Your band (pictured above) who feature on the new album, comprise bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer, Dylan Howe. You’ve played with these guys quite a time, haven’t you?
I first knew Norman when I played with Ian Dury & The Blockheads in 1978. In fact, when Ian asked me to join his band, I thought I’d love to play with his bass player. I didn’t know Norman personally then but he was absolutely my favourite bass player. We became friends immediately and friends for life. It’s such a kick playing with him. I never get fed up with it. And now, I’ve also got Dylan (Howe), who is another ex-Blockhead. He’s a great drummer. You couldn’t want a better rhythm section. I could just stand there waving my hands about and it would sound great. (Laughs). You just know it’s going to be good. You go “one, two, three, four,” and boom. I love it.
The album kicks off with ‘Roxette,’ the Dr Feelgood number that you wrote. Was there a real woman behind the song?
Funnily enough, I just wrote the song as a song but one peculiarity about it, certainly at that time, was that I had written the song using a proper name. I was writing this lyric and bang, there it was. It was obvious that the title, this hook line, was going to be this name. So what I wanted was a woman’s name in two syllables with the accent on the second syllable. I started walking around going “oh man, I need a name for this song.” But what I had to do, funnily enough, was invent a name. So I walked round and round a bit more and invented this name – Roxette – and it’s funny, this name has gone on to become very, very popular. There must be a million dogs and cats given that name, and even, I believe, some unfortunate human beings have been given it – and, of course, there was that Swedish band in the ’80 called Roxette that got very successful and so at that time I could walk around and go “well, Roxette’s number one again!” (Laughs). It’s such a silly song, it’s not about anyone real.
That’s a great song and it still stands up. You still play quite a few numbers that you wrote for Dr Feelgood in your set. Your fans, of course, expect them but do you ever tire of play them or think to do them in a different way?
I think I’ve got enough numbers under my belt now that you can keep circulating them if one of them gets a bit tired. But I couldn’t do a song if I didn’t actually enjoy it.
Of all the songs you’ve written, which one means most to you, do you think, or is the most personal one?
Well, there’s one called ‘Paradise,’ which is about my wife, which is the only song where I’ve used a proper name – her name, Irene – in it. Sometimes you’re singing a song and maybe you’ll remember it was actually about a person, and you get a little kick like that. It doesn’t matter because what matters is what the audience is receiving rather than what you remember.
As a young guy from Canvey Island in Essex , what drew you to the blues from the Mississippi Delta.
Like so many teenagers at that time, I was learning to play the guitar and then was confronted by the Rolling Stones. I thought “wow, I love this music” and then found out that the music I really loved was rhythm and blues, which we used to call it then. After that I discovered the Chess label. There was something so different and powerful about the music and that’s where my musical taste came from. So I’ve always been stuck with that.
Was there one record in particular that gave you an epiphany and made you want to pick up the guitar and play in a band?
Well, if there was an epiphany, it was one Saturday when I was learning to play the guitar. On the radio they played this Johnny Kidd & The Pirates record and I was riveted by the guitar. I thought “wow, what’s that?” It was just so special, the way the guitar was being played. Then I started finding out a little bit more about this band and they had just one guitar player, Mick Green (second from the right, pictured above). They didn’t have the separate rhythm and lead guitars like other bands had; this guy did it all. His style, unlike most people’s, is actually based on rhythm and I do remember that moment, thinking “I want to sound like that!” And that’s what I started doing after, just getting as many records that I could find with Mick Green on the guitar and just playing them over and over trying to copy him.
But out of that, you found your own style, didn’t you?
I found my own style trying and trying to play like “Greenie” but I just couldn’t do it. I ended up with what I’d got but if you had said to me, “what do you want to do?” I’d say “I want to sound just like him.” (Laughs).
And you actually got to record with him, I think, in the mid-’70s.
Yeah. It was great. I also met him one time when I was a teenager. He was playing with Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas. I went up to this college in London to see them play. I was standing there with my girlfriend right at the front of the stage with my eyes glued to his guitar. It got to the end of the gig and they played the last number and were going to walk off stage and man, what an idiot, I jumped up on stage. I didn’t even let him get off the stage (laughs). I said, “I think you’re the greatest guitarist in the world.” Greenie was really good, he indulged me. And then of course I wanted his autograph and all I had in my pocket was my A Level copy of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. I pulled it out of my pocket and said “sign this” so he autographed it. Years went by and when Dr Feelgood started succeeding, I met him again. The first time he came to my house, I said “we’ve met before you know,” though I was really embarrassed by this incident. I told him about it and he didn’t remember, it was years ago obviously. It wasn’t as momentous for him meeting me as it was for me meeting him. (Laughs). I said, “I’ll show you,” and went off to the bookshelf and took out my copy of A Winter’s Tale, opened it, showed him the autograph and said “look, I’ve met you before.”