Interview – Steve Lamacq: ‘I would never get guestlist for The Fall because you wanted to be in the same boat as the fans’

Steve Lamacq brings his one-man show, Going Deaf For a Living, to Leeds. Picture: Javier Garcia / BPI
Steve Lamacq brings his one-man show, Going Deaf For a Living, to Leeds. Picture: Javier Garcia / BPI
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“It’s an evening basically of trying to make sense of the madness of being a pop music fan,” says broadcaster and music writer Steve Lamacq of his one-man show Going Deaf For A Living.

“I’ve accumulated quite a lot of stories, I’ve done some weird things and been in odd positions. I joined the NME in ’87/’88, so I’ve been around 30 years. I had all these stories and anecdotes and I thought maybe instead of just sitting in a corner of a pub telling them over and over again to my friends we could go out and tell some of the stories – meeting Nirvana for the first time in a bed and breakfast in Shepherds Bush, some of the run-ins with Oasis and the early days of Blur. It’s stuff like that but really it’s all held together by shall we say a humorous examination of the madness that overtakes you when you get into music, from the first single that you buy onwards from there.”

It’s all held together by shall we say a humorous examination of the madness that overtakes you when you get into music, from the first single that you buy onwards from there.

Steve Lamacq

Lamacq, who has a regular show on BBC 6 Music, will talk about the ‘ownership’ that fans feel towards bands. “It’s also the community,” he says. “When you start out in a lot of cases possibly it’s just you in your class [at school] who likes a particular sort of music so you start looking for kindred spirits. Music is full of little communities, so we examine that. But it’s all hung around this concept of the three i’s of pop music, which are infatuation, infuriation and incomprehension. Infatuation – I love this band; infuriation – why does nobody else love this band?; incomprehension – why do they like that terrible band instead of my band?

“That’s where we start then it’s all sorts of things from meeting Chris Martin’s mum to a couple of good Liam Gallagher stories.

“I suppose I’m also partly know for some of the bands I’ve found over the years. People quite often say ‘What do you look for in a demo?’ So I’m playing three clips from demos to see if people can spot who they are and why, of all the demos, they were better than the others.”

There will be conversation with the audience too about the shared experience of gig-going. “When the audience arrive we hand out slips of paper, it’s a mini questionnaire to fill in, which is the first single you ever bought, the best gig you’ve ever been to and then there’s a separate little thing at the bottom where you can request anecdotes about any band that you want and if I’ve got an anecdote I’ll put it in. That’s my Bruce Springsteen moment.

“We talk about people’s first singles, who are in the room. I’ve done about five dates and honestly at every one of those gigs there was at least one person whose first single was Star Trekkin’ by The Firm. If no one admits to it in Leeds I’ll keep badgering away until somebody actually owns up.”

Lamacq remembers his own first gig was The Lurkers. “They were a west London punk band, not the most successful of punk bands, but I think that fits in I suppose with some of the bands that I’ve liked, really. The underdogs sometimes of the scene or the outsiders. I don’t know what I was expecting. I was 13 and my only knowledge of pop music was from the pages of Record Mirror, so I’d got no real idea of what it was going to be like.

“For a start I thought it was like a football match. When it said 7.30 on the ticket you got there at 7.30 and everything would start happening. I went on my own as well. I have no idea what I did. I’d just be standing there, I suppose, in awe, slightly scared in a corner staring at the Essex punks who congregated in Chelmsford for The Lurkers. Everything was far more vivid than I imagined, far more exciting, far more violent at the front as well. Suddenly all these punks pogoing around you – ‘Crikey, hang on a second. Oww, my knee. Don’t do that’. It was much more anarchic than I thought and as a consequence ten times more exciting than I ever imagined it would be.

“I suppose it’s overstating it to say that’s where my life changed but I do remember thinking as soon as I came away ‘I want to go to another one of those’. And I’ve been wanting to go to another one of those ever since.”

In his teens Lamacq started his own fanzine, before joining the staff of the NME. The main difference he found as a gig-goer was: “You’ve got to be aware that you can’t simply get lost in the moment. You do have to concentrate because you’re the reporter and you have to remember some of the things.

“I was lucky at the NME because gigs that you went to that you were reviewing were one thing, but I used to go to a lot of gigs just for fun. Those gigs it was sort of the same although you were aware that you were a journalist and not just there as a fan of the band. If ever I went to see The Fall I would always buy a ticket. I would never get guestlist for The Fall because you wanted to be in the same boat as the fans so when [Mark E Smith] walked off after 20 minutes you were just as angry as they were.

“I used to go to a lot of gigs but I still went along for the thrill, really, particularly in that era when there was Mega City 4 and Carter [The Unstoppable Sex Machine], The Wonder Stuff and all those bands who were just touring all the time. Oddly there’s a feeling like that now with bands like Idles and Shame who really have just toured and toured and toured. This current Idles tour really reminds me of Carter or even to a certain extent to bands who just had a really loyal following who were very identifiable live. Even somebody like Forward Russia, it reminds me of that sort of thing, when you follow a band round and you see all the misfits, the loose pieces of a jigsaw that suddenly fit together.”

In 1991 Lamacq had an infamous encounter with Manic Street Preachers guitarist Richey Edwards, who carved the words ‘4 real’ into his arm with a razor blade while Lamacq looked on. “I think about it sometimes,” Lamacq says today. “It all happened so quickly, that’s the thing. Looking back on it now, this is probably a crass comparison but I imagine it’s like when somebody witnesses an accident. You’re in a slight state of shock, as much as anything, but you just get on with what you’ve got to do.

“I obviously didn’t know what was going to happen and then when he put the razor blade to his arm I was so shocked. Because you’re not prepared for something like that it takes you a little while just for your brain to process. By the time you realise what’s happening it’s halfway down his arm. I suppose as well it’s hard to explain while he’s cutting his arm we’re still having this conversation and he’s got these eyes that are 9ft deep. He had these incredible eyes. He’s talking in this very soft but passionate and convincing tones as he’s trying in his head to emphasise what the band means to him and then he’s finished. The conversation carries on, his arm starts to bleed quite badly, I made a terrible glib throwaway comment as I looked down like ‘You’re going to ruin that carpet’ and he gave a slight smile, then I just said ‘Wait here’ and ran off to find his manager and point him in the direction of where Richey was.

“I found Ed Sirrs, who was the photographer for the NME. Because the fag machine was broken we had to share a packet of cigarettes, we were down to our last one, so I commandeered the last cigarette from Ed and went outside and had a smoke. By the time I came back everyone was running around, an ambulance had been called and that was it. We all got in the car and went home. It was very odd. I remember getting in and my then girlfriend at the time saying ‘How was it?’ and I said ‘Well, they played 30 minutes, it was great. Motown Junk was great. There wasn’t much crowd reaction, two punks at the front, I did the interview and then he cut his arm open with a razor blade’ and she just dozed off. Then the next morning she prodded me awake and said ‘Did you say he cut himself with a razor blade?’

“We went into work the next day and looked at the photos and it looked worse in the photos than it did actually there.”

Steve Lamacq: Going Deaf For a Living is at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on Friday May 11. www.going-deaf-for-a-living.com