I’ve always felt there was something inhumane about the treatment of televised music award show presenters. It’s the way they read out autocue lines like “what a phenomenal performance there from George Ezra” through a plastic rictus grin they force onto their faces with the desperate will-power of a hostage trying to blink SOS. Or the fact that they’d need the acting skills of Meryl Streep at her peak to carry off turning to Paloma Faith and saying “wow, that Little Mix song blew me away!” It’s like they’re whipped into a frenzy of insincerity backstage and then pushed out in front of the cameras spouting ludicrous superlatives about clearly mundane bullshit – I call it The Fearne Effect. It’s about as convincing as Theresa May, when asked what she likes doing in her spare time, desperately trying to think of some things that a real human might do.
But if you’re going to convince me to launch PETASP, lens-fodder, for heaven’s sake consider your subject. Don’t be the person going “oh, I see something called The Cure has been inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame, let’s assume they’re happy-go-lucky scamps who’ll be skipping down the red carpet whistling ‘Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah’ and blubbing like an Oscar-laden Gwyneth Paltrow into every microphone and approach this interview with very much the same attitude of rabid, put-on enthusiasm as I would for The Vamps”.
That said, I can share a little of the pain of Carrie Keagan – the woman who went viral for interviewing Robert Smith at the ceremony in the style of a speed-freaking Graham Norton. Many’s the time I’ve had to try to prod, provoke and cajole worthwhile words out of musicians who’d clearly rather be gnawing their own leg out of a bear-trap than talking to me. We’re talking Mark Lanegan lying in a darkened tour bus back room somewhere in Texas on a late Screaming Trees tour, hawking into a bin and mumbling incoherently about having definitely given up heroin. Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals – lovely chap, but not the most verbose interviewee at the best of times – watching the second plane going into the World Trade Centre live on TV while, with just five minutes of our allotted time remaining, I desperately tried to get him to list his favourite drinking games for the 2001 Student Guide. Brian from Yeah Yeah Yeahs taking a nap against a wall during my last-of-a-solid-week-of-press interview in New York, or Toyah, quaking with decades of built-up resentment, refusing to talk to me at the launch of her music panel show because of a bad review NME gave her in 1981.
Now heaven forbid that you dear, reader, ever find yourself backing slowly away from a seething Toyah – and thank God Noddy Holder was on hand to diffuse the stand-off – but after a few such encounters you soon begin to factor in other considerations that might make your interview subject turn out as moody as Van Morrison with haemorrhoids the size of Vesuvius. Perhaps they’re exhausted, resentful, as hungover as Fat White Family on the cheapest Ryanair flight or frustrated at having been asked about their inadvisable late-night “leave Jacko alone” tweet for the seven hundredth time that press day. Sometimes you can just see it in their eyes when you sit down – if eyeballs can be gritted, that’s what it looks like.
Then there are the interviewees you’d be disappointed not to piss off. John Lydon prowled around his studio for five minutes, checking me out like a cheetah casing a gazelle before sitting down, giving me an hour of solid gold quote and then chasing me off the property for asking about “fucking pub band!” The Clash. I was fortunate enough to conduct Lou Reed’s final print interview, and left somewhat honoured to have the great grump’s boot up my arse for asking about Bowie. Many a music hack dinner party has roared with tales of being light-heartedly attacked by Mark E Smith – he once threw me to the ground mid-interview and tried to bite out my throat; a fellow interviewer recalls Mark, before a single question was asked, trying to put his cigarette out on the writer’s eye.
If anything, Keagan lucked out. Contrary to appearances, Robert Smith is actually a charming fellow, and sure enough the rest of the clip that didn’t go viral sees him laugh off his knee-jerk repost and go dutifully along with the inane red carpet chat. God help her if they ever induct Jack White…