The Lightning Seeds: ‘Three Lions is about the joint experience’

It’s a refrain that has carried the hopes of England’s men’s footballers and fans alike ever since it was written to soundtrack the team’s efforts at Euro 96.

Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds co-wrote Three Lions with comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel.
Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds co-wrote Three Lions with comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel.

Now, as history beckons for Gareth Southgate’s squad as they try to book a place in the final of Euro 2020, it’s a chance for the nation once again to dream that football finally is coming home.

For musician Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds, who co-wrote the song Three Lions with comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, it retains a unique power.

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“It’s a song about a fan’s experience,” says the 62-year-old. “Even when I hear it, it still feels relevant somehow.”

As a lifelong Liverpool supporter, Broudie aspired to write a terrace anthem with something of the emotional heft of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

“I remember mentioning that initially when I was talking to the guys,” he says. “I don’t know (at that point) if they written ‘It’s coming home’ but the rest of the lyric was written by then. It’s about the joint experience between the team and the fans.”

Of the actual experience of composing the song, he says: “It’s weird, songs are never straightforward or not straightforward to write. They’re not straightforward to capture and to record, that’s hard, but when you write them it’s a fairly instant thing. A lot of the times in your head it just sounds great.

“Personally I write in a funny way where I can hear the whole arrangement, I can hear everything that’s going on and it drives me mad a little. Then sometimes if I leave it too long and I come back to songs I can’t remember all that, I can only hear what’s on the tape machine and that’s really not great for me. While it’s in my head I hear all the stuff around.

“The way Three Lions was done, it was quite quickly recorded (after) writing. It was a matter of weeks, really. That was quite good for me because I could just retain the idea in my head and get it off on the tape.”

Over the last 25 years Three Lions has crossed international and sporting boundaries. Broudie says that was “a hope” when it was originally written. “We didn’t really write it to be just about England ” he says. “We wrote it as how a fan feels, based around Euro 96 and from an England point of view, but I hoped the sentiment of the song would be wider than that.

“I know the Croatia team (at the 2018 World Cup) said it was arrogant and it inspired them but it’s so far from being arrogant, it’s almost the opposite. And also ‘it’s coming home’, when it was written referred to the competition when it was coming back to England, so there’s nothing vaguely arrogant about it. Obviously ‘it’s coming home’ has taken on a different connotation now, which I love, which is all the years of hurt, really, ‘when will we eventually win something?’, which again is hardly arrogant.”

Later this month, the song will doubtless be heard again when Broudie’s band The Lightning Seeds headline Meadowfest in Malton; they also play at Gateways Festival in Skipton in August.

He says he is “massively” looking forward to performing live again after the pandemic-enforced layoff. “Obviously everyone’s had a hard time, but I think for musicians it’s been a year and a half since they have been able to play a show,” he says. “We did a socially distanced show the other day which was the first one we’d done for ages and it was great, but it was a fifth of the people there. It was still great just to be on the stage but I cannot wait to get up there and play a proper gig.”

Not only is 2021 the silver anniversary of Three Lions, it’s also 25 years since The Lightning Seeds released their fourth album, Dizzy Heights. Plans to mark that have been “thrown into disarray” by the postponement of last year’s anniversary celebrations of its predecessor, Jollification.

“We’re still halfway through the Jollification tour,” says Broudie. “We did some shows and then a couple of months later we were due to do the rest. We started the tour, we got two gigs in and that’s when they closed everything down, and that’s been 18 months. They’re rescheduled for September.”

Broudie had been a notable figure in the Liverpool music scene for well over a decade before The Lightning Seeds’ first hit. His previous bands included Original Mirrors, Care and the shortlived post-punk group Big in Japan, whose line-up also included Holly Johnson, Bill Drummond and Budgie, who would respectively go on to find fame with Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The KLF and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

The latter was, he says, an interesting formative experience. “It was the opposite of muso and I think I learnt a lot out of that. I wasn’t really very experienced in being in bands because really Big in Japan was probably only a period of two or three months, it was really just with my mates having fun, and Care was never really anything because we never did a gig, it was sort of an idea that I was going to write songs and have a guy called Paul (Simpson) sing them but then he was a bit standoffish so it never really got going.

“The only one that did any gigs was Original Mirrors which to a degree I felt very out of place in. I think that’s why I started producing a lot, I was bitten by the experience and frustrated.”

Among the bands Broudie worked with as a producer were Echo and the Bunnymen, The Fall, The Colourfield, The Coral and The Zutons – though typically he remained modest about his studio skills. “It’s funny, really, because I was always trying not to be a producer, in fact so much that I wouldn’t put my name on the original Bunnymen things that I did. We put it was produced by ‘King Bird’ which was my alter ego.”

He launched The Lightning Seeds in 1989 as essentially a solo project. “It was more that I couldn’t find anyone else to sing the songs,” he says. “I never saw myself as experienced, in fact I was completely inexperienced, I’d never sung in public, really. All the bands from Liverpool at that time were getting big record advances and I signed to a very small label and recorded (The Lightning Seeds’ first hit) Pure myself at home. I was completely unprepared when the albums suddenly sold hundreds of thousands of copies. I didn’t have a band.

“I think mentally and practically I was completely unprepared for it.”

In the early days he remembers being “advised by everyone” not to give up his day job. “(They would say), ‘I don’t think you’re pop star material’, but I felt I had to commit to being what I wanted to be,” he says. “Looking back, it was quite a risky thing to do.”

Latterly, Broudie has been championed by the music journalist Pete Paphides, whose boutique record label Needle Mythology reissued his 2004 solo album Tales Told. Musically, its folkier tone was different to The Lightning Seeds.

“I think I’d gone through a lot of things in my life that made me grow up quite quickly and broke me out of the bubble of being a musician,” he says. “Real life hit me quite hard. I did that album and since then I’ve found it quite hard to get back to the sort of tunes and the feeling that was in The Lightning Seeds, which is why I haven’t done an album for about 14 years.

“The last album I did as The Lightning Seeds in 2007 was pretty much a false start...it was like forcing a square peg in a round hole and it really should have been a solo album but the record company insisted on it being a Lightning Seeds album which was not great for me and I didn’t tour it or anything.”

Recently, however, he says he has “just managed to get back that feeling” and has written a batch of songs that he loves. “They sound like The Lightning Seeds for the first time in such a long time. We’re finishing those off and hopefully that’s going to be out next year.”

The Lightning Seeds play at Meadowfest, Malton on July 31 (www.visitmalton.com/meadowfest) and Gateways Festival, Skipton on August 6 (gatewaysfestival.co.uk).