knowing that the band have broken up. REM were so smart, they knew they were breaking up but the album came out six months before they did, so people were able to form their own opinions. Now the fact is: it’s obvious that’s their last album in retrospect. But people should be allowed to form their own opinion before knowing it’s the last album. From my personal point of view there are great songs, but with the greatest of respect you have to be wary that just because somebody said Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me is the best production that it’s the best song. If you asked somebody out in the street they’d say This Charming Man over Last Night. It also reflects a band that’s very much in the studio. Incredible production but does it have the same impact as This Charming Man or William? I don’t think so. I think it’s a transitional album. I would have loved to know what they would have done next.
J: If they had continued, which direction do you think they would have gone in?
T: Well, again, in a way it’s irrelevant because it’s back to existentialism. Having said that, there are lots of comparisons between The Smiths and R.E.M. The fifth album R.E.M. made was transitional, then they came off the road, and wrote ‘Out Of Time’ (which was phenomenally successful). I think that’s what The Smiths could have done.
J: Do you think that people listen to Strangeways differently, perhaps with a tinge of sadness because they know it’s a break up album, so as they’re listening to it they have already formed their opinion sad, romantic, bittersweet…
T: Yes. It’s very hard to listen to I won’t share you and pretending you didn’t know the band were going to break up. I can’t listen to that song without thinking, surely there’s a message going out there, surely… very hard to listen.
J: I have a question here from @vivahate72. He wants to know if your next book is going to be a Blur book because you reference Blur at the end.
T: No, sorry! [Laughs]. It will be the memoir, ‘Boy About Town’. It’s fifty short stories that really recount being at school in the 1970s, dreaming of being a rock star, wrapped in a complete musical and social history of the era.
J: I can’t wait.
T: It all weaves together even though each story could be read on its own. I’m really excited about it.
J: Before we finish, is there anything else that you wanted to say about your current book that you haven’t said so far?
T: Yes there is. It’s important to note that it’s an international book. In the past biographers have written about The Smiths as the Manchester band, everyone else cut off. The Smiths don’t just belong to Britain. The Smiths were massive in America. It lays out the American story too, the modern rock scene, so the Brits get their chapter a little earlier, then the Americans get their scene too. It’s a big part of the story.
J: I notice that the American edition has a very bright and lively cover too! Is that reflective of the moods of each nation?
T: [Laughs] I don’t know about covers. I do know that my British editor said: ‘I don’t really like that American cover’ and the American editor said: ‘I don’t really like that British cover’. So you draw your own conclusions…
American cover - Dec 4 release
J: If Morrissey was to walk in here right now and say ‘Alright Tony’ what would you say?
T: I’d say ‘Hi Morrissey, how are you?’
J: If he was coming to your house, what snacks would you put out?
T: Oh well, I’m vegan. I’m going to back up. I would say: ‘Hi Morrissey. Sit down’. He looked really good in Albany; he’s lost weight. And the Meat Is Murder video is showing factory farming of hens. I read that he had finally given up eggs. Which is great, but long overdue. So I’d sit him down and replicate all his dairy habits with vegan food, give him vegan cup cakes. So I’d like to talk to him about where his line is on vegetarianism is, and why he’s always been such a strong proponent for vegetarianism, but continued to eat so much dairy and wear animal products. Because it makes sense to go the whole nine yards.
J: When was the last time you last spoke to Morrissey?
T: Back in The Smiths days the last time we spoke.
J: At the Hacienda?
T: [Laughs] we did a phone interview after that but I won’t pretend that I’m his personal friend.
J: What is your favourite record of all time?
T: Ocean Rain is a perfect album. Echo and the Bunnymen.
J: What’s your favourite Johnny record or period since he left The Smiths?
T: The first Electronic record. They really caught that post-Madchester vibe. Johnny’s input is quietly stated but it’s there alright.
J: What’s your favourite drink?
T: I only drink beer and wine these days. It would have to be a good American IPA. I’m a runner. I strongly suspect that runners run so that they can have a pint at the end.
J: What’s your favourite biscuit?
T: I don’t really eat biscuits.
J: What’s your favourite sandwich filling?
T: Peanut butter and banana.
J: Favourite movie?
T: ‘The Kids Are Alright’ – The Who movie from 1979.
J: Favourite actor?
T: Albert Finney in ‘Saturday Night Sunday Morning’ and Phil Daniels in ‘Quadrophenia’.
J: Favourite thing your mum says?
T: ‘It’s your beloved mother…’
J: Favourite Morrissey song.
T: I can’t. There’s not one. Changes all the time.
J: Favourite fruit?
J: Favourite discovery in your book, that you didn’t know.
T: Physical discoveries: the original Rough Trade contract and a number of personal letters from Morrissey to Tony Wilson, which I didn’t reprint in full. Emotional discoveries, I think it was the importance of all four personalities in the Smiths. It wasn’t just Morrissey, it wasn’t just Marr, and it would not have been the same without Andy and Johnny. Especially Andy who I think in many ways was the soul of the band and who’s musical input has been under-rated. Hopefully I got all of that across.
J: Can you write a note for my mum?
T: Yes! Do you have everybody that you interview write a note to your mum?
J: Yes. She loves it. She keeps a folder.
You can follow Tony on twitter @tonyfletcher. His next book ‘Boy About Town’ is out in 2013. (I hope it’s a big fat fatty).
© All content is copyright Julie Hamill 2012. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without consent from Julie Hamill is strictly prohibited.
I arrived early to meet Boyd Hilton at ‘Heat Towers’, so I asked the receptionist if I could quickly nip to the ladies. She directed me through a set of double doors that led straight into a busy desk area. I became slightly anxious that I was suddenly among the cool people, and wondered if I shouldn’t have rejected the (as yet Gok-approved) ‘double cord’ look I had previously considered.
However on second glance the Heat uniform appeared to be hoodies and Converse - a very informal, relaxed, laid back environment - not the intimidating Devil-Wears-Prada fash-off I thought it was going to be.
As I make my way back to reception I see the daddy of the laid back. Boyd Hilton is wearing a green zipped hoodie, jeans and trademark jaunty glasses.
’Hello Boyd!’ I say, shaking his hand. ‘So glad there’s no pressure to dress ‘cool’ in the Heat office, what with all the celebrities and all…’
‘Ha!’ he laughs, ‘not at all! I’m always dressed like a chav!’
We head off to Costa Coffee and Boyd tells me about his day job, running what might be described as Heat’s more ‘literary corner’ – reviews of books, movies, and TV shows, attending premiers, being on TV, [Jews At Ten] his radio work with Richard Bacon and his Arsenal podcast with other guest hosts such as Dermot O’Leary, Dan Baldwin and Ben Winston.
I’m fascinated by his Cilla-encrusted life, surrounded by stories of Chezza’s new ‘boyf’ and latest vajazzles. He seems an unlikely Morrissey fan, but he’s as ardent as any obsessive, claiming Vauxhall and I as the period in Morrissey’s career when he was ‘really on top of it’. He does not conform to all-Morrissey-fans-must-just-like-indie belief, having very catholic taste in music.
His likes crime fiction, blackberries and his favourite Corrie character is the late Blanche. His drink of choice is Coors Light. Amongst all the movie premiers, concerts, events, parties and dinners… the best night out he ever had was Morrissey at The Palladium, 2006, ‘when he wore the tux’.
He met Morrissey after the BBC Radio Theatre gig for ‘Years of Refusal’. David Walliams made the introduction. When Boyd said he worked for Heat, Morrissey replied [something like]: ‘It is what it is…’
J: Please say your full name.
B: Boyd Jonathon Hilton. My family originated from Eastern Europe so my original name was Horovitz then my grandfather changed it to ‘Hilton’ like a lot of Anglicised Jews do.
J: Are you watching ‘Jewish Mum of the Year’ on Channel 4 right now?
B: Yes I am! I’m on the show that’s on straight after, ‘Jews at ten’.
J: That’s a very funny show.
B: Yes I make a few appearances throughout the series.
J: Can you give us a picture of your typical day at Heat?
B: I’m TV and Reviews Editor. I’m in charge of that section of the magazine, so, one day I’m deciding what we’re going to cover in terms of TV, music, books, films, DVDs then the next day it’s commissioning people to write about each one. I also write stuff myself, so it’s then all a case of putting it together and delivering it, really. Equally, some days I might be interviewing someone, or doing my radio show with Richard Bacon on BBC Radio 5 Live, or going out to see a movie premier, a launch, stuff like that.
J: There are lots of ‘celebrity’ magazines on the shelf now. What makes ‘Heat’ different?
B: Yes it is a celebrity gossip magazine, in the same market as about nine others. Most of the magazines that are in the same place have risen since we started. The element that makes us different is that although we cover all the same stuff in terms of X-Factor etc., we also review films, TV, books and music and the other magazines don’t really bother with that.
J: Whose face sells the most magazines?
B: David Beckham, Victoria Beckham, just say The Beckhams [Laughs] Cheryl Cole… the cover is all about a good story really.
Just so hot right now
J: How often does ‘Heat’ get in trouble for circulating rumours?
B: Very rarely.
J: Is it because you write it as ‘speculation’ rather than fact?
B: Yeah. The stuff we write is harmless speculation, or stuff we’ve been told by people close to those people. We get access to the stars when they are available.
J: What’s life like in the office?
B: It’s great fun! I’ve been at Heat for thirteen years. It’s a really nice place to work, we all work very hard… we listen to our iPods… it’s very informal.
J: Do people heat their lunches in the microwave?
B: Yes, definitely, people do that all the time. I don’t heat stuff up in the microwave but it definitely happens. Newspapers are much more formal, you’d be encouraged to wear a suit and tie there. Not sure they’d have a microwave. [laughs]
J: What type of celebrities do you enjoy interviewing/writing about?
B: It varies, really. I like comedians – Ricky Gervais, David Walliams, French and Saunders. I like TV comedy. Russell Brand too.
J: Who’s your favourite interviewee?
B: Probably Elton John. I spoke to him twice – once in Atlanta and once in Las Vegas. That was great and he is a brilliant interviewee. I’ve done Ricky Gervais about ten times, that’s always a lot of fun, as is David Walliams, I’ve got another one with him due next week at the Literature Festival.
J: David is a big Morrissey fan as well, isn’t he?
B: Massive. Six foot five [laughs].
Massive Moz fan
J: It’s interesting that you have such a love of indie music and yet you’re in a mainstream ‘celebrity’ job… did you ever want to work for other more specialist music magazines that reflect your taste?
B: Not really. I would have liked to work for The Word magazine maybe, but now that’s closed so I guess I’m lucky I didn’t. Wouldn’t mind doing a few interviews for Rolling Stone, though!
J: How do you reconcile your love of The Smiths and Morrissey when you have to review a Cheryl Cole/Elton John/N Dubz album?
B: Well I do also like Elton John. I give the big pop reviews to colleagues and I stick with Moz, Pet Shop Boys etc…
J: So The Circle of Life sits next to Something is Squeezing My Skull in your record collection?
B: No… I like Elton’s classic stuff going back to the early 70s (Tiny Dancer is one of the best songs ever). Not so much the Disney songs, though they do work with the films.
J: What do you think of the preconception that Smiths/Morrissey fans should only have indie music or obscure 60s b-sides among their records?
B: It’s silly and unrealistic. It’s all about great songs for me and there are plenty of great songs that don’t fit the cool category Moz fans might adhere to.
J: Like a Bruce Willis 12”…
B: No fair enough. I love Bruce!
Big Bruce strikes again
J: Have you ever met Morrissey? Did you ask him about Heat?
B: I did! I met him and asked him and he was fine with it. He said something like: ‘It is what it is.’
J: When did you meet him?
B: I met him after the gig he did at the BBC Radio Theatre for ‘Years of Refusal’ and I was just lucky enough to be introduced to him afterwards. I have been to lots of Morrissey gigs and the after ‘drinks’ that the journalists go to. At that particular time he actually came to the drinks in the basement of the BBC.
J: What did he have to drink?
B: A bottle of beer
J: What was your conversation?
B: We’ll I was with David [Walliams] so David introduced us and we talked about the scent he was wearing… some kind of strong aftershave Morrissey was wearing…
J: Did it smell like a church?
Eau de Moz
B: He was worried about going on The One Show. He was doing it because his mum watched it. We talked about what his mum watches on TV, and the soaps he watches, Eastenders, Coronation Street… We talked about Crossroads [laughs]. He thought the gig went really well, he was in a good mood; there was a good atmosphere and everyone was really excited. In general he was really nice.
J: Have you covered him in Heat?
B: Yes! We did a whole page on him when his last album came out, we did five best Morrissey songs… we’ve never interviewed him. (a) I think it would be a hard sell for me to do and (b) I don’t think he would do it anyway.
J: In your magazine you have ‘Spotted!’ which has pictures of celebrities ‘doing all the same stuff we do’. If you spotted Morrissey, what would you like to see him doing?
B: Oh God. Umm… It would be quite funny to see him buying a copy of Heat!
Sign your life
J: If Morrissey was to walk in here right now and say ‘Alright Boyd?’ What would you say?
B: I’d say: ‘Do you remember meeting me five years ago after that gig at Radio 2? You were very nice.’ Although right now I’d probably ask him about that brilliant interview he did on the Colbert Report.
J: Great interview.
B: Yes I thought Morrissey was really funny, got the whole thing, very jovial. I thought Stephen Colbert was brilliant. Some people seemed to think that he didn’t get it, which I think is ridiculous because he clearly did.
J: If Morrissey was coming to your house what snacks would you put out for him?
B: I’d put out peanuts, a selection of nuts and fruit. I know he likes a beer, I’d get the best beer of the moment, Coors Light.
J: Is that your favourite drink?
B: Yes, I like Coors Light… gin and tonic… vodka and cranberry… I’m easy!
J: As a fan through the years, what’s your favourite Morrissey phase?
B: Vauxhall and I period, I’d say. I just thought he was really on top of it. Everything about that period was good. He looked good, the photos were great, he was free of controversies at the time. Or in between controversies! [laughs]. My two favourite albums are Vauxhall and I and Strangeways. For me, Vauxhall and I is as good as, if not better than The Smiths albums.
On top of it
J: Is that where you stand – Morrissey solo work is better than The Smiths?
B: It’s interesting really. Partly why he gets annoyed is because people don’t talk about his solo work, and it’s fantastic. Speedway, Now my heart is full, that whole album is incredible… and off ‘Your Arsenal’ there’s Tomorrow and I mean, National Front Disco is a brilliant song. These albums stand out, and I do think that the songwriting, production and sound are as good as if not better than any Smiths album. I like the more recent albums too but those are the best, for me.
J: What do you think of the recent reunion rumours?
B: All of those rumours are ridiculous. I am totally against a reunion. He wouldn’t do it, he knows it would be cheesy and exploitative. It would be great if he did a gig or something with Johnny Marr. But all four members of The Smiths? Calling themselves The Smiths? No.
J: Do you know of the #Mozarmy on twitter?
B: I’m aware of them, of course, yeah!
J: Would you host our quiz one week?
B: I would love to, but I’m always out on a Friday evening. I often look at twitter and see the questions and think ‘oh if I wasn’t out…’ Friday night is the one night I’m out. Even more than Saturday!
J: Is Friday night a night for Movie premiers?
B: Well… yes… tonight is the James Bond screening, but I always go to a gathering of and friends on a Friday. I’d rather go out on a Friday than a Saturday.
J: What has been the best night out you’ve ever had?
B: The Morrissey gigs! The Palladium, 2006, when he wore the tux. The Royal Albert Hall after he’d been away for a while was also exciting.
J: Were you with David Walliams that night of the Palladium? I seem to remember seeing him in a fancy tail coat… but it might have been at the Palladium gig of 2011.
B: Yes I was with him! I don’t remember his coat though… [Laughs]
J: What books and magazines do you read?
B: I like crime fiction, American, Harlan Coben is one of my favourites, I like the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child – Tom Cruise is in the new film. I like literary books as well, like Michael Chabon, those kinds of things. I love magazines, I read The New Yorker, Q, Mojo, Empire, everything.
J: Did magazines play a part in your life when you were growing up? Did you remove and pin the posters on your wall?
B: Yes the new romantic stuff was happening, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, but I also liked The Smiths, all the big eighties bands, really.
J: How did you get into The Smiths?
B: I was about fifteen, sixteen when they came along. I remember a friend at school asked me if I’d heard Hand In Glove and I think I was quite dismissive actually [Laughs]. Of course when I heard it I loved it immediately. I used to listen to John Peel as well so I was hearing it there and on David Jensen, so every time The Smiths brought out a new song, I heard it there and I just liked it.
J: Did you ever get to see them live?
B: It’s interesting; my memory is that I saw them at some kind of Anti-Apartheid festival in the early days. But I’ve since tried to track down what this gig was and I can’t find it, so I may have imagined it. I may not have done.
J: Why don’t you put the question out to the Mozarmy? There are a number of expert fans on twitter.
B: Yeah! I should, shouldn’t I? I’m sure there’s some comprehensive list somewhere. Part of me wants to have seen them, so maybe that’s it.
J: Are you vegetarian?
B: I was for years. I went to a school that served horrible meat and to get out of it I said I was vegetarian. Then I found myself in a situation where I had to eat meat (in hospital) and so now I eat fish and chicken. Morrissey would be horrified!
J: What’s your favourite thing to cook?
B: I do a baked pasta with parmesan and leeks. Lots of vegetables.
J: I bet Morrissey would love that! Better than nuts.
B: Well obviously I’d cook for him if he came round.
J: Favourite Fruit?
J: Favourite Film?
B: Manhattan. I’m a huge Woody Allen fan.
J: Favourite Soap character?
B: Someone from Coronation St. Probably that one who died.
J: In the tram crash?
B: No even before that…
J: Mike Baldwin?
B: No, too far back.
J: Blanche? Deirdrie’s mum?
B: Blanche is the one! Blanche!
J: Favourite pizza topping?
B: Umm, spinach and that egg one – fiorentina.
J: Favourite Smith?
J: Favourite biscuit?
B: Custard Cream.
J: Will you write a note to my mum?
B: Any kind of note? Anything?
Pat loves Corrie
Follow Boyd on twitter @boydhilton. Has he seen The Smiths?
Fifteen minutes with Andrew Paresi/McGibbon drummer with Morrissey on Viva Hate, Bona Drag and Kill Uncle
Curly haired, bright eyed and beaming, Andrew Paresi grandly beckons me through the wide front door of his West London home. We settle at the kitchen table and straight away he’s looking after me, like an uncle. Up, and stirring coffee by the Aga, he’s smiley and chatting, busying himself around the cups and milk. I feel like he’s going to ask me if I have enough money for lunch, check my bag for letters and reassure me that thirteen out of twenty is good enough for spelling….so it is with a fond and quiet smile that I politely decline his very kind offer of coins for the parking meter.
As I unpack my stuff I notice a plate of oatcakes laid out on the table.
“Oh do have one if you like!” he laughs heartily, curls bouncing.
Mr Paresi/McGibbon uses two names. One is for drumming – Paresi, and one for writing – McGibbon. It could be argued that he needs two hundred names as his cv stretches across everything that encompasses the arts. He is theatrical, wildly enthusiastic about music (with an encyclopaedic knowledge of drumming) and a very entertaining and respected comedy writer/director. But above all, he’s a performer.
As we talk, performances and mimicry ebb and flow from him as he smoothly delivers deadly accurate impressions. Blink and he’s Billy Connolly… blink again and he’s Morrissey. It’s like they’re all in there, waiting for their turn.
He has never halted his passions of drumming and writing comedy since parting with Morrissey, and is currently recording a new comedy TV pilot for the BBC with his production company ‘Curtains for Radio’. His latest drumming work can be found on the Franc Cinelli album ‘Good Times’ www.franccinelli.com. His comedy writing of ‘Eric The Gardener’/’Gripper’ stories in the 1990s for Radio One has amassed a cult following and is to be released on iTunes in the coming weeks. https://vimeo.com/50830096
His time as Morrissey’s drummer is well documented in a book and radio show: I was Morrissey’s Drummer http://smithstorrents.co.uk/junk/iwmd.zip It includes excerpts from Stephen Street, Suggs, Clive Langer and Andy Rourke, but Andrew still had plenty of stories to add about Morrissey, drumming, influences, acting, music… and Jaffa cakes.
Renowned as a constant source of laughter for Morrissey, it’s not difficult to see why he was chosen as first solo drummer. In addition to his precise and powerful drumming on tracks like Disappointed and Everyday Is Like Sunday it’s clear that Andrew just must have been like smelling salts during a period of raw Smiths-grief.
During our interview he revealed what it felt like to make a record with Morrissey: ‘it was agape really. Having that voice in your head while you were drumming was mind blowing’; he described his style of drumming on the albums as hard-hitting: ‘I played the nuts off everything I did’; and when he heard the finished Viva Hate: ‘It sounded fresh, disturbing and beautiful… a serious body of work’.
He doesn’t eat pizza, but if he did, his favourite topping would be quattro formaggi. His favourite drum is a snare (on top of a snare…) he loves a bit of Brass Eye and his favourite Smith is Morrissey. (Well, it was agape, really).
J: Please say your full name.
A: Andrew Paresi. My family name is Andrew Stuart McGibbon.
J: Why the change?
A: In the mid-seventies there was a song by The Goodies called Funky Gibbon and it just got to me at a deep point and I thought, I can do without that. I thought that nobody would take the name seriously so I took a decision aged eighteen or nineteen to change my name to Paresi because my girlfriend at the time was doing an Italian degree and she thought that ‘Andrew Heart Attack’ would sound cool.
J: ‘Paresi’ does sound exotic.
A: … and it stuck. I thought it sounded interesting in a mock-electro kind of way. I’ve gone back to McGibbon for writing/producing/directing purposes but Paresi is the drumming name.
J: So you drum under the name ‘Paresi’ and write under ‘McGibbon’.
J: Is that incase Morrissey tries to find you?
A: [laughs] Oh yeah!
J: Did he call you Andrew or Andy?
A: He called me Andrew. Most people do. Only people who are upset with me say: [Scottish accent]: “Andy! You know what you have to do! You have to have a vocabulary of sounds!”
J: Can you do a Billy Connolly?
A: “His voice is ‘a down here! He’s a shipyard worker!’ My dad worked as a caulker in Port Glasgow shipyards on the River Clyde. He bashed hot rivets without protective gear into ship bolt holes, as did my grandfather.
J: Did you want to go into that trade?
A: Well my dad did very well and travelled down to London. He said that there was a shipyard Scottish comedy thing. There were a lot of examples of it – Chic Murray was another, born in Greenock like my dad - of people who were just very funny at telling stories. Scottish humour has a lovely, gentle view of life, and a cutting irony and ability to be classless… Mind you, Frankie Boyle fans may disagree!
J: [Laughs] What are you working on now?
A: I just finished working on the Frank Cinelli album ‘Good Times’ produced by Danton Supple, who also produced Coldplay’s ‘X&Y’. I also have a production company – ‘Curtains for Radio’ and ‘Curtains for Pictures’. Our main production M.O. is comedy drama and we do film too.
J: Can you describe yourself in a sentence?
A: I’m an incredibly fascinati… [laughs] no… I’m just battling to be the best I possibly can at whatever it is I am doing. After Morrissey I found it very hard trying to think of what to do at that point. Music was going in a different direction – all samples and ecstasy - so I shifted back to comedy and directing which is what I wanted to do when I was fifteen. I’m passionate about what I’m doing. Oh God I’m starting to sound like Tony Blair now…
J: Things can only get better…
A: [Juts out jaw, adopts terrifyingly accurate Morrissey voice]: ‘Things can only get better…”
J: That is a very good Morrissey, I’ve got the shivers.
A: Well is it Morrissey or is it Professor whats-his-name?
J: No I think the D:Ream prof is higher pitched.
A: [Adopts Prof Brian Cox voice]: ‘Oh that’s right yes, it’s a higher pitch, it’s up here, with the sun, which rotates around, and can I have my knighthood…’
J: [laughs] I think your Morrissey impression might be the best I’ve ever heard. Have you ever done ‘Morrissey’… to Morrissey?
A: No, but we had some funny times.
J: It is reputed that you are one of the people that made Morrissey chuckle the most. What did you do to make him laugh?
A: We just used to muck about. I used to insert words into his songs and tell him jokes. We mucked about with titles and names. I did develop a Morrissey accent but I was very cautious [adopts Morrissey voice]: ‘because it’s fun to do because it’s all so beautiful’. Only if you really love the guy can you do it with any real sense of humour.
J: I think it’s clear that you really did love him, didn’t you?
A: It was agape really. Having that voice in your head while you were drumming was mind-blowing. You can feel so many emotions in yourself while you’re playing with him. I felt like I was Dennis Davis playing with Bowie – this is it – if I’d had a heart attack “Paresi” while playing with him… to me that would have been a kind of noble end.
J: Tell me about what it was like to drum with Morrissey’s band.
A: I played the nuts off everything I did. The main attraction with him was that everything was completely unconventional. He was carving these beautiful poems and then attaching them to pieces of music. You’re in that bizarre experimental laboratory when you’re not really sure what a chorus or verse is yet. So you’re playing, not knowing where everything is, and the chaos of that is just truly joyful! There’s nothing like it. In Bona Drag and Kill Uncle there were moments – I remember with Mark [Nevin] and we were sitting at the back of the studio when we’d recorded Our Frank and we were killing ourselves when we heard ‘I’m gonna be sick all over your red pullover and see how the colours blend’. It was hilarious! The concept of songwriting was being re-invented by Morrissey. For me, it was just awesome.
J: It really must have been incredible, putting your stamp onto everything like that.
A: It was incredible, but the person who was under the most stress was Stephen Street. He was producing, playing bass and putting the songs together and he was under the kind of astonishing pressure that probably comes once or twice in a lifetime.
J: How did you meet Stephen Street?
A: I was in a band called A Pair of blue eyes. We had been told that we were ‘the thinking person’s Curiosity Killed the Cat’. CBS asked Stephen Street to come in and mix the first single You used to go to my head. He was going ‘where’s the click? How is this drummer keeping in time?’ And they were like: ‘There is no click’. I think that impressed Stephen, particularly the power at which I hit the drums, which was not fashionable at the time.
J: How would you describe your style of drumming?
A: I was very American in my style, punky and funky. I hit the drums hard. I was influenced by early Motown; I love those grooves. I love Frank Zappa’s various drummers, people who understand groove and are technically proficient especially Steve Jordan and Travis Barker and W S Holland from Johnny Cash’s band. Neil Conti [Prefab Sprout] was another drummer that hit hard at the time, but it wasn’t the preferred style if you like. It wasn’t the ‘drumming du jour!’
J: Did Morrissey know that you had played with Jim Diamond and Bucks Fizz?
A: No. Stephen [Street] was trying to keep everything in place. He knew that things could go awry in the recording of Smiths albums. He just wanted to know that the drumming thing was sealed and he didn’t have to worry about it. As a producer he was cautiously removing issues that might be a problem before they even happened. So I had to do a Stalin-ist whitewash of my musical background there.
J: I know that Stephen gave you his denim jacket to wear when he first introduced you to Morrissey, but please tell me what you were wearing before!
A: Well I had a different style, I was still in that 1982 Man at C&A era. I was wearing wacky jumpers. This one looked like a knackered television set – I’ve still got it in a bag somewhere… actually, hold fire there! [goes into hall, rummages in bag, returns to room]. This was the jumper I was wearing when I recorded Viva Hate!
J: What? I really like that jumper! So Stephen said: ‘no you can’t wear that?’
A: Only when we had to go out to a nightclub. He was just trying to prevent anything going wrong… I think at that time, the pressure was on and every nuance had to be managed in detail. Stephen is a consummate producer and is always aware of details. He is in incredibly professional.
J: Did being surrounded by this creativity inspire you to write songs?
A: I did, but I wasn’t a great keyboard player and I liked big juicy keyboardy… dare I say it post-modern jazz chords. Kevin [Armstrong] very helpfully decoded one that I had written into a guitar friendly version and played it and it came pretty close to getting a vocal on it, called ‘Angie’. At the time of Bona Drag there were a lot of fantastic songwriters around. Clive had written Shipbuilding for heaven’s sake. It was brilliant to be involved as a drummer but at that point in my musical cycle I really just was like the little boy trying to get a scribble in. I’ve composed plenty of music since then however, in ‘I Think I’ve Got A Problem’, starring Suggs, Bob Monkhouse and Bill Nighy, The Sinclair Singers and other music.
J: I love the drums on Disappointed.
A: I’ll play them for you. It’s a challenging rhythm. I’ll write it out for someone, someday. It’s a left hand start, a tricky one, but once you get into the roll of it, it’s a rhythm I was very proud of. It was like a steam train, like two bits of drumming going on at the same time.
J: Thank you. So you live here with your partner, Tanya?
A: Yes. I haven’t got children, not to say that I’m not capable of making them! Tanya had kids already from a previous marriage - and now they have children too - so I’m a ready-made grandfather! [Adopts ‘Victorian’ persona]: I’ve instructed the children to call me ‘Grandrew!’ I’m not old enough to be Granddad.
J: Your time with Morrissey is very well documented in ‘I was Morrissey’s Drummer’.
A: To me there was just a great comedy show to be made there.
Also available in the book ‘I was Douglas Adams’s Flatmate’.
J: It’s very funny. Do you think he has ever heard it?
A: I don’t know. There’s no bitterness of any kind. How I saw things at the time. It’s quite self-deprecating.
J: In the book/recording you describe yourself working with Morrissey as ‘simply travelling with greatness and putting its cat out at night’.
A: [Laughs]. The people who really strike you are the people who have an inner space, a force field, a buzz if you like, and you can feel your heart palpitating a bit more because there’s something enormously special there. You have to give that part of your life to it. I don’t think you can make a deep emotional commitment to any music at all unless there’s love there.
J: You have described mealtimes with Morrissey as like dining ‘with Jesus at the last supper’.
A: There’s a specialness; a weird quality… If you’re going to be working with what we now know is one of the greatest English rock poets of the twentieth century that may be studied three hundred years from now – that won’t always come with ‘hey matey let’s go down the pub’ - though that did happen. Somebody like that will have a great deal of quietude. He would often get up before the rest of us and I remember once we had a chat, and he said something along the lines of: ‘Andrew, most people are lucky to have one talent, and you have so many, where do you begin?’ It was a thoughtful and supportive thing to say to me. Funnier if he’d said “… and you don’t even have one… so what are you going to do?” [Laughs] It was a brilliant experience and I left with good grace.
J: Did you hear from him afterwards?
A: Several times, quite recently actually, he was going to come over and have Boxing Day dinner with us when we were in LA. It didn’t happen for one reason or another.
J: How does he communicate with you?
A: The odd postcard… now it’s morse code. I have quite a few faxes that were flying around from the Kill Uncle days, but they are beginning to fade because of that paper. They are very funny, it’s very witty stuff.
J: What’s your favourite Morrissey track to drum on?
A: Disappointed is something I’m very proud of, and Girl Least Likely To. In terms of power, November Spawned a Monster. And for just the inventiveness of it, Hairdresser on Fire because of what he was singing, ‘busy clippers’. But the track I’m most proud of is Late Night Maudlin Street because it changed a genre in a way. I was able to play very ‘loopy’ improvised drums towards then end of that. It’s an incredible song.
J: What’s your favourite album that you worked on?
A: It has to be Viva Hate. Just for being asked to play on it. In the early stages I was coming down to play 2-3 tracks a day for a week at a time and it seemed that there was a real head of steam building between what Stephen was writing, what Vini and I were playing and what Morrissey was singing. Closely followed by elements of Kill Uncle. Mute Witness is absolutely stunning. There was actually a song called Kill Uncle that we did a backing track for and a vocal. It survived for a nano second! And Bona Drag – Striptease with a difference, Oh Phoney. I wish there had been a better reaction to Ouija Board, or November. Radio One just couldn’t cope with Mary Margaret O’Hara’s middle vocal section. I remember Morrissey and I were in the car and Nicky Campbell cut it off just before and Morrissey was like: ‘Oh. It’s like having my lungs cut out of my body’. It was an epic song, but at a time when epic songs weren’t popular with the powers that be.
Andrew signs my Bona Drag
J: So you didn’t ever perform live with Morrissey?
A: I think from his perspective there just wasn’t a band there for him. Stephen is a great bass player, and Vini is an outstanding artist too… it’s sort of… I don’t know why it didn’t happen. Where he was headed he needed to have a band who looked how he felt. Although I was disappointed I understood. He went back to work with Andy and Mike again, then we came back together. There was just that expectation… people started arriving from the corporate rockabilly sector and that’s what he wanted to do.
J: What emotions ran through you when you heard the finished Viva Hate album for the first time?
A: Incredible pride and satisfaction and a real sense that this was clearly a serious body of work. It sounded fresh, disturbing and beautiful. On a personal note I was thrilled with how up in the mix my drumming was. This was a great validation for what I’d been working toward and was unusual. I am grateful to Stephen Street and Morrissey for recognising the drumming as a key forward facing element in the album’s sound.
J: Who was with you when you first heard Viva Hate?
A: Stephen, Morrissey, Vini, assistant engineer Steve Williams and I think Nick Gatfield from EMI - who continued to spot and develop great talent like Amy Winehouse.
J: What about when you saw Suedehead and EDILS climbing the charts?
A: Absolutely hyper-thrilled. This was drumming I was fantastically proud of and to hear it on the radio prior to release and on the A-list at Radio One was just amazing. Nothing has come close to those moments. Especially after it went to number one. That was amazing. Around the time of the Viva Hate release I was in a smoky old pub in the Wandsworth/Battersea environs - before the yuppie plasmodia had a foothold in the area - and they were playing the album in the pub. Next to me were veteran drinkers and smokers, many unemployed in the area as a result of the dreadful recession. I was with a group of friends and one of them yelped out ‘hey it’s Andrew drumming on this everyone’. I’m quite modest and was calcified with embarrassment. I thought I was going to be lynched. This was a roll-out the barrel-Mrs Mills-Rockney pub. But to my surprise I got smiles, drinks raised and the guy behind the bar said ‘This is a great record mate - have one on the house’.
J: What did you think of wonderful tracks like Bengali In Platforms and Margaret on the Guillotine?
A: Bengali was the first of Stephen’s backing tracks we recorded as a group. We did three takes. The third one had it. I’d worked out a drum Rudiment fill for the end of each chorus section except that I didn’t know then what made the chorus or the verse. I recall Vini’s lovely acoustic guitar playing and it came across as a very beautiful backing track. In my mind I’d started making up tunes that might fit round it and even thought of some words. Silly words I kept to myself obviously. When I heard the finished version I recognised it as a pean, if you will, to double isolation. Margaret on the Guillotine was a very passionately delivered end track. The sound effect at the end makes the proposition ruthlessly satirical. Music is one of the few non-judgmental, hurt-free emotionally rewarding experiences left.
J: I love the drums on ‘Break up the family’. Did Stephen create the Percussion or was that you?
A: This is one of my favourite tracks. Stephen Street had created a percussion loop made with AKAI 1000 samples of a cabasa, triangle and bongos. I asked for this backing loop, a click track if you like to be turned up loud in my headphones. I then payed a tight rhythm on the kit to remain absolutely close with the loop by playing a steady, funk groove style BUT stripping it down so that I played the last 16th semi of the second beat bass drum note a grace to the third beat of each bar. So it went bs (b)b s with 8’s on closed high hat over the whole thing. The only time I left this was to accent the end phrase of each chorus with four sixteenth note snare fill ahead of accenting 3 AND 4 in the last bar (“wish me luck and say goodbye”). I went the ride cymbal in the middle eight but kept the same 8’s note pattern. Yes one of my favourites and a chance to groove up in a low key brit funk way, but not too much!
J: Wow. Thanks for sharing that. I’m sure any keen drummers will be glad of it. What do you think of Morrissey’s later work? Do you keep in touch with his music?
A: Yes. I loved Vauxhall, The more you ignore me, Alma Matters, Quarry, Ringleader… they were all brilliant.
J: What does he think of your work now? Does he know what you’re doing?
A: Yes I think he may have followed it. There’s a track called Melanie (Inject Yourself) that I did with Radio One when I worked there writing music and bits of comedy after I live in a giant mushroom for Eric the Gardner on the Clive Bull show. He may have heard it.
Lyrics to Melanie (Inject Yourself) a Morrissey parody composed by Andrew used on Radio One:
Oh Melanie, you say you really love me
You say that I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to you
Oh Melanie, you keep telling me you love me
You say that I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to you in this cruel world
Oh Melanie, honestly
If what you say is true, why do you continue to
Inject yourself, Inject yourself, Inject yourself
Ahh, the drug may have sex appeal, but I know what you feel isn’t real
And I can’t bear you when it wears off
Oh Melanie, you say really hate me now
You say that I’m the worst thing that’s ever happened to you
Oh Melanie honestly
There’s something really troubling me.
If what you say is true
I’d rather you continued to
Inject Yourself, Inject Yourself, Inject Yourself
Oh the drug may have sex appeal, and I know what you feel isn’t real
And I can’t bear you when it wears off
I can’t bear you when it wears off
Oh Melanie – (I wouldn’t say no?)
J: Have you always done voices? Do you hear the voices first, then they become characters that you write about?
A: Definitely. I came from a school - Salesian College - that had a lot of funny people in it. Kevin Day and Catherine Tate went there. It’s closed now but is currently being used to film ‘Bad Education’ with Jack Whitehall.
J: How did you come to write ‘Eric The Gardner’ and the other characters for Radio One?
A: Kevin Greening heard I live in a giant mushroom and then Matthew Bannister asked me to come in and do some bits for Radio One to do lots of characters. I made a deal with Kevin that all these characters – surreal, edgy ads, stories, sketches and stuff - would appear out of nowhere in between records then disappear again. He never back referenced them or me on his show. We were getting away with incredibly subversive stuff on a prime time breakfast show.
J: Were you able to influence the playlist when you were on the Radio One breakfast show?
A: The Boy Racer was on the playlist but it was only on B or C list and we were trying to bring it more attention. There was no way we could physically play this record more times, so I came up with this idea which was that Kevin would say: ‘Coming up, we’ll be playing the new Morrissey record’ and then we played Melanie: Inject Yourself. Kevin would never back announce it, only forward announce it, then afterwards say ‘and we look forward to hearing the new Morrissey record tomorrow.’ This was a way that we could keep the single mentioned.
J: …and keep the fans happy. What a brilliant idea.
A: All Morrissey and Smiths fans are very intelligent and enormously sensitive and vulnerable. They are the people who should be protected, loved and looked after.
J: That’s very kind.
A: It flies in the face of how humanity normally works.
J: If Morrissey was to walk in here right now and say ‘Alright Andrew?’ what would you say?
A: I’d drop everything (except my trousers). I’d be right there.
J: What if he was coming round for snacks with you? What would you put out for him?
A: Well it’s Earl Grey tea for him, isn’t it?
J: According to Jonny Bridgwood he’s an Assam man.
A: Assam, okay that shows a total lack of awareness on my part that I will have to correct straight away! I should know Morrissey’s tea! Right… well… I’ll put out a range of teas!
J: [Laughs] What would you put out to eat?
A: Well my memory of him is that he enjoyed chocolate quite a lot. We used to raid the cupboards at Hook End Manor. It would be something like digestives or something very fattening, with no possible retreat from becoming fat. Morrissey would be like: ‘I’ve found this!’ Oh, now what was it he used to like…?
J: Breakaways? Jaffa Cakes?
A: Jaffa cakes and Maltesers in catering sized packs. We weren’t very rock and roll…
J: What’s your favourite biscuit?
J: The Nairn’s chocolate oatcakes are delicious.
A: Oh I haven’t tried them.
J: What’s your favourite Morrissey track?
A: Suedehead. Everything just comes to life on that, but a close second is Everyday is like Sunday, and a close third is November Spawned a Monster. Other Morrissey songs I loved - The More You Ignore Me, We hate it when our friends become successful and He Knows I’d love to see him (very special and gentle song). And of course Girl Least Likely To and The end of the family line.
J: Favourite Smiths track?
A: The Headmaster Ritual. I love Johnny Marr’s Rickenbacker playing, and his attitude. As a piece of work he just makes it sound like you’re in the path of an express train and you can’t get out of the way of it.
J: Favourite comedy?
A: Victor Lewis Smith’s Ad Nauseam series, The Day Today or Brass Eye.
J: Did you ever take the drug, ‘Cake’?
A: Many times. It takes four days to recover. It’s chaotic!
A: I loved the show because it had this combination of individuals including Steve Coogan and Chris Morris who all wanted to do their own thing. It was explosive, rather like a band on the edge of destruction with members like Lee and Herring, Armando Iannucci, Patrick Marber, David Quantick, Jane Bussmann – all heavily talented people. In that moment, they nailed it and pulled the rope ladder up behind them. It’s a satire on the form of news, but also very funny and fantastically surreal.
J: Favourite set of clothes to wear?
A: I have Comme des Garcons suit that I love, other than that it’s jeans and jumpers that look like broken down television sets.
J: Favourite member of Bucks Fizz?
A: I thought Jay Aston was very attractive and would make an ideal wife for someone [Laughs]
J: Are you a vegetarian?
A: Yes, since before I played with Morrissey. I don’t eat meat, eggs, wheat and various things because of allergies. I don’t drink any more. I’m really boring.
J: Favourite pizza topping? Would you eat a pizza now that you don’t eat wheat?
A: I don’t, but if I did it would be Quattro Formaggi, although I don’t eat so much cheese now.
J: Are you mostly vegan then?
A: Pretty much, yes, but I still drink milk.
J: Favourite Smith?
A: I think they’re all great. I know Andy because he did the show with me and he was wonderful. But it’s Morrissey. It has to be.
J: Favourite restaurant?
A: The Ledbury on Ledbury Road Notting Hill. It was raided in the riots. I made a lot of money that night. Did some time for it [laughs].
J: You done your bird. Like that guy in The Cornwell Estate that you wrote for the BBC.
A: Yes! ‘Only nine moons’
J: I love that you had the wonderful late Geoffrey Hutchings hide in a small cupboard.
A: Yes that was the idea, he was on the run. He had to keep hiding because he had done something. I thought that the best character was Keith Butler who had to come to terms with his transgender wife.
J: Ah yes. You played the priest – trying to console the guy, awkwardly with what Jesus would think…
A: Yes that’s right [adopts Priest voice]: ‘I can’t recall a story like that, in the old or the new testament’. [Laughs]
J: Who’s your favourite showbiz pal?
A: Well I keep myself to myself but Suggs is one of the funniest people on this planet. He cracks me up. We had a lunch once with someone who was supposed to be representing a TV channel. During the lunch it became clear that she had no connection to the channel at all, and it was just because she wanted to meet Suggs. It was absolutely hilarious, he was very funny.
J: Madness videos are brilliant and funny.
A: Yes the thing that’s gone a bit is the mickey-taking, UK stuff. People being funny is one of our greatest exports, we got a hint of it at the Olympic ceremony opening, but I feel music is becoming stodgy with big agents controlling everything. Subversion is the meat of creativity and without that music can fall by the wayside.
J: Suggs is another poet, as is Terry Hall.
A: He - Suggs - is a highly cultured guy, but he is ‘himself’. He is at one with who he is and it’s genuine, honest, self possession. Sheridan Smith is like that too. I’ve directed her a few times. People love her for it and it shows in her work.
J: Favourite song of all time?
A: How soon is now is in there. Some Bowie – Ashes to Ashes is brilliant. I loved I wanna be your dog by The Stooges and was bowled away by the beauty of a mid eighties Randy Newman song called Real Emotional Girl (From Trouble In Paradise). Any Major Dude by Steely Dan, anything by XTC and strangely going back to childhood with Ruby by Kenny Rogers. Little Children by Billy J Kramer. Other than that – a drummer’s type of music is too esoteric to be known. I have a genuine love of The Band. Levon Helm was a hero. East Tennessee songwriters like Dolly Parton and the Porter Wagoner thing from the 60s and 70s. There is something very honest and beautiful about this period of American blues/country, pre-commercial Grand Old Opry, and the Gram Parsons thing that happened which we now know as Americana. Everything’s got to have a label these days! Frank Zappa was the king of uniting great comedy, deep and subversion anarchy with mind blowing music. Anything from Freak Out! Onwards, especially The Black Page from Zappa in New York.
J: What’s your favourite drum?
A: The snare drum. I’ve invented this device where I have a snare drum and then a smaller one sitting on top of it. It’s a tighter skin so you can do more stuff on it. It has the depth and power of a big drum and it doesn’t sound wimpy. I love drums. I’m 100% musician.
J: Could you drum as soon as you picked up the sticks at sixteen?
A: It took me a while to get the groove I learnt drums playing with a big band every week at college. It took me away from academia but I got to understand scores, percussion and just playing in a wind band/orchestra setting rather than exclusively in a punk band gave me a different insight to drumming.
J: Can I see your gold discs?
One of many gold discs in Andrew’s studio
J: Can we tempt you to join twitter and host our @mozarmyquiz one week?
A: I’d be delighted!
Andrew signing my records and CDs with @knittedMoz.
J: Finally, could you write a note to my mum?
A: Of course I will.
The warm and wonderful Andrew McGibbon has recently joined twitter @AMcGibbonParesi. Tweet him for tips on drumming, directing, acting, writing, theatre, radio, TV, pop, rock, prog rock, politics, jumpers, oatcakes and Zappa.
Eighteen-year-old rockabilly Jonny B walked into Suttons music shop in Norwich to try out the double bass. He had never played an instrument before; he just knew from a very young age that he wanted to be in a band. Like Arthur and Excalibur, as soon as he touched the strings, a magical connection was made. Jonny couldalready play - he had no lessons - he learned just from listening to Elvis. This natural talent and musical ‘ear’ went on to shape Jonny’s career, and eventually lead him to create the bass lines of Morrissey’s most critically acclaimed album, ‘Vauxhall and I’.
Selling his push-bike to buy strings, Jonny’s passion for the bass knew no boundaries. He worked his way through difficult times through sheer hard work, practice and determination to meet his dream: ‘I got to do what I wanted to do, which was largely by not knowing what I was doing, single mindedness and rejecting everything else.’
As we talked, Jonnny shared the importance of his family - and how working with Morrissey touched one member in particular - his daughter Harriet. Harriet was born three months premature and had a brain heamorrhage which left her with Hydrocephalus, a condition of fluid in the brain that caused severe brain damage. A surviving twin, she is now twenty and enjoys listening and singing along to Morrissey (sometimes at 3am). Tenderly, she only sings the songs that Jonny is on, knowing the presence and talent of her daddy.
Jonny’s bass is self-taught and technically brilliant: ‘Now when I play I just hear it, it just comes. I deconstruct records. It’s dimensional. It’s separate but it goes together’. He defends and understands Morrissey’s nature: ‘Morrissey is pretty much a generally nice person surrounded by idiots’ and he has a warm and fun family life: ‘You watched me do it!’ is a stock phrase in our house’.
He likes cherry and coconut cake and knows a lot about tea: ‘Peppermint tea in the evening, Earl Grey in the morning and maybe a spiced blend in the afternoon.’
I left Jonny feeling like I’d had a sort of spiritual experience. Yes, we talked about Morrissey, the songs, the shows, the tea, the pub. But behind the ambition, talent, history and fame Jonny revealed himself to be a gentle soul and a calming influence; a person with no hard edges or harsh words.
He is the incredible talent and rhythmic power behind songs like Now My Heart Is Full, Billy Budd, Lost and Nobody Loves Us; he is the emotional pulse of albums Vauxhall and I, Southpaw Grammar and Maladjusted. But sweet-toothed tea-total gentle Jonny is the touching embodiment of the man with the child in his eyes.
JH: Please say your full name.
JB: Jonny Bridgwood. I have no middle names. My name is as it is.
JH: Did your parents call you ‘Jonny’ straight away?
JH: Who lengthened it?
JB: Probably an auntie, my dad had the same name. When I was at school people used to call me Jonny and I preferred it. It’s somehow cooler, even though I had no idea what was cool and what wasn’t.
JH: Please describe yourself in a sentence.
JB: Very nice!
JH: Very good! How’s life for you at the moment, what are you doing?
JB: I’ve always got fingers in pies. Yesterday I was doing a Cerys Matthews session with Tom Paley, an American legend who knew Woodie Guthrie, who would have been one hundred years old on Saturday (July 14, 1912). All these people were a huge influence on Bob Dylan. Tom used to be in a band called New Lost City Ramblers, who were ahead of the folk revival and who Dylan went to see. I also play with a really good singer/songwriter called Alex Highton. He’s really good. You’d probably like him, you should check him out.
JH: What music were you listening to in your youth?
JB: When I was a kid I was into two things, football and music - Manchester United. In 1966 a song called Bend it came out, which I loved, aged three. I thought it was called ‘Brenda’ because my older sister had a friend called Brenda. I used to sing the song like that: ‘Brenda! Brenda!’. It was years later I discovered my mistake. [laughs] I was also aware of the Beatles, Penny Lane, stuff like that. I used to love to watch Top of the Pops in the early seventies during the glam rock era. In my teens it was Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly and of course early Elvis.
JH: Have you got a favourite bass line?
JB: With Morrissey, it’s probably something like Nobody Loves Us.
JH: How did you get into playing bass?
JB: I had played a lot of double bass but on the first tour with Morrissey I actually borrowed a bass guitar from Alain because I never really had one. When we did Vauxhall and I I hired one and then I bought it. I first got into the double bass when I heard That’s Alright Mama by Elvis. I was intrigued by that so I borrowed an Elvis record from a friend and was like: ‘what’s this?’ I also played all my friend’s dad’s records, which all had double bass on, that’s how I really became aware of it. After that I got into rockabilly revival, Stray Cats etc. I met some likeminded kids at school, we all started growing quiffs. We discovered there was a rock n roll club and went to that. That was when our gang became a band. We didn’t have any instruments but we were a band.
JB: My friend got a guitar. When he went to buy new strings he said: ‘There’s a double bass for sale!’ So I went down to the shop and it was like a great moment because when I picked it up I discovered I could actually play a little bit. It was amazing. There was a huge gang with us and it was like I was actually over there, watching me with them. It was a really surreal experience. I could feel it in my whole body. Quite magical. I had to have this instrument. It was £180. I had been working and was made redundant but had a little bit of money - £60. I was in that shop everyday for a fortnight. I borrowed £60 and they let me take it owing £60. They just said: ‘come in when you’ve got it’. Once a fortnight I would go in with my dole money. I kept a pound for myself. Fifty pence to get into the rock n roll club and a bit for a couple of pints. I sold my records and clothes, apart from some essentials and I just paid it off. I played until my fingers bled. Then when the pain subsided I’d play some more. It was the only thing I had.
Mr Bass Hands
JB: To begin with, I played a lot on one string. I remember the A string breaking, so I moved over onto the D string and it broke. I had a push-bike which I managed to sell and I went into the shop where I got the bass and said: ‘I need some strings’. The cheapest set they had was £35. I only had £25, and had sold my bike to get that, and they said: ‘You can take them.’
JH: That’s a great story, clearly you were fated to play bass, and that shop had a big hand in it.
JB: The shop was called Suttons. It’s not there anymore but I found the receipt the other day. By then we had formed a band, buying a cheap microphone and a snare drum, and the singer would hold the mike in one hand and play the snare in the other.
JH: Still no name at this point?
JB: Initially we called ourselves ‘Trio Three’. We were kind of like the rock n roll Ramones because we tried to do records and couldn’t do them so started doing our own stuff. We bought drums and another guitar and we were a five piece. So then we were called ‘Fireball XL5’after the Gerry Anderson show. We didn’t last that long, but a year in we did our first gigs then a record. By the time I was twenty-one I was down here in London, then and twenty-two I was touring with The Cramps all round England on a thirty day tour.
JH: What were The Cramps like?
JB: Incredibly nice people. Our band was named ‘The Sting-Rays’. Their agent tried to get a buy-on, but we said: ‘we’re not doing it’. We felt it was wrong. But The Cramps really wanted us, so then we did it and they paid for our catering and everything. They fed us and helped us. We even had free beer – it was rude not to drink it!
JH: Did you have beers before going onstage?
JB: Well I remember being really drunk and falling off a really low stage, and the singer falling over the guitar amp during an early gig. Later I got seriously hammered during an all night gig in Berlin, and I looked at my fingers and thought: ‘Why are you not doing what you’re supposed to do?’ At the time I thought: ‘well I’m never doing that again’ so invariably I don’t drink now.
JH: What did your family think of your success at the time?
JB: Well I got kicked out of home when I was seventeen. My father was an abusive alcoholic and I don’t keep in touch with my mother. My father is dead now.
JH: I think some parents can teach you how not to be a parent.
JB: Yes, definitely. I think all families are mad to a degree, but there’s good mad and just insane.
JH: So where did you go after The Sting-Rays?
JB: I was heavily into the Beatles, and I wanted to do different music. So I set about forming a band with the guitarist from my first band but it didn’t work out so I went freelance.
JH: Your bass playing was all self taught?
JB: Yes I just copied records. I copied an Elvis record, That’s alright mama lifting the needle back to the beginning over and over. Ten years after I started playing I had a few classical lessons for bow technique and I taught myself to read music. I followed this by a few jazz lessons.
Now when I play I just hear it, it just comes. I deconstruct records. It’s dimensional. It’s separate but it goes together.
JH: I think that what you are saying completely applies to The Smiths, all separate talents coming together.
JB: Yes, definitely, they are all individual voices, which is what a good band should be. If you listen to a really record like Day Tripper by The Beatles you can hear all the different layers together.
JH: How did your involvement with Morrissey come about?
JB: I went back to Norwich. I took a bit of time out to see where I was going, having gone from band to band. I really seriously started practicing my bass in a more technical way that I hadn’t done before, listening to jazz and understanding how all that worked. It’s at this time I decided to become freelance, Morrissey was my first major session.
I had been friendly with Boz, we had done a little band together Boz and The Bozmen. Via Carl out of Madness [Cathal] Clive Langer said to Boz do you know any people that play rockabilly. So Boz had a meeting and they asked him to bring a bass player. So he asked me and I said yeah I’ll do it. My actual message (via a friend as I was of no fixed abode at the time) was did I want to do a session with Van Morrison. I was like, how did that come about?
JH: Did you know his previous work with The Smiths?
JB: No because I wasn’t a Smiths fan. I was aware of him, I knew he was around, but no. We set up to play. Richard Hawley was there, auditioning for the band.
JH: What? No way!
JB: Yes he auditioned but didn’t get in!
JH: He’s fantastic.
JB: Yes he is. Would have been a different journey.
JH: So you were working on Pregnant for the Last Time.
JB: Yes, that’s when I met Mark Nevin (who I also gig with these days) but I wasn’t on the Top of The Pops appearance. I got a call from EMI saying we need you to give permission for somebody to mime your part (Gary). I was going to get paid anyway so I said yes.
JB: I remember hearing the demo of You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side which I was supposed to play on and I did a song called Born To Hang.
JH: You just kind of morphed into the band, didn’t you?
JB: Yes. From 1992 I had a very complicated personal life. We lost a baby at six and a half months [a twin], my wife, Helen nearly died. We were just visiting hospital every day. We had a very ill, small child and we had to survive. When I got to 1993 I just thought what am I going to do now? Bizarrely, a folk band I was playing in, the female flute player’s boyfriend was Johnny Rogan.
JH: ‘M3 pile up’ Johnny?
JB: Yes! Weird isn’t it. Then Boz called me up and asked if I’d play bass on a new Morrissey album. So we had a meeting in Shepherd’s Bush – Woody was there – and I vaguely knew Woody, and we just played, working on Billy Budd. I didn’t realise Morrissey had come into the room and was sitting on the sofa watching us. He said something like: ‘that’s really good’, and told me that I hadn’t aged. So I told him that I had a portrait in the loft.
JH: It is documented that during the recording of Vauxhall and I you all played football.
JB: Yeah! Morrissey is good! I was on his team, we won – he scored and I scored. Then we went to the pub and had pints of beer.
JH: How many pints?
JB: Oh, at least twelve!
JB: We didn’t get pissed, we’d just have a couple of beers. It’s the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees. We’d just go on walks and find a pub.
JH: Working remotely with Morrissey, playing football, having dinner, going for a pint… such a small group of you together in that remote location… did you connect?
JB: No, not at all. He keeps a distance, he’s just like that. He was like that before he was famous and when he was in The Smiths. Fame exacerbates certain traits but that’s just him. Morrissey is pretty much a generally nice person surrounded by idiots. People have a preconceived idea: ‘Oh it’s Morrissey and I’ve got to behave in a certain way.’ He can’t relate to a person that’s not being themselves. So you won’t get to know him like that, he’ll just think they’re a bit…. weird.
JH: Was it you and the lads and then Morrissey separate?
JB: Yes, to a degree and certainly later. When you’re doing something for a long time there has to be a level of social bonding. It was go for a drink, but it wasn’t really personal. There were no personal conversations.
JH: So when you went to the pub were you talking ‘music’?
JB: It was quite lighthearted. I remember going past this deserted country pub and Alain went – look! It’s the ‘Nobody Inn!’ We thought that was really funny. We also went to a really smelly dingy pub, and dubbed it ‘The Stench Inn’. We quickly drank and left. There was lots of humour. I remember at Hook End I had boiled the kettle and said to Morrissey: ‘I’ve made some Earl Grey. Would you like some tea?’ and he said: ‘That’s not tea.’ I said: ‘Well, what’s tea then?’ and he said: ‘Assam’. So Morrissey is an Assam man.
JH: Morrissey seems to be very witty and sharp.
JB: The funniest thing he ever said to me was at the start of Vauxhall. He asked me about playing bass, what bass players I liked. I said lots of jazz players, you know, Paul McCartney, his Beatles work. Then he said: ‘Bass isn’t something you want to start playing at the age of five, is it? It’s not like a guitar or drums.’ I said ‘well it’s a very integral part of a band. Name a really good band without a bass player.’ I instantly thought of the Cramps but never mentioned it. I thought that was really funny. Musically there was a pecking order, guitar, drums, bass.
JH: Who was your ‘pal’ in the band?
JB: Alain and I really were quite close, but he lives in America now. He’s the only one I have contact with. I had some brief contact with Spencer, we exchanged messages but I don’t know where he is.
JH: You and Spencer left the band at the same time.
JB: Yeah. We had been on a fifty-date tour of America and it was ‘Morrissey and the band’. I had just suddenly lost it with it. When you’re doing something useful it’s so intense like a marriage, but if you hit the wall…
JH: What happened?
JB: To go out on stage and play the songs without deviation… I just didn’t want to play the same bass part every night and it was all rather predictable. I had another weird moment on stage looking at Morrissey, the band, the five thousand people and I thought: ‘They’re all at the same party, I’m not there.’ I could see myself playing but it was like somebody was pulling the strings. I decided half way through a gig during Maladjusted that was it. We were largely doing Vauxhall and Itowards the end of that tour anyway.
JH: Do you listen to Vauxhall much now?
JB: My daughter does. My oldest daughter Harriet - who has special needs - loves Morrissey. She was born prematurely at six months weighing 1 lb 6 oz. Her sister, Florence weighed 1 lb 8 oz. Tiny… you know. Delivered by C-section because Helen had pre-eclampsia. They had taken her in, I got a call at 5am. I jumped into my clothes and Helen was really quite unwell. They were trying to control it as best they could, but there was a danger of her organs ceasing to function. We had only just found out that she was having twins. All of this was like bombs going off… Harriet had severe brain damage. She has Hydrocephalus which fortunately became arrested otherwise things could have been worse.. She’s much like a toddler, but she’s five foot and twenty. And she loves Morrissey. She met him several times, once at the Drury Lane gig. She was there in her silk pyjamas in a Royal Box. He would always ask: ‘How’s Harriet, how’s Helen…’ Helen got on with him well, probably better than I did. Maybe it’s because she’s not a musician. Sometimes singers feel intimidated by musicians.
JH: Are you or Harriet fans of The Smiths now?
JB: I played The Smiths for her recently. If she likes a song she will repeat some of it, and she doesn’t sing some of those ones.
JH: Maybe she knows her daddy isn’t on there.
JB: She sings Now My Heart Is Full. She sings quite often at 3am. Which isn’t always enthusiastically received. Well one of us will be like: ‘did you hear Harriet last night?’ and the other one will say ‘No, I was exhausted, I slept!’ [laughs].
JH: I think that’s really sweet.
JB: She has a beautiful voice.
JH: Isn’t it wonderful that she uses her singing voice in this way?
JB: Oh yes. She can’t really communicate, she has severe learning difficulties She has no problem however, asking for chocolate, crisps, cocoa and Morrissey!
JH: It must be a difficult thing to see your other two children grow up around her.
JB: It is. She went to the local nursery. There was a gap in development, but it wasn’t so wide. Whereas now these kids at twenty meet up, go out, do things that young people do, boyfriends… you know. My daughter is happy, she doesn’t know about all that kind of stuff. She’s a princess, all of her needs are catered for. She loves music, youtube, Morrissey. But then… we do have respite care, we get to go out together. Harriet also has epilepsy so our sitter is trained to deal any problems that arise, although her medication keeps it under wraps. This is one of the reasons why I stopped drinking really, because if something happens you can’t be not ‘with it’. You have to be responsible. There was one time though where Helen and I had an anniversary and we got a bottle of fizz, and we got a tiny bit tipsy and we were dancing around and the kids were going: ‘this is great! Get some more!’
JH: I wonder if Morrissey knows the extent of her enjoyment.
JB: Sometimes I feel bad about leaving because I’m sure she’d love to go to a gig.
JH: Oh I’m sure if you contacted him again he’d be only to happy to have you guys along?
JB: Yes but how would that be? If I’ve worked with somebody so intensely then I don’t want to go and see them play. I caught a bit of Alma Matters at Glastonbury and just thought it didn’t sound right.
JH: That’s understandable. Is there anything that he’s done lately that you would have liked to be a part of?
JB: To be honest, I haven’t listened. I got a copy of You Are The Quarry for Harriet and she didn’t like it! I just thought she’s a much better judge than me. I like some of his songs better than others.
JH: Did you ever have any ‘this is amazing’ moments with Morrissey?
JB: When we played Glasgow Barrowlands – that was great – because I had played there before with The Cramps and just got gobbed on!
JH: Morrissey got gobbed on loads in 1985 in the Barras. I remember he stopped the concert at one point and said: ‘No, no, no, no – don’t spit!’ but the Barras was a filthy hole. A brilliant filthy hole. I think it was a show of appreciation.
JB: We tried that, it didn’t work. We threw beer on everybody. With Morrissey it was a really good gig. Very intense. We went on to play Motherwell. We did the encore, Shoplifters and everybody stormed the stage. Suddenly I realised that I was the only person left on the stage, I couldn’t see any of the others… the production manager grabbed me by the jacket and all of us ran down the corridor to get on the bus. I was like: ‘Wow! This is great! Like being in The Beatles!’
We also did Central Park, New York, on stage as the sun went down, to 2000 people. I found a picture of that gig, taken from a strange perspective, just Morrissey and I.
Morrissey and Jonny (stage left)
JH: What does Morrissey eat/drink?
JB: In those days it was lots of cream, pastry, eggs. Tea.
JH: How does he take his tea?
JB: With milk. I don’t think he has sugar.
JH: If Morrissey was to walk in here right now and say ‘Alright Jonny?’ what would you say?
JB: I’d say: ‘Would you join me for an Earl Grey and he’d say: ‘No. Assam please!’
JH: What if he was coming round for dinner, what snacks would you put out?
JB: What snacks? This is highly unlikely. I don’t know. Tea and toast, with butter. I’m sure he’s a butter man, but he should be on the marg, the sunflower spread.
JH: I wonder if he’d do a butter ad.
JB: He could replace John Lydon. Or maybe a coffee advert?
JH: Like Clooney?
JB: No, Assam, Twinings!
JH: Yes Twinings, great idea. In a suit – gentleman Morrissey with cup and saucer.
JB: I’d also put out some fruit. Maybe some grapes. He ate some grapes once.
JH: Red or green?
JB: Red ones. Seedless. Push the boat out. He might say: ‘These aren’t grapes!
JH: Please could you write a note for my mum?
JB: Of course.
JH: What’s your favourite crisp flavour?
JB: Ready salted. The Kettle Crisps. I like the Black Pepper and chilli ones too.
JH: Favourite cake?
JB: Home made. Helen does very good cakes – cherry and coconut.
JH: Favourite Smiths song?
JB: I used to like playing Shoplifters, but I’ll probably say There Is a light. It’s very touching and also very humorous. Sums Morrissey up. Very funny imagery.
JH: Favourite Morrissey song?
JB: Suedehead, and I really did like it but never played it – Everyday Is Like Sunday.
JH: Favourite gig?
JB: Central Park. It was unique, perfect, couldn’t be planned.
JH: Favourite song to perform live?
JB: Billy Budd. Speedway. I remember once performing that and somebody threw loads of daffodils on the stage. It was so slippy I fell over, like on a banana skin. People off stage were saying: ‘wow you’re really getting into it there!’ and I was like: ‘I just fell over!’
JH: Favourite tea?
JB: Peppermint tea in the evening, Earl Grey in the morning and maybe a spiced blend in the afternoon.
JH: Maybe you should be doing the tea advert… Favourite biscuit?
JB: Digestive. Good for dunking. And also Malted Milk.
JH: Favourite sandwich?
JH: Just tomato?
JB: On wholemeal, or seeded, with a little bit of black pepper.
JH: Tomatoes that you’ve grown yourself?
JB: [laughs] In my head I live the Good Life but like most people I get them from the supermarket.
JH: Just tomatoes? No salt?
JB: No, I don’t take salt on anything.
JH: Do you ache for a bit of cheese?
JB: No, I’m virtually vegan.
JH: What’s your veggie weakness?
JB: Honey. I like to put some honey in the apple crumble. The children like that
JH: Ah yeah…. ‘the children…’
JB: [laughs] blame them.
JH: Favourite book?
JB: Gandhi’s autobiography. I like Gandhi, he’s a good guy.
Good guy Gandhi
JH: Favourite movie?
JB: Something with Peter Sellers in.
JH: Favourite thing that Helen says?
JB: ‘You watched me do it!’ Like, ‘have you made that tea?’ ‘You watched me do it!’ It’s a stock phrase in our house.
JH: Favourite thing about being a dad?
JB: Gems of wisdom. My son said: ‘So dad do you think I should have a wife when I’m older? Or are they just nothing but bother?’
JH: What are you most proud of?
JB: That I got to do what I wanted to do, which was largely by not knowing what I was doing, single mindedness, and rejecting everything else. Maybe it’ll work out, maybe it won’t, but I am committed to it.
JH: I think it has worked out. You have a lot to show for it. Congratulations.
JB: Yes, my proudest achievement is that I still practice, every day, except on weekends.
JH: What do you do on a Friday night? Are you in your house at 9pm?
JB: Usually yes…
JH: Would you host the Mozarmyquiz for us one week?
JB: Do I set the questions?
JB: Yeah I’ll do it then!
JH: You’re right. You are very nice.
You can follow Jonny on Twitter @jonnybridgwood. Look out for his special ‘back to school’ hosting of the Mozarmyquiz very soon!
When I was twenty-one, I thought Sean’s Show was the funniest programme on the television. At the centre it featured this awkward, fumbly, fantastic floppy-haired boy-man, Sean Hughes, who wore cardigans and cords, talked to a spider named ‘Elvis’ and loved The Smiths.
His childlike humour, vulnerability and insecurity he shared so comfortably on screen and in stand up resulted in him being the youngest person ever to win the Perrier Award - and secured his place as the comedy crush of every other girl, granny, mother, auntie and possibly brother in the UK. Post Sean’s Show he went on to have a consistent and successful career as a multi-faceted artist: actor, panelist, DJ, author, poet and stand up; rooting him as one of the UK’s most respected and loved personalities.
During his stand up show I watched at Udderbelly, this forty-six year old gentle man with the light-as-a-feather Irish lilt offered cuddles to the front row and ginger nuts to the seniors while talking about the significance of his Six Million Dollar Man Doll. There were a few ‘fecks’ in there but he put it down to expression and delivery: ‘I do that Irish swearing. It’s like punctuation.’
After three hours of walking his dogs, a chat on a bench then eating vinegared chips while drinking cold coffee I could see that he was still the same. He’s curious and whimsical like he has butterflies up there instead of neurons. His ‘la-la-la-la’ love of life – which skips from the profound and poignant one minute - to the surreal and hilarious the next – still reigns. Sean lives his life being gently and happily distracted by, well, stuff people do: [to me]: ‘What do you mainly eat?’
Sean had plenty to say about my mum: ’Are you trying to set me up with your mother?’ and stew recipes: ‘It’s pretty much like boil-a-load-of-sh*t-up-together.’
Whilst he no longer sings ‘It’s Seany’s Show! La-la-la-la’ in the bath he still has a lovely singing voice - but he would definitely not let Morrissey come and live in his house to hear it. Impressively, he can drink up to ten cups of peppermint tea a day, he loves his dogs, Sweep and Betty, and yes, he does know how Jeane goes.
J: I have two pages of questions. I hope you like talking about yourself.
S: Actually I don’t, really.
J: Please say your full name.
S: So this is a court of law now? It’s all of a sudden got very formal! Em, I’m Sean Patrick Hughes.
J: Oh, there is a Patrick in there? Same as himself?
S: Oh I must tell you – one of the last times I saw Morrissey I was in Dublin at a gig and I said: ‘Alright Morrissey’ and he went: ‘Alright Hughes’. So I was like, ‘do I start calling you Steven from now on then?’
J: You sound really excited on your interview together on GLR. He was really nice to you as well. One of his better interviews I’ve heard.
S: I was excited! It was a live interview so it couldn’t be edited. He wanted to go to HMV to buy some black and white movies. I had to give him a lift, and my car was full of dog hair, and he doesn’t like dogs.
J: That’s nonsense! He does like dogs! He loves all animals.
S: You know they did that ‘The Importance of being Morrissey?’ There was a leather chair and he said something like: ‘I don’t want to be seen near this chair.’
J: Quite right too.
S: Morrissey is trapped in his own personality.
S: I think I’ll say that about myself: ‘Sean is trapped in his own personality’.
J: You’re a scorpio, is that right?
S: Yeah. You don’t want to live with a scorpio.
J: My mother is one.
S: What is her actual birthday?
J: November 18th. She’s mad about you in ‘The Last Detective’.
S: I went to America last month and I got recognised four times – all from ‘The Last Detective’. I had women hugging me, I was like: ‘get off me Mrs.’
J: You’re everybody’s comedy crush, that’s why. Grannies, mothers, brothers, aunties… People are very fond of you.
S: Unless they get to know me, then it all changes. Your mum is proper Scorpio. My brother is 5th and he’s not Scorpio at all.
J: What is he then?
S: He has no traits of it.
J: What are Scorpio traits?
S: The old sting in the tail. We feel quite set upon most of the time. We’re intense in the sense that we’re very loving but when you let us down, oh Jesus you won’t know the end of it. I try not to bear grudges. I watched that one woman show by Carrie Fisher and there’s one line in it at the end where she says: ‘Living a revengeful life is like drinking poison while waiting for the other person to die.’ Scorpios always feel let down, we expect too much from people. The lesson I’ve learnt from my life is to lower your expectations.
J: Are you still a vegetarian?
S: Morrissey once told me that the one thing he hated people asking him was: ‘Are you STILL a vegetarian?’
J: I’ll scrub that out.
S: I prefer people who eat meat to people who ‘used’ to be vegetarians. Are you vegetarian?
J: I am.
S: Is it because of Morrissey?
J: He did play a large part in it, yes
S: Yeah he did with me as well. I hate to admit it.
J: I never liked the taste of meat though. Maybe it was my mum’s gammon steaks.
S: You were fairly working class then?
J: Potatoes were on the menu a lot.
J: I love potatoes.
S: I still have potatoes a lot. What do you mainly eat?
S: I like a lot of that fake meat.
J: I like the thin Quorn deli ‘ham’ slices.
S: Nah. I mean when you put it in stews.
J: You make stews?
S: Yeah. The Swedish fake meatballs are great.
J: Where do you get them – Ikea?
S: No – get them in Tescos – the big Tescos in the frozen foods. Do you not do stews?
J: No, what’s your stew recipe?
S: Whatever you want it to be. It’s pretty much like boil-a-load-of-sh*t-up-together. Par-boil the potatoes. Bear in mind some things will be harder than others, so you got to time it right. Put whatever spices and herbs you like in. I can’t stand carrots so I put mushrooms, potatoes, a bit of onion…
J: I don’t think mushrooms go with potatoes, though, do they?
S: They do in my world! I’ll have to go home now and be like [to mushrooms]: ‘Well YOU”RE out apparently! Can’t see you two together again!’
J: I thought that you didn’t like talking about yourself? I haven’t even got to question two yet.
S: It’s your fault for getting me talking about recipes! Once you get me onto recipes there’s no stopping me.
J: Could you describe yourself in a sentence?
S: Do you watch that show, ‘Mad Men’?
J: Yes, love it.
S: I was trying to put my finger on why it’s so good. I think it’s because I cannot describe one of those characters in a sentence. Can you?
J: Well let’s try: Roger Sterling, Lothario, joker. Don Draper: Dapper…
S: See I’m not even going to let you away with the first one because you say that and you know that Roger doesn’t like that high life. When he did that LSD trip he realised that. I just got to the bit where Don is turning off the Beatles from the record player.
J: It’s about to get a whole lot better. One word: Lane. I’ll say no more.
S: Did you know he’s Richard Harris’ son?
J: Is he? No I didn’t know. My mum probably knew that though.
J: Your dogs are so cute. How old are they?
S: Sweep is sixteen, Betty is eight.
J: So can you describe yourself in a sentence? Maybe something about stews?
S: I’m the type of person who can’t be described in one sentence. I hope.
J: Right then…
S: You won’t get that answer ever again, will you?
J: I don’t know.
[Sweep growls at two passing dogs. Sean: ‘Sweepie! Which one do you not like?]
J: Are the dogs your special ones in your life?
S: They’re not even that special.
J: Do you call yourself ‘daddy’ to them?
S: No! I just say their names. I don’t say: ‘Come to daddy!’ It’s really weird because… I refer to them both as boys. I say ‘come on boys’. Do you do that with your kids?
J: Sometimes we’ll say ‘away the lads’ to both of them. Look at Betty. She needs some sheep. [Betty lies down and wags her tail, waiting for Sean to throw the ball].
S: It’s in her DNA. I have a cat as well. She’s lovely. She’s even older than Sweep.
J: Did you like the pictures of Morrissey with a cat on his head? The Jake Walters ones?
S: I’m sure I’ve seen them. Was the cat in his arms?
J: No you’re thinking of the baby?
S: A cat and a baby?
J: No. Just a cat. On his head.
J: I am a big fan of Seany’s show, and how you used The Smiths in that.
S: Were you into the Smiths then?
J: Yes, very much. There was nothing like you on TV when you came along…
S: OR SINCE!
J: You were quite child-like, innocent, and vulnerable. Clean and sweet. None of that swearing you do now…
S: I do that Irish swearing. I forget. It’s like punctuation. When I listen back I just go ‘Oh my God’.
J: Is it your age?
S: Well, rather than mellowing I do get a bit more perplexed by life, but I will always question things. You always worry that you will become Chris Rea, ‘here’s another very bland song’.
J: Were you aware of how unique Sean’s Show was?
S: I think that the only way you can be different is by not being fake. I think that’s why Morrissey is a success because he’s not fake. You get your natural performers and those people who try very hard. I’m natural on stage. I enjoy it. I don’t then go off stage and throw a hissy fit.
J: What is your favourite joke?
S: Jokes come and go, but I still laugh at them. The last thing I laughed at was in Mad Men, when Roger brought Pete Campbell into the office to collect two sets of skis. And he went out with them really clumsily and Roger went: ‘Well I’m glad I saw that.’ The recent Carrie Fisher thing made me laugh as well.
J: Why did you get rid of your armchair in the live shows?
S: I never really thought it through. Everything evolves. I have a ‘pint’ of ginger nuts now and the box feels like a pint. You’ve really just got to move onto the next chair, haven’t you?
J: You do talk about your mid 40s and being old on stage, I just thought that you’d have a more comfortable chair than a hard stool.
S: If I sit in a sofa there’s a good chance I won’t be able to get up, without it really having good purchase. I can’t take those risks.
J: Do you still sit in the bubble bath and sing ‘it’s Seany’s show, la-la-la-la’
S: Well, what do you think? I thought you were going to be a serious interviewer?
J: This is a very serious question.
S: Did you really want an answer?
J: I do.
S: No, I don’t. No.
J: Do you ever sing it?
S: Em, well I wrote it. Everyday on twitter somebody does a ‘Sean’s Show’ reference which I like. It was over 25 years ago! Channel 4 is doing a top 30 sitcoms and it’s not in it.
J: You’re joking!
S: Not even in the top 30. I’m not going to kick up a fuss.
J: Tell me who I need to write to?
S: Not write, Julie. The days of writing are finished. We need shooters now. We should just kill. It’s time for the killing to start.
J: Why did you leave the Buzzcocks?
S: I didn’t want to be known for just that. I did ten series. It was a long time.
J: You’ve done Sean’s Show, Sean’s Shorts, Buzzcocks, but what I really want to hear about is Eileen Grimshaw.
S: I tried to get rid of that memory… [Laughs]. I still keep in touch with Sue. She’s a lovely woman; I really like her a lot.
[Sweep sees another dog he doesn’t like and goes for it. Sean: ‘SWEEP! Why don’t you chill out yeah? Live and let live, yeah?’ Sweep grumbles and lies down under the bench.]
S: When they [Coronation Street] phone to say: ‘You’re going to have a love interest with one of the characters’, I assumed it would be like, Tina O’Brien or someone.
S: They were like, ‘Nah, it’ s big Eileen from the cab office’. I’m like ‘Wha?’ Coronation Street made me realise that I was getting on a bit.
J: Tina O’Brien?
S: We live deluded lives.
J: But you took the part anyway?
S: Yeah because my mum loves Coronation Street! I rang up to get some background information on the character. I asked: ‘What does he sell?’ They said ‘Oh you’ve got me there’. He never had a briefcase. He must have sold really tiny sh*t [goes into inside pocket]: ‘Here - I’m Pat the salesman - you want to buy some of that?’
J: What was it like being in Corrie?
S: There was no fanfare or anything. They were like: ‘You’ve got the job’. At ten past nine on Monday I was in the Rovers Return doing my first bit and Craig Charles was like: ‘By the way that door doesn’t work’. The regulars don’t like doing scenes in the Rovers because there are loads of extras around. I realised I was over my panic attacks from my younger days when I could just stand that and be like: ‘a pint please.’
J: Did you get a proper pint in there?
S: They put a tiny bit of real beer in there. I don’t drink anymore, but I remember with lager, I don’t like the gas; this was a problem in The Last Detective. Too much build up in my stomach.
J: That couldn’t have been nice for your co-stars. Did you ever get to try on Deirdre’s belts?
S: No, they keep them locked up. [Laughs]. Bill Roache [Ken Barlow] is nice. He did come up to me and say: ‘I’m so happy that you’re in the show’. I thought, what a sweet man.
S: One of my favourite Morrissey lyrics is: ‘it takes guts to be gentle and kind’ because it does, it does take guts to be gentle and kind. I remember at some do I was at during Sean’s Show Richard Stilgoe was there. He came up to me and said: ‘it’s really nice to meet you; I’m a big fan. It’s really nice to see the younger generation coming up.’ When he walked away I was like: ‘w*nker!’
J: Yes, but you were twenty-five. It was probably nerves.
S: I know but I just feel really bad. I really regret saying things like that. This is Sir Richard Stilgoe.
J: I don’t think you can give yourself a hard time about that. You were young and cheeky.
S: Yeah, I guess, but I still think there’s no excuse.
[Betty paws my foot. Sean: ‘That’s her way of getting your attention. She wants the ball’. I throw the ball for her. She’s back in seconds, dropping the ball at my feet again].
J: She’s sprightly.
S: She’s very clever. Is your mum very active?
J: The dog keeps her fit. Would your mum get a dog?
S: No. She could do with one. She says: ‘Oh I’m away too much’ but she goes nowhere.
S: The original storyline in Corrie was that I was to get Eileen pregnant. But Sue didn’t want that because if you get pregnant on a soap you don’t get a storyline for two years cos you’re lumbered with a baby. It would have been too confusing for my mum anyway, to see her grandchild living in Manchester.
J: Any more TV planned?
S: No. I’m doing the two shows in Edinburgh and that’s enough. If all the stars were aligned I’d possibly re-think of doing Sean’s Show, but I’m worried that it would ruin the legacy, unless it seemed absolutely right.
J: That might be a bit like The Smiths re-forming.
S: I’d love to know what the character is up to now. But it would be a huge costly thing and I wouldn’t do it unless everything is in place.
J: Would you play him? Sean as an older man?
S: Well yeah, I’d have to! It would be an absolute joy to see what he’s up to now. I’m not going to do a panel show or anything like that now. But it means less people come see the show. It’s diminishing returns when you’re not on TV. It’s a fact of life and you’ve got to deal with it.
[Sweep digs. Sean: ‘Have you found the body, Sweep? Is the body down there, yeah? Good boy!’]
J: How was BBC6Music?
S: It was great, I loved it. I had a contract for a year, doing Sundays and they said: ‘Would you please play three tracks off the playlist every hour?’ And I said, ‘No.’ and they said: ‘Well we’re not renewing your contract then unless you do that.’ That wasn’t me being an a*rse that was just about the music. I said I’d rather not do it if one of the tracks I have to play is Stereophonics. If I had been doing it everyday, of course I would have done it but not when it’s a Sunday special show. The last song I played was ‘I don’t mind if you forget me’ by Morrissey, containing the lyrics: ‘Rejection is one thing, but rejection from a fool is cruel.’ Then the producer said that they cut it when they put it on the Internet and so that song wasn’t in there.
J: My last interview was with Shaun Keaveny. Did you ever meet him?
S: Yeah, a great guy.
J: Very funny man.
S: I knew Craig Charles from when he did poetry on the circuit.
J: Tell me some of your favourite Smiths/Morrissey tracks.
S: It’s a weird one, cos if you put Morrissey’s solo career up against The Smiths, Morrissey solo wins now. If you’re going to pick your best ten Smiths songs versus your best ten Morrissey songs, Morrissey would win.
J: How did you get into The Smiths?
S: I was a real Johnny-Come-Lately. My mate got there first. But it became an addiction really. I wasn’t as obsessed as the guy from Sean’s Show.
S: I was really thrilled when Morrissey asked if he could use one of my quotes from the show. I said: ‘Sometimes I feel like Morrissey. I feel like a man trapped in a man’s body’. So that’s in some book somewhere.
[Sweep growls. Sean: ‘Alright Sweep are you in cranky mood today, are ya? You got the stick? You showing him who’s the boss, yeah? With your little twig.’ Sean addresses the passing dog: ‘He’s the master! He’s not an old man! He’s got the big stick!’]
S: Morrissey was a big influence on the way I was. When I was nineteen I shared a dressing room with The Smiths on a TV show in Ireland. It was quite intense. Have you ever noticed how Morrissey looks like George Best? It’s in the eyes.
J: I haven’t, ever noticed that, no. I’ll have a closer look.
S: He does, he really does, look in the eyes!
The Best eyes
J: Can you tell us about the interview with Morrissey on GLR?
S: It was the first time I’ve really been nervous about something in a while. I don’t think it was a great interview, because every time I was saying something I was like: ‘Morrissey is sitting beside me!’
S: I think he is a very beautiful looking man as well. Morrissey intrigues me. I remember the first time I met him was in Camden, he was with Stephen Street. We had never met but we were both aware of each other so we stopped. I said to him, one of my favourite songs is Speedway and the album Vauxhall and I. But you know that Why don’t you find out for yourself, that lyric ‘bad scenes come and go’ I said to him: ‘I always thought it was ‘bad seeds’, which is a much better line. [sings] ‘Bad seeds come and go, for which you must allow!’
J: You have a lovely singing voice.
S: I can sing quite well. This is the question that you should ask every Morrissey fan: Would you let Morrissey come and live in your house?
J: Would you?
J: I have written a short fictional/comedy story about when Morrissey came to my house.
S: I do have to get on with my own life as well, Julie. I’m now reading plays of yours, short stories, I’ve got two shows to prepare for, I can’t be reading all your stuff all the time…
[Betty searches for her ball and can’t find it. Sean: ‘Betty! Over there! Your ball is over there! Over there!’ Betty goes and finds the ball].
J: If Morrissey came into this park and walked up to you right now and said: ‘Alright Sean?’ What would you say?
S: I’d be perfectly happy to go for a coffee with him or something. When I met him and he said: ‘Alright Hughes’ I thought that was cantankerous.
J: You’re not over that? I think it’s quite affectionate!
S: I will always have an endearing love for Morrissey.
J: So if he was coming to your house what snacks would you put out for him?
S: Whatever’s in the fridge. I wouldn’t make a fuss.
J: What’s in the fridge?
S: Potatoes… No, you know I had an allergy test that says mushrooms don’t agree with me.
J: That’s all them stews.
S: I don’t know what he eats. What does he eat?
J: He doesn’t like spicy food, from what I know he used to be fond of eggs. And chips. But I suspect he likes more than just that, these days.
S: I suppose he could share my stew.
J: Will you write a note for my mum?
S: I will. Tell her that Peter Davidson is a really lovely fella. What’s the name of her dog?
J: We’ll do your favourite things then go get a coffee.
S: Yeah I’ll buy you a coffee.
J: No it’s alright I’ve got a tenner.
S: Strictly speaking that’s not yours.
J: I’m not going to give her the exact same tenner back. I’ll send her a Scottish tenner. [I forgot my wallet, and borrowed a tenner from a random woman, but that’s another story…]
S: That’ll cheer her up. Did you see me do the ‘Morrissey mike’ on the show?
[‘Morrissey mike’ = flick the wire up while making a point].
J: I did!
S: [sings] ‘And when you SLAM (pretends to flick mike) down the hammer….’
J: We [@marys_daughter and I] thoroughly enjoyed your show the other night.
S: Thanks. If you see it again it’ll be slightly different. When I do the ginger nuts bit I’m going to get some marshmallows and hand them like out shots. But they’re marshmallows. Let’s do shots!
J: I like it when you lose your thread through the show then just spend five minutes talking to an audience member.
S: In Edinburgh I can only do an hour. I’m going to leave out a different section every night. It’s such an important part of the show that chatting with the audience bit, I need to keep that. The ‘Father’ show is quite heavy. It’s a narrative, so I have to do that word for word. That’s why I’m doing a second show, to let loose.
J: What’s your favourite breed of dog?
S: Ah it would have to be a Heinz Beans really. All my dogs have been from Battersea. Even though this one (Betty) was pissin’ on my kitchen floor this morning. She gets excited; I don’t think she knows she’s doing it.
J: You might want to let her out every now and then…
S: She did it when the door was open! That’s what annoyed me.
[Betty paces around Sweep. Sean: Sweepie! You know you’re sittin’ on the ball don’t you?]
S: Do you like the Brotherhood of Man?
J: I can’t remember their songs.
S: ‘Save all your kisses for me’ was one….
J: Oh yes, I do.
S: They had one about Fernando I think…
J: Wasn’t that Abba?
S: No, it wasn’t ‘can you hear the drums Fernando’ it was more like: ‘there was something in the air that night…’
J: That’s the same song.
J: What’s your favourite thing your mum says?
S: She says: ‘Do you understand?’ at the end of every sentence.
J: And do you?
S: Only too well.
J: Favourite pizza topping?
S: I don’t eat pizza anymore. I’m allergic to cheese. With any cheese I just sweat here (points to his cheeks) for a minute.
J: You get the cheese sweats.
S: Yeah. But I like cheese. I guess the best pizza is a DEAD PIZZA.
J: Favourite biscuit?
S: Anything involving ginger. Ginger blueberry biscuits. Marks and Spencer do some really nice ones.
J: My mum loves ginger.
S: Are you trying to set me up with your mum? What would your dad say? ‘All right Mister? I’m just taking Sally and Pat out for a walk!’
J: What’s your favourite thing to do on a Friday night?
S: It certainly isn’t going out.
J: Good! Will you host the @Mozarmyquiz for us one week?
J: You can do it from your chair - it’s on twitter.
S: No. I won’t do that. I catch up on my Sky Plus stuff. Last Friday I watched the Bowie night. I’m a bit of a Maltesers person in front of the tele.
J: Box or bag?
S: Sainsbury’s have been doing the bag quite cheaply lately. PART-EH!!!
J: What would you drink with that?
S: Peppermint tea.
J: I love that.
S: How many cups do you drink?
J: I could easily drink four or five cups.
S: I drink ten a day.
J: I drink twenty.
S: I think I have an addictive personality. I like ginger tea as well.
J: My sister taught me how to make fresh ginger tea. Do you do that?
S: No, I have the tea bags.
J: Peel and chop fresh ginger. Add hot water. Delicious.
S: I love a bit of ginger. How do you boil eggs now Julie? Can you explain that to me?
S: I have a lovely Japanese teapot. Maybe I could put the ginger in the thing and do that.
J: Favourite childhood toy?
S: Six Million Dollar Man Doll.
J: Favourite trousers?
S: Cords. I don’t like jeans. I’ve never liked jeans. They’re a bit hard on my knees.
J: Were you not wearing those cords on Sunday?
S: Yeah, I was - you can get a good 4-5 days out of cords before you need to wash them.
J: What’s your favourite crisp flavour?
S: Salt and Vinegar. Why? What did you have me down for?
J: Something a bit more exotic – a pickled onion or Worcester sauce, maybe.
S: I try not to eat crisps. I think everything about them is bad for you.
J: And they clash with Maltesers.
S: Exactly. Put ‘balsamic’ obviously.
J: Favourite Morrissey song?
S: I went to the Forum to see him and I told him that Ordinary Boys was my highlight. The next night I went and he played it as the encore!
J: See? He does listen to you!
S: Who knows? I like Why don’t you find out for yourself and Speedway.
J: Favourite Smiths song?
S: Jeane. [Sings] All the alcoholic afternoons…
J: These Things Take Time?
J: You were just singing These Things Take Time.
S: That wasn’t Jeane? Am I actually having a stroke? [sings] that had more worth… than any…
S: Actually put Meat Is Murder
J: Good choice. Do you know how Jeane goes?
S: Yeah, like this [sings] All the alcoholic afternoons…
If you like Maltesers on a Friday night and stew for dinner you can follow Sean Hughes on twitter @Mr_SeanHughes.
You can also go see him at the Edinburgh Festival this August. He is doing two shows, ‘Life Becomes Noises’ about the death of his dad:
and ‘Sean Hughes stands up’ - the one that I went to see at Udderbelly:
If you’re lucky you might get a ginger nut or a cuddle.
It’s not often you get to meet your favourite DJ - but Terry Wogan was busy - so I had to make do with Shaun Keaveny. This sentence would typify a Keaveny-esque quip. This is what he does. He is like your cheeky pal that always makes dry remarks. He will make them in passing, in the delivery of Father Stone, without excuse or explanation, leaving you just, well, laughing.
I met him two years ago at the event to save his radio station, BBC 6 Music, at ‘6Fest’ at 229 Great Portland Street. His band had covered The Smiths: There is a Light. He was in fine, merry form. He seemed excited after we spoke for a good half hour, saying: ‘Cheers Julie! See you at work tomorrow, yeah?’ when I was leaving. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I didn’t work at 6music, I sort of took it as part compliment/part he’s-too-drunk-to-know-what-we-just-talked-about, so on the tube home I imagined re-telling this story in a jolly fashion as special guest on his show sometime in the future, perhaps as part of some hilarious feature.
Two years on, his radio show is more popular than ever (and I have not been on to tell that story) but it’s part of my morning routine to tune into his show, and I can’t break the habit (by God I have tried - but he goes well with porridge). He interacts very closely with his listeners, who, on some days, dictate/distract/direct the whole show. Part of his brilliance is to make himself and the show out to be quite tragic, hopeless, useless: ‘It’s either genius broadcasting, which I doubt, or it’s a deep-seated lack of confidence’. Whatever it is, it makes the listeners love him more as he welcomes - nay - encourages disparaging remarks and massive put downs. This listener-developed strapline coins it beautifully: ‘The Shaun Keaveny Show: Keep up the work’.
Some may call him lazy the way he blatantly looks to good, innocent listeners like myself to provide him with precious gold and gems of material to read aloud: ‘Half of what comes out of my mouth is what listeners have come up with’ - but I would call him the hold-onto-your-sides, funniest, loveliest, most original and brilliant person on the radio (between seven and ten Monday to Friday on BBC6Music). I’m glad I helped in some small way to save the station for him, because he’s better than five cups of coffee and a packet of Smarties in the morning. He is a tonic, a pick-me-up, an all-round smasher, and after hearing his show you’ll feel so high you could header the moon and score a goal for Earth against Jupiter.
He cries at DIY SOS and Stevie Wonder concerts and his favourite crisps are salt and vinegar. When I met him, he was ‘six days short of forty’ and was drinking one of those posh coffees in a glass. He told me that his favourite cake was coffee and walnut and that he was, well, ‘a bit in love’ with Johnny Marr.
He described our interview, very early on, as much like ‘a small death’. I half died.
J: Please say your full name.
S: I am Shaun William Keaveny.
J: Please describe yourself in a sentence.
S: I’m an incomplete person seeking completion.
J: And you’re nearly forty.
S: At the time of going to press, I am six days short of forty.
J: Are you excited?
S: Excited is an interesting… um… I wouldn’t say I’m ‘excited’, I’d say that I’m resigned to it, as the only alternative is death, so I might as well just roll with it. But I have it on good authority from people older than me that it’s not all that bad.
J: It’s not. I was forty in December. Do you feel better now?
S: How was it? I had you pegged for years off that.
J: Sixty-two? [Laughs] The run up to it is actually worse than the turning. It’s a bit like ripping off a plaster. Once you get to forty there’s nothing you can do about it. The worst part is knowing that next year you’ll be forty-one.
S: It sounds a lot older than forty doesn’t it? ‘Forty one’. Some ages are like that. Somebody else said that it’s quite good because then you are in your ‘early somethings’ again for a while.
J: The next major ‘party birthday’ is going to be fifty.
S: The other one I enjoy is when you get told that you can’t double it, so fifty well, I’m not going to make a hundred, really, so at forty we can pretend that we’re just at the half way mark.
J: Forty is the new thirty. Forty is quite young now.
S: I have been panicking about dying since I was five.
J: Oh. Have you put a lot of thought to dying then?
S: I’ve been thinking about it, yes, and I’m thinking about it now. And I’ll be thinking about it again, soon.
J: Is this because I’m interviewing you?
S: This interview is like a small death.
S: I am quite a macabre person. If you worry about death a lot it means you’re enjoying your life. You don’t want it to stop.
AH’VE BEEN THINKIN’ ‘BOUT CHOO…
J: You enjoy your two boys, don’t you, Arthur and Wilf?
S: Yeah! Arthur and Wilf. Wilfie. He’s Wilfred, but for some reason it comes out as Wilfie, like Wolfie, we don’t know why. Incredible things, children, aren’t they? They put a spring in your step, stop you being too introspective.
J: Yes! And I know it’s a cliché, but they do say the funniest things…
S: God yeah, funnier than any adult human could ever be.
S: That is the other sad thing about being around kids is that you realise what life robs from children. Your ability to think like a kid is just taken from you slowly as you are expected to assume responsibility.
J: You’ve managed to keep a hold of your childish qualities though.
S: What are you saying?
S: I know, yeah you’re right, that’s a great gift given to me by the cosmos.
J: Underneath your silliness you’re really quite bright aren’t you? How many ‘o’levels have you got?
S: I’m not that old. It’s GCSEs actually. I was in the first year of GCSE’s! I inhabit a weird world. I am not that kind of brash, filthily intellectual broadcaster (I won’t name any names). On our station you’ve got your Gideon Coes, and your Lamacq’s… you know, who are distinctly more cerebral.
J: Yes I think they are musically intellectual though, aren’t they? Lamacq in particular, he’s well… the ‘Lamacq-apedia’
S: Oh yes that’s a good one.
J: Write that down. Courtesy of Mr Goddard.
S: Write that down. I have his book somewhere. I realised recently that the reason I have any popularity is because I’m fallible.
S: Laughable, but fallible.
S: I’m lafallible. It’s annoying. It’s a rod for my back as well as being a great thing.
J: But you have encouraged ‘lafallibility’ very much. You put yourself out there – ‘I’m aplogise, the show is terrible today, keep up the work…’ and you whole-heartedly encourage listeners to slag you off. It is very, very funny, but why do you do it?
S: It’s difficult to know. It’s either genius broadcasting, which I doubt, or it’s a deep-seated lack of confidence, and that’s why I do it. If I attack myself first, then nobody can hurt me after that… I’ve noticed a lot of comedians do it.
J: Do you think the comedians are copying off you?
S: Of course they are! They’re all at it, aren’t they? They know where the mother load is. Where the source material exists – 7-10 Monday to Friday 6music. But a lot of them do it now. Maybe take their worst critics quotes and put them out there. You are taking the weapon away from somebody. There’s nothing more hurtful, no matter how long you’ve been doing your radio show, to come into work, at s*** o’clock to get some horrible email or text from somebody saying… ‘you are a …..’
J: Do you still get that?
S: Yes! I’ve been doing this show for five years now.
J: I know, I enjoyed the celebratory Bowie.
S: Aww! Yeah! I can’t wait to do that again in five years time, oh no, wait! That won’t work…
S: Ten Years Gone, Led Zeppelin we’ll play.
J: I might not listen then.
S: Well this is where we’re gonna have arguments, isn’t it?
J: You are, if I may say, a brilliant breakfast DJ because you lift the listeners up, you celebrate the little things. If you get bad news how does it affect you? Will you go on the air and be like ‘I’m just gonna play another two tracks, I’m too annoyed/can’t be bothered to speak.’
S: The good thing about doing our kind of programme is that we are very open about everything. If we’re all feeling low or tired we usually try and make it part of the show in some weird way, try to get the listeners on board, hope that maybe some of you feel like that. You guys are brilliant at coming back with stuff, in fact you’re all genius at it, so we can make an entire show that includes all your feedback.
J: You have straplines… ‘Keep up the work…’
S: … all created by the listeners. That’s Wogan-erian. He is one of my life gurus. We’ve had him on the show once or twice. He’d come down and bring me a bacon sandwich and sit and chat. People like him are the real benchmarks. People like (adopts Ken Bruce voice) ‘Ken Bruce! Ken Bruce! Popmaster!’
J: Your impressions are very funny. Is it possible for you to say someone’s name without doing their voice?
S: It is when I can’t do an impression of them.
J: Samantha Jones is top. As soon as I the Sex In the City music comes on I start to cringe and laugh simultaneously. It’s the whispery/sultry male-doing-female voice.
S: It’s so wrong isn’t it? I am acutely aware of the fact that it pisses some people off that I have become inhabited by different characters. I know people who say ‘shut up, just play the music.’
J: Well they can turn over.
S: That’s my mantra. You know what you’re getting. If you don’t like it, sod off.
J: Yeah. Go to Danny Wallace [XFM].
S: There’s always Danny.
J: Always Danny.
S: Always Danny to pick up the pieces for everybody else. Danny, Danny, Danny.
J: People weren’t happy when you left XFM, were they?
S: I would hate to comment on that. But I do remember a load of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
J: Let’s go back to how brainy you are.
S: Thank you.
J: You like that Brian Cox don’t you?
S: Taught him everything he knows.
J: Could you beat him in a pub quiz?
S: Yeah. Unless it was a pub quiz about physics.
J: No it would be general, news round, sports round, music round etc.
S: I think I would beat him. He’s good on music and science. He’s got two strong areas.
J: Is his music strong, really?
S: I suppose D:Ream weakens his position a bit.
J: Can you do an impression of him?
S: (adopts Cox voice) ‘Yessss.’ I texted him this morning. He texted back…
[Shaun notices his car go by]
S: That’s my wife! Where’s she going?
[I note that we drive the same car].
S: Yeah so he texted me back saying (does wispy voice): ‘I’m in Madagascar. Trillions and trillions of degrees hot. Give me a call in an hour.’ Then sent this massively long land line phone number. One of the things I love about the show - if you do it for long enough – is that you just get left to do stuff, and be terrible, and carry on being terrible until you’re good. The BBC don’t like change – in a good way. It’s because of this that we have people who constantly crop up. Having Brian on the show now, is like having Tom Cruise on the show and he still loves it.
J: Do you think he is aware that he talks like that/smiles all the time?
S: Have you seen the spoof on YouTube – that is so funny. He is acutely aware of how parodied he is. I think he can laugh at it.
J: It’s good that he has still got his feet on the ground… while reaching for the stars…
S: … thanks to gravity.
BARK AT THE MOON
J: When I told my mum that I was coming to meet you…
S: (adopts Frank Butcher voice) ‘Pat… Paaaaaat… Pat, Pat, Pat, Pat, Pat’.
J: I said ‘mum, I’m going to meet your favourite DJ – Shaun. Do you want to ask him anything?’ and she said, ‘Ask him if he’s a frustrated Alistair Campbell.’
S: Alistair Campbell? What does she mean by that? A frustrated spin doctor?
J: Oh no. I think I got the name wrong.
S: Does she mean Alistair McGowan?
J: Yeah. That’s it. My mum is going to kill me now.
S: (leans into Dictaphone): Just for the record there, I’m not a frustrated Alistair Campbell, because I’d be no good at it. I met him once though, he’s a very tall and handsome man. (leans back). Now, Alistair McGowan, he has his own set of charms. I just can’t help the voices. I can’t help it. It’s just fun, isn’t it? It’s fun.
J: It is. It’s a lot of fun.
S: It’s quite boring when you spend a lot of time on your own. Me, the microphone, texts and emails. I’m just mixing it up a bit. I enjoy it. I’m never going to do anything that I don’t enjoy, because I’m forty.
J: Can I take your picture for the blog?
S: Yeah, alright then [looks at picture] I look a right twat. Look at my hair. I look a bit like Norman Wisdom.
J: Let’s do another one.
S: I’m not very good at smiling.
J: Have you seen the picture of you on the tune-in radio app?
S: Is it really horrible one?
J: You look cock-eyed. It’s like somebody doctored your picture to put your eyes together
S: There aren’t any good pictures of me. This is a five year old photograph! I look like Nookie Bear.
NOOKIE & SHAUN
J: Has twitter changed the way that you work on the radio?
S: When I started it was just email. Before the technology existed I guess people just had: ‘I’ve got letter here, from Marjorie…’ We used to call people when I was at XFM. I did the X-List from 1-2pm, and took requests. I remember when texts came in, that was mind blowing, We got texts all the time. The interactive element has revolutionised what we do because our show is basically just your show. Half of what comes out of my mouth is what listeners have come up with.
J: Do you enjoy twitter?
S: When you get a minute it’s nice to go in and have a look at the feed because you always find some video or piece of music that you wouldn’t have come across otherwise.
J: Who’s the genius that put Two Tribes behind the features?
S: That was me.
J: It instantly improves any feature, no matter how bad. My very favourite feature you ever did was ‘What’s in your lunchbox’. Can you bring it back?
S: All these things are in an orbit. They come back around like Haley’s Comet.
J: You could replace ‘Song of Praise’.
S: What are you talking about? You don’t like ‘Song of Praise?’ If we carry it on for another two years you’ll come to love it.
J: The music reminds me of a Sunday night before school.
S: Yes Julie the music may depress you but the content is usually brilliant. It doesn’t really matter what you call the feature, because the feature probably should be called: ‘Let’s get a listener on and chat for a bit’ because that’s all it is. We dress it up with a name, but it’s the same every time. It was the same with ‘Toast the nation’ (It had to die).
J: You still sad about that?
S: Well it’s like an old girlfriend’s name. Keeps cropping up.
J: Bring it back.
S: We probably will. We’ll do a Bobby Ewing in the shower.
J: I understand that reference, because I’m forty.
S: Yes you can get that because of your age.
J: When you were looking for fictional headlines about Roger Daltrey I sent you one. Did you get it?
S: Of course I did. Er, what was it?
J: Roger Daltrey was walking in the park. He saw a dangerous dog about to attack someone. He went over to the dog, held up his hand and the dog went silent and sat down. The headline was: ‘Pit bull Wizard Roger Daltrey - sure tames a mean pitbull.’
S: Oh that’s great.
J: Great? It’s gold is what it is. Gold.
S: That is good. Pitbull Wizard. I like it.
PIT BULL WIZARD GOLD
S: I feel terrible when I don’t get through the big stack of emails and tweets that we get. I carry that guilt.
J: It’s okay. Let’s talk about The Smiths. The reason why we’re here.
S: Is it? Is this the reason?
J: Gimmie the reason. I know that you’re a Smiths fan.
S: How do you know that?
J: I saw you murder There is a light after twenty pints two years ago.
S: I am embarrassed to talk about The Smiths in your company and I was the same with Amy Lame. You two are proper fans. I do love the Smiths. I love Morrissey and Marr in particular, and Joyce and Rourke. And I love the work, but I consider myself a dabbler compared to you.
J: A dabbler how? How did you get into them?
S: I would say it was about 1988. My uncle Martin, who is only two years older than me - my gran had him late - got me into all kinds of stuff. He bought a couple of albums. That was all we did really. Before he discovered the pub we used to just sit and listen to records. Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, all the dad rock stuff I’m into now.
J: Have you got a favourite Smiths song?
S: I do love ‘Cemetry Gates’ because it reminds of my old music producer Nic Philips who left the show two years ago to work with heroin addicts in Hong Kong. He’s that kind of a guy. He always wanted to hear that song. I love the obvious ones as well – I love There is a Light. I love murdering that. I love Heaven knows I’m miserable now. But I’m not as obsessive about them as some people. But, they were such an important band. And Johnny Marr is such a brilliant person. I’m a bit in love with him. I’ve met him a couple of times. I just think he’s The Don when it comes to guitars. He’s so inspirational. I need to get Johnny into my life. We’ve kind of agreed that he’ll bring his guitar in and accompany me on my song Cheddar Cheese. I want to get him on it.
J: Are you planning on getting Cheddar Cheese featuring the legend that is Johnny Marr into the charts?
S: Hell, yeah. All the money will go to charity of course.
J: Cheese charities.
J: Help the Cheese-ed.
S: Air dropping cheese to the starving cheese deprived.
J: Have you ever met Morrissey?
S: No. I was thinking about this the other day. Who have I not met/chatted to that I’d like to. I’d be very interested to meet Morrissey but I’ve got a feeling that he’d terrify me in equal measure. He’s a spiky man. It’s almost his brand now, to be difficult and awkward and occasionally abusive. He enjoys the squirming. I’d love to chat to him, he’s deeply fascinating. Have you met him?
J: No. I think I’d be terrified. But I also think he’s highly mis-represented and is really just media bait. I don’t think he’s deliberately spiky, I just think he doesn’t play by the same rules because of the life he has led.
J: What if Morrissey was to walk into this cafe right now…
[Shaun sticks his chin out].
J: Is that meant to be Morrissey?
S: This is how I imagine him.
J: If he was to walk in here right now and say: ‘Alright Shaun?’ what would you say?
S: I’d be so chuffed. I have these chats with my mate Kev. I’d probably say something awful like: ‘Thank you for the music’. To which he’d reply: ‘This is why I don’t enjoy meeting the public.’ And then walk out. Get back in his car. What do you say to somebody like that? You’re always trying to impress people like that. Whereas Marr, Joyce or Rourke you can be a bit more relaxed because they are more down to earth.
J: You were a singer in that band doing There Is A Light though.
S: Yeah, but I’m a singer/guitarist. I can also play the drums and bass. I’m multi-talented and therefore ‘down-to-earth’.
J: You’re a ‘musical handyman’.
S: Yeah. Jack of no trades, master of none.
J: Man of a thousand voices, all of them the same.
J: So Morrissey is coming round to your house to see you and Lucy. What snacks would you put out for him?
S: If Morrissey was coming round Lucy would call the cleaner. Because we do live in North West London, so we have a cleaner. That’s my MASO [Middle Aged Shout Out].
J: You say MASO? I say it like ‘MAISO’
S: That’s fascinating.
J: You could do a whole show on that.
S: ‘MAISO OR MASO, which is it? 6-4-0-4-6. That would be funny because they’d write it the same. It’s a visual joke, on the radio.
J: You could put Two Tribes under it and there you go. Instant national panic about how it’s pronounced.
S: Just on that, I’ve never felt so excited in my life than when Holly Johnson was tweeting me during DIY SOS. I was like, ‘this is it now – Holly just tweeted me’.
J: You know what you need to do when that happens. Just - RELAX.
[Shaun looks out the window. A baby cries].
J: What snacks would you put out for Morrissey then?
S: I’d play it safe. Those vegetable crisps. Some hummus, carrots, celery. I don’t like taramasalata so we wouldn’t have that anyway.
J: He wouldn’t eat it. It’s cod roe.
S: He’d throw that against the wall.
J: Leave your house, never go back. I wouldn’t blame him.
S: Maybe a sun-dried tomato pate.
J: Do you make that yourself?
S: No. Maybe when I’m older – retired. I’ve got better f***in things to do with my life at the moment than make pate, Julie. Jesus.
J: Alright! What if Holly found out and he came too?
S: I think Holly is a lot more laid back that Morrissey. He’s deliciously camp and Morrissey is more private. My aim would be to get him drunk very early on, and come on to him in a dress.
J: Would you host our Mozarmyquiz on a Friday night?
S: Okay. I will do that one day. I’m very good at promising my time then not delivering. One Friday when Lucy is going out and I’m staying in, I’ll do it.
J: Who’s your favourite DJ?
S: Danny Baker
J: TV show?
S: DIY SOS and Blackadder III
J: Favourite cake?
S: Coffee and walnut.
J: Favourite biscuit?
S: Belgian chocolate shortbread.
J: Favourite sandwich?
S: New York pastrami with pickle on rye bread.
J: Lyric or song of all time?
S: It changes all the time but, really, the most regular answer would be Daydream Believer by the Monkees.
J: Favouite pizza topping?
S: Something hot, pepperoni with loads of fresh chilli, black pepper. Oh yeah.
J: Are you hungry? Do you want to order something?
S: No, no, thank you. I’ve got to hold out for the dinner party.
J: Who’s coming?
S: Becky and Sam.
J: Favourite thing your mum says?
S: ‘Don’t eat that apple on your own - you might choke.’
J: Favourite concert?
S: Stevie Wonder at Hyde Park. I cried three times.
J: Childhood toy?
S: Evil Kenevil wind up. I used to whizz him into the wall until he broke all his plastic limbs, like in real life.
J: Smiths/Morrissey song?
S: Heaven knows I’m miserable now and Suedehead.
J: Favourite person to interview?
S: I think I would have to say the holy trinity of Jimmy Page, Nile Rodgers and Jessica Hynes
J: Favourite soap character?
S: It would have to be, Norris Cole.
J: He’s mine!
S: Forget soaps - he’s the best thing on TV.
J: I agree. Would you write a note to my mum?
S: Of course.
DE NIRO? OR BEAKER FROM THE MUPPETS?
You can follow Shaun on twitter @shaunwkeaveny and his show @BBC6Breakfast. Listen to him from 7-10am on BBC6music. Please send him some material soon, he’s desperate.
Keep up the work son.