Ahh…I’m fairly fucked on a Sunday afternoon. Outside it’s September 2012. My Albanian Chum stopped by at 3pm and I’ve been swallowing Vodka and cranberry since an hour before that at least.
I’ve got a gig tonight but it’s not my own, thankfully…
I always loved the odd Echo and the Bunnymen song but the only albums I really got into were ‘Ocean Rain’ and ‘Live in Concert‘. And, uh… ‘The Best of Echo and the Bunnymen’. I also had an aural hard on for ‘Candleland‘ and ‘Mysterio‘ back in the day. I’ve revisited the former lately and it’s aged well, probably because it was so out of time when it was released.
It’s a lifetime later that same September Sunday and I’m being escorted to the dressing room of the Globe theatre in Cardiff to meet Ian McCulloch.
I think the chap with me is a lovely, mellow fellow called Jon Mouse. I think he’s arranged the gig. By now I’m not sure of much.
Mouse and I are talking as we walk : Me : ‘I think I’m gonna talk to him about the dereliction of beauty that comes with age’. Mouse : ‘I wouldn’t if I were you’. Me : ‘How was the soundcheck’? Mouse : “I was surprised at how, um, fat he is. But it was interesting. At one point Ian was drinking a glass of red wine at the sound-check and when it finished (The glass not the sound-check) Ian just looked over to his Tour manager without saying anything and he ran over and topped it up.”
Maybe the sound-check was better than the gig. I’ve loved a lot of what McCulloch has done over the years. There’s a Shakespearean quality to his best work, whatever that means. He rocks that uniquely English thing of self-sabotage. Then there’s his voice. He has one and also knows how to sing. The two don’t always go hand in hand. The occasional immortal lyric…That stance of not trying to hard, in fact of fucking it all up but succeeding anyway. As a young ingénue many folk commented we looked alike. With the arrogance of youth I always thought I was better looking…But the gig. The gig was full of ugliness. Crowd baiting, heckling. McCulloch barely finished a song and seemed to enjoy talking more than singing. At one point I tell a loutish, loud bloke in front of me to ‘Let the man sing’ and am faced up by him in full fury until his girlfriend tells him ; “Anthony, calm the fuck down”. Anthony Versus Anthony. Weird. The bloke from the Lightning Seeds is accompanying McCulloch to no great effect. There are moments of beauty but mostly it’s just a heaving, broiling football hooligan vibe.
Anyhoo, I’m still en-route to Ian’s dressing room. Heart beating like a fucked clock. Head full of feedback and foggy stars. I am the man in the moon. The man IS the moon. I’ve no idea how we came to be walking up these old cinema stairs – how me and Mouse met- or even how I got into the venue but I know I was on the list. “I wanna talk to Ian about the deterioration of beauty” I tell Mouse again tediously, my hand white gripping the Bannister. “Honestly, I don’t think that’s appropriate” he replies kindly. Talking of the decay of beauty I’m not looking good right now. Apart from the gurning I’ve just had a skinhead. I make a mental note not to have any photos taken. Something I sometimes regret now.
I enter the tiny dressing room. Ian is sat calmly with a woman. I’m introduced by Mouse. Before sitting down I help myself to some of Ian’s Courvoisier. He takes this graciously. “What’s your favourite Sinatra B-Side, Ian”? I ask somewhat cryptically. Before he can answer I launch into an acapella version of ‘Forget to remember”. Ian laughs, turning to his companion. “Who the fuck is this guy”? I sit down. “I actually preferred Frank when he was a bit heavier, Y’know” says Ian. This concludes our Sinatra talk but at least I don’t mention growing old et al
Up close he’s surprisingly attractive. Doesn’t seem fat. The overall impression will be that he’s mellow and kind. Not what I expected.
Around now we are joined by my new best friend, a chap called Degsy who I met in the toilets half an hour ago. Degsy sings in an Oasis tribute band but despite this he’s sound. He’s accompanied by his beautiful wife. With six people the dressing room is full to bursting. Degsy engages Ian full on. Despite my intoxication I’m basically shy. I rack up a few lines for us. Ian is cool about it. We share and imbibe.
Me : “What’s the best gear you’ve ever done”? Ian : “Oh. Straight off the boat in Liverpool.”
Me : “Shall I get some more? We can go back to mine and talk about Hunky Dory for eight hours”.
Ian : “Uh…maybe…will your guy take long”?
Before I can answer, Ian’s female companion buts in : “No! Ian. We have got to get up early in the morning. You need an early night.”
There’s a beat of silence.
Me : “You got any Gitanes”?
Ian : “Ha ha..no. Just Marlboro. Here you go. But I don’t think you can smoke in here…”
Me (Lighting up). “It’s OK. I’m running this place now.”
Ian chuckles and lights up himself. “If you say so. “You got any Gitanes” he mimics in his attempt at a Cardiff accent, chuckling some more.
I spend the rest of our time talking to Degsy’s girlfriend about David Sylvian while Degsy corners Ian.
At one point Ian playfully says to Degsy “I think this bloke is trying to pick up your bird”.
I look directly at Ian. “I’m Gay Ian. In every way. Except sexually.”
There was something I meant to ask him but it’s gone now. Forget to remember indeed.
Too much courvoisier later but all too soon we are on the stairs again. Walking down them this time. Mouse mentions to Ian that I’ve written a book on Leonard Cohen. “Oh! Why didn’t you say!” he exclaims properly piqued. In fact I meant to bring him a copy but forgot. I also forgot to ask him if he needed any help in finishing (starting)? His own autobiography, Silverfish which he did a deal for years ago. It still hasn’t appeared. Great raconteurs don’t necessarily make great writers.
Me : “I did a book on Scott Walker too. You into him”?
Ian : “Uhh. Some of it. Not all that plastic cellophane people shite though…”
Before we part he presses the pack of Marlboro’s into my hand. He sparks up his Cardiff accent impression : “Here ya go. Some Gitanes for ya”.
He disappears chuckling.
I vow to keep the Marlboros for evermore but smoke them the next morning.