Q, September 1995
THE Q INTERVIEW
Stuart Maconie, Q, September 1995
Q: Why did you leave EMI ?
M: Well, why indeed, seven years, seven albums ... Terribly nice people. I've very good friends there but it seemed the thing to do. I realised that I was in the building so often that I was surprised they didn't give me a janitor's bucket. "Here comes old Mogsy; let's give him a few Angelic Upstarts eight by tens and he'll be happy." But there was nowhere else to go with EMI. It was enough time to know whether I was going to rule the planet or not. And I expect I won't.
Q: So moving on is part of a campaign for world domination ?
M: Not in the least. Can you imagine anything so boring as world domination ? What would you do in your spare time ?
Q: Why RCA ? Elvis Presley ?
M: Well, partly. I can't deny that. But it sounds good, doesn't it, RCA ? Modern record labels don't sound good. Morrissey and RCA sounds good, don't you agree ?
Q: Southpaw Grammar has got an 11 minute track, a 10 minute one. Have you gone progressive rock ?
M: Oh, definitely. I'd love to continue where Van Der Graff Generator left off. No, we just didn't know how to stop the tape. There's no great point. I mean, there still pop songs, aren't they ? Enough said. As musicians, they've improved enormously from where we began and we've become a group and it shows. It's not a matter of me saying, you get on with it while I go and ski somewhere. We're just getting better. That simple; that complicated.
Q: Another boxing allusion, I see.
M: Southpaw Grammar is the school of hard knocks. It's coming up the hard way and taking your bruises with you.
Q: So you see yourself as a graduate of the school of hard knocks ?
M: Well, it's not been easy. Put it that way. Whether we're talking about life or the dear old music industry. But of course, that drags us into extremely depressing territory. I don't know a great deal about boxing; I released a single called Boxers and everybody thinks I'm an authority and I'm not. I'm not an expert on the manly art or the sweet science as it's called. I just enjoy the violent aspect of it. I think it's quite glamorous. I long for my chance to join in. No, no, I don't think I'm ready to spring into the ring.
Q: Axl Rose once wrote a song ...
M: Nobody's interested.
Q: ... called Get In The Ring, in which he invited his detractors to sort it out pugilistically. Does that appeal to you ?
M: No. I've got better things to do ... like planting bulbs.
Q: People will say it's pure affectation, like the current bourgeois football fad.
M: Well, some people will always say something. I'm not an expert. I'm just a face in the crowd who enjoys it for maybe a misguided aspect. But I do enjoy the unpleasantness, and the working-class aspect, which I don't need to mention, do I ?
Q: Been to many bouts ?
M: As many as I can get to. Some of which are extremely boring. But some are very interesting. There are lots of unusual characters. And of course, our Prince friend (Hamed Naseem) is top of the list. I long to see him trip over the ropes, which of course he won't.
Q: What are the advantages of being rich ?
M: None really. Which is why I find it sad to meet people who are totally geared towards finance. I know for a fact that it's quite meaningless. Of course, it's easy for me to say that as I lounge here. But it's true. You may be a billionaire, but if you contract cancer, you may as well live in a bedsit in Birmingham.
Q: Reader Meet Author seems to be about people who "slum it".
M: I've come across it many times. It's a fascinating phenomenon. Especially amongst journalists who pretend to understand all aspects of life however degrading. It amuses me that these people are middle class; and I know a few, and their preoccupation is in meddling with the destitute and desperate as a hobby. Middle-class writers are fascinated by those who struggle. They find it righteous and amusing.
Q: Is "low life" the right term for what you write about ?
M: No, it's my life actually. It's not affected in the least. Working class culture isn't particularly going anywhere. On the song you mention, I sing, "The year 2000 won't change anyone here" and that's true. It won't change their lives. They won't be catapulted into space age culture and mobile fax machines. The poor remain poor. Someone has to work in Woolworth's.
Q: And it could have been you ?
M: No, I haven't got the legs.
Q: Do you enjoy provoking people?
M: Not in the least. I've never tried ... have I ?
Q: The Union Jack business was pretty provacative.
M: I didn't invent the Union Jack, you do realise that, don't you ? I didn't knock it up on a spinning wheel in the front room. I can't account for people's reactions. Some people adore it; others are embarrassed by it. I don't get it. I don't understand the fascist implications of it. I think it happened because it was time to get old Mozzer. Nothing more sophisticated than that.
Q: How do you feel about Eric Cantona ?
M: I feel very excited by him as long as he doesn't say anything. He certainly made the world of football slightly less boring this year. I approved because it was very entertaining and I found the witnesses in the crowd very suspect. When I first saw it on television, I howled. I watched every version of the news. He also happens to be a great player. The negative publicity doesn't matter ... as don't the Crytal Palace fans. I think he set a good example. I found it very encouraging and glamorous and exciting. And it wasn't violence as much as self defence. He is a human being and the abuse hurled at him was incredibly personal and disturbing. How could he have lived with himself if had he not reacted ? Everyone secretly agrees with him anyway.
Q: What of Hugh Grant ?
A: I couldn't care less, but if forced I'd say it makes him more interesting than he actually is. People who are insufferably respectable are just not interesting. It'll work in his favour. He should do it more often. If I was Elizabeth Hurley and he hadn't done anything I wouldn't stand by him. He's so overrated. All he seems to have is an English accent. I don't believe incidents like Hugh Grant's and Cantona's are moments of insanity. Those seem like moments of sanity. Perhaps its the rest of their lives that are insane. People are terribly stifled and apart and not in touch with how they feel.
Q: This sounds like the Oprah Winfrey show.
M: I haven't been there recently but I know what you mean. But if people took the plunge, they'd find that they wouldn't be rejected and life wouldn't deteriorate, but people are terribly frightened. Within pop music people are frightened of not being accepted. I've never felt that but I know others do.
Q: But if people were healthy emotionally, surely artists like yourself would be out of a job.
M: But haven't we had enough art ? How much art do we need ? It results in analysing vomit. There are better things to do.
Q: Do you get recognised in the back of taxis ?
M: I get recognised in front of taxis as well ! But I've learned my lesson. My celebrity doesn't cause many problems because I don't do anything extreme. There are constant nudges and winks and nods as I walk around. But that's survivable. But at the level of Cliff Richard or Michael Jackson life would be unbearable. Money can't compensate for that lack of freedom. I'm happy with the level of fame I have. Fame really isn't as useful or attractive as it once was. If you are famous now, you have to pay for your fame and answer for your existence. And anything you do, however innocent, can be made to seem devious. The only interest we have is in revealing famous people as something unsavoury. I know that some people who are famous are terrible, relentless slags, but most of them aren't. That's why I never buy newspapers. I have no interest in seeing people destroyed whether I like them or not. I don't want to know about Hugh Grant. I don't want to know about Tommy Steele even.
Q: Were you happier as a teenager ?
M: No. I was never happy then. Not for one day. But I think I've probably touched upon that in the past. I've mentioned it somewhere ! I never thought it was possible to be this old. I thought when you reached 35 you were shipped off to Angelsey. But I don't want to go back. There's nothing happy there for me. I'm getting happier as I get older but that's sheer perseverance. I've just stuck with it. I never enjoyed life in my twenties, not one minute of it. It was a test of endurance that I'm suprised I survived. Professionally, of course, I was doing very well but personally it couldn't have been worse or more difficult for me if I'd been living in a mud hut in Leeds.
Q: Have you ever had a religious impulse ?
M: No, I haven't in all honesty. I would like to but I haven't. There must be consolations and comforts because millions of people can't be wrong but I think I'm just a doomed realist.
Q: What do you think of Oasis ?
M: I've always liked them. I think they're very amusing and very Mancunian and the best Manchester group since (shrugs smilingly). But I do wish the singer wasn't so put out. "Do I really have to sing this next verse ?" He could always go back to being a painter and a decorator in Burnage. I read a comment supposedly by me in Club International where I called them boring electricians, words which have never left my lips. So they've slagged me off, of course, they have to, but I like them. Noel's funny. Very runt of the litter. You can tell that he'd run off with the fillings in his grandmother's teeth but that doesn't mean he doesn't love her.
Q: Would you pass Norman Tebbit's cricket test ?
M: Yes, I would. Anything Norman Tebbit has to do with must be a bad idea but if someone else were to word it differently I'd probably support it.
Q: If you were forced to leave England at the point of a gun, where would you go ?
M: Jersey, Guernsey, anywhere with a decent postal service.
Q: Not Los Angeles ?
M: No. I need grit and struggle and Los Angeles is terribly nice but people - once they get there cease to be real. Constant and repetitive fulfilment is not good for the human spirit. We all need rain and good old depression. Life can't be all beer and skittles.
Q: What do you think of Martin Rossiter from Gene ? He sounds uncannily like you.
M: Well again, you'll fall over but I wasn't aware of Gene until someone handed me a tape of their album and said, have you ever seen Stars In Their Eyes? And I said, I'm not aware of it, and they said, well you are going to be now. I thought it was a good record. It didn't so much remind me of The Smiths as (coyly) well...me. When people sing like me, and thankfully, very few do, people think it's like The Smiths but the musicians in Gene are not like The Smiths. Let's face it, when we begin, we all take from the people who influence us until we find our own ground. I don't want to be cynical, old and crusty. Why should I criticise Gene ? I don't feel inclined to. But neither do I feel that I should race toward them waving the gladioli saying, now its your turn.
Q: Where do you go for your holidays ?
M: I don't go on holiday. Not since they shut down Butlin's at Bognor. No, I just hang around the East End in a long black cape.
Q: Ever been to a karaoke evening ?
M: Yes, at the Little Driver in Bow and it was shocking.
Q: Why ?
M: You know why. I like simple pleasures and uncomplicated people but that takes the biscuit. I can't understand why anybody would want to do it. There are easier ways to embarrass yourself.
Q: I see Paul Weller's back.
M: Back ? Where's he been ? I haven't noticed. He was encouraging at one time because he was one artist who surpassed his heroes. The Jam will be very special forever. I think people are saying thank you for The Jam. And for younger groups like Blur it obviously struck a chord. Weller performed Woodcutter's Son on Later and immediately after, Supergrass came in with "We are young..." and I thought, There's a gigantic message hanging in the air there for you, Uncle Paul.
Q: What did Kurt Cobain's suicide mean to you ?
M: I feel sad and I felt envious. He had the courage to do it. I admire people who self-destruct and that's not a new comment for me. They are taking control. They're refusing to continue with unhappiness, which shows tremendous self-will. It must be very frightening to sit down and look at your watch and think, in 30 minutes I will not be here. Thinking, I'm going on that strange journey. Modern life is very pressurising. We're all on the verge of hysteria. There are people around who'll shoot your head off because you forgot to indicate.
Q: Could you survive in prison ?
M: Only as a stand-up comedian. No, prison would probably be the making of me. It would be the beginning of life. Freedom doesn't always mean freedom. I'd probably prosper. We all need a bit of restriction.
Q: Have you ever been to a Yate's Wine Lodge ?
M: Yes, there was one in Manchester in the old days full of drunken men in overcoats with sick on their lapels. I like pubs; they're one of the last bastions of Englishness. I like quiet old men's pubs. I mean, I like the pubs to be quiet not the old men.
Q: Ever been in trouble with the police ?
M: Never. Well, that's a lie. I was visited a long time ago about a song I once did.
Q: So the Margaret On The Guillotine story is true ?
M: Of course. Yes, ridiculous grounds. But they don't need grounds, they've got a funny little hat and a truncheon. They recorded a conversation for an hour and searched the house for a guillotine. Curiously, they actually found one. They thought I was public enemy number 72. And at the end of the grilling, they actually asked me to sign various things for ailing nieces, which I thought was a bit perverted.
Q: Riots are back. Do you approve ?
M: Yes, I do. (Laughs) No, I don't. The '70s persist, don't they ? I saw some Chopper bicycles outside a pub the other day, which I thought was extreme. I've only ever found violence attractive from a distance, which is a bit pathetic, I know, but I suppose if you're in the thick of it, it's a bit unsettling. Incidentally, do you fuckin' want some ?
Q: Do I take it you're a fan of Quentin Tarantino ?
M: Is he Pulp Fiction ? I haven't seen that. I'm not ready for John Revolting yet. I have bigger fish to fry.
Q: Are you a member of anything ?
M: The Skinhead Benevolent Fund. No, I don't mix. I don't make friends ever. I don't see the point.
Q: But you have friends, so you must have made them at some point.
M: Don't complicate things. We have as many friends as we have personalities. Do you know who said that ? Emerson. Keith Emerson.
Q: Do you work out ?
M: No, not at all. I don't do anything. I'd never feel comfortable in a gym. I wheel a trolley around Waitrose.
Q: Do you ever stand in front of a urinal and think you've got the whole world in your hands ?
M: I don't need to walk towards the urinal, I already know. And you should know better than to ask.
Q: That's an enigmatic answer.
M: Well, we do our best.