INTERVIEW: “I’m not very rock and roll. I’ve been known to pass out after three pints of home brew”

Once described by Uncut magazine as the Tony Hancock of pop music, Manchester singer-songwriter and poet Vinny Peculiar has a new retrospective album – The Root Mull Affect –  out early next year. It comes hot on the heels of his recent project Parlour Flames, a collaboration with ex-Oasis guitarist Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs. I spoke to him about troubling issues including a phobia of hairdressers, the death of the mail order catalogue and which is more important – pop music, football or girls?

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Can you tell me more about your new album The Root Mull Affect, which is out on Cherry Red in February 2014? What can we expect?

Vinny Peculiar: It’s effectively a compilation record with remixes and a couple of unreleased tracks. It seemed like a good way to introduce people to the songs, as there’s quite a big back catalogue out there. Cherry Red also released the Parlour Flames album earlier this year. David Marsden mastered the album and did several of the remixes. It was a tough job picking the tracks to include. Ultimately it was determined by which songs we still had audio masters for, as these things tend to get lost in the vaults of studio time. I’m also mid-way through recording a new album proper, which I hope to have finished in time for a summer release. So, busy times ahead…

I’m intrigued by the title. Can you please shed some light on it?

VP: The title comes from a song of mine called Root Mull [from the album Growing Up with Vinny Peculiar ] – it’s a story song about a graffiti artist who sprayed havoc in the village I grew up in. Nobody knows his or her identity. It was my first ‘art can change the world’ – or at least upset your parents – moment – and it seemed appropriate. Of course, the track didn’t make the compilation…

Sometimes I Feel Like A King, from the new album, is a beautiful, acoustic song, which celebrates the simple, everyday pleasures of life. Can you tell me more about it?

VP: It’s the title track of an album I did at Analogue Catalogue Studios in 2009 – I just recorded the acoustic version for the new album. The verses are lists of things, simple pleasures celebrated in spite of everything: listening to music, taking the kids to the park, reading a book – little joys. The chorus is sing–a-long simplicity. It’s a celebration of life, in spite of the darkness that lurks within. The title came from the Bukowski poem Fire Station. I love his work.

The Hairdressers – also from the new record – is a sinister song about the perils of going for a haircut. Do you have a phobia of hairdressers?

VP: I did have a bit of a fear. Trichophobia – I think that’s the word for it. Now I have someone who’s comes to the house, but I still get all picky and paranoid. The hairstyle I really want never seems to materialise and the more I think about it, the less changes I make. I do the poem live at smaller gigs – it’s become something of a comedy ice breaker.

Your song A Vision also features a haircut reference – albeit copying Terry Hall’s style in ’84. Maybe you should do a concept album about haircuts/ hairdressers.?

VP: Yeah, perfect. I also have a poem called Grooming Products Divide the Generations. I like the concept album approach.

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So what can we expect from your new studio album that’s out next year? How’s the recording going?

VP: I recorded the bass and drums with Che and Ollie from Parlour Flames last month. I’ve just moved my studio gear, which has taken forever to set up again, but over the next few weeks I’ll be recording the vocals and guitars. Rob Steadman, who I’ve been doing solo shows, with, also plays on it. Lyrically the album seems to be harking back to the Growing Up with Vinny Peculiar days, with songs about the decline of the mail order catalogue (Catalogue Trousers) and coming from a little place in the middle of nowhere [English Village]. There’s a tribute to Michael Jackson and a piss take of Antony Gormley.

Earlier this year, you released the fantastic Parlour Flames debut album – one of my favourite records of 2013. Can you tell me more about how you and Paul Arthurs – Bonehead from Oasis – came to work together and form Parlour Flames? What’s it like being in a band with him?

VP: We were friends for a while before starting Parlour Flames. I met him through Mike Joyce [ex-The Smiths], who was drumming with me at the time. Bonehead joined my band for a European tour. Before that he managed the Vinny Peculiar band. Mostly it’s business as usual being in a band with him – recording, rehearsing, playing gigs and organising stuff – but every once in a while there are reminders of his previous band and how much they meant to people. I tend to forget just how huge they were…

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Pop Music, Football and Girls by Parlour Flames is a great pop song, outlining most men’s passions in life. I love pop music and girls, but I never got into football… Have you got any advice for me?

VP: I grew up being taken to Villa Park for all the home games and I was an OK footballer at school, so football culture came early…That said, I stopped going to games and I lost interest for a good 20 years, before finally getting back into it through a shared interest in Aston Villa football club with my daughter. Now I’m back in the supporters’ zone and I’m going to games when I can and sharing the highs and lows… If you didn’t grow up supporting a team I’d suggest you shop around and, even better, go local. I used to go and watch Bromsgrove Rovers years ago and that was a strangely rewarding time – they don’t come any more unknown than that!

Which is the most important: pop music, football or girls?

VP: Hmm, yes – the holy trinity of hurt. You can feel let down, thrilled, elated and abandoned by them all at any given time. If I had to prioritise I’d say girls, but only because my girl is likely to read this. Hah!

Is Lonely Girls and Horses – one of my favourite songs on the Parlour Flames album – based on anyone in particular? I think it could be the only pop song to mention ‘gilet’. The half-rhyme of ‘maggots and ‘foreign language’ is a stroke of genius and always makes me laugh…

VP: I’ve had that song for a while, and it’s funny you should mention gilet – it comes up as ‘gullet’ on the spell checker, which always tickles me. When I was playing the song a few years back with the English Crumpet [Amy Smith – before Parlour Flames] we laughed long and hard at that… It’s a song about teenage shyness and fear, lost in the mists of time. The shy girl in question is now happily married and living in Stourbridge, so my mother tells me. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be…

Too Soon The Darkness (from the Parlour Flames album) is one of the most poignant, affecting songs about death that I’ve ever heard…

VP: Again, I’d had this song for a while, I played it to Bonehead and he loved it. It was one of the first songs we recorded for the album. It’s a tribute to my late uncle, the jazz musician Jim Wilkes, who was a big influence on me – he died in 2006. He was always taking us on adventures as kids, and was really supportive of my musical endeavours. He was an inspiration, for sure.

Who are your main influences and songwriting heroes? At times, the Parlour Flames album reminds me of  The Go Betweens. Is that a fair comparison?

VP: Well, I have their Liberty Belle record [Liberty Belle & The Black Diamond Express] so I’m aware of them. I see what you mean – they are quite lyrical, they jangle pretty well and I used a Rickenbacker a lot on the Parlour Flames album. My songwriting heroes change from week to week – Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Ray Davies, Luke Haines, Bowie, Bolan and Slade. I love John Cooper Clarke, Leonard Cohen, Mark Linkous, Paddy McAloon, Tom Verlaine and The Velvet Underground.

Were you upset by the recent death of Lou Reed?

VP: I am a big fan of the Velvets. I love the almost childlike quality of the songs. Nico is kind of otherworldly – Sunday Morning and Femme Fatale. And Transformer, of course, is a classic. Some of the more latter day Lou stuff left me a bit cold, but I still enjoy the Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal record – the live one. Those are proper rock guitar heroics on Sweet Jane. It’s one of the best things to cover if you ever find yourself in a rock covers band, as I have, intermittently, over the years.

Have you read Morrissey’s autobiography yet? Will you? Is it the talk of Manchester?

VP: I’m about 140 pages in – he’s up to The Smiths and carping about contracts. I’m enjoying it – no one should expect the truth and nothing but. It’s a creative process and he’s nothing if not entertaining. The start of the book might as well be set in the 1870s as the 1970s. He does a mean old line in Victorian melodrama and the hardships of his early life are presented as Dickensian melodrama. In short, I’m liking it, and, yes, almost everyone I know has bought it.

I first met you at The Luminaire, in Kilburn, a few years ago, supporting Luke Haines. It was a great night. Mike Joyce and Craig Gannon [from The Smiths] were in your band and Bonehead was managing you, if I recall correctly….

VP: Oh, yes – that was a great little gig. It seems a while since that band. I love Luke Haines’ work, I did a support tour with him a few years ago. He was very nice – the perfect gent.

You’ve worked with lots of people in your career – several of whom have been in big bands. Have you ever fancied being a famous rock star, or are you happy with being more of a cult artist? 

VP: I think most people in the writing/performing/recording industry fancy reaching wider audiences and I’m no different. As for rock stardom, well a few more record sales would be a start and we’ll take it from there…

What’s the most rock and roll thing you’ve ever done?

VP: I’m not very rock and roll. I’ve been known to pass out after three pints of home brew. Reefers – I love that word – give me a migraine! I’ve tried hard over the years to emulate the great writers, by drinking to excess and drugging like there’s no tomorrow, but all to no avail…

For more information, please visit www.vinnypeculiar.com

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