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The Pub Landlord: In Britain’s hour of need, Al Murray’s…started a band?

When Al Murray donned his Pub Landlord persona more than 20 years ago, his Little Englander views represented a 'safely quarantined lunatic sector' of the British public. Now with Brexit days (weeks? months?) away, Murray's prophetic rants tap the mainstream. Is it all his fault? Steven MacKenzie digs in

As his alter-ego the Pub Landlord, Al Murray has parroted and parodied little-Englander views since the mid-1990s. The politics he critiqued have mushroomed and now dictate the direction of the country, epitomised by a Brexit referendum with consequences still TBC. Murray read Modern History at Oxford and seems almost gleeful about living through such turbulent times. He is also a keen drummer and brings the beat to one of the world’s oddest bands, Fat Cops. 

The Big Issue: Is it a good time to be a comedian?

Al Murray: There’s stuff happening, it’s good for trade.

Is it also a good time to be someone interested in history?

Absolutely. And isn’t it interesting being in a moment of history? When you read a history book about a big event, you know it’s coming, you know how the story ends. In books it looks like lots of things happening at once but when you’re living through a historic event like we are now you find out that the days pass at the same speed as they always do, life just goes on and an awful lot of people don’t even know it’s happening.

People know what they voted for when they voted for Brexit, but the politicians don’t know what the public voted for when they voted for Brexit.

History will one day record that ‘Britain left the EU on such and such a date’ and the period we’ve been living through will be a footnote, if that.

The great thing about reading the history book from the year 2200 is that it will be perfectly obvious why this all happened, what the causes and effects were and the forces at work. But living in the middle of it, with the chaos, who knows?

Do you enjoy the chaos?

People know what they voted for when they voted for Brexit, but the politicians don’t know what the public voted for when they voted for Brexit. They were offering so many versions and that’s a lot to do with the indy ref. The SNP White Paper [outlining their vision for an independent Scotland] meant that the Better Together campaign had a thing to attack. They could say, ‘Look, they haven’t even thought about a currency!’ or whatever. Whereas Brexit, they didn’t offer anything. That was a brilliant masterstroke for winning the referendum. They won the battle, but maybe in the end they’re going to lose the war.

Is the Pub Landlord more relevant than ever?

I remember a few years ago reading that ‘the act is not relevant, why’s he doing that stuff?’ That attitude, in particular having the Second World War built into it as a way people identify themselves and express themselves politically, it’s my generation doing that. It’s plainly obvious that this has been lurking and has been part of the discourse outside the clever ‘opinion-maker’ people who talk about stuff. I have had people come to me and say, ‘You’re responsible for this because by laughing at it rather than tearing it down it was normalised’, that I encouraged it. I can’t see that.

It was a safely quarantined lunatic sector and now those ideas are in the mainstream.

But does the Pub Landlord now represent a bigger portion of society?

Or a more accepted set of views. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less ridiculous. People who were obsessed with the EU when I first started the character 25 years ago were a fringe, a slice of the Tory party and people further to the right. It was a safely quarantined lunatic sector and now those ideas are in the mainstream.

What’s the solution?

Laugh at it. Roll about laughing because what’s the alternative? Or start a band and put a record out.

Which is what you did. What are your band, Fat Cops, policing?

We’re patrolling the borders of middle-age and reporting back to the millennials who don’t yet know. If they think life’s tough now, they should wait until they get to the top of the stairs and their knee hurts.

Do you have nicknames for each other like the Spice Girls?

There are a couple of nicknames. Chris Deerin [day job: journalist, head of the think tank Reform Scotland and new Big Issue book reviewer] is known as Nips because there’s a picture with his nipples really prominent through his shirt that he had as a byline photo and Neil the keyboard player [Neil Murray,  a doctor, married to JK Rowling] is Dr Slowfinger. [Other members include another Scottish journalist Euan McColm, IT manager Chris Ayre and Bobby Bluebell, former guitarist and songwriter of The Bluebells (think Young At Heart).]

What do they call you?

I don’t know. Whatever it is it’s not said to my face.

Is releasing your own record the realisation of a lifelong dream?

I don’t know because I didn’t expect it to ever happen. The genesis of this band had a very interesting set of twists and turns.

Go on then.

The six of us met via Twitter as a result of the Scottish independence referendum. We were all on different sides of the arguments, having quite feisty debates when we decided that the next time we were all in Edinburgh we should go for a pint. We all became friends, it emerged that everyone played an instrument so we started writing songs together and now there’s an album. It’s come about completely by evolution and accident.

The Scottish independence referendum was very divisive, Brexit too…

Who knows the supergroup that may yet emerge from Brexit. With Nigel Farage on maracas.

What do Fat Cops sound like?

We call it glam-punk garage. The first song on the album is called Hot Tub and that’s about Twitter. Everyone crammed in together thinking they’re there to have fun and it’s actually a bit awful. People talk about the crisis in masculinity and some of the songs are a bit about that. If you’re a middle-aged man now, the world is changing really fast. Have your attitudes actually been alright all this time? Are you really sound? Or are you in fact a terrible arsehole? That’s the theme that’s emerged.

Did you come to a conclusion?

No, never! You have to throw sand in people’s faces and run off. 

The Fat Cops band at rehersal at Berkeley 2 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Fat Cops (the band). Image: Duncan McGlynn

Does making music mean you’re throwing sand in other people’s face instead of your own face?

Yeah, although the business of making a record and putting it out there is arguably throwing sand in your face. When you release music into the wild it’s no longer yours and opinion can mount against it if it wants to. It’s the same as comedy. Once you put it out there you can’t control what people make of it. You can try and give them a steer but you can’t actually control things no matter your intention. This is a heavy conversation. 

OK, tell me your favourite drummer joke.

What’s the difference between a drum machine and a drummer? You only have to punch the information into the drum machine once.

Are drummer jokes, in general, accurate?

Well, no. Drummers exist in this very odd position in the band. You end up driving everyone around, basically being the removal man and you’re not regarded as a proper musician. Drummers are very much a tribe for that reason. There’s a real community and I think it’s a lot to do with the drumming jokes forcing us together.

On the Metropolitan Police’s website I was looking up the weight restrictions on prospective recruits.

How fat is too fat?

If your BMI is above 32. They also specify no BNP members but they probably need to update that list of prohibited organisations.

Politics has gone mad. I mean you might end up excluding basically everybody.

Fat Cops’ self-titled debut album is out now. Al Murray’s Great British Pub Quiz is on Quest, Thursdays at 10pm

Read the full article in this week's Big Issue.
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