We’ve got reviews in this issue of two Wreckless Eric albums that you may have missed when they were originally released, and which are now being re-released to coincide with Eric’s 60th birthday in May,
when he will also be having a celebratory bash at the Lexington on May 17.
I was duly reminded of the excitement of hearing his first single for Stiff, “Whole Wide World”, rarely off the turntable when it was released in August 1977, and me, shortly after it came out, on my way to meet him in a pub in Wandsworth.
Anyway, I walk into his local and Eric’s sitting over there in a corner wearing a white mac and dark glasses, patting the head of – what’s this? His guide dog, apparently, though no-one had told me he was blind. And of course he’s not. As I realise when the dog, harness trailing behind him, trots off to sit at the feet of an old chap in a parka, tapping the leg of the table at which he’s sitting with a white stick.
It looks like Eric’s had a few to drink, possibly more, but I get us a couple of pints, the first of rather too many for our own good, the afternoon going on for what seems a very long time indeed. I sit opposite Eric, who takes off his sunglasses and looks at me with some intensity.
“I was born in Newhaven, lived next to the railway station,” he suddenly announces, taking me by surprise. I ask him why he’s telling me this.
“Because I’ve never been interviewed before and I don’t know what I’m supposed to tell you,” he says. “Ask me a question. I’ll tell you anything you want to know.” OK. What was he doing before signing to Stiff and making “Whole Wide World”, with Nick Lowe at the controls? “I was a quality control inspector in a lemonade factory,” he says, and I wonder if he’s making this up. “But I had to leave because I was going deaf. The bottles made such a noise coming down the conveyor belts. There’d be three miles of bottles, rattling. I’d go home every night shaking, with the noise ringing in my head.”
Previously, it now transpires, Eric had also been an art student in Hull. “I had ambitions to be a sculptor,” he says. “But I spent most of my time playing rock’n’roll or on the council rubbish tip, collecting things. I’ve got a letter that says I have the freedom of the Hull Corporation Rubbish Tip.”
At art school, he was in a ’60s covers band called Addis & The Flip Tops and also worked with free jazz drummer Eddie Prévost: “I knew a lot of free jazz musicians then. I played guitar in a trad jazz band, delved a bit in freeform and that. They thought I was a bit strange, though. One day, I threw a chair at a wall and after that I didn’t go back.”
Moving to London, he got a job as part-time cleaner at BHS, followed by the gig at the lemonade factory. This is when he decided it was time to launch his pop career by getting a recording contract. “I read about Stiff,” he says, “and they sounded pretty gullible so I spent the weekend getting pissed and made this demo on the Monday morning.”
Then he went back to the pub, got even drunker and later that afternoon went off in search of Stiff’s west London HQ. “I thought they’d have a big office in a big office block, but when I got there it was only this grotty little shop front, full of these people. So I walked straight past. But they’d all seen me. They were gawping out the window. I was trying to act sensible, but I was a bit pissed. But they’d seen me, so I couldn’t go away. I walked in like a clockwork man. This big bloke came up and said, ‘What can I do for you?’ And I looked up at him and I just said, ‘I’m one of those cunts who bring tapes into record companies.’ Then I turned around and walked out.” Two days later, Stiff called and not long after that he was in the studio with Nick, cutting “Whole Wide World”. We talk a little about what gives him ideas for songs.
“I read a lot,” he says. “And I get inspiration from that. Have you seen this week’s Woman’s Own? There’s an article on Max Bygraves, who I think is marvellous. The trouble is,” he adds, “I tend to read things as I find them. Last week, I caught myself reading a copy of The Daily Express from April 1974. I found it at the bottom of the wardrobe. Still,” he says, “it’s nice to keep up with what’s going on in the world.”
Enjoy the issue…
ISSUE ON SALE FROM FRIDAY APRIL 25