This book is not meant to be an autobiography proper, or a cautionary tale, although it does probably contain a few. It’s simply a collection of hopefully entertaining, half-remembered half-truths from a carefree and rather out-of-control young life, with perhaps a soupçon of middle-aged hindsight.
I started trying to write a book in 2003, as my professional life had all but ground to a halt.
I had a studio at the legendary Townhouse - legendary meaning it’s now closed down - but not a lot to do in it. My TV composing work had dried up, the musical I’d written with Gary Kemp and Shane Connaughton had stalled, and my attempts at being a pop songwriter had been fruitless. Hardly surprising really, as to be a successful pop writer you have to genuinely like Westlife records. Apart from the odd bass session I was at a standstill.
Trawling through the dusty attic of my addled memory, I found that I’d been in rather a lot of daft and amusing situations, so I set about writing them down. The only problem being that I was a lot better at telling stories than writing them, probably because telling them involves a lot less typing and a lot more shouting.
In the end I decided to try telling them in front of an audience, organizing a members’ dinner at the Groucho Club. This is where people buy tickets, have dinner and listen to a talk on whatever the speaker’s subject is - usually their new cookery book. The only problem was that half the people I was going to talk about came along.
I scanned the room, looked at my notes and thought, Can’t do that one . . . Can’t do that one . . . Can’t do . . . till I thought, Sod it, if you can’t say it in front of them, you shouldn’t be saying it at all.
Despite being one of the most nerve-wracking and unenjoyable experiences of my life, it went down surprisingly quite well. One thing led to another, and within a few months I was at the Edinburgh Festival with a one-man show.
In the meantime, something else odd happened: I became a working musician again, landing the dream job of bassist for Roxy Music and for the reactivated David Gilmour. It seems that when you get up on a stage and poke fun at pop stars, you start getting hired again - not that those acts had much to worry about, I’m not that stupid.
The next thing I knew, people started telling me I should write a book, so here we are, back where I started.
I've tried to keep it true to the spirit of my show, meaning it’s about the stuff that’s happened to and around me, rather than about me. I don’t see the appeal of my personal life, or any of the depressing bits that are part and parcel of any life, but as a result, there’s a lot that’s been left out, and some of my closest friends don’t even get a mention. All this book is meant to include is the funny stuff, usually involving people you’ve heard of, which is pretty much what I’d like to hear if I was sitting round a table with anyone vaguely interesting, or not even.
Through a combination of luck, ability, and perhaps a bit of wit and charm, as well as a distinct lack of common sense or willingness to think things through, coupled with a complete disregard for my own wellbeing, a terrible fear of missing out and no idea that you can in fact occasionally say no to things, both professionally and personally, I spent fifteen years careering around the world in the company of some of the finest, daftest and most iconic musicians of the post-sixties era.
It was never my intention to be a session musician - in fact it’s only recently occurred to me how low an aim that is - but people I really wanted to play with just kept offering me money. Admittedly back in the eighties ‘session musician’ wasn’t the dirty word it is today; we were fêted and sought after, and received most of the trimmings, if not all the trappings, of global pop success.
At various times during my career, I made pathetic half-hearted stabs at getting my own thing going, but in truth that’s not where my heart lay. I’ve never had a manifesto or the conviction to stand up and be counted as an artiste.
Most musicians are people who fall in love with music in their formative years and decide, That’s what I want to do. They then go and find like-minded people and start the next generation of bands.
I,on the other hand, fell in love with music in my formative years, but when I decided, That’s what I want to do, I meant just that. I wanted to play that music with those people. Playing Comfortably Numb with Pink Floyd, or Kashmir with Jimmy Page, getting to play Bernard Edwards’s bass guitar which he used to played Good Times with him in the room and having Joe Strummer record a vocal in my house were good enough for me, as opposed to, say, starting the Stone Roses.
If it wasn’t for the fact that Johnny Marr was literally stuck in the room in front of me, I would probably never have realized his genius, for by the tender age of twenty-four, having already worked with the likes of Robert Palmer, Bernard Edwards and Bryan Ferry, my icons were set in stone, and I simply didn’t feel the same dumbstruck awe for artists of my own generation.
Take Live8, for instance. It was quite probably the greatest live music event ever. Well, since Live Aid anyway. Then again, it depends on your taste, maybe neither of them rocked your boat. I mean, it’s pretty subjective, isn’t it? Morrissey was hardly jumping up and down about either of them.
But I digress. Everyone, it seemed, was either thrilled about going, thrilled about performing, thrilled about watching it, thrilled about everyone agreeing to donate their tax dollars to Africa, despite not paying tax themselves, like Bono, or simply thrilled to have something to slag off, like Damon Albarn. I was far from thrilled, though. I was in a pit of despair. After eight years without a decent live gig, I suddenly had to choose between playing with Pink Floyd in London or Roxy Music in Berlin.
My obvious loyalty was to Pink Floyd. The keyboard player is my father-in-law, my family had just got back from a rather delightful holiday with their guitarist and the drummer had just got me a rather fun if bizarre job that entailed recreating the Top Gear theme tune using only car exhaust noises.
No band has ever impacted on my professional and personal life in the way Pink Floyd has, ever since they asked me to take the bass player’s spot vacated by Roger Waters. A spot that was no longer vacant. That was the whole bloody point, wasn’t it? Roger was back! Hurrah! That’ll show those miserly old G8 finance ministers. If Roger Waters can be persuaded to leave the golf course, surely they’ll have to cancel Africa’s debt! Roger, however, wanted to play acoustic guitar on two songs, so David, quite rightly I thought, suggested I play bass.
The problem was, I was already booked to play with Roxy Music, something I’d wanted to do pretty much all my adult life. If I hadn’t been playing for Mr Ferry back in 1987, I probably wouldn’t have been considered for the Floyd gig in the first place.
In the end I plumped for Roxy Music. Ironically, I was apparently the last thing you saw on TV before Floyd came on. Ironic because, if I’d taken the Floyd gig, you wouldn’t have seen me at all.
Most of the stories in this book are about people, places and events, not about music itself, since that’s one thing I do tend to take seriously, and is intended for anyone who has ever enjoyed music in even the most casual sense, as opposed to the serious fan, anorak, obsessive, stalker or even musician.
Having been forced to revisit my younger years, it seems extraordinary that I’m here at all, let alone a reasonably well-balanced - despite the occasional lapse - father who’s just celebrated his tenth wedding anniversary.
Rock music now has such a long history that it can’t possibly impact on young people in the same way it did on me. Today it’s just an accepted part of the landscape of growing up, a soundtrack to your favourite video game and a way to sell mobile phones. For the last twelve years, all rock music has done is look backwards, though that’s not to say that some great music hasn’t been made, as clearly it has.
Back in the eighties, music was driven by technology. Practically every week there was a new ‘box’ to get excited about, and studios were magical temples of science and art, to which access was an exclusive privilege. Nowadays your laptop comes with a recording studio included, which makes it all a bit less precious. But it seems odd that whilst musical technology has moved forwards at the same speed as lighting and video technology, the music itself has stopped and turned around. At most gigs today you’ll listen to music you could have heard at the Riki Tik club in 1964, while the lighting and staging have become totally space age, which strikes me as a tad incongruous. But then I’m just a grumpy old man, what do I know? Read on and you’ll find out how little ...