1You recorded the Euro ’96 football anthem ‘Three Lions’ with comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner. When England were riding high in the 2018 World Cup, which artist urged his fans to download it to knock his own song off the top of the charts?
“God, I know this! It’s one of those croonery blokes but I’ve forgotten his name! It was very kind of him.”
“I was going to say Jack Peñate! (Laughs) If you’d told me in 1996 that ‘Three Lions’ was going to be Number One again over 20 years later, I wouldn’t have believed you. It was a tough ask to write a song like that and make it OK. All the other [football] songs before had been written from the team’s perspective, like ‘We’re going to win’, and the reason this one worked was because it was from a fan’s point of view.”
For a bonus half-point, what number did ‘Three Lions’ reach in the German charts in 1996?
“Was it Number One?”
“That’s news to me!”
2You produced The Fall’s 1988 album ‘I Am Kurious Oranj’. But what band-name did frontman Mark E. Smith suggest for The Lightning Seeds?
“The Hordes of Brood.”
“He drew me pictures of the Hordes and they all had little bows and arrows (Laughs). When I was producing The Fall, I had just started my own demos, and Mark and Brix [Smith Start, guitarist and songwriter in The Fall and Smith’s then-wife] were very encouraging and gave me confidence. Mark could be quite lateral in his thinking, and would challenge you. You’d end up using parts of your brain you didn’t usually use!”
Any favourite stories from working with Mark E Smith?
“When we were mastering the record, Mark made an outlandish suggestion, and while I was being reasonable about it, the take-no-shit, long-in-the-tooth engineer left the room and returned with a enormous breadknife, brandished it in front of Mark and said threateningly, ‘Any other suggestions?’ (Laughs). He mastered it, picked up the knife again, pointed at Mark and went: ‘It’s done’. I looked at Mark, worried about his reaction and he beamed: ‘He’s fucking great, that guy!’. (Laughs) A lot of times Mark wanted to get a reaction out of you. He loved that he didn’t even discuss it – he just waved a big knife at him!”
3Who once launched a petition to get your first band, Big in Japan, to split up?
“Julian Cope and Pete Wylie.”
CORRECT. It only garnered nine signatures.
“Pete felt he should be Big in Japan’s guitar player and was very put out. (Laughs) The petition was displayed in Liverpool’s Probe Records, but it was all light-hearted fun.”
The line-up of Big in Japan – which included Holly Johnson (later singer in Frankie Goes to Hollywood), Budgie (Siouxsie and the Banshees), Jayne Casey (Pink Industry/Pink Military) and Bill Drummond (who formed the KLF) – now reads like a supergroup…
“We probably only lasted about six months. They were mostly older than me and it taught me good ideas are more important than technical ability. When we did our first gigs, we only had three songs so we’d play them twice. It wasn’t taken seriously. We had a song called ‘Reading the Charts’, for example, where we’d all get a lot of feedback going on the guitars and Jayne would just read that week’s pop chart. We had a very Andy Warhol Factory attitude towards it.”
4What colour T-shirts are the monkeys wearing in The Lightning Seeds’ ‘Lucky You’ video?
“Red and yellow.”
“We filmed two videos for ‘Lucky You’. The one with the monkeys was the record company video that the band didn’t like. The other, which was just us playing, was done very cheaply and we preferred it.”
‘Lucky You’ was off Lightning Seeds’ 1994 album ‘Jollification’, which you’re celebrating on tour of this year. What was that period like?
“After Big in Japan, I hadn’t played live much because I’d been in the studio producing bands like The Fall and Echo and the Bunnymen. When we released ‘Jollification’, I was convinced to do gigs but I’d always seen myself as more of a guitarist/side-person than frontman. In a Bunnymen context, I saw myself as more Pete Wylie than Ian McCulloch. So throughout that time, I was daunted by the attention because it felt like growing up in public. I put a lot of pressure on myself. It was a good time, though.”
5Which two musicians’ vocals are you sandwiched between on the BBC’s all-star 1997 charity cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’?
“Ah, I was going to say Gabrielle! I never got to meet Lou Reed or anything. When I was singing it, the American producer commanded: ‘Whatever that dialect is that you talk in, more of that!’ (Laughs) So maybe they just picked the Scousest line.”
6What number did Echo and the Bunnymen’s 1980 single ‘Rescue’, which you produced, reach on the charts?
“No idea! 38?”
WRONG. It was 62.
(Laughs) “That felt like a big success at the time! I’d never produced anything before the Bunnymen’s manager Bill Drummond asked me to do their debut album. They were just my mates. Hard as it to believe now, Ian McCulloch had little confidence and that’s one of the things I probably gave him because I believed in him so much. I’m eternally grateful for the belief they placed in me, who was just a mate who hadn’t produced something before, to be in control of their debut. That was the start of me believing in myself.”
Ian McCulloch and Holly Johnson knew their way round a waspish one-liner and you even performed with Dead or Alive’s machete-mouthed legend Pete Burns. What was it like being surrounded by such big personalities?
“Though they were my mates, they were larger than life where I wasn’t. There would be a local night every Thursday at the Liverpool punk club Eric’s, , but there weren’t enough bands to perform, so we’d all say: ‘We’ll get up and do something’. And we’d perform [Patti Smith’s] ‘Gloria’ or something, with Pete Burns singing, Ian on guitar, Holly on bass, and we’d all switch around each week. That relationship probably delayed me doing my own music for a long time – because I’d produce Echo and the Bunnymen, then I did some stuff for Holly pre-Frankie Goes to Hollywood. I’m glad The Lightning Seeds took off, but at the time in that crowd, you wouldn’t have put your money on me!”
7Who did you perform a version of the Who’s ‘My Generation’ with on TFI Friday in 2015?
“I loved doing that. When I was young, [the Who’s] Pete Townshend used to really like my guitar playing and would come to the gigs and chat afterwards. That was pretty cool.”
8You produced The Coral’s 2003 album ‘Magic and Medicine’. Name the two bonus tracks on the Japanese edition of it.
“Was one called ‘Time Travel’?”
WRONG. ‘When Good Times Go Bad’ and ‘Boy at the Window’. ‘Time Travel’ is the hidden track on their debut.
“I remember ‘When Good Times Go Bad’ because that was an instrumental. When I felt the Lightning Seeds had run its course, I was at a loose end and The Coral felt like my second chapter. I was played their demos when they were unsigned, and phoned their manager to tell him I’d like to work with them. He responded: ‘Will you do it for free?’ (Laughs) They were great but it felt fragile – if the wrong person worked with them, it could have easily fallen apart. Like with Echo and the Bunnymen, I felt close to them and put a lot of myself into those records.”
“I had a meeting with Blur about producing ‘Parklife’ – obviously it wasn’t called ‘Parklife’ then. They liked the Lighting Seeds single ‘Sense’ that I had done with [The Specials singer and regular collaborator] Terry Hall and thought we would be a good fit, but I felt like I needed to concentrate on making my own songs. I loved Blur’s first album and wish I could have done ‘Parklife’, but it wasn’t the right moment, so I had to turn it down. Because if I hadn’t made ‘Jollification’, the ‘90s wouldn’t have happened for me.”
9Name three frontpeople who have backing vocals on ‘Jollification’.
“Alison Moyet, Terry Hall, and [Ocean Colour Scene’s] Simon Fowler.”
CORRECT. Are you working on any new Lightning Seeds music?
“I am but it’s taking a long time. It’s been over 10 years since I’ve released anything, and I want it to be just right and brave. It’s nearly there. I often describe The Lightning Seeds as pop, but I mean in an Andy Warhol sense, like an explosion of something that’s absolutely in its own time and moment.”
“The new material is melodic, which sometimes people think is poppy. After various personal events in my life, I lost the bittersweet thing I’d always had and my songs just felt like they were sad and I couldn’t reverse that. It reflected how I felt emotionally. But I want an uplifting if sad quality – I hear a lot of things that are miserable at the moment, which is OK, but I don’t want to be that. And it’s only in the last couple of years that‘ve regained that right mixture of up and down.”
10You produced baggy-pop urchins Northside’s 1990 debut single ‘Shall We Take A Trip’ for Factory Records, who famously numbered each release. What Factory number is it?
“(Laughs) You’re like fucking Jeremy Paxman asking the questions nobody can get on University Challenge! Actually, there’s someone here who used to work at Factory. (Calling) ‘You wouldn’t by any chance know the catalogue number of Northside’s ‘Shall We Take A Trip’? …No, you can’t look it up! It’s a quiz!’ I definitely know the first three letters are FAC – can I get half a point? (Laughs)
WRONG. It was FAC-268.
“That was a tough one! Factory Records was brilliantly haphazard. Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton and Alan Erasmus felt like they were a gang and of course, anytime I saw them there would be some kind of dig about me being a Scouser. The crazy meetings in the boardroom around the table with the wires were exactly like what you saw in the film 24 Hour Party People. It was generally what you’d wish rock‘n’roll was, but isn’t so much now. They used to play the Lighting Seeds’ ‘Pure’ in the The Haçienda.”
The verdict: 5/10
“I might have once aspired to go on Celebrity Mastermind, but you’ve successfully put me off that now!”
The Lightning Seeds are playing The Neighbourhood Weekender, which takes place in Victoria Park, Warrington, from 3-5 September 2021. They then tour from September 9. They headline ‘The North Will Rise Again‘ charity streaming event on 27 and 28 March