1In which 2020 Amazon TV show does the lead character sing the words to your 2011 song ‘Seen It All’ over heavy metal while being tortured?
“I didn’t even know anybody did! That’s news to me! Or is this a true or false question?”
WRONG. It’s Alex Rider.
“That’s incredible. I’ve not seen it. One of the craziest places I’ve heard my music played was in a bar in Beijing where a young Chinese band came up to me and said: ‘We’re going to play your song ‘Two Fingers’ next’. Which blew my mind.”
What song would you belt out while being tortured?
“To be honest, some songs feel like torture, but I’d probably just start singing ‘Nessun Dorma’ by Pavarotti loudly and randomly to distract myself!”
2Which actor’s house did you once perform a candlelight gig at?
“Ooh – I did play a show at Aaron Paul’s house in LA once.”
CORRECT. Who famously played Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman.
“That was a fun night and he was good company. It was pretty funny to be sat around playing a few tunes for him and his friends. Sometimes people you don’t expect tweet about how much they like your music, like the writer Stephen King, who said he liked my stuff a few years ago, which was cool.”
3In 2016, you appeared on the cover of NME in a red tracksuit. The cover headline is in the logo of a film about which rap band?
“I’m going to guess Beastie Boys, maybe? Just because I was working with Mike D at the time.”
“That makes sense! I’m not very good at quizzes. That was when I was working on my third album [‘On My One’], which didn’t come out the way I wanted to, but some of the experiences I had in the process of making it were good like working with Mike D and getting an insight into the success he had with the Beastie Boys. He was very supportive – I wasn’t going through the best time – a lot of people who had shared my vision at the record label had left, and I was left alone and felt isolated. And he was good at reassuring me that I really shouldn’t give a fuck about anyone else and just do what I wanted.”
There was a hip-hop influence on that record and ‘Ain’t No Rhyme’ was delivered in the style of a quasi-rap. Any reaction from any rappers?
“No, I don’t think many people heard it! For me, it wasn’t a genuine attempt at rapping. It was something I made in the studio for fun with no intention of it being on the record at all then my friends persuaded me to put it on the album – and maybe I shouldn’t of! (Laughs)”
4Which two chart-topping acts do you appear between on the BBC’s 2014 all-star cover of Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows’?
“Stevie Wonder was on it, but I don’t think he was singing either side of me. I’m struggling with this one because I only watched it once. Everybody else got a few lyrics and I just go, ‘La la la la la la la.’ My part got very trimmed down! (Laughs)”
“Brian May! Awesome! I said hello to Harry [Styles] at the BRIT Awards and told him I was enjoying his new stuff and I made my peace with him, because I think it’s great that he’s branched out and done his own thing and his new stuff sounds pretty good. In the past, I was trying to make the point that they [One Direction] could be making music that was more ‘them’ and had something to say. But we’ve made our peace and it’s all in the past.”
5In 2013, the then-governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney compared you to what?
“Er… Is it a bad thing? (Laughs) George Formby or summit?”
WRONG. In a speech in Nottingham, he compared you to the UK economy, explaining that it could become as productive as you are
“To the what?! I don’t really know what to say but I’m flattered to be used as an analogy! (Laughs) I’m like the economy. I’ll put that as a quote on the front of the new album and add pound signs to my eyes. (Jokingly) To be honest, that’s what gets me onstage every night, Mark – the thought of getting out there and boosting the economy!”
6Name the three other guests who appeared with you on Alan Carr: Chatty Man in 2013?
“I remember Britney Spears and… that’s about it! Sorry! I’m backing up the thesis of rock‘n’roll killing brain cells here!”
WRONG. Britney was indeed there, but you missed athlete Mo Farah and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
“They were all really nice. We performed ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’, and I remember Britney Spears walking round with a whip, whipping people. When I was younger and having a pop at anything to do with pop music, I think I might mentioned Britney negatively, which I feel bad about now – I had no idea what she was going through and hope she gets control of her life and money again. One of the craziest chat shows I did was [on The Graham Norton Show in 2014] with me Jonah Hill, Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro on one sofa. I have no idea what I was doing there! (Laughs). After the show, Sylvester was hanging out with me drinking wine and telling me stories about his life, which was a surreal experience!”
7What is the jewellers you rob in your 2013 ‘Slumville Sunrise’ video called?
“At a guess, Smith & Co?”
WRONG. It’s Michael Levin Diamond Merchants.
“’Cause I left Nottingham aged 17 to go on the road, there’s places I don’t know because I haven’t been for a walk in the town centre for many years. I’m not a walking A-Z of Nottingham, but I know enough, I think! Filming that video with director Shane Meadows was the most mental two days, which included me being chased through Sneinton Market by a couple of fake policeman and hanging out with actors that had been in This Is England – it was a lot to take in! Shane’s a legend and I’d love to work with him again.”
8Who were the winners of the charity Football Rocks tournament that you put together in 2015?
“I feel like it might have been The Enemy?”
“I was absolutely gutted I went out in the first round and lost one-nil (laughs), but it was brilliant to kick the ball around Meadow Lane, the Notts County F.C. ground, and we had an ex-Man Utd and Notts County keeper in goal [Kevin Pilkington]. We go out and play whenever we can on tour – I’ve played football with kids in the favelas in São Paulo, and also a seven-a-side game with professional Brazilian players. Amazingly, we won, because I don’t think they’d ever seen a long ball in their lives!”
Talking of Brazilian footballers, you’ve written the soundtrack for the forthcoming Ronaldinho documentary, The Happiest Man In The World…
“It’s been a great time-killer during the last year and a half of lockdown and you’re not short of inspiration when you watch Ronaldinho play, and it’s been a brilliant experience to write to pictures and be inspired by him on the pitch. It’s felt like having a creative outlet to be more experimental.”
9An easy one: who declared he was “fucking heartbroken” when he found out you co-wrote your songs?
“That was Noel [Gallagher].”
“(Laughs) I knew that’s the kind of thing he does and it’s not just me that gets it. I was more slightly annoyed because we’d just come off the back of doing a big tour with him, but it doesn’t bother me. That’s his thing, isn’t it? We’ve exchanged a few messages since and it’s water under the bridge. And it’s just flattering to be mentioned by him! (Laughs)”
10In 2015, you won Best Solo Act at the NME Awards. Name any artist you beat.
“Well I wasn’t going to guess any of them, because I wouldn’t expect to beat those big names! I was expecting a lot of names that weren’t around anymore! Bloody hell!”
Tell us about your new album, ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’…
“After a difficult few years, it feels like a fresh start. I’m on a new label, working with new people and with a new, more pop-influenced sound – I’ve dug into the Bee Gees, ABBA, and Supertramp; those ‘70s pop melodies that have dark undertones to it, and mixed that with what I do. I’ve been conscious that the pandemic was a crap time for everybody, so I wanted to come back with something exciting and energetic – rather than making a load of sad ballads which would have been easy to do.”
The verdict: 3/10
“Oh dear! (laughs) I’m not proud of that by any means!”
– ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’ is released 20 August through RCA Records