In a Costcutter near Highgate, north London, a five-year-old girl stands transfixed (possibly slightly traumatised) by two curious fellow shoppers: one sports an enormous black bat-winged cape with scarlet lining, hood and matching bonnet, the other an azure blue smock etched with silver stars and moons, a scarlet medieval jester’s bonnet and sparkly golden boots.
They aren’t ‘in character’; this is who they are. Serge Pizzorno, rock ’n’ roll songwriter dude from Kasabian, and Noel Fielding, rock ’n’ roll comedy surrealist, ex-Mighty Booshman and Never Mind the Buzzcocks captain, who this week returns to claim his crown on the stand-up circuit with a massive UK tour.
They look like best mates because they are, since 2007 and an encounter at the Isle of Wight Festival; two life-long believers in cartoon living with similarly explosive hair and ‘exotic’ genealogy (Serge’s Italian grandfather, Noel’s French grandma). “I didn’t think you could get a new best mate at this age,” marvels Noel, 41, who often visits Serge, 33, in his tiny Leicestershire village.
He gets recognised everywhere. No one knows who I am
“We’ll be out getting supplies and it freaks people out in the local Co-op,” grins Serge. “‘Fuck, is that Noel?’ He gets recognised everywhere. No one knows who I am.”
Outside Costcutter, as if by magic, a gaggle of teenage girls gasp, “It’s Noel Fielding!” while Serge – 6ft 6in of Vincent Price vibes – is inexplicably ignored.
Soon, we’re back at Noel’s nearby studio, a white-walled space festooned with psychedelic insanity: drawings and props from his surrealist E4 sketch-show caper Luxury Comedy (drawings of LSD-fried fictional band Lysergic Casserole), an upright coffin, paintings of Freddie Mercury, rubber aliens, wigs, a ‘human’ arm poking from a giant pink plastic triangle and stand-up-routine prompt lists tacked on walls (Dog With A Telescope, Chris de Battenberg, Ray Davies Jam Jar, Raindrop Police).
From a CD player booms the Luxury Comedy house band Loose Tapestries, a kaleidoscopic thrill of pastoral 1960s psychedelia, Captain Beefheart, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore seemingly fronting The Kinks and Idris Elba rapping like Ian Dury over a Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band-esque Christmas single.
Last year, 27,000 people worldwide earned an income selling street papers, making a total of £23.4 million.
Today, Serge and Noel vigorously deny they are the force behind Loose Tapestries, claiming they are merely “vessels” for two time-travelling “bombastic minstrels” called The Decision and Vacuum Cloud, who have no need of form, are made from “complex patterns of coloured light and thought” and live “in an abstract shape called The Profiterolf that hovers above treetops outside Highgate cemetery”. The spectral minstrels may soon possess their bodies for “a tour of mazes, with moats, some time this century”, they cackle, merrily.
Until then, they’re off on tour individually: Serge around Europe with Kasabian, Noel throughout Britain with his stand-up show An Evening With Noel Fielding, featuring characters, animation, audience interaction and guest appearances from “Antonio Banderas and Hawk-Eye, the decision-maker at the tennis”. They perch beside a table bedecked in spray paint, supposedly interviewing each other, without a solitary question from either the serene, bashful Serge or the exuberant, cackling Noel. So we listen in, instead, to this beautiful friendship at work.
Serge, presumably you were a Mighty Boosh person before you met Noel…
Serge: “Massively. It was a staple for the tour bus after every gig. We’d all be absolutely mangled with some nice weed and I felt like, someone’s read my mind, this is exactly what I need right now.”
Noel: “I always thought that Kasabian’s music was trippy in a modern way. I think Serge and Tom [Meighan, frontman] are just like me and Julian [Barratt] but they’re doing music.”
Sometimes you see photos of you two and you’re not sure which is which…
Serge: “It’s the Latin blood!”
Noel [begins cackling]: “We were in the studio with some Scottish people last Burns Night, there was all this beautiful food, poetry, whisky, everyone was all dressed up, and me and Serge made a massive faux pas and cut the ends off the cheeses.
“We didn’t know [in polite society, you must never cut the ‘nose’ off a triangular wedge of cheese]. And some big Glaswegian man went [terrifying Glaswegian], ‘These two Italian poofters have cut the noses off the cheese!’”
What happened at the Isle of Wight in 2007?
Noel: “Me and my Australian friend Melvis got a helicopter to see the Stones – amazing! – and landed in the grounds of your hotel, and you were all bladdered drinking Pimm’s and attempting to play croquet.”
Serge: “It was just, mate, come back to the hotel – you just know when you’re gonna ‘get’ someone.”
Noel: “I thought, wow, this guy’s like Keith Richards and George Best at the same time. Which annoyed me. I thought, can I be mates with him? He’s a really good artist, slightly too handsome and taller than me – nightmare! Then we stayed up all night, sat together on the floor and talked for about 10 hours; we went in well deep.”
In what other ways are you similar?
Noel: “We’re both a little bit shy and quite soft. Not very male and aggressive. With soft parents.”
As a sometime O2 Arena-sized touring comedy force, what’s your fame advice for Serge now Kasabian are massive?
Noel: “They don’t need advice from me! They know what they’re doing; we imploded.”
It’s been brilliant touring as Vlad the Impaler, like being a medieval Bez
Why was that, ultimately?
Noel: “Because Julian didn’t like the attention, the celebrity, any of it. I got all the attention and partied too much. It’s like it’s your birthday all the time, everyone wants to speak to you and you don’t know who anyone is. Madness.
“Kasabian have got a really good group around them who protect them. We were, ‘Fuck, it’s gone massive’, and a lot of idiots were getting in the cracks. You can’t get near Kasabian.”
Serge: “Staying in Leicester is part of that. Me and Tom lived in London for a year and it was party time, absolute chaos. And no one knew who we were! So for Noel at that time…”
Noel: “It’s because we were on telly all the time. There’s no place, really, for bands on telly any more. No one knows who bands are. I couldn’t tell you what The Black Keys look like and they’re massive.”
Talk us through this year’s Glastonbury headline experience…
Serge: “I woke up and the adrenalin just kicked in. I thought, I’ve gotta deal with this for 12 hours! Noel came on the bus and it was instantly calm; we were listening to Three Men in a Boat on audio, drinking peppermint tea, I had cushions and a quilt and we were having a nap. If it wasn’t for Noel, I would’ve been boozing from two in the afternoon.”
Noel: “I didn’t drink all day. I ran on as Vlad the Impaler, completely sober in front of 200,000 people, thinking, I’ve never felt so self-conscious, dancing like a dad. I looked over at Serge and he went [bamboozled] ‘What’s this!?’, and Tom’s right out there [hands in the air]. Tom’s so generous; he’s totally let me in. It’s been brilliant touring as Vlad the Impaler, like being a medieval Bez.”
Do you like ‘the road’?
Noel: “I do but Boosh did it like Aerosmith last time and I nearly came home dead. It’s finding the balance between not killing yourself and having fun.”
Serge: “I won’t expose any bands but there’s nothing more depressing than seeing a band come off stage at a festival, go backstage and just flip their laptop open, at online shopping. And have some chicken and broccoli. I’m thinking, are you not gonna have a drink now? Cause carnage? And they’re [pats stomach], ‘Naw, mate; gotta watch the weight.’ Fuck that – you don’t deserve to be doing this job!”
Noel: “A lot of bands are so fucking earnest and serious. Tom’s dad once said to me, ‘I’ll give you a tenner if you’ll run on stage and bite Serge’s arse’, at the Isle of Wight Festival. I got on stage and bit his arse…”
Serge: “I thought it was a dog! I turned round and he was like a medicine man down there, with a cape.”
Noel: “Then I tried to drive the bus and I can’t even drive. Then we were on a boat…”
Serge: “Which should never have been allowed; we were absolutely mangled…”
It’s said we live in very conservative times. Any theories why?
Serge: “Our guitar tech, who’s about 65, worked with Zeppelin, The Yardbirds, The Kinks – he loves the Tapestries because it’s the spirit of the music when he first started. He says it’s like listening to stuff before accountants got involved. Just making stuff up, ideas, get in an ice-cream van and play in forests. Be free.”
Noel: “My mum and dad said they saw Faces, Frank Zappa and Hawkwind at the same gig and the first band didn’t come on till one in the morning. Now you can’t get a fucking drink past one o’clock in this country.”
How come the internet hasn’t given us the most creatively free generation of all time?
Noel: “It’s backfired. Too much choice. The stuff that gets a hundred million hits is Gangnam Style or a squirrel singing an Elvis song. I do get disappointed by how conservative young kids are. When I made Luxury Comedy it was fucking insane and all people could say was, ‘Oh, he’s on drugs.’ I thought, you’re 20! When did imagination disappear?
I do get disappointed by how conservative young kids are
“You’re not gonna get a band like Slade again, working-class boys in red fucking trousers and mirrors on their top hats. I sound like an old man, I’m ancient, but there’s a generation with no links to psychedelic anything. I just like dressing up. Like a dolly.”
Serge: “When I first met Noel he was the first true artist I’d ever met. It’s like hanging around with Dalí, the real deal, where bands don’t live it any more. He makes me feel way freer.”
Noel: “I remember you talking about West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum [Kasabian’s third album] saying, ‘I’m gonna do this’, but you were nervous cos you’d done two big rock albums. And I was in your ear: ‘Do it, do it, do it!’ We were out one night and disappeared off into the toilets in a club and our girlfriends thought we’d left them for each other.”
Serge: “Amy [his girlfriend] said, ‘You’ve been gone for three hours!’ We were just walking round and round coming up with ideas.”
Noel: “This does sound like a mutual backslapping thing but what can we say?! Tom always says, ‘You love each other, don’t you?’ Yeah, we do. ‘But you do, though, don’t you?’ [Suddenly aggrieved] Don’t make this too gay, will you? Aw, man – Tom’s gonna rip into us for this…”
Let us hope so. That’s what friends are for, after all.
Interview by Sylvia Patterson
Photographs taken for The Big Issue by Louise Haywood-Schiefer