Saturday, July 22, 1995

Bar Humbug

This week: Richard Ashcroft, Norman Blake, David McAlmont and Peter Cunnah

Phew! It's back. Yes it's that time again where we find four pop stars, get them together at the same time on the same day in the same pub, ply them with copious amounts of alcohol and ask them tricky questions about issues of the day, oh yes, and Hugh Grant. Master of Ceremonies: Mark Sutherland. Bar Props: Peter Walsh.

Richard Ashcroft, lead singer and chief ‘eccentric’ with The Verve is, as they say, buzzing. "Fookin’ hell, what a brilliant day!" he booms as he does the Liam Gallagher strut through the pub doors.

And the man they call - and not without good reason - ‘Mad’ Richard does, indeed, have a point. In a perfect world, all Friday afternoons would be something like this. The sun is blazing down in a manner more Ibiza than Islington. We are in the pub with the four most amiable pop stars in Britain, here to discuss the ‘burning’ issues of the day. And the booze is flowing with alarming alacrity. The weekend, in a very real sense, starts here.

As Richard hurls off his jacket and orders the first of many large gin and tonics he is introduced to his fellow panelists  Looking unnervingly healthy opposite him is Peter Cunnah of top popsters D:Ream. He too is in the finest of fettles having chalked up yet another Top Ten hit and recently moved house. His preferred tipple today is Bloody Marys, complete with a rectum endangering quantity of tabasco.

Next to him sits the glamorous figure of David McAlmont, one half of McAlmont and Butler and sole owner of a very horrible pair of plastic sandals. He's taken a break from the studio to attend and is determined to enjoy himself. Largely by downing innumerable pints of Guinness. Respect.

Our good-natured foursome is completed by an unfamiliar face. Who is that clean-shaven fellow with the impish grin mumbling apologies for lateness? Why, it's Norman Blake of Teenage Fan club, newly beard-free, soon to depart for Canada and consequently of an extremely sunny disposition. He too is on the G&T’s. Lots of them.

So the gang's all here. So they're all up for $64,000 questions. So let's get going, stupid...

Your starter for ten. John Major recently re-elected leader of the Conservative Party, which means we're stuck with him as Prime Minister. Has he emerged stronger or weaker from the contest? Is it good or bad new for the Labour Party and the forthcoming General Election?

Peter: "If they can't govern themselves I don't see how they can govern the country. John Major has just proved, yet again, how ineffectual a leader he is."

Norman: "The only thing I like about it is that now Heseltine doesn't have a chance of being leader. I was worried he'd get in and make them electable.’

Richard: "Nah, his hair's too unmanageable."

David: "If Redwood had got in there'd have been riots. Even more riots than there are already."

P: "Tony Blair still looks the stronger leader to me. Major’s the grey face of Britain.

D: "He's still around though. You can't get rid of him."

N: "Yeah, he's a grey man but he's got balls. Grey balls! But I think Labour will win the next election now."

P: "Had a more heavyweight Tory stood, it would have really torn the whole thing apart."

R: "But Private Eye knows so much..."
(the conversation proceeds along wildly libellous lines for some time)

D: "A lot of people would like to shag Michael Portillo though, and that's quite significant. I like the idea of having a good-looking man in charge."

R: (Getting a bit worked up) "We should just get these fuckers out, man! It'll take a riot. But let's do it. They're scum, always have been."

D: "Always will be."

N: "Gary Numan should be here really, to put the other point of view.

Sadly Gary couldn't make it. Neither, strangely, could Hugh Grant. But then he's the proverbial man with everything - good looks, money, movie career, gorgeous girlfriend - who has just, erm, blown it after getting caught by the fuzz while a £ 15 hooker allegedly performed lewd acts in his motor. Whyohwhy and, indeed, ohwhy?

D: "That was fabulous the best news story all year!"

P: "I think there's more to it than meets the eye. I think he's been caught for a reason."
(Various libellous conspiracy theories fill the air.)

N: "I think it might actually be really good for him."

R: "Nah, he's just seen a prostitute and gone for it. There's no conspiracy, he just got the itch."

P: "But conspiracy theories are so much more fun!"

D: "Hugh Grant was trying to revive that classy English gentleman image but the ‘gentlemen’ in this country are true bastards so I'm glad he's been brought down. Especially with a black prostitute. It's just so salacious!"

He claims it was all just a "moment of madness".

P: "Well you do go a bit mad when you're in the limelight. You start doing stuff that's dodgy for yourself and your career, just for an escapist moment."

D: "What have you done Peter?"
(Peter blushes furiously and goes quiet)

R: "Anyone with a brain in LA is going to freak out ‘cos it's the most hypocritical city in the world. He was probably just a bit lonely, but now he's completely messed up."

D: "No, he's well away now! In a twisted way people like that."

R: "By Hollywood standards it's pretty tame anyway. The shit that goes on there is incredible. At least there were no hamsters involved. I’d be more shocked if he made a decent film."

And what should the "lovely" Liz Hurley do now?

P: "Dress up in the same outfit to try and excite him!"

N: (Seriously) "If it was me I’d dump the guy. I’d say fuck you."

D: "If she genuinely loves him, she should dump him. But if it's just a business thing, she's done so well out of it she should carry on."

P: "Exactly. Who was Liz Hurley before?"

D: "If the Conservatives haven't all lost their jobs after all they've got up to, I don't see why Hugh Grant should. It's a very British kind of hypocrisy. In public it's all stiff upper lips, in private it's lips round a stiffy."

Clever wording, cheers. Now, another Brit malaise: our complete-and-utter uselessness at sport. Humbled by Brazil at football, humiliated by the West Indies at cricket, steamrolled by Jonah Lomu at Rugby... we even had to kidnap Canadian Greg Rusedski to make the third round at Wimbledon. Why is this fundamental cornerstone of our society in such rapid decline? And is there anything we can do about it?

N: "Actually, I think Scottish football is rubbish, but I really like the English league. And next session with Bergkamp and Gullit over here, it'll be even better. The national team's not bad - they'll do well in the European championships.

P: "There's a lot more money in the game now. But obviously there's not enough investment or nurturing at youth level."

R: "Yeah, when I was a kid we played matches on a big pitch from age eight. My knees were smashed to pieces by the time I was 16! But in Holland, they're playing on small, five-a-side pitches and learning how to pass."

Is sport important for the nation's spiritual well-being?

N: "Yeah. Brazil’s whole economy grew after they won the World Cup. It's that important."

D: "We like a good whine though - like when England lost the rugby and Will Carling said Jonah Lomu was ‘a freak’ so it wasn't fair. That's the typical English attitude. Money has a lot to do with it, as well."

R: "Exactly. You'll never get a Wimbledon winner from Wigan, ‘cos there aren't any fucking tennis courts there. Nicking that Canadian bloke says it all."

P: "Trouble is though, pick a truly British bloke and you get Eddie the Eagle."

D: "But if a non-French player wins the French Open, they don't get all heat up."

R: "You're right. We've got very big delusions of grandeur in this country."

D: "Yeah, Britain likes to see itself as a world leader and can't deal with the fact that it isn't any more."

R: "We're only taken seriously as a world force ‘cos we store America's nuclear weapons for them. We're a fucking joke really. And I've had enough! There's gonna be pie riots! Meat and potato over everyone's face."

Er, yes. Now, another national obsession: the Lottery. Have you noticed, the only people who ever hit the jackpot seem to hit serious problems afterwards? Could this be conclusive proof of the injustice of human existence?

P: "It's a tax on greed anyway, and if people are stupid enough to play it, they deserve to lose their money."

R: "My mum and nan are mad for it. They're skint and if there's a chance of winning a million, they're in for it. The odds are ridiculous, but they fall for it every time. I've seen my nan put an X on a coupon every week for 20 years and she hasn't spotted the ball yet. If I won £ 18 million, I’d be dead in a week."

P: "Winning takes away the thing that made you get up in the morning. No wonder they all go mad: that's all there is left to do. I won't buy a ticket."

D: "I don't play either. I feel sorry for the winners, especially that bloke who got hounded out of the country. I wouldn't want to win."

N: "I would, I play and if I won, I wouldn't jack in the Fan club, I’d just buy some players for my football team."

R: "I've changed my mind. I think the lottery's fucking great."

(At this point, Richard declares he's off to the phone and slips out of the pub. The debate continues until he reappears - with a Lottery Instants scratch card for everyone. Will Peter’s principled stand crumble at the prospect of winning 50 grand?)

P: "I don't think I should actually."

R: "I've won a quid! Any luck you lot?"

N: "Nah, I've lost."

D: "Me too."

R: "Come on, Pete! I want to see that 50p rubbing away!"

(But Pete will not be moved. Instead he returns the card to Richard)

P: "God, how gutted will I be if he wins now."

N: "Nah, it's a loser. Still, I won. So I must be the biggest wanker here then!"

Ahem. Back in the real world, Greenpeace won a major victory recently when it prevented Shell from dumping the Brent Spar oil rig at sea. Is the tide finally turning in favour of environmental responsibility? And would you lash yourself to a doomed rig in the name of saving the fishies?

P: "I thought it was brilliant. Greenpeace are very good at getting things in the news, but for every abuse they stop, there are three we don't even know about."

R: "There's nothing wrong with going for a swim and coming out covered in oil. I love it! I’d dump more oil! Nuclear waste, everything. I want my kids to have three legs and one eye. Nah, those guys on the rig were mental."

N: "Yeah, you have to admire their dedication. I wouldn't do it."

R: "I would! I got dropped onto a polar ice-cap on a spacehopper to save some seals."

P: (Not realizing Richard is having one of his turns) Really?"

R: "Yeah. I bounced along this ice-cap with a big flag. Did you not see it on the news? But I don't want to talk about it. It was all for charity."

D: "They only backed down because business was threatened. All people care about is surviving these days, the environment is a long way behind."

N: "Yeah, this was easy to get involved in. You just say, ‘Yeah, boycott Shell’ - and get in your car and drive to another petrol station. When really you should be smashing your car up."

R: "Yeah, science has to come up with wind power or something."

P: "But that'd be bad too. It could really affect the weather patterns."

R: "Bloody hell, have you read a lot of encyclopaedias or what? This dream bloke's right on, man."

Anyway, sod the future of the planet, let's talk about the big issue. Has the Stone Roses 11th-tour withdrawal from Glastonbury buried then and their myth once and for all? Do they still matter? Or are they just taking the piss nowadays?

R: "The Stone Roses are very aware that this business is fucked and corrupt so they won't play the game. It was almost commercial suicide to pull the gig but I've got full-on respect for them."

N: "They actually perpetuated their myth by pulling. Everyone's talking about them again - would that be the case if they'd played?"

R: "I genuinely believe they work on chaos: they've had a lot of good luck and now they're having some bad luck. That's life. But their legend is bigger than them now and it's harder to live up to. People expect too much from groups."

Surely expecting one gig every five years isn't "too much"?

R: "Well, yeah, that's fair enough."

P: "Them not turning up wasn't the worst thing about Glastonbury though - that was probably the toilets."

R: "I thought the toilets were great. I'm into shit, that's my bag. Those toilets were the zenith of my needs!"

N: "Er, anyway, Glastonbury wasn't about one band, it's about personal experience, meeting new people and talking utter bullshit for three days."

D: "I didn't go ‘cos of Pride, but it looked like Pulp made great replacements."

R: "Nah, with 60,000 people in a field, most of them in an altered state, you need head music. Pulp were too clean. I think Jarvis is a funny man, but I wanted to hear music by people who'd been in the state of mind the crowd were in and were able to reflect it. In fact fuck The Stone Roses, basically I wanted to see us on stage on Saturday night!"

Maybe next year, eh? Perhaps 30-foot high statues of Mad Richard will be floating down the Thames by then. Because, yes, Michael Jackson is back and he's not getting any saner. Has the King Of Pop lost it completely or is his current campaign a genius of re-invention?

D: "It's an immaculate campaign."

N: "The video is great, I have to give him that. Really groundbreaking."

P: "My friend was telling me her kid saw him on telly and said, ‘Mummy, I thought Michael Jackson was a robot!’ She'd seen the statue and thought that's all he was!"

D: "His songs don't really matter anymore. What matters is that after everything he went through, he can still build a huge statue of himself. It's almost totalitarian: he's asserting he's still the King Of Pop and he can do whatever the hell he likes."

D: "I was slagging off Jacko the other day and someone said, ‘What if he asked you to do a duet?’. As long as we do ‘Ebony and Ivory’ I'm up for it!"

R: "Did you see him on the cover of Hello? He looked terrible!"

D: "Mmm. The only thing in Jacko’s defence is he's been a megastar for so long, money is the answer to everything for him. He doesn't know any different."

N: "I don't think he's as popular since the allegations, but he's not as good either. You realize that if he and Lisa-Marie have a kid, that kid's granddad will be Elvis - and his dad will be Michael Jackson. That's just nuts! The poor kid doesn't have a chance!"

R: "Yeah, he'll be 30 stone with no nose, dancing with a monkey in Las Vegas!"

As long as he's not naked. Because everyone from Richard and Judy to Elastica have recently born witness to the return of streaking. Whatever possesses people to cavort naked in front of large crowds?

R: "Times must be getting a bit conservative again, if streakers are back. I still remember Erica Roe."

D: "Nakedness is very liberating and I admire the courage of people who do it in front of a large crowd. I don't understand the motivation but to have the bottle to do it is quite something."

R: "Yeah, especially with the size of that guy's dick at Glastonbury. I tell you if I had a cock like that I wouldn't be running on stage naked. I actually had a chat with him earlier in the day and he seemed like a nice chap. Then I got home and his cock was on telly!"

N: "I’d have more respect if they streaked in winter. That would be much more radical."

Have any of you taken the plunge?

R: "Yeah, I have. About five minutes ago. I didn't go for a piss, I was streaking! Come on, let's all have a go!"

BY NOW, the panel is a little worse for wear. For a moment, it seems Richard's suggestion might receive serious consideration. Four well-respected pop stars stand on the cusp of a Hugh Grantesque "moment of madness".

Somebody stop them...

Fortunately, the phone rings. It's Richard’s band, wanting to know why he's not at his own sound check. Thoughts of mass celebrity nudity rapidly disperse as everyone remembers they, too, really should be elsewhere.

Peter, still looking disgustingly healthy, proffers robust handshakes and is whisked off to the airport for a flight to exotic Bradford. David rearranges his dreadlocks, murmurs, "I've had far too much to drink" and staggers into the taxi that will speed him back to Bernard.

Norman stops for one last drink and one last chat about football, then strolls unsteadily away in the vague direction of Euston and the Glasgow sleeper.

And Mad Richard? Well, as he himself points out as he struts from the pub, he's won the Lottery, made some new pals, established himself as an elegant spokesman for the Man On the Wigan Omnibus - and saddled NME with his drinks bill. There is a method in his madness after all.