1Name two of the brands of condoms featured on the cover of Carter USM’s 1992 single ‘The Only Living Boy in New Cross’
“Wow! I’m guessing one is Billy Boy and there’s one with a banana on it? Most of them are in German, I think.”
CORRECT. Close enough – Billy Boy was indeed one, and it was Wild Banana. The others are: Ritex Safe Surfer, Ritex Action Box, Magic Luminous Condom, R3 Activ Feucht, Extase and Sticks.
“Crikey! Fruitbat [his Carter bandmate] used to collect condoms from around the world. The single was about AIDS and back then, ‘Wear a condom’ was the message, so that’s the connection. We had to put it in an extra brown sleeve ‘cause Woolworths wouldn’t stock it, and a vicar complained.”
2Which Carter USM single caused Ian Dury to consider getting someone to break your legs?
“‘Do Re Me, So Far So Good’.”
CORRECT. Because he’d nearly finished writing a song with the same pun.
“True story! He told me that when we were filming the video for Carter’s ‘The Impossible Dream’ together. It gets mentioned in his biopic, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, where Ian’s being arrested and he shouts: ‘Do re me, so far so good!’. So somebody must have watched that film and thought: ‘I wonder why he’s shouting a Carter lyric?!’ (Laughs)”
“We first met him when he came round to Fruitbat’s house to interview us for a BBC show. When we recorded the ‘1992 – The Love Album’, we had a Peter O’Toole sample from the film Man of La Mancha [on the song ‘Skywest and Crooked’] that we weren’t allowed to use, so we recorded Ian Dury reading from Don Quixote to replace him. Then we asked him to be in ‘The Impossible Dream’ video, so spent two days filming in Spain with him.
“We saw all sides of his complex personality – he was hilarious, angry, and a better drinker than me. He insisted on making me stay up drinking with him, so I had terrible hangovers while sat on a horse in the desert.”
3When Carter USM headlined Glastonbury in 1992, how many foam balls did you fire into the crowd?
“I don’t know, but I’m guessing 10,000?”
WRONG. According to your memoir In The Shadow Of My Former Self, it’s 5,000.
“In reality, it was probably 2,000. Originally we wanted to drop them from a helicopter when we played our then-next single – the name of the song was printed on the balls. We couldn’t get permission, so we worked our way down to cannons and Select magazine slagged us off because the foam balls were against the ethos of Greenpeace (Laughs).”
Carter USM were banned from Glastonbury for slagging off organiser Michael Eavis from the stage…
“Fruitbat says he’s got a letter saying he was banned, but I don’t know if we officially were. I remember an atmosphere in the dressing room afterwards and Michael Eavis coming round and shouting and us being asked to leave. It wasn’t a great experience. We played Reading festival the year before and that’s a perfect memory, whereas Glastonbury was stressful. I didn’t enjoy it.”
Any other ideas you had that proved too ambitious?
“We tried to fly a giant Brussels sprout above Battersea Power Station – like the Pink Floyd pig – but couldn’t get permission, so that got scaled down to sending Brussels sprouts in little boxes to journalists. Not as exciting!”
4Who once attacked you in a bar for ripping off Blur?
“Justine Frischmann – I remember that quite well!”
“It was when our single ‘Lean On Me I Won’t Fall Over’ was out and it was similar to a Blur song [‘Advert’] – lyrically and musically. I was massively into Blur, so it’s possible I was influenced. We were in a bar and she was drunk – everyone was drunk in those days! – and she started having a go and trying to hit me.”
What was it like for you when Britpop arrived? Those pre-Britpop bands like Carter USM seem to have been airbrushed out of history…
“At the time, we just felt ignored and envious of the publicity those bands were getting. Years later, it’s irritating because it’s as though we never happened – that nothing happened around that time. It’s more the rewriting of history that pisses me off. I liked Blur and Suede – I didn’t particularly like Oasis.”
Ever collided with a Gallagher?
“I’ve got a vivid memory of Noel staring us out when he was a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets at a festival – he never liked us. Even now, he still talks about how much he hates us. For some reason, we did something that really upset him!”
5How many black spots are on the front cover of Carter USM’s debut album ‘101 Damnations’?
“It should be 101 but I know it isn’t. Did you count them? 38?”
WRONG. It’s 56. Apparently you originally wanted to call it ‘Cunt’…
“That was just us being stupid – though we were also semi-serious ‘cause the fourth Carter album ‘Post Historic Monsters’ was supposed to be called ‘Commercial Fucking Suicide’ but the label wouldn’t let us do it – because it would be literal commercial suicide. On the day we signed our record contract, we told them we wanted to call it ‘Cunt’. Childish really.”
It’s quite a Sleaford Mods title…
“Like I said – childish (Laughs)”
6NME once gave away a packet of musician-themed playing cards. What card were Carter USM? For example, Ian Curtis was the Ace of Spades
“I see these from time to time. The Eight of Hearts”?
WRONG. It’s the Two of Diamonds.
For a bonus half-point, in the spirit of ‘80s/’90s gameshow Play Your Cards Right, can you guess whether the next musicians in the pack are higher or lower? Your base card is Carter USM.
CORRECT. He was the Queen of Diamonds.
“Around that time, I’m thinking higher than Morrissey…is he the King?”
WRONG. He was the Nine of Diamonds.
“So I don’t win a car?!”
Afraid not, Jim Bob. Carter USM covered The Smiths – did you ever receive any feedback from any of the original artists about your covers?
“Pet Shop Boys said our version of ‘Rent’ was better than theirs, but I don’t know if they were being sarcastic (Laughs). Paul Weller once gave me a look in a canteen in a rehearsal studio that suggested our version of ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’ wasn’t as good as the original!”
The last card was going to be Debbie Harry – the Queen of Spades – because you were once invited to write songs with her in New York. Would it have sounded like Blondie singing Carter?
“It was because we shared an A&R. The timing didn’t happen in the end, but I’d quite like to hear Debbie Harry singing about Streatham or a south London housing estate – it could have been a good thing!”
7Which Carter USM song was This Morning presenter Holly Willoughby filmed singing along to on her Snapchat in 2018?
“‘The Impossible Dream’”
CORRECT. She was singing it to Phillip Schofield – who Fruitbat famously rugby-tackled at the 1991 Smash Hits Poll Winners Party
“My manager was at a television award dinner with Phillip Schofield, who said: ‘Give Carter my love’. That night, after they’d had a few drinks, she’d [Holly Willoughby] found that video and was trying to wind him up. I thought it was great and hilarious.”
Fruitbat’s Schofe-toppling has gone down in history as a funny awards show moment, but at the time there were crisis talks at your label. Were you worried?
“Yes. I didn’t see it happen – I’d left the stage because I was pissed off with him after he knocked everything over. Someone from the BBC told me a microphone stand hit somebody in the audience and nearly killed a child. I thought: ‘That’s the end of the band – we’ve killed a child!’. And the label were having a meeting to decide on our future. Phillip Schofield has passed on lots of nice messages to us over the years, but at the time, it was quite violent (Laughs).
“It’s not a cheeky jump on him – he probably would have got a few punches in if he could! It was on all the front pages the day after, and only became funny when we played a gig that night and the audience chanted: ‘Phillip Schofield – what a wanker!’ Every now and then, someone will still shout that.”
8Name any of the three bands Carter USM reviewed when you appeared on The Big Breakfast in the ‘90s?
“I bet we gave Gary Glitter a good review as well!”
You’re safe – you slated everyone bar The House of Love.
“Phew! Thank god for that! (Laughs) But I love Bananarama – in our later years, ‘The Shit Years’ as we call them, we played a university ball with them.”
Talking of reviews, when an NME reviewer rated your 2003 solo album ‘Goodnight Jim Bob’ 3/10, your then-manager had the journalist’s phone number printed on 300 strips of paper and distributed at a gig. Ever take revenge in any other inventive ways?
“No, but when we were at the peak of our success, we had our own security, and they once gaffer taped an ex-NME editor, who was on tour with us, to the ceiling. And we liked him! (Laughs)”
9 Complete the following lyrics: ‘2020, have you got no pride?’
“You’re worse than 2016 when everybody died.”
CORRECT. From the song ‘2020 WTF!’ on your new album, ‘Pop Up Jim Bob’.
“I went seven years without writing songs but that’s because I was writing books [under the name J.B. Morrison] – I’d used up all the words. (Laughs) Then I did some gigs at Shepherds Bush Empire, which made me want to record with a band again. I got obsessed with the Succession theme tune and started messing around in the computer, trying to write that type of music – which got me back into writing songs. This is definitely the most Carter thing I’ve done since Carter – it sounds more Carter than the last three Carter albums (Laughs). The album’s lyrics were probably influenced by me watching online arguments, not agreeing with either side, and thinking it was safer to put my opinions in songs than on Twitter.”
10What’s the Goodreads rating of your book ‘A Godawful Small Affair’?
“I don’t check these things. If it’s out of five, I’m going to say 4.5?”
CORRECT. It’s 4.56.
“With my books, there aren’t a lot of casual readers – they’re usually people who really like them. (Laughs) Not successful enough to get twos.”
Any memorable reviews or things that have been written about you over the years?
“The best stories are those that aren’t true. We told a journalist on Carter’s tour bus that U2 had asked us to support them on tour – that ended up in print, which escalated to the point where we pretended to be Bono and The Edge on an American radio show – we didn’t even bother doing the accents! Bono and The Edge ended up asked about it and Bono said he wouldn’t have anybody on shorts on their stage! (Laughs)”
“Another time, a rumour went round that I’d ghostwritten Arctic Monkeys’ debut album. I enjoyed that one – but didn’t start it. People thought because Alex Turner mentioned things from the ‘80s, he couldn’t have written it. Whenever I was asked about it, the answer I gave was: ‘I wasn’t allowed to talk about it’ – implying it was true (Laughs).”
Bonus question! For a half-point, what did the late music promoter Jon ‘Fat’ Beast wear to introduce Carter USM at their first comeback gig at Glasgow Barrowlands in 2007?
“A jockstrap and an apple stuck up his arse?”
“Some things you wish you could forget!”
The verdict: 6.5/10
“I’m happy with that! I’ve been doing internet quizzes with Fruitbat and a few friends, and I always come last or second to last.”
– Jim Bob’s latest solo album, ‘Pop Up Jim Bob‘ is available now via Cherry Red