Sunday, April 13, 2014

What the pop papers said: Bernard Butler

We find ourselves at the end of a slightly underwhelming BBC-mandated 20th Anniversary of Britpop (marking the point when Johnny from Menswear first said the words '... and if we bung a picture of, I dunno, a Mini or Ena Sharples on the sleeve, I reckon it's money in the bank').

BBC Four, rather than showing the old compilation of Britpop performances at the BBC with the introduction from Damon Albarn, edited a new set of Britpop performances together, and slapped the old Damon Albarn intro on the front. Still: Pulp meeting Trev and Simon.

In the end, though, it was just a further coagulation of the Britpop narrative: John Humphrys in front of the Blur and Oasis logos, announcing a state of permanent warfare, forever.

Which is a pity, as by now you'd hope they'd be finding space to tell some of the more interesting stories of the time.

Like the acrimonious Suede split - which did get touched on, accidentally, on one of those late-night repeats from the Evening Session this week.

It's worth spending a little bit of time digging back into that awkward period. John Mulvey's interview with Bernard Butler from the NME in 1998 gives just a flavour of what went wrong:

It was around this time, probably, when Bernard starting doubting himself. Even today, you can see a potent and battling combination of confidence and shyness in his character: sure of his own gifts, but reluctant to express himself. Surrounded by people telling him he was wrong when he wanted to expand the band's musical parameters, struggling with a producer (Ed Buller) who he disagreed with over everything, alienated from a band he had nothing in common with something had to crack... Him.

"I don't necessarily think that a nice personality makes a nice record. There's a lot of bastards around that make great records, and that's the one thing that kept me going after Suede, because they trashed me so much personally, saying so much bullshit.

"It was really cowardly to do it when they knew I wouldn't answer back. They knew I'd flip and I did, I pissed off to France 'cos I couldn't hack it. I cried a lot, because it really hurt. I've got a lot of good memories of Brett and it really f--ked me up that I never said goodbye to Simon. The last time I was with Simon we were getting stoned, having a nice time, having a laugh like we always did. Next minute he's saying I should have my head chopped off or something, I should be put down like a dog."

"But I just said to myself, 'They'll get through it, just don't answer back'. You can't answer back when someone's calling you a wanker. What do you say? 'I'm not a wanker! I'm alright!'"
Bernard, bravely, rose above it all, and always carried that regret that he never got to say goodbye to Simon. Can you explain some more about how you rose above it, and - I dunno - maybe try to show Simon he was wrong to be so rude about you, Bernard?
[Were you] a control freak?

"No. I wasn't a control freak and never have been."

If you were, you wouldn't have Ed Buller produce the records?

"Right. Exactly. I tried to stop him making 'Stay Together' and then I tried to stop him making 'Dog Man Star'. No-one would let me. So, at the end of the day, that's why I left. There were lots of bad vibes between me and Brett and stuff, but they'd always been there. He was going off in one direction, shooting off as this star, and I was shooting off as this songwriter somewhere else. Unfortunately we were going totally the wrong way.

"At the end of the day, I was with the wrong people: I had the wrong manger, the wrong record company, the wrong road crew, the wrong band... I didn't think the drummer was very good, can you imagine what that was like? Simon Gilbert, the rock star drummer in Suede, I think is very average. Mat Osman: he's not a great bass player, he should've been Jeremy Paxman, he should've been reading the news. He should never have been a bass player 'cos he's just a theorist.

"Those are my biggest problems: standing there with a whole set of ideas about what I wanted the record to sound like and I wasn't allowed to say them. I'd have this great idea about what the hi-hat should do in bar four, but if I said it I'd piss off the drummer. There were times when I remember Simon taking his drums and throwing them down the stairs saying, 'I'm not being told how to play the drums'.
Oddly, Bernard would be later surprised to discover that Simon said some negative things about him.

All a long time ago, and bridges have sort-of-been rebuilt since then, of course. We were all much younger.

But the stories have got to be worth hearing, more than seeing that rack of Country House next to the rack of Roll With It in HMV for the 33,000th time?