I went to a Catholic primary school where we were beaten by vicious nuns. Then I moved to Sedgehill High School where the height of aspiration was to knock a teacher out of a window. I remember this guy saying, ‘You talk all poncey like, dint ya?’
I had no idea what he was talking about. I found these South London kids so intimidating, they way they spoke. Fackin’ this, fackin’ that. The way they swore, woah, that hurt. I remember an old woman walking past when I said “You cunt.” And I saw her shrivel away, like, oh, I didn’t need to hear that. I would dearly like to go back and apologise to that woman.
My mum was fabulous until my late teens when she went ultra-religious. My eldest son thinks it was to do with losing her first child, my sister, who was a year older than me. Some of my kids think it was after she had that hysterical rectum operation, a hysterectomy.
That was very much the thing to do in the Fifties. Lots of women were put through that… ‘Oh, this’ll save you all those awful monthly problems.’ But I think it had to do with this deep-seated ‘Catholic girl trying to be good’ thing. Catholic guilt. It changed her completely.
I might warn my young self fame isn’t what it looks like from the outside. Oh no, goodness me. I thought the moment I had success everything would suddenly change. I wouldn’t argue with my wife any more, or my mum and dad. But everything was exactly the same. Except you’re selling shitloads of records and you’re on the telly. And now you have to really fight to hang on. Before the fight was nowhere near as hard. And everyone was cheering you on. Now you’re just competition and lots of
people want to see you fail.
Poor Rick, always trying to be the rock star his fans thought he was.
When I look back at how I behaved when we were first successful… oh dear. I suppose it’s helped me become more regimented as I get older, trying hard to do the right thing. I watched Rick [Parfitt, Quo bandmate who died aged 68 in December 2016], somebody I loved dearly, who was such a great friend, become a caricature of himself. He had this archetypal hard-rock look that people loved. But he wasn’t that person inside. Poor Rick, always trying to be the rock star his fans thought he was. The poor shit was in such a mess. To me he was soiling the very person I liked. I’d be thinking, don’t do that Rick. That’s where the problems between us came from. And he said to me once, “I’m fed up being number two.” Well that was obviously going to put a wedge between us.
When you’re in a band, there’s so much pressure to behave a certain way. I was never naturally a big drinker but all around you it’s ‘Come on, have another drink’. It’s hard to give my younger self advice about drugs. It’s one of the lies we tell people, that drugs are horrible and bad. It’s like telling the little lad who’s tweeking his knob, ‘Don’t do that, it’s dirty.’
And he’s thinking, you’re wrong, it’s fucking lovely. It’s the same with drugs, at first. But then there’s a payback, whether it’s drink, amphetamines, coke or downers. And it’s horrible. I was lucky. I was able to just give up. I had so many late nights and mornings feeling shit, I just woke up one day and said, I don’t think I’ll do that again.
Since 1991 The Big Issue has sold more than 200,000,000 copies – helping the most vulnerable in society earn more than £115 million.
I didn’t behave brilliantly in terms of women at first. I quickly realised I wasn’t very comfortable with strangers and the idea that… how can I put this… people might do things sexually that weren’t your cup of tea. I remember times in the early Seventies… as soon as you get to your room and see all your personal belongings you think, nah, I don’t really want to do this. So you’d perform some way or another, then you’d go for a leak or something, and you’d come out and she’d only gone and taken her clothes off. And I’d be like, oh no, don’t take your clothes off. The idea of nudity to me is about as interesting as watching fucking paint dry. Maybe because in showbiz the stage has to be dressed. Hah!
I have eight kids. If I’m honest I probably shouldn’t have had. As much as I love them and it’s great to have them, I’m not one of those people who say, oh I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have my children. Nah – I’d be a lot richer and less worried. I think, if we care so much about children in this world, why do we let people just have kids willy-nilly? I can see it’s a bit extreme to say people should need a permit to have children but… maybe, if we really cared. Imagine my younger self filing his application to have children. ‘What do you do sir?’ ‘I’m in a rock’n’roll band.’ ‘Right. Out you go.’
And then came the coke and all the rest of it. I had realised I was just a product, a bit of meat.
I don’t have any regrets about first calling it a day in 1984 [after the Quo End of the Road tour]. By then I just wanted it all to be over. I was coerced into doing that tour to pay the so-called debt. Which was bullshit – there was no debt that I would have had to pay. But there were certain other things were going on in my life, such as a woman, who was costing me. The powers-that-be knew that. And then came the coke and all the rest of it. I had realised I was just a product, a bit of meat. I don’t mean poor old Frannie, it’s just how it is. So they got me to go out on tour again but it was a relief to call it a day as soon as it ended.
If I could go back in time I’d like to be there more for Rick when his daughter died. [Heidi drowned in the family swimming pool aged two in 1980]. He beat himself up about that, and probably justifiably so, because it needn’t have happened. But I’d like to have helped him. And he was my friend to the end. Right up until he was dying. The medical profession do some terrible things to us to keep us alive.
When I got to his hospital room in Turkey I saw they’d crossed his feet like Christ on the cross. So the first thing I did was uncross his feet. After that I didn’t get to talk to him again because he wasn’t really there, the guy I knew. But we’d been such great friends when we were young, we’d had such great times together. It had been us and them, us against the rest of the world.
I like being old. There is something great about having experience, knowing what you’re talking about. But then I look in the mirror and I think, oh god, I’ve got turkey neck. When the fuck did that happen? But I still enjoy the creativity. My 16-year-old self would be so happy to know that he’d still be doing music at this old age. And that I wrote some songs that were… loved.
Image: James Eckersley