ROLAND GIFT

ROLAND GIFT WAS THE UNIQUE VOICE AND CHARISMATIC FRONTMAN OF FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS (A BAND FORMED BY DAVID STEELE AND ANDY COX, FORMERLY OF THE BEAT). BRIEFLY ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL ACTS OF THE 1980s, THE TRIO’S SECOND ALBUM THE RAW AND THE COOKED TOPPED BOTH THE UK AND US CHARTS AND SPAWNED TWO NUMBER ONE SINGLES IN 1988.

Gift – a kind of renaissance man of his time – pursued his love of acting alongside the fame handed to him by his work in the music industry. He played Romeo in a critically-acclaimed stage production of Shakespeare’s ROMEO & JULIET, and turned in memorable performances in the films SAMMY AND ROSIE GET LAID and SCANDAL. Music slipped into the background of his life when Fine Young Cannibals disintegrated in the mid-’90s. In this frank and fascinating new conversation with The Mouth Magazine, Gift reflects on his work ahead of a rare run of live shows this December…

 

WE’RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS, OF COURSE, BUT BEFORE WE DO… I’VE BEEN LISTENING TO YOUR SOLO SONG THIS BROKEN HEART – ONE VERSION OF WHICH INCLUDES A BIT OF A NOD TO SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO. SO IT’S SORT OF ‘OTIS DOES THE CLASH’, ALMOST… WOULD YOU SAY BOTH OF THOSE ARTISTS WERE INFLUENCES ON YOU?
Yeah, definitely. Otis Redding was probably my favorite singer, and he still is – and The Clash were my first band. You know how you have your first girlfriend, or you have your first ice-cream? So The Clash were the first band that I really really followed. One of the reasons for me getting into them like that was that on their first album they’d got a reggae track…

… POLICE AND THIEVES… 
They were a punk band but they’d got this reggae track. The thing is, around the punk movement the swastika would be worn for effect – and that would sometimes attract a racist element. So when The Clash came up with the reggae track on their first album it made it okay for people like me – people who are darker skinned – to be involved in the party. It felt like it was a welcome to that movement, in a way.

YOU WERE BORN IN 1961, SO YOU’D ACTUALLY BE EXACTLY THE ‘RIGHT’ AGE FOR PUNK TO HAVE AN IMPACT… 
Yeah, punk came along at just the right time for me. It came along just when I’d started going out to clubs and that sort of thing. I’d left school so, yeah, it came along at the right time.

WAS THERE SOMETHING ABOUT PUNK THAT PARTICULARLY ATTRACTED YOU, OR MEANT SOMETHING TO YOU? THE ENERGY, PERHAPS? 
Punk meant a lot to me. I think it was somewhere that people who didn’t have anywhere else to go to would end up. I wasn’t really into heavy metal and I wasn’t really into disco. If you weren’t in one particular tribe or another, you could go to punk. But I think the thing that really attracted me about punk was the attitude. It was like ‘anybody can do it… you just have to do it’…

… AN ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT DIY AESTHETIC…
Yeah… Don’t wait for permission. You don’t have to wait for somebody else to tell you it’s okay to do something. If you wanna do something, just do it.

HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN LIKE THAT? 
Erm… Yeah… I think there’s always been a little bit of me that’s always been like that. But I don’t wanna get a profile of having problems with authority, you know… ‘Definitely a terrorist’, ha ha…

FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS ENDED AROUND TWENTY YEARS AGO AND YOU MORE-OR-LESS RETIRED FROM MUSIC, BUT YOU WENT OUT ON TOUR WITH JOOLS HOLLAND’S RHYTHM & BLUES ORCHESTRA A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO AND THAT REIGNITED YOUR FLAME… 
It did, yeah… We didn’t really ‘end it’ with the Cannibals. It just sort of withered on the vine. If you like I’ll tell you what happened?

PLEASE DO, YEAH…
Fine Young Cannibals sort of withered. We fell out, really. But also, we had one manager that resigned, John Mostyn. He found Ocean Colour Scene and thought that they were the new The Beatles. So he went off and pursued that. This left us with another manager, Tony Meilandt, who used to look after us for America and for Japan. Tony was a bit of character. He was very smart but kind of insecure at the same time – in fact, as equally insecure as he was smart. He had this thing where he’d tell David [Steele] and Andy [Cox] something about me, and then tell me and Andy something about David and so on. It was kind of, erm…

… DIVIDE AND RULE…
Yeah, divide and rule. That’s how he thought it would be best to handle us, to manage us. So we were never really able to pull it together, ‘cos there was this person in the middle. Also, he got very close with the record company in the way that a manager shouldn’t. A manager should have a bit of professional distance from the record company so that he’s able to best represent his artist… Sadly, you know, Tony was more kind of rock ‘n’ roll than any of us – than all of us in the band put together. He died of an overdose, in a hotel room. It wasn’t until after his death that… Well, I remember having a conversation with David Steele, who didn’t realise just how nuts Tony had been.

… DIVISIVE…
Yeah, divisive… The group just fell apart. David and Andy kept working together for a while. I got dropped by London Records. They continued with David and Andy, but nothing much happened with them.

HAD YOU INITIALLY BEEN SIGNED ON A SEPARATE DEAL TO ANDY AND DAVID, THEN?
No. What had happened was… David and Andy were in The Beat, and The Beat were signed to IRS. So when I joined Andy and David as Fine Young Cannibals, there was this sort of inherited deal with IRS. Just for America, this was. The guy at IRS didn’t see any future in the band, I don’t think. So basically he sold us on to MCA.

IT WAS MILES COPELAND’S LABEL, IRS…
Yeah, that’s right. It was Miles Copeland who sold us on to MCA… He didn’t see anything in Fine Young Cannibals. It’s kind of funny really, because Miles Copeland always used to put himself about a bit, on TV and wherever else, as a smart entrepreneur… In fact, when we went to see IRS (they had an office in Notting Hill), the three of us were sitting in this cafe over the road and Miles came in and said to Andy and David that Howard Devoto from Magazine was looking for new people to work with… I mean, I’m sitting there and he says that to them! Ha ha, it’s funny. But kind of stupid… So, anyway, we now had [IRS through] MCA for America, and we had London Records (which was part of Polygram) for the rest of the world. So when the band split I was still signed to MCA in America, so I couldn’t sign my own deal with a record company. But MCA weren’t really that interested.

THEY DIDN’T WANT YOU BUT THEY DIDN’T WANT TO LET YOU GO…
Yeah, that kind of thing. It’s not an uncommon situation. Then eventually I did sign with MCA when it became Universal. But again it was a similar situation. They weren’t really into it, but they didn’t want to let it go just in case. So I was quite tied up, really.

THAT WHOLE SITUATION WITH THE MANAGEMENT BEHAVING THAT WAY MUST HAVE BEEN VERY DIFFICULT TO DEAL WITH. AT THE START OF THE BAND THERE WAS DAVID, ANDY AND YOU… AND THEN OTHER PEOPLE, THE INDUSTRY, GOT INVOLVED AND GOT IN THE WAY…
Yeah. That’s right. I think one of the problems was, we were very successful very quickly. Nobody around us – not even the record label IRS – had previously had that kind of success with a band. So one of the things was, when we were talking about doing the next album after THE RAW AND THE COOKED, they were talking like “This one’s gotta sell even more, it’s gotta sell even more”. The problem with the music business is that the business often becomes bigger than the music. That was one of the main things that killed it for me. The record company got, like, ‘gold fever’…

IT SOUNDS LIKE THE SPLIT WAS A BIT OF A MESS, ACTUALLY… I NEVER REALISED THE END OF FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS HAD BEEN QUITE AS DIFFICULT AS THAT.
Yeah, it was. It was the grubby end of the business, really. Some people choose to go about their business that way.

I’VE OFTEN WONDERED WHETHER YOU EVER FELT FYC WAS, BASICALLY, DAVID AND ANDY – WITH YOU KIND OF BOLTED ONTO IT, TO FRONT UP ‘THEIR’ PROJECT…
No, it didn’t feel like that. It wasn’t that. They were good like that, because they could have done that if they’d wanted to. But that’s not what it was like. Did me and Andy and David hit it off straight away? Well, not not, you know? When my band The Akrylykz had supported The Beat we got on alright with them all. We were the support band and they did invite us onto quite a few shows, so we got on alright. We had meals with The Beat now and again, and things like that, but we weren’t in each other’s pockets or anything. As the support band we were treated well, which doesn’t always happen…

ANDY AND DAVID LEFT THE BEAT, OR THAT LINE-UP OF THE BEAT SPLIT AND…
… what happened was, The Beat were gonna sign a lucrative deal. Roger and Dave Wakeling persuaded whoever it was – Arista or Chrysalis or whoever it was – that they were the talent and they should sign them and not everyone else. That left David and Andy quite embittered because they were shut out of something that they shouldn’t have been, really. I suppose they got their revenge in the end – you know, without even trying to hurt anybody they got their revenge in the end because the Cannibals was so successful…

… BUT HOW DID YOU COME TO BE INVOLVED?
Andy and David had remembered me from when the Akrylykz had supported them. The Akrylykz had sort of fizzled out anyway, and I’d moved to London by that point. They phoned this guy in Hull called Thurston Binns, who was a musician who also used to put gigs on in various places, and he managed to get a message to me in London that these guys were interested in meeting up with me. I got this phone call from Andy’s wife (I didn’t know she was his wife at the time), and she asked me if I wanted to go up to Birmingham to meet the lads and see if we could do anything…

AT THAT POINT (AFTER THE AKRYLYKZ HAD FIZZLED OUT AND BEFORE LONDON) WHAT WERE YOU DOING?
Working. I used to work stripping pine furniture in an antique warehouse. I’d put chests of drawers into baths of caustic soda.

DID YOU FEEL LIKE ‘YOUR CHANCE HAD GONE’?
I felt like a door had closed but not locked… It was a little bit tricky and a little bit of an adjustment but I had no doubt that I could make something happen. I had no doubt that something would happen. I was in this club once in Hull and I was talking to this girl and she said “Well, at least you had the experience”… and I just thought “Fuck you”… It really infuriated me that she’d said that, like that. There was no way I was going to go and get a regular job and be satisfied with “well at least I had a little taste and that’s better than nothing”… and now-and-again get nostalgic and have a look at the framed covers of the singles or the old gig posters, thinking “those were the days”. No way. Equally, there was a friend I went out with on one of my last nights in Hull. He had friends who ran this place called the Latchmere, which was a kind of theatre pub  in Lewisham. He said “If you don’t make it in London you can always get a job there”. I couldn’t speak to him when I left, ha ha… I just couldn’t allow anything of any doubt.

THAT SUGGESTS THAT YOU WERE PARTICULARLY DRIVEN AND THAT YOU WERE PARTICULARLY CONFIDENT IN YOUR ABILITIES, CONFIDENT THAT YOU HAD WHAT IT TAKES…
I think sometimes you get to tap into something of yourself, and that’s what had happened. It wasn’t so much something I did. It was more how I was. Or how I am, really. Possibly it was fuelled by the fact I didn’t really see many other options. I hadn’t had the benefit of a standard education.

YOU WENT TO SCHOOL, THOUGH… SO WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?
Yeah, I went to school and learned to read and write, but I didn’t excel. I didn’t do well in exams. I didn’t go to university, and a lot of friends of mine did. Like, The Akrylykz – everyone in that band was actually at art college. I used to like hanging round the art college. I always really liked that environment. That’s all I wanted to be doing, really. So I didn’t really see myself doing anything else at all – music and drama has always been all I’ve been interested in…

 

MY FIRST MEMORY OF YOU IS SEEING JOHNNY COME HOME ON THE TUBE. IT WAS A FILMED INSERT RATHER THAN A LIVE PERFORMANCE, SO ALREADY THERE WAS A LITTLE BIT OF MYSTIQUE ABOUT FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS. THERE WERE THE LADS DOING THEIR THING, AND THERE’S YOU WITH THIS REALLY UNUSUAL VOICE, THIS UNUSUAL ENERGY PROJECTING THIS REALLY INTERESTING CHARISMA… IT’S OFTEN SAID THAT FILM BROUGHT YOU TO THE ATTENTION OF RECORD LABELS AND WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE BAND GETTING SIGNED…
Yeah, kind of… ha… But there’s always a story isn’t there? Like the thing about the Arctic Monkeys and their online presence being what it was that got them signed…

… WHICH I’VE NEVER BELIEVED FOR A MOMENT… SO YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT HYPE – POSITIONING THAT SORT OF ‘WOW FACTOR’ STORY…
Yeah, like with the JOHNNY COME HOME film on THE TUBE… They used to go round the country filming unsigned bands and so as an unsigned band you could get on TV, which back then was very difficult. So there was that… But we’d actually already been talking to CBS and we’d already been talking to London Records. It was a toss up between those two, ‘cos they were the front-runners of the labels interested in signing us. I think because the JOHNNY COME HOME film was going to be coming out, was going to be broadcast on THE TUBE, that speeded up the deal process. So it was the fact that film was going to be coming out that made London Records get things together and come up with the most attractive deal… It was just better to say that the TUBE video made a label sign us after they’d seen it. But that wasn’t really the true story.

HUGE SUCCESS FOLLOWED… IT WAS THE COVER VERSION OF SUSPICIOUS MINDS WHICH TOOK THE BAND TO A WIDER AUDIENCE, FOLLOWED BY THE ALBUM THE RAW AND THE COOKED AND THE SINGLE SHE DRIVES ME CRAZY… DID THAT AMOUNT OF SUCCESS AND ATTENTION TURN YOUR HEAD? WAS IT A DOORWAY TO DEBAUCHERY?
Hmm, yeah. It’s a bit unreal to be in the middle of that success because you feel like you’re still the same person, really, but things around you change… But I’d actually had a life before, do you know what I mean? I’d been around drugs from a very early age. So by the time the band were big I’d been through drugs already. That wasn’t something I needed to go mad on.

YOURSELF? OR PEOPLE YOU KNEW?
Yeah, people around me. I think my Mum gave me my first joint when I was about nine.

WOW…
I was from Birmingham, and that’s a fairly big city. In big cities lots of stuff goes on. There was lots of different types of people around, in my background. I didn’t come from a ‘monoculture’, if you like. I used to come down to London a lot, too, from round about that age. So I’d seen quite a lot and tasted quite a lot already, before the Cannibals got big. Also The Akrylykz had had a quarter-page ad in the NME – so that kind of thing gave me a little bit of preparation… Also, when I was living in Hull I’d had blond hair… which made me famous, ha ha… There was a guy who was famous ‘cos he wore a trilby. Nick The Hat. Ha ha… I used to be in drama groups and all that. So when the Cannibals became successful, it wasn’t as if I’d come from ‘down pit’…

YOU WEREN’T ENTIRELY UNPREPARED OR NAIIVE…
Yeah, exactly. I’d been around a little bit. And I wasn’t seventeen. I was more like twenty-six or something. But it is strange when people are suddenly recognising you on the street and things like that. It was a bit like that in Hull, though. You could get recognised on the street, just from having blond hair and being a punk. In those days walking down the road with a leather jacket with studs on had an effect. If you went in a shop dressed like that people would feel a bit… well, they’d register one way or the other. Anything goes these days, so it’s easy to forget that back then the way people dressed and what they did with their hair and stuff was quite limited. Nowadays you’ll see women with multi-coloured hair, and before punk that sort of thing didn’t happen that much. If you look at old footage everything looks… old! We were talking about The Clash, earlier… I watched that film RUDE BOY again recently, and the way London looks in that… The way the police looked, the way the cars looked… Very drab.

EVERY GUY OF FORTY-FIVE LOOKED SIXTY-FIVE…
Yeah… Ha ha ha, yeah…

ALTHOUGH FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS WAS OBVIOUSLY A POP BAND THERE WAS SOMETHING VERY COOL ABOUT IT, AND THERE WAS SOMETHING VERY INTERESTING GOING ON WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER OF SOME OF THE SONGS… BLUE, FOR INSTANCE, IS QUITE CLEARLY A REACTION THE TIMES – THE TORY GOVERNMENT, MRS THATCHER, ALL THAT NONSENSE… AND THERE’S AN AMAZING LINE IN JOHNNY COME HOME: “WHAT IS WRONG IN MY LIFE THAT I MUST GET DRUNK EVERY NIGHT”…
What I like about writing is that you don’t know what’s gonna come. That line “What is wrong in my life that I must get drunk every night”… That just sort of popped out, fully formed. I like that about writing. I never know what something is going to be about.

… WRITING CAN BE A VOYAGE OF SELF-DISCOVERY…
Yeah, it is. It is. That’s why it’s interesting. If I knew what I was going to write, I wouldn’t find it interesting. I don’t think it’d be interesting for anyone else. When I’ve tried to write a song to order, that’s how it’s felt, a little bit. Even the song BLUE, actually… That title was put forward by the makers of ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS, the film. They were looking for artists. They’d approached everybody who was in pop at the time to do songs for the film. So BLUE was something we did but it wasn’t going anywhere with that film. So we worked on it and it ended up becoming the song it was, with a bit more of a political or social agenda: “My home town is falling down”…

DO THOSE POLITICAL AND SOCIAL ISSUES STILL CONCERN YOU? OR HAVE YOU FOUND THAT YOU’VE SOFTENED IN MIDDLE-AGE, AND CARE LESS?
No, I care more in a way, actually, because there’s a little bit of the benefit of wisdom. And I feel more. These days I feel it’s all a little bit like the ’70s again. The way people talk about Muslims reminds me of the way people used to talk about blacks. And the fear – the fear people have of Muslims reminds me of the fear people used to have about blacks, or about the IRA. That irrational sort of fear. I think it’s a really interesting time, actually, because of the internet. It’s done it in the way that the printing press did it with books and pamphlets. I think people are realising that things are not the way they’ve been told they are. There’re alternative sources now which can analyse and explain events – and I think that’s great.

THE INTERNET HAS CRACKED OPEN THE IDEA THAT THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA TELLS THE TRUTH. IT’S ACTUALLY THERE TO PRESERVE THE STATUS QUO TO ONE DEGREE  OR ANOTHER…
Yeah. That’s right. So it’s very exciting but it’s unstable as well. You know that scene in THE MATRIX, where that guys rats on his friends? He goes “So I’ll come back and I won’t be aware of what’s happened” and they tell him he won’t remember a thing… Once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it. I’d rather know than not know. I’d rather be miserable and know the truth than happy and not know.

BUT HOW WOULD YOU KNOW THAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW? YOU CAN ONLY KNOW THAT YOU KNOW…
Well, yeah. True. If I don’t know I don’t know, I suppose. But there’s enough information out there to make you realise that what you’re told ain’t necessarily so… As the song goes, ha…

I FIND THE TIMES THAT WE’RE LIVING IN PRETTY INCREDIBLE REALLY – WE’VE GOT TO THE POINT WHERE WE’VE ENDED UP WITH A BACKWARDS-THINKING CHILD WITH A CHIP ON HIS SHOULDER AS THE SO-CALLED LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD…
Yeah, we have. But it’s actually very interesting. You know Russell Brand? He did a very good piece about Trump vs. Obama… If you look at their actual records, Obama was involved in a hell of a lot more wars than you’d think, and created a lot of suffering. Much more than Trump has, up to this point. But because Obama’s sophisticated and kind of urbane – a pretty likeable guy – people don’t notice it as much. And because Trump is brash and arrogant he’s getting an awful lot of flack. Also, it’s not really the President that’s important – it’s the power behind the throne.

THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT IS BASICALLY THE FRONTMAN FOR A MILITARY CORPORATION…
Yes…

… BUT I DO GET THE CONCEPT OF WHAT YOU’RE SAYING ABOUT OBAMA AND TRUMP – IT’S PRESENTATION AND PERCEPTION. THERE’S PROBABLY AN UNCONSCIOUS CHOICE BY THE PUBLIC TO ACCEPT OBAMA AS ‘A GOOD PERSON’ BECAUSE HE’S PRESENTED THAT WAY AND IS ENTIRELY CREDIBLE WITH IT…
Yeah, totally. I was at a party somewhere and someone said to me they thought Michelle Obama should be President. I thought “Really?”… Just because they’re ‘a nice family’, that’s not how it should work… Having said that, I really don’t think Donald Trump is a particularly likeable person. He’s not the kind of person you’d want to have round at your house.

NO… HE’S A PIG OF A MAN…
He is. But… I was recently reading something where they were talking about his father, or perhaps his grandfather, having been a member of the Klan, the Ku Klux Klan. Well, you know… George Bush’s father was the Head of the CIA – who are probably responsible for more deaths than the Klan ever was. Or Bill Clinton – “three strikes and you’re out”… So many more black people are in prison nowadays because of that. It was the Clintons that created that situation… Do you understand what I’m saying? Ultimately I think the point I’m making is: It’s what people actually do, rather than what people say, that really counts.

 

LET’S MOVE ON, AND TALK ABOUT HULL. WE MENTIONED EARLIER ON THAT IN THE 1970s AND ’80s IT WAS A VERY DIFFERENT PLACE – A CITY OF LOW HORIZONS… YOU WERE ELEVEN WHEN YOU MOVED THERE, AND ELEVEN IS A SENSITIVE AGE FOR A YOUNG MAN… I GUESS IT WOULD HAVE BEEN A BIT OF A CULTURE SHOCK…
… It was a lot of a culture shock… I was kind of like an awkward fit, in a way. It was very white, very white. That was a little bit unusual. But it’s not like I came from a totally black area to a totally white area, though. I came from a mixed-race area; white and black and Asian. So it wasn’t like going from one extreme to another. I didn’t come from an extreme situation. I did used to watch PEBBLE MILL AT ONE on the TV…

… WHICH WAS BROADCAST FROM BIRMINGHAM…
Yeah, from Birmingham. They used to film it from the foyer of the Pebble Mill building, with high glass walls, so you could see outside behind the presenters. I used to watch that really hoping that I’d see someone I knew, or someone I recognised, walking past in the background…

DID YOU EVER?
No. Never. Not once…

… DID YOU FEEL THAT HULL PRESENTED LESS OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU THAN BIRMINGHAM? DID IT FEEL LIKE YOU WERE TAKING A STEP BACKWARDS?
It wasn’t too bad in respect of ‘opportunity’ – because I always used to come down to London anyway. But also I wasn’t from there; I wasn’t from Hull… So I didn’t feel locked into anything. I didn’t feel locked in to the idea that I was gonna be working on the docks. I didn’t feel like there was a particular industry that I was inevitably going to have to end up in. Also, the people that we knew in Hull were ex-hippies or people who had stayed on after university.

SO YOU DIDN’T FEEL THAT YOUR NEW HOME TOWN HAD WALLS THAT YOU WERE NEVER GOING TO GET OUT OF…
No. Being in Hull wasn’t a narrow experience for me at all. But, yeah; Birmingham to Hull was an unusual move I suppose. I don’t know whether that was a good move or a bad move, really.

IT HAS TO BE LOOKED ON AS A GOOD MOVE, SURELY? HULL, THEN THE AKRYLYKZ, THEN GOING ON TOUR WITH THE BEAT… AND THEN FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS…
It’s that thing isn’t it? The story about the kid who gets given the horse. He’s lucky because he gets given a horse. “Oh, you’re so lucky. You’ve been given a horse”. But then he falls off the horse and breaks his leg – so he’s unlucky. But then war breaks out and because he’s got a broken leg he doesn’t have to go to the war. So he’s lucky… So it goes back and forth, and who ever knows?

BUT THAT’S JUST THE EBB AND FLOW OF LIFE, ISN’T IT?
That’s true. Yeah.

RIGHT NOW HULL IS UK CITY OF CULTURE, AND THERE’S SO MUCH GOING ON… GIGS EVERY NIGHT, ART EXHIBITIONS AND INSTALLATIONS, LITERATURE, FILM, FASHION, THEATRE… I WOULD GUESS THAT BACK IN THE 1970s YOUR FIRST EXPOSURE TO MUSIC AND ACTING CAME AT SCHOOL, BUT WAS THERE MUCH ACCESS OR OPPORTUNITY OUTSIDE OF THAT?
I joined this group called the Hull Community Theatre Workshop, run by a woman called Pam Dellar. It was an amateur theatre group. We did plays. We used to sort of copy the way that Hull Truck Theatre worked. We’d devise plays through improvisation. That group’s when I first started singing, on stage. It was great, because if you’re doing drama that always takes you out of your environment, and it always takes you out of yourself. It allows you to explore aspects of yourself that you might not otherwise get the chance to.

THAT’S SO IMPORTANT FOR KIDS, ISN’T IT? CONFIDENCE BUILDING, SELF-EXPRESSION, EMOTIONAL COPING…
Yeah, it is.

THE IMPORTANCE OF DRAMA AND MUSIC IS MISSED BY SOME AND, IN FACT, OFTEN DISMISSED ALTOGETHER… LIKE IN A CHILD’S EDUCATION THOSE THINGS ARE CONSIDERED NOWHERE NEAR AS IMPORTANT OR AS RELEVANT AS… GEOGRAPHY OR FRENCH..! SO WHEN THERE’RE FUNDING CUTS IN EDUCATION OR IN LOCAL SERVICES, DRAMA AND MUSIC USUALLY SEEM TO BE THE FIRST TO GO…
They’re the first to go, yeah. Those things are extremely valuable, and people with limited imaginations don’t really see that value. They don’t recognise the importance of it. I can see why they don’t – they too limited to see the connections.

TO ME IT SEEMS TO BE AN ONGOING CONSEQUENCE OF THE THATCHER ERA… EVERYTHING HAS BEEN ABSOLUTELY REDUCED DOWN TO NUMBERS. IF YOU CAN’T MEASURE IT OR COUNT IT OUT, THEN IT MUST NOT HAVE ANY WORTH AT ALL…
Aye lad. They know the price of everything but the value of nowt.

I REMEMBER A RELATIVE OF MINE TRAVELLING TO HULL TO SEE YOU ACT IN A PRODUCTION OF ROMEO AND JULIET AT HULL TRUCK THEATRE, AROUND 1990… IN FACT, YOU WERE ROMEO… THE REPORT BACK WAS THAT YOU WERE ‘SURPRISINGLY GREAT’ IN THE ROLE. I GUESS THAT THE ‘SURPRISINGLY’ WAS THERE BECAUSE PEOPLE HAVE FIXED IDEAS ABOUT PEOPLE, DON’T THEY? YOU WERE ‘A POP STAR’… WAS THAT A MILLSTONE AROUND YOUR NECK? WAS IT SOMETHING YOU FELT THE NEED TO RUN FROM?
Yeah, it was. And yeah, I did. Foolishly. It used to be, in those days, that things were so compartmentalised in the arts in England. There was a bit of “Who the hell does he think he is… Acting“. Like, “How dare he”, y’know? So if you were a singer you weren’t really supposed to be an  actor – unless you were involved in what was considered ‘lower level’ theatre. Musical theatre. There was so much snobbery around, in that world. I felt it and I bought into it a bit.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU BOUGHT INTO IT?
If somebody offered me a role that involved me being a musician as well as acting I’d turn it down. I’d go “I don’t wanna do that, I wanna prove myself as an actor“. It’s not so much of a problem these days – though I have seen a bit of that attitude about today as well. A friend of mine, a comedian… She was an actress and she started doing a bit of comedy and she got some of the old “Well who do you think you are, thinking that you can do comedy?”, so… But, I mean, there’s always been people who… y’know… Frank Sinatra, he was a good actor.

YEAH, HE’S EXCEPTIONAL IN THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE…
He is, he is, yeah. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, lots of things. THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM… I think it’s just people in England, actually. They saw it differently – but not so much elsewhere… Originally that’s what I thought I was going to do. Acting is what I thought I was going to do. I thought I was going to be an actor. When I first came to London the idea was that you had to audition for as many places as possible because you were lucky to get in, wherever. That’s how it was sold: you’re lucky if you get in to any drama school. You had to pay a fee, from 25 to 40 odd, just to audition. Just the thought of that really turned me off. Whereas, to be a musician all you had to say was “I’m in a group” – and you were just because you said you were. So it was much more immediate. Also, in the long term, I don’t think that I necessarily have the temperament to be a jobbing actor….

WHY’S THAT? NOT THAT YOU HAVE A LACK OF FOCUS, BUT IS IT THAT YOU NEED TO KEEP THINGS CHANGING, KEEP MIXING THINGS UP?
I do like to mix it up, but it’s more that what I really like to do is create my own work. Maybe that’s what you learn from being in a band – you create your own work and you take it out there. I was kind of spoiled when I did my first film (SAMMY AND ROSIE GET LAID). I was there for the whole shoot, and the Director said “You can come to some production meetings, if you like” and I did, and I loved it. The next film that I did was SCANDAL, and I was just there for about three days. You come in and you do your bit and then you’re gone. That left me feeling a bit empty afterwards.

… YOU WOULD BE MUCH MORE INTELLECTUALLY STIMULATED BY, AND EMOTIONALLY INVESTED IN, SAMMY AND ROSIE BECAUSE YOU WERE GLIMPSING THE WHOLE PROCESS, AND DEVELOPED A SENSE OF REPONSIBILITY TO THE WORK…
Yeah, that’s it. It’s a bit like you’re in a relationship versus a one-night stand, funnily enough. You can come away from a one-night stand feeling that it was a little bit soulless. You’re sober, you’re trying to get a cab, ha ha, and you’ve been with someone you don’t really feel anything for and who doesn’t feel anything for you, and who you probably won’t see again. It’s kind of strange…

… BUT ‘IN THE MOMENT’ YOU STILL TRY AND DO YOUR BEST WORK…
Ha ha, yeah. You still try and do your best work, ha ha… But it’s not something you can build on. So for me doing small parts in films, or TV things, would often leave me feeling a little bit like that. Empty. It could have been anybody. Again, a bit like a one-night stand. It could have been anybody but it just happened to be you, ‘cos you were the person available at that moment.

YOU HAVE THE RETURN TO VEGAS PROJECT, WHICH YOU’VE BEEN WORKING ON – A SCRIPT AND A SCREENPLAY…
Yeah, I’d got this story that I’ve been working on for years. It started out as a film script but I’ve got a stage version. It’s kind of changed shape along the way and it’s been going backwards and forwards between the two, but most recently I’ve been working on the stage version of it. One of the reasons for that is that I’ve got a lot of new songs and I wanted to have a home for them, really. It’s a story set in Hull, and I thought it’d be good if I could adapt it for the stage and what with Hull being City Of Culture I could do it with them. I did try and do it with them but it didn’t work out. They wanted to sort of ‘own’ it, and I didn’t like the way that was going. But I think it’s now become better anyway, than had I gone down that route with it. It’s unusual because it’s all in rhyme… so I was talking to a friend of mine, a Script Developer, and I asked her whether she thought it would actually work as a film. Her opinion was that it would. So there’s possibility there to pursue, because it still has the potential to be a film. But, really, I’d like it to be seen ‘live’, because it’s devised to be seen in a situation like a club, kind of like a working men’s club, with the table and chairs and that around…

SO THE PERFORMANCE GOES ON AROUND THE AUDIENCE RATHER THAN ON A STAGE IN FRONT OF THEM?
So the audience are there. The story unfolds around them. The first half of the story is a wake, so the audience would be attending the wake, and the second half of it is business as usual at the club, so the audience would be punters in the club. The audience are not really participants in as much as they don’t get involved with the dialogue or anything like that. But they’re… witnesses…

GREAT WORD… AND A GREAT IDEA…
You know how in a club, in one corner there’s somebody divorcing. There’s somebody having an argument which is ultimately gonna lead to divorce. And then in another corner of the club somebody’s meeting the person that they’re going to be married to for the rest of their life… Over there somebody’s getting offered a job or something, and then down here somebody’s plotting to rob somebody’s house… All of this can be going on in one room. These people are all in the same bar listening to the same music at the same time – but all of these different things are happening…

… ALL HUMAN LIFE IS HERE.
Exactly.

IT’S UNFAIR TO ASK YOU TO TRY AND COMPARE OR BALANCE THE TWO DISCIPLINES – MUSIC AND ACTING – BECAUSE I PRESUME THEY BOTH BRING YOU FULFILMENT IN DIFFERENT WAYS…
But for me it’s not about whether it’s music or acting. It’s about whether it’s my work or someone else’s… If I’m doing an acting job (like this film I’m in, BRAKES, that’s coming out)… In that one, the director would set the scene and let the actors take it from there… That kind of job is a little bit like when I was touring with Jools Holland. It’s fun, a lot of fun, but it’s somebody else’s gig, it’s somebody else’s story. But when I do my own show, it’s my thing. It’s songs that I’ve chosen and I present them in the way I want to present them. It’s a different kind of thing. So RETURN TO VEGAS it’s my thing, it’s my endeavour. When I’m with Jools Holland or when I’m doing certain kinds of acting job, it’s not really mine. I’m lending myself out.

I’M INTERESTED IN APPLYING A SIMILAR IDEA TO MUSIC. I’VE ALWAYS BEEN FASCINATED BY SOMETHING MORRISSEY SAID, WHICH WAS ALONG THE LINE OF: BEING ON STAGE IS WHEN HE’S ACTUALLY HIMSELF AT HIS MOST HONEST AND REAL… AND EVERYTHING OFF STAGE IS A SORT OF PERFORMANCE…
Hmm. When I’m onstage I want it to be real, and I want it to be genuine – and then beyond that I don’t really know what it’s going to mean. I have sometimes wondered if it means anything to anyone. But I met somebody recently who’d been to one of my gigs around this time last year. She said that she’d had an epiphany. She’d had something really horrible happen in her domestic life, and it was one of those nights where she wasn’t going to come out but somebody persuaded her so she did. And it ended up being one of those nights that completely turned things around for her in her life. Later she was out somewhere else and she was talking to a musician and he asked her “Do you believe in the power of rock ‘n’ roll?”… and she said “Well, yeah, actually. Funnily enough I do…. Just the other night”… – so that was great to hear. One of the things I’ve always wanted with my music is for it to be healing, in some way.

I GUESS IN SOME WAY I’M ASKING, THOUGH, WHETHER IT DOES THAT FOR YOU… NOT THAT YOU WOULDN’T PUT YOUR ALL INTO IT WHEN YOU’RE GIGGING AND YOU’RE ON STAGE, BUT IS IT ‘A DAY AT THE OFFICE’… IS IT A PERFORMANCE, OR ARE YOU COMPLETELY THERE?
I wouldn’t say that I was being more honest or less honest on stage. I wouldn’t say that I was being more or less myself than off stage. So, yeah, I’m there. I’m there. But it is a performance at some level, and it has to be. It’s definitely that. And I’m presenting something. I’m presenting an evening; a good night out. That’s what I’m offering. But being onstage never ever feels like a job. I could never describe it as just a job. It’s, again, like a relationship. You wouldn’t say that a marriage was just a job, would you? So it feels more like you’re conducting a relationship. And like a good relationship, rather than just candy floss it’s more like a granola bar. It’s something with proper nourishment. Something with soul…

Sat 2nd Dec   HULL   The Welly   Tickets
Sun 3rd Dec   WAKEFIELD   Warehouse 23   Tickets
Weds 6th Dec   NORWICH   Waterfront   Tickets
Fri 8th Dec   LONDON   ULU   Tickets
Sat 9th Dec   MANCHESTER   Club Academy   Tickets