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Clive Gregson - The Triste Interview
|Clive Gregson was a member of the band Any Trouble which had some success in the late 70's playing a melodic brand of new-wave power pop. The next decade saw him playing with Christine Collister and also supporting Richard Thompson on tour. The last decade has seen him playing with Plainsong and solo and moving to the USA. He still visits these shores, playing acoustic solo sets in folk clubs or playing with his friends (and sometime collaborators) Boo Hewerdine and Eddie Reader. Triste caught up with him in Southport in October 1999.
Triste: Let's start with your youthful tastes in music. Were you a Beatles or a Stones fan?
Clive Gregson: Both. Probably more the Beatles than the Stones initially and that's probably still the case now - though I like a lot of the Stones stuff. I'm pleased that the Stones are still doing it and still good and in fact I just missed them by a week when they were in Nashville in '98 and they played within walking distance of my house.. I would really have liked to have gone. The last time I saw them I would they were extremely good. But more of a Beatles fan. It's probably a melody thing - the Stones were more of a one-dimensional thing for me.
Triste: What persuaded you to pick up guitar? Did you want to emulate people?
Clive Gregson: It was the Beatles. I wanted to be in the Beatles, you know. I have an older brother. I was born in 55 so I'd have been about 8 when the Beatlemania happened and I was really taken with it but my brother, who's six years older, he was obsessed with the Beatles and bring home all the records. He had a drum kit initially and he wanted to be Ringo - but never really took to it. Mum and Dad flogged the drum-kit and bought me an acoustic guitar with the proceeds. I struggled with it for a while and then kept going back to it and finally got somewhere.
Triste: Did having an older brother with, I presume, "more sophisticated tastes" filter down to you?
Clive Gregson: I think there was an element of that but I also think that what was pop music then was good stuff anyway. There was nothing like The Spice Girls or real kids-orientated music. I can't remember there being anything totally aimed at eight or nine year olds or younger - except for things like Pinky and Perky. The pop music of the early 60's was amazing quality.
Triste: It was only the late sixties that the music split into pop and rock, before then there was almost one audience. So were the earliest things you wrote Beatlesque pop-rock numbers?
Clive Gregson: Well I never really wrote songs until much later when I went to college. I probably started playing in front of people when I was thirteen or fourteen. I would go to the local folk clubs around Manchester, because they were places where you could go and play songs with just an acoustic guitar and I'd go and do Beatles songs or pop songs I was into at that time and they were very tolerant and they would let me although that had nothing to do with folk music at all. But I did exposed to things like Dylan and early Van Morrison I suppose and Paul Simon and the early American singer-songwriters such as Tom Paxton and some traditional music. I suppose when I started writing it was a mixture of all those influences - some pop, some bits of folk things. Then I started writing seriously when I was going to Crewe and Alsager Teacher Training College and then got the band - Any Trouble - going pretty quickly. We were very much a covers band initially - we'd do anything we liked at that point. This would be about, let me think - 1974. We'd do Dylan, we were into The Band, the American stuff some rock and roll things. When New Wave came along with the Pistols and Graham Parker and Elvis Costello. We were like a human jukebox and it was obvious to me then if we wanted to get anywhere we needed original songs. I started to take it a bit more seriously then.
Triste: You were picked up a bit after this in the post-punk New Wave period. Would that be around 1978?
Clive Gregson: We made our first record in 1979 actually. We were very influenced by New Wave for sure. That's what changed us. It was the big movement at the time.
Triste: New Wave was a lot less nihilistic than punk - your Costellos and Squeezes were much more pop, but with bite.
Clive Gregson: Exactly. We weren't a punk band by any means. We just played RnB and pop but we played it fast. So that was the big musical thing at the time. That was the thing which blew it wide open - where anyone could be in a band. I was very taken with that. I look back on it now that late 70's thing and being on stage and I find it amazing. It must have been like being in a Merseybeat band in the 60's - just being part of a movement.
Triste: Did you feel pressurised to conform to a certain commercial style when you made your first record?
Clive Gregson: Nobody pressurised us, that's what we were doing anyway. When we made our first album that was our live sound. Just like the Beatles - that first album was our stage show. We made the whole record in less than three weeks - and we should have done it in less than a day really (laughs). For a late 70's rock record we made it really fast and that was our stage show - we tarted it up a little bit and that was it.
Triste: Actually Any Trouble were the first proper rock band I saw live. It was in 1982 and you were supporting John Martyn. My mate Bob Pritchard was very much into that powerpop thing, while I was more into the blues and folk. I seem to remember being very disappointed with John Martyn and really liking your set. Anyway, you had a few front covers of the weeklies, critical acclaim and were hyped to some extent.
Clive Gregson: If we were hyped we were the most unsuccessful hype ever cos we never sold a single record. We got, too early on when the first record came out, Alan Jones from the Melody Maker got really excited about it and wrote a great review. And I listen back to that first record now and I don't much like it - I don't think we were very good at all. It's very derivative and we didn't play very well and it was just a good honest attempt at what we were doing at that time. A lot of smarter people saw through it and saw it for what it was - just a naive little pop record. But Allan was really taken with it and stuck us on the front cover of Melody Maker saying this is the greatest thing since sliced bread and we patently weren't. But by the time we had improved and got better the fuss had all gone. You only really get one shot in the big nasty world of the music business and it went disastrously wrong because we weren't really ready for it. And we, weren't really any good anyway and by the time we had worked our way towards it, it didn't really matter.
Triste: You even had that symbol of the early 80's commercial push with a video being made of your band by Godley and Creme.
Clive Gregson: A lot of money was spent on it, but a lot of it was pretty misguided.
Triste: I know you can't go back to being in your mid 20's now but how would you change things with the experience you have now?
Clive Gregson: I think they are all things you couldn't change. We learned how to make better records by doing it and that's the only way you can do. Had we been lucky enough to have the right producer and the right format and a stable line-up and had the right chemistry from record one we'd have been fine. We'd have kept sailing. As it was we never had the chemistry right. We had three different managers nothing everything was settled. What was interesting was that we went into it in some ways as mates carrying passengers in a sense, as our first drummer was never the greatest player. But we kept him, as he was a mate. But going back to the Beatles again they fired the drummer before making their first record - but we were never that ruthless or that organised or that ambitious.
Triste: A lot of bands start off as mates - teenage bands in particular.
Clive Gregson: What was interesting with us is that we more or less finished as mates. We ground through four or five professional years, which were pretty miserable as a whole in terms of a career. In terms of the business it was crap most of the time but we still ended up as friends, which is actually more important really.
Triste: Your Richard Thompson connection started while you were still in the band - I think it was doing backing vocals first.
Clive Gregson: Yes. It was on Shoot Out The Lights - the last record with Linda. I was still in Any Trouble at that time.
Triste: Wasn't that a bit of a strange side-ways move for a guy in a power pop band moving over into the folk-rock field. I suppose John Woods was aware of your talents.
Clive Gregson: Yes, John Woods was the connection. John produced the first Any Trouble record, all of Richard's early stuff and most of the Fairports stuff alone or with Joe Boyd. That was the connection. I was a major fan of Richard's. I actually met Richard at John Woods wedding. John got married 6 months after we finished the first album and I went along to the wedding, met Richard and Linda, got on with them and kept in touch afterwards. So it was bit out of the blue that Richard called me but in retrospect I kind of think he probably knew there were changes in his life and somewhere down the line changes were needed.
Triste: When Any Trouble broke up what was the exact recording sequence? There was your first solo album and you met Christine Collister. Was that before?
Clive Gregson: I actually met Chris just after the last Any Trouble album Running The Race came out. I w as doing a promo tour for EMI doing radio stations and was up in Manchester and had a night off and went to Poynton Folk Club and saw Chris sing. Thought she was great and got talking to her didn't really have any plot in mind. Not long after that the band broke up we basically had just run out of steam. It had got to the point where there was nothing happening then. The record came out and died - just like all the others had done. We had no record deal, no money, no gigs, so we thought we might as well stop while we were still friends. I had saved up a little bit of money from publishing and such things and decided to do a solo record, which I thought would be a bit more singer-songwriter, a bit more folky, a bit more acoustic. I got Chris to sing on that and that was the first thing we had worked on together. Not long after that Richard called me. He was making Across A Crowded Room and he said do you want to sing on it, as I'd sung on the last couple. And I told him that I would but that he should also try Chris out as she's great. We went there to initially do a couple of songs but we ended up doing the whole album pretty much. As a result of that, when Richard was putting a band together to go and tour the States later in 85, I think - most of the usual suspects were unavailable, Simon Nicol whatever. I think he took quite a brave decision to take out Rory McFarlane, who had been the office boy at Hannibal for a while, playing bass, Gerry Conway on drums, who had worked with him a lot, Christine and me. So it was quite a radical departure for Richard but it worked very well. It was a really good band.
Triste: I saw a video of that tour. Was it more relaxing singing backing vocals playing rhythm guitar and taking a bit of lead rather than leading a band?
Clive Gregson: It was good for me at the time because there was no pressure on me beyond playing the songs right. Richard's a nice bloke, he's very easy going; he doesn't crack the whip or anything and I knew all the stuff anyway, I was big fan. It was very easy from that point of view - loads of fun.
Triste: I suppose as a result of that you decided to go out as a duo?
Clive Gregson: That again was just a natural development. We figured out that we actually sounded pretty good singing together and to the best of my knowledge it was Richard who said you should go out and do some folk clubs as a duo. We kind of started doing it as a bit of a laugh between Richard's tours and I was producing a bit at that point. Chris was still doing sessions for Radio Piccadilly. It really caught peoples' imaginations. We started off doing little folk clubs and then it started to snowball and people wanted a record and we were an act. We hadn't set out to do that at all, it had just crept up on us.
Triste: Obviously the talent was there, but do you think part of the success was due to there being a gap in the market in the mid 80's for a small-scale, acoustic, male-female duo?
Clive Gregson: I really don't know. I just think that it was good and a little different and there was a bit of a kind of rootsy-folky thing going on in the mid-80's where pop music was pretty bad, and anybody with half a brain would look elsewhere. There was a brief window of opportunity where we were around, the Oyster Band finally got a drummer and started to play more electric, Michelle Shocked, Billy Bragg. They were filling a gap and we could fill a lot of work situations. We did loads of TV and radio just because it was easy to do; it was two voices and a guitar and we could do a little bit of jazz or a little bit of blues or a couple of covers or whatever and we could fit into a variety of situations.
Triste: You did a covers album. You mentioned somewhere that that took some pressure off you.
Clive Gregson: I kind of drifted into the role of writing songs and I had become a kind of de facto producer, writer and arranger. It was nice to have one record where I didn't have to do one of those jobs. It's very hard to produce your own act in many ways and kind of put as on a more equitable footing as the act. That meant that for one album at least I could concentrate almost exclusively on being the artist.
Triste: All good things come to an end and you finished off with The Last Word, which to me is my favourite Gregson and Collister record. You said that it was under-promoted. It almost limped out.
Clive Gregson: I personally think that it's by far the best Gregson and Collister record and it wasn't promoted because we made the fatal mistake of telling everybody that it was going to be the last record. The minute you put the seal of finality on things, the media, the record company and the business think, "Shut that door! Next!" It was a great shame because we had a very successful tour, which did great business on the road but we didn't sell many copies of the album. We had a weird thing with Gregson and Collister where we had a bizarre scenario where throughout the seven years we played, our audiences consistently got bigger and bigger, for the live show, to the point on the last tour we were playing big rooms. Two nights at the QEH, in London, two nights at the Lesser Free Trade. We were playing mostly theatres and big arts centres and as our audiences got bigger and bigger our record sales dropped and dropped and The Last Word was our worse selling record. I can only think that we were making records that people didn't really like. If people come to me and talk about Gregson and Collister their favourite record is Home And Away which was the first record which was made live and acoustic and people liked that. The further the records got from the live thing, the less they liked it.
Triste: Talking about Gregson and Collister there are some songs you wrote which are very definitely written from a woman's viewpoint. 'Last Man Alive' for example is song you could never go on to sing solo - it wouldn't make sense.
Clive Gregson: I wrote that one with Boo [Hewerdine] actually and on the demo Boo sang it funnily enough. Some times we just used to fudge round it and hope for the best. Pretty much any songs could go either way we kind of slanted it that way. After Home and Away I was writing songs for Chris to sing and that was a pretty good discipline. There are some of those songs I can get away with singing and certain songs, which I wouldn't touch because I just couldn't sing them convincingly. I had a funny experience with Norma Waterson recently. She covered Fred Astaire. I had known for ages that she was going to record it and just a couple of days before the session I got a phone call from John Wood. He said, "I've got a problem with this song, the lyrics are totally male, can you write a female version". I told him it wouldn't work as a female version but I'll write a third person version. And that's how she did the song and she partnered it with the Fred Astaire song 'Change Partners' which she sings in the male person anyway. It becomes a bit ambiguous anyway.
Triste: Moving onto songwriting, I notice that you sometimes have gone back to old songs and recut them. Is that because you weren't satisfied?
Clive Gregson: The great thing about songwriting is that there are no rules. You can do what you like, and if it works - great! I think sometimes songs escape sooner than they ought to due to the pressure of finishing a record and then you go back and look at them. One of the things I've been doing a lot solo over the last few years is that I will play a lot of new songs in the first half of the show. I'm working my way round to the fact that I really like making records where I'm really comfortable with the songs and the last thing I have to worry about is whether they work or not or knowing the song, because I've been playing them for six months or a year. That's how records used to be. People played songs live on tour then they'd go in the studio and record their stage set. I like that as it's honest and feels right. The other way is that you make the record and then you try and figure how you're going to perform the song live and sometimes what you'd actually get to is a more defined version of the song. You cut the song very early in its career and after playing it for a year it's changed immeasurably because you've been bringing lots of different things to it. So there are no finite reasons for seeing a song as complete.
Triste: Putting a song on vinyl or cassette or CD tend to make people see it as the artefact.
Clive Gregson: They do, but you can always re-record it.
Triste: What are the initial triggers you use for songwriting. Is it an incident? A chord progression?. Is it a melody? A dream?
Clive Gregson: All of the above and more. Again, there are no rules. Sometimes it's just a phrase, sometimes you get a little sequence, and sometimes you get a concept you want to write about. I read a lot, so I'll take things out of books or articles. Sometimes it's based on people I know. One thing, which is interesting, is that I tend to write less and less autobiographically these days. There was a period where I did - too excess - but I don't know and I tend to write about characters, either real or imagined.
Triste: When you sing "I" people tend to think that "I" means "you" the singer.
Clive Gregson: I suppose they probably always will.
Triste: Another thing about your songs is that they are often grounded in the mundane reality of everyday life - they're not western fantasies or songs about glamour and sports cars. The song 'Box Number' is one number that immediately springs to mind.
Clive Gregson: 'Box Number' is funny because they are all real personal ads. For about a year I was scouring the newspapers cutting out all the ones which made me laugh or which I thought were a little weird. They're all real-ones, but I knocked them into verse kind of shape. They are all real personal ads.
Triste: Are the songs you're writing now grounded here in Britain or are they based on your American experience of the last few years? Are they still essentially English songs?
Clive Gregson: I think they are essentially English songs in that I am English and the kind of things which formed my character are the ways that I have lived for 40 years rather than the five or six years since I moved there. I'd like to think that they're about universal themes that anyone can latch onto, but I'm conscious of using tending to use English language.
Triste: Like using the word "arsehole" rather than "asshole" in 'Cause For Complaint'?
Clive Gregson: Yes. In something like 'Fred Astaire' "I've seen all his pictures/ I've studied his style" I would never say movies. I go to the "pictures" or go to the "cinema". I would never say "movies" in a song - it feels too American.
Triste: Although rock and roll is an American musical form and you've got the cadences of people like Chuck Berry in the back of your head so it's very hard to do English rock and roll.
Clive Gregson: I was talking to somebody about this last night. He was asking why English singers when they sing rock and roll sing with an American accent. You're exactly right it's because the language of rock and roll is pretty much American; it's derived from the blues and it sounds right that way. If I was writing a real rock and roll song I would lean that way a little more, but I don't do that anymore. I can't remember the last time I wrote an out and out rock and roll basher. I don't really play that way anymore, it's more focused on the acoustic singer-songwriter for the last five or six years.
Triste: What do you do when you're short of inspiration. Is it a case of saying "I've got to write a song" and then sitting down and sweating it out, or do you start off adapting somebody else's song.
Clive Gregson: You mean steal it?
Triste: No, you take someone like Dylan whose 'Girl From The North Country' borrows heavily from Martin Carthy's 'Scarborough Fair' or 'Masters of War' is 'Nottamun Town' and he's forever incorporating song fragments into his own tunes. Or you take someone like Hendrix who rearranged BB King's version of 'Rock Me Baby', made it a lot faster, changed the riff, and then added new lyrics and you've got 'Lover Man'. Or Peter Green who's suddenly become very conscious of his borrowings?
Clive Gregson: It's funny, but I don't think I've ever felt totally devoid of inspiration. I don't think I've ever had long periods where I've not been able to write. I'm actually quite disciplined as a writer I actually try and write a little something everyday - if things go through my mind I try and make notes. There's always something happens every day, somebody will say something and I'll think, I can use that. There's inspiration all around you. Most of what I do is about the every day, so it's always there. Musically, yes, you can use something else as a starting point that will take you to where you want it to be. But I don't necessarily do that very much either.
Triste: I assume you write on guitar. Do you ever use altered tunings as a starting point?
Clive Gregson: I use a lot of different tunings and also because I play a lot of different instruments - it's the John Lennon thing, he said he started writing playing piano and writing songs on it because he didn't know the keyboard terribly well and to avoid falling into the traps of playing the same chords he always played on the guitar - I've done that. I've written on the mandolin three chords on the mandolin, but I can find my way round.
Triste: I know three chords on the mandolin - G, C and D.
Clive Gregson: That's all you need. That's all Ry Cooder knows as well, so we're in good company.
Triste: Changing topic, the last time I saw you, you were playing with Plainsong, is that now over?
Clive Gregson: I don't know. It feels in limbo. It was successful to a point but probably not enough to justify all the effort and the hard work. Plainsong is very difficult because you've got half the band living in the States and half the band living in England. I'm the youngest member of the band and being out with a bunch of old blokes who act like old blokes - which is fine - but it's a whole different thing to get it all moving the same way and it requires a superhuman effort. And sometimes I wonder if the effort is worth the final result? I enjoyed the tour we did there were elements on it which were good and there were elements which, like any tour were naff, but it's the nature of the beast. And they're playing for an audience which are probably the most way out there is. I mean Richard plays to an audience of anoraks, but the Plainsong is the same, there's less of them, but major anoraks.
Triste: I take it you play to a certain audience - essentially people who've grown up with you. I don't suppose there are many teenagers in the crowds you play to.
Clive Gregson: There'd be nothing in it for youngsters. My nieces and nephews aren't interested and I don't blame them.
Triste: What about the songs you wrote for Plainsong, were they written specially?
Clive Gregson: I wrote them for the project. I wrote a little with Andy Roberts - who's one of the laziest men going in the world and you have to thrash him to doing something. Actually we wrote a couple of things together which were very good. But other than that they were just things I wrote that I thought fitted the project.
Triste: Talking about songwriting again, and looking at your last album in particular, which was a little bleak, what is your take on the human race in general. Are you a philanthropist, misanthropist or just a dispassionate observer?
Clive Gregson: I think it's a realistic take on life. Some people are great and some people are monsters, you know? But that's what humans are like. I try and retain a belief that intrinsically humans are basically good, caring, thoughtful and intelligent, but not all of them are like that - some are complete dipsticks. I find I attract the dipsticks a bit more nowadays. I think there's culturally a general - and this is a very American phrase and I hate using it - dumbing down of what people will accept as popular culture. There's stuff which you think how could people fall for that old crap. That depresses me that people will set their sights so low for their artistic aspirations or cultural aspirations.
Triste: But you might have said the same thing forty years ago about The Beatles when they first came out compared to the sophistication of say Cole Porter or Irving Berlin of thirty years before them.
Clive Gregson: What? The Beatles weren't?
Triste: I'm talking about the very early stuff when they first burst on the scene: 'Love Me Do', 'Please Please Me'.
Clive Gregson: But the Beatles also wrote 'Strawberry Fields Forever'!
Triste: Okay bad example, but what about the Stones or the Sex Pistols?
Clive Gregson: Well three chord primeval rock and roll which touches people at their very core and that I can dig totally. I like simplistic music. But Dylan could write 'Don't Think Twice It's Alright' which is musically fairly simplistic, lyrically, not terribly sophisticated, but good, but he could also write 'Tangled Up In Blue'. Artists develop and write for their market and write for their audience. You could have said that Cole Porter or Sammy Cahn or Gershwin would not have been perceived as the great songwriters they are if they hadn't had popular careers and they all pretty much wrote for dance bands, at one point, with songs that people could dance to, and not necessarily clock onto the lyrics the first time around. But a lot of sophistication has gone. This is a bit of an anecdote, but it's true. I used to go to the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville and do these songwriters in the round. The most surreal one I saw in recent years featured Graham Gouldman from 10cc, who is, I think, one of the most sophisticated, brilliant pop songwriters of all time and around him were three country singer-songwriters singing absolute bilge about being lonesome in my saddle since my horse died. Graham was doing 'For Your Love', 'I'm Not In Love', 'Bus Stop' 'The Things We Do For Love', 'Heartful Of Soul' and all these fantastic music was thinking, "This is another planet and these people do not understand that this is probably the most sophisticated pop music they're going to hear and all they want is bum-kerjing-ah, bum-kerjing-ah". It was bizarre.
Triste: You were in Nashville, not so much because you wanted to be there, but because of your wife's job. Is there still an alternative culture in Nashville where musicians would sit around and swap songs after hours or has that all been swallowed up in the corporate world of big bucks and plotting market demographics.
Clive Gregson: It happens. But it's interesting that the words "Nashville" and "culture" rarely exist in the same sentence. It does happen, it's just that I'm not part of it. It's a business town. It's whatever passes for country songs these days and they're all desperate to pitch songs.
Triste: How do you find playing here compared to playing in America?
Clive Gregson: Well I've pretty much stopped touring in America. I don't really have an audience there and there's no money in it. I don't want to spend all my life driving round playing for no people for three dollars.
Triste: Is there not a niche? 1% of two hundred and odd million people is surely a larger number of people than over here?
Clive Gregson: You would think so, but it's just more cities, and the same small percentage will come or not come depending on whether they're interested in what you're doing. And if you don't get them out you're not going to get paid. It's fairly black and white and something's got to give. When I first went out there I toured quite a lot for the first three years and then figured it out. You can tell if your audiences are growing then it's worth doing, then if they're getting smaller it's not worth doing. It reached that point where I could tour forever and end up playing for six people and a dog. They just didn't get it.
Triste: Aren't there niche radio stations playing adult, intelligent music?
Clive Gregson: It doesn't matter, radio ceased to have had a major impact on what sells records for years. Bluntly, in terms of what changes people profile and sells records is TV. The print media don't matter. A massive percentage of Americans leave school and can't read so the fact that you get a good review in Billboard means nothing because nobody will ever read it. The print medium means virtually nothing, unless you get a lot of it, and at the same time, but a major TV campaign can change your career and that's happening here too. The impact of say Radio One on record sales has diminished enormously, but the right TV coverage can make an enormous impact but the only way you get on TV is if you have a major record company label and are young and look good.
Triste: So are you happy playing in Southport on a wet, windy wintry night?
Clive Gregson: Yeah, I'd like it better if I didn't have a cold.
Triste: When you think back to people who started at the same time of you - say Mark Knopfler. He's about the same age.
Clive Gregson: A little bit older, I would guess.
Triste: He started off playing folk clubs in the North of England playing folky blues and his band was picked up in that immediate post-punk period when your band was picked up and he's worth millions. Do you ever think "Well I can sing better than he can and I write decent songs and play guitar pretty well too" Is there any kind of envy?
Clive Gregson: No. To me it's one of the reasons why I wanted to get out of the major labels. It was very much a choice, we were dropped by EMI, but we probably could have got another major label deal, we got some offers, however, but I don't see music as competitive sport. That's probably been my failing from day one. It's just something I play and enjoy and see as a form of communication and it's sharing of emotions. I don't care if it's better than the last Dire Straits record, that only means anything to the people who have to be in the charts to justify their existence, I've never had to do that and I feel incredibly lucky doing what I'm doing. It could be lot better, but it could be a lot worse. I make the records I want to make. I pretty much work at my own pace. I do some outside projects and I feel really lucky. I do the shopping and nobody bothers me.
Triste: So you're not bothered if your album receives little promotion and vanishes without trace?
Clive Gregson: I'd bee lying if I didn't admit that I'd like as many people as possible to listen to my music and like what I'm doing. But I'm realistic to know that I work in a part of the business which is incredibly minority. It's a trade-off. Happy Hour is totally, unremittingly uncommercial, so my expectations will never be disappointed because I expect nobody to buy that record, so if I sell three copies of that record it's done better than I expected. It's because it's music that you have to really listen to it and be committed to it and like it for what it is. There's no bullshit around it; it's what it is. And that's the kind of record that I like to buy, but it's hard finding that stuff, but it's more rewarding. I'm delighted when I dig out say a Roddy Frame solo record and I really like it than buying what the Spice Girls are doing that week. I was thrilled when Oasis came along and were a real proper rock and roll band with no bullshit, there's no Vegas, there's no showbiz. Went out banged em' out out the real thing.
Triste: And they did rock and roll things like slagging off Princess Diana and taking loads of drugs.
Clive Gregson: It's that primeval instinct, but they were good at it, it's that whole thing where they got it right. Whether they continue to get it right will be interesting to see, but it doesn't really matter, they made their mark. If the only record they'd ever made had been 'Wonderwall' I still would have loved them.
Triste: Looking at your last album there's a little note which claims that the songs were recorded as demos.
Clive Gregson: That's bullshit. The American label Compass made me put it on. It is true, but I wouldn't have put it on. They said I'd have to put a sleeve note on because anyone who bought I Love This Town and then got this would be devastated. It is entirely true, but I just think that people can take it or leave it, to display it is absolutely unnecessary.
Triste: Your songs sometiems seem to be a case of, "Life is one long struggle with disaster", but you seem a happy person.
Clive Gregson: I am. It's not about me. But people's lives are pretty miserable.
Triste: Don't get me wrong, I like it, but there does seem to be a certain slant to it.
Clive Gregson: That's just the way the record came out. I had 50 songs for this record and these are just the ones that I thought sat the best together. So it does have a kind of down at heel vibe to it.
Triste: Do you think your songwriting has improved compared to your earliest days with Any Trouble - or are they just different.
Clive Gregson: I think they are way better, but it's easy for me to be subjective about it, but I genuinely think this is the favourite of my solo albums, I can listen to this, whereas most of the others I can't listen to them, but this one feels right from start to finish. I like the songs I like the sound. It's very simple it's unassuming and it's kind of like what I'm about and it's a major statement about the way I go about things. Not to say that the songs are about me or represent my viewpoints, cos they don't, because they're stories. It's also because I wanted to do something simple with just me acoustic because that's how I play. If you play live and people like it then that's what people want the record to reflect.
Triste: I've bought records and you find all the songs have got trip-hop beats on them.
Clive Gregson: I felt it was time for me to do a record, not a live record, but something which focused on what I do on stage. It's had great reviews but I don't know why, but I don't care anymore, as long as I like it, that's all that matters.
Triste: You take Nick Drake's Pink Moon and people keep coming back to it.
Clive Gregson: It's been widely quoted in print that Pink Moon is my all-time favourite record. It's for exactly the reason that it's the real thing and there's nothing to hide behind. That was what he was about right then. I loved the songs the way he played the sound of it. There's nothing about it that I don't like I think it's great record. Whereas I can listen to the first album and there's some naivety about it but Joe [Boyd] and John [Woods] think that Bryter Layer is the definitive article the songs are great - my favourite Nick Drake song is 'Northern Sky' which is on "Bryter Layer" I love that song, but the album as a whole is not consistent.
Triste: I think two of the instrumentals are particularly weak.
Clive Gregson: I love it, nonetheless. I'm a major, major fan. But there's not a hair on Pink Moon. I feel the same about Boo [Hewerdine's] last record as well. There's maybe one song I would have taken off if I had been him, But there's some stuff on there which is great and the same is true of Eddie [Reader's last record].
Triste: I saw Boo at the Nick Drake tribute thing at the Barbican; he was playing in the foyer outside.
Clive Gregson: He went and watched the Nick Drake thing and it was very weird - a bunch of people posing. A lot of people who had probably never heard of Nick Drake until recently.
Triste: I believe people like John Martyn and Michael Chapman were invited but refused to play because it was such a trendy metropolitan thing. But Joe Boyd was there, Robert Kirby and John Woods.
Clive Gregson: John didn't enjoy it too much. Joe is a bit of a keeper of the flame for Nick Drake and I like Joe a lot, he's great, but in some ways I feel it's in the wrong hands. He's too close to be really objective about the whole thing. He has a bit of a vested interest in keeping the catalogue alive.
Triste: Is it a healthy thing - the Nick Drake phenomenon?
Clive Gregson: It doesn't make much difference to him. I think it's good that people are hearing his music. Is it healthy that people bought loads of Jim Reeves records after he died, it's neither here nor there. I'm happy that people are buying his records. I feel there's some plumbing of the depths going on. That whole thing about wanting to hear everything he ever did is like the Beatles Anthology thing.
Triste: I bought the Anthology albums.
Clive Gregson: So did I. Do you really want to hear it all? Some of it's interesting; but some of it is just tosh. But I bought them all - CD copies and vinyl copies - I'm an anorak!