You’re in an interesting position right now, because your side project album [as the Last Shadow Puppets] has topped the album charts before your debut album [with The Rascals] has even come out. When you and Alex Turner [Arctic Monkeys] sat down last year to plan the Last Shadow Puppets project, did you have any idea that it would be this successful?
No, not at all. We wanted to make it because we were enjoying writing tunes together. We didn’t know how it would turn out, and we didn’t even know whether it would get put out. Obviously we’re made up with the success that it’s had. I suppose that I’m lucky to be able to put two records out in the space of a couple of months, which I feel passionate about.
It’s great when artists get the chance to bang some records out in quick succession. We don’t get enough of that.
Yeah, definitely. The Rascals album is darker and rawer. It’s not dead polished, but that’s exactly what we wanted. We needed to get that out of our systems, from being frustrated in our previous band The Little Flames. It’s an album of ideas and experimentation, and I think of it as an album of release.
I’m glad that it’s captured us at those early stages – which no one does, because everything’s so safe, and everyone these days has that one single which gets wanked all over the radio. We wanted to make a cooler album, that people will look back on and think: wow, they were mad bastards then. I think it’s better in the long run.
Something you have in common with Alex is that you’re very much wordsmiths. Where do you get your lyrical inspiration from?
On this album, I suppose it’s all about things that have happened to me, and taking a dark twist on them. There’s a song on there called People Watching, and I do like that. I like to go to the café, get my little notepad out, gaze out of the window, have a coffee and write down stuff.
A lot of the songs are about girls. Stockings To Suit is about a girl who’s going round a couple of the clubs in Liverpool. She’s a bit of slag and that, but she’s dead fit, and she’s ripping through lads. It’s what a lad would usually be like, shagging loads of birds – but it’s like the other way round. And then she comes down to you, and then you’re like: oh no, I can’t do that! But then she just gets you, and you’re just like: fuck it, I’ll do it – but you get had off by her, sort of thing.
I like the song title Does Your Husband Know That You’re On The Run. There’s a whole drama suggested just in that title, but how could anyone’s husband not know that his wife was on the run?
(Laughs) I was in London, and again I was in a bar/café, just sitting there having some lunch. There were two women chatting next to me, and one was saying (adopts high pitched voice and London accent) “I’ve left my husband, but he doesn’t know. He can’t find me, and he’s been trying to phone all my friends.” I wrote down the title in my book, and took it from there.
The new single Freakbeat Phantom strikes me as another observational song. Who is this character, that’s “psychotic” and “bionic”?
I went to this party once in Liverpool, after a night out, which was going on until five in the morning. It was a bit out of town and I hadn’t been there before; it was a stranger’s house. Everyone was getting off their heads, and I was just watching.
This fella just wandered into the house. He was on crutches, he had a backpack on, and he was just weird. There was obviously something wrong with him. Nobody knew who he was. There was all these people sitting on the table, and he sat down and started telling all these weird tales, trying to freak everyone out.
I was sat at the back, and on my phone I wrote “the freakbeat phantom”, as the name for this character. When I sing “I’m holding on”, it’s because he was doing my head in and I couldn’t get home, but I wanted to be home.
So I wrote that about this character “resting himself on his crutches”, telling “suspicious stories which are fake”. And everyone was laughing at him, so “laughter was going around in a stranger’s house”. It was the story of that night, really.
There’s a song called Fear Invicted Into The Perfect Stranger, where you seem to have invented a new word. I can’t find “invicted” in the dictionary, so what does it mean?
(Laughs) I did make that up! I suppose it should be “inflicted”, but I didn’t want to say “inflicted”. I like “invicted”, as in “put on you”, if you know what I mean.
How do you mean?
Like, the fear’s put on you. Or like, someone’s put the fear on you. Or putting it on you.
Well, when it gets into the Oxford English Dictionary in two years’ time, they’ll cite that as the first usage.
(Laughs) I’m glad you picked up on that!
Musically speaking, there’s a use of echo and tremolo throughout which reminds me of early Sixties guitar pop, just after rock and roll and just before The Beatles. I’m thinking of people like The Shadows, The Ventures, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. Have you taken inspiration from these people, or am I just giving away my age?
As a guitarist, that’s what I’ve always been into. A few years ago, I was shown this fellow called Link Wray. Instead of like doing leads like noodling, his style all kind of slides up, and his sound is all reverb. Once I heard that, I knew that was what I wanted to sound like. I use a lot of whammy bar on my guitar, and I do love that reverb sound. It’s something that I want to do more of.
There’s also something of a cinematic feel, and even a track called Bond Girl. Do you see your songs as miniature movie soundtracks?
I think Freakbeat’s got a bit of a Bond-like chord progression. I love that sound, and I’d love to do a Bond tune one day. I love all the early Bond films, and even the early Steve McQueen films: the look of them, the way they dressed, and the music.
You’ve combined lightness and darkness on the album, I think. There’s humour, and the same time there’s menace. Was that the idea?
Yeah, I think the humour comes out because even though the music is quite dark, we’re so not dark. We’re like three best mates that laugh every day, all day.
I think that a big inspiration, and this is a mad one, was watching a DVD about the making of John Lennon’s Imagine album. It shows him doing a live take of the song Gimme Some Truth, and the way it’s sung is really spat out and venomous.
There’s a song on our album called I’ll Give You Sympathy, which will be our next single. It’s about going out and having bladdered Scouse fellas spitting in your ear and giving you their opinions: Listen lad, what are you doing, being in a band? So the lyrics are “When you spit in my face, you’re wearing yourself out as well as me. All you want is more!” That was definitely inspired by that Lennon tune.
Whereas the Last Shadow Puppets used orchestral overdubs, with The Rascals it’s much more of a live sound. How long did it take to nail the performances?
With some of the newest tunes, like People Watching and The Glorified Collector, we sort of worked them out in the studio. We messed about with the rhythms, and how fast or slow we’d want them to be. So they took longer. People Watching was about twenty-five takes. By the end of it, I was like (makes exhausted heavy breathing noises), and then I had to do all the overdubs and vocals. That was a long day.
Rehearsing that intensely in the studio must really help you develop your chops as a live act.
Yeah, lately I feel like we’ve improved so much. I feel like we’re a proper amazing live band now, in terms of not just bashing out tune after tune. We’ve worked out a set which is dead atmospheric. In certain tunes we jam them out, and then drop them right down to dead quiet playing. It’s a bit like Queens of the Stone Age, if you’ve ever seen them live.
We end on this tune called Is It Too Late, which was on our first EP. At the end, we bring it down to dead silence, and then just the vocal on its own, and then it all comes back in on the last ending. Stuff like that live works so well, and no one does that these days.
“Do you notice anything different about me?” asked Liza Minnelli after her third number, sucking in her cheeks and pouting for comic effect. Having recently shed 44 pounds in weight (apparently thanks to a diet program that she had seen advertised on television), the 62-year old diva looked in amazing shape: trim, toned, in radiant good health, and (as we were to discover during the second half) sporting a pair of legs that would have graced a woman half her age.
But it wasn’t only Liza’s outward appearance which confounded expectations. Not quite knowing what to expect from someone with such a chequered history and such an erratic track record, many of us had come prepared to make allowances for whatever eccentricities might be in store. As it turned out, we had no need to worry at all.
From the first number (a splendid rendition of Teach Me Tonight) to the final encore (a spellbinding I’ll Be Seeing You, performed a cappella), Liza was in full control of her voice, her performance and her audience. Every note was hit; every mark was struck; every nuance was attended to.
This was no booze-addled, pill-popping, delusional spent force, hamming it up and trading on past glories. Instead, what we witnessed was a bravura performance from a consummate artiste, miraculously restored to the height of her powers.
As was explained during a recent interview, Liza’s preferred interpretive technique is to inhabit a different character for each song: a “method acting breakdown”, as she called it. During the first half in particular, we saw this technique in full effect.
For George Gershwin’s The Man I Love, Minnelli’s lovelorn yearning was underpinned by a self-mocking wryness, as was only appropriate for a woman four times divorced. Taking an opposite stance, I’m Living Alone And I Like It was sung in the character of a feisty old lady dressed from head to toe in maroon, whom the singer had once met on a New York street corner. For My Own Best Friend (from the musical Chicago), Minnelli transformed into Roxie Hart: on trial for murder, and converting her fear into defiance. And for Cabaret, she once again assumed her Oscar-winning role as Sally Bowles in the film of the same name: laughing in the face of misfortune, with a survivor’s resolve to continue living life to the full.
The bulk of the show’s second half was given over to an extended tribute to Liza’s late godmother Kay Thompson: a key figure in the history of Hollywood, who had given vocal coaching to the likes of Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, and Liza’s own mother Judy Garland. Given that Thompson is a considerably lesser known figure in this country, this was a section that could easily have flopped. Instead, the lively, full-throttle recreation of her celebrated nightclub act, accompanied by a quartet of song-and-dance boys (The Williams Brothers), swept us up with its sheer energy, successfully evoking the spirit of a lost golden age.
As the two and a half hour show progressed, the standing ovations grew ever more frequent: starting with Maybe This Time in the first half, and climaxing with Minnelli’s signature tune New York, New York in the second half. (By this stage, the cheers were erupting even as the song progressed.) Liza rode these waves of adulation in the manner of someone whose stardom is written in their very DNA.
Let there be no doubt about it: this was a truly exceptional show, which will be remembered for years to come by all who witnessed it.
Here in “Nudding Ham”, we’ve grown used to visiting American acts telling us that we’re a “special audience”. In the case of veteran hip-hoppers Public Enemy, there’s a distinct truth behind the sentiment.
Back in the autumn of 1987, the band played a seminal gig at Rock City, which saw them debuting their classic Bring The Noise to wild — and unexpected — acclaim. Two decades later, the same song opened a set which was largely given over to a full reconstruction of their most celebrated album, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.
With founder member Professor Griff unable to leave the US due to passport problems, Chuck D and Flavor Flav had more work to do than ever. Although the comforts of middle age might have blunted some of their youthful anger (barring the occasional swipe at Bush and Blair, and even a vicious, unrepeatable crack at “Queen Elizabitch” of which Mohammed Al Fayed would have been proud), their energy levels remained impressively high. Riffing off each other in time-honoured fashion — the preacher and the party animal, the sage and the fool — their delivery was crisp and sharp, hitting every mark with absolute precision.
This being the last night of the tour, the band invited their production team — Hank and Keith Shocklee, aka The Bomb Squad — onto the stage, in order to explain some of the musical thinking behind their groundbreaking masterpiece. Although this broke some of the early momentum, nothing could stop the crowd once Side Two of the album kicked in. (As the Shocklee brothers explained, it was originally conceived as Side One, before a last minute switch was made.)
She Watch Channel Zero got the fists pumping; Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos got us chanting along with its memorable opening lines; and when the delirious squall of Rebel Without A Pausedropped, the venue all but exploded.
The album’s final track dispensed with, the band launched into a lengthy greatest hits set, climaxing with a fierce, galvanising Fight The Power. Nearly two and a half hours after taking to the stage, Flavor Flav had to be virtually dragged off it.
I know that Hercules and Love Affair is basically the brainchild of Andrew Butler, so when did you first get involved with the project?
I got involved more than a year ago. I came in towards the end of the making of the record, as they were mixing and putting some final touches. I just came in for two songs and punched it out in the studio.
How did you and Andrew first meet?
I met Andy through Antony [Hegarty, of Antony and the Johnsons]. I’ve been friends with Antony for a while, and I knew Antony was friends with Andy. I’d always see Andy whenever I visited Antony, and Antony suggested we work together. So we did it just for fun at first, to see what would happen. It worked so well for us, that it made sense to work together on the record.
Is the music that Hercules does very different in style from your solo material?
My solo stuff is a little more downbeat. More gritty, more urban and street. These are very different tempos and melodies for me. It’s extending my experience, so I’m learning a lot.
Do you share Andrew’s enthusiasms for disco and for late 1980s house music? Is that all part of your heritage?
Actually, no. I never listened to disco, really. It’s strange, but when I listen to the record, it relates to me just as a modern, futuristic, mainstream electronic pop record. I don’t have those references in my head, so I can’t really refer to it as disco. So the way it registers in my ears is just as some new kind of pop.
I’d agree with you. Whenever we hear things for the first time, we’re always keen to find the influences – but the longer we listen, the less the influences matter. And I do think he’s created something quite new. So do you now consider yourself a full time member of the band?
I’m a guest vocalist, and I’m sure there will be many guests. I’m here as long as I’m wanted, and I love being a part of it. We have a great show and we have great chemistry, so I’m in for the ride, for as long as it works.
How many of you are there now?
There’s eight in total. Andy sings some of the songs as well, but the main singers are me and Kim Ann. We’re sharing vocal duties on the songs.
On the album, you sing on Hercules’ Theme and You Belong, and then there are four numbers that Antony sings. We know that he’s not going to be touring with you, so which of the tracks are you taking over?
I’m singing lead vocals on Blind. Yeah, I’m excited. I love to sing Blind, it’s my favourite.
Although you’re a very different performer to Antony, I think you have certain things in common. You both have a certain emotional intensity, I guess. Are they difficult shoes to fill?
Yeah, they’re very difficult shoes to fill. But it’s such an amazing song that it kind of stands alone, so I’m lucky to have that. I drop in the same place that Antony drops, and we’re both very emotional singers, so we can really sing it and put our heart in it. I really feel that I mean it in the same way that Antony does on the record, so in that way it’s similar.
Have you worked directly with Antony yourself?
I’ve toured with Antony and we’ve actually recorded a song. I love Antony. Antony is someone I can admire and look up to. He helps to guide me in the right direction.
It was a surprise for us to hear him suddenly transformed into a disco diva, if you like. Is that a part of his character that we just didn’t happen to know about before?
Antony is just a genius. Antony can do anything! (Laughs) Anything that makes sense, and that comes from an honest emotional place, Antony can relate to. Antony says it’s the spirit.
You’ve also toured with Cocorosie, who played Nottingham last year. How was that experience?
I learned so much more, on a whole different level. There was a lot of improvising, which really opens you up as an artist, and as a performer. You’re onstage, and you’re doing it as it comes. You’re so in the moment, which is really so good for the soul.
That’s what was so fascinating about their show. To begin with, I thought: oh, they haven’t rehearsed properly, it’s too random, they don’t know what they’re doing. Then as the show went on, I thought: I’ve got that wrong, there’s a real attention to detail.
Sometimes it starts off, and it’s a little rough. That’s because we’re trying to get into that one moment, which happens towards the middle. It’s like: wow, this is it, we’re really here, we’re present.
You’ve also collaborated with Deborah Harry. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
She was working on a remix to a song from her Necessary Evil album. Her producer had heard me. I did this show where I was rapping, and she really loved the way my voice sounded when I was doing this kind of hip-hop slangy rap. So she had this idea for me to do this rap song, and Deborah was kinda like the girl singing the hook. It’s a really amazing song; I’m really excited to put that out in the future.
In the UK, we hear a lot about a Brooklyn music scene. There’s an ever-expanding list of acts that we associate with Brooklyn, such as Cocorosie, MGMT, Vampire Weekend, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and so on. So from where we’re sitting, it feels like there must be a real creative community, who all know and respect and support each other. Is that the reality, or have we all got a rose-tinted view?
No, it’s very true. A lot of artists have been drawn to Brooklyn, for some reason. I guess it was the only place in New York where it was cheap enough to live. It used to be downtown Manhattan, but everything’s changed so much. Everything’s so much more expensive, and now Brooklyn is becoming much more expensive too. But the artists are there already, and everything has been built up, so there’s this strange circle of art and support.
Some Brooklyn acts have initially found a greater degree of acceptance in the UK for their music. The Scissor Sisters broke the UK while they were still unknown in the US, for example. As someone who has also spent some time working in the UK, have you found that British audiences tend to be more open-minded, and more receptive to new ideas in general?
Much more. There were shows that we performed at, where they put very different artists on one bill. I guess the audiences there are just really drawn to the emotion of the music. It’s the same way that I relate to music, and Antony relates to music, and Andy relates to music. I feel like the people there just feel it much more. When we do a show in Europe, audiences are so there, they’re so present.
In New York it’s very different. People are a little more into themselves, and a little more introverted. But over there, it just seems like there’s so much more energy and love.
We used to be more tribal, but the tribes have broken down. It’s generally cool to be eclectic now, which is a good development.
I’m curious to know what sort of atmosphere you get at your shows. You’ve got that lovely contrast: uptempo, celebratory dance songs, but with a private, introspective quality. How does that work on stage?
It is a celebration, but it’s emotional as well. When I’m singing the song, it’s emotional for me because the lyrics are so introspective, and I really empathise. It really makes me think so much. When I’m singing Blind, I’m really singing the words, and I’m singing to the audience. It’s strange, because I can talk to myself and use those words, and I can talk to the people and use those words.
I can imagine you looking out as you’re singing that, and seeing that some people are getting it on the level of being a dance track, and that other people are completely in the emotion of the song at the same time.
It’s so fun, because at one point you’re just having fun, you’re dancing, the band is all in the moment. And then there are the words, and the emotion where I sing from. I sing from an emotional place. I relate the songs to my life, and it comes out in my performance. It’s an interesting mix.
You’ve talked previously about growing up in a rough neighbourhood, where music helped to provide you with a fantasy world, and a means of escape. Is that still an element of how you perform now?
Yes, I still have that. It’s when I feel most alive in myself. I just feel like my existence, whoever I am, matters at that moment. So when I’m on stage and I’m performing, I just feel like: this is it, this is what I’m made of, you know?
But I hope there will also be glamour, and general fabulousness of that nature…?
Oh, it’s all glamour. I’m really curious to see how people will respond, because it’s an intense show. It’s really beautiful; people are going to be dancing and going crazy, and learning, and we’ll be sharing these experiences every day.
Oh, this is hell for me! I wanted to come and see you, but Public Enemy are re-creating theirIt Takes A Nation Of Millions album on the same night, just around the corner, so I’m down to see that. I am just so torn. I want to divide into two…
Oh my goodness, I want to go with you to see Public Enemy! (Laughs)
Maybe you could have a word, and then you could come on after they finish. That would be nice…
I’m going to play hooky that day! I’m playing hooky and I’m going to see Public Enemy!
Well, at least you could go to the soundcheck. It’s only two minutes’ walk away. (Laughter) So what about after the tour is over? What other plans do you have for this year?
I’m going to cut a solo record. I’ve been writing and recording songs, and I have a lot of material that I want to put together as an album. Keep working, keep touring, put together a really great show for myself, and still be a part of Hercules, and just be like a workaholic. (Laughs) Keep it going, keep moving!
On this tour, you’ll be performing your 1988 album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back in full. What made you decide to return to it?
Well, it’s the twenty year anniversary, but I think this happens to be more of a promoter’s dream, to commemorate the album. So therefore it’s a challenge, because from Minute One, this album showed the world that hip hop was global. The minute the album opens up, you hear Dave Pearce talking about London. It was really rap’s first live album, as well as being all those other things that people call it.
It has also found its way into quite a few of those “Best Album of All Time” lists that magazines like to compile. Why has it had such a lasting impact?
I think it was the first album that really signified that rap music was an album-oriented format. Run DMC and Whodini and the Beastie Boys had successful albums as well, but they had built their following with singles, and Public Enemy was really like the first rap group to come out with album concepts. We looked upon making the album as being like a sonic explanation of what we were all about, and where we came from, and what this genre was all about, and how could it actually persevere.
It is strange to see such a challenging, radical, and at times threatening album sitting in lists of typical middle-aged favourites such as The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. Is that an inevitable consequence of the passing of time, which tends to neutralise everything?
No, I don’t think it’s strange at all. When the Rolling Stones first came out, it was like, what is this? Then as time goes on, those genres mature. I think that rap has matured, but also there’s still a sense of being unstructured and undisciplined, which holds us back. So we want people to look at Three Feet High And Rising by De La Soul, or Illmatic by Nas, or at anything by KRS-One, as strong pieces of art and culture. It’s like how you’d look at Jim Morrison and The Doors.
That album was supposed to represent an energy at the time. We made the album faster, we made it stronger, and we made it almost like a rollercoaster ride. We got you on the edge of your seat. I mean, that was our sonic standout from the rest of the pack. The only way we could exist is that we had to stand out, by being stronger, faster, more.
There was a defining moment for a lot of us here in Nottingham, when you played that legendary gig at Rock City in late 1987.
It was where we debuted Bring The Noise. I remember it very clearly, almost like yesterday. We’ve played there since, but that first time we were just kind of feeling it out.
Although you were bottom of the bill [to LL Cool J and Eric B & Rakim], you also created the biggest impact.
We looked at it differently. We looked at it as being the top of the bill. Opening up was almost like an opportunity to go and seize our audience, like being in the boxing ring and taking the first shot.
The show was promoted jointly as a hip hop/house music event. I think you came on straight after a house DJ, which just seems weird in retrospect.
Yeah, but also I remember that the whistles were ringing by the time we got up, so it was something to look forward to.
In terms of what was happening with hip hop at that stage, we saw two different directions that day. LL Cool J had just had a hit with I Need Love, but he had dropped it from the tour as he was getting a bad reaction.
It wasn’t LL’s fault, because that had a tremendous reaction in the United States. One revealing thing about that tour was that we were entirely in a different place, with a different sense of what hip hop was. It was the first time that internationality had figured in. After LL and Eric B & Rakim had played in front of tens of thousands in the United States, it was like: well, how are we going to treat this area, where you’re not going to have the same luxuries of home. We didn’t have any luxuries in our first year, and that was our first time out, so we had nothing to lose. We just let it all hang out.
We didn’t see it coming at all in 1987, but hip hop has gone on to be possibly the dominant musical genre on the planet, in terms of commercial success. But maybe there has been a price to pay for that success. Has something been lost along the way?
Hip hop is at a point that maybe it’s been for the last two to five years, in that people are kinda waiting for something to pop up. And I don’t know what to tell you. I would like it to happen, but it has to happen on its own terms. And it will fix itself along the line, in one way or another.
It’s good that you have faith that it will.
Well, I mean, bottom line is that it’s a great genre. You can put a lot of words in. And the more that we’re going into a crossroads of the world, where uncertainty is high and people are trying to figure out how to hold onto their heads as well as their pockets, then people want to go out and be entertained.
There’s being entertained, and there’s being educated.
Yeah, and there’s ways that you can do both. Even if you’re being entertained the wrong way, you’re getting an education. (Laughs)
We’ve also reached the stage where US hip hop artists can headline the main stage at Glastonbury, which is still seen as our leading outdoor rock festival.
Who’s headlining, Kanye West or somebody?
You’d think! But they’ve gone with Jay-Z. Do you think he’s a good choice?
I think Jay-Z can handle it now. He was a slow learner, as far as being a performer is concerned, but I think now he’s really starting to like it, and to get it under his belt.
There’s been a lot of debate about whether it’s going to work or not. There’s only one way to find out.
We’ll see. Kanye West to me, he’s the Elton John of rap. (Laughs)
Kanye West would have made perfect sense for that particular crowd.
I don’t know, I think I’ll rep for Jay-Z. But I’ve always had a problem seeing one person anyway. Or maybe I’m spoiled by people like LL and Big Daddy Kane.
Another thing I remember about that 87 show was the mixed, multi-racial audience. Did your audience ever change in that respect over the years?
It’s mixed. It varies from place to place, but I’ve always thought that most of the UK was white anyway. You’ve got to understand the culture shock, coming from the United States and playing in front of 15,000 predominantly black kids, to like a half-and-half crowd of 5000 or whatever. It told me that the UK was still predominantly white.
Yeah, but we also have a strong multi-cultural musical heritage over here, which we take some pride in.
Yeah, but when you ask me about crowd make-up, the make-up is dependent on the mix of the people that you’re visiting.
Have any British acts caught your attention recently?
I don’t really listen to the radio, but I always read about people like Dizzee Rascal in magazines. Of course we’ve got all the Amy Winehouse news. Her crew [The Dap Kings] is a Brooklyn band.
I remember buying You’re Gonna Get Yours on import; it was the only way to hear Rebel Without A Pause, which was on the B-side. As a club DJ at the time, I’m sorry to say that I didn’t dare play Rebel Without A Pause. It sounded so extreme, and I didn’t think my crowd were going to take it. How did you come up with the idea of looping that screeching JB’s sample all the way through? Did it feel like you were taking a risk?
It wasn’t looping; we actually played it. Some things were looped, but it was an orchestrated record that built on aspects of what we did with the so-called “loop that will blow your head off”. We just wanted to bring the noise. We wanted to be as irritating as possible. We knew that the ones who weren’t irritated, that was our crowd. And the ones that were, we were like, f**k ‘em.
There’s a section in the middle of Caught, Can We Get A Witness where you all ask each other “Do you think we’re gonna sell out?”, and then you promise that you won’t. Did that promise come true?
Yes. I think there are stages where people might consider us capitulating here and there. But I guess that’s life, right? For example, people might consider it a sell-out if you’re not touring all the time. They’ll say, oh man, you don’t need to be with your family, you need to tour! (Laughs) You don’t need to raise your kids, you need to be on hand and respect your fans. So you’ve got to beware of anyone laying things on you.
I think your fans have got to learn some boundaries at some stage! (Laughter)
Budding pop stars, please take note: if you’re going to take on the demands of a full-scale arena tour, then last night’s Girls Aloud show was an object lesson in how to do things properly.
Lesson One: Don’t stint on the Wow Factor. The girls started their set suspended on high wires, black capes flapping in the breeze, before slowly descending into the arms of their hunky male dancers. (Note: if you must make economies, then it’s quite OK to deprive your dancers of their shirts for most of the night.)
Later on, a massive illuminated catwalk dropped from the ceiling, stretching all the way to a platform at the back end of the arena. The girls sashayed across it, crooning and waving all the while, before greeting the folks in the “cheap seats” to wild acclaim, and giving them a three-song performance.
Lesson Two: Don’t cut corners. Many acts have a revolving stage. Girls Aloud’s stage revolved in two directions at once, allowing for some clever choreography. Most acts let off a couple of fireworks towards the end of the show. Girls Aloud’s crew blasted us with pyrotechnics throughout, as well as firing off enough ticker tape to keep the Arena’s cleaning staff busy for days.
Lesson Three: Don’t play it too safe. It takes nerve to drop sure-fire favourites such as No Good Advice, Long Hot Summer and The Show, in favour of album tracks such as Girl Overboard, the pounding crowd-pleaser Close To Love, and the slinky, ska-tinged Control Of The Knife (as mashed up with Kelis’s Trick Me). And it’s a brave act indeed who can take on Robyn’s brilliant but challenging With Every Heartbeat, and make it their own.
Lesson Four: Don’t forget to have fun. In stark contrast to last year’s sulky showing by the Sugababes, the five girls genuinely looked as if they were enjoying themselves. Self-confessed party girl Sarah larged it from beginning to end, while even sulky old Nicola was wreathed in smiles throughout. And while the Sugababes treated each other like strangers, Girls Aloud bonded like a gang of best mates.
Lesson Five: Don’t mime! OK, so Nadine slipped out of key a couple of times. But who knew that Nicola had such a great, gutsy voice?
Lesson Six: Don’t act too cool for school. During the encore of Something Kinda Ooooh, middle-aged mums bopped in the aisles, while the gays squealed and the pre-teens waved their glow-sticks. (My ten year old niece’s verdict: “fantabulous”.)
Lesson Seven: Don’t take us for granted. There’s a reason why Girls Aloud have stayed at the top of their game for over five years, with eighteen consecutive Top Ten singles to their name. It’s because they deliver the goods, to the best of their ability, time after time. Long may they continue to delight us.
Sexy! No No No…
Sound Of The Underground
Close To Love
Can’t Speak French
Whole Lotta History
With Every Heartbeat
I’ll Stand By You
Wake Me Up
Walk This Way
Control Of The Knife/Trick Me
Call The Shots
Something Kinda Ooooh
Back in early January, it was all going so swimmingly for Joe Lean’s preposterously named crew.Tipped by the BBC’s influential “Sound of 2008” poll, and with a second place billing on the NME Awards Tour to look forward to, it seemed as if 2008 was theirs for the asking.
Fast forward to mid-May, and what do we find? That tour’s opening act has the current Number One single (step forward, The Ting Tings), while the Jing Jang Jong have endured a string of wretched reviews and a flop single, and are now playing to scatterings of mildly curious, mostly non-committal punters at half-empty venues like the Rescue Rooms.
Based on this almost laughably dismal show (under 45 minutes, no encore), you had to wonder how they got to be so handsomely hyped in the first place. Granted, some of their early demos showed sparks of personality and potential, before being flattened into generic indie-lite – but the JJJ’s most glaring weakness was their utter inability to engage the crowd.
The chief offender in this respect was Joe Lean himself: a front man so fundamentally irritating that his sheer cluelessness almost bordered on the heroic. From his skinny-hipped Jagger-esque wiggle to his Lydon-esque thousand yard stare, none of his rag-bag of semi-digested poses rang true.
Stuck at the side of the stage, and displaying more energy and commitment then the rest of the band put together, drummer James Craig (aka “Bummer Jong”) deserved better than this bunch of sorry chancers. Perhaps his time is yet to come.
Now that Eurovision season is upon us, what better way could there be to get revved up for next weekend’s finals, than by re-visiting 42 of the contest’s past glories on this handily timed double CD? Bearing in mind our natural patriotic bias, the compilers have done a commendably even-handed job, with over half the selections coming from that scary place known as “abroad”.
Kicking off with Abba’s immortal Waterloo, CD1 focuses mostly on the 1970s, with occasional forays into ancient history: Sandie Shaw, Lulu, and Cliff Richard’s newly controversial runner-up Congratulations. CD2 divides neatly between the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, including Finland’s monster-masked heavy metallers, Israel’s fierce transgendered diva, and Ukraine’s bacofoiled Christopher Biggins lookey-likey. The “party” only comes unstuck towards the end, with a sequence of drippy, buzz-killing ballads, but for the most part this is a rollicking good soundtrack for internationally themed finger buffets everywhere.
It all began so well. Following a string of cancellations, many at the last minute, which had dragged on for several weeks, I was finally on the phone to New York, and scarcely able to believe my good fortune. Better still, my interviewee sounded bright and cheerful. (“Hey Mike, how are ya! I’m so happy to be on the phone with you now!”) Nothing could go wrong now, could it?
Venturing a mild ice-breaking witticism, I remarked that whenever Liza’s office gave me a new date, an old song of hers had always run through my mind: “Maybe this time, I’ll be lucky.” For a split second, she laughed. Or, to put it more accurately: after a somewhat dismissive “No, no, no”, she emitted a semi-strangulated gurgle that could loosely be interpreted as laughter.
Recklessly, I took this as encouragement. Oh, we were going to get along famously!
It had already been a full week for Liza. “I’ve been rehearsing, and we’ve been working on some pre-records for the sound on stage, and all the stuff. It’s been busy.”
Reflecting on my own nervousness prior to the interview, I wondered whether Liza ever feels under pressure herself, particularly when people expect her to act in a certain way around them.
“Oh yes, I think everyone always expects me to be fancy, and I’m not. I’m straight ahead, and I’m a hard worker.”
But does that ever cause her pressure? “No – I love it, or I wouldn’t be doing it.”
The response of each night’s audience has always been of central importance. What about those nights when she has to work harder than usual, in order to get the level of response that she is looking for?
“I never think of it as work. To me it’s a series of little movies that I’m making. Because in one character I’ve got, the character has blonde hair, and she wears pink, and she does this or that, and so I have a whole breakdown in each song. It’s like a method acting breakdown in songs. So therefore they don’t get bored, because I don’t wanna go and see somebody singing a song who’s bored. Do you?”
Uh-oh, she’s beginning to sound a little prickly. I might be going in too hard, too soon. Well, let’s stick to the script anyway. How does Liza resolve the conflict between wanting to introduce new material that might take her in a fresh direction, and the expectations of an audience who want to hear the old signature songs?
A quick laugh, and an awkward pause. The briskness of the reply and the depth of the silence spoke volumes. Feeling like I had just asked the most moronically obvious question in the history of showbiz reporting, I made a grab for the lifeline marked “new material”. Will there be any new material on the forthcoming UK tour, I wondered?
“Yes, I have this stuff on my godmother, Kay Thompson.”
Indeed, the second half of each show will be given over to a 45 minute tribute to Thompson, who is perhaps best known over here for her portrayal of New York fashion editor Maggie Prescott (“Think Pink!”) in the classic 1957 movie Funny Face.
“She was a real behind the scenes person, but she was the musical force behind MGM. In her thirties, she ran the music department of MGM. It’s amazing, you know? And then of course she wrote Eloise at the Plaza.”
As I later discovered, this was one of a series of four best-selling children’s books that Thompson wrote during the 1950s, describing the adventures of a lively little girl called Eloise, who lived in The Plaza Hotel in New York City. As Thompson’s equally lively young goddaughter, Liza provided the inspiration for this much loved character.
Much loved in the USA, that is. Not wishing to display my ignorance – that “of course” made it sound like another clanger waiting to happen – I let Liza continue without interruption.
“Kay brought vocal singing into a whole other realm. You had to hear it to believe it. And she did this night club act. I saw it; I was two. I was sitting on my mom’s lap, across from my father, and I’ll never forget seeing those feet and arms flying around; it was wonderful.”
A film project based on Kay Thompson’s life has been under discussion for quite some time – it even gets a couple of mentions on Liza’s official website – but Liza was not about to be drawn on the exact nature of her involvement.
“I don’t know. I stay out of everything until somebody calls me. I find it’s easier.”
After another awkward pause, I found myself remarking – out loud, mind you – that my interviewee wasn’t exactly giving much away. Goodness, where did that little show of boldness come from?
It had an interesting effect. Suddenly, Liza was insisting that I come to the Nottingham show – even spelling out the name of her personal assistant, so that I might come backstage and see her in person.
This is the sort of pleasantry that sometimes takes place right at the end of an interview, when things have gone particularly well. It doesn’t usually take place within the first five minutes, when things aren’t going so great.
With the benefit of hindsight, various interpretations can be made. Either this was a gracious, generous gesture, intended to extend the hand of friendship towards a flustered, floundering interviewer – or else it was a last ditch gambit to get the dithering, star-struck chump onside, by any means possible. It could have been a gentle, tactful way of drawing our sorry conversation to a premature end – or it could have been the signal from a bored, testy, un-cooperative diva that this inconsequential minion’s time was well and truly up. Had Liza been strong-armed into the call against her will? Indeed, did all those endless cancellations and re-schedules tell their own story?
Bearing in mind the unmitigated fiasco that followed, it is tempting to lean towards the latter conclusion. For from this point on, Liza more or less shut down on me entirely. Virtually every question was stone-walled. Answers were mostly terse and uninformative. Those deadly pauses grew more frequent.
Still, on I ploughed. An edge of panic crept in: drying my mouth, constricting my larynx, and sending my voice squeaking up an octave. It was, in a very real sense, a ball-busting experience.
So, here’s Liza explaining how she came to guest on “Mama”, a track by the massively popular emo-rockers My Chemical Romance.
“Well, they called me.” (Pause.) “It was real simple.”
Yes, but I guess a lot of people must come calling, so what was it about them that appealed?
“I like their music.” (Pause.) “I have the first album.”
It’s quite emotional, dramatic stuff, isn’t it, for rock music? (Oh, I wasn’t giving up without a struggle.)
“Very much so. I mean, I think it’s very forceful.”
And here’s Liza talking about her recent appearance on the televised 80th birthday tribute for Bruce Forsyth: “I’m so glad that came about.” (Seriously folks, these are the highlights.)
Liza’s sister Lorna Luft recently played here – in the very same venue, in fact – performing her tribute to their mother Judy Garland. (A bravura performance, and Lorna was a charming, delightful interviewee.) But what did Liza think of the show that her sister had worked so hard on, and toured for so long?
“I never saw the whole show, but I know she was pleased with it.”
OK, back to the tour. If in doubt, let them get back to plugging the product. A fail-safe strategy. So, Liza, have you had to train hard? I believe you have a very punishing training schedule.
“Yeah, but all dancers do.” (Long pause)
And this is your first tour of the UK outside London in a long time, is that right?
“Yes, I’m so looking forward to it.”
What the hell, let’s finish on a tough one. (No, of course I wasn’t going to ask about the short-lived, ill-starred marriage to David Gest. Someone from The Guardian tried that one, and felt the full force of Liza’s wrath. Besides, I was there to talk about her work, not her private life.)
Liza, the top-priced tickets for your Nottingham show are the most expensive that we’ve ever seen here, by some distance. Can you reassure the people of Nottingham that they will be getting value for money?
“Oh, my goodness! I don’t know anything about the prices for the tickets, but they’ll certainly get the best show that I can do. I always do that. And I’m looking forward to it!”
There are many ways to tell a story. You can wield the hatchet (what a diva!), you can enter the confessional booth (what a screw-up!), or you can try to offer a thoughtful, even-handed analysis of what went wrong. (She’s Pisces and I’m Aquarius; it was never meant to be.)
But at least on one thing, we can all be clear: the legendary, redoubtable, slightly crazy but undeniably magnificent Liza Minnelli is looking forward to meeting us.
And so are we, Liza. So are we.
For devotees of the deep house underground, local hero Charles Webster needs no introduction. For everyone else, this triple set forms an ideal starting point for anyone wishing to investigate the man and his music. Webster’s stock in trade is soulful, spiritual house music: light on banging beats and formulaic breakdowns, but suffused with a subtle, sinuous vibe that lends itself well to home listening.
The “Club” CD re-creates a typical Webster DJ set, mixing popular favourites from Kings Of Tomorrow and Rosie Gaines with long-standing cult heroes such as Blaze, Moodymann and Matthew Herbert. The “Studio” CD showcases his music-making career, and features several previously unreleased mixes.
Best of all, a truly superb “Lounge” CD makes connections between 1970s acoustic folk (Vashti Bunyan, John Martyn and even an unusually chilled out Black Sabbath), ambient electronica, soul, jazz and rock, offering a glimpse into Webster’s musical heritage, and his interests outside dance music.
**** (***** for the “Lounge” CD)
It’s hard to believe that The Orb have been a going concern for the past twenty years. These days, the band is essentially a vehicle for founder member Alex Paterson, plus whatever collaborators he has happened to gather around him. On this tour, Alex’s sampling and live DJ-ing is augmented by Fil Lump on assorted computer gadgetry, Keith York on live drums, and an MC called Eric.
Given the music’s mostly instrumental nature, MC Eric had the easiest job of the night, his vocal duties mostly confined to asking us how we are feeling. (The answer for most of this 90% male crowd being, to varying degrees: enthusiastic, energetic and euphoric.) Eric’s big vocal moment was a decidedly unlikely cover of David Essex’s Rock On. It was one more element in a thoroughly eclectic stew, which extended well beyond the band’s trademark ambient dub. Snatches of rock, ska and systems music were woven into the mix, along with looped rap samples (you had to feel sorry for Eric) and even the opening credits for Star Trek.
The lengthy set peaked with old favourites Little Fluffy Clouds and The Blue Room, before a mostly DJ-based interlude gave way to a banging, techno-heavy finale.
The first night of this year’s ever-bankable Here And Now tour saw the Trent FM Arena transformed into one giant Reflex bar, as seven chart acts from the 1980s wheeled out their old hits and several thousand eager thirty- and forty-somethings turned back the clock with them. This time around, the focus was on the latter part of the decade, and particularly the years 1987 and 1988: an era when yuppies ruled the roost, Gary Davies and Bruno Brookes ruled the airwaves, and “club culture” still meant wearing a shirt and tie to get into Ritzys. If you were at the right age to be buying Smash Hits and watching The Chart Show, then this was the show for you. Any older or any younger, and you might have found yourself muttering that old cliché: nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.
Hands up, who remembers Cutting Crew? With only two hits to their name (and only two members left in their line-up), the duo were on and off the stage in the blink of an eye. This was a shame, as Nick Van Eede turned in on of the best vocal performances of the night, backed by some appealingly flashy soft-rock soloing from guitarist Gareth Moulton.
Johnny Hates Jazz fared slightly better, being permitted to perform three of their four hits, in what was announced as only their second ever live appearance in the UK. Opening with the anti-war song I Don’t Want To Be A Hero, they provided the night’s one brief nod to “social commentary” — an element that was key to much of the decade’s most memorable music. The band’s trademark slick suits were back, but sadly not their original vocalist Clark Datchler. New vocalist Danny Saxon gave a passable imitation, but his somewhat puny delivery failed to ignite the arena crowd.
Anyone expecting to see the full original line-up of Curiosity Killed The Cat was in for a disappointment, as singer Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot shambled onto the stage accompanied by, er, nobody. According to Ben (whose unique line in stage patter is best described as “eccentric”), the other three members “said Hi” and “sent their love”. Hands up, who believed him? As Ben diddled aimlessly around the stage, drifting in and out of key, and looking thoroughly out of his depth, it was enough to make you feel nostalgic for Cutting Crew.
With the evening in danger of floundering in a half-baked stew of half-remembered mediocrity, it was time for a seasoned professional and a proper star to rescue the proceedings. On that score,ABC’s Martin Fry delivered in spades. A veteran of the nostalgia tour circuit, he knew what was expected of him, and he knew how to pitch it to perfection. As the opening chords of Poison Arrow rang out, the whole night stepped up a notch, the crowd rising to their feet and bellowing along with some of the sharpest pop lyrics ever written. If Ben from Curiosity was the random youth trying to chat you up at the bus stop, Martin from ABC was the smooth gigolo, sweeping you off your feet in the cocktail bar.
Boasting a similar veteran’s pedigree, Paul Young gave an equally arena-friendly performance, hurling his mike stand around the shop in best Rod Stewart style. Although numbers such as Love Of The Common People suffered from the absence of female backing singers (hands up, who remembers the Fabulous Wealthy Tarts?), and although Young struggled with his upper register onCome Back And Stay and Senza Una Donna, a terrific extended performance of I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down turned out to be the night’s unexpected musical highlight. In particular, it allowed the six-piece house band to demonstrate what they were made of. On stage for the full three hours, during which they trawled through thirty-seven songs and a myriad of musical styles, the band were the unsung heroes of the night.
As the acts got bigger, the sets grew longer. Bananarama managed nine songs in thirty-five minutes, spanning seven of their most successful hit-making years. With founder member Siobhan and substitute member Jacquie long gone, Keren and Sara have been performing as a duo since the early 1990s, cranking out their roster of camp classics with a delightful disregard for stage-school slickness (they still have trouble remembering the set list) and sophisticated vocal technique (you’ll still search in vain for a harmony line). That said, the set was tightly and ably choreographed, the girls being joined on stage by a pair of humpy male backing dancers.
And finally, and to a hero’s welcome: Rick Astley, making his debut on the nostalgia circuit, and cheerfully admitting to finding the whole experience overwhelming and bizarre. Now re-established in the nation’s affections thanks to an Internet phenomenon known as “rickrolling”, Astley surfed a tide of goodwill from the crowd, which was almost enough to cover his lack of memorable hit singles. (Hands up, who can name more than three of them?) Admittedly, it all got a bit Cruise Ship during his syrupy cover of When I Fall In Love, and even Rick himself seemed less than enamoured of some of the later Stock Aitken Waterman hits (he could barely wait to get to the end of the frankly rubbish Take Me To Your Heart, exclaiming “will this madness never end?” during the final chorus). However, all was forgiven in time for the grand finale, and the only chart-topping song of the whole night: the immortal Never Gonna Give You Up, which duly raised the roof and sent the crowd home happy.
Cutting Crew: I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight, I’ve Been In Love Before.
Johnny Hates Jazz: I Don’t Want To Be A Hero, Turn Back The Clock, Shattered Dreams.
Curiosity Killed The Cat: Down To Earth, Misfit, Ordinary Day, Name And Number, Hang On In There Baby.
ABC: Poison Arrow, Tears Are Not Enough, All Of My Heart, When Smokey Sings, The Look Of Love.
Paul Young: Love Of The Common People, Come Back And Stay, Senza Una Donna, I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down, Every Time You Go Away.
Bananarama: Cruel Summer, Really Saying Something, Robert De Niro’s Waiting, I Heard A Rumour, Nathan Jones, I Want You Back, Love In The First Degree, Venus, Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye).
Rick Astley: Together Forever, She Wants To Dance With Me, Hold Me In Your Arms, When I Fall In Love, Take Me To Your Heart, Cry For Help, Whenever You Need Somebody, Never Gonna Give You Up.
I notice from your tour schedule that you’re on a bit of a break. Are you enjoying having a few days off?
Absolutely, yeah. We’ve just done Australia, the Far East and Central America, then we’re off to Vancouver next week. We’ve had an exhausting travel experience over the last few weeks, so it’s good to get a few days at home, pat the dog, kiss the wife…
Are we all basically getting the same tour, or do you make any significant changes as you go along?
You tend to find that the show develops. You start recognising what’s not working in the set, and maybe introduce a few different numbers to refresh it. We’ve got a huge catalogue of work to pull from, so we like to change it a little bit. We get quite a lot of repeat members of the audience, that travel with us – so we like to juggle up the set, so they get to see something different.
You played a storming show at Nottingham Arena back in April 2004. It was one of your first UK dates with the full original line-up, so there was a sense of not quite knowing quite what to expect. For all we knew, it might have been awful! Did it feel at the time that you were on a mission to reclaim your heritage, and to remind people of who you were?
I think we had to prove ourselves. I don’t think there’s anything worse than going back to see your childhood heroes, and having them not quite live up to how you remembered them. So I think we were on a mission to prove we could still do it.
When we originally got the band back together, we started by playing very small theatres. From the energy of those small performances, it grew into a huge scene, where we got to play five nights at Wembley Arena, and Madison Square Gardens in New York. So it suddenly felt like a new band again, and not something that had been trodden into the ground. We had left the original line-up on a real high, and so it actually felt very fresh.
Something that surprised me about that show was your audience. During your “imperial phase”, you were almost seen as a boy band by certain people, and so I had assumed that I’d be one of the very few men in that audience. But actually, it was a fairly equal 50:50 split. So either your audience has changed over the years, or else it was never really about the screaming girls in the first place. What’s your perspective on that?
Maybe the girls dragged their husbands along, I don’t know! But there’s definitely more of a crossing over now – especially in America, where we get a lot of guys coming to see us – whereas in the Eighties, it was 95% female.
Because we had a real teenage audience, that maybe scared off the guys. If you get a band that has a teenage girl following, then the guys will probably go to another band. But we’ve come out of that now. I think the guys have come back and said: actually, I always liked Duran Duran, but I was afraid to admit it. So it’s cool.
You’ve had an interesting journey in terms of going in and out of fashion. It’s completely OK now for bands such as The Killers or Franz Ferdinand to name-check you, so that must be extremely gratifying to witness.
It is, because music journalists – particularly those in the UK – would constantly try to write us out of history. They’d have preferred it if we didn’t exist during the Eighties, and if it was just The Smiths and New Order and U2. So it’s been really cool that the new bands are saying: actually, they were a cool band, and we are influenced by them. It’s great to feel that we are leaving some sort of legacy, which bands are now being influenced by.
When you first emerged, you were part of what some people called the New Romantic scene, although in Nottingham we liked to call ourselves Futurists. Very early on, you played at Rock City to a deeply fashionable crowd, and it became quite a legendary gig. But then of course, there was a moment when you went very pop. When Is There Something I Should Know came out, the DJ at the same venue actually denounced you down the microphone, as everyone thought you were turning into the Bay City Rollers. Did you care? Was it a conscious decision?
I don’t think so. As you become very successful, you become very uncool, and unfortunately it’s very hard to run those two things together. We were breaking America at the time, so we didn’t give two hoots about the criticism. But you’re right: it has taken a long time for people to recognise the significance of the early work. Our success was probably our worst enemy.
In terms of the creative dynamics within the band, it always seemed as if there was an “arty” faction led by Nick, and a “rock” faction led by Andy. We particularly saw it during the period when you split into Arcadia and The Power Station. But it also seemed that you were the guy who floated between those two factions.
I think you’re probably right. It was like being in a gang at school. You had the kids who liked football at one end, and you had the kids who liked softball at the other end. There was a big gap there, and I fell in the middle.
But that’s what made it so creative. It wasn’t like you had five Nick Rhodes, all wanting to be like Depeche Mode. You also had Andy in there, who wanted to be like AC/DC. When we went to America, they were ready to accept us because we had a guitar player that could play heavy riffs – particularly live, which at that point was very important over there. And then of course you had John, who was into the disco bass lines. So you had this real clash of musical cultures, this whole juxtaposition of styles going into the bucket, and I think something very interesting and very successful came out of it.
When I think of Duran as a rock band, with all the rock and roll excess which goes with it, you strike me as the sensible, grounded, non-starry one. If Duran were the Rolling Stones, you’d be Charlie Watts. Fair comment?
You could say that. I’ll take that a compliment, because I do love Charlie Watts. I think drummers tend to play that role in the band. Musically, you have to be an anchor when things are maybe going a little bit haywire. So I guess that could possibly be my role.
When you left the band in the mid-1980s, did you have any thoughts of returning to music in the future?
I just wanted to get as far away from music, and from rock star culture, as I possibly could. I bought a farm in the Midlands, and I retreated there. The pressure surrounding the band had become so intense. You have no idea what it was like. In those few years, we lost all of our freedom. We’d get to a hotel and you couldn’t actually leave your room. You couldn’t go into the lobby, and you couldn’t walk down the street, because you’d get harassed by a thousand teenage girls. People were camping outside our houses, and it was all very intense.
I got to the point where I’d just had enough. I had no idea what I was going to do, and no idea if I was going to go back to music, or reject it for the rest of my life. All I knew was I needed to get away from it for a while, and that turned into a number of years. I slowly started getting back into music, and then the chance of a reunion came up.
Did it require any persuasion to get you back into the band, or were you eager as soon as the suggestion was made?
It was a real surprise. By the year 2000, I thought: that’s it, it’s never going to happen again. Then I got a call out of the blue from John. It took me a little while to think about it, but I think I was ready.
I don’t think anybody needed persuading, as it was one of those things that almost had to happen. I don’t know how many times people have said to me over the years: when’s the band going to reform, when are you all getting back together. It was a constant nagging question, I suppose.
Are you back in the band for the long haul? Making that Rolling Stones comparison again, can you see yourself still doing this in twenty years time?
I don’t know. We don’t even talk about that, to be honest with you. We don’t even talk about a five year plan. All we talk about is this tour. We’re kind of thinking about another album after the tour, but that’s as far as we go.
Of course, it all depends on whether you’ve still got your audience. We’re not going to be playing in a little pub in Shepherd’s Bush, or whatever. We’d never do that. If we still have our audience, and if we still feel creative, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t keep doing it for a number of years.
But I don’t think it’s something you can plan. I’m sure the Rolling Stones didn’t sit down when they were forty and say: oh yeah, we’re still going to be doing this when we’re seventy. They’d go mad. It has to be a progressive thing.
But they do set an example of that being a perfectly good, viable option to take.
That’s the thing about the Rolling Stones: they have opened that option. There are only a handful of bands who are still going: U2, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Depeche Mode, and not many others. But the Stones have said: actually, you don’t have be done when you’re forty, or fifty, or sixty. You can keep doing it.
I’m intrigued to see you worked closely with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake on the current album (Red Carpet Massacre). What were you looking for them to bring to the table?
Timbaland has been one of the world’s biggest producers over the last few years, and Justin has been one of the biggest male artists. So if you get those two guys saying that they want to work you – of course! It was a no-brainer. We didn’t go chasing them; they wanted to work with us. It was a great opportunity to keep the band moving in a contemporary direction.
It must have been a departure for all concerned. I’m not aware of Timbaland having worked with any bands before. Was it a two-way learning process?
I think we were the first band that he’s worked with, and it was the first production project that Justin has been involved in. It was very much an experiment. We had no idea what to expect. We all just turned up to this little studio in New York on a Sunday evening. Timbaland was there with his beat box, Justin was there with some lyrics and melodies, and we just jammed. It could have gone completely wrong, but luckily it worked.
A lot of the tracks have a late night, funky feel, as if you’re finding the groove again. Was that part of the intention?
That was one of the manifestos for this album: that we would somehow get back in the clubs, and find our groove again in a very contemporary way. We thought Tim would be the ideal guy to do that for us.
Timbaland is known for using electronics to generate beat patterns. As a drummer, do you find that today’s technology can take some of the challenge away? Is there a danger that it can dull your edge?
Well, I’ve never been a down-the-line rock drummer. I’ve always used electronic drums and I’ve programmed, so that makes it a lot easier. If I was a rock drummer with no interest in electronics, it would have been difficult, but that’s always been very much part of the Duran sound. If they’d tried to do it with the Chilli Peppers, who just plug in their instruments and play, I’m not sure it would have worked. But we grew up with Kraftwerk and the Human League, and we formed the band in a club, so that made us much more open-minded.
I heard that there’s a section in this tour where you explicitly pay homage to Kraftwerk. All four of you take to the keyboards, is that right?
Yeah, I play a little electronic kit à la Kraftwerk, and the other guys play keyboards. Our management suggested that we should do a bit in the show where we come to the front of the stage with acoustic guitars and bongos, or whatever. Fuck, we’re not doing that! Our roots were electronic, which is to say Kraftwerk. So we thought that a great way to do our “acoustic moment”, if you like, would be to get out the electronic instruments and pay homage to our roots.
It really gets us in contact with the audience, because we’re all right at the front. It only lasts for fifteen or twenty minutes, so it’s a nice contrast to the live band thing.
One of the great things about your 2004 show at the Arena was the sound quality. The Arena is a difficult venue acoustically, and you do have to put more work in with it. So I salute you for doing that.
We’ve got great sound guys, so hopefully it should work for us!