- 03 Oct 17
Tom Petty’s rock’n’roll journey has been a long and often arduous one. From his early days with The Heartbreakers in the bars of Gainesville, Florida, through his collaborations with people like Bob Dylan and on to his work with one of the most successful supergroups ever, The Traveling Wilburys, his career has been littered with legal battles, personal traumas and even an attempt on his life. With his debut solo album ‘Full Moon Fever’ currently storming up the American charts, he takes a reflective look over the last ten years in the company of Liam Fay.
On the rock’n’roll highway, big star juggernauts rarely if ever dim their lights in deference to up and oncoming traffic. However, in the case of Tom Petty, many respected and established musicians have come down from their ivory towers just so they could hitch a ride with him.
From his early days, Petty has had a penchant for hanging out with superstar session-men and musicians of high repute. Indeed, his own band, The Heartbreakers, are now one of the most sought-after groups of rock henchmen in the world, with names like Benmont Tench, Mick Campbell and Howie Epstein appearing on an average of between 20 and 30 albums per year. Petty himself insists that most of his collaborations come about by accident but it’s obvious that he has a strong sense of rock’s tradition and wants to absorb as much of its legacy as possible by meeting and working with past masters.
His most recent musical co-operative venture was, of course, with the Traveling Wilburys, in which he found himself working alongside Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and the late Roy Orbison. Out of the blue, the fab five took the world’s rock charts by storm, sold more records than many of the more heavily-touted young guns (4 million worldwide, so far), revitalised a few careers and in the process became one of the most successful supergroups of all time.
However, in addition to implanting his fingers in other people’s musical pies, Petty has found time to bake a few takes of his own, releasing a series of acclaimed albums as well as embarking on groundbreaking tours - like 1987’s ‘Rock’n’Roll Caravan’ which featured The Heartbreakers, The Georgia Satellites and Del Fuegos. So you see there’s plenty of talk to Mr Petty about. Unfortunately, talking is not his strongest suit. The epitome of the laconic, uncrackable, southern tough-nut, he grunts a lot, answers some questions in monosyllables and sometimes stares blankly at you if to say ‘Whaddya askin’me for?’
But then it seems I got off lightly. Two days before I met Petty, a German journalist walked into his room and by way of beginning to interview, more or less intimated that he wasn’t exactly addicted to Tom’s new solo album, ‘Full Moon Fever’. By way of reply, petty leapt up, grabbed the German by the lapels, flung him against the wall and told him to get the fuck outta there. ‘Why the fuck should I waste my time on you?’ he snarled as he slammed the door after the hapless back.
I listened attentively as Petty’s personal assistant recounted this story. The implication was clear. You don’t mess with ol’Tom!
Tom Petty And the Heartbreakers had to stutter frantically before they learned how to shine. Growing up in the sixties, in Gainsville, Florida the band spent their formative musical years dismantling and attempting to reassemble the myriad influences they were able to absorb from AM Radio in those days.
‘We were pretty damn crap at the start,’ he recalls ruefully. ‘We just tried to get from day to day really. But Gainsville was a great place for all that. It was a college town and there were lots of opportunities to play in fronta people, show off and get away with that. We just did all the usual stuff like The Animals, Creedence, the occasional Elvis number… Nobody wanted to hear originals, though, so we’d say ‘here’s one by Santana’ and just play one of our own. That’s how we learned.’
It’s a method of dues-paying which he feels is denied to the current generation of would-be rockers. ‘We grew up at a time when music was really rich and interesting. We were always trying to do it our own way and not just copy people. But I listen to the radio today and most of what I hear is awful, it’s just not very good and if you try to do covers of that stuff - well, I mean what are you gonna learn from that?’
In the early seventies, Tom and his band of merry men migrated to California, convinced that having robbed from the rich tradition of southern rock they had plenty to give to the poor west-coast hippies. But it didn’t turn out that way. According to Tom, the next couple of years were spent ‘playing and listening in bars all over California and generally getting ourselves a college education in stuff like melody and harmony, stuff that we’d been weak on.’
So, desperately seeking fusion between redneck rock and beach-bum tunefulness, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers recorded and released their eponymously-titled debut LP in 1976. It was almost universally well received and remains today one of the band’s most complete creations - a charred keg of southern applejack with a kick and bite that had been lacking in most American brews for almost a decade.
Coming as it did in the run-up to the punk insurrection in Britain, Petty could have been tarred with the same brush that had swept many of his US contemporaries into obsolescence. But, wisely, he and the Heartbreakers declared their solidarity with the musical freedom fighters and by means of a spunky UK tour in the Summer of ’77 proved that they were as committed to the annihilation of rock dinosaurs as anyone else…
Their next album was a jittery and insubstantial affair but the third LP ‘Damn The Torpedoes’ was hailed by some critics as even better than the debut and it subsequently became a three-million seller. Since then, through a further five albums, Petty and Co have continued to poke around the innards of the American dream with a sharp stick, slipping one hand in the contemporary cookie jar by working with the likes of Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart (‘Southern Accents’) and, at the same time, keeping their feet firmly on their Southern-rock home ground.
While major league commercial success continued to elude them, critics, especially in the US music press, rolled in the superlative aisles every time their name was mentioned. At one point, Petty even found himself listed along with Bob Seger and John Cougar Mellencamps as part of a crack-squad which was headed by one Mr Bruce Springsteen, and known simply as ‘The Future Of Rock’n’Roll’. It was an accolade which flattery Petty up to a point - but also made him feel uncomfortable, as he explained to American writer Bill Flanagan, in an interview done in 1986 for the book ‘Written In My Soul’.
‘I think I’m a little more - dare I say - eccentric than those guys,’ Petty reflected. ‘I know all those people quite well and I think they’re terrific. We all get along very well, we’re all aboutthe same age, we have the same musical favourites. I was into the straight rock thing for a long time. However I don’t think it’s the whole ball of wax. I think there’s more to it than that. We are sort of musical compatriots but the future of the rock’n’roll is with audience and not with any performer. ”
He was also a little bit worried by the overly wholesome image which Springsteen, Mellencamp and Seger have developed. “I prefer to be a little off my rocker. I am the one that’s maybe not as healthy as them. I get just a little uncomfortable when I start to look like too good a guy. I don’t ever want to get where people have me figured out, ‘cause I certainly don’t have me figured out. ”
Nevertheless, the comparison prompted me to ask if collaborating with someone like Springsteen might not have more musical sense than working with Jeff Lynne, George Harrison or even Bob Dylan?
“The first thing you have to understand is that I never planned any of the collaborations I was involved in,” he asserts. The second thing is that what makes sense on paper doesn’t always work in reality. Anyway, I don’t know what it would be like to work with Bruce Springsteen but I did enjoy working with Bob and the others. We wanted to do something simple, good and as far away as possible from the bullshit that goes with music in the eighties. I’m fed up with that.”
One reason why Tom Petty is fed up with “what goes with music in the eighties” is that he has been forced to spend a considerable fraction of the early years of that decade in courtrooms fighting a number of morale-sapping legal battles. The hassles started in 1987 when MCA Records took over Shelter, the independent label which had first signed the Heartbreakers. Petty objected to being “bought and sold like a piece of meat” and field for bankruptcy rather than allowing himself be blackmailed into accepting a contract he deemed exploitative. After protracted court preceding a compromise was eventually reached.
A few years later MCA attempted to raise the price of their albums in the US by one dollar to $9.98 begging with Petty’s “Hard Promises”. Outraged by what he saw as a rip-off, he took a stand and the LP was eventually released at the lower price. Then in 1987 he became embroiled in a court case over the use of one of his song in an ad. The US conglomerate, BF Goodrich, approached him and requested permission to use his song “Mary’s New Car” in a radial type commercial. The request was denied, but Goodrich went ahead and created a soundalike Petty voice and song for their advertising campaign. Not surprisingly, Petty instituted a lawsuit and eventually obtained a restraining order forcing Goodrich to pull all of the ads. Along the way there have been a number of other minor record company and management difficulties, many of which have also required legal action to settle. Inevitably, these upsets have hampered Petty’s creative output and on several occasions he was tempted to quit the music business altogether. “I hate to be fucked around,” he says, “and I am a very stubborn guy when I’m fighting for something I believe in. A couple of times I was very closed to chucking the whole thing in. You know who need to hassle? But then something would happen like I’d write a really good song or like the thing with the Wilburys, and it’d fire me up again. It’s then that I realise I probably wouldn’t last more than a day without reachin’ for my guitar.”
The first time Bob Dylan played with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was at the Farm Aid concert, in the autumn of 195. “Bob just phoned me up about two weeks before that and said he´d like to do an electric set and would we back him,” recalls Tom. “He didn´t have a regular band of his own at the time. So I said fine and let´s try it out and see how it works. We met, did a couple of rehearsals, and then did the show. That´s how it started.”
Dylan, Petty and The Heartbreakers then undertook a US tour in the summer of '86, which was highly acclaimed. In late ´87 they teamed up again and did some dates in Europe (and Israel – “cause it was somewhere we both wanted to see”). Once more the reaction was encouragingly favourable.
Right, they´re the facts, how about some detail?
Unfortunately, trying to get information out of Tom Petty about the Big Z is a bit like bringing a stone along to Pelican House and expecting it to give a transfusion!
Do you think Dylan saw working with The Heartbreakers as an opportunity to recapture something he may have felt was missing from his work up to then?
"I don't know. We never talked about stuff like that or even thought about it. We just did it."
Were you at all intimidated by working with a living legend?
"Not much. Bob was a real gentleman, always.”
How well did you get to know him as a person?
"We're pretty close. It's very easy to work with Bob. It's something that wasn't any bother to us and we enjoyed it."
Do you think he's a happy man these days?
"As happy as anyone else, I guess."
Both you and Dylan have been involved in a number of benefit concerts over the past few years. Do you think that this new conscience which rock music has developed recently is a healthy thing?
"Yeah. I think somebody better develop a conscience. I don't see the Plumbers Union out there doing anything about it. I know it's getting a little boring, all these benefit shows, but it's always a good cause and hopefully it does some practical good."
Dylan and Petty were particularly associated with the Farm Aid benefit which was supposed to bring attention to the acres and pains of thousands of Farmers in America who were then being forced into bankruptcy because of high interest rates, a series of droughts and Ronald Reagan's extremely unsympathetic policies an agriculture. In retrospect, die the concert really achieve anything?
"lt got people talking about farmers for a while. But, as many people lost their land after it as before it, so I don´t think it changed anything. It shoulda been followed up. I know Bob wanted to do another one.”
Of course, the person who first made compassion fashionable in rock music was bob Geldof, a man who is often portrayed as a modern-day saint. However, I imagined that tom Petty would have rather different memories of Geldof, given that the Boomtown Rats supported The Heartbreakers on a British tour in ´78, during which there was considerable acrimony between the two acts, with Geldof calling Petty ´a wimp´ and claiming that The Rats blew the headliners off the stage every night, among other things.
“To tell you the truth I don´t remember very much about the days at all and I certainly don´t remember anything about Bob Geldof.”
The relationship between Tom Petty and Bob Dylan triggered off a chain reaction of chance meetings and introductions that eventually led to the formation of The Traveling Wilburys. Tom was briefly introduced to Jeff Lynne and George Harrison (who were working together on Harrison's "Cloud Nine" album at the time) alter a Petty/Dylan gig at the Wembley Arena. Months later their paths crossed again in Los Angeles when they pulled up beside one another at traffic lights.
"We waved at each other and as 1 drove home behind him I realised that he only lived up the street from me." recalls Tom, "so he started coming over to my house and hanging around a lot. Jeff´s a real nice fella and we became good friends. So we'd be sitting around on the sofa with some acoustics and things just started to pop out. It wasn't intense. We'd just say ‘Hey, put an E minor in here’ and ‘Yeah, that sounds good' (laughs). We wrote two songs ("Yer So Bad" and "Free Fallin' ", both of which appear on Tom's new album) in two days just after Christmas. I hadn't intended cutting a solo album but The Heartbreakers were scattered all over the world and I thought 'Shoot, we done these in a day each – we'll just go back and write nine more and put out a solo album'."
However, what was originally intended as an instant record took more than a year to complete. George Harrison meanwhile, wanted to do a kind of novelty b-side for one of the singles from his "Cloud Nine" album. So he rang up Roy, who told Jeff, who told Tom, who told Bob and they all said 'Yes'.
Before I met Tom Petty, his PR aide asked me not to dwell too much on the Traveling Wilburys. It's not, she insisted, that he doesn't like talking about it, it's just that he´s got very little to say about it. How come, Tom?
"lt was just a genuinely good time and we all got an together real well," he says. "Sometimes I'm amazed at how good the record is because we did it very quickly. They're all very professional people, very creative people and when you're working with people like that, it's real easy. They know what works and what doesn't."
Of course, another way of looking at it is that they were just propping each other up. I mean, the collaborative effort is definitely better than any individual album most of those people had made in years, especially in Dylan's case.
"The thing about The Wilburys is that it was just fun. There was no pressure on any individuals. It was kinda like Camp Wilbury, a real relaxed atmosphere. Those people don't have to prove anything anymore and when they're totally left to their own devices is when they're happiest." All the time of the project, Petty would have been the one with the most, shall we say, street cred. He was certainly the youngest. Was there a sense in which some of the more senior citizens of Camp Wilbury were trying to revisit the peaks of their career with the aid of Tom's comparative hipness?
"Look man, I was the lucky one," Petty proclaims. "Age didn't really enter in to the Wilburys, we're all just kids at heart anyway. They sure showed that they can cut it as good as anyone else — I'm the one who felt old. Maybe because of my personality or something I find it easier to make friends with people who are older than me and when I met Jeff and George and Roy... it was as if we'd known each other for years. Like I said, it was an embarrassingly happy experience."
As you may have guessed by now, Mr Petty doesn't at all subscribe to the belief that rock'n'roll is the preserve of under-40s and is angered by the suggestion that the Wilburys might have been a kind of Antiques Roadshow.
"That's a silly kind of attitude," he says. "All musicians, no matter what age they are, are just trying to improve what they do. As far as rock just being young people's music is concerned, we´re already far enough along to see that it's more than that. Young people will always carve out a slice that's theirs and ain't anybody else's but I'd feel pretty foolish trying to constantly remain in die same area. I'm 38 and in twenty years time, I don't want to be onstage with people throwin' shit at me, tellin' me to get off."
Whose idea was the whole concept that went with the Traveling Wilbury's album: the name, the individual pseudonyms, the fake biographies, the (mis)spelling of `Traveling' with only one 'L' etc?
"Doesn't 'Traveling' always have one 'L'? laughs Tom. "All that was just a combination of in-jokes and stuff. Humour was very important to the whole Wilburys thing. lt also gave us something to hide behind, I guess."
They needn't have worried about hiding behind anything.
The album was a huge success, hitting the number one spot all over the world and spawning two top twenty singles (to date), in the shape of "Handle With Care" and "The End Of The Line". lt was also an extremely prolific and creative period for all of those involved. Petty and Lynne helped work on material for Roy Orbison's comeback album "Mystery Girl" (Petty co-wrote the bit "You Gm It"), Orbison also sat in on some background vocals on Petty's LP "Full Moon Fever", while Harrison sang back-up and contributed acoustic guitar on one track.
Unfortunately though, the whole period was marred by the tragic death of Roy Orbison last December. It's a subject which Tom still has difficulty talking about. "Before we did the Wilburys thing, we knew he'd been sick," he recalls, "but during that whole time he was fine, in perfectly good health. He was a great person and I loved him very much. I was talking to him a couple of weeks before he died and he was really happy, excited about his own album and very, very pleased with the success of the Wilburys."
Petty says he first heard of Roy's death at about 5 o'clock in the morning: "Someone phoned up, my wife answered and woke me up to tell me. I was devastated, man, he was a great person."
Given that Tom has spent most of the last few years collaborating with various people, and indeed, that most of his best Heartbreaker songs were co-written with guitarist Mike Campbell, does he prefer working with someone else on songs, to writing on his own?
"Collaborating with someone talented and creative is great but with someone who isn't so good, it can be hell."
An oblique reference perhaps to The Bangles, with whom Tom worked on 'A Mystical Rocker' for his last album. It's a track he was, by all accounts, so unhappy with that he threw the whole thing in the recording studio waste-paper basket. Was working with the eternal flame-throwers an enjoyable experience?
"They're good people but they're not Bob Dylan, are they?"
But then, who is, Tom? Is there a danger that having worked so closely with all those 'greats', you'll no longer be able to tolerate mere mortals?
"(laughs) Right now, my priority is to get back working with The Heartbreakers. They're a great band and I'm at my best working with them and vice versa. I couldn't work with any other band for any length of time. And I could never do a solo tour (laughs). God, that would be embarrassing."
Which brings us to the thorny subject of Tom's voice, an instrument, which although highly distinctive, creaks and whines in a similar manner to a (not particularly) musical saw. Bearing in mind the need to be diplomatic and recalling the fate of the German journalist, I ask tentatively if he has ever had voice training?
"Train it? Jesus, live had to tame it! Unfortunately, that's the only way I can sing and there's nothing I can do about it. But as Bob says 'it does the job!' “
The image which Tom Petty would like to convey these days is that of a quiet, homely country boy who is decent, honest, devoted to his family and just happens to be a musician-but is essentially as plain and ordinary as an old board fence. Stardom and the trappings of fame have begun to frighten him in recent years and he wants to as little to do with them as possible. Now I respectfully suggest that if you want to fade anonymously into the scenery then the thing to do is not hang around with the likes of Dylan, Harrison and Lynne. But he insists that is was through these people that he learned this lesson- and that they feel the same way.
“They are a great bunch of guys to spend time with, really good people, “ he explains, “but at one point in their lives they became really famous and that changed everything, for good. It’s very very frightening and dangerous too.” I presumed he was referring to something like the assassination of John Lennon. Was that an issue he discussed with George Harrison? “Not much no. But that is an aspect of it. It’s just that..you’ve got an ordinary guy and all he wants to do is get on with life and play music or whatever but there’s this problem which constricts him and rules his life and there’s nothing he can do about it. That’s what’s frightening.”
Did he find that Harrison and Dylan were very restricted in their movements?
“Not day to day,” he replies, “but eh… like there were lots of things which could have stopped them doing the Wilburys for example - obligations, contracts, stuff like that.”
Doesn’t that go with the territory? Surely the threat of some fanatic with a gun is a greater worry?
“I’d be quicker on the draw! (laughs) That happens but I don’t think it’s major worry. It’s hardly a consideration in my case.”
He may prefer to play it down but two years ago somebody broke into Tom Petty’s house in Los Angeles and set fire to it. Tom, his wife and his two children managed to escape unharmed but the house was totally gutted. Despite intensive police investigation, the arsonist was never caught and the incident has cast a shadow on Petty’s life ever since.
“I prefer to think it was just a robber or something,” says Tom. “Maybe he didn’t mean to torch the place and it was just an accident - you see it was all wood and highly combustible . But when you got family considerations you have to think, like, maybe he was tryin’ to kill me. I don’t know why (laughs). I’m not famous enough to attract nutcase but maybe somebody wanted to make me more famous!”
For the past two years, the Petty family have moved from one neighbourhood to another in Los Angles and still have no plans to buy another house. Tom insists however that he likes this kind of displacement.
“It makes me feel more safe, somehow. It also gives me an excuse to bring my two children with me everywhere I go. I like that. I don’t want to miss ‘em growing up. And the fact that we’re movin’ around has influenced my songwriting. I think. The whole feel of LA is there on my new album.”
Tom lost virtually all of his personal possessions in the house fire, including something which I was particularly interested in, his characteristics mad-hatter’s tea party type top hat (with the price tag sticking out of it).
“I used to wear it a lot and I really liked it,” he says. “It was getting pretty battered though. I shoulda had it locked up in a safety deposit box, I suppose.” (laughs)
You seem to be wearing a smaller version in the videos for the Wilburys and your own solo single?
“Yeah. I like that one but it’s not the same. A good top hat is hard to find.”
Once again, Tom returns to a theme that never seems to be that far off his mind these days. “I thought about givin’ up music completely around that time. You know I’d been real busy - work, work, work, work - and then your house burns down, you’re nearly killed and you think “Jesus, what the hell am I doin’? It’s lookin’ like I’m gonna be busy for the next five years now if I do everything I’m supposed to do. I don’t even have time for any hobbies or anything. When I have time off, I just like to lie down on the floor (laughs). Or fishin’, I like freshwater fishin’ - it’s a great way to relax your mind. Maybe I’ll chuck everything else in a go over to Ireland and do some fishin’. Everybody tells me it’s real good over there.”
Not wanting to put him off but believing that he has a right to know, I explain to Tom Perry about the rod licence controversy, and how Ireland’s lakesides are not placid places they once were.
“I dunno,” he replies, “ I think I’ll take my chances with the Irish fishermen!”
Tom Petty has a reputation as a perfectionist and as someone who pushes himself and his musicians to unbelievable lengths to get what he wants. For example, during the making of the “Southern Accents” album, he was so frustrated with his own inability to come up with new ideas that he repeatedly punched a studio wall until he completely shattered his right hand. The hand is fine these days but he regards the incident as something of a turning point.
“It was nine months before I could even strum the chord,” he recalls. “ You don’t think how many times you just reach for the guitar and pick it up without thinking. It’s just part of what you do, like smoking a cigarette. In the back of my mind I always thought I’d be okay - but boy it was weird to reach for the guitar and have this thing on the end of my arm. That had an except on me. I realised that he way I was living at the time was too rowdy. I was getting ready to rowdy myself off the end of a cliff.”
So what was the source of his anxiety?
“Intensity was the problem,” he reflects, “ I was real intense about my music and then I had to let off steam in my off time. It was kinda outta control.”
Life is a lot quieter now. Tom spends a lot more time with his family these days. He’s also become a vegetarian, he tries not to drink before 6pm and he insists that ant further tours he undertakes with The Heartbreakers will be kept as short as possible.
“ For a while touring was just an opportunity to cut loose and go a bit wild. But the thing is we’re pretty crazy all the time now but never too crazy. That’s a more healthy situation.”
Petty has also brought a more relaxed attitude to his music as can be heard on “Full Moon fever”. After The Wilburys he went back to his own album and in quick succession wrote about nine songs (“I’m just bangin’ ‘em out these days”) but these totalled just twenty-two minutes, hardly enough for a full LP. Nevertheless he want ahead and recorded them and such was the rawness of what he came up with that he was going to call the project “Songs From The Garage”.
“Even though a lot of time had gone by since we started the album, I still wanted it to be a fairly immediate record,” he says. “ I didn’t worry about anything too much and I think that short songs are a sign of somebody who doesn’t worry. I didn’t want this album to be too serious.”
There is definitely an element of playfulness to “Full Moon Fever”. with its clever conceits and deferential nods in the direction of many of his influences. Hearing a greatest hits album by The Searchers, he says, prompted him to write “Depending On You”, while the jaunty “Yer So Bad” has got The Kinks written all over it. “(A Mind With A) Heart Of Its Own”, meanwhile is just a bit of nonsense conjured up around the Connie Francis tune “A Hearts With A Mind Of Its Own”. And, most interestingly of all, one of the tracks Tom chose to make up the time shortfall on his album was a cover version of The Byrds’ “Feel A Whole Lot Better” - a rather surprising inclusion given that for years Petty’s been accused of ripping off Roger McGuinn.
“I wouldn’t have done that song if Jeff hadn’t been producing this album,” he says. “ We went together to see the reformed Byrds play together last year and I remember thinking what a great song “Feel A Whole Lot Better” is. But because of the whole thing about me copyin’ McGuinn, I didn’t want to do it. Then I realised that with Jeff’s help, this album was also highlighting a lot of my other influences like The Beatles, Brian Wilson etc, and so it was important that I did do a Byrds song. However, I will admit that the version we do is shamefully note-perfect.” (laughs)
Despite all of this fun-and-games, Tom Petty is at pains to stress that he is still a worried man. What worries him most these days, however, are the big global problems. “South Africa bugs me,” he says. “How can that still be happening in 1989? The hole in the ionosphere bugs me. The fact that children are starving bugs me. Bush bugs me - how can anyone trust a man who’s been head of the CIA twice? Things like that start to bug when you get children of your own and it puts all the other shit in perspective.”
And what of the future? Work has already begun on the next Tom Patty And The Heartbreakers album. After that’s released there’ll be a short tour and then a long break. He says that there was never any intention to do a second Travelling. Wilburys album (even though the first one was subtitled “Vol1”) and insists that, now that Roy Orbison is no longer with us, there certainly won’t be one. As to whether he’ll ever work with Dylan, Harrison or any other rock legend again, he just smiles and says “Who knows? All it takes is a phone call.”
“I just want to keep on making a respectable living.” he concludes, “without insulting people’s intelligence or doing anything too embarrassing. I just want to do what I do with some dignity - and a little humour.”