Telling Stories - Tim Burgess (2012)
10. Diet Coke and Bananas
It’s terrible when the suits get involved in rock ’n’ roll. They are a bit like minders. They can be very useful, depending on what they are used for, but, as with minders, instead of sorting out a scuffle they can sometimes create more problems. They come between people who once communicated as friends and end up talking via third parties.
Alan McGee became The Charlatans’ manager shortly after we’d met at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, in February 2006. South by Southwest is a showcase for everything that is new and cool about music, though at the time I was feeling neither new nor cool. I got myself cleaned up, and as part of that felt that having a new manager, and someone as experienced as Alan, was a good reason to take this second chance (or was it third, fourth, fifth? I don’t know, you decide), get my shit together and rise to the occasion.
We had recorded Simpatico at Hook End Studios near Reading and were finishing mixing and overdubs at the Townhouse in London. Turmoil was in the air – not just with me personally, or even in the band, but with the whole musical landscape in general. At the time we were signed to Sanctuary, a label that turned out to be a disaster for us. The Townhouse was owned by Sanctuary and was rumoured to be shutting down. The walls seemed to be closing in around us.
Our A&R man John Williams had left just as we were about to deliver the record. The departure of the person who signed you is never a welcome moment for a band, but his parting gift was the resurrection of the Creole imprint, an old reggae label that was dusted down just for us.
Between 1999 and 2006 I had had an increasing number of meetings with prospective managers and couldn’t find the right one – it was an unhappy time for me. During the making of Simpatico I had been trying to get an American manager to fly over to the UK to meet the band, but through fate or bad luck he never made it to England, and Curly Jobson took over temporarily. Steve Harrison had resigned after a particularly insulting email from me, written in conjunction with Michelle one Sunday evening in LA. I blamed Steve for the money going missing through our accountant. All the band believed he was responsible, of course! He was our manager and the buck stopped there.
Back to McGee, as I want to keep this brief. He was the man who had made his name with Oasis, so he was no stranger to the nuttier side of life. After coming off drugs and touring Simpatico around the world, I went on a DJ tour with McGee in October 2006. We called it the Diet Coke and Banana tour. This was a manager/artist bonding trip, set up so that we could get to know each other properly and work out the next few years for the band.
There seemed to be a change in the air of how to go about things which really appealed to both of us. We were avid social networkers, and the whole tour had been arranged, promoted and documented on Myspace. The use of internet for self-promotion was gathering pace. With what seemed like only people power, The Arctic Monkeys had come out of nowhere to be the biggest new band in Britain. And Alan, fresh from managing The Libertines, was impressed with Pete Doherty, a self-promoting extremist and one of the few people Alan acknowledges as more controversial than him.
Having a masochistic bent, I loved the idea that Pete put his recordings up on the internet for all to see. These were more often than not scratch and live recordings, demos and half-written ideas, but they were used as a new, unorthodox promotional tool. The fans loved it. These were the early signs that record companies were not needed to get songs out to the world.
CD sales were at an all-time low and record shops were becoming like ghost towns. People were plundering the internet for music, using peer-to-peer file-sharing sites, and the figures of estimated sharing were getting higher by the month. (At the time of the release of You Cross My Path, our next LP, the peer-to-peer sharing estimate was 1:60, which means that, for every CD or download of a record bought legally, it was shared illegally for free by sixty others.) The times they were a-changing.
During the DJ tour we stumbled on the idea that the best way to get The Charlatans’ new material to people at this watershed moment was to give it away. We were more comfortable with the idea of giving it away before it was inevitably taken. We considered all the options: re-signing to Sanctuary, going with another label, forming our own label, but throughout our jaunt around Britain we came to the conclusion that giving it away was the most exciting thing to do. It was far out for an established band, but anything less seemed like a cop-out. In some ways it seemed obvious, though it made me question our sanity slightly – it was hard to know what was the right thing to do, but to everyone’s eternal credit You Cross My Path came out for free.
We made our own stipulations. It had to be the best album we could make; we had to give it away to as many people as possible; and we had to go into it wholeheartedly. At one point McGee suggested giving it away with the Sun, but the band had misgivings. Bizarrely, Prince had given away his album with the Mail on Sunday, which conjures up thoughts of thousands of untouched, abandoned CDs behind the twitching net curtains of middle England. I’m not sure who was advising him there.
Prince had given his away to pensioners. We gave ours away through Xfm: over 150,000 downloads from one site and an unknown number of file shares from there. Radiohead sold their album In Rainbows through a pay-what-you-like scheme requiring, shrewdly, the purchaser’s email address for future data. We gave ours away with a radio station and asked for zero info. Dumb? A missed trick? We didn’t care.
McGee and I were on News at Ten. It was a phenomenon. This was the first time we had been judged on an action and not on the material. But the record was great.
Juliette Garside, Sunday Telegraph, October 2007:
Supporting a rock band used to be an act of rebellion. In the face of today’s mounting music piracy, it’s become an act of conscience.
Radiohead, the contrarian giants of British rock, last week released their seventh album on an unsuspecting public with the challenge of paying as little or as much as they choose. In Rainbows is available on the internet only, and the only compulsory charge is a 45p credit card handling fee.
In the same week indie legends The Charlatans went one better and made their new single ‘You Cross My Path’ available from radio station Xfm’s website at no charge.
‘I want the people to own the music and the artists to own the copyright. Why let a record company get in the way of the music?’ says Tim Burgess, The Charlatans’ lead singer.
These gestures are without doubt a two-fingered salute to the fat cats at the major record labels. More worryingly for the four international companies that account for 80 per cent of worldwide music sales they could also sound the death knell for paid-for music.
When Prince wanted to publicize his 21-night residency at London’s O2 arena, he distributed his album as a covermount on a national newspaper. Artists with international pulling power are using the physical CD as a sampler for the new money-spinner – box office sales.
Alan McGee, who made Oasis a household name when he ran Creation Records and now manages The Charlatans says: ‘It is definitely the beginning of the end of the old model.’
Ian Burrell, Independent, October 2007:
Alan McGee, the musical impresario behind Oasis, has hatched an audacious plan to make new singles and albums available to download free, a move that threatens to throw the music industry into confusion.
Speaking from Los Angeles, McGee said he decided to give The Charlatans’ music away for free after they were offered a deal he considered less than satisfactory by their record company, Sanctuary. ‘I thought: “Well nobody buys CDs anyway”. If you talk to a 19-year-old kid, they don’t buy CDs […] I came to the conclusion: “Why don’t we just give it away for nothing?” ’
The radical approach of The Charlatans follows the decision by Prince to distribute an estimated 3 million copies of his latest album with The Mail on Sunday, driving ticket sales for his record breaking series of concerts at London’s O2 arena. The Charlatans have opted for a more ground-breaking approach, to put it on a radio station website, where it can be downloaded for free at anytime.
McGee said the band ‘could not lose’ from the revolutionary approach.
Mike Walsh, the head of music at Xfm, said the download service, which starts on 22 October, would remain active ‘for as long as there’s demand’. He said: ‘We thought it was an irresistible opportunity to do something that had not been done before.’
Alan McGee found himself managing Carl Barat’s new band, Dirty Pretty Things. He had very briefly managed The Libertines before their final cataclysmic implosion and was left with the bits of the jigsaw that made up Albion’s favourite sons.
So let’s talk about Carl. He was most celebrated as Pete’s oppo in The Libertines and had been drawn into the tabloid whirlwind that surrounded his other half – thrown up in the air and dropped back down again when the tabloids had had their use of him.
I met Carl in the bar of the Trafalgar Hotel, in London. I’d ended up back there after The Charlatans had just played Heaven, the infamous gay club behind Charing Cross Station. There is nothing quite like playing a stage on which you’ve previously witnessed an amazing gig. I’d seen New Order there in 1984.
The Libertines had recently completed the video for ‘Don’t Look Back into the Sun’. This was not the first time I had come across the band – I had seen them play live in a club in Brick Lane and hadn’t really liked them very much, but I might have been drunk and a touch angry.
Carl was a Gemini. I was a Gemini. I felt we bonded. We were friendly from the off, sussing each other out. We were both looking for something exciting to do that night but nothing really happened, and I went to bed while Carl wandered the streets of London.
I sensed that Carl was as lost as me, and it brought us together. I had come to the conclusion that I was lost living in LA. In a moment all the things that were good about it became all the things that were bad about it: the brightness and politeness, everyone hidden behind sunglasses. It had taken me a while to realize that the smiles were provided by Vicodin, OxyContin and Xanax. When I did, it gave me a greater understanding of David Lynch films, but unfortunately I felt that I was living in one.
I was happy in a Stepford Wives kind of way. I had a house in Hollywood overlooking the sign, an idyllic set-up at the time. I had a wife, a dog and lots of friends. Deep down, though, I was uncertain about everything. That was the only thing I was certain of.
I was in a permanent state of jet-lag haze. I never seemed to be at home, and everything important felt so far away. The band all seemed to be enjoying their lives with their families, having kids; perhaps we were moving apart as our circumstances became so different. We were still writing together, but there seemed to be no gang mentality. Every time we gathered, something in the band spirit seemed to get watered down. Business was always the last thing on our minds, and anyway my main business now was drugs.
I was becoming ever more agitated, bloated and bleary-eyed.
Meanwhile our manager was broke, so we suspected he wasn’t in the best place to make decisions for us as we were his only income.
The band and the manager, their world and their lifestyle, seemed completely alien to me, and I began to feel, as Johnny Thunders rightfully put it, So Alone.
Carl was lost, too, because his band mate and co-writer was struggling with heroin. Doherty had burgled Carl’s flat, served a stretch at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, and was now trying to get clean in Thailand with help from Dot Cotton of EastEnders. You couldn’t make it up.
We were helping each other. Carl felt he was losing his co-writer and I had lost mine eight or nine years ago and was still in mourning. We spent quality time together in Paris. I was staying at the Terrace Hotel in Montmartre. On Valentine’s Day 2004 Carl and his girlfriend Annalisa came over for a drink. We went off for a stroll in the charming surroundings and I ended up rolling down a hill. We definitely brought out the best in each other – or is that the worst?
I took him to the Isle of Wight Festival and introduced him on stage, as The Libertines were supposed to have been playing that weekend. Carl thought it would be helpful for him to go. We had a great time, drinking vodka and orange, and surfing the bus – heads out of the skylight, hair blowing in the wind, in an exact point between Titanic and Every Which Way but Loose. Was he sitting with Pete? Was I sitting with Rob?
We laughed about how I had a band mate from West Bromwich. He had a band member who loved Albion.
One day Carl popped unannounced into my room in the Premier Inn in King’s Cross. I loved that about him. Everyone else I knew made arrangements, days in advance, but Carl had no calendar. He was old school – a young man with older ways.
I took him for pizza, we drank red wine and had a wrestling match in my room – not naked or in front of the fire, but there was a touch of the Oliver Reed and Alan Bates about us.
I began to notice that I was getting drunker so much more easily and quickly, and had no recollection of events the morning after. I was waking up in unpromising situations, on the floor mostly, though occasionally my drunken SatNav would direct me to the nearest bed, with no concern for whose it was. I definitely had no intentions but to pass out. Somewhere in the back of my mind I’d think I was at home, somewhere else in the back of my mind I knew I was in trouble.
On this occasion I woke up at the Premier Inn with a huge red wine stain on the carpet. This was not subtle. Ashtrays were on the floor, there were cigarette butts everywhere, the TV was on, the curtains were open, clothes everywhere. This was my life now, this was the way I had chosen to live.
I’d agreed to meet photographer Tom Sheehan and journalist Dominic Wills that afternoon for lunch and drinks. Both of them had documented the band since 1990. By all accounts I was incoherent after two pints, topping up from the night before. I hadn’t seen Dominic for a few years, maybe five, and he apparently told Tom I was unrecognizable to him as the person he knew. Like I said, I was just topping up.
I went back to LA and Michelle. Her yin was my yang. I was exhausted, yes partly from drinking, but also from all the work I was doing: gigs, DJing, radio, TV, general promo work.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not whingeing here. But my life was just two speeds: stop and full on. I would go home hoping to rest and get rid of my hangover. Michelle was excited to see me and wanted to go out and show the world she had a husband. She must have felt like an army wife at times.
I knew I would never succumb to what are known as groupies. But I suppose she could never be sure. She had said to me that if it was unavoidable, I was just not to fall in love. But, if the truth be told, it never crossed my mind. Sorry if you bought this book thinking it would be loaded with sex. Instead I filled my time with drugs and rock ’n’ roll.
I had been asked to do a solo gig in Chatham at the Tap and Tin pub, made famous as the scene of The Libertines’ reunion gig, by a friend, the very charming Dean Fragile. Carl promised to play guitar for me, and he was a man of his word. Alongside us for the night Carl recruited Martin Duffy from Primal Scream and Andy Burrows from Razorlight. We called ourselves The Chavs.
At the time The Charlatans were rehearsing with Ronnie Wood for a Dazed and Confused party called Hero to Hero – the magazine had approached us and him and, naturally, we jumped at the chance. The event was going to take place at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire the following night and the opening act would be Babyshambles, Pete Doherty’s side-project turned main band because of the circumstances with Carl. Kate Moss would be there. The Chavs – the band that Carl and I were both moonlighting in – were rehearsing upstairs in the kitchen with a bass drum and a broken Wurlitzer keyboard. We were supposed to be picked up there in ‘Rocks off’ Ross’s cadillac, organized by Mr Fragile. We didn’t ask for it, we didn’t want it, and anyway we never got it. What we did get was a red Toyota Corolla with no back window and bits of glass on the seat. That’s better, right?
I was impressed by Andy Burrows: he knew the Charlatans and Libertines songs we were about to perform, better than me and Carl in fact. We were so caught up in the excitement that I don’t think we knew our songs at all. Duffy was just laughing constantly, wondering what the hell was going on and thinking of as many alternative names for The Chavs as possible – The Chillblains being the most applauded and the funniest sounding in a Brummie accent. But The Chavs it was, since we were playing Chatham and ‘chav’ was the word of the moment.
Opening that night, the Buff Medways featured former Milkshake, Mighty Caesar and chief Headcoat Wild Billy Childish, with Graham Day from The Prisoners and Wolf Howard from The Daggermen. Billy gave me a signed book and we had our picture taken together for the Medway Standard.
Michelle was our cheerleader and wrote out our set-list:
I Believe in the Spirit
Road to Ruin
North Country Boy
I Get Along
Death on the Stairs
A Man Needs to Be Told
Fairytale of New York
As you can imagine, the under-rehearsed gig was shambolic, but it was beautiful too. Tony Linkin, who was the publicist for Carl, Pete and The Charlatans, told me that his face ached from laughing so much. I’m not sure that’s the feedback anyone in a band appreciates, but for one night only we were free to be whatever we wanted, and it felt good.
Alan McGee moved to Hollywood, to a hotel on Sunset Boulevard, and started hanging around with Lisa Marie Presley, although he claimed he didn’t know who she was at first. He said the same thing about Joaquin Phoenix, though I’m not sure who else he thought they were. They seemed to be treated like Hollywood royalty by everyone else. At the same time he was trying desperately to avoid becoming the manager of Courtney Love, though he did become, briefly, the manager for ultra-cool outfit Spinnerette.
Tony Kaye, who had directed American History X, sensed some controversy and wanted to make a film about what we were doing.
So we made the album You Cross My Path. Did I tell you it was very good?
We thought the simplest idea for the cover would be a black cat. Superstitious folk in some countries say that a black cat is lucky, but in others it’s deemed unlucky. We thought we couldn’t lose, as we had seen our fair share of both and were prepared for whatever was still to be thrown at us.
I asked Faris Badwan, from my favourite upcoming band The Horrors, to design it. I felt that at the tender age of 21 he was fast becoming one of Britain’s most interesting artists. He had a small exhibition on in Brick Lane, and his drawing of a raven caught my attention, maybe because the raven to me represents Rob Collins – his neighbour used to call him Raven, perhaps because of his long black hair and his shadowy lurching frame (Rob, that is, not Faris).
Faris did a couple of drawings, one of a single cat and one of five, representing each member of the band. I still have fun trying to figure out who is who – but I think I know. Shall we have a look at the songs?
1. ‘Oh Vanity’
This modern look at our old influences, part New Order part Booker T, was written on Logic, the band-friendly alternative to Pro Tools. Tony Rogers was becoming an extremely proficient user of this computer software, so I got the program and taught myself between tours how to use it.
I wrote ‘Oh Vanity’ in preparation for Tony and Mark coming out to Los Angeles. They came for a couple of weeks, renting an apartment which we used as a base. We were about to begin writing for our post-modern, post-punk giveaway album. Alan McGee was there to oversee manoeuvres and feed the troops. It seemed appropriate to write in an apartment building on the corner of Sunset and Vine, because ‘Sunset and Vine’ had been the final instrumental track on our previous album. It felt like a seamless move from the past to the present.
Tony took the song up a level by programming a Sly Stone/PIL/Stone Roses-style drum beat and an Irish jig-style Hammond organ solo. It has a singalong chorus with no words. Mark added bass line and guitar chugs, and Jon and Martin overdubbed their bits at the Big Mushroom studios that The Charlatans call home.
Douglas Hart directed the video, which features Peaches Geldof. Douglas’s script read, ‘Like the end of Carrie. Without all the blood.’
2. ‘Bad Days’
Tony and Martin supplied the intro melody, the words ‘I get these bad days, baby’, and the opening main bass line. I supplied the high-note Hooky-style bass guitar solo, the ‘playing dead under the covers’ and ‘Oh! we could never be desperate’ bits. In the Independent, Andy Gill described the track as ‘skittish disco hi-hats, striding bass and electropop synth motif … a dig at a former friend’.
Who am I to argue?
I love using the high falsetto vocal on songs with such negative-feeling lyrics. It makes the balance of sweet with sour, a pinch of sugar to balance the lime juice. The ‘playing dead under the covers’ bits remind me of The Cure.
This was a Northern song. Although I was living in LA I was still singing Northern songs. ‘Mis-takes’ is about breaking up with someone. I suppose I was predicting my imminent obvious-to-everyone-around-me split with Michelle, though this wasn’t to happen for a few years yet. Songs often reveal their true meaning to the writer long after they were written.
Owing to band commitments, Michelle and I had found ourselves living at the K West Hotel in Shepherd’s Bush for about six months. Hotels encapsulate lots of the elements of what people see as a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, and they can be the catalyst for madness and excess. They are something that in a more regular life would be confined to short stays, with relaxation as their primary purpose. But extend a stay and throw in the pressure of making an album or the lunacy of being on a tour, and they are hothouses for weirdness.
When people in music mention hotels, images of trashed rooms and TVs chucked out of the window spring to mind. But in this case it was as close to Alan Partridge’s lengthy sojourn at the Tipton Travel Tavern as it was to the members of Led Zep living it up at the Riot House.
The K West is a plain, dark, forbidding building, with a permanent smell of sauna and a reception like a train station during rush hour, but my mood wasn’t governed by the hotel, more by my general state of mind. The only way to get to your room was to walk right through the main bar – the hotel attracted lots of music-business types and bands, so the chances were that any time you went from the reception to your room or from your room to outside, someone would call out your name. They’d announce how we’d not spent time together in ages and how right now was the time to remedy that situation with a couple of drinks. One of the residents was William Reid, who was staying there for two weeks while The Jesus and Mary Chain rehearsed for their comeback shows.
When I was out making the record he, Michelle and Evan Dando’s manager would pass the time together, ordering bottles of vodka and champagne, entertaining whoever was in town.
I was beginning to feel like a stranger in my own hotel room.
I left Michelle a few times during this period, though I am not sure if it ever registered. One time I left her and went up to Birmingham, recorded a song with Tony, came back down to the hotel – and she was still partying, completely unaware that I had even gone. This was not fun! It was dark.
McGee remembers at least two occasions when I went over to his house just to get away from the madness. When you’re heading to Alan McGee’s for peace and quiet then you know something needs looking at.
‘Mis-takes’ is sourced from a cross between ‘Regret’ and ‘Sooner Than You Think’ by New Order, and ‘Catch’ by The Cure. Tony’s beautiful backing vocals make this song for me. Jon recorded his drums in Tony’s front room.
4. ‘The Misbegotten’
This was inspired by the work of Diane Arbus, one of my favourite photographers and writers, noted for her black and white square photographs of deviant and marginal people, dwarfs, giants, transvestites, nudists and circus performers, or of people whose normality seems ugly or surreal. The sleeve of the single was a direct reconstruction of ‘Two Girls in Matching Bathing Suits’, using friends as models. I hope I did a better job than Martin did with the Up to Our Hips front cover.
It was inspired musically by Doris Norton, an electronic computer pioneer, whose album Personal Computer is some kind of missing link between Kraftwerk and New Order. It’s a beautiful record – I have a signed copy.
Lyrically, I used the cut-up technique of William Burroughs, later picked up by David Bowie.
There are stories to be told and stories that are just too creepy for comfort. This one is on the cusp, but here goes. I was at a party in a hotel one night and a guy from Aberdeen came up to me and told me that his wife was a big fan and he would never let anyone else touch her, but if I wanted to, he said I could ‘have sex with her’. He was trying to be friendly and offer me something he would never offer anyone else, but I was a little freaked out! I wonder what she would have said about it? Maybe she knew, maybe she didn’t, maybe it was her idea and they were a couple of swingers. It wouldn’t be the first time I had been proposed to like that. He said he was a poet.
I changed ‘fuck his wife’ to ‘change his life’ in the final cut-up version of the song.
5. ‘A Day for Letting Go’
This song was written at home in LA, mostly influenced by girl group The Shangri-Las, but musically it doesn’t really matter. It’s all about the changes in the melody and the lyrics. Here are the lyrics:
It’s a day for letting go,
You’ve lost all the control,
Burn a bridge, call me a bitch,
Start tearing up each other’s clothes.
To the only world who’d know,
It’s a day for letting go,
Elevate me, eventually now,
Heads are gonna roll.
I want you to be happy,
So fair and brotherly
Everything depends upon the drug.
I bit into a wall,
You could have given more,
It begs the question which side are you on?
The feeling never goes,
You suffocate my soul,
Revenge is sweet, and
Bitterness will seep into our little bones.
I want you to be happy,
So fair and brotherly
Everything depends upon the drug.
You wouldn’t want to be with me alone,
With the subs,
When you reach out, in your sleep as a youth,
Oh, you wouldn’t wanna get me on the rock,
This is the sound, of the crowd, and our dreams burning down.
Inoculate my soul,
Whose side are you on?
Evidently everything depends upon the drug.
6. ‘You Cross My Path’
Alan McGee said to me that this was the most brutal track he’d heard since ‘Upside Down’ by The Jesus and Mary Chain. While listening to ‘Circus of Death’ by Human League it occurred to me that it sounded exactly the same as ‘Sunrise’ by New Order.
It was the perfect template for unleashing all my pent-up anger about anyone who got in my way.
I was angry. I only snap once in a while; with this song I snapped. I still sing like a nasally kid, though. I used biblical references and lines from The Exorcist. I wanted it to be our ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, but of course it sounds nothing like it. I was interested in creating a similar vibe, not re-creating the Stones’ song.
Me and McGee were always imagining doing the free album with Youth, bass player for Killing Joke and producer of choice for Paul McCartney, Crowded House and Siouxsie and The Banshees. But when McGee finally heard the demo of this track, he screamed to me ‘Alan Moulder!’ He was referring to the producer/mixer who’d shaped albums by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Curve and had played a massive part in the recording of Loveless.
I was ecstatic. I had wanted to work with him all my musical life, yet for some reason I thought he wasn’t keen on us. Once McGee had mooted the idea, I couldn’t imagine anyone else for the job. I couldn’t get another producer into my head. So McGee was duly dispatched to rope him in. I had that weird sensation in my stomach when excitement kicks in and rationality all but goes out of the window.
Moulder rang me up at home in LA and told me how he would like to approach mixing the track. He loved it! What you hear is Alan Moulder’s mix of our demo.
The video was made by my friend Charles Mehling, one of the very first people I met in LA when I moved there. He was the bass guitarist for underground LA legends Brian Jonestown Massacre. When he left the band he took up being the lighting engineer for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – BRMC supported us on our US tour in 2001. Charles began to make their videos and he found his calling.
He is now one of the most sought-after music-video directors around, but he did ‘You Cross My Path’ for a mate’s-rate fee, a tenth of what he normally charged.
7. ‘Missing Beats (of a Generation)’
This is pretty much Tony Rogers’s song; I just added the words. It’s about youthful sex, the way things turn out, expectations and disappointment. Wow! I gave it everything. And I was happy that I’d managed to get DNA into the lyrics, as well as a melody reference to my first ever single by The Cure, ‘Primary’.
8. ‘My Name is Despair’
Opening with a sample of Crass’s ‘Reality Asylum’ mixed in with street noise from Manchester, this was originally a jam by Martin and Jon. I rewrote it back in LA.
While writing this I had the idea of The Gothic Wild West as the title for the album, but it wasn’t a goer as far as the band were concerned. I wanted to reference the southern American Gothic tradition of writing, from William Faulkner to Thomas Wolfe and the art of Grant Wood, all of it soundtracked by Gram Parsons. Gram was almost the personification of Gothic tragedy. His family was wealthy, but his family tree was rife with suicide, insanity and alcoholism. His own life unfolded like a tragic Tennessee Williams play.
I thought it was an interesting idea, but other people just thought – The Horrors. Maybe I was barking up the wrong tree, but I thought this track sounded like Gothic country post-punk, or Johnny Cash’s American albums.
Anyway, with my Indian war cry, hand on mouth, and Alan Moulder’s genius mix I think we created the album’s centrepiece and perhaps the band’s darkest work to date.
9. ‘Bird Reprise’
This is my personal favourite from the record because it is so intentionally small after the mammoth ‘My Name is Despair’.
There was a part of my soul that was dying at this point in my life.
I was trying to write the final song for the album in Los Angeles, and I didn’t leave my room for a whole week. It took me that long to write the shortest song I’ve sung.
I feel really happy with it. Emotionally, the music and lyrics are in harmony with each other, something I had been really striving for. The feeling is best summed up by that word ‘simpatico’, a term I had seen Keith Richards use in a book when describing The Rolling Stones’ relationship with their producer Jimmy Miller.
‘Bird’ is in my Top 5 Charlatans songs of all time.
I wish I could die in your arms tonight.
There is a part of me leaving
Believing the hype.
I wish I was a bird
Wouldn’t that be absurd
To flap at your window
To breathe you the word.
10. ‘This is the End’
I was thinking about The Chameleons’ song ‘Tears’. If you don’t own a copy of Strange Times by The Chameleons, get one now – it’s one of my favourite albums from 1986. There are also bits of Wordsworth and Paul Anka in the lyrics, and we wanted to capture the mood of ‘The End’ by The Doors. Tony Rogers sang beautiful backing vocals, as good as Rob Collins had done.
I wanted to write a song that signposted something more than just the last song on the album. Each listener will think of his own endings, but for me this was a time of endings.
I think it was the end of LA for me, to be honest.
Some albums get defined by the landscape around them as much as how they sound. We had often been included in movements like Baggy and Britpop without setting out to sound like what was going on around us. Albums are written, recorded and released over a period of time of anything up to three years and it is sometimes merely by chance that a ‘scene’ evolves. The musical landscape before the release of You Cross My Path was changing, much of it for the better.
In the pre-punk era, instruments were prohibitively expensive and studios were the size of small towns, with the result that public-school oldboys like Genesis ended up soundtracking the times. By 2006, Myspace, Garageband and the rest had changed the landscape – choices were taken away from labels and handed direct to kids. Being able to advertise gigs without relying on traditional adverts, posters and fliers meant that young promoters could make a play for taking over.
It seemed that younger kids were becoming fans of music that had previously been aimed at the over-18s. A wage wasn’t needed to have a record collection. Not even records were needed. The Underage Festival and the under-18s gigs up and down the country represented a massive shift in who was making music and who it was being made for. Bands and festivals seemed to be flourishing.
Joaquin Phoenix told the NME, ‘Holy fucking shit, the Charlatans record is mega. A real beauty. I can’t wait to see it live.’
Alan introduced Glasvegas to Lisa Marie and off they went towards Elvis.
Me, Mcgee, Joaquin and Antony Langdon made a record together.
Back in the UK after not very much at all, really, except a worldwide tour in support of our best LP since 2004, Alan quit the music industry, and just like that our relationship was over. The day after, he sent in his team of pit bulls to sort everything out.
When things go sour with people it’s sometimes hard to know the source of the problems, and what happened with Alan McGee is testament to this. Everything seemed OK, then all hell broke loose. I’d say it was handled maturely, but some of it revolved around an ‘unfriending’ on Myspace, so it’s undeniable that part of it was petty. Spats in the world of music are often ugly and they can break out in public. Like a playground scrap, but at a stage school, and there’s usually at least one person drunk.
Alan quit managing the band without notice just before a European tour. It was when we reached Berlin that the shit hit the fan. I figured he’d just fallen out with me, and he said as much in a phone call.
Now a book like this can be an opportunity for revelation, and the band’s lawyer and accountant will no doubt be hoping I reveal exactly what went on between me and Alan, or me, Michelle and Alan, but I have to admit I have almost no idea. McGee emailed me while I was in Europe without internet access for a couple of days. When I finally got his message, it said something like, ‘Get in touch or there is going to be trouble.’ I told him that I couldn’t get in touch as I was on a tour bus in Europe with very limited internet access, and that I didn’t regard this as a message you got from a friend.
Michelle and McGee were both big on social networking, especially Myspace. Michelle would sometimes go on it when she shouldn’t, especially when she’d had a drink, and stir things up. They would wind each other up and be competitive in a jokey way, but it seemed to get out of hand and they had some kind of disagreement. I thought it had been coming for ages – both were volatile and competitive, and neither would step back. Michelle accused me of not sticking up for her, of believing McGee over her, and blaming her for things she hadn’t done. We didn’t speak for a week. There’s nothing worse than being on tour and falling out with your girl.
As with any falling out, it’s hard to say what really happened. McGee claimed that Michelle had been saying negative things about his family. I don’t know. Perhaps Michelle and Alan know. But I will never get the chance to ask them now, so it will always remain a mystery.
McGee went from being passive to aggressive at the click of an alt-cmd-delete instruction. Our friendship was over and everything between as unravelled. Before long he had a club night with Noel and Liam’s brother Paul Gallagher, then he announced his retirement from music altogether. The air has never been fully cleared and the only thing for sure is that McGee was a major part in The Charlatans’ story, and I hope we have a place in his.
When people in music are in their hedonistic prime there is little time for anything else, as the fun of drink and drugs is all-consuming. You’re having a brilliant time but you have little regard for anyone more than shouting distance away.
The most obvious way of curtailing the rock star lifestyle is by checking out of the hotel completely, through a premature death that ironically can confer some kind of immortality. The very thing that was providing someone with all their enjoyment is what finishes them off.
Every so often a titan of excess does come along who, having spent a lifetime of living it up, restores our faith in the debauchery of rock stars. For most of us, though, a change has to come, and if it does, you’re sure to hear about it via the medium of a book!
Everyone needs a saviour. The old me would have looked at something like transcendental meditation and dismissed it as a kookie pastime taken up by people who had lost their edge. The fact that the David Lynch Foundation was involved, though, sparked my interest.
Music history is full of people living life to the full and then either dying, going mad or discovering something else completely. I remember reading about Roger McGuinn of The Byrds becoming a born-again Christian and reverting to his original name of Jim. I thought it’d be cool to live a life of excess and then give it all up to be a born-again Christian or even join a cult. But when the time came for me, the dogma and baggage of religion didn’t appeal, and most of the cults I’d come across had too many weird rules.
I had done the giving up, which left a gap, not necessarily a spiritual or emotional gap, but certainly a practical one. Sourcing and ingesting drink and drugs takes longer than you think; now I was rising earlier in the morning, which freed up a surprising amount of time.
It wasn’t religion or even transcendental meditation that I was particularly looking for. I would have been just as happy if that thing had turned out to be steam engines and a Casey Jones hat – as it had been for Pete Waterman.
These things have a strange way of finding you. I suppose I had a demeanour and body language that suggested I was on the lookout for something. I had thrown a party at my flat on Hoxton Square in East London and, as ever, was happy to be around friends who were still drinking and living it up – to be fair, they had probably never taken to that side of things with the professional vigour that I had, so there was little need for them to exorcize alcohol and drugs from their lives.
I was happy to watch everyone enjoying themselves and took a seat that gave me a good view. My friend Amy came to sit beside me and we exchanged the regular pleasantries. She was enjoying a glass of wine, looked as cool as everyone else and most people at the party knew her. She didn’t seem different from them and certainly didn’t come across as someone who had practised TM since she was 4 years old. Now, I’m not exactly sure what someone who had studied TM since they were 4 would look like, but the character that Britt Ekland played in The Wicker Man, and the song she sang, would probably have captured it. Anyway, Amy seemed to notice my detachment and asked if I’d ever considered TM.
Often at parties conversations just go in one ear and out of the other – someone has discovered the new Beatles, a new drug is doing the rounds, someone has said something sharp about someone else. But this went in one ear and stuck around. I’d been made redundant from my regular employment at a party, so I had time to listen. I was intrigued, and Amy continued. She had grown up in Skelmersdale, the unlikely home of the TM movement in the UK, and she thought that it was something that could benefit me.
The old me would have been knee-deep in the goings-on at the party, but Amy had a poise and aura which held my attention. She was enjoying the evening but wasn’t consumed by it. The very next day I found myself talking to her guru, Will, who was based on the Isle of Wight. It was exactly what I was looking for, and I’ve now been meditating twice a day for three years.
I’m not on commission for getting new recruits. One of the things it’s made me realize is that everyone needs something but what that something is differs from person to person. This was mine.
Recently I did an interview about TM and afterwards the interviewer sent me an email. I was hoping that I’d explained it in such a way that he had been inspired to ask more about the inner peace it brings and the way he could use it in his life. It was no such thing. His digital recorder had not been working. The message read, ‘Soz about Dictaphone breaking, mate. What was that transatlantic levitation you were saying about?’ Make what you will of that.
The transcendental meditation technique is a totally pure tradition governed by nature. I don’t have to do very much, I just do the meditation and let life take care of itself. It feels right for me. The important thing is to make it a habit, to integrate it into daily life. And if there’s one thing I’ve proved it’s that I can develop a habit and keep it up.
Clint Eastwood, The Beatles, Lou Reed, Donovan, Russell Brand and David Lynch are all exponents, so I figured it wasn’t going to turn me into a loopy Hollywood nut job. David Lynch was possibly the biggest influence on me taking up TM. Whatever made this man tick, I wanted some. He’d been my favourite film-maker from the first time I saw Blue Velvet, tracing back to Eraserhead and the freakily unfathomable Mulholland Drive. It was perhaps his use of music in film that attracted me – or the fact that his films were so enigmatic and contain some of the most shocking and outrageous sensual and sexual images on screen. My mind races through episodes of Twin Peaks, and the slow dreamlike pace indicates to me that it was a meditative piece. That was the appeal of the series for me.
When you mention TM, the first things that spring to most people’s minds are the bearded Beatles, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and orange-toga’d bell-clangers walking down Oxford Street. It’s generally lumped in with all kinds of other eastern mysticism. Rob Collins used to have a video called The Compleat Beatles. We used to watch it almost every time I stayed over at his house in Bloxwich. He would sit in his chair by the record player with his slippers on, smoking a Benson and Hedges, a reassuringly old man at the age of what? 24? We would put it on either when there was nothing else to watch or at the end of the night, when his wife had gone to bed – and we’d get caught up in the excitement of the cult potential.
So it was through Rob that I first became aware of the Maharishi. TM is a part of my everyday life and I’m as happy as I’ve ever been, still in touch with the old me but relieved too that my life has changed. I’m still the person that sat with Rob, but I feel less blown around by outside forces. I watch some performances now on DVD and I can remember little of them. What got me through was something I couldn’t keep doing for ever. I suspect it stopped just in time.
I’ve always loved working with other bands since we first got together as The Charlatans, but the band itself has also enjoyed welcoming guests for short stays from time to time – sometimes for a couple of songs, like Johnny Marr at Wembley Arena on ‘Right On’ and ‘Weirdo’, sometimes for ten songs, as with Ronnie Wood at the Hero to Hero gig, and sometimes for an entire tour, as in the case of Pete Salisbury. Our alumni also include Denise Johnson from Primal Scream, who joined us for ‘Power to the People’ at a Manchester Versus Cancer show, where we also did ‘A Town Called Malice’ with Paul Weller. Everyone from Dirty Pretty Things helped out on an Adam and The Ants cover we did for a TV show.
I’ve hardly mentioned Paul Weller in this book up to now, but The Modfather has had a role in my story pretty much permanently since 1979 – he soundtracks a lot of it and later pops up as a friend who I played songs alongside, a figure I looked up to, a songwriter as important as John Lennon, and an angry young man who came spitting out of my parents’ radio in Moulton. It’s something that gets forgotten, but TV and radio now are so audience-driven that it’s unlikely that different generations will listen to the same radio programme or watch TV pop shows together. Houses with multiple TVs were a rarity back then, so teens up and down the land would aim to earn enough brownie points from their parents to get their choice of programme at 7.20 on a Thursday evening.
And so it was in 1979 that Weller, along with Buckler and Foxton, gatecrashed our suburban living room. Fast forward the tape nearly thirty years and I am with Weller in his dressing room after his Hollywood gig. Catherine Zeta Jones and Steve Coogan are there, and there is something of a Brits-done-good feel to the party.
I’d always been a fan of his music and he seemed quite surprised when I told him. I’d liked every stage of Weller’s career. It’s funny, but it seems natural to call him by his surname when writing about him. ‘Paul’ just doesn’t sound big enough; a bit like calling Bowie, ‘David’.
I took a copy of The Jam’s ‘Funeral Pyre’ and The Style Council’s Á Paris EP for him to sign – I’ve never shied away from getting records signed. I’ve got them all – The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Clash, Mark E. Smith, Throbbing Gristle, The Libertines, The Horrors, New Order …
It’s weird, I’d have thought he would have heard some of his influence in our music.
But anyway, this is the most important confession in this book: categorically, without Paul Weller in my life it would have been significantly less rich. Here are ten reasons why:
1. The first time I heard The Jam: only a faint memory, playing ‘Modern World’ on cassette with my mates across the road.
2. This time paying much more attention – to the chart rundown. No. 15 with ‘Strange Town’, the same week as ‘Cool for Cats’ by Squeeze was at 2, Art Garfunkel’s ‘Bright Eyes’ was No. 1 and The Village People, Kate Bush and Siouxsie and The Banshees were all in the charts. I still have the chart on C90 cassette – it’s genius.
3. Buying ‘David Watts’/‘A-Bomb in Wardour Street’ and taking it to the local church youth club in Davenham, where there was one record player, one record and one DJ – me. I played both sides alternately over and over and over again, till someone went home and brought back a Stranglers record.
4. I bought everything they ever did. I have every original Jam and Style Council 7-inch and album.
5. ‘Life from a Window’ became my favourite Jam song ever. I used to play it before going out every night. The lyrics just seemed to represent the 16/17-year-old me so well. When I first met Alan McGee and was talking about The Jam, he said, ‘You should cover “Life from a Window”.’ I’d not mentioned the song to him before. He had to be right – as well as many other things, McGee is a professional listener.
6. I remember wanting to show my loyalty to Weller and The Jam by dancing to ‘Town Called Malice’ at a school disco in Moulton. I heard the familiar sound of the Northern soul bass line and knew the dancefloor needed me. I felt a little self-conscious as people started to leave the floor, and the colour drained from me as Phil Collins’s voice butted in where it should have been Weller’s. I’d inadvertently jumped up to Phil’s Motown-lite version of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’. I had to make a split-second decision and just carried on dancing in the direction of the toilets, like when you break into a run after accidentally tripping while walking along. My dignity remained intact, and my new-found pledge to fully identify a song before hitting the dancefloor was adopted.
7. Searching for and attempting to smoke Gitanes filter-less French cigarettes à la Weller.
8. Buying a cycling top (see Weller video ‘My Ever Changing Moods’).
10. The fishtail parka.
It’s fair to say that Mr Weller and I are mates. I love his music. I particularly love the way he has shifted with the times. I love the anger and even the parodies.
While in Amsterdam on my solo tour, I heard he was staying in the same hotel. I dropped off my album for him with the concierge, and he called me the next day to tell me how much he liked it. I don’t think he likes LA too much, but he always called me when he arrived in town.
At an Oasis concert at the Hollywood Bowl he asked me if I wanted to do a song with him the following night at the Wiltern on Western and Wilshire. I agreed, thinking we were probably going to be doing ‘Town Called Malice’ or ‘Shout to the Top’. I was gobsmacked when he suggested ‘We All Need Love’ from my debut solo. I went to the soundcheck, rehearsed it with him and Steve Cradock, and performed it that night.
Later at dinner he told me I once had the greatest haircut in pop. He was always going on about my hair in a tutting kind of way. I asked when, and he said 1993–4. It was 2007. I’ve had many a good and bad hair day since the early ’90s. Weller just found one he liked for himself some time around 1976 and has stuck with it since. There’s something to be said for that.
He’s now achieved the status of national treasure, but it’s often forgotten that he went through some difficult times, when his music was overlooked. I’m sure there are people out there in bands who, when faced with adversity, think What Would Weller Do? It can definitely get you out of a setback.
I sometimes see the world of bands like one of those Pete Frame family trees. Before us there were Johnny Marr, Arthur Lee, Siouxsie Sioux, Marc Almond, Boy George, Adam Ant. And after us came Mark Ronson, Factory Floor, Ariel Pink, Ladyhawke.
Ladyhawke, or Pip as she introduced herself, came to see The Charlatans at the Astoria in 2007, incidentally one of the final shows there. The aftershow party, for me and Pip at least, was the Cave Club in Islington, hosted by Spider Webb from The Horrors. It felt like home to me, reminiscent of the Manchester nightclub Berlin around 1983.
The Horrors came along at exactly the right time for me. For so long I had felt like the only person in a band that was a music nut. They were music nuts too.
Pip and I talked nonstop all night while we were listening to psyche/garage/punk 7-inch sounds until we were in a dizzy haze. We agreed that night to work together, somehow, someday. It’s always beautiful when you feel a connection like that. Later, when I wrote the song ‘Just One Kiss’ for a project I was working on with Josh Hayward and Steff from The Klaxons, I could hear only Pip’s voice.
Round about that time Mark Ronson was popping in and out of Shoreditch. I had somehow gone from young gun to elder statesman in the blink of an eye. Sometimes I would be both of these simultaneously – being introduced as ‘youngsters’ by The Rolling Stones while Mark Ronson told the audience tales of skipping classes to watch us in New York. Ronson was making an album of cover versions and had lined up Robbie Williams to do a song – Robbie picked ‘The Only One I Know’. An album of cover versions had never previously set the world alight, but he came close to redefining it with Version, mainly for Amy Winehouse’s take on ‘Valerie’. Soon after recording it Robbie went into rehab – he was unavailable when Mark Ronson’s band played Glastonbury, so I joined them to do a cover of someone doing a cover of us!
There are times when it’s worth reminding yourself why you joined a band in the first place.
I first became acquainted with the unique stagecraft of Mark E. Smith at a gig at the Haçienda. He had his back to the crowd and glanced over his shoulder like an M&S Johnny Rotten, hunched up and coughing out the lyrics while seemingly oblivious to the audience. I was converted and intrigued. My friends, at least most of them, were appalled.
I last saw him in a pub in Prestwich, near to where he lived. It’s something that you’d put on those lists of things you should do before you die, the musical equivalent of swimming with dolphins.
Mark has always divided opinion and always done his own thing. That’s what sorts the sheep from the goats. One of Mark’s biggest fans, Stewart Lee, has talked of his desire not to expand his audience but to actually hone it down to the final person, who is so like you that the two of you can go down the pub for a drink. I often think Mark has this approach.
I did join Mark in the pub, but not as his last fan. A few years earlier I’d made my way to the same Prestwich pub for that album launch party I mentioned earlier. I count it as my first music-business event after we’d started to have success with The Charlatans. It wasn’t a glitzy affair.
I’d always found Mark E. Smith fascinating. Members of The Fall were parts of a machine that was constantly being stripped down and rebuilt, keeping ahead and never being associated with any particular musical fad. Everyone focuses on the fact that The Fall has had so many members, which can be a smoke screen for the sheer brilliance of their output. It’s like thinking the glass is half empty rather than half full.
Mark’s glass is always half full – if not overflowing.
In 2009 I’d been asked to curate a stage at the Isle of Wight Festival. The Charlatans played last on a bill that included The Horrors, Killing Joke and The Pains of Being Pure of Heart. But the first band I’d approached had been The Fall. I was told that due to other commitments they wouldn’t be able to play. With Mark’s infamous brutal honesty I could at least be safe in the knowledge that I wasn’t being offered an excuse so as not to hurt my feelings.
I asked again in 2010 while putting together a line-up for another festival, and this time the answer was yes. A deposit had to be given to the band and I decided I would drop it off at Mark’s personally: destination Prestwich, just north of the centre of Manchester. With trepidation we walked up his path, past discarded foreign coins, broken biros and spent batteries.
We were greeted by the man himself, who instantly told a tale of a recently removed exploding piano. He had stored fan mail inside it and he led us to believe that some gifts, postmarked China, had exploded.
‘Seriously, in the middle of the night – BANG! Are we going up the road? Are you coming with me?’ he exclaimed. Mark got the round in, one Diet Coke and three pints of Diamond, and handed us a record each. Grouchy? No! Genius? Yes! Generous? Definitely yes! That was one of my favourite afternoons in a long time. He gave us the potted history of the area and quoted long-forgotten Teutonic generals – all done in a style you could only describe as being the exact midway point between Rigsby and Gollum.
After buying the album Perverted by Language when it was released, I began to work backwards through the Fall catalogue: Grotesque, Slates, Live at the Witch Trials, Totale’s Turns; the brilliant singles ‘How I Wrote Elastic Man’ and its tremendous B-side, a crackers love letter to Manchester entitled ‘City Hobgoblins’ – why do you only think of words like ‘entitled’ when you’re thinking of The Fall?
Follow this with the soon-to-become-shit-disco classic ‘Totally Wired’, and the lower-division terrace anthem ‘Kicker Conspiracy’, the 4-track Rough Trade 2 × 7-inch featuring recordings from a BBC John Peel Session – ‘New Puritan’ and ‘Container Drivers’, and a brand-new song, ‘Wings’, and what you have is an essential guide to early Fall, a brilliant phase of nonchalant po-faced Northern post-punk, the Rough Trade Records period spliced with a couple of sojourns at another label, Kamera.
And while we’re on the subject, what about Hex Enduction Hour and Room to Live, and the singles ‘Lie Dream of a Casino Soul’ and ‘Look, Know’.
Imagine the sound of grubby Vegas meeting Wigan Casino in pistachio green with maggots crawling inside the sleeves, and you will be close to Mark’s Mark. And yes! They were incredible, concise, era-defining statements.
Here begins the story of my wonky marriage and heavy investment in The Fall.
When I first met Steve Harrison, he who would become The Charlatans’ manager and for some time one of my closest friends, he had a record shop in Winsford, a Liverpool satellite overspill town. It was a 12 foot × 12 foot store facing the main road at the top of Woodford Lane. His presence was made known by the green Vespa, or was it a Lambretta?, parked outside, a little like the Queen with her flags outside Buckingham Palace. He wore an Aran polo-neck jumper and he ran the shop with his moddy girlfriend, Judith.
Steve was happy to listen to my musical musings and bag up my orders, but I often sensed a mocking tone in his voice – maybe because he was older and thought I was a little freaky fan with flawed musical knowledge. The Dead Kennedys, Section 25 and Thee Milkshakes, all bought in one go. Perhaps that would have thrown anyone. He was a bit of a music snob. I was impressed by that, though.
The Fall’s ‘Kicker Conspiracy’ was a rambling song about George Best, the FA, Bert Millichip, some blonde girl and grotty spawn – among other things. It was perhaps my very first acquaintance with a gifted lyricist representing my feelings. A Northern, speedy rap; a sharp, intelligent and occasionally daft lyric. It had the kind of language my grandma would use, yet delivered in a thoroughly thrilling modern way like a Stretford street urchin would.
The Fall were as close to the mainstream as they would ever be at this point, signed to Beggars Banquet and making appearances on TV. But perhaps it was like a stopped clock being right just twice a day. It was time for The Fall and the mainstream to cross like some kind of visit from Halley’s comet. There they were at teatime on a Friday, on stage on The Tube, with the latest addition to the band on six-string Rickenbacker, Brix, the new Mrs Smith. With her pretty West Coast harmonies and her sassy guitar-playing she instantly became the subject of a crush for me and every outsider teenager watching TV that night. Her addition to the band brought along a wealth of teenage men-boys, but for me it wasn’t a pointless crush. I definitely wanted a band, and I definitely wanted a Brix. She would come in many forms.
Mark’s lyrics and attitude, and the rhythmic blast of Karl Burns, Steve Hanley and Craig Scanlon, had been just untouchable. There was nothing to compete live and on record. John Peel christened them ‘The Mighty Fall’, and when additional drums were added, via Steve’s brother Paul, audiences were floored.
Then along came Brix. When they got married he didn’t know she could play guitar, but after he heard her play the lead, he and the band thought it worked so well that, in his own words, Mark ‘went with it’. At the time, 1983, there was disbelief among Fall fans. I bet the bass player couldn’t move his Mrs into the band.
But I suppose that’s the power of the frontman. At least that’s what I got out of it. He does whatever he wants.
There is often a smell I associate with a record. The Fall’s This Nation’s Saving Grace comes with the smell of grass being mown in a nearby field. Madonna’s album Like a Prayer reminds me of patchouli oil. I thought this was just my own synaesthesia, but I found out later that the record came from the factory like that.
Most of my Crass records had a deep, inky, serious smell – kind of like some industrial odour mixed with a hint of revolution. I met up with Gee Vaucher, who made all those covers and did the sleeve for our album Who We Touch. I mentioned the smell and she told me that they made all the sleeves themselves, doing all the printing with paint fumes and an inky smell filling the place they worked in. It must have hung onto the covers and made it all the way to my bedroom, leaning up against my record player.
People often ask how the members of a band get on with each other after a long time together. Journalists always like to point out what they see as cracks. But they are often just lifestyle choices or down to practicalities. Simon and Garfunkel travel separately to gigs – shocker! In reality one likes art galleries and the other likes sleeping in. Last time I checked, it seemed they could each afford their own cab.
So where are we today?
Bands often answer that they are like a family. But inevitably different stages in people’s lives lead to a distance that doesn’t necessarily stay for good, but friendships and relationships change, compromises have to be made and the band has to remain worthwhile enough for storms to be weathered. Time away from each other heals rifts, as with The Eagles and The Stone Roses, but never breaking up has pressures of its own – pressures that are well worth enduring for the feeling that you get at the end of an amazing gig or the completion of a song.
We will meet up and travel together to a gig. We’ve had twenty-odd years of rehearsal and we can second guess each other. We joke around and we bicker, but we always have an eye on the bigger picture.
Our most recent album, Who We Touch, was overshadowed by Jon Brookes’s brain tumour. Years before that, our Wonderland tour was almost abandoned after we heard Tony had been diagnosed with testicular cancer – he had been acutely aware that he was suffering from something while we were making the record but decided not to deal with it until we had finished the album – the music came before his health.
Undergoing an orchiectomy and months of chemo while touring that album was as tough as anything could be. Thankfully, Tony worked through his illness and today he is cancer-free.
Fast forward to 2010 at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia, seven dates into our American tour. I am singing and it dawns on me that Jon has stopped drumming. This has never happened before. I’ve never liked it when you’re watching a band and they turn round to focus on the member who’s having some trouble – a guitarist with a broken string, a singer with a dodgy mic connection. But this is what we do.
There is a curtain of twinkling beads that has become the focus of Jon’s attention. He is having a brain haemorrhage.
I can’t begin to comment on what it feels like, so here is Jon’s own account.
Life, destiny, fate and the odds of life giving you a double dose of diabolical luck. But the only thing I can think of is the need to foster and nurture the future, surround it and protect it with all the good stuff we carry in the way of excess mental baggage.
Juxtaposition is not a word which is easily squeezed into life’s patchwork of possibilities, but as I sit in the middle of the mother of all seesaws I have the darkest blackest hole tempting me into its featureless perpetual void, where no sounds come and no souls stir. A place of my mind’s creation, which lives off its own power source. An energy farm of fear, a place that is bursting with confused thoughts and random outpourings of negative misleading ideas. A tricky place to navigate at the best of times but to be cast into its depths weakened and disabled and confused is not a choice I am willing to undertake. I believe evolution has granted me mental freewill and I edge towards the light and my own truth!!!
When I first saw those strange lights in the corner of my eyes at the start of the set in Philadelphia little was I to know that the brain tumour several centimetres across was starting to emit its electrical impulses across the bottom half of the right hand side of my brain … and after asking for sound levels to be lowered on stage I continued to play the set, but was already hopelessly out of time and disorientated and on a different song from the set list and rest of the band; the countdown to disorder had begun. Strange feelings of floating quickly replaced by violent head movements engulfed me. Then I was approached by strangely familiar faces asking me what was wrong but I couldn’t speak, my mouth wired tight by lockjaw and panic spreading across my frozen body. The first seizure had begun and was in full effect.
Time and its measurement in drum beats and rhythms and my ability to manoeuvre it/them relative to melody and a musical pre-determined arrangement have been my life’s work. I have also compulsively and deliberately played every concert like it’s my last, but as this night came crashing down around me I felt a stillness in the room like never before, a visitor in my own world … my memory is patchy but I can still hear the screams of my own voice echoing out as I felt hands struggle to hold me still as I was attended to by friends and paramedics alike. The blessing is that I don’t have enough recollection to be totally freaked out by the first seizure/event. And I can only feel sorry for my dear friends who had to witness such a painful display.
I was eventually brought under control and went to the nearest hospital where it was quickly discovered that another seizure was imminent and a neurological centre was the only option. It is now that I can fill in the later stages of that night. I was never frightened or concerned about my fate in as much as I knew death was not in attendance at any point, I saw no flash backs and had strong feelings of being amongst special caring people. They had a beautiful and serene calm which washed over me as I began to answer their questions and let myself be submitted to their scientific tests which seemed to involve me lying on moving platforms then entering giant polo mints … while offering up my arms to be pricked and probed for blood and vital signs.
The blessed relief came early on the morning of the 16th when morphine was introduced to my bloodstream to ease the muscle cramps and tears and strains of the previous night’s violent struggle. At last I had time to stop and listen to my own heartbeat and the pulse that throbbed in my temple, and to grow accustomed to the hospital clothing with its random gaping, unfastenable trap doors!
The hospital was a 16-floor university campus, specializing in neuro-medicine. And I found myself attending lecture theatres filled with new students eager to investigate the new patient. It was at this point I had the first of several amazing epiphanies. I began to realize the absolute interdependence of shared knowledge and the pure brilliance of energies exchanged in order to investigate the chaos which to most of us is unfathomable in such alien environments and medical situations. I had become besieged with messages of good will from every direction, family, fans, friends, colleagues, strangers, hospital co-workers and nurses. Baskets of fruit began to appear, comfortable clothing was hastily packed into empty bedside tables, all sent with love and concern. I knew that I was not alone and at the foot of my bed, my fellow band members and road crew sat looking at me with disbelief and sly grins from time to time, I began to feel life was still within my grasp and thought about the option given to me by Joseph V. Queenan, MD, Head of Neurosurgery, Hahnemann University Hospital, Philadelphia: ‘We have located the tumour Mr Brookes and are ready to take it out.’
I knew cancer was the main diagnosis but still had to undergo a spinal tap to dismiss any other type of abscess. My feelings were given over to the logistics of the immediate surgery. I had to have my wife and kids with me in the States for the post op but after treatment of chemotherapy and radiology I decided to make the journey home … not knowing who would help me when I stepped off the plane, I became overrun with doubt and confusion … I travelled home heavily sedated with Tony Rogers and a doctor to escort me in case of more seizures.
I want to try and explain to anyone who is interested, the amazing power of ‘positive thought’ and love and light, which can be transmitted across vast amounts of time and space by everyone who wishes to try. I began to feel a portal open up inside my soul, and a feeling of wellbeing charge through me, reaching a pinnacle of absolute meltdown and relief when I received a phone call from my dear friend Ian Palmer telling me that Professor Garth Cruickshank had been made aware of my situation and arranged to have me delivered to his operating theatre … in the UK to remove the tumour from my brain.
I know that who we touch are touched indeed, and I will never be able to express my heartfelt thanks for all the love and light I received, from all of you who texted me, sent me cards, made calls to me or passed on their support and best wishes that ultimately brought me back home, safe!
I have the best chance of rebuilding my life now and will always have one eye on the lookout for those strange lights! But knowing that love is the key and I wouldn’t be here without it … It is with the deepest thanks I can express that I will hopefully be back to my old self and be returned to full health with the ongoing treatment I am to receive.
I spoke to Jon in hospital, and his thoughts were all about his family and the foreseeable future of the band. We had to tour the album and Jon himself suggested Pete Salisbury from The Verve as his replacement.
Previous experiences with the band had been about where to score and I’d never given any thought to how important insurance coverage was. Like Iggy Pop, drug info was replaced by the small print of insurance policies.
Should I say that Jon Brookes is doing well and playing better than ever?
Northwich in 1982. I wasn’t a prefect … I had myself down as one of the bad boys. Nothing too extreme – living on the edge of delinquency in Northwich at that time was more about petty shoplifting, misdemeanours with air rifles and unintentional arson. With time on our hands, a spare firework and a fabric shop opposite the off-licence in Moulton village, the three things came together in a blur of cordite and flaming curtains. I don’t want to incriminate myself and, erm, Stuart Simpson, although I think the case has long since been closed by CSI Northwich.
I had myself down as a delinquent but with hindsight I think I was just a nuisance. That’s not to say that some pretty serious incidents didn’t occur. I always felt I had an awareness of my surroundings and my instinct would always guide me away from anything too severe. This was never better illustrated than in a proposed fishing trip with friends and their older brothers which I chose not to go on. It involved an overnight camping stay in a neighbouring village. Nothing too crazy: cigarettes were procured from parents, beer bought by those who could get served, and a camp was set up. But their antics attracted some kids from that village and a fight broke out. Foolishly, one of my friends had taken a knife along, and someone was stabbed. Five of them ended up in a detention centre for young offenders.
The only reference I had to where my friends had been sent was Alan Clarke’s 1979 film Scum. The film was a bleak and moving insight into the kind of place they were in. But it was also a representation of the savage world we were living in. Margaret Thatcher was in power, and if anything remotely good could be said of her it was the fact that the stark times she brought with her were so cruel that people felt downtrodden enough to find a voice. Innocent men like Blair Peach and Liddle Towers were dying at the hands of the police, the IRA were bombing the British mainland, and at the same time there were huge miscarriages of justice.
The Falklands War was imminent and the dreaminess of the ’60s protest songs like Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ was replaced by the out-and-out reality of songs like ‘How Does It Feel to Be the Mother of a Thousand Dead?’ by Crass.
So there I was, 15 years old, hanging out with Leftwich High School’s equivalent of deadbeats and reprobates. We were more Grange Hill than the Bloods or the Crips. I wasn’t tough but I could make people laugh, and I chose to make the tough people laugh. We thought of ourselves as outcasts, into drinking and smoking. We watched videos like The Warriors and The Wanderers. And we wanted something to belong to.
So where am I today?
I am in love, I’m still a punk, I am a meditator, part of the David Lynch Foundation for consciousness-based education and world peace, and I’m happy.
I used to wonder about people whose life sounded like the kind of thing a Miss World contestant would talk about: helping other people out and generally doing good deeds. All I can say is that, for me, some kind of spirituality has replaced dependency, and I am happy. I guess I’ve proved that you can come out the other end.
Last week I did a speech! It’s not something I’m really comfortable with, but it was a speech about transcendental meditation to a bunch of kids aged from 14 to 17. Some of them were drug-users, all of them had suffered mental and physical abuse at a school in east LA. I told them my story – the one you’ve read here, about my being in a band, my experience of drugs and the benefits of TM. I hope it helped them. It certainly made me feel good.
I have just got back from Nashville, where I recorded with Mark Nevers, Kurt Wagner and R. Stevie Moore. I had wanted to record with Wagner for over ten years, since I first met him in England. I met up with him in Nashville to start writing an album in April 2011.
I am writing this towards the end of 2011. I have a record label with friends and we put out music we love and I have just finished writing this book.
NO! what am I doing right now? I am listening to The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle, a record I bought with my saved-up pocket money from our family’s first holiday in France. I bought it at a record shop in Castle, a small area of Northwich. It’s now signed by The Sex Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones. He drew a cock on it.
I count him as a friend.
I am listening to Sid Vicious sing ‘My Way’.
I don’t feel that different from the way I did when I first bought it.
Not the End
1. Circa 1969, Salford.
2. Claire, Dad, me and Mum – Bolton Road, Pendlebury, early ’70s.
3. Paternal grandparents Madge and Eddie, Bolton Road, Pendlebury, 1979. Around this time I went to my first gig.
4. Maternal grandparents Agnes and Albert at my mum and dad’s in Moulton, 1982. I really miss them.
5. Seventeen years old, with my first car, a Triumph Dolomite 1600. Behind it, my dad’s Austin Ambassador.
6. With manager Steve Harrison, backstage in Leeds, 1990.
7. Jon Baker, Rob Collins, Jon Brookes, Martin Blunt and me.
8. Photographer Ian Tilton asked me to move around a bit. I went for every pose I could think of.
9. Jon Baker, Rob Collins and me. The band would be given one room after a gig, and this is often how we used to sleep.
10. 1991, moving away from the bowl haircut. Not sure where this was though: either King George’s Hall, Blackburn, or Japan!
11. & 12. The Face – until its demise, my favourite magazine. I was really proud of this cover. The dove represents peace and freedom. It was also the name of the best Es around at the time.
13. Me, Jon Brookes and Mark backstage in Chicago, 1992 – the Between 10th and 11th era.
14. At a festival in Washington, DC, 1992.
15. Mark Collins, North Country Boy. This is a polaroid taken in 1996, with Mark posing as Dylan on the 1969 Nashville Skyline cover.
16. Michelle and me at the Roosevelt Hotel, Hollywood, on New Year’s Eve, 1998. The photo was taken by Harry the Dog.
17. Joshua Hayward and me at the back of The Horrors’ tour bus, in a photo taken by Faris Badwan.
18. The band at the 2010 V Festival, posing for NME photos in Hylands Park.
19. On stage at the O2 Academy in Liverpool, 2010.
20. The New Village Charter High School, Los Angeles. I did a talk for the David Lynch Foundation about transcendental meditation, My Drug Past … and life in general.