In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Shed Seven frontman Rick Witter.
1: According to the posters on the wall, what is the name of the club in which the ‘Disco Down’ video takes place?
“(Laughs) I’ve no idea, but there was a York club called Ziggy’s that we might have tried to recreate?”
WRONG. It’s Club Fantastic.
“Oh my God… right, OK, let’s move on quick!”
Ever busted out the ‘Disco Down’ dance routine in public?
“No. Whenever we do ‘Disco Down’ live, I try to flick my feet up as a nod to the video. We spent two full-length nine-to-five days at Pineapple Dance Studios with a choreographer learning that one little dance routine. Because it was prime boyband time at that point, the idea was to be a tongue-in-cheek piss take out of them. But I think a lot of people who perhaps had never heard of us would have seen that video and gone: ‘This is just an absolutely awful boyband’. Which would have pleased me just as much! (Laughs)”
For a bonus half-point, which pop star released a song called ‘Disco Down’ a year later in 2000?
“Erm, right – so ‘Gonna burn this god-damn house right down!’? Was it Sophie Ellis-Bextor [‘Murder on the Dancefloor’] – no, that’s not the same song? There was also a recent song by the Pet Shop Boys where he sings ‘We’re going to burn this disco down’ [‘Burn’] and I’m thinking that’s a bit close to the bone, isn’t it Mr Tennant? I thought I was in a parallel universe at the time. (Laughs)”
WRONG. It was Kylie Minogue.
“Did she really? I didn’t know that – the naughty minx!”
Ever meet her?
“Yes, we met her at the NME Brat Awards [now the NME Awards] in ‘95/’96 – she came over and sat on Paul Banks’ [guitarist] knee, so that made his night!”
2: In 2008, which MP was accused of inserting Shed Seven song titles into a speech in the House of Commons?
“Now I remember this happening because I was informed via social media a lot at the time, but I have no idea who it was.”
WRONG. It was then-Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker – who said in his speech on the environment: “The electricity wasted while a TV set is ‘On Standby’ is costing consumers thousands of pounds and damaging the environment. If the ‘Truth Be Told’ the government record on climate change isn’t ‘Getting Better’. On energy efficiency we are still ‘Chasing Rainbows’. ‘Going for Gold’ we are not.”
“Yes, it was very clever at the time. But in a sense, it’s relatively easy – my song titles are quite common phrases that are easily fitted into sentences: ‘I’ve got high hopes that I’m going to go for gold and bloody burn that disco down’ – but don’t do that kids!”
3: What two pieces of advice did The Stone Roses give you starting out?
“I remember Ian Brown making me and cup of tea and getting a little bit stoned with him – but because of that, I can’t really remember any advice he might have given us!”
WRONG. He cautioned: don’t sign to a major label and don’t pose for pictures with your tops off.
“(Laughs) Well, that advice didn’t go down well, did it? We disrespected him twice! Not long after that, the single ‘Dolphin’ came out and I’m on the sleeve with my top off and a cigarette in my mouth. But that was plastered all over London in early ’94, so Ian Brown was wrong. Obviously, we were massive Stone Roses fans – when their first album came out in ’89, it made us pull our socks up songwriting and image-wise. In 1992/early ’93, we found out they were in Rockfield Studios in Wales and drove from York in [drummer] Alan Leach’s red van, arriving at the studio to be told they’d already left. But then Ian Brown stumbled round the corner – Mani was there too – invited us in, and that’s when he gave us that classic bit of advice that we totally ignored!”
“We’d written ‘Shed Seven’ on the back of Alan’s van. Ian Brown recognised our name and said: ‘I’ve heard good things about you and another band called Oasis’ – which shows you how at the time, you could feel music getting exciting again. Later, we played Benicassim with them in ’96 – the year they split up – and I remember they had girls dancing in cages at either side of the stage, which wasn’t what The Stone Roses were about for me.”
4: In 2005, who dismissed accusations that his band sounded like Shed Seven by saying: ‘If we sounded like them, they would have sold three million records and we probably would have heard of them’?
“Was that Mike Flowers Pops? No, sorry, I mean Brandon Flowers.”
“I’ve got one right! And it’s funny how it’s that one I can remember, isn’t it? (Laughs) When The Killers’ first album came out, even our friends were asking: ‘Is this you under a guise?’ At the time, I couldn’t hear any similarity. Because we weren’t perceived as being that cool or credible, I think Mr Flowers Pops exaggerated a little bit because he claimed in early interviews that he was mad on Britpop. If that’s the case, he definitely would have heard of Shed Seven – even if he didn’t like us. So he can sell all the records he wants, can’t he? Good luck to him!”
Ever run into his afterwards?
“No, I’ve never met him. But I’d like to at some point and have a chat to him about it. We’ll talk about songwriting and how he can sound like other bands! (Laughs)”
5: At a Dublin gig in 1995, a stage invader claimed he had been sent up to say hello by which indie star?
“I don’t know how much of this is true. It was bizarre. This kid got up onstage and had his arm draped around me and he was shouting something in my ear while I was trying to sing. I couldn’t hear what he was saying. After about 30 seconds of me trying to push him off, we both stumbled and I bashed my head on the drum riser which created a big bruise and he got chucked out. But I found out afterwards he was excited because he was stood near Morrissey who was – in his words – ‘arm-in-arm with two dolly birds’. Which is quite an image! But he got up onstage to tell me that Morrissey was in the crowd watching us and inadvertently ended up giving me a shiner.”
6: Which band did drummer Alan Leach once upset by rubbing candle wax over his face and moonwalking towards?
“That was the crazy ’90s and would have been 3T – who were Michael Jackson’s nephews.”
“At the time, they were about 15 or 16 years old. We were doing a MTV showcase halfway up a French or Norwegian mountain, with lots of different acts. But beer doth flow and Alan waxed up and moonwalked towards 3T and said: ‘’Ere guys, who’s this?’. Their security guard wasn’t best pleased and we were kept away from them for the rest of the week! Little things like that which you’re not expecting would happen often. I remember being in the canteen of a rehearsal studio and suddenly [East 17 frontman] Brian Harvey walked in with his posse, saw us, and immediately says as loud as he can: ‘I FUCKING HATE INDIE BANDS!’. And walks over to get his cup of tea. Like: ooh, God, he’s hard! (Laughs)”
7: What is emblazoned on the T-shirt you’re wearing on your debut Top of the Pops appearance?
“That was when I was doing my egotistical best and I was wearing a picture of myself – from the ‘Dolphin’ sleeve.”
“We’d gone to France for our first ever foreign gig and taken a bus load of journalists with us, so we had those T-shirts with that design made up – but they’d said: ‘Je Suis Un Rock Star’. It just fit the vibe. For our debut Top of the Pops appearance, I thought right, I’m going to wear me on my chest – how many people can say that, eh? At the time, the Top of the Pops producer was a Shed Seven fan and always insisted I sang live – whereas a pop star on the same episode would mime. You’d turn up at 9.30am and didn’t record until 7.30pm – the rest of the band could spend all day in the BBC bar getting tanked up because they’d be miming, but I’d have to hold it together.”
8: In 1996, you appeared on kids TV show Live & Kicking, offering viewers the chance to win the ‘Going For Gold’ video’s prop gold guitar. But can you answer the question they set – ‘Who presents the quiz Going for Gold?’?
“(Laughs) That would be Henry Kelly!”
CORRECT. He fronted the BBC daytime quiz from 1987 to 1996.
“I watched that when I was a nipper – but it isn’t the reason we called one of our big hits that! When the last Olympics came around, we’d stick a bit of Spandau Ballet’s ‘Gold’ on the end of it when we played live. Which led to me having a joke-rant about how, whenever there’s any big medal-winning event, they always go to Mr [Spandau Ballet guitarist Gary] Kemp, don’t they? It’s time for us to soundtrack that sporting coverage! (Laughs)”
In the spirit of that Europhile quiz’s famous ‘Who am I?’ round…
For a bonus half-point: Who am I? I am an indie singer/guitarist born in May 1967. I once said: ‘Shed Seven couldn’t tie my shoelaces’.
“So I’m guessing that would be Mr Noely G?”
“Over the years, any mention by the Gallagher brothers is good press (Laughs). But you know what? I could tie Noel’s shoelaces – I just wouldn’t want to. And I’m presuming he said that because he can’t do them himself – which is why he would choose someone like Paul Weller instead of me to tie his shoelaces. He needs some nice Velcro shoes – that’ll sort him right out!”
You traded barbs over the years. Was it all in good fun or did any of it hurt you?
“There were some hairy moments. There was rivalry at the time – obviously Oasis rocketed off, but for a few months at the beginning of 1994, where we were releasing singles at the same time and both getting positive press, we ended up playing what was supposed to be this joint headline gig at The Venue in New Cross. When we arrived, there was a huddle of Mancunians stood near the stage after their soundcheck. Liam’s opening words to me were: (Adopts Liam’s snarl) ‘You’re not using our fookin’ backdrop and we’re on last’. (Deadpans) ‘Oh, nice to meet you!’. But it’s all good fun, innit?”
How do you look back on Britpop?
“We had a weird time, because when Britpop was credible and cool in the press, it was Blur, Pulp and Oasis, but when it was being written about in a derogatory manner, it was definitely Shed Seven – now we feel more critically respected and credible than we ever did back then. We’ve battered people in submission! (Laughs). Forget the Britpop tag, it was just an exciting musical movement to be caught up in – and one I can’t see happening again. I can’t see a News At Ten viewer getting excited about which of two acts is going to reach Number One now.”
9: What is the name of the fan’s school you performed at in 1994?
“Erm… wasn’t that St. Cuthbert’s?”
“Really?! That was a good bit of memory recall! Don’t ask me about the actual gig because I’ve got no recollection whatsoever, so it’s weird I stumbled upon that name in my head!”
10: What harsh Kwik Fit advert-indebted tongue-twister did NME once use to headline an article about you?
“’You Can’t Get Thicker Than A Thick Rick Witter‘? Is that right?”
CORRECT-ISH. HALF A POINT. You’re one word out…
“Right, so it’s even crueller than I thought?! (Laughs) Where’s my handkerchief? There was a nice one as well about how I was good looking which was: ‘You Can’t Get Fitter Than A Fit Rick Witter’. Let’s stay positive! What was the actual wording?
It was ‘You Can’t Get Shitter Than A Thick Rick Witter’.
“Talking of shits, someone once wrote that I could probably quite easily fit behind a toilet U-bend because I was that bendy! That was way back in the day – I’d probably struggle now! That was the kind of press we all had to endure – single reviews wouldn’t mention the music, but would be all about how I had bad hair or smelled of piss. (Laughs) But as people still bought them, it didn’t bother us.”
The verdict: 7/10
“That’s like the kind of score we’d get for an album – so I’ve kept it up!”
‘Going For Gold – The Greatest Hits’ is out now on gold-coloured vinyl. The band’s UK tour begins in Stoke on 21 November 2019