You Had It Coming

by Paul Guy

© Paul Guy 2001

Interview for FUZZ # 3/2001

I was given a copy of George Martin’s ”In My Life” recently...

- Surprising, isn’t it, that album? Goldie Hawn... sings her ass off! It’s a nice thing, and I’m very chuffed that he chose me.

George is a genius.

- He’s the man, he’s the man!

The 5th Beatle, really.

- Yeah. I can hear his influence more now than ever. Because of recent documentaries he’s done, and looking a lot closer because I was involved with him... You always see it with bigger eyes when you know somebody. And hear with bigger ears, too! I’ve seen more rare Beatles stuff in the last couple of years - rare footage - and there are some really interesting things about them that I never knew. Like how much involvement George had, was amazing - he gave them the sounds and everything that they were looking for.

Your ”Day In The Life”...

- Well, it was a really funny story, because I was stuck in traffic in a heatwave in London, trying to get to the appointment with George to discuss what I was going to play. I hadn’t given it any thought whatsoever, I just thought, they’re bound to know - George Martin and Paul [McCartney] are going to know exactly what I’m supposed to do - and I walked in, and they were working on some old tapes in Abbey Road, with the original eight-track machines. And I couldn’t concentrate on what I was supposed to be there for, I just kept asking them what they were doing, and they were playing John Lennon talking, which is very strange. Up close to a mike - he sounded like he was in the room! - and they said, well, what track have you chosen? And I said, ”aah... uh... A Day In The Life!” And they went, ”Fantastic!”So I went home, and I pondered over it, and I thought, ”What have I done now?” Completely put myself in the shit, you know! But then I thought what a great idea it was, just right off the top of my head. It is a strong tune, and it’s one of our most popular numbers on stage now.

I saw that on the website, they put up your set lists from Japan and places.

- Nothing’s sacred, is it, mate?

I just got a review copy of Jeff’s Book...

Oh, yeah... (embarassed laugh) there’s a whole library of books out there, there’s one from a South African source, Jeanette Carson, is that her name? (laughs)

You mean ”Crazy Fingers”?

- It’s sort of journalistic stalking, isn’t it? I didn’t know anybody knew so much, or cared... Quite an eye-opener really, when you think about it.

I can imagine it must feel a bit strange. You never seem to be enjoy being interviewed on TV by Jools Holland [on BBC TV’s ”Late Night With Jools”] , or things like that.

- No.

Can’t say I blame you.

- I think he’s got a great programme, and it’s vitally important. It fills a void between utter rubbish and really good music - but (laughs) he does have a very cut-and thrust interview style. He never allows you to get into any seriousness. He says, ”Right, moving right along...” ”Oh - I was just going to tell you something!” (Laughs) But I’m glad that it’s an ongoing show, cause I always watch it. You never know who’s going to be on.

We get it over here on satellite - I managed to tape ”Brush With The Blues” when you were on, that was amazing.

- (Laughs) I can’t bear to watch it, I never watch anything I do, no TV shows. I just did one in Japan, and I had to watch a bit of it, because it was a link. They were interviewing me, and I was on when my bit finished, so I had to watch it on the monitor. But it was - I just don’t like watching myself, I’m one of those people who never did do that, and it’s become one of those skeleton-in-the cupboard things. Don’t ever watch what you do. And if I did, it might be useful. But I’ve never broken that barrier yet.

Personally I think that’s got a lot to do with why you’re such a great musician, you don’t seem to have the huge ego some of them have got.

- Well that would be the down side of it. Aside from not looking and sounding as great as you want to sound, or how you want to sound or look, if you did like the way you looked, you’d go, ”Hey, I’m great!” (Laughs)

You might turn out like Noel Gallagher...

- Oh God. Yeah. I don’t think we need another one of those! I just sort of weighed it all up over the last few years, and I thought, well if people are still willing to cough up 60 to 80 bucks a ticket in Japan and America, then I must be doing something right, and that’s the measure I use, the people who come to see me.

Do you know if there are any plans to tour Europe?

- After America, it’s open. We’ve got a couple of European dates with Sting, and one I’m looking forward to in London, which is two days in Hyde Park, which is a biggie - you know, 25, 30 thousand people.

My wife and I decided last night, we’re going to take our holiday in London so we can come and see that.

- Oh, that would be great. Should be a good afternoon, really. Nitin [Sawhney], the guy who wrote ”Nadia” on the album, is on, he’s great. I just stole one of his songs... (Laughs) Ironically, he’s on the same bill - I hope he doesn’t play it!

That’s a lovely song, that. What does he play himself?

- He plays guitar... keyboards, mostly. But he’s a fantastic guitar player. Amplified acoustic - and he plays keyboards, he’s a bit of a Stevie Wonder, actually. I think of him as an Indian-Asian Stevie Wonder. Fabulous. They do typical Indian tabla and raga stuff.

Well of course you’ve always been into that, haven’t you?

- Yeah! I think that’s where all music stems from really. If you listen to all those incredible rhythms, when you break them down, if you simplify one of their rhythms, you’ve got a really fantastic James Brown beat.

”You Had It Coming” is a really interesting record. Last time I talked to you, you still didin’t seem all that keen on modern recording techniques - ”a programmed drum kit sounds like a pile of dogshit” was what you said...

- Yeah... Well... but we decided to go the whole hog with this, and just make it me playing straight, and lacing it into every devious trick we could lay hands on. It was a very fast process, and that’s why I think it came off at all, because the speed was there. We didn’t have time to brood over riffs or anything, it was just balls-out guitar playing and a bit of slick editing on the part of somebody who knows what they’re doing. What was really invaluable was the fact that this guy had no previous knowledge of me, really - he’s one of the younger guys, he knew me as a guitar player, but he didn’t really know track names, or anything like that. So that was great, we started with a clean sheet of paper, and worked with this guy Aiden Love, who is probably the gauger of all the grooves - he started off aiming all these home-brewed sounds at me. And I just went with it - we used to walk next door, just move from one studio to another, it was very convenient, we had an editing suite right next door to another editing suite. So we had one guy working on all the drum sounds in one room, and we would take what he’d done up to date and then slide in all the guitar parts, and then take it back to him in the evening. The following day he would say, ”Right, I’ll see where this is going.” It was a very productive four weeks.

Oh! That’s not bad, for making a record these days.

- No. Considering we didn’t really have anything on the table to start with. There were a few numbers that we’d written, but they changed so drastically overnight when Andy got cracking and started playing me back to myself - I started to realise what was going on.

So you actually enjoyed doing it this way?

- Yeah, I did, because of the speed and the efficiency. You don’t have to wait for rewinding tape any more, you just press the button and you’re instant, it’s there. So you can chase your tail, and catch it, which is cool.

So you think the technology has come of age, now, then?

- Oh, it’s definitely there - I think it’s been there for a long time. It’s seeped in now, and it’s not going away. The dilemma is, whether to go pure, and stay with the real drums, bass and guitar - that might be the crafty trick, to go backwards. I don’t know. To get a grind - to get the sound that you want, there’s no substitute for tape and drum kits. Digital drums are really not good. Real drums on digital tape doesn’t really make it either. You can’t get a better sound than Motown, or Stax and all that stuff, James Brown’s drummers - those were the guys who somehow knew how to tune their drums, by some miracle somebody was around to record that sound. The same goes for Sam Philips and all those guys.

And they did it all with two mikes, too.

- Yeah! That’s right. The close miking was the kiss of death. Because if you put your ear down by the bass drum where the mike is, you don’t hear anything! You don’t hear anything you want to hear - you just hear a sort of ”thwack!” I’d go back to the old forties big band drummers, with Sinatra and all that - some of the most incredible players, really kicking ass! With a 50-piece orchestra, or a band...

Gene Krupa at the back, banging away like Animal!

- And they didn’t have twenty mikes on the drums! They just shoved the drummer down the road a bit, and put a couple of mikes there. Nobody seems to want to do it that way any more - they don’t want to spend a day or more placing mikes, and that’s why this bedroom recording is so convenient, because if you can get a sound that nobody really cares about, as long as it sounds reasonable, that’s the way it goes, isn’t it?

The trouble is, anyone can go into a music shop a buy a little digital recording studio that will give him all the sounds and everything, but does he have any talent?

- No - but as long as they keep it to themselves, that’s fine! (Laughs)

You really made the technology work for you on this album , though.

- Yeah - I wouldn’t have engrossed myself in the project if I’d spent a week and got nothing - but if nothing else, we were coming out with some original ideas of mine. And the guitar is still in the face. And it enabled me to find who I am a little bit more. Rather than trying to interpret someone else’s custom made songs, you know. So this is my first album, really! We’ll start here, thankyou very much!

My copy, actually - it’s a CD-R copy, it has the working title, ”Rock Sucker”...

- Oh, yeah, collector’s item! I though it was better left as a quirky talking point, rather than having some cheesy title that didn’t suit me. I mean, there’s no other way you can perceive that title - even though it’s not strictly against the rules, it just had some sort of strong undertones.

I love the working title on track 8 - ”Shut Yer Gob”...

- (Laughs) We’ve got fistfuls of weird titles, it’s just one of those things with instrumental music, unless somebody’s got a really great title to begin with, you’re stuck. You can call it anything, cause there’s no lyric. Except for Rollin’ and Tumblin’ - there’s no lyric to guide you as to what it’s all about.

I don’t have a copy of the sleeve notes, so - I know ”Earthquake” is Jennifer’s song, and then there’s ”Nadia” and ”Rollin’ and Tumblin’”, but are the rest your own compositions?

- Yep. Aided and abetted by Andy Wright - I could go over it bar by bar with you , to give him the credit - but of course the record wouldn’t have got made if he hadn’t been there, and it certainly wouldn’t have got made if I hadn’t been there! What he did was to take what I do, and make it listenable. In other words, we would do a twenty minute tear-up on the guitar, and then go away, have a cup of tea, come back and pick out the bones. That’s probably the best way to work, really. You’ve got spontaneous input from me, and then editing from Andy, and then it goes on from there. We’d come back the next day and go, ”Yeah, we know we loved it yesterday - but we hate it today!” So then we’d change - but at least we’ve got something on the table riff-wise. I wanted to keep it simple, and keep it hypnotic - it’s like having a kind of weird housy rave in your house, that record, without having to crank the volume up till your house falls down. You can do that, of course, but...

Did the band have any input at all in the studio?

- Well, they did - there was a very precarious moment during the recording process. I think all in all it was six weeks, and two weeks of that were taken up with involvement with the band - putting bass on, little bits of bass - we mirrored almost all the tracks with drums, just to give a framework of real drums - but when we tried to mix it all down, the drums actually clouded it, they didn’t keep it concise. And it was dated, it had a definite sort of dated sound. Which was OK - but we had to make the choice between 48 tracks of drums, or one track of really kick-ass tech (laughs). And it seemed to be more in keeping with what was going on, what I wanted to do. So that caused a little bit of a ruction with the drummer.

Has he got over it now?

- Uh - I don’t know... He’s been putting out some pretty tasty stuff on the Internet! (laughs). But we’ve got the guy from the Spice Girls [Andy Gangadeen] now. He’s wonderful. He was way over-qualified for the Spice Girls, that type of music. He was actually number one on my list, way back about two years ago, but he’d just signed up with the Spice Girls.

So you have actually changed drummers now?

- Yeah. But it wasn’t because of the disagreement in the playing, Steve Alexander fell ill. He got one of these ghost bugs, which nobody knew what it was. And we couldn’t afford to take the risk of going to Japan and have him fainting, which he was doing, and then not having a doctor’s certificate.

Poor guy.

- Yeah. So we wished him all the best. But it must have been a horrible blow, to be a) ill, and b), have a problem with the music... Anyway, I hope things worked out for the best for him. He’s a star drummer, he wants to be - he should be doing his own thing with his own band, really.

I had kind of got that impression, from, like you said, stuff on the Internet...

- Well there are drummers who are like that, you know. And good luck to them! But when you’re playing a simple groove, you keep it simple. Otherwise people lose it, and they’re ruining the show, without even trying to.

Jennifer really seems to very happy with what she’s doing.

- Yeah. She actually abandoned camp for one night, and went and played with Britney Spears - I’m trying to come to terms with that... (chuckles) They dolled her up, I can’t wait to see the tape, it’s at the AMAs, the American Music Awards? We don’t get that, I haven’t got a satellite dish. But yeah, she jumped in at the deep end at the last minute, and they dolled her up, and she really enjoyed it! She’s great - I mean, there’s still a great spirit in the band.

B.B. King always used to say, he picked musicians just as much for their ability to get along with the rest of the musicians on the road as for pure musicianship.

- Well how long is it going to last if you don’t do it that way? Some of those short-lived things may be musically valid, but not ongoing, and I think it’s unsettling when you’ve got to turn round and say, well, we’re going to lose so-and-so tomorrow, or next week, or whatever - you want a camaraderie, you know, you have to have that. You spend 99 percent of the time in each other’s pockets - on the bus, in the plane, at the hotel - you have to get on.

Well of course this is what made the Beatles so great, they were really good friends.

- Yeah, in the quest for success, there’s something that links you together. When you get it, that’s when the problem starts. Cause you’ve done the job, and then you all look around, and say, ”Well where are we going to go now?” And then you start nitpicking and fighting. We haven’t reached that stage yet, cause we haven’t had the big album, in terms of what’s going on now - I mean people talk about five million as some sort of norm. Quite ridiculous. And I’m not after that - but I’m keeping a close watch on them! (Laughs)

I love that version of Rollin’ and Tumblin’.

- (Laughs) I just happened to - it’s all by coincidence, this whole album, really. I think that’s what works best for me, is just chance things, chance meetings - like I met Imogen Heap, and I didn’t take much notice of what she was doing musically, because on this project we were all paired off as a writing preparation thing for a week, and just on the last night when everybody was partying and getting ready to go home, I got talking to her - she was singing on this guitar, really amazing voice - and I started playing, showed her a few chords, and she said, ”Wow! You played the same chord all the way up!” So we got a rapport going, and then when we got to doing this project with Andy Wright, I said, ”Do you know Imogen Heap?” and he said ”Yep”, and he picked up the phone, and within fifteen minutes she was in the studio! We tried her out on ”Rollin’ and Tumblin’”, and she was just fantastic.

She’s got a great voice.

- Yeah, it’s sort of a pure New Orleans quality. I don’t know what it is, it’s going some kind of a - I don’t know - deep, deep soul in there.

She has these little quirks with her phrasing, it’s a bit like the way you play the guitar.

- Yeah, yeah! She was very adamant that she didn’t want high profile on the thing, I said, ”look, don’t worry”, her manager went through the whole thing - career-wise for her it would have been a sort of unwanted hiccup in a way, because she’s trying to make it on her own as a writer and performer. And all of a sudden she’s known for doing ”Rollin’ and Tumblin’” all over the world - it’s a bit of a strange change of identity for her. So we kept it pretty much down in the album.

So you don’t think you’ll be doing any more with her, then?

- Oh, look, hey, I’m not saying that, but she just requested that, and we treat it with respect. And Jennifer just does a pretty good copy of it, and everybody loves it. So there you go.

”Nadia” is a really beautiful tune. Has he [Nitin Sawhney] got any more tunes that you would like to do?

- What, like that? Well, that’s a rare piece. It just jumped off the CD that I was given, just like, forget the other stuff, this is it - because the woman who sang it, I can’t pronounce her name even - was so exquisite, and I played it every day just for enjoyment, and I thought, ”wait a minute, there’s a song there” - if anyone’s got the time to try to see if that should work on guitar, then it’s my job to do it. And it took weeks, you know - I listened to it for about three weeks solid before I even attempted it.

There are some complicated little trills and things in the melody...

- Yep! (Laughs) Yeah, there’s a lot of sweat gone into that.

That riff that starts off ”Loose Cannon” sounds really simple, but it’s a real Chinese puzzle to try and play.

- It’s not as simple as it seems! But that’s what the difficulty in my job is, in trying not to make it sound too muso - one note too many, and you’ve gone to muso-land, it’s not rock’n’roll any more. That’s a very interesting point, as far as I can see, to tell people - that the wrong placement of a note can turn it from one type of music into another.

Yes, people talk about rock’n’roll these days, but...

- I can’t hear any! They’ve changed the categorisation, haven’t they?

Yeah - I don’t know, I think rock’n’roll is a mindset as much as anything else.

- Well, we don’t get too much of that anyway, of any kind, here any more. It’s all kind of pierced navels and nubile sixteen-year-old lap dancers. (Laughs). It’s obvious that that’s where the quest is nowadays - leave school at fourteen and be a pop star. Go to pop school, and come out - it’s kind of a recognised craft and industry now. If they come out with songs that people like, that’s a job done, isn’t it? But why is it to the exclusion of all else? You can get fifty thousand stations on your radio, and yet we only get two or three not playing the same things! But I think people will always flush out music - as long as an occasion can be made to happen, like somebody playing in a small club, that will keep music alive, because nothing’s better than word of mouth, in my opinion.

The business has become so commercialised nowadays that you often think the public buys what they’re told to buy, instead of what they actually like.

- That’s it, that’s definite - if you feed them enough repetition, they just go and buy it. That’s been the way, that’s part of the advertising - when commercial TV started in ’55, everyone was going, ”Oh, this is terrible - they interrupted a programme last night for one minute!” (Laughs)

And nowadays, the programmes interrupt the adverts! But getting back to the record - on ”Left Hook”, did you have the guitar tuned down to E flat?

- Yeah. Well, the guitar’s in E flat anyway.

Oh! You do tune in E flat?

- Yeah, we tune E flat. But that was tuned down to D, I think. And then ”Dirty Mind” is tuned down to C, with an .052 or an .054 on the low E string. So from even that, from E flat down to C, it was pretty revolting, a pretty funky sound coming out.

I love all those nasty sounds! Frank Zappa said once, you can be suggestive with a saxophone, but you can only be really obscene with a guitar!

- (Laughs uproariously) - Obscene and not heard, yeah!

”Blackbird” is really lovely.

- (Laughs) - Well, that made Andy’s eyes light up, when I suggested it. That was done more out of desperation, because things were going a bit slow with the drum overdubs, and other stuff while we were planning out the rest of the material. So I said to Andy, why don’t you run out and get a CD of some birdsong, and I’ll pick out some notes! And the blackbird has always fascinated me. I live right in the middle of the woods, and in the summer they’re just there singing away in the evenings, and you think, ”wow, there’s a blues lick or two up there!” And when you slow it down, two or four octaves, you start to hear all the really incredible notes that they’re singing. That was just a little salute to them, really.

The last track on the album, ”Suspension” - it’s almost a pity you changed the title - the working title, ”Silent Pool”, was really nice.

- Yeah, it was - I was driving around last summer, and there was a road sign pointing to ”Silent Pool” - it’s a place in Surrey - and I thought, ”God, what a mystic name that sounds like.” I should have left it as it was, but things got thrown in a hat at the last minute, as they do.

Your guitar almost sounds like an acoustic on the intro - I had to listen three or four times there to figure it out.

- Yeah, we got one of these plug-ins on Andy’s computer, it was a really deluxe reverb, it was like a canyon. It was just a DI guitar, as I remember - the Strat with the middle pickup. It sounded amazing, you were just hitting one note and it was going on forever. So I just hit this chord sequence, picked out arpeggiated chords, and away we went - another tune! (Laughs)

How many guitars do you use regularly nowadays?

- Usually just the one. The only other one, to deviate a bit, would be a Telecaster, because that’s got a distinctly different sound, and a totally different feel to play it. As different as, say, a Gretsch, or something like that. It’s got the same neck feel, but everything else is different - the way it plays, it just makes you play different. I used that on the beginning of ”Rosebud”, that was all, though, really. Everything else is done on the Strat. I haven’t got the collection that you might think, for the variations - I’ve only got the Gibsons that I had on ”Truth” and all that - but I would have liked to have spent some money on guitars when they were humanly reachable. I wanted a Gibson L5 - I just rented one, and it sounded fantastic, but I didn’t want to buy it! The only thing that stops me going for one is, they scream and whistle on stage - but they sound so great. Feels like a big old suitcase, though, after a Strat - which almost becomes like a part of your body. It’s a tool.

Last time I talked to you, I forgot to ask - you probably hate these questions, but the readers want to know - what kind of pickups do you use nowadays?

- On this record, as far as I know, they were just ordinary straight-ahead single-coils. Standard Fender Strat pickups. I don’t mess with them - I just pick them out of the box and play them. They do sometimes give me incredible microscopic detail, in Hertz and stuff like that (laughs) - but it really doesn’t matter to me, I’m more interested in what I’m playing than in the specifications of the pickups. If it sounds good, I just go with it. We were fooling around a lot with EQ on the amp, on those JCM2000’s it’s just great. We used that one amp and never moved a mike for the whole session. Just used the pickup settings on the guitar, and then in the mixing we just used some serious EQ.

So any buzz and noise, you just EQ it out?

- Yes. The thing is, with the JCM, you don’t have to play that loud, you can overload the channel, you get boost without volume, which is what you want - you want tone. And then you boost that up in the mix, and you get it. You could play a million watts, but the machines don’t realise it’s a million watts - it certainly doesn’t sound like it when you hear it back! It seems a lot louder when you play quieter!

I read somewhere that you rewire your guitars with a tone control on the bridge pickup?

- That’s right - that way you can cut off the unwanted highs.

The Strat bridge pickup can be a bit hard.

- Oh, wicked. No, it’ll take your head off, that will.

Do you still do your own adjustments on the guitars? Do you rewire them yourself?

- No, I’ve got a bloke that does that now. But I sometimes spend time setting them up. The best time to do it is when you’re not under any panic - not in the dressing room, but take it back to the hotel, and mess with it there, get out the old Allen wrenches and adjust the string height, whammy bar spring tension and all that - and then I just show it to the guy and say, ”This is the way it’s going to be”. Up to now it’s been great, the guitar is presented to me the way I would want it. I don’t even think about it - the tour is done, and I go, ”Wow!” One string breakage here, two string breakages there - I don’t care about string breakages, it’s just the way that if the thing is set up properly when I go on, I haven’t got some loose tremolo arm that’s wobbling about or something.

That’s the worst thing in the world, if the arm wobbles in the thread...

- In the block - yeah, Oh God, then it’s all over. And then you turn it round one more turn, and it jams up!

What do you do, stuff a spring down there?

- No, we’ve been using Teflon tape - just wrap the tape around the threads, that’ll keep you out of trouble. I’m going to get Fender to make some kind of Neoprene insert that you screw it into, instead of the metal. You want it just so it moves easily, but doesn’t rattle.

And so that the arm stays where you leave it, instead of flopping around.

- Yeah, that would be ideal. I’ve got one that just pushes in, and it’s fine, but then sometimes you get a bit wild, and it just comes straight out! It’s got a little ball, and it clicks in, but to my mind there’s no substitute for doing it properly. What they need to do is, to use a heavier shaft that goes into the block with a slightly bigger section, and then taper it. Then you’ve got more meat there. At the moment, it’s just so thin.

The other thing that gets me with the Strat bridge is the saddles.

- I’ve got these really nice machined stainless saddles, which are absolutely smooth, so it’s not like the old pressed steel ones where you rip the palm of your hand. But these are fine.

So you’re not really into all these little details, like which capacitors you have in the tone controls and stuff?

- No, no. If it doesn’t sound good I just usually blame the amp, or something like that. But it does sound good, and what you’ve got to do is find somebody who knows how to make that sound happen on tape. It’s all a matter of compromise - sometimes it’s like I said, playing at a much lower level, it’s much less inspiring to play to, but on playback you’ve got quality, and not just a bunch of fizz.

What’s your setup on stage, do you use more than just the guitar and the JCM2000?

- No. I tried two on tour in Japan - two JCM tops with a 4 by 12 under each, but it just didn’t work, because all it was doing was making it fatter. But there wasn’t any point in having them set to the same EQ, it just made it a slightly bigger sound, but it didn’t come out any better in the sidefills. So out front it wouldn’t have noticed, and I thought I’d better save one for spare, rather than risk blowing them both up.

You have nothing between the guitar and the amp at all?

- No. Just a Cry Baby I’ve been using.

But you’re using that in a single position, right?

- Yeah, just a very slight modulation, not like Shaft - we don’t have any of that.

I nearly wore my right foot out in the 70’s playing that bloody stuff.

- Yeah, I think Jimi Hendrix did as well. And Eric Clapton, too. Twenty minute guitar solos with wah-wah. And they all fell for it!

It’s funny that, because a wah-wah, used well, is one of the most expressive effects there is.

- Oh, it’s brilliant. It puts a completely unique EQ tone on your guitar. If you know how to set the tones on your guitar and amp, three ways - you’ve got three ways to kill! I use it on ”Nadia”, you can just hear it coming in on some of those high notes.

Do you think there’s any chance you’ll ever break out the voice bag again?

- No. No, ever since Pete Frampton did it, that was the end of that. Ironically, they’re doing it all over again now with vocoders.

Do you get time to build your hot rods any more?

- Yeah, every spare moment. But there haven’t been many of those of late, because of the Japanese tour, and then on Monday, we’re preparing to go into three weeks of rehearsal, with America coming up.

I saw the tour schedule on the Internet, you’re going to be pretty busy.

- Yep - well, that’s what I do, and it’s like having been banged away for ten-fifteen years, by comparison, we are working a lot. But I’m out of trouble financially now, so I want to stay out of trouble.

It costs a lot of money to put a show like that on the road, doesn’t it.

- Sure does. You’ve got to be on the road for a month before you start making anything. That pays everybody off, and then you go home with whatever’s left over. Which ain’t much. But that’s what I enjoy doing most. And the long journeys used to be a drag, but when you’ve got friendly people. it’s good. You know you’re going to be there for four of five weeks, and you just get on with it. Every town’s got its own little bit of excitement. It’s a great life really.

I’m really glad you’re enjoying it, because I’ve missed seeing you live - last time I saw you play was in 1975!

- Oh wow. Well it’s totally different now, absolutely. Unrecognisable, playing-wise.

Well, I understand what you mean, but I still hear it, first phrase - that’s Jeff.. I mean, I don’t want to be sycophantic, but I’ve probably spent more time listening to your records than anybody else’s, and I still love them all.

- Well, thanks very much. That’s what keeps me going, knowing someone’s listening that close - it’s what you do, when you go to a studio, you’re not making a stone cold performance for nobody’s benefit, you want to do it because you want people to enjoy it.

Have you given any more thought to performing with the Bulgarian girls at all?

- Yes, I have. They almost came to the fore with Kate Bush, she used them quite a bit. And then one of them married a pop star, and then - oh dear - they turned up on some terrible disco records, really awful. But one day I’ll go out there, and just go to where they go, where they sing naturally, and pick up some vibes off them.

It’s beautiful music.

- Unreal. The way they know every scale, and everyone hits all the notes straight on. Amazing. It’s precious stuff, isn’t it.

I’ve got a feeling that’s one of your secrets, that you like all sorts of music.

- Yep.

You were talking about big band music, and such.

- It’s so easy to get trapped into one style, and that’s it only. That’s like saying I like this one kind of food, and never trying all the other amazing flavours and textures out there.

Do you feel you have learned to live with your tinnitus now?

- In the last year there’s been a major improvement, although it does bug me incredibly from time to time. But for me - this is personally - it’s definitely in proportion to the quality of sleep. The poorer the quality of sleep, the louder the tinnitus, and the more troublesome. I did have expert counselling and treatment by this incredible couple of people who work in London - Jonathan Hayes and his assistant - he’s the world’s top authority on it. I couldn’t recommend more highly than to go to them, I think that’s the epicentre of all hearing problems. They’ve made amazing strides forward in finding out what it is - and usually it’s what people are scared of rather than what it is itself. It’s the fear factor in your brain putting it into a bigger arena than it should be. So if some people hear a noise in their head they go - ”Oh! What was that?” But when it’s there all the time they don’t go - ”Oh, that’s that old noise again”, they go ”Fuckin’ ’ell!” (laughs) - excuse me - and that’s what I did, and it freaked me out completely, I couldn’t hear anything else. So that then goes snowballing on to bad quality sleep, because you’re stressed anyway, even when you’ve dropped to sleep you’re not having proper sleep, and if you can get back to having a healthy seven or eight hours’ sleep, the chances are you’re not going to be bothered by it. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t make the hearing loss any better, that is permanent. From the first time someone fires a cap pistol in your ear, you’ve damaged that ear, that won’t come back. Certain recovery will come back, but usually by the time you’re seventeen, your hearing starts to deteriorate anyway. Frightening, isn’t it! See, the thing is, there’s no warning - when you like the sound, you can’t get enough of it. If it was a whistling kettle, or somebody banging a steel plate, you’d go, ”Fucking hell! Shut up!” It’s because you love it, and it’s the perception of your brain saying, ”I love this! More! Give me more!” But the same level, with a sound you don’t like, and you want to run a mile. It’s a whole different deep psychological reasoning, and all that, and I haven’t quite got into the functional parts of the brain - but I’m getting there, I’m studying it.

I’m really glad to hear that you can deal with it, at least.

- Well, today I’m fine, I slept like a log last night, but it’s knowing that maybe tomorrow I won’t sleep, and then it’ll be back plaguing me again. I would not recommend anybody to not use earplugs - but then again drummers, who have been drumming for years, and every time they hit the snare, they’re closer to it than any of us, and they’ve had it their whole life, and closer to it, and yet they’re not complaining of any noise! It could be that the woman’s right, that it’s just you perceiving it. It’s a very real noise, they’re not denying it, they’re not saying you’re hallucinating it. But it’s how your brain works - if you’re one of those who say, ”Hey, I don’t care about this noise”, it’ll go away. When you start worrying about it, it comes back. The fact that mine goes from really astonishingly bad, to blissfully gone - that ratio there is enough to keep me going, I know that it can go. If it hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t be here now, I’ll tell you that. Straight off the edge of a cliff, I’ll tell you! (Laughs) Well, you can’t bear it, you know, you can’t. You can’t get away from it, you can’t get drunk, you can’t do anything, it’s still there. I think it’s safe to say that there will be a massive amount of people who will be suffering from it in the future, because of the sheer - look at last night, on this rave show - what the hell was it called - ”Underworld?” - there were about forty thousand people bopping up and down, and you know how many dB’s are going out. And I just thought - ”They’re smiling!” If somebody fired a shotgun in their ear, they wouldn’t be smiling! But that’s what they’re getting, every second of the time they’re there!

Well that’s the reason I brought the subject up, because I’m writing for a very wide age group, and I think some of the young kids need to know about it.

- Yeah. It’s misery. It is the most miserable thing that’s ever happened to me. I mean, I’ve had two nasty accidents, both involving head injury, which some people have said could be part of the tinnitus, and it may well be - like the fractured skull - but it’s not been anything like the internal misery - you’re locked in a room with your noise, you know. And you run out in the street, and it’s still there - a bus goes by, and you can still hear it, because it’s such a high-pitched scream. It’s pretty nasty.

For three years I wore these in-ear noise generators that actually give you white noise, and you balance it to the lowest level of audibility. It doesn’t mask it, it sits underneath, it’s a discrete noise, it’s constant, to simulate tinnitus with white noise so you’re hearing both things. And their theory is that after a certain time, you get into the habit of listening to both sounds, and when you switch off the unit, your brain then automatically wants to know where that sound has gone. It moves your attention away from the real tinnitus. But it takes that long - if you’ve had tinnitus for five years, it’s going to be two-and-a-half years of wearing these things at least. And almost to the day, she was right, it started to get a little bit less noticeable. I haven’t had them on for eight months - I’ve lost them, I don’t even know where they are. That means my lifeline is now cut, I was sort of hanging on to it - and now I’m not enslaved to having to wear them any more. So there is help out there - but it is a bastard when you get it.

© Paul Guy, 2001