- 21 Jan 03
From the tragic death of Cliff the fish to turning Madonna down, praise from Nick Hornby and fanmail from Bono, Badly Drawn Boy ’s life is certainly bewildering. and that’s before you consider his hellenic aspirations…
Thus Spoke Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy – "I should have been a Greek philosopher, but I didn’t have the brains."
Sod quote of the year, it’s one of the howlers which appeared in several end-of-year round ups. Gough likes to philosophise, albeit in his inimitable Badly Drawn Boy way – rambling away searching for some kind of truth, finding it in several divergent tangents and forgetting it all as soon as he launches into his next stream of consciousness. A bit like life itself really. Hour of the Bewilderbeast indeed!
While the philosophical jury may be still out, Damon did receive a very juicy compliment from a certain Mr. Nick Hornby, author of About A Boy, which Gough ended up soundtracking.
"What I like about Damon’s music is that it is recognisably English without all the irritations that implies," opined Hornby. "It’s got soul, it’s literate without being pretentious, the quiet bits aren’t wimpy. It’s not boorish... Who else is there?"
"Anything coming from somebody like that is pretty special," a slightly hungover Gough agrees mid-way through a two-night stopover in Dublin. "Getting approached to work on something like that (About a Boy OST) was hard to refuse. I could step outside the Badly Drawn Boy world and do something that suits this big mainstream movie with Hugh Grant in it. "
In the space of a mere year, Gough both completed the soundtrack and managed to release his third album ‘proper’, Have You Fed The Fish? Aka All Possibilities.
"I wanted to do a limited release as a double album and an ordinary album for general release," he explains. "It would have been showing off really. Part of me wanted to show off, but ultimately I thought it would detract from what the core of this album is about."
Have You Fed The Fish?…begins with a hilarious in-flight announcement. "If you look out from the starboard side of the plane, you’ll see a cloud that looks exactly like Badly Drawn Boy." That guy is everywhere," exclaims a weary passenger. "I was reading the New Yorker magazine and there was a cartoon with the phrase "If you look out of the side of the plane you’ll see a cloud that looks like a pirate," Gough reveals. "I was also listening to a bit of Carl Spalding who did the score for the Warner Bros. cartoons, which is great to listen to out of the context of watching. I also bought a South Park pinball machine as one of my gifts to myself last year, which has brilliant music. It didn’t quite turn into a cartoon sounding album, but ‘Coming Into Land’ did and the rest of the album was dictated by the songs I was writing."
"But once Have You Fed The Fish? was recorded that became the title," Gough continues. "The colour of goldfish made the album feel orange. I can’t really describe what that means, I can only equate it to a story about Stevie Wonder being in the studio recording something and telling the producer and studio engineers, "Can you make it sound more yellow?" Like what’s his concept of yellow in the first place?"
The pet-maintenance reference is more than just a ruse.
"We’ve got two goldfish, so that phrase is said everyday," Damon states. "Now I try as much as I can to avoid saying it because it sounds like I’m promoting the album. So I say, ‘Did the fish get fed?’ or find some other way of saying it. Cliff – our fish named after Cliff Richard – died after the album was finished. All the artwork done and dusted. End of an era and all that and Cliff goes and dies. Everyone asks if he wasn’t fed, but he died of natural fish disorders."
Mr. So Prolific It Hurts intends banging out yet another opus this year.
"Each album should be part of a body of work that makes some kind of sense in the future when you reflect on it," Damon muses. "I’m also ready to make a really duff album. I’ve always said I can’t wait to have my eighties period like when Bob Dylan or Neil Young started to make bad records. Maybe in five or ten years time I’ll make some really bad mistakes. Then you’re a real artist," he laughs.
The Badly Drawn Boy adventure has seen Gough come face to face with many artists and genuine legends.
"It’s amazing to meet your contemporaries and peers. It’s one of the massive bonuses. I know the Doves really well because we grew up together and I met people like Coldplay. I’m good friends with Joe Strummer (tragically deceased since our conversation), Tim Burgess, Ian Brown – all these people who are extremely positive. I had this notion that a lot of Manchester artists especially would think what I do is not as cutting edge as what this Manchester thing is all about. But all these people like Peter Hook come up and go, ‘Nice one mate!’
Fame, fame, fatal fame – it can play hideous tricks on the brain, as fellow Mancunian Morrissey once sang.
"I can’t readily go out on a regular Saturday night in Manchester now, unless I have a lot of people with me but I don’t want to go around with a bodyguard or anything," Gough asserts. "Occasionally I’ve been in scrapes with people. 80% of people go, ‘Nice one mate! Yay! Its Badly Drawn Boy!’ Less than 5% go ‘Who the fuck do you think you are?’ because they’re drunk."
"I don’t have to tell people that I’ve got two kids and what their names are and what my girlfriend’s name is but it’s something I talk about because it’s close to my heart," Damon believes. "I’ve always gone into interviews answering the question I’ve been asked as best and as truthfully as I can. Sometimes I’ve wanted to make things up but I can’t do it. I’m not clever enough to make things up. I’m not clever enough to make shit up. I’m only clever enough to articulate my truth as I see it."
Gough has loved playing in Ireland, from Whelan’s to Witnness. When Damon touched down in the Olympia in support of Bewilderbeast, he took to the stage pounding his chest to the strains of ‘Beautiful Day’.
"That was an impromptu thing before we went on," Damon says. "We try to choose a different song every night to come onto or an appropriate song for the place you’re in without being too corny. At T In The Park this year we came on to ‘Mull Of Kintyre’. I don’t think it went down that well but it was great to walk onto. But it was a brilliant feeling in Dublin to feel like U2 in their home territory for a second. I think it was taken with the humour that was intended.
"I’ve still got my note on the wall from Bono which is a prized possession. I went along to see them last year at the Manchester Evening News Arena. It was Edge’s birthday but I think he has about seven a year because he is like the Queen. They claimed it was his birthday onstage anyway. Edge and Adam Clayton came down afterwards and Noel Gallagher and Peter Kay were around. Then this girl came over and gave me a note from Bono on this old parchment paper apologising for not having time to say hello because he was doing vocal yoga exercises or something. He claimed that I’d know what he meant, which I don’t because I don’t do that. He blessed my children and wished them a good life and signed off, ‘Your fan. Bono’.
"You can’t talk about bands like U2 anymore because they’re part of everybody’s life like the way Madonna is," Gough continues. "That’s why I made the statement of turning her down (in the single ‘You Were Right’) because she is just so big. It’s a statement of confidence and says I’m sorted. If Madonna came my way I’d have to say; ‘I’m sorry love, but I’m happy. I don’t need you anymore. Where were you when I was 15 and lusting after you? Now I’m comfortable with the wife and the kids and career and everything’s OK. Girls throw themselves at me but I have to say no. Including you’."
Turning down Madonna, parchments from Bono, all pally with the Manc legends…it’s a long way from the early Twisted Nerve 7"s.
"I wish everybody could experience the shit I’ve experienced," Damon states. "It breaks my heart to meet kids that are as talented and more talented than I am but for whatever reason their journey doesn’t gel at the right time. Fame isn’t where I get my happiness. It’s a by-product; it’s good fun now and again but is a pain in the arse most of the time. But the idea of making music and having this platform is what I love."
"I feel like there is a really good spirit guiding my path," he concludes. "It’s like a destiny thing. It all just came along at the right time. Somebody out there is guiding me well and saving me from potential pitfalls. The bubble will burst one day. I’m sure it will. But I think people appreciate decent people who attempt to do the right thing. You can smell it. Well, you can certainly smell it when it isn’t there. "
About the boys. Characters from the BDB underworld
Gough’s right hand man, tour DJ and Twisted Nerve co-founder. Has released two albums of kooky leftfield pop, Styles Of The Unexpected (2000) and All Ten Fingers (2002).
Old pals of Damon’s before their early nineties Sub Sub incarnation and released a split 7". The all-conquering three piece finished their recent Olympia show with a Sub Sub track.
The Smiths bassist seemed to come out of nowhere to join the Badly Drawn Boy live extravaganza last year.
The Boss is Damon’s all time musical hero, which helps to explain the three-hour long gigs. Gough once ran into Bruce in a hotel lobby, but was so scared he left a note and a copy of Bewilderbeast. Later, Springsteen approached Gough and asked, "You’re the guy who left your album for me aren’t you?"
Most musos first encountered BDB as a guest vocalist on the UNKLE Psychence Fiction album alongside Thom Yorke. Shadow invited him to collaborate on more material, but Damon was so nervous he bottled it, missed his flight and went to a pub quiz with his mates when he should have been in a Los Angeles studio with DJ Shadow.