Your last solo record Nine and a Half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970’s and early ’80’s is a fond look at wrestling, it obviously really means something to you. Yes, World of Sport! It ran from the mid-sixties. When I was watching, it was around the mid seventies, and I was ten or eleven and it was at its peak, it had as many viewers as something like Eastenders gets now. I wanted to do a non-ironic record about these people, something affectionate, because it was such a strange time, and it is about childhood as well, so that is why it had to be a psychedelic record about wrestling, it was the only way, instead of going into an ironic default mode that is so easy to do these days. Most of them are gone. Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy both died. For Big Daddy someone died in the ring with him, he retired, and then died soon after. That’s the thing about most of those wrestlers, most of them are not around anymore, but weirdly I played some songs on the radio over here a little while ago and got an email from a man who is Mark “Rollerball” Rocco’s son, and he had heard the song called ‘Inside the Restless Mind of Marc “Rollerball” Rocco” and he was quite chuffed that someone had written a song about his Dad.
That sense of nostalgia and memory is very much your terrain, do you feel that that period of childhood was a more innocent time? I don’t think it was so innocent, I think because you were a child it seemed innocent. The Psychedelic Meditations album is set in the seventies, and the seventies over in this country was the winter of discontent, it was the beginning of Thatcherism, it wasn’t an innocent time, but when you are eleven years old you don’t care about the winter of discontent, you care who Kendo Nagasaki is going to be fighting on World of Sport! [Laughs] It’s more about that. There is this strange thing of the sheer amount of time that passes when you get into your forties, you feel that being ten was a fucking long time ago [laughs].
Was the almost pyschedelic writing in your first book Bad Vibes a way to deal with memory, and almost distance yourself a little? With Bad Vibes I wanted the writing to be rock and roll, as I feel that a lot of music writing is quite dry, so I wanted to write it like you were listening to rock and roll, it has that feel and pace, and there are tripped out bits in it, but that was more to do with the drugs and what not. But I also wanted to write about that, it was a druggy time for me, in a good way, it was good fun [laughs].
There is the part in the end, with Noel Gallagher and his ice cream, it is so desperately sad. [Laughs] I guess, yeah. People have said that to me you know. And they have said it seems I was having a really bad time, but it wasn’t the case. I suppose you amplify the bits that went wrong because they are more interesting to read. Each chapter almost amplifies a small thing that happened, but there are lots of times where it wasn’t all bad behaviour and tantrums. Unbelievably there were months that went by when I didn’t have a tantrum or something [laughs]. That’s what I meant about trying to write it like rock and roll, no-one wants to read about someone being a nice guy. It was written as my inner monologue when I was 25 or 26, so I wrote it like that because I am not as insanely down on every group in the world now because I don’t care, I have other things to do.
How different was your second book [Post Everything: Outsider Rock and Roll] to write? The second one was a bit harder to write because I was also writing about people I am still friends with, you can’t hold back, but I didn’t want them to read it and never speak to me again. Obviously I had a lot to write about John Moore – my friend who is in it quite a lot, and I had to be careful to portray him as he is, and luckily he really likes the book, he didn’t take it badly, because it is genuinely affectionate. And the Black Box Recorder years were mainly an absolute blast, we had a fucking fine time, and we drank our way through all these record labels, and had a great time, usually at everyone else’s expense, rolling around in rivers of red wine, we didn’t care. The whole Black Box Recorder thing from the first and second album – that entire period was amazing really, because it was great to be in a band with people I really liked, who were my friends, and we were a bit older, John and I were in our thirties, John was actually well into his thirties [laughs], I am years younger than he is [laughs], but we had a bit more experience of rock and roll, so we weren’t precious or overawed by anything. We had some good fun.
Do you think Black Box Recorder will ever make music together again? No, we got back together about two years ago and did a single [‘Keep it in the Family’]. We were writing in opposing directions, John wanted to make one kind of album, I wanted to make another, and Sarah [Nixey] who had made a solo record by that stage anyway [Sing, Memory] also wanted to be writing as well, completely understandably, so the whole dynamic had changed. It was getting a bit tricky to do, so we thought “fuck it, we’re wiser than this” in case it ruined our friendship, we felt we would just get on with our solo albums. It was a good decision to have made, and we are still all pals so it’s alright.
There is a strength to recognising that. I didn’t want to be a guy in his forties in a band. The point is I don’t mind being a solo artist in my forties because I am not hiding behind the name of a group or anything, I am just what I am, I am quite happy not to sing songs that a twenty-five year old might sing, I sing songs that befit a man in his forties, songs about wrestling and Broadmoor [laughs] and stuff like that. You have to be what you are otherwise its pointless, I’m not a fan of bands in their forties, all these reformed bands – it’s not for me.
Of course The Stone Roses have just recently done just that. I didn’t really get them the first time round. The thing is it seems to mean a lot to so many people, and I don’t want to say much about it, because far be it from me to piss on anyone’s chips about it, if it means a lot to these people, then that’s fine. I find it a weirdly eccentric English thing, and they were quite an English group, I don’t quite know where the huge love for them comes from, but it is quite an interesting thing to see it.
It seems more about young men in particular trying to recapture a certain time, express things that they are not necessarily expressing in their daily lives. I think it is totally about that kind of thing. When Blur got back together for Glastonbury…I wasn’t there because I wouldn’t go to Glastonbury if I was playing there, I wouldn’t bother [laughs], when you were watching it, you could sort of see it wasn’t about Parklife or whatever, it was about 1994 – 1995, the audience was thinking more about what happened to them, that great night out or whatever, it was purely nostalgia about 1994 or whenever. Obviously they have lots of fans, but I think that was about overriding nostalgia. Or to be less kind it might be that my generation and a little younger, I’m forty-four, finds it very difficult to grow up, because we are still all out there buying rock music. My parents were certainly not buying pop music when they were forty-four years old, I remember that they were proper grown-ups. It just wasn’t the thing to do, it wasn’t done. I remember growing up listening to John Peel, and he would have been in his late thirties at that point, it was the late seventies, early eighties-when he got the ten o’clock to midnight slot. It always seemed weird, and was spoken about like “wow, there is this forty year old guy on the radio and he is playing punk records! What’s this about?” No-one would think twice about that now, at forty it is even deemed okay to be in a band, no-one cares about it, well I care [laughs].
Doing that Peel session must have been so satisfying. It was the only one we ever did. Up until that point I don’t think he ever really liked us, as we had been lumped in with Suede and he didn’t like Suede and what they were associated with, there was a lot of hype going on, and we were caught up in that hype, he didn’t dig it, but around the third album that was produced Steve Albini, he liked all that, so he got there in the end [laughs].
Do you think that your journalism somehow keeps you engaged in a different way? Again I think if you write about rock and roll I feel it has to be rock and roll writing, that’s what you turned up for. I have realised over the years that you kind of get to realise your flaws, and one of mine is that I don’t have much knowledge except rock and roll, so everything I do I try to infuse it with this rock and roll knowledge. If you see things in just a dry and academic way, that can be good, but I am not one of those people. I have listened to too many records, and been damaged by all the stuff I’ve heard, and unpopular culture that I have picked up, I draw on all of that and it spills forth.
Is there any piece of your journalism that you are most proud of? Not really no, because I think my writing has only become better recently. I think my writing in the second book is better than the writing in the first, it’s not as immediate but it’s better. I don’t consider myself to be a writer. I know I can turn in a few good phrases and am passable, but I’m not that up myself as a writer. I enjoy it but don’t take it that seriously.
You are so prolific, and always working, are there any other projects coming up? I can’t say too much about it, but I am working on something with an artist and a film director which might be a theatre thing or art thing, I don’t quite know, they have been working on it, and have brought me in. I can’t say too much at the moment in case it won’t come off, but really at the moment it’s eyes forward on The North Sea Scrolls and getting it all recorded.
Luke Haines & Cathal Coughlan will reveal The North Sea Scrolls in The Sugar Club tonight, 3rd December.