How did you find recording for the first time without Pete and the others?
Well it was weird; I didn’t want to do it. Pete was the first to record alone with The Tillerboys. He even sold me some of the records, but I never played them, to me it was like John and Yoko experimentations.
On the last three singles we did with Martin Hannett we recorded at a studio near the GPO tower before we ended up at Townhouse studio, that was the first time we took loads of drugs in the studio. It was about being on the road, partying with girls after the show. If you don’t do that when you’re twenty, you’ll never fucking do it you know? That time is a whole book in itself. But as well as the birds and drugs we were also on the case with the music. Of course we had Hannett back in the studio so if (producer) Martin Rushent couldn’t make it, we thought lets get psychedelic.
Was that with Flag Of Convenience?
Yeah. I had a load of psychedelic songs. ‘Running Free’ was a great song, but the vocal on that was me singing at six o’clock in the morning, tripping, coking and fucking stoned. Hannett said ‘shall we do a vocal now?’ and I’m like ‘It’s six in the fucking morning Martin and I’m off me nut, but I’ll do guide vocal’. That guide vocal is the one he used on the record! We were out of our minds at the Townhouse but there had to be a bit of madness otherwise you might as well work in an office. Back at Strawberry Studios I would find Martin Hannett in a cupboard saying ‘I’m seeing things!’
Before I did this solo stuff I thought I was losing it a bit. I think we all (the band) lost the plot in a way. Pete did his own thing and I think there was disregard for someone like John Maher who was one of the greatest drummers ever. John was our Charlie Watts. In fact, when he joined me in Flag Of Convenience he started wearing suits like Charlie.
Pete was obviously going in a completely different musical direction to you.
When I heard Pete’s record I told him in The Hacienda that he sounded lonely on that record, and he didn’t speak to me for a few weeks after that. Even as a solo artist you need someone to feed off. In my solo band without someone like Chris (Remington) playing the bass and those marvellous bass lines, it’s like the Buzzcocks tunes without my lead guitar work. Take that away and it’s fucked. ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’, you take the riff away from that song and it’s nothing.
I told Pete not to play outside the band. It’s about Buzzcocks. The Beatles never played outside of what they were doing and the Stones never really did. The Who never did solo stuff till really late on. Of course Pete did leave and I’m not really giving him a hard time about it, but he had to fucking come back. I can’t speak for other groups but with the Buzzers everyone in it makes the group what it is. There is something wonderful about the chemistry and that’s why the Buzzcocks made some great records.
Is poetry still important to the lyrics and music you write today?
Oh yeah, totally. It’s about having this heart and soul. I’m not a fucking scientist. Pete is a maybe a scientist in the way he thinks, the nature of the way Pete writes is a love song sort of thing. I’m more about the feelings and the fucking injustice of the world. I don’t give a fuck if nobody loves me. It’s like back to the Picasso thing of “there is the painting, if you like it you like it, and if you don’t fucking like it it’s still a great painting” you know?
Is that what still inspires your song writing?
Well, I’m still political you know? I’ve got a song called ‘Rock Revolution Punk’, it’s not my best song but I’m putting it on the album, and then another called ‘Sound Of Revolution’, this revolution thing is appearing a lot, I want it to stick in people’s minds. There are also a lot of the sweet songs like ‘Listen To Your Tambourine’ so I need some dirty ones to balance it all out. If you’re gonna sing about anything, revolution is a valuable word. My manager tells me to stop watching MTV after gigs; he says it’s killing my mind.
Do you still have a healthy interest in bands and music today?
I do, but I hear a lot of echoes of stuff that has been before. I’m interested in some of the Cribs’ stuff and what they have to say. In fact I’ve met Johnny Marr a few times over the years and I remember when he worked in a shop in the very early eighties (X clothes in Manchester) and he said ‘I’m in a band and we’re called The Smiths” and I said ‘with a name like that, good luck to you kid’. Little did I fucking know how big they would become! I love the attitude and songs of Oasis, and the Roses and that stuff. The Manchester thing lives on you know?
Is Art and literature still a big influence on the music?
Yeah, but book writers really. James Joyce is one of my heroes. More words, more poetry. I read all the D.H Lawrence stuff and it’s all strength and inspiration really.
That song ‘Why She’s The Girl From The Chainstore’, there’s a lot of background with that. Orwell had spoke about this writer Henry Miller, so I got his book called Black Spring and within the first few pages it said “Forget James Dean, forget Marilyn Monroe, everyone on your street is a hero” and I thought that’s perfect for a punk you know? These people in the street are bigger heroes than the ones on posters.
I had that word ‘chain store’ in my head for some fucking reason, and so I thought lets make the chainstore girl the hero of my song. A lot of it goes back to them sixties books really, that beauty and freedom. There is Bernstein’s language barrier thing where he talks about the way words spoken in the home of a working class family are different to the words spoken in the classroom. A kid at home hearing ‘turn the fucking telly over…’ is sort of spellbound in the classroom by all these big words. It was the thing about underachievers and overachievers that made inspired the lyrics to the chain store record.
I always loved how Lennon told it how it fucking was with ‘Working class Hero’. It‘s that sort of inspiration that is important to me. More than the sex, the drugs, the rock and roll, fame and glamour, I’m back to the roots. Before I joined the group I wanted to get that message across. I don’t give a fuck if nobody loves me; there are bigger issues at stake for me. Coming where I come from I remember people taking their two weeks holiday and spending their money fixing their car and was thinking ‘go to the fucking library or learn something, get something out of life, don’t end up on Jeremy fucking Kyle‘ you know? The punk days made everybody get up and do something.