Famous Last Words
He used to thump his bassist and wake up hugging tramps. Now it’s Disney movies, ackee with saltfish and – ah! – world music. But what will he make of the burning question…
How the devil are you?[Pretends to mishear] How is the devil in me? I’m a great fan of the devil. I like the colour red, and he’s red, so that’s alright by me.
What was the first gig you ever went to?
I went to see a musical called The Point in Camden in about 1972. I was four. I can’t remember what it was about but there were a lot of people with pointed heads. My first pop gig was Squeeze in Ipswich when I was 12.
What were you like at school?
The first nine years of my life were spent in the East End, and I was an average, fairly confident child. It was a very mixed upbringing – there was a Trinidadian family on one side and a Spanish one on the other. Then my parents moved to a village outside Colchester and I went to a very white school. I didn’t fit in – for the rest of my school days I was on the periphery, a show-off, but always getting beaten up.
If you weren’t a rock star what would you be?
A farmer. My grandad and uncle were farmers. I used to spend my summers in Lincolnshire on the farm. I’d get up at 5.30am, and sit on my grandad’s tractors. I loved it.
What’s your most treasured material possession?
I’m not really into material things. But something that’s never left me is a teddy, that was first my grandad’s, then my mum’s, my uncle’s, then mine, and now it’s my daughter’s.
What’s the worst record you’ve ever made?
I did some really bad stuff when I was about 18. It was never released, but you can get it now on the internet – thanks to some cruel bastards. That was when I was in Two’s A Crowd. Dreadful.
When did you last cry and why?
Last night, briefly. I cry from frustration or joy. One of the most amazing music-related times I cried was when I saw the Buena Vista Social Club play at the Barbican. It was a joyous moment.
What’s your poison?
Kiwi fruits. They make my throat swell up. I had one in Mexico once just before we went onstage and my mouth started coming out in blisters and bleeding. I was briefly allergic to avocados, but I relate that to my first girlfriend. I used to make her avocado and bacon on toast, and when we split up I developed an allergy to avocados – I think it was a psychosomatic thing.
Pick five words to describe yourself.
Cheeky, confident, insecure, sharp, direct.
What’s in your pockets right now?
The keys to my studio, three-quarters of a stick of Orbit, a Lee Oscar harmonica in D, Camel Lights, an organic biscuit wrapper, a hanky, a lighter, £50 crumpled up and credit cards.
Who was the last person you punched?
I haven’t punched anyone for a long time. Probably myself, accidentally. Have I ever punched anyone in the band? Oh yeah, all of them. I used to punch Alex a lot. He used to say really annoying things deliberately. I almost think he liked being punched.
What was the last record you bought?
A record of ’70s Angolan music. I buy a lot, about 30 to 40 every two weeks.
What are you most likely to complain about in a hotel?
I don’t really like hotels, period, but I rarely complain. I hate dreary English hotels, Trusthouse Fortes. I find them really unsettling.
What characteristics have you inherited from your parents?
My mother’s side were all farmers, and my father’s were all conscientious objectors and intellectuels, so I’m an interesting balance of… considered earthiness.
What’s your most unpleasant characteristic?
Blimey, there’s so many… [Long, long pause]. The inability to make good cup of tea. I can cook though.
So what’s your culinary speciality?
I make a respectable ackee and saltfish. We spent a month in the Caribbean earlier this year, and the cook there taught me how to make it.
Your greatest fear?
Wasting time. I’m not as much of a workaholic as I used to be, but sometimes I’ll be watching TV and get irrationally angry with myself because I’m wasting time.
What music would you have at your funeral?
Maybe a gospel choir. Something everyone could join in with. No, I’ll tell you what. I’d get some Mongolian dual-tone singers. They sing a really resonant high note and a low one, both at the same time.
What’s the greatest film ever made?
The Jungle Book is pretty high up there. I haven’t watched it with Missy [his daughter] yet, but we will do.
Can you recite a line of poetry?
I’m so bad at remembering words… Most of the music I listen to now is sung in different languages – I realised you don’t really need to listen to lyrics, it’s more the feel. I’m more into sounds than actual meanings. So, no. Sorry.
Have you ever been arrested?
Yes, a lot in my early twenties. Drunk and disorderly. I once got arrested on Peckham High Street for dismantling a belisha beacon and walking down the middle of the road with it stuck on a scaffolding pole. And I narrowly escaped arrest after trying to change the clock at the top of the tower on New Cross town hall. The worst time was at a private viewing at the Slade School Of Fine Art. I got really pissed and was found hugging a tramp in Euston Station. When I woke up I was sharing a cell with a Gurkha who’d got drunk while on leave, and he was ranting in Nepalese. I was very confused.
What turns you on?
I’ve never really identified it. Er… the smell of fresh cut grass. Not that exclusively though. It doesn’t take much to turn me on.
A sense of holding time in your arms.
Where are you off to now?
To do Top Of The Pops for the 35th or 36th time. It’s always fun, although when I was having panic attacks in my mid-twenties, anything like that was hell. It’s nice – sometimes you see people you know there.