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
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
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
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
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
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
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.