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Interview with Babyshambles

by Emma R. Garwood

17/01/19

Interview with Babyshambles

You’re coming to Norwich this month to tour the new album. You’re really putting the dates in for it – how important is it for us to hear the album live?

It’s very, very important. It used to be that making music was about making the closest replication of a band playing live, and over the years the priority seems to have shifted and audiences now expect live performances to be a replication of the record. And I think Babyshambles, from the outset, have always been a live band and the records have tried to represent what we do live. So I think seeing us do these songs live is pretty crucial if you want to get the full, 360-degree, panoramic view of the songs - how they live and breathe. We're particularly proud of this record as well; we spent a little bit longer on them than other records, insofar as the applying of some thought and consideration into what we can do, what tricks we can perform in the studio to make the recording special.

 

And in terms of performing them live, they must take on their own different personalities on tour and evolve way beyond the point of the final mastering of the album, I imagine?

Yep, that's true, they do. I guess that depends on what kind of a band you go and see - like when Mars Volta were still playing, by the end of a 2-year tour, often the songs would be almost unrecognisable from the first shows. I think then you have a band like Oasis, who after more than 10 years of playing, their songs still sound the same. I think Babyshambles are somewhere in between; by the nature of our musical personalities, there's definitely a tendency to improvise, to a certain extent, but I think the core of the song remains identifiable.

 

You were talking then about your different personalities, but there's a whole bunch of different personalities on the album - track 1, 'Fireman' - that's a punk song right there. With it being the first song, I wondered if that was a hangover from your time with Mick Jones, paying homage to the previous two albums before the rest of the album asserts itself as something new?

Hmm, that’s funny. I haven't thought about it like that, but it does make sense, doesn't it, as some sort of baton passing, sort of nod to where we've just been. That's quite an astute observation there! Yeah, well done; I think you're probably right, in a sense, even though it wasn't intentional. It's an interesting world when those observations are made by journalists that the band haven't even noticed themselves. For me, ‘Fireman’ just seemed like the right way to open the album. You know, wallop; we're still Babyshambles; we're still a punk rock band. I imagined people buying the album and wondering, you know, ‘have they sold out? Have they gone back a bit? Have they gone soft?’ You drop the needle and bang - 'it's breakfast time!' It's like, ‘oh right, ok, they haven't.’ I guess it's just reassuring people that yeah, it's still the same guys.

 

There were a couple of triggers to your six-year absence; one being your horrific accident Drew. Did the idea of doing a 20-date tour, never mind all the dates beyond it, ever seem like a bit of an impossible dream straight after the accident?

After the accident, for the first 48 hours, just walking was an impossible dream, so to come out the other side and be about to embark on a 20-date show and European tour and have a new album is shocking. It's a victory.

 

I think if I'd have been through something like that, I'd be pretty bitter about it, but if you were to look at it philosophically, did the experience afford you anything, at all?

Er, yes; I don't really know where to start… it's affected me on so many levels, personally, professionally, what kind of levels I see the world through - what kind of a microscope I can see myself under. For such a negative thing… they say every crowd has a silver lining, but the cloud is getting smaller and the silver is starting to dominate.

 

I can imagine - and thank you for talking about it; it must have been just a horrendous experience. One of the other reasons for the six-year absence was that Peter was exploring his solo endeavours, and that's the last time we saw him in Norwich. I imagine as a musician yourself, it may have been difficult insomuch as knowing where Babyshambles were going, but i'm sure you could appreciate someone having to explore that side of themselves?

Yeah, I mean I always encouraged it, and happily I was involved in recording his solo record with Graham Coxon, then we did a tour as a full band. But I've always really enjoyed seeing Peter play solo. I think in an uncontrived, un-self-conscious way, he's almost like a method actor when he performs, insofar as when it's just him and his guitar, he just very naturally adopts this kind of Bob Dylan, raconteur personality, which occupies such a different space to when he's wearing a leather jacket, jumping into a crowd at a Babyshambles show! So I was very supportive of his solo ventures and I guess, in a way, this new Babyshambles incarnation has essences of both - the early, gutteral punk of Babyshambles and Peter's more folky solo approach. I think we've struck a new balance.

 

But you were responsible for the initiation of the new material, if my reading is correct Drew? You'd written some songs while you were rehabilitating from the accident - was that what lit the touch paper, do you think?

Erm, I think that the fact I had a bunch of songs that Peter thought were exciting - I mean, I played them to him and he couldn't quite believe I'd written them! On one hand it was flattering, and then on the other hand it was like 'hang on, why so surprised man?!' But yes, I guess so; there were a few songs that Mick had ready to go – ‘Nothing Comes to Nothing’ is one of Mick's songs and he had the lead guitar part for ‘Doctor No’. But certainly when I played those songs, they were originally going to be for a project called Helsinki - Drew McConnell's Helsinki - if you go on drewshelsinki.com, you can hear a lot of the songs that are on the record in acoustic form. But yeah, when those songs started getting played a lot, it started a snowball effect of creativity, which culminated in us going to Paris with Stephen Street, finding a little studio space and making an album in two weeks.

You've all had your input to this record, and all have your writing credits on there, so to have a constant like Stephen Street, who you've worked with so often must really cement the proceedings. He must be like an extra member of the band, is that fair to say?

Certainly, yeah; Stephen's become pretty integral in how we work because there's parameters that are clearly defined, that we operate within. The more we've done it, and more we've worked with him, a consistency has evolved which has allowed us to be productive. When you're playing with someone, or recording in front of someone you haven't worked with before, there's a lot of tentativeness, which can lead to procrastination. With Stephen, we get the job done quick and we know we'll get the job done quick. We know that he has a quality control filter that we're not going to be able to get a half-arsed take past, or a lyric that doesn't make sense, so there's a comfort in being able to pass the reigns, or the ultimate decision making to a higher power, because we know with Stephen at the helm, the quality isn't going to drop below a certain level.

 

So to talk a little bit about Paris - Peter got you all over there, as you said. It's his home now, which means a bit of travelling for you guys. What effect has it had on Peter? What effect has it had on you? On the album… I really like ‘Doctor No’ - it could be described as having a bit of a European jaunt to it?

Thank you, thank you very much. Well, I mean I'm Irish and I grew up in Spain and I've lived in France, and I have a love for music that you'd find outside of the record collections of most British people; there's an essence of Mano Negra in what I tend to write… But the fact of us recording in Paris, it helped us focus, because when we're recording in London, everyone just rocks up about 10 o'clock and by the end of the evening, we'd go home, whereas in Paris we were all staying at the same hotel, so we'd have breakfast together and discuss what we were going to do that day. Afterwards, we'd all go out and have dinner together and have a few drinks; it was like a pressure cooker of creativity, in a positive way - it helped us concentrate our efforts. It was a lot of fun; we were all getting on very well. And Peter; Peter I find, personally… I don't know, maybe it comes back to that unwitting character acting that forms part of his personality, but when he's in Paris, there's more than a touch of the louche Serge Gainsbourg-type character to his gait, and I think that lends itself to a more considered, creative Peter that it's impossible to have in London, ‘cause wherever he goes in London - every time someone shouts 'Oi, Pete…', they're snapping him back into the reality that he's a famous person, which isn't conducive to a creative lifestyle - or certainly not with Peter.

 

I think Pierre the Troubadour works quite well, and it's good to hear how efficient you all were in your efforts. In terms of the album's title - Sequel to the Prequel - as much as it's also a name of a track on the album, is it supposed to suggest that this is where it starts? That it's a coming of age album, and we should expect more to come?

 

[Laughs] Yes! You know what, you're robbing me of any work in this interview by presenting me with a question and then giving me the correct answer within your own question! That's exactly what it is - for me, that's what I was excited about, using that for the title. Exactly - it suggests that everything you heard before, that was just an introduction; this is year zero, this is the start of taking it seriously… although don't print that [laughs]! We took it seriously before, but this is a new page and there's definitely more to come!

 

Thank you so much for your time this morning. We're very excited to have you come to Norwich, Drew.

Thanks - we're excited to come to Norwich too! I've got lots of friends who come from Norwich - particularly a girl called Molly Naylor, who's a poet and playwright, and she moved to Norwich a while ago and ended up staying there. If you haven't heard of her, check out her work. She lectures Creative Writing in Norwich and she's been telling me for years that Norwich is the cool, secret gem that nobody knows about.

 

Absolutely - we're the Unesco City of Literature!

Really?!

 

Yep, and we breed poets like nowhere else!

Well she was on the train when the 7/7 bomb attack happened - she was one carriage away from the explosion. She spent a couple of years dealing with that, moved to Wales, and then wrote a book called ‘Every Time I Get Blown Up, I Think of You’, which is mainly a critique of why she split up with her boyfriend of the time, ‘cause every time she thought of him, it reminded her of getting blown up. She toured the country doing that show as a one-woman spoken word piece, and it was remarkable. She's done another spoken word thing called ‘My Robot Heart’; she's a very talented, wonderful girl and she's from Norwich. So you should check her out.

 

I will do right now, thanks for the tip. And thanks for your time Drew - you have a great day.

Thanks Emma, you too. 

Babyshambles play the newly named Nick Rayns LCR at the UEA on September 16th. For tickets, go to www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk

Drew McconnellUeaNick Rayns LcrBabyshambles