Mudkiss managed to grab Gough for a quick chat prior to his appearance at Rochdale’s Feel Good Festival.
ANDY: You’re just about to go on stage and this is pretty much a local gig for you isn’t it?
DAMON: Yeah, I played in Brighton last night...... Moseley Folk Festival, drove back, had a few hours at home with the kids this afternoon.... set off at five o’clock, we were here for like half five or something, it’s like an half an hour drive from Manchester to Rochdale.......I’ve not been to Rochdale for years but I always remember the Town Hall where we are now........it’s like Big Ben, a mini Big Ben.
ANDY: (Laughing)Absolutely, it’s certainly an impressive building.
DAMON: It’s amazing......I’ve not been here for so long but as soon as I got back I just recognised it..... can’t remember why I was here last time, I think I had some friends in Rochdale years ago......so yeah it’s good, it’s a very different vibe to yesterday but I like that.... every gig you play’s got a different thing......it’s raining unfortunately but it looks like it might hold off.
ANDY: Hopefully......Do you approach playing a festival in a different way to say an indoor more intimate gig?
DAMON: (Clearing his throat) You just get what you get..... with festivals you know you turn up and you don’t get much chance to think about it which is a good thing in some ways.....like my tour manager’s now setting up… I’ll just walk on and start playing and it could all go wrong you never know.......I’m feeling weirdly relaxed at the minute about the gigs I’m playing.......I’ve had loads of different bands over the years, different backing bands, but at the minute my current band are all busy doing other things and I’ve been working on a soundtrack in London, so I’ve been pretty much in London for the last two weeks doing that, no time to rehearse with a band so it’s just easy for me to just turn up. I quite like the solo gigs, even though it’s daunting cos I’m going on after a band that have made a really big sound and I’m on me own with a guitar. I think a lot of the festivals are booking me as a kind of a just before the end, a bit of a sunset act, you know sun going down,.....chill out....couple of songs that people might know. I’ve not had any really big hits over my career but there’s a lot of songs people kinda know...... that have just seeped into people’s consciousness. I think I’m just filling that gap in these festival slots......and it’s nice, it’s quite a nice feeling and I’m feeling quite good about it......I’ve got a reputation for being a bit hit and miss but I always try and do my best, I always want to do something that’s worthwhile when I walk on a stage, I can’t see the point in not making it special...... but that can be down to logistics, like technical issues, sometimes on stage the sound can be weird......depends on the crowd, if the crowd are with you and supportive…… so you never know what you’re going to get......and it’s like, this is an open air stage....... yeah it’s different playing open air to playing in a tent or in a venue..... it sort of brings it’s own vibe to it but you just have to take it for what it is and make the most of it.....it’s raining, it’s in Rochdale, it’s kind of miserable (Laughing) but it’s like that will inform the way I address the gig.....I’m about to go on stage in twenty minutes or something and until I walk on there, I don’t know if these people like me or half of them even know who I am.
ANDY: But they do, don’t they, in the North West of England in particular, you’re regarded as a musical institution. You may not have had much in the way of hits, but people have bought you albums. Primarily I see you as an album artist.
DAMON: Yeah that’s true, yeah......I do feel there’s a lot respect for me whether it’s fans are whether it’s other musicians that I meet which I’m grateful for and proud of because I’ve worked hard at writing songs for a long time and made a few albums.....I had a lot of success with my early albums...... Mercury Prize and stuff like that and then the “About a Boy” soundtrack which was quite a successful thing.......In some ways I think a lot of people think I’ve disappeared but I had an album out last year.......and it’s tough now, it’s tough these days for everyone not just me...new artists like Frankie and the Heatstrings that just played who I thought were brilliant....then you’ve got other bands like Fun Lovin Criminals who are playing, they’re still treading the boards.....so there’s only a handful of bands that are really having big careers in terms of selling records at the minute......a lot of bands are making money with big tours and stuff like Coldplay who’ve just done a massive tour..... I know them quite well and fair play to em....obviously your big bands like U2 and Radiohead but there’s a lot of bands out there that are really good and perhaps don’t get a look in......but it’s the same for us all and I don’t mind that....I mean I’m lucky enough to have been around for over ten years where I’ve got a fan base, people know my music......for me the most important thing is to keep making the music and I still haven’t really got anywhere near to what I want to do as a musician.......I’m just scratching the surface of my capabilities I think...... so I’m always inspired by that.......like what can I do next. But gigs is a different thing.....the festivals at the minute, I’m all too happy to play songs that people want to hear.......I saw The National last week at Leeds Festival and I was really looking forward to seeing them.... and they’ve got this song called “Runaway” off the last album and I’ve been doing it and I’ll probably do it tonight......they didn’t play it and I was so gutted........it was like oh.... it’s the best song they’ve written and I was watching with my kids at Leeds and they went off and I thought oh they’re going to come back on and do it as an encore..... I was watching as a fan and I was so gutted they didn’t do it, I was angry.... I was really angry......so I mean I usually on stage just say to the audience you know, any requests just shout them out, if I can do it I will.....I usually don’t bother (Laughing) I’ll offer them the chance to shout something out and if it’s something I can remember the words too I’ll play it, cos the last thing I want to do is be here and waste the opportunity of making someone’s day, if I play a song someone wants to hear. So, that’s what’s good about these kind of nights. When you do your own tours and your own gigs it’s obviously your fan base that’s invested in you as a musician....but festivals, there’s always a crossover audience who think they know who you are but only know certain songs, or only know the odd ones they’ve heard on the radio.......so it’s nice opportunity to sort of introduce yourself to them properly and say well, this is what I’m doing....and I just feel privileged to being doing it still......as much as I struggle with it sometimes I’ve had to admit to myself that this is what my life’s turned into..... I’m a singer songwriter, I go on stages, I do film soundtracks, I make records and I hang out with other people...... like all the bands that I meet when I’m doing festivals, it’s brilliant......you know I was with Gruff last night from Super Furry’s who I’ve met loads of times......and to me, to be hanging out with your peers and people that show you some respect, it could be a lot worse, I mean life could be a lot worse (Laughing.)
ANDY: There’s certainly worse ways to make a living.
DAMON: Well, I’ve had many other ways of making livings before this......I was a printer for quite a long time......worked in studios as well when I was a teenager.....that was how I started in music really, I wanted to be a sound engineer……I often say in interviews this wasn’t really my game plan to be the person on the stage, I wanted to be the guy making the music in the background, I didn’t want to be visible really.....but I’ve ended up by accident the guy that people recognise stood on a stage goofing about (Laughing) so I just have to say, fair enough.....and that’s a good thing, it’s a positive feeling.
ANDY : Just going back to the last album, that’s part 1 of a trilogy. Did you have enough songs to cover three albums initially or is this you putting yourself under pressure to produce that amount of material over time?
DAMON: Yeah, the main reason for doing it was to put myself under pressure...... to commit to....just to give myself a purpose and a target to meet....so that’s the main reason I announced a trilogy......I’m not even sure I’m going to complete it, I mean I’m doing this film soundtrack now which has got in the way of the second instalment of “It’s what I’m thinking” which is what the first one was called “It’s what I’m Thinking - Photographing Snowflakes.” Part of me thinks this soundtrack could be part 2 of the trilogy because the reason for saying, it’s what I’m thinking, as an umbrella title for the whole thing is that’s all I’ve ever done.....expressed my thoughts through music....so this soundtrack could qualify as the second part of the trilogy but I’d feel like maybe that’s a bit cheap to do that, but I’ve written about ten songs for this film now...... and some of them are my favourites songs I’ve ever written and they’re really simple two, three chord songs......just really basic and very to the point......so part of me wants to say this is Pt.2 but I’m not sure whether that will suffice......I’m not sure......depends how long this takes me to finish..... I’ve got to finish probably by the end of the month on this soundtrack and then I wanted to get another album early next year...... so if I can get another album out as well, I will, but I dunno. There’s mileage in this soundtrack stuff because there’s an albums worth of stuff there already that’s going to be interesting, like when I did “About a Boy” it came out as it’s own release as a record as well as scoring the film........so I’m sort of in between..... betwixt and between what I’m actually trying to do (nervous laughter)........but it’s all positive because it’s made me write songs I wouldn’t have otherwise written this soundtrack.....So yeah, I’m not sure where it’s heading but I announced the idea because I just wanted to keep myself working and give myself an incentive really......I think as a solo artist you need that because bands are kinda lucky in terms of the fact if you’re having a bad day the other guy in the band might be writing a song where you’re not…pushing each other along…..there’s downsides to being in a band as well cos bands split up……I can’t split up with myself because I’m solo, so that’s one good thing…..but I haven’t got someone else to push me other than me….so you always have to put in play sort of rules and incentives like the idea of doing a trilogy just to keep myself pushing forward……because if I’m not making music I’m a miserable sod……. you know it’s what drives me forward as a person it’s one of those things, I make music because I have to and if I’m not doing it, if I’m not being productive….whenever you write a new song it just gives you that feeling of like wow, I’ve done something, I’ve contributed something to the world. I mean I’m a father of two kids now as well for ten years…..my daughters ten and my sons nine so that’s an achievement, that’s something I’m proud of as well, but in terms of me on my own, when I’m left to my own devices, music’s the thing that keeps me ticking, so I have to keep doing it……I just want to leave as many songs behind me as a I can before I pop me clogs (Laughing) I just want to leave as many thoughts and ideas behind me because it’s the kind of person I am. If you’re a creative person or an artist of any kind that’s what drives you forward and it’s just so interesting to keep thinking of ideas and a new way of saying something in a song……I’ll never get bored of that, I have moments where I think, can I do this anymore, have I got anything more to say or can I write another good song as good as that one I wrote…. but that just keeps you going……at the minute I’m really enjoying it, especially live stuff, I’m just feeling like well…I’ve got seven or eight albums under my belt now and I can just stand on stage for an hour and enjoy it…… and people hopefully enjoy it as well.
ANDY: I read an interview with Gary Numan and he was having a dig at the nostalgia tours, bands and artists just playing the old material and not producing anything new. His argument being as an artist, there doesn’t seem any point if you’re not trying to move on with new material.
DAMON: Well, I can’t see it any other way…….I mean I get lots of bands, young bands coming up to me asking advice……how did you get started and how do you get a record deal, whatever they ask me…….and I’m like well…. you either do it or you don’t. When I started my career I had nobody mentoring me, nobody helping me, I just had a work ethic…..my Mum and Dad ran their own business for years so I think that seeped into my consciousness…….when I started my own record label in 1997, Twisted Nerve records with my first EP, that was purely from the ideal of following in my parents footsteps of saying just do it yourself. I didn’t want to rely on anyone else, I didn’t want to impress anyone else, I just wanted to say this is what I’m doing…….and it got me noticed because people realised I was serious, even though I was pretty terrible at the beginning, I did some bloody shocking gigs but I just said well this is me, take it or leave it I don’t care……I’m not trying to impress you, I don’t want to get record deal I’m just doing this because it’s a lifestyle, this is who I am….I don’t care about the rest of it, this is what I do. Ever since the early releases and the early gigs people just keep asking me to do gigs….like somebody said, oh will you play my venue next week, will you play my venue next month……..and for ten years that’s kept happening……..playing here today in Rochdale….somebody said will you play here…..yeah, alright….. fair enough (Laughing) I’ve just kept going and going like that and the offers haven’t dried up yet, people still seem to want me to turn up and I’m all too happy to turn up (laughing)…..I’m still bemused by it, but so what (Andy laughs) ……no I am, I mean I’ve got better over the years…..I’m semi-professional now, where initially I was inept……..but I’m kinda semi-pro now, like where I can actually stand on a stage and do something half decent and people keep asking me back (Laughs)………so……..
ANDY: You must be doing something right then eh?
DAMON: Yeah, I think so……..no, it’s been interesting……….I think having done it for over ten years now I’ve just started to take stock out of it and say well…. this this is fine…….and perhaps appreciate it as well…….I think you spend so much time being busy in any walk of life, not just being a musician…life’s like that John Lennon quote…..life’s what happens when you’re busy doing other things or whatever that quote was…..and that’s true…..it’s kinda like, if you’re not careful it can just pass you by and you don’t actually take the time to enjoy it. My new philosophy at the minute is to say, here I am today I’ve gotta make sure I enjoy this hour on stage…….it’s not just a gig, this is the next hour in my life……. and that person that’s watching, it’s the next hour in their life….so it’s kinda like you’ve gotta share it, for better or worse you know. I’ll probably say that when I go on now….I say it every now and again when I’m feeling down about it and thinking, oh shit, am I good enough to do this anymore…..this is the next hour in my life…… later on tonight I might get back to Chorlton, have last orders with the Mrs, the kids have got a baby sitter…….but this next hour is me with my life, it’s not just a gig, it’s what I’m doing for the next hour, it’s part of my life….. it’s not just music, it’s not just an audience, not just me, it’s what I do……you know the next hour I’ll be driving home, and that’s the next hour, but this is most important cos I’m sharing it with a bunch of people I’ve never met so you’ve gotta look at it like that sometimes. That’s why I’m so passionate about it and that’s why I get annoyed…..occasionally I get annoyed on stage because I’m not able to do as good a job as I want…….and people think I’m a knob head sometimes, but I’m not…..I just really care about it and I want it to be the best hour of that person’s life or mine.
ANDY : One of my pet hates, is you pay to go to a gig and people talk all the way through and I think, why bother, why are you here if you aren’t going to listen. Is that something you find annoying while on stage?
DAMON: Things like that… sometimes when you’re on stage and you hear people chatting it can be good because you can kinda sense that it’s chat that’s like, they’re excited, they’re enjoying it…..then there’s other gigs where you just think people are being really ignorant and rude….you can tell though, you can tell the difference…….if people are chatting it’s not always a bad thing it’s because they might be discussing, oh that song was good or I’m glad he’s doing that one……you can tell the difference, it’s weird……even from the stage you can tell if it’s chat that’s positive or it’s chat where people are just being really rude……there’s a difference so I don’t get offended by that. It also depends on the venue that you’re in…….a lot of my gigs have been acoustic solo gigs, playing some bar and the bars in the room where you’re playing and there’s people ordering drinks and you think, fucking hell, what’s the point in doing this, why am I here….but you have to rise above it as well….it’s a very subtle difference between it working and it not working…….but it depends on my mood you know. I’m in a fairly good mood at the minute….it could change in a split second if I walk on stage and it’s not right (laughing)….but like last night, I made mistakes, I fluffed a load of notes but I didn’t get upset. Sometimes I can beat myself up if I sing a note wrong or I play guitar and miss a chord or I forget the words…..I can get really upset about it, thinking oh shit, why did I do that but when everything’s going right, a mistake doesn’t bother me, I just laugh it off and enjoy it….so it’s a very subtle thing, but I don’t want to tempt fate now cos I’m going to go on stage . I was like this yesterday, I was feeling so relaxed I was almost……almost terrified about how relaxed I was feeling because it’s not normal…….you have to be nervous and I always am….. but now I’m not feeling nervous at all, I’m like ready to go on…..as soon as I walk on I’ll probably be nervous for at least five minutes…….but yesterday I was weirdly relaxed and I thought there’s something wrong here, this shouldn’t be but it ended up a great gig so I’m hoping the same will happen today and I’ll just make the most of it. It’s great when you’re playing quite local as well…..Rochdale’s half an hour from Manchester, so at the back of my mind, I can do this gig, enjoy it and be home tonight as well..... I’ve not been home for like about a week so looking forward to being in my own bed.
ANDY: Talking about the gig, you’re on in about ten minutes so I’d better let you get going.
DAMON: I need the loo as well, need a nervous wee (Laughing)
ANDY: (Also laughing) Definitely let you go then...... that’s brilliant thanks very much.
And nervous or not, Badly Drawn Boy appears on stage ten to fifteen minutes later as the light fades, producing a wonderfully spellbinding performance. His material and persona, suited the occasion and backdrop perfectly. The relatively local lad respected and made welcome by an appreciative audience, exactly how it should be, for one of Britain’s best and most consistent songwriters.