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Ten Questions with...


Top man and ex-member of the Grip/Wildhearts/Honeycrack and now in Celebrity Squares. Read on...

1. What are you currently up to?

Amongst many things too numerous to mention, I am putting the finishing touches to author/comedian Tony Hawks' album, to accompany his book 'One hit Wonderland' which I was fairly actively involved with. I am also preparing material for the next series of 2DTV (animated political/social satirical comedy on ITV), for which I have written the music for the past two series.

This afternoon I am recording a couple of minutes of music for a new Lenny Henry video - 'Lenny Henry - This is My Life' I am just about to go up to the Edinburgh festival where I am appearing for Steve Furst at 'Lenny Beige's Pick of the Fringe' on the 17th and 18th of August, to promote the new single (The Celebrity Squares/Anyway/Stupid 369CD006) which is released through Cargo on Sept 2nd.

In between eating, using the lavatory, sleeping and developing a permanent lip gloss that retains it's colour and won't remove the enamel from your teeth, I am also mixing the last few tracks for The Celebrity Squares - my new band.

2. Who were your influences?

Sorry to opt out but that's just too hard. It's a bit like 'what is your favourite song'? Surely most of us know that the answer will depend on where we are in life, what mood we're in, our physical and mental conditions or which chemicals might be coursing through our body. Or perhaps whether we feel that we're in love, or heartbroken etc etc. There are millions of events/people/experiences that influence me, that seem crucial at the time or later, but irrelevant five minutes before or after. Besides which, I've never really felt that I have a career.

My time at various periods, seems to have been well occupied, but the very word 'career' suggests a strategy or a goal and I'm not entirely convinced that I've ever had either for more than a couple of seconds.

3. Which band would you like to see reform?

Another long list of possible answers, but I already feel my own pedantry becoming a burden so how about I just say JELLYFISH.

4. I was lucky enough to see you perform with Tony Hawks at his book launch party the other week. How did this collaboration come about? Working with two Sir's (Norman Wisdom & Tim Rice) must have been an experience!

I was introduced to Tony through comedian/actor Ben Miller, who took me around to Tony's one night for a musical evening. Five actor/comedians with guitars, and myself, armed with a guitar and a sneer which quickly turned into a smile as I realised immediately that Tony was/is one of the few decent people you'll ever meet in entertainment (or indeed anywhere else). He told me about his recent idea for a book involving him having a hit record, and invited me to collaborate as a co-writer and producer.

Before committing to anything, I went out and bought his first two books, 'Round Ireland with a Fridge' and 'Playing the Moldovan's at Tennis', and after reading them, found I liked him and his bizarre yet philosophical approach to life, even more. (Go out and buy the books, I can't be arsed to walk through the plots here - suffice to say they are life affirming and well worth the read).

So enthused was I, that I accompanied Tony to Moldova last May and filmed his triumphant return to a country that few Englishman had heard of before his book. I then agreed to be involved in this third project of madness, which involved having a hit record anywhere in the world within a two year period (an idle dinner party bet, as most of his adventures have been). We spent weeks in my studio exploring musical areas and styles, that bore little or no relationship to anything that I had done before, and for the most part, it was a thoroughly enjoyable departure for me.

The Tim Rice/Norman Wisdom/Hawks collaboration, was one of the last songs I produced for Tony, and yes it was surreal. An 87 year old man clowning and tripping himself up all over the studio like a naughty school boy, while one of the richest lyricists in the known universe chortled at his antics, (before excusing himself as he had to be in Stockholm with Benny and Bjorn from Abba), has to go down as one of the more bizarre moments in my life so far. Not least of which was a nagging fear, that as I pushed Norman for vocal take after vocal take, that he might just collapse and I would have to add to my CV; 'Willie Dowling - The man that killed Norman Wisdom'.

5. Going back in time...the Grip were a great band (I still have my vinyl album!). Was this ever released on CD at all? Why do you think big success never came about? Kerrang! were a keen supporter (if my memory serves right).

Yes the Grip album 'Be Yourself' is available on CD (although it may well be deleted by now) on Razor Records, but I don't have a copy myself so can't provide a catalogue number. By coincidence, it would appear that one of The Grip's tracks, 'Baby Blue' is about to be used as background music in a Dennis Hopper/Elizabeth Shue/Joseph Fiennes film titled 'Leopold Bloom', out later this year.

Why were The Grip never successful? No reason. Not as lucky as some others. You get lucky or you don't, it's a simple as that. Or perhaps we were actually dreadful, I really don't know, but at the time I thought we were pretty good.

6. Your new band The Celebrity Squares - who is in the line-up and what style of music do you play? (Please feel free to plug as much as you like!)

The line up of The Celebrity Squares is as mysterious as it is dull. (I should of course name check the various performers on the new album. Aside from myself you can hear, Greg Hatwell, Andy Lewis, Andy Robertson, Hugo Degenhardt, Kate Stevenson, John Steel, J.Mac and J.B. the horns from hell, and if I ever get around to finishing 'Deep and Meaningless' Eva Rice and Lucinda Labes.) The music could be described in the same way, although I would prefer 'eclectic pop' as an inadequate and lazy way to describe it.

7. Do you prefer writing in a band format ie bouncing ideas of other people or on your own? How do your song ideas come about?

Same sad answer I'm afraid. Sometimes I prefer to write on my own. Sometimes I want to collaborate. Sometimes I struggle to complete a song over months, other times they seem to write themselves in twenty minutes. Which is better? I've no idea, you tell me.

8. Who would you like to work with in the future?

A reformed Jellyfish might be interesting, or perhaps Jesus, but I don't think I'm qualified.

9. What was the last thing you read?

I have three books on the go at the moment: 'Black Vinyl/White Powder' (Simon Napier Bell), 'American Scream - The Bill Hicks Story' (Cynthia True) and I've almost completed (inevitably) 'One Hit Wonderland' (Tony Hawks) to see if his version of events bear any resemblance to how I remember our times together....

10. Message for your fans...

Thank you for your loyalty, undying support and unfathomable faith in me. You really are a very nice couple.

'Introducing... The Celebrity Squares' the debut single from The Celebrity Squares is released on 2 September 2002. The catalogue number is 369CD006 available through Cargo Distribution. For further information see The Celebrity Squares' website

Interview © 2002 Jason Ritchie/
Format and edit: The Music Index.

All rights reserved.

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