- 17 Feb 20
As tributes pour in for Andrew Weatherall, we're revisiting a classic interview with the legendary producer.
Bet you I can.
"No, you can't."
"No, you fucking can't!"
Andrew Weatherall is adamant that no matter what journalistic ruse I employ, he's not going to give anyone a slagging.
"I used to lay into people all the time when I was bombed out but now that I m older and have mellowed a bit, I can't see the point. If somebody pisses me off, I just ignore 'em and usually they go away."
Fair enough, but he's forgotten that there are two words in my arsenal that are guaranteed to loosen even the most superglued of tongues. Ladies, gentlemen, boys and members of Placebo, I give you Kula Shaker!
"That's not fucking fair," he complains. "It's like you asking, 'what do you think of the Yorkshire Ripper?', and me going, 'well, he's alright'. If you're a music fan, you're duty-bound to have a go at 'em because they re such total fakes.
"As for Mansun . . . I saw a picture of 'em yesterday in Melody Maker and they looked like the Kay's catalogue punk rock collection. I dunno why but that really annoyed me. Someone said to Bill Hicks, 'hey man, why are you so angry?', and he went, 'I'm not angry, I'm passionate'. That's me. I don't rant and rave as much as I used to but I still care."
While he's got a few years to go before joining the pipe 'n' slippers club, Weatherall is very much a veteran of a scene that if he didn't invent, he's certainly helped to shape. Long before Howie B turned this vibemaster lark into a recognised profession, it was yer man with his unbridled enthusiasm and unfeasibly large record collection who persuaded Primal Scream to tart their Iggy Pop-isms up with beats that were from black rather than white Detroit.
While everybody accepts that 1991's Screamadelica was the proverbial dog's bollocks, it's a lesser-known fact that Andy was employed and subsequently let go as the producer of the latest Primals opus.
"We did one track, they didn't really dig it because it was too electronic, and that, basically, was that," he explains a tad sniffily. "I've been playing it off an acetate and getting a great reaction but as far as I know, they're not using it. Mates of mine have been accosting Bobby Gillespie and saying, why don't you release it? , but so far it hasn't appeared on any schedules. We did the Trainspotting thing together which worked really well but now they seem to want to head off in a rockier direction. Subject, if you don't mind, closed."
If Gillespie & Co. don't require his services, there are plenty of top pop people who do. Weatherall is currently shacked up in the studio with Beth Orton and preparing for the arduous task of supporting Kraftwerk at the Tribal Gathering.
"Rather than the stop-starty thing of coming on between other bands, we're going to do a non-stop eight-hour set which means we'll be the masters of the flow. I used to be very dubious about festivals but maybe because I've the luxury of being able to use the backstage portaloos I love the Gatherings. Y'know, a few beers and a couple of spliffs, and it's all hunky-dory."
"Actually", he enthuses, "I've got a top story for you. Me and Alex Paterson from The Orb used to live in the same block of flats in Battersea and one morning I went round for a smoke and found two members of Kraftwerk sitting in his kitchen. There are a lot of things you expect to find on a South London council estate but half of the most influential electronic group ever isn't one of em!"
"I was too fucking gobsmacked to do anything other than sit there with a daft grin on my face. People are probably saying to Kraftwerk, 'so you've met Andrew Weatherall?', and they're going, 'yez but 'ee voz very quiet!' That was me being a music fan, I was completely star-struck. I don't understand how anyone can go up to their heroes and chat normally. If it's Oasis or somebody who's just come onto the scene, fine, but when you've been into them since you were a kid you tend to lose it."
Living up to their reputation of being one microchip short of a circuit-board, the Teutonic technocrats are insisting that the Tribal Gathering stage-manager provides them with an exact replica of their Düsseldorf studio.
There was an article in The Guardian yesterday which says that Ralf Hütter lives with his sister's family in a room that's entirely covered with mirrors, so zat ze artist can always be looking inwards on himself, ja? The reason they haven't made a record for years, apparently, is zat zer s too much sound pollution. And these guys aren't even on drugs!
I remember Karl Bartos telling me he had to leave Kraftwerk because the rest of the band were just too fucking weird. Apparently, the only way they were prepared to communicate with the outside world was through fax and, even then, they d only accept incoming messages. An introspective bent which, by comparison, makes Van Morrison look like the most sociable animal to have ever stalked the Planet Rock.
"You leave him alone," Weatherall deadpans. "I saw him at Glastonbury the same year New Order played and he was fucking brilliant. I've always been into that sort of vibey know, Van and Dexy's Midnight Runners. Anything that's authentically Celtic and not Clannad. Or Enya. Ooops, there I go again slagging people off."
Blokes chucking axes around. I'm sure the Brennan family are far too busy totting up their royalty cheques to be offended. Now the ripe old age of 33, the DJ-cum-producer-cum-artist-cum-record company boss first taste of al fresco excess came in the early 70s when his parents took him to one of the Windsor Free Festivals to look at the hippies .
"Yeah, they were a big tourist attraction back then," he reminisces. "Them and the Windsor Hell's Angels, who were the first UK chapter to get their colours from California. They had this mad rivalry with the All-England chapter which ended with their president, Dick Sharman, copping a double-barrel shotgun in the head and surviving. They had their clubhouse y'know, a normal three-bedroomed semi-detached not too far away from me and all the neighbours were freaked because they reckoned it devalued their property. I suppose with blokes chucking axes around in the garden, it did."
"The funny thing is," he continues, "the people who sold the house to the Angels did so to spite the family next door whose kid used to keep them awake with his drumkit. What a great fucking way to get revenge!"
As he hinted earlier, Weatherall has drastically cut back on his consumption of Class A pharmaceuticals, a cleaning-up act which he admits has probably impoverished several medium-sized Colombian villages.
"I can totally relate to David Bowie when he says there are bits of the 80s he doesn't remember," he sympathises. "I was on about a hundredth of the coke he was taking and there are gigs even weekends that are a complete blur. It's like someone wanted to interview me for this book they were doing on the history of acid house and I had to say, sorry but I wouldn't be any use to you. People think I'm being snotty in that techno DJ fashion but, I'm not, I've just lost too many brain cells."
There was a point immediately after Screamadelica when, if he'd wanted to, Weatherall could've joined Paul Oakenfold and Sasha among the superjock elite. Instead, he burrowed his way back into the underground, starting up the defiantly streetwise Sabres Of Paradise label and recording act, and turning down megabuck offers from the likes of U2.
"I can't do the big thing. I can't do the music biz meetings. Professional people scare the bejesus out of me, seriously. It's another level and your music suffers. I'm not having a dig at Oaky but, personally, I'd favour deep minimal house, dirty electro, dub and hip-hop over trance any day. If that's the difference between success and failure, give me failure every time."
"Basically," he continues warming to the theme, "I'm in the position where I can do what the fuck I like. That's because instead of all the peripheral bullshit y'know, the dinners and the lunches I'd rather be in the studio making music."
So he harbours no desire to rub shoulders with Ronan and Robbie and Sporty Spice on Top Of The Pops?
"If I had a number one across Europe, or something, I'd be delighted because it'd mean I could buy a mansion wherever I wanted and disappear. I know this sounds dreadfully unambitious but if I got to that level, I wouldn't want to carry on. Well, I wouldn't want another hit. I'd probably convert the gamekeeper s lodge into a studio and bang ridiculously obscure tunes out on white label."
While grannies from Mullingar and second cousins twice removed from Termonfeckin are conspicuous by their absence on his family tree, Weatherall enjoys a close affinity with Ireland dating back to the remixes he did for Bumble in the late 80s.
"West In Motion? Jesus, that was a lifetime and a lot of drugs ago," he chuckles. "I kept coming over for gigs, met people like Johnny Moy and, as the old cliché goes, fell in love with the place. Dublin was so rock n roll back then that Johnny and I thought of starting a label up for the kids who were sitting in their rooms with 909s and samplers. Then it occurred to me that turning up and saying, 'hey, I'm from London, let me help you', was a bit patronising."
"What's good about Dublin is that the scene there's been left to develop at its own pace. Sure, you've got geezers like me coming over, but it's mainly the local DJs who influence what people are into. Which is only right because I don't fucking live here."
For those of you who've never heard it, allow me to recount Weatherall's anecdote about meeting Bono. There he is jocking away in some elite London club when our desperately-trying-to-get-into-dance-music chum comes up and professes his undying love for the My Bloody Valentine remix he's just done. Having droned on for a couple of minutes about how it's never off his turntable, he asks Andrew to give it a spin not realising that that's exactly what he's been doing for the past 10 minutes.
A few months later, word filters through that U2 want him to give a couple of the tracks on Achtung Baby! a seeing to but suspecting that his would-be employers hearts aren't in it, he declines. Have their paths crossed since then?
"Bono was in The Kitchen when I was playing there one night but like I said earlier, I'm seriously crap at schmoozing. I used to be alright at it when I was buzzing y'know, I'd grab hold of people and rant into their earhole but now that I'm more or less off drugs I'm pretty subdued. Apart from my health going to shit, the reason I'm abstaining is that I resented the three days a week I wasn't able to work because I was fucked. If it's a toss-up between music and drugs, the Class As can piss right off with themselves."
Forget all this zero tolerance baloney, if Bertie Ahern wants to make a worthwhile contribution to the drugs debate, that's the slogan he should run with. Having established that he'd rather French-kiss a rabid Rottweiler than listen to Mansun or Kula Shaker, could Andy enlighten us as to what does make it onto the Weatherall dansette these days?
"I'm biased," he admits, "but I love Beth Orton. Actually, I did a track with her yesterday that's going to be the B-side of her new single. She's a really, really good friend with a similar sense of humour which is why we get on so well in the studio y'know, it's basically two mates having a laugh. There aren t many singer-songwritery types who d let a git like me stick minimal techno all over their work, but she's mad for it."
"I haven't seen them live yet but I quite like that Alabama 3 single, 'Ain't Goin To Goa'. I hear they went down a storm in Galway, which is no surprise bearing in mind the lot you've got out there!"
I hope he's not being crustyist?
"A couple of years ago I'd probably have ripped the piss out of them but nowadays, to be honest, I can't be arsed. I get a bit browned off when they go on about how they've opted out because you know damn well that come Tuesday morning they'll be queuing up for the dole."
"On the other hand," he mitigates, "you've got to admire the people who spend four weeks up a tree or throw themselves in front of bulldozers. That slightly outweighs the fact that they might have a dirty pair of trousers and dreadlocks."
We appear to have somewhat deviated from the point.
"Oh yeah, stuff I'm into. My favourite album at the moment, Weekend, is by a band called Chrysler. I say I don't like much guitar music but I'm also listening a lot to Tortoise and Tindersticks who are the perfect antidote to Britpop. I'm sorry but most of that mob are just pub singalong acts."
Like Northern Uproar?
"I tell you what," he replies sweetly, "you're a right fucking shit-stirrer!"