The guitar hero, producer, solo artist and collaborator, who hit the charts with Suede, McAlmont & Butler and The Tears, tells Jennifer Otter Bickerdike about the first single he ever bought…
“The very first piece of vinyl I bought for myself was the single for Hand In Glove by The Smiths. That’s really pretentious, isn’t it? Oh, The Smiths! But at the time, they shaped everything you wanted to do and be. That band was a world you just dove into; you couldn’t get enough of it. People have this image now that they were performing at Wembley Stadium back then, that they were huge; but they weren’t. They did one night at Brixton Academy. Radio 1 wouldn’t play them. Being a fan was a club, a very private club – that was part of the attraction.
“I first got into them through my brother. I’m the youngest of three boys. When I was growing up, I shared a room with the eldest one. It’s the stereotypical story. Through the 80s, he bought records: all of the Rough Trade releases, all of the Factory albums. He purchased them all, so I never had to get any of my own. He got older stuff, too: The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters – all of that from the age of about 11 to 12. I was quite lucky to hear all of those artists early on.”
Sell the Glove
“We used to lay in bed and listen to John Peel every night. This Charming Man had come out, and everyone saw them on Top Of The Pops. The Smiths were pretty pop music. It was melodic and emotional. I’m second-generation Irish; I grew up with a lot of country music in the 70s. All of the Irish people around me were listening and talking about country and western. That style of music is also pretty melodic, emotional and overwrought. When I heard The Smiths, it made sense. Reel Around The Fountain was the first thing I heard on John Peel; I remember just saying: ‘What is this?’. I was desperate to hear anything from the group. I found out they had another single out, called Hand In Glove. I ordered it from a shop in Wood Green that’s not there anymore. Back then, you often had to order a record, so you may not know what it looked like until it was in your hand. When it arrived, the sales clerk put it on the counter. It’s a silver-and-ice-blue cover with a naked man’s butt on it. The clerk looked down at the cover and looked at me. I was like: ‘I think that’s the one, yeah’. It was just sort of an odd moment for me and surely for the clerk. I just thought, ‘I’m going to go home, get the record out quickly and put it on, because I’m not sure how to deal with this kind of stuff’. But obviously, The Smiths sleeves became part of the whole thing – they were beautiful covers.”