As the Lightning Seeds prepare to release their first album for 13 years, Louder Than War’s Banjo spoke to main man Ian Broudie about his story so far.
There is a saying that goes ‘nice guys finish last’. This is meant to convey the feeling that in order to succeed at anything you need to be a bit of a nasty sort, and that without at least a streak of ruthlessness we are likely to fail at life.
Thankfully this is simply not true and we can all point out good guys who have managed to climb the ladder without resorting to sacrificing their innate niceness.
If further proof were needed, we merely need to look to Ian Broudie. The Lightning Seeds frontman has reached a place in pop where he can play gigs or release records as he chooses and know that a sizeable audience will be waiting for him. He is part of our cultural landscape as co-writer of our alternative national anthem and football terrace perennial Three Lions, a song that holds a place not only in our hearts but also in the record books as the only single to make it to number one on four occasions. He has also created some of the most perfect pop records to have graced our ears over the last thirty-odd years.
And he has achieved all this without revealing a nasty streak or a emerging as a callous, hard-nosed businessman determined to get to the top no matter what. Ian Broudie is proof that nice guys can indeed finish first.
Not that he is finished of course. 14th October sees the release of seventh album See You In The Stars, ten tracks of calming perfect pop that cements Broudie’s reputation as a national treasure. (Our review here).
It is Lightning Seeds first album since 2009 and only their second since the end of the 90s. This prompted me to wonder what had happened to get Ian Broudie and his band back in the studio..
Before we get into all that though, I spoke to the man himself about his roots and his career so far.
He is a friendly and conversational interviewee and asks as many questions as he answers, interested in where I live and work.
My own history with Ian Broudie goes back to the days of the legendary Eric’s club in Liverpool, long before stardom and success came his way. I was working on Liverpool Docks, a temporary dogsbody job and my first after leaving school. As we were close to Matthew Street, I spent my dinner hour hanging about outside Eric’s, just to soak in the atmosphere and see who else was hanging around. One such person was Ian Broudie, who also seemed to spend a lot of his time there.
Ian Broudie: Yeah, that was quite a time” he tells me. “People often talk about that time, but I’m quite hazy on a lot of it. I remember a lot of the stuff to do with me I suppose, but I’m quite hazy on what happened when. There is an Eric’s club now and there’s a lot of controversy about that. I went to see Miles Kane there, I was producing him and he was playing a gig there, and it was nothing like Eric’s. It’s funny to open a club with the same name as someone else’s.
LTW: You must have been around 14 when you first got involved with Eric’s and started playing with Big In Japan?
“I think I was older than that, 15 or 16, I’d left school and I wasn’t doing anything much. That was a deserted part of town and I remember wandering round and I came across this building, The Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream & Pun, and stood outside like a rabbit in the headlights. Someone said “why don’t you come in and have a cup of tea?” and it was like going into Narnia.
I went in and there was a guy called Ken Campbell who was doing this play called Illuminati and I ended up in the play. They stage manager was Bill Drummond, I met Jayne [Casey], she was in the play. I’d just left school and all of a sudden I was in this and I’ve been in that ever since.”
It’s amazing to think sometimes that a small detour can change the rest of your life.
“Definitely, that was me going down a rabbit hole that I haven’t come out of.”
You never seemed to get caught up in the bitchiness or backstabbing of the scene back then or the cliques that seemed to form then.
“They wouldn’t allow me in the cliques! [laughs]. Someone asked me about Julian Cope the other day and they said “was he always as weird as he is now?” and I said that I kind of remember meeting Julian and a girl called Cath and he was married, which was unusual then. And they said “were you great pals?”, but we were on opposite poles; he was trying to be as weird as he could be and I was trying to not show people how weird I was.
I loved being at Eric’s, seeing those bands. I look at the flyers now and the bands that were on and I can’t believe we got to see them. I would be in there in the daytime, rehearsing with Big In Japan, then I’d go and get a fiver from Roger [Eagle] for doing the load in for the Clash or Talking Heads or whoever, down those cellar stairs. If no-one was around you might get roped in to DJ or go behind the bar, so my whole life was really centered around that building.”
How did you feel when Eric’s closed down then?
“I was living in a squat in London at that time and I used to come back to go to Eric’s all the time. It was a shock really, because it felt like a home base to me. That street was my foundation and it was like someone had knocked my foundation down. It was scary actually.”
The next time I heard about you was when you formed Care with Paul Simpson. What are your memories of that?
“Well I suppose we never really got to be a band to a degree. Me and Paul lived in the same house on Hope Street and he was Will’s mate really, I sort of knew him a bit but not that much. I knew him as one of the fellas from Eric’s but I was more friendly with McCulloch or Will, I shared a flat with Will before that.
It was hard to do things really, we loved Liverpool but we wanted to be in the world. I think it came from our time at Eric’s where we’d meet people like Bob Wooler (Cavern DJ) and they’d be stuck in their thing and I used to think that there was a whole globe out there and I want to be in the world, you know. There was a push and pull between me and Paul in that sense.”
Why do you think Liverpool produces so many great bands?
“Well you’d have to say at that time, Roger and Eric’s. I was just some kid who wandered into Matthew Street and started hanging round Eric’s and he had this fantastic record collection; he used to be the DJ at the Twisted Wheel in Manchester. He had a flat and I remember going back there and he’d play Kraftwerk, and Heroes had just come out, I was like “Wow!”
And he had a lot of old records and he’d give me a couple and say “bring them back next week and I’ll switch them out.” It might be a dub album or it might be an old blues album. Roger had a lot to do with all those bands being on.
I was obsessed with music, since I was about six or seven, and Liverpool felt to me a bit like when you go to Ireland – music is important. Everywhere you go in Ireland there’s someone playing in a pub, it’s in the culture. There was a lot of country & western floating about in Liverpool at that time.
When I was 19, I came to London, I lived in a squat in Kilburn, and if you were a punk rocker, everyone in the place was a punk rocker; if you were into something else, everyone was into that. But in Liverpool, everyone was into different things and it intermingled. You might not want to listen to the country & western stuff, but it was going in, you were aware of it and somehow it just got in there.
People talked about music and you heard all sorts of music because it wasn’t so segregated in that way.”
I remember a quote of yours from years ago where you said something along the lines of you’d play Anarchy In The UK and know what a brilliant record it was and then you’d go home and play Leader Of The Pack by The Shangri-Las and think that it is equally as good. I think that’s a Liverpool approach to music, it didn’t produce many punk bands as such.
“I think punk wasn’t the same in Liverpool. The punk that I liked, if you want to call it punk, probably came from the Velvets, New York Dolls and The Ramones. I loved The Ramones, I loved Television, I loved Talking Heads, Richard Hell And The Voidoids, Patti Smith. It was mainly New York for me.
Everyone was euphoric about The Clash, who I liked, but I’d much rather watch any of the bands I’ve just named. And still would. I saw The Clash a lot and I’m glad I saw them, but for me they weren’t the main thing in my head. Even if we come back from New York, it would be Buzzcocks and The Fall or Alternative TV, funny, odd things.”
And then you moved into production, I think, as a result of producing the first Bunnymen album, and that really took off.
“Yeah, I didn’t ever want to be a producer. It was probably Ian McCulloch, just on some sort of instinct, who really felt I should do it. I’d never produced anything, never wanted to produce anything. They were all my friends and I just started talking about a song one day when they played me a demo, just poking my nose in really. And I’d say “that should be different” and “you’re not doing that right” and the next thing you know I got this call from Bill Drummond who said “everyone says you had some great ideas about the songs, do you fancy producing the band?” And they’d just signed a major label deal with Warner Brothers and they said they wanted me to do it. Initially I said to Bill “no, I don’t really want to do that”, I felt like a poacher turned gamekeeper – I’m a songwriter and I don’t want to cross that line.
Then he phoned back about 10 minutes later and said “what if you didn’t produce it, but your alter ego from another universe produced it?” And I thought and said “well, what would he be called, could he be called Kingbird?” and he said “ok, can Kingbird do it?” And I thought I could just be in the band for a week or two, that’s how I’ll treat it, play a bit of guitar, arrange a song or just join in. They were my mates anyway and I didn’t really know the vision of being the producer so I just joined in. And that led me on a bit of a path that could have been a bit of a disaster for me in a way.
It was fun because I was producing for indie labels at the time, Factory, One Little Indian, Creation and Zoo, and I wasn’t in a band so at least I was doing something. I was hoping I’d end up in a band.”
And then you ended up in a one man band with The Lightning Seeds for the first album.
“Yeah, to a degree. I always think of Pure as being a bit of a miracle really. It was what I wanted to do, but there came a point where I thought “I’m getting older, if I don’t want to be a producer and I want to be a songwriter, I’d better record some songs. How do I do that?” So I recorded a few songs at home.
And while I was recording with Pale Fountains, there was this guy called Dick, he used to have a big cigar and was like a ’60s rogue, and he took me to one side and said “what are you doing? You’re obviously doing more than a producer would do, do you ever write your own songs?
So when I recorded these songs in my house I had very limited opportunities, and I thought I don’t know who else to send them to, so I sent them to Dick. He was a bit of an eccentric really, and he phoned me and said “I’m sitting in my back garden with a lovely chilled glass of white wine, the sun is shining, I’ve got your tape on and I love it. Let’s put this song Pure out.
I told him we’d need to get a record contract and he just said “I’ll have 200 pressed up and we’ll get someone to take it to the radio stations.” I thought, well it doesn’t sound like we’re going to be taking over the world anytime soon, but he did it and then it kept getting repressed, another hundred when someone would play in on the evening show in Stoke-on-Trent and it gradually went out into the world, it got played on stations all over the world. There were hardly any copies because we’d only pressed up a few so we kept running out of records every time it looked like it might go in the charts. And then it came out through Rough Trade, so in a way that’s the moment that changed my life and gave me a platform to be a singer songwriter. It was just a magical thing.”
What’s the story behind the new album?
“It’s a long time since I’ve done a record, I wasn’t sure I was going do another record. I had that run in the ’90s where everything started from Pure and then it all became a lot more successful than I ever thought it would be or intended it to be, and it was great. And then came a bit of a lull and it was hard to deal with the aftermath, when you’re just not doing anything. And then I had a lot of family bereavements and I found that when I was writing songs they didn’t sound like Lightning Seeds songs.
I always wanted Lightning Seeds songs to have a positivity. It sounds simple, but it’s quite hard to do something up and positive that doesn’t sound banal and vacuous, I find it much easier to write a sad song. I can write them fairly easily, but that’s not what I want to do. It’s quite a tricky thing, but I think when you get it right you tend to have layers, because the words aren’t vacuous and up, but the feeling is up and that makes you do something musically and that gives it depth. When those things come together and I get it right every now and again, that’s a Lightning Seeds song. And it was a bubble I couldn’t grasp without bursting.
I started working with a couple of unsigned bands back in Liverpool and that developed into albums with The Coral and The Zutons, and then I did a solo album very simply, which I liked. I came to do an album and the record company I was signed to were saying they wanted it to be a Lightning Seeds album and unusually for me I allowed myself to be brow beaten and it ended up not one thing or the other.
For some reason it was a painful moment releasing it, even though there are moments on it I love, and I was very anxious for a long time. And I thought “I just don’t want to do this again.” And then I found that I really enjoyed playing live, and Riley [Ian’s son] started playing with me and I wanted it to be excellent again, so he could experience being in a band. I was very lucky in that Riley was in it along with his friend Jim [Sharrock], whose dad Chris was our original drummer and he’d grown up with us, like Riley had.
So I think we got really well again and we became a really good live band, playing a lot of gigs – it felt like a lovely band, a little ecosystem. And they don’t last long, so I thought this is a lovely moment, I love the people in the band, it’s better than any other incarnation, I love the crew, everyone around it. And I don’t know how long it will last, that lovely moment.
James from The Coral said “Finish a song and let’s record it” and I thought I didn’t want to do that. I’m enjoying being a troubadour, just playing. I came up to Liverpool to spend a couple of days in the studio and finished a song called Great To Be Alive, which was very much how I felt; the idea that every day you’re a slightly less effective version than you were the day before. You’re not quite as strong, not quite as quick, that whole feeling you sometimes get as you get older.
And this is such a first world train of thought; it’s great to be alive, you know, it’s great! I think the song became the push and pull between those two things and I really liked it. I thought I can write stuff that is me now and that still has this feeling and it’s a really nice Lightning Seeds song.
Then I did another one and then it stops being an abstract idea and I realise “I’ve got a few songs, I’m pleased with them and I really want people to hear them.” And then it becomes an album.
I’m really looking forward to the tour so we can play the new songs, as well as the ones everyone wants to hear and maybe a few we haven’t played for years. And we’ve got Badly Drawn Boy playing with us, so I’m looking forward to that moment, I just think it would be a lovely two or three weeks. And I think this feels like a pathway to another album. I’ve got an idea in my head about what I’d like that album to be.
People seem to be liking the album so far, touch wood, and that makes me feel a lot better and more confident about doing another one. I was very anxious about this coming out; at the beginning, when it was first coming out, I was getting a lot of anxiety, but I seem to have relaxed now, now we’re starting to rehearse and think about playing.
It feels good now, it feels like what I do. I always think the only two places where I absolutely know who I am is at a football game and on stage.”
It takes a rare breed of person to feel at home on a stage in front of thousands of people, but Ian Broudie has pretty much grown up there. He has forged a path in modern music by being himself and letting his love of good pop music come to the fore.
The new album, See You In The Stars, carries on in this vein, but also displays signs of the maturity Broudie mentions above. It is a blissful record that demonstrates once again that its author has a gift of song writing and that maybe the anxiety he felt during its creation was not needed.
Personally, I’m already looking forward to the next album. Especially if it brings the sunshine with it.
LIGHTNING SEEDS embark on a 14 date UK tour this autumn Tickets available here
Interview with Banjo, you can find his author’s archive here