Category Archives: Interview

JIM BOB FROM CARTER

JAMES MORRISON RODE A DECADE LONG ROLLERCOASTER – FROM THE UK’S PUB AND CLUB SCENE TO THE TOP OF THE CHARTS AND BACK AGAIN, BETWEEN 1987 AND 1997. HIS BAND – CARTER THE UNSTOPPABLE SEX MACHINE – LEFT BEHIND A TRAIL OF HIT SINGLES, A NUMBER ONE ALBUM, SOME LEGENDARY GIGS INCLUDING A GLASTONBURY HEADLINE SLOT, AND ENOUGH T-SHIRTS TO CLOTHE A SMALL NATION…

As recounted in the first volume of his autobiography, the critically acclaimed GOODNIGHT JIM BOB (published in 2012 by Cherry Red), Carter toured the world and sold the records, during what was arguably the UK’s last period of genuine musical free-for-all. But then the rollercoaster stopped… So what next for a recovering former rock star? Whatever happened to that bloke from Carter? The second, just published, volume of autobiography – IN THE SHADOW OF MY FORMER SELF – documents Jim’s ongoing journey, first as a solo artist and then as an award-winning novelist; “a man in search of who he is, while constantly being reminded who he was”. Whether he’s singing in a band, performing solo, writing novels or acting in a musical at the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s clear that he’s still, for many people, “Jim Bob from Carter”. At first Jim sees this legacy as a burden and something to escape from, but gradually he learns to accept, embrace and eventually celebrate (hooray!) his glorious past. In this new interview we discuss the book…

 

MY OVER-RIDING IMPRESSION OF YOUR NEW BOOK, IN THE SHADOW OF MY FORMER SELF, WAS HUMOUR – THERE ARE A LOT OF LAUGHS IN IT, OFTEN AT YOUR OWN EXPENSE… BUT THERE’S ACTUALLY MUCH MORE TO IT, SO IT’S AN ALL-ROUND GOOD READ… A LIFE PRETTY MUCH WELL LIVED AND HONESTLY DOCUMENTED… OBVIOUSLY THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN YOUR INTENTION.
Yeah, definitely. When I wrote the first book (GOODNIGHT JIM BOB) I hadn’t written a thing before… But because for this one I’d written some novels in between, I was more aware of making it a good read, kind of thing – rather than just putting all the information in there and cracking a few jokes… I wanted people to be able to read it from the beginning to the end, and enjoy it enough to want to get to the end. 

IT’S NOT JUST FOR FANS OF JIM’S SUPER STEREOWORLD OR CARTER… IN A WIDER SENSE I FOUND IT TO BE AN INTERESTING LOOK AT WHAT SOME PEOPLE MIGHT PRESUME TO CALL ‘THE POST-FAME YEARS’…

It doesn’t bother me at all now, but that whole thing came about because there was a time that whenever I tried to announce that I was doing something new, the immediate reaction would be for people to refer back to something that I did before. Twitter was obviously the worst place for that, though, ‘cos it’s kind of an instant reaction. So I’d say “I’ve got a new novel coming out” and straight away somebody would refer to Philip Schofield or something, ha ha ha… It still happens, but it doesn’t bother me now – it amuses me, more than anything else… Also, people who’ve read the book where I talk about that kind of thing, they comment on it and joke about it. So now I can’t tell which ones are real – I think people do it to take the piss, ha ha ha…

IN THE BOOK YOU DON’T SHY AWAY FROM TALKING ABOUT HOW IT FEELS TO DEAL WITH A SORT OF ‘AFTER THE LORD MAYOR’S SHOW’ SORT OF A VIBE IN YOUR LIFE… I FOUND THAT COMPELLING – I THOUGHT THIS WAS A MUCH MORE INTERESTING BOOK BECAUSE OF IT… I LIKE CONTEXT – SO I’M EQUALLY, OR SOMETIMES EVEN MORE, INTERESTED IN THE BITS ‘BEFORE’ AND ‘AFTER’ THE MAJOR SUCCESSES AND THE PERIOD OF FAME… I THINK THAT CAN OFTEN BE A MUCH MORE TELLING STORY…
Yeah. I was talking to my manager about this the other day. We were talking about music autobiographies. They start off being about the struggle for success, then the artist gets successful, then it all gets kind of boring. He was suggesting that this book’s different because it’s ‘after the success’ and it’s then the struggle for a second wave, a second go at success – which is a different kind of thing I think.

AS YOU SAY, THERE’S A BIT OF A FORMULA TO MOST MUSIC AUTOBIOGRAPHIES… AND THAT’S FAIR ENOUGH IN SOME WAYS… BUT WHAT REALLY ANNOYS ME ABOUT SOME OF THEM IS WHEN THERE’S AN ALBUM OR A SONG THAT MEANS A LOT TO YOU AND IT’S DEALT WITH IN ONE SENTENCE OR ONE PARAGRAPH, JUST BRUSHED STRAIGHT PAST…
Yeah, that’s annoying… Either that or they’re too long and there’s too much detail. Some of them take a while to get going and then they go on a bit. Not to criticise other writers, but there’s definitely a formula to music autobiographies – an expected way of doing things…

THERE’S A LINE ON THE BACK COVER BLURB FOR THIS BOOK WHICH, I THINK, SUMS IT UP REALLY NEATLY…  “JIM BOB GOES IN SEARCH OF WHO HE IS WHILE CONSTANTLY BEING REMINDED OF WHO HE WAS”… THE BOOK DOES POINT OUT THAT YOU’VE GONE ON TO OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS AND OTHER SUCCESSES SINCE CARTER – THERE’S YOUR WRITING, YOUR SOLO MUSIC, YOU’VE ACTED IN A MUSICAL, AND SO ON…

It’s surprising – or maybe it’s not surprising – how so few people have any idea of that, though. It’s as if it didn’t happen. Because there’s no great sort of publicity for a lot of it, it’s as though we were in a band and had some hit records and then I went away and did nothing. So some people – fans, I mean – “I’m your number one fan” – really have no idea that I’ve done anything at all beyond the third Carter album.

IT’S ALMOST THAT ALAN PARTRIDGE THING… “WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE BEATLES ALBUM, ALAN?”…. 
Yes, ha ha… THE BEST OF THE BEATLES… 

I DIDN’T GET THE IMPRESSION FROM THE BOOK THAT YOU HAVE ANY SORT OF BITTERNESS OR GRUDGE ABOUT THAT AND THAT YOU’RE PRETTY ACCEPTING OF THE WAY THINGS HAVE PANNED OUT. IF YOU DO ‘SNIPE’ ABOUT IT, IT’S ALMOST SELF-DEPRECATING…
Yeah! Yeah. I’m totally accepting of the whole thing. It’s like, when people used to ask me what my favourite Carter album was, or “What’s the best Carter album?”, I tended to say it was the latest one – whereas now I recognise that 30 SOMETHING is the best album and SHERIFF FATMAN is the best Carter song. Not necessarily because they’re actually the best things I’ve ever done – but because of the context of the whole thing. That context is important. It would be a bit weird, all this time later, to still be saying “Why can’t you accept that this novel I wrote is a better bit of work than SHERIFF FATMAN?” or whatever – ‘cos in a way it isn’t. Do you know what I mean? Back then was an amazing time, for a lot of people… So in a way I have no problem with it whatsoever. Sometimes people do say annoying things and tell you, usually on Twitter. That doesn’t happen very often, though.

THAT’S ONE OF THE INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT TWITTER – IT’S ENABLED A LOT OF RUDENESS…
It has, yeah. People have been incredibly rude to me on Twitter. The problem is, some people think that they’re helping you with their honesty, or something. People will tell you something you’ve just done is rubbish compared to, say, SHERIFF FATMAN – and they think they’re doing you a favour.  I would never do that. It’s like, I might prefer certain David Bowie albums to other David Bowie albums – but I would never have thought it was okay to contact him and tell him. “I don’t like Tin Machine, it’s rubbish! You should go back and do something more like Ziggy Stardust”… 

AS I SAID EARLIER, I LIKE CONTEXT AND SO I THINK EVERYTHING’S EQUALLY IMPORTANT TO BE ABLE TO SEE ‘THE BIGGER PICTURE’ – SO I’M ACTUALLY INTERESTED IN WHATEVER IS PRE- AND POST- THE THING THAT IS PERCEIVED TO BE THE ‘BIGGEST MOMENT’ IN SOMEONE’S WORK… SO, YOU MENTION BOWIE… I ACTUALLY REALLY LIKE THAT TIN MACHINE ALBUM, BY THE WAY, AND I THINK IT’S ONE OF HIS BEST… BUT, SAY, THE TONIGHT ALBUM – IT’S THERE AND IT WAS DONE, AND SO IT’S AS IMPORTANT TO THE TOTAL STORY OF BOWIE AS ZIGGY STARDUST WAS, EVEN DESPITE THE FACT IT’S PRETTY DREADFUL…
… hmm, yeah, I do see what you mean. But, also, you don’t actually have to listen to it! Like, I love The Jam – though I’m not a fan of Paul Weller. So I listen to The Jam and it’s interesting to see what’s come after The Jam – but I wouldn’t go out of my way to tell Paul Weller that I’m not a fan of his other stuff…

HOW EASY, OR HOW DIFFICULT, WAS IT TO WRITE THIS SECOND MEMOIR, BEARING IN MIND IT’S MUCH MORE RECENT HISTORY THAN THE FIRST BOOK?
The first one took a lot longer to write. I wasn’t writing it a lot. It was written over a more spread out period of time. I had lots of anecdotes, so that was basically what I was doing – compiling anecdotes. For this one there were a lot less anecdotes – I hadn’t been touring the world or having number one records, none of that stuff. So I wrote this one a lot quicker, but it was more difficult – and the bits that I found really difficult were the bits where nothing had really happened. So I had to find a way of getting through and not writing sort of boring chronological diary entries: “We got in a van and went to Manchester and 12 people came to the gig”… There was a thing in the first book where I made a sort of point of mentioning everyone I’d ever worked with, whereas I didn’t do that this time – which is bad news for some people who might buy it expecting to be in there, ha ha! Even Jim’s Super Stereoworld wasn’t a long period of time – it was a big moment, for me, that band… but there weren’t a lot of things that happened, so I couldn’t spend ages writing about it. I spoke to two members of the band, and they told me the things that they remembered, and they were exactly the same things that I remembered. So that was obviously it! 

I GUESS THAT THE FACT THERE WERE THESE BITS WHERE IT WAS DIFFICULT TO FIND SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT BECAUSE NOTHING HAD HAPPENED IS QUITE INDICATIVE OF THINGS SOMEHOW SORT OF ‘SLOWING DOWN’ A BIT? 
Yeah, I think so. Also, and I’ve found this happens in the novels I write too, I do a lot of call-backs to things that have happened earlier in the book. But I have to have written a certain amount before that starts to happen and the themes start to develop. In this one it’s people not recognising me. Famous people, I mean. It becomes a recurring theme – famous people not knowing who I am. So the whole thing becomes about recognition, and I didn’t really know that when I started writing it. I found out that’s what it was about when I’d done so many thousands of words: “Oh, there’s a theme to this”…

I FOUND THE MOST INTERESTING STUFF TO BE THE SORT OF ‘B-ROAD’ STUFF… THE VENUES, THE PLACES, THE TIMES BACKSTAGE OR IN THE CAR… YOU VISITED YORKSHIRE SCULPTURE PARK… IT ALL FEELS MUCH MORE GROUNDED AND REFLECTIVE OF REALITY THAN BEING IN A TOUR-BUS AND IN YOUR OWN FAME BUBBLE… SO IT’S MORE ACCESSIBLE, IN A WAY…
Yeah, it is. And you also end up with these larger-than-life characters – like my manager Marc. He’s in it quite a lot. I spoke to someone who said it’s almost like I’d made him up! 

I’M PRETTY CONVINCED YOU MUST HAVE MADE HIM UP – SURELY NO-ONE REAL WOULD CLAIM MICKEY BLUE EYES IS THEIR FAVOURITE FILM… 
Ha! Well, Marc’s got these sort of Top Tens of things. Like, he’ll claim that Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys is the greatest lyricist of all time. Then another time he’ll claim it’s someone else. But he sticks with the MICKEY BLUE EYES / Hugh Grant, thing. Yeah… I’m sure he just says these things to wind people up. 

… IT’S PERHAPS A TRITE QUESTION – BUT THEY ARE DIFFERENT DISCIPLINES, SO WAS IT A DIFFICULT TRANSITION FROM BEING A CREATOR OF SONG LYRICS TO BECOMING AN AUTHOR OF PROSE?
Yeah, it was actually. I never really planned on doing it, either. People were always asking me to write about Carter so I wrote that book, and it was really only after it was published that I thought about doing any more. It was exciting having that first book – like when you have your first record in your hands. So that was why I started writing another one. So the first novel I wrote started out as a slightly fictional sequel to the autobiography, but then it became a novel in the end. The thing is, it’s sort of killed the music. I feel that I can’t do both. I can write music, but I’d struggle to write lyrics. Every now and again I’ll think of a line that I like but I’ll think “That’d be better in a book”…

YOU MENTION IN THE NEW BOOK THAT YOU’VE NOT WRITTEN A SONG SINCE 2013 OR 2014, I THINK… BUT IT’S NOT SO MUCH ‘DRYING UP’ MUSICALLY, AS FOCUSING THE IDEAS INTO ANOTHER DISCIPLINE…
Yeah, it is. Also the whole mechanics of things, too… When I wrote that album about a school (SCHOOL, 2006 on Cherry Red), I wrote that really quickly because I had the idea and the drive to write songs. It was more like a project – something specific to write about. I’d have to really really want to write a song, and I’d never want to force myself into doing it. I have, recently, thought that perhaps I should do something musically. But then I think “Once I’ve written it, what do I actually do with it?” – get a band together and go in the studio and record it? But then what? Put it on Spotify and that’s it?

… NOT ENOUGH RETURN FOR THE INVESTMENT SORT OF THING? 
Exactly. I hate spoiling the magic of it, but with the best will in the world, over a period of time I could probably sell maybe a thousand copies on CD or something. I don’t know if it’s worth it? Terrible thing to say, but if I do make music then there’s got to be some reward to it… some sort of purpose, I suppose. Streaming is great, ‘cos everyone has access to your music – but it’s killed that sort of musical creativity, for me personally… It’s a lot of effort for very little reward – other than a few people saying “I love this”… which is great, but it doesn’t pay the bills…

SO WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY IN THE LIFE OF JAMES MORRISON THE WRITER? ARE YOU AU FAIT WITH THE ALAN BENNETT THING: WRITING IS ‘SPEND THE MORNING PUTTING ONE COMMA IN, AND THEN THE AFTERNOON TAKING THAT SAME COMMA OUT’..?
Ha ha… At the moment I’m not actually writing anything. But when I’m in that process, I’ve got no discipline at all. None whatsoever. So I’m just writing wherever and whenever, and finding as many reasons as possible not to do it… I’d written two novels that haven’t been published (yet) before I wrote the latest Jim Bob book, and I found them so hard to do. Not enjoyable at all. It was a relief to write the Jim Bob book because I knew what I was writing about, and I didn’t have to worry about anything. I could just write it as myself, kind of thing… I’m envious of these people who get up in a morning and write five thousand words and then go walk the dog. I’m just not like that at all. When I’m writing novels I’m more of a… who wrote THE HITCH-HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY again?

… DOUGLAS ADAMS… 
That’s it. I’m more of a Douglas Adams. I read something about how he wrote, and I think I’m closer to him. I got the impression that he actually really hated it and that he found writing a massive struggle. 

WHEN ADAMS WAS SCRIPT EDITOR OF DOCTOR WHO (DURING THE LATE END OF TOM BAKER’S TIME AS THE DOCTOR) THEY WERE A FOUR EPISODE STORY SHORT, SO ADAMS LOCKED HIMSELF IN HIS OFFICE ONE WEEKEND AND BASHED OUT THE FOUR SCRIPTS READY TO FILM A COUPLE OF WEEKS LATER… AND THAT STORY (CITY OF DEATH) IS BRILLIANT – STILL REGARDED AS ONE OF THE ALL-TIME DOCTOR WHO GREATS… SO HE COULD REALLY IMPOSE THE DISCIPLINE ON HIMSELF WHEN HE NEEDED TO…
Yeah – but I suppose that’s when you really have to do something – when you have absolutely no choice. I don’t think he necessarily got any joy out of it, did he? Once you become ‘an author’, you do tend to meet quite a lot of pretentious people who tell you different things, and you do find yourself quoting them and thinking to yourself “this sounds a bit ridiculous”… but… I met this other author who said to me that an author’s job is not actually to enjoy writing, but to make sure that other people enjoy reading it when you’ve finished, ha ha…

ONE OF THE THINGS I’VE ALWAYS LIKED ABOUT YOU – WHETHER YOUR SOLO STUFF, JIM’S SUPER STEREOWORLD AND CARTER – IS THE WORDPLAY… NOT JUST THE PUNS (AND THERE ARE PLENTY OF THOSE IN THIS NEW BOOK) BUT THE GENERAL WORDPLAY… SO, IS THERE A PARTICULAR SONG THAT YOU’RE MOST PROUD OF, FROM THAT PARTICULAR PERSPECTIVE OF WORDPLAY..?
There are some that I’m proud of – but SHERIFF FATMAN is almost perfect in that sort of ‘peak pun’ way, and it has rhymes within rhymes and all that. When I hear songs by other people and they don’t rhyme I find it quite annoying. When I was writing the book I looked at some songs in that way. For instance I dissected THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW CROSS, and there are some good things in there – each line might have about three rhymes within it, rather than just the last word rhyming or whatever. I’m not one of these people who can write a song on the spur of the moment, flowing out, and then a year later work out what it’s about. There’s a bit more work and care goes into it than that.

ARE THERE PARTICULAR LYRICISTS OR AUTHORS THAT YOU ADMIRE?
Yeah, Dave Eggers… 

OH YEAH… A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS…
Yeah, that’s a really good book. Also Kent Haruf… Mostly American stuff, actually, for some reason. I don’t know why. Maybe ‘cos American authors write about stuff that I don’t know about, and they mention places I haven’t heard of. Their books are not necessarily about a lot, either. It’s the style of writing. 

DO YOU LIKE DOUGLAS COUPLAND?
Yeah. I do, yeah…  

HIS WRITING IS LIKE THAT, ISN’T IT? SOMETHING HAPPENS IN THE BOOK, BUT THE BOOK IS NOT REALLY DIRECT. IT KIND OF DRIFTS THROUGH THE THING THAT’S HAPPENING – AND BEAUTIFULLY, I MIGHT ADD…
Yeah, that’s right. Also the American writer who’s also a singer… Erm… Willie Vlautin. His books are really really good, and they’re like that. They’re almost dull in what’s happening – they’re so matter of fact. It’s brilliant. Cormac McCarthy’s writing is like that too… But, anyway… lyricists? Elvis Costello. I’ve been listening to him and enjoying his lyrics since I was seventeen…

HE’S VERY MUCH A CRAFTSMAN – VERY SKILLED AND SO REALLY PRECISE AND CONSIDERED OVER WHAT HE’S DOING. IT’S NOT SOME OFF THE CUFF EXPRESSION…
Yeah, definitely – and you can hear that from the very first album. Every word in its place. And there might be a story involved – I nearly said ‘journey’, ha ha… There might be a beginning, a middle and an end involved – rather than just some verses and a chorus. I actually can’t think of anybody who has written things as complex as that, lyrically… Other than Tom Waits…

I’VE ALWAYS FELT MORRISSEY WAS THE CLEVEREST LYRICIST OF THE 1980S (AND SOME OF THE ’90S) BUT, DESPITE THE ODD GREAT MOMENT, HIS STUFF FOR THE LAST TWENTY YEARS SEEMS A BIT PALE IN COMPARISON…
Well he’s certainly lost what he had – in quite a few ways. Maybe it was to do with where he lived – and that he was permanently trying to escape from something. Everything around him was awful – but now he’s successful and everything around him is great, so… Well, he still thinks everyone hates him. Maybe his lyrics would be better if he didn’t talk so much?

WHAT’S BEEN THE MOST FULFILLING THING FOR YOU?
It tends to be moments. Things like having a book published, having a novel published. Anything that seems new or different. The last novel – technically the characters in the book – won an award. It wasn’t a big award… but I couldn’t tell enough people about that, ha ha… Also, singing with an orchestra was pretty fulfilling, and an amazing experience. And gigs. Most of the gigs I’ve done in recent years… Well, I haven’t really done a bad gig in years – not because I’m great, ha ha. I haven’t done that many gigs. But they’ve all been good, mainly ‘cos I’ve done a lot of things where I’m part of a larger bill, and so I do an hour of Carter hits and everyone’s singing along. That’s a really nice way to spend an hour. The last gig I did was at Shepherds Bush, and that was an amazing gig ‘cos I hadn’t had a band for a while and for that one I had this brilliant band. Those sort of moments stick out.

EARLIER YOU SAID YOU’RE NOT REALLY ON WITH ANYTHING AT THE MOMENT – BUT DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA OF WHAT MIGHT COME NEXT FOR YOU?
Yeah, I wrote those two novels that haven’t been published (for reasons that I won’t bore you with), and I may do something with one of those. I’m not the kind of person who does something and then just forgets about it. So they’re still there. The fact they haven’t been published is actually maybe what’s stopped me starting writing another one – I’m terrified of having this sort of backlog of unpublished stuff. So there’s those… I know I’ve got various gigs coming up until the end of the year… Erm… It’s all a bit like that, really… I’m thinking of going to Center Parcs soon… Ha ha ha… Round about the time Carter were number one in the album charts – and I don’t say this just so I can mention that – our lawyer (we needed one quite a lot) talked to us about pensions. I remember him saying that no-one can work in the music business beyond the age of fifty – so technically I should have retired by now… so it makes sense that I shouldn’t be doing too much! Mind you, how old would the Rolling Stones have been back then? Presumably they weren’t yet fifty or they were about fifty? I mean, no-one really retires now, anyway, do they? They just carry on forever and ever…

THE STONES HAVE RECENTLY CANCELLED SOME SHOWS ‘COS JAGGER WAS ILL OR SOMETHING?
Yeah, didn’t he have some heart thing? I don’t know exactly, and I don’t want to make things up. But he definitely had some surgery or treatment or something, though.

WHEN THAT NEWS CAME OUT I REMEMBER THINKING “WHAT? HE’S ILL AT HIS AGE?” AND THEN “HANG ON…!!”
Ha, yeah. He’s only eighty, or whatever he is. Seventy five? I’m nowhere near as fit as he is… Jagger does ballet. That’s his secret.

SERIOUSLY..? JAGGER DOES BALLET?
Yeah, he does ballet. That’s how he stays in shape. The way he moves around, he’s got the movement of a fifteen year old. He does ballet as his way of staying fit. Amazing, really. I think the rest of the band just get wheeled on, don’t they? 

MICK’S AT THE BARRE, WHILE KEITH’S AT THE BAR…
Ha ha ha, that’s it..!

 

Buy IN THE SHADOW OF MY FORMER SELF here
For tour dates (etc) visit Jim Bob’s website, here