Since hijacking the mainstream charts with 1977’s anthemic “Whole Wide World”, Newhaven’s Eric Goulden has had a turbulent ride. Riddled with alcoholism, he quit the music biz in 1980, before returning with Captains Of Industry and excellent garage-punksters The Len Bright Combo in the mid-‘80’s. After the sobering up came a nervous breakdown, and by the end of the decade, he’d settled in France, gigging steadily. Back in Blighty by 1998, recent years have seen successful tours, his first volume of autobiography (2003’s riveting A Dysfunctional Success) and now, with new LP Bungalow Hi, the record of his life. UNCUT catches him at home, chowing down on tea and biscuits.
UNCUT: Did writing A Dysfunctional Success finally close the door on a certain chapter in your life?
GOULDEN: I just wanted it finished and out of the way. I was despairing of it by the end. The honesty of the book was good for me. You don’t have to be carrying stuff around with you anymore because you’ve said it. I don’t see it as therapy, that’s more of a private thing. I remember, seven or eight years ago – when I’d first written some stuff – I was travelling around Germany doing readings and people seemed to respond to it. But then some horrible git came up to me in a sub-New Romantic costume and futuristic spectacles and said “I don’t see why I should have to be subjected to your mid-life crisis”. So I hit him.
Looking back at the Stiff years, you once told me you got disillusioned very quickly
The start of it was very exciting. I loved the thing about Jamaican records, where they’d have a basement where they’d make the records and a pressing plant upstairs and, between the two, they’d have a shop. They’d record the thing, then the next day it’d be on sale as a white label. And Stiff had that vibe to begin with. But after Jake Riviera, it all changed. The establishment moved in. Suddenly, nobody ever had time to sit down and find out about you. It was a million miles from where I came in and I became embarrassed by what I was doing. I used to try and deny all the bad reviews, but I think those people who slagged off my records had more idea about what was going on than Stiff did. For a long time, I could hardly look at the reviews – not because they were unfair – but because I couldn’t face how I was at the time.
After your nervous breakdown, you quit Britain for France. What was the main difference?
The first thing about France was, it cured my depression. I used to suffer from severe depression, then I think I started to eat better. That’s got a lot to do with your state of mind. I learned to live with myself there and discovered quality of life. French society’s quite introverted in a way. The shutters go up at night and people tend to stay in, go to bed early. So for someone like me, it was isolating. I think everyone should do it. Get away from the hysteria. The good thing is that you learn to live with yourself and get to know yourself better. When you’re creative, it’s important to do that. You look at singers choosing personas which just don’t fit. Everyone’s got their own idea of self-image. I mean, I’m a bit like James Bond in my head and then I suddenly realise I’m not that at all, it’s just a boyhood dream. I’d love to be suave, tall and sophisticated – God’s gift to humanity. But I’m white, middle-aged and slightly overweight. Bugger!
Did you miss England?
Not at all. I did miss my friends and felt really out-of-touch with what was going on. I wasn’t able to carry on doing what I do over there, otherwise I would still be there. I miss a lot of things about France. I sort of became a French person. But I don’t think anywhere feels like home, really. When I went over, everyone expected me to come right back. It wasn’t the sort of thing you did. Now everyone on TV relocation shows are going over there, without any ideas of the language or integration at all. They know fuck-all about the culture. What we have here is a standard of living, but no quality of life. That twat Blair talks about the sanctity and value of human life and it’s a falsity on all counts. They really don’t give a fuck. It’s why the Health Service is a mess, and why they can waltz into countries in the name of peace, democracy and freedom and blow people to shit, like a badly arranged butcher’s shop.
There’s a specific song on the new album – “The Sell-By Date”. Is that how you felt when you came back to Britain in 1998?
It was like returning to a country that’d been through a war. When I left in ’89, the recession was about to happen. I used to come back occasionally and see that English people were pasty, unhealthy-looking and the place was falling to pieces. It was shabby, with an air of hopelessness. Nobody had any money. The pubs were full of giant-screen sports TV, trying to get people back into the pubs. And I felt guilty for missing all that, but I had my own recession. I was doing a lot of gigs in Europe and it was kind of hand-to-mouth. But when I came back for good, I could feel it wasn’t the England I knew. So I think “The Sell-By Date” is all of that finally coming out.
Other songs, like “Local” and “Continuity Girl”, seem to be about saying goodbye to the past
There’s a lot of that and it’s the same with the music. I’ve never wanted to keep repeating the same thing, keep moving forward. It’s just that sometimes you don’t know how to move forward. I like the instrumental stuff especially, because I thought I didn’t dare do that because I wasn’t a good enough musician. But I got a cheap sampler, took things apart, deconstructed, hacked around.
“33s & 45s”, in particular, is irresistible. A celebration of your record collection, in fact
When you go through any kind of a break-up, you almost have to redefine yourself, reinstate yourself. When you come out of a relationship, you’re uprooted one way or another. And your record collection is your identity. It’s like the first record you ever bought, in my case Are You Experienced? by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Every record you’ve ever bought tells a story, whether they come from a car-boot sale or whatever.
What about future plans?
In the last eighteen months – since the last time I moved house – I’ve put out three albums and a book, which isn’t bad going. I’ve just been recording with Andrew Weatherall and Two Lone Swordsmen. They do a very humanised version of techno these days, where they keep all the mistakes. They have a randomness that I like. It suits me.