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: Erasure’s Andy Bell
1: Which reclusive icon did you once try to get to produce one of your albums?
“We tried to get her for the ‘Wild!’ album but she was working on The Line, The Cross And The Curve, which was the film that accompanied her album ‘The Red Shoes’. We went round her house in south London – she had lots of cats, and we had lots of tea and homemade cake. We were disappointed but she said she was too busy and felt she couldn’t bring what we wanted to the album. Then I chit-chatted away for about an hour on the phone with her, and I haven’t seen her since.”
What do you think it would have sounded like if she’d produced it?
“I don’t know. It’s quite filmic anyway but I think maybe she would have made it more ethereal and theatrical than it is – maybe some songs are too dance-pop for her, but I think she’d have brought an otherworldly essence. Who knows whether it would have sounded like us or not.”
2: Which band did the backing vocals for your ‘Drama!’ single?
“I knew you were going to ask that! That was The Jesus and Mary Chain.”
“They were in the studio next door and we needed like a football crowd, and they made up the crowd really well.”
3: Your specialist subject on Celebrity Mastermind in 2014 was Blondie and you’ve covered many Blondie songs including ‘Heart Of Glass’ and ‘Rapture’. But which two Erasure compositions share the same name as Blondie tracks?
“I know there’s one called ‘Sunday Girl’; the other…it’s not a girl’s name? I don’t have a clue.”
WRONG. It’s ‘Sunday Girl’ and ‘The Hardest Part’.
“Oh yes! That’s so funny because ours is so different, I didn’t make the connection. But I have at times borrowed certain Blondie lines as well like ‘to the orange side’ which comes from ‘Union City Blue’ but for us is in ‘Blue Savannah’. I’ve met Debbie Harry three or four times – we first met when we were filming the video for ‘Too Darn Hot’ for the Red Hot + Blue compilation, which was an HIV charity – loads of bands said they wouldn’t do it; we were one of the first to say yes. David Byrne’s then-wife [Adelle Lutz] was doing the video and said: ‘We’ve got someone to meet you’. And it was Debbie. I couldn’t believe it! We went out and had champagne mixed with vodka. Then I picked up my glass and my beermat was stuck to it – which fell right into her crotch. I was like, (flustered) ‘Oh I’m so sorry – what shall I do?’. And she said, ‘Oh pick it up – and next time, make sure you drop it up a bit higher!’ (Laughs).
4: When Erasure won the Brit for Best British Group in 1989, who presented you with the award (and who did notoriously bad hosts Mick Fleetwood and Sam Fox think was presenting you with the award)?
“Oh! Well I know that Boy George presented the award because I gave him a kiss, but I’ve forgotten who was supposed to be presenting it.”
WRONG. Boy George did indeed present you with it, but he was wrongly introduced as the Four Tops.
“(Laughs) I remember that! It’s funny because I don’t remember seeing them there either. Winning the Brit was really sweet. It was a very close race again between us and the Pet Shop Boys and I think because they’d won it quite a few times, there was a real drive for us to get it so a lot of our people were phoning round saying, ‘Please vote for Erasure this time.’.”
Was there any rivalry between you and the Pets?
“Not really. Not sound wise, no. I love their work and some of their songs and videos are amazing. To be honest, our paths rarely crossed. We’ve probably met three times in the whole of 32 years. Once was at [London venue] Heaven where we had a really good half hour drunken talk. Then I met Chris [Lowe] at Marc Almond’s Roundhouse show two years ago. I told him I was really nervous about going on tour and didn’t know what to do. And he goes: ‘Oh just stick a frock on love, you’ve be fine!’. Typical Chris answer! Him and Vince must be very similar because they’re both really dry.”
Have you won any unusual awards?
“I won one this year which was a glass robot. I was staying in a hotel ‘cos my flat was being renovated and the cleaner came in and broke it in half when dusting! San Francisco once voted for me to go back in the closet – for being so boring. (Laughs)”
You were out way before Boy George or Marc Almond. Did you ever resent closeted stars at the time for the flack you’d face?
“You didn’t see them very often and didn’t say anything – well, Jimmy Somerville did! But I never met George Michael… I met Tom Robinson ‘cos I went to a Gays In Rock seminar he hosted and asked ‘How do you come out in music?’, forgetting he’d had a song ‘Glad To Be Gay’ (Laughs). He said: ‘I just wore a pink triangle and let people ask what it meant’, so I thought I’d just be open in interviews. Me and Jimmy used to get pissed off at people we knew that were gay, but you just bit your tongue.”
How do you feel about the likes of Troye Sivan and Olly Alexander now?
“I think they’re amazing. I do get a bit jealous because they seem to get more publicity wordwide than we used to. It used to be really tricky with coming out. I really wish them the best of luck because the music business is harsh and as soon as you start becoming less successful, you start to hear the backbiting and snide comments. The music business is much better, but there’s still homophobic undercurrents – which I hope they have protection against.”
5: In the Netflix series Narcos, why does Pacho Herrera turn up the volume to ‘A Little Respect’?
“I’ve never seen it. I think it’s maybe to drown out the screams of somebody being murdered?”
CORRECT. He turns the song’s volume up as the drug smuggler ‘The Lion’ is strangled by Navegante.
Ever heard your music played someone more unusual than that?
“I heard ‘Always’ in the back of a porno film once while two men were 69-ing. (Laughs). I thought: where did that come from?! I mean, back in the early days, I went to a sauna in Amsterdam. A guy was giving me a blowjob and he looked up and said: ‘You don’t half look like the guy from Erasure’. I remember after ‘Abba-esque’ in 1992, asking ‘Oh God, can you switch it [the fame] off?’, so I liked it when we became less recognised.”
6: Which group did Liam Gallagher once jokingly describe as “some indie band with the guy from Erasure in them”?
WRONG. It was Hurricane No. 1, the band formed by your one-time Oasis bassist namesake Andy Bell.
“Oh brilliant. From Ride, right? He got in touch with me to ask if we could get together to do something for charity, but I was away so couldn’t do it. I’d have loved to have done it – I think it would have been funny to unite the two Bells.”
7: Which support band did you rotate with on David Bowie’s tour in 1997?
“We were in Chile and at the time, the lead singer [Gwen Stefani] was dating Gavin Rossdale. I heard all these people chanting – I thought they were yelling ‘Andy! Andy! Andy!’ so went up out to sign some autographs but they were actually chanting ‘Gavin! Gavin!’ so I felt like a complete prat (Laughs). We didn’t meet Bowie, but we watched him from the side of the stage and it was incredible to see his craftsmanship. The tour in South America was sponsored by toothpaste and water, so we got all these toothbrushes and water thrown at us in Brazil while they chanted ‘puta!’ which means whore. I was like: You’re here to see David Bowie and you’re calling me a whore?! Am I just here to soak up the homophobia before he comes on stage? Military police lined the back of the stage and I got really scared, thinking who are they here for? Me or them? (Laughs).”
What’s the most memorable missile you’ve had launched at you?
“Once in Germany, someone launched an apple from the back of an audience. I just put my hand out, caught it, took a bite out of it, and threw it on the floor.”
8: What number did ‘Abba-esque’ reach in Belgium?
“In Belgium?! I would say maybe Number Seven or Five?”
WRONG. Close – it was number four.
How did you feel when you heard Cher’s Abba EP? Did she out camp you?
“To be honest, I thought it sounded like an identikit Abba but just with her voice on it – like a more robotic version of them. It was strange. I tried to watch the movie on the plane, because I quite like the first film, but I couldn’t bear it. I think I Abba-ed myself out in the ‘90s! (Laughs) I ruined it for myself.”
Did you ever get any feedback from Abba?
“We didn’t. They wrote a letter to our lawyer asking where their share of the royalties were. We had to ask permission to put the rap in ‘Take A Chance On Me’ and God knows how they approved it because I couldn’t even understand the patois she [MC Kinky] was using.”
The video featured you and Vince in drag as Abba’s Frida and Agneta. What would your drag names be?
“My drag name’s always been Myra Swell, like Might-as-Well. I don’t know what we called Vince – probably just Cheryl. He likes to be plain. He said in school he wanted to be called John because he didn’t want to stick out. People mistake it for false modesty but it’s not.”
9: On the ‘Cowboy’ tour, what plant does Vince dress as?
“My favourite outfit ever was just a pair of white underpants with a white corset and a vest with six inch PVC Vivienne Westwood heels.”
10: You entered Japan’s World Popular Song Festival in 1987 with ‘The Circus’. Can you name two of the acts you were up against?
“I think an Australian act won and did a cover of ‘Funky Town’, and we came second.”
WRONG. Australian band Pseudo Echo won with a ditty called ‘Take On The World’. Among the many other acts you could have named were Nadieh (Netherlands), Mijares (Mexico), Lady Lily (West Germany), and Viki & Flirt (Hungary).
“It was strange. I’m not patriotic, and we had to carry a flag around at the end which I hated. I wanted it to be a white flag. I hate those ceremonial things. We were just trying to get a break in Japan. But I think it was better than being in Eurovision – which I’ve never been asked to do and wouldn’t.”
Ever turned down anything more surreal?
“A magazine once ran a feature where two people would meet up. I said: I’d love to fly Barbara Windsor to New York and buy her a dress. What they came back with was me going out to lunch with Bernard Manning. (Laughs) So I said no. Can you imagine?!”
The verdict: 5/10
“I’m pleased with that. I’m in brain training because I’ve been learning all these lines and songs, so I think I’ve probably woken my brain up. It was pretty much asleep for a while!”
Catch Andy Bell as Torsten in QUEERETERIA TV playing at Above The Stag theatre until April 28 . The album is available to buy from Cherry Red