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: Stephen Jones, aka Babybird.
1: In the Johnny Depp-directed ‘Unlovable’ video, what’s the last thing we see fall into the water after you’re hanged?
“A pocket watch.”
“I’d known Johnny for a while. He played guitar on it, and he knew what we wanted to do with the film. It’s really dark and full of shooting and hanging, so we knew it could never be used as a big promotional thing. It was fun and he spent a fortune on it. The whole thing happened because he heard ‘Bad Old Man’ off ‘There’s Something Going On’, which is the second Babybird album. Apparently he was in a room with Marilyn Manson and they just freaked out which is a lovely compliment! He wanted to meet me in London, while he was filming Finding Neverland. He was incredibly lovely and a normal person. I’ve been on a few film sets with him. I remember sitting in his trailer when he was filming Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I’d brought my daughter – she was very young at the time – and Johnny was in the full Willy Wonka wig and false teeth, and she hid behind the chair while he tried to give her Hershey’s chocolate – so that was freaky! (Laughs)”
Are you still friends?
“Yeah. We’re still in touch and he’s been listening to the new album. Hopefully I might end up doing some work with his production company.”
2: Which kids’ favourites did you once prevent from covering one of your songs?
“Oh, was that The Smurfs?”
“(Laughs) They wanted to change the words to ‘You’re Gorgeous’. I’ve always hated The Smurfs so it was quite nice to say no! Pinky and Perky and The Wurzels have both covered it and there’s a punk version called ‘Oi! Gorgeous’ or something which is so bad it’s almost funny.”
What’s been the most unusual offer you’ve turned down?
“The Sun offered us loads of money because they wanted to put our single on the front cover, but this was around the time they were getting into trouble for their dodgy reporting of Hillsborough, so that was the best thing we ever turned down.”
Is it weird hearing Pinky and Perky – two puppet pigs from the ‘50s – covering something that, lyrically, is a very #MeToo song?
“Yeah, definitely! We were doing ‘Bad Old Man’ at the time which mentions drowning paedophiles in duck ponds and got it sent to us and you just giggle. But it was oddly flattering. I mean, Roy Chubby Brown has used ‘You’re Gorgeous’ in the past – which must be the most horrible one. I’m not a fan of him.”
3: What is the name of the devil-worshiping cult in Blessed, the film you scored in 2004?
“I remember that! They had Andy Serkis and Heather Graham in it. It was like a remake of Rosemary’s Baby. What was it called?”
WRONG. It was called The New Light Of Dawn.
“(Laughs) Really? Okay! That was a funny experience. We had the producer come in who’d worked on the original ‘80s Tron and he was going through some of the takes and the music. He was this old, almost Italian gangster type and he wanted more of Heather Graham’s arse in it. There was an exciting shot of where a car went over the river and he wanted it cut down so they could creepily show more of Heather Graham climbing through a window.”
Cults are obviously fanatical. Ever had any equally-hardcore fan encounters?
“Well, one was talking to me pleasantly about the music outside London’s Splash Club when we had a residency in ’96 , then threatened me with: ‘I’ve got a knife in my pocket’.”
4: Your 2000 single ‘The F-Word’ was used as the theme tune for Gordon Ramsay’s television series of the same name. Can you name any artists that you’ve appeared on live bills with who have also guested on his show?
“Oh God, I’ve no idea! I never used to watch the program, though I’m flattered they used our music….Wait, I know Liam Gallagher did one and we played Benicassim with him.”
CORRECT. You could also have had Alex James and Cliff Richard.
“The Cliff Richard one was very odd! I think Elton John was also on that line-up. It was an EMI conference. We hadn’t even been signed, and the A&R man put me on. I put a seven-inch single on and sung over the top of it. We wanted something that would make me stand out. It was weird. Cliff Richard came in before and cleared everyone out who was smoking – this was when you could smoke indoors. No-one had a clue who I was! (Laughs). The same A&R guy got sacked because he gave us money and put us on that bill!”
For a bonus half-point, who introduced you when you played it live on The National Lottery Live – Red Alert?
“It was strange to be singing a song on BBC prime time Saturday night which is ‘fuck’ basically, although people think it’s ‘The Food Word’ because of Gordon Ramsay. It felt quite subversive.”
5: You’re playing Jo Whiley’s Cool Britannia festival this summer. Can you name three other acts appearing on the same day and stage as you?
“I haven’t seen the line-up. Is it The Krankies? (Laughs). Shed Seven? Echobelly? Sleeper? I’m trying to go through all the Britpop people I know. Jesus Jones?”
WRONG. You could have had Basement Jaxx, The Coral, Starsailor, Gabrielle…
“Oh God, Gabrielle’s not Britpop! Well, I like all the first three. I saw Gabrielle on TV recently and she still wears her hair over her eye – someone needs to find out what’s going on there.”
…Fun Lovin’ Criminals or Dodgy…
“That’s the connection – because we’re supporting Dodgy at the moment which is why we probably got offered it.”
Who were the most fun people to hang with during the ‘90s?
“I met Kate Moss one evening and she was with the Super Furry Animals and had a fantastic night at the Camden Barfly. I crawled home not knowing where I was by the end of it. (Laughs) That all sounds so shitty-showbiz! Two years ago, I had a heart attack and I got to know Paul Whitehouse because we both have heart conditions. He looked after me during that period and would get in contact every other day, which is quite amazing because he’s such a big hero of mine.”
Did your heart attack change anything in your life?
“It made me want to enjoy it really. Before, I wouldn’t have done a tour with Dodgy, because I’m only playing for 40 minutes. But I love my band and they’ve been there for 20 years and even sitting in the van and chatting to them makes it worthwhile. So yeah: (Joking) my standards are lower!”
6: Which Royal allegedly dedicated ‘You’re Gorgeous’ to “any of you people who are in the mood for lurve” when he DJ-ed in Chile in 2000?
“Oh yeah – Prince William.”
“That was staggering – I’m not sure how you’re supposed to take that! I’m sure he’s used that line a thousand times with different songs.”
From a Prince to the actual Queen of Pop; didn’t you once meet Madonna?
“Me, Madonna, Kasabian and Paul Weller were all in a little studio in Primrose Hill. We never met, she just ferreted about mysteriously. We once saw her going into the toilet, so we were all outside having a listen (Laughs) – to see what Madonna does in the toilet.”
7: You’ve released a phenomenal amount of music under an array of different aliases. Can you name which albums the following songs are from?
‘Trust Me Not’
“That’s on the Black Reindeer sampler but I can’t remember the actual album.”
WRONG. It was Black Reindeer’s ‘Music From The Film That Never Got Made’.
“This is going to be tricky. (Laughs) Go on.”
“Oh God, no idea!”
WRONG. It was released under the guise of Deluder on the album ‘Media paedo terrorist pop songs’.
“Yeah, it’s not a very poptastic title! (Laughs) It was taking snippets from the newspapers at the time. The media thinks all people want to read about constantly is sensational stories about pedophiles and terrorists.”
“Was that off an album called ‘Outtakes’? Oh, it was on ‘Fatherhood’.
“When I first started in ’95, we wanted to put out five albums in nine months, like a pregnancy cycle, from birth to death. That was quite hard, but now with Bandcamp, you can just do it. If people stumble over my Bandcamp, it’s like ‘Where the hell do I start?’ (Laughs). There’s almost too much stuff. I’ve got hundreds of cassettes in my studio and they’re not even labelled – I work so fast.”
HALF A POINT OVERALL.
8: When he was an A&R for Phonogram Records, Nick Beggs – once bassist in Kajagoogoo – turned down signing you, allegedly commenting ‘When you’ve written a middle eight and done these songs properly with a band, then we might be interested.’ Aside from ‘Too Shy’, can you name a Kajagoogoo single?
“NO! Put that in big capitals. I’m very, very, very happy that I can’t. Because they’re so similar to Black Lace, I’d guess ‘Agadoo’?”
WRONG. You could have had – consults Wikipedia – ‘Ooh to be Ah’, ‘Hang on Now’, ‘Big Apple’, ‘The Lion’s Mouth’, ‘Turn Your Back On Me’, ‘Shouldn’t Do That’ or ‘Rocket Boy’.
“It was only months after he told me I needed to learn to write a middle-eight and was so incredibly patronising to me that I got signed.”
What was the worst thing that was ever said or written about you?
“That I look like Worzel Gummidge – it was when I bleached my hair blond and the band didn’t tell me it looked like spaghetti.”
9: On the artwork for the ‘Bad Shave’ album, you’re wearing Union Jack boxer shorts. Which bird does the text next to you compare you with?
“An English ostrich…back from Spain.”
“That was the album when we started to get interest. The first one was ‘Born A Man’, so we did a nine-month sequence all the way to the fifth album which was ‘Dying Happy’ – that was the concept we went to the record companies with. I put all the reviews for that period in a paperback – it’s a hundred page book. I don’t keep a diary, so it’s great to look back and see where I was on certain days.”
10: Which Stockport band regularly covers ‘You’re Gorgeous’ live as part of an acoustic medley with Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’ and Oasis’s ‘Half The World Away’?
“I’ve seen a video of it. It’s funny we’ve been merged with Oasis because I tend to bump into Noel and Liam in weird circumstances. When we played Benicassim, Liam sat opposite me on the coach just staring at me because I was being drunkenly ranted at by our tour manager – who was wearing only a towel because he’d been for a massage. He kept falling off his chair and the towel kept coming undone. I was mortified. Even though Liam was wearing glasses, I could sense the disapproval in his eyes!”
“People still write to me and ask me: ‘We’ll give you £50 if you come to our wedding and sing ‘You’re Gorgeous’’ – and it’s not a song you want directed at you! (Laughs) Years ago, a fan came up to me and sung all the verses in a row to make the point that she understood exactly what it was about.”
Which current bands do you rate?
“My daughter’s 17 and I listen to a lot of music that she does – I like XXXTentacion, Travis Scott, WSTRN.”
Do your kids like your music?
“They come to my shows and genuinely like it. I’m quite mental onstage so the first time my son came, he was in shock! When we recorded a live DVD, the director asked if I wanted a separate DVD of the comedy in-between because it went on longer than the songs! But my background is in theatre and stand-up – so I enjoy the back-and-forth with the audience.
The verdict: 7/10
“That’s not bad. I’m very glad I didn’t get the Kajagoogoo question, so that’s made my evening! Limahl used to live near me – he’s very small.”
Babybird’s new album ‘Happy Stupid Nothing’ is out now via Psycho Mafia Recordings.