"Hey you've got a British Sea Power badge on your bag there (indeed I had) You know I was once on a ferry with them? And their guitarist challenged me to a wrestling match in the fucking casino bar, in front of all these people. "
Incendiary chow down with Ed Harcourt
It's the Saturday of the Haldern festival and Ed Harcourt has just swung into the site. I am due to interview him, and let me tell you right now I'm in for something of a pleasant surprise. Normally when you meet musicians for the first time they are polite but reserved, giving an impression of weary tolerance towards you the interviewer; "oh well, another bloody interview, lets get it done", that sort of thing. Not so Mr Harcourt. I get a big hug and a cheery "awlright?" Good on him. This is clearly going to be fun. And, given that introduction (and my already relaxed state) what would follow was more akin to a chat in a pub than a searching interview. Still who gives? Who gives?
IN: Hey Ed, you remember that gig you played with Robyn Hitchcock at the Three Kings? The one where you played the Beatles' White Album in its entirety? You did a cracking version of Why Don't We Do It In The Road? That was some holler that...
ED: Yeah... yeah, did I do that one? Mr Hitchcock, he's a true legend. He's got that snakey, Syd Barretty-esque vibe about him. I also did I Will and Goodnight with Robyn. We did another one as well, Martha My Dear.
IN: That was some night that, one of my favourite gigs ever...
ED: One of the best moments was when Adam from Adam and Joe (alternative UK DJs/TV comics, foreign readers!) did a comedy version of Why Don't We Do It in the Road, and did a rap about cyclists, "when I see a pot-hole, I poo in it!"
IN: Richard Hamilton (celebrated British pop artist) was there. And I remember going to the toilets for a piss and having a piss next to him, and drunkenly remarking that it was "bloody hot in 'ere lad". I thought he was going to hit me with his stick...
ED: I went to the toilet and I was peeing and I look to my left and it was... Kevin Shields, and (laughs) it was like, coooool...
IN: Incendiary would like to congratulate you on your marriage; we sincerely hope everything is going well.
ED: Yeah! Everything's great, apart from my wife couldn't come on tour because she uhm, this is gonna sound insane but she was pruning a hawthorn tree and she stepped back to drag some branch away and there's a hammock in our garden – and she fell over that and fractured her wrist, and she plays violin so she wasn't able to come on the tour. May I add it was nothing to do with me!
IN: Would you describe yourself as a Bohemian?
ED: Absolutely, absolutely.
IN: Would you describe yourself as a London Bohemian in the Ackroydian mould?
ED: Well... no, to be honest London is really fucking overrated. London is a dark... London is the dark part of my life at the moment. I just recently got mugged and where I live is quite rough, a lot of fucking muggings and I got my head kicked in by three guys recently... I mean I can hold my own but its like fucking HELL, you know why can't the government get their heads out of their arses and do something about crime, you know when you go to European cities like Berlin and Amsterdam, you know it's fucking nice; you can walk around whereas London... there's a darkness about London that you can only really escape by being a Bohemian. I sit in my garden a lot and invite my neighbours round. All my neighbours are producers or artists and painters... we'll just sit in the garden, and have a barbecue... fucking great. That's why I love the road where I live but the roads around it are really rough, but you just have to put up with it you know what I mean?
IN: You know that's one of the nicest things about living on the continent, there's an accepted, almost tribal ethos that you have to behave responsibly in your particular society, you can't be in someone's face...
ED: I just think that being able to respect another human being... I mean some guy on a bike recently stole my cell phone I mean... it's a shit phone, you're not going to be able to sell it, you're just doing it for a thrill, but what kind of thrill? At the end of the day, I hope whoever you are has a shit life, and I hope you get your hands chopped off and really that's London for you... In London human beings don't have much interaction when you walk around, it's very alien. People are nice abroad whereas if someone gets beaten up in London people ignore you and I find that disturbing. London's getting like New York; I mean there are lots of drugs. You think, fuck this... but you never learn...
IN: Talking of never learning, I bought this in the supermarket today... At this point I draw from my bag possibly one of the most ludicrous products created... bottled, no calorie sparkling water with extracts of Aloe Vera and pineapple... there you go Ed, try some of that.
ED: (Looking very distressed) No. No. I might make me puke, even by smelling it. I don't really understand it. Aloe Vera could be used for other things than shampoo but I can't be sure.
IN: I have to ask you about your anti-Keane rant at the Melkweg a while ago.
ED: It's not that, yeah... they're an easy target... but I remember recently reading somewhere a front cover article about Keane, and the title was, Keane... To hell and back and I thought, oh wow, what's all this then, I wonder if I'll read about lots of terrible things happening to them and it was like oh no we've nearly split up, and (voice rises) there's another example of like, sheer upper class "poor me I'm in a band" syndrome...
IN: There's such a guilt fest around Keane. I remember throwing a magazine with an article about their sob stories across a factory floor...
ED: It's so fucking patronising and that's why a band like that... I can't believe them, I can't believe anything they say and they'll do anything a record company man wants them to do... they're fucking puppets, not artists, you know, "how can we make this sound better for radio?" There's no art in there.
IN: You have to create authentic content in your art...
ED: They're not saying something, they're not saying anything... its like, like, the equivalent of thinking you're in love but you're not! Mixing lust with love.
IN: It was very sad about Arthur Lee the other day...
ED: Yeah it's dreadful. I dedicated a song yesterday to Arthur Lee and (voice rises again) no response! No one knew who he was! I met him once, he gave me a massive hug and knocked my drink over, and I was like, Arthur Lee's just hugged me.
IN: I wonder what it is about that generation all dying young... Syd too...
ED: I know! I mean they're all dying now. I mean what else is there to do? The older a musician gets the harder it is to get better or keep "alert". Apart from someone like Tom Waits and Bob Dylan. Dylan's really in his stride right now isn't he? I mean the last three albums are great and the new one is brilliant.
IN: I think the thing about Dylan (or indeed Waits) is they'd probably classify themselves as poets, chasing their muse, accepting their role as chief worshipper at the shrine. A stance which takes creating art to a new level, because you (the artist) are in effect not trying to please anyone, apart from your muse.
ED: You shouldn't try to please anyone. Otherwise you're gonna be like Keane (adopts whining voice) "oooh I wanna be successful, I wanna be famous" Why because you can be like, annoyed by people? It's just another form of snobbery. Like why don't you just follow your heart?
(Voice rises) Follow your heart rather than your cock!
IN: The ignoble instinct and the noble instinct...
ED: (at this point the food arrives) Oh you fucking star! Curried rice! (Ed eats as if he's not seen grub for a day or so...) I've not eaten all fucking day... Keep talking.
IN: I've just re-read a book you'd like. Days in the Life by Jonathon Coe; it chronicles the English Underground from 1955 to about 1972.
ED: Yeah, I'm just about to start that one, it's like Revolution in the Head isn't it? It's very good as an artist to question yourself. And it's good to live as an artist. You know, properly, knowing that you've asked yourself these questions, and have a way of life that can answer those questions effectively. When I was a chef and working all day and coming home and writing ten songs, it was hard but romantic. It's romantic and people can laugh, but there's nothing wrong with romance at all. It's not like a rich person sitting around on their arse... oh, oh I've got too much fucking money I can't do anything, poor me...
IN: There's too much money around.
ED: It's why artists become shit actually.
IN: There are very few good ones about.
ED: Hey you've got a British Sea Power badge on your bag there (indeed I had) You know I was once on a ferry with them? And their guitarist challenged me to a wrestling match in the fucking casino bar, in front of all these people. I mean he was dead nice about it, but I'm thinking, fuck there are all these people watching; so I refused. I went and sat with them and got stoned and freaked out, they are so nice, but... they are really fucking out there aren't they?
IN: Yes, they are. I am going to let you finish your curry in silence Ed, but time for one last question, what is your favourite biscuit
ED: Oh wow, erm definitely uhm definitely uhm those things with chocolate on, those... uhm oh God I can't believe the fucking name's slipped out of my head, you know the big ones with chocolate?
ED: Yeah! Hobnobs Always hobnobs!
Words: Richard Foster.