The last thing Roddy Frame said to me was "sorry for selling out". The last
thing I said to Roddy Frame was "don't mention it". I wish I'd said "what a
strangely archaic notion."
Selling out? When do you ever hear that accusation levelled at today's top
popsters? Since the faceless corporation of BEF made big business
fashionable again the old punk ethics have sounded decidedly quaint.
Admirable maybe, but quaint. Try asking Spandau Ballet if they've sold out.
Sold t-shirts yes, sold posters, sold badges, but sold out... is that the
name of our new l.p. boss?
So Aztec Camera have sold out. Does this, I wonder, make them just like
'Gold'? The David Band sleeves are an ominous sign. The beginning of Back
on Board sounds a bit like 'True'. The group's names are vaguely similar.
But look, if you really want to know the difference between them it's the
difference between "listening to Marvin all night long" and "faces of
Strummer, they fell from your wall, and nothing was left where they hung."
But still I have my doubts. The live show was enjoyable but it was a bit
too traditional for my liking. The guitar solo on 'We Could Send Letters',
the screaming girls, the melodrama, the encores. Like a Christmas service
or something, you have a good time, your emotions surge in the right
places, and then you step out into the snow and remember you've got a hole
in your shoe and the kiddies want a home computer from Santa. Not that I'm
religious, of course.
Why am I telling you all this? I should be telling Roddy Frame.
How are you finding Warners as a label?
It's very good on Warners. Very very good. I wouldn't have gone with them
if I didn't think it would be good.
It's strange that just as you were leaving Rough Trade for a major label
The Smiths were turning down big offers in favour of them.
Yes, I suppose so, but Rough Trade were trying hard to get onto Phonogram!
At least with The Smiths.
What was wrong with Rough Trade?
Well, they can't put records in the Charts. They can't do much abroad. The
one good thing about them was Geoff Travis, he's one of the best people in
the music business. Apart from that they haven't really got much going for
them. I don't see what they've got at Rough Trade that I haven't got now at
What about personal contact?
Yeah, personal contact with Geoff. I really enjoyed having personal contact
with Geoff! Put that down! But there's no real difference as long as you
let the record company know who's in charge and don't let them push you
about. Like I didn't think there was any need to rush ahead and record a
follow up to 'Oblivious' just because it was a hit, even though WEA would
have like me to. Once you let a record company do that once it'll be never
ending. It'll be single, promote the single, do some gigs, do Top of the
Pops, do an album, promote the album, some gigs in Europe, the States, get
another single out, etc., etc. But I won't be pushed around.
Do you mind your records being hyped?
No! The music business... I mean, what is hype? Hype's just advertising.
Instead of trying to persuade record shops to guy your record you just tell
The charts are pretty much a fake anyway.
Oh, yeah! Of course. You couldn't really look at the Charts and take a
moral attitude towards them, could you? It's like trying to pick up mud and
make it clean by washing it. You know, it doesn't work, you just get
cleaned up mud. It's still mud though.
Does it demean you at all?
Not at all. I think it's wonderful to be in the Charts.
What about Top of the Pops?
I think it's a good show. I always watch Top of the Pops, don't you?
I watch it, but I don't like it.
Yeah! Everyone always watches it every week.
But you watch it in the hope that someone good might be on.
But you do like it, and a lot of people like it because they have
people on like Madness, and Marilyn and Boy George and that's what people
buy. I don't want to turn on Top of the Pops and see, well, the Durutti
Column, that would just make the programme more boring than it already is.
Who would you put on?
People who are good but not in the Charts. Say James Brown.
But it's not that kind of a show, it's Top of the Pops. No-one knows who
James Brown is. Certainly my sisters don't know who he is.
You seem to have a different audience now. Tonight there were lots of
girls with their arms outstretched towards you.
It was great, wasn't it! They were just people who were really enjoying the
Do you like the guitar solo on 'We Could Send Letters'?
Yes, that's a wonderful guitar solo! It's just a Neil Young/Tom Verlaine
impersonation. The solo's much more bitter than it is was before - it's not
as bland because the song has taken on a whole new bitterness. It's not a
nice song, it's just sarcastic. 'We could send letters', it's just about
having no contact with someone even if you think they're not far away. It's
Don't you think the guitar solo makes it just like a traditional rock
I wish I could write a traditional rock song, unfortunately the chords are
all wrong for a traditional rock song. But it makes it into an
untraditional rock song, it's not like Dire Straits. The guitar is just
horrible, that bit, isn't it?
But it's not even like a heavy metal guitar solo because it's just notes
that don't go together, it's just messy. It's a certain way of playing I
think. It's like a different style I'm developing which I'll use a lot on
the next l.p. I'm sure.
The endings of all the songs, too, it was the old r&b climactic ending.
You could do without that.
I think it's traditional.
Is that why you do it?
Well, why do you like 'Down the Dip'? Do you like 'Down the Dip'? I
really like it because it's traditional. Well, what kind of music do you
like if you don't like traditional music?
There is a place for tradition, but you shouldn't follow it blindly.
I just flaunt it, but it's not tongue in cheek like Martin Fry. I actually
like these kind of song endings. I'm just a music fan, really.
No! A music fan, it's a different thing. Old musos talk about Can and Faust
and Diversion. I talk about getting the new Clash record and wondering if
I'll like it.
But you don't think that with these big endings and long guitar solos...
I think people will take it in different ways, but they take it!
But isn't it battering a point home when saying it subtly would be more
We still say it quite subtly. We obviously just disagree about certain
points in the concert. It doesn't really matter.
Scott Piering of Rough Trade said you wanted to do an instrumental l.p.
Do you still want to?
You spoke to Scott and he said that? I don't know where he got that! I
wanted to do some instrumental songs, but not an l.p.! That would be a real
bore! It would be just like Durutti Column!
You seem to have an obsession with hippies. What's that all about?
It's just because I am a hippy! Nah! I just sort of quite like hippies in a
way and they've got a wee bit of character about them. They usually dip
into a few things.
What about drugs then - given that you're just a hippy?
Well, I don't think hippies are the most druggy people. A lot of hippies I
know are just like very undruggy people - "Oh, no, man. It might upset my
biorhythms!" But the Pistols just lived on dope and speed and fucking
smack. Steve Jones was a junkie, Paul Cook was a junkie, Rotten was a junkie.
Who do you write your songs for? Yourself or the listener?
I write them and I think if they please me they'll probably please the
listener, but I set my standards fairly high because I think people that
come and see me have got fairly high standards.
Does it matter to you that the audience gets the right idea from your
Yeah, it matters more now.
A lot of the songs seem very personal.
Yeah, that's what I mean, it matters more now. Not that I avoid the sort of
personal - feelings and emotions - it's just that now I put them over in a
more articulate way. Just that I smarten up a bit.
Are you bothered if your songs are popular?
I don't think I'd put records out if I didn't want them to be popular.
Do you worry that by trying to write popular songs you might risk
appealing to mass emotions or bland sentiment? You might fall into using
Manilow style cliches?
Oh yeah, but I love cliches, but the only cliches I use are good ones, and
people use certain chord progressions because they find they work, they're
traditional and it's music and you should use that.
Isn't that lazy?
Well, it depends - I'll only sing something which I do believe is worth
singing. I mean, if I can seriously go out and sing a lyric which is really
like Barry Manilow, if I truly believe I can go and sing it... If I truly
go out and rhyme 'musn't grumble' with 'apple crumble' then I'll do it. As
long as I believe it then that's fine. It just depends on whether I do
agree that apple crumble is quite important, worth a mention in your song.
You seem to have a good rapport with your audience.
Yeah, I sometimes wonder about that. Usually at a concert you just hear
sort of cheering, band and then the next song. We get a bit of clapping and
then everyone's shouting "Hey Roddy, do this, " and they're always really
cheeky as well. I must just look vulnerable, like the sort of person people
would like to accost!
How long will you carry on being a rock 'n' roll star?
Until people decide that I'm not one any more, I'm not one yet. But I think
I deserve it more than a lot of people. I think we've got a lot better
attitude towards it. The band's a lot more genuine than a lot of bands.
That's important still.
But that's like what we were saying about Top of the Pops, all the bands
But you don't make money from Top of the Pops, you just get a sore back
from standing up all the time. But I mean it is a good show. The night we
were on Madness were on, and Feargal Sharkey and the Assembly were on. He
was great, it was great! It's a good pop show. I'm sorry it's conservative,
but the whole country's conservative. I'm sure Top of the Pops is more
important to people than mass unemployment and the Irish problems.
Do you think politics might creep into your words?
They won't creep in. If they come in they'll come in. From the heart.
What's the line you sing about the red flag?
It's just like saying that communism is good. Communism's a lovely idea.
It's probably as much an ideal as falling in love with the most beautiful
woman in the world and living happily ever after without any arguments or
any nastiness getting in the way. People fall in love with an ideal.
So your next album will be called 'Problems with Communism'.
No, the next l.p. will probably be called, eh... 'Fuck Me.'
That's a catchy title. Finally then, what do Aztec Camera add to the
Occasionally on stage we add magic to the world.
What sort of magic?
There's only one sort of magic. Alchemy. The wonderful transportation of
all base emotion into one little thing.
What would you like your final words to be?
I've had a good time!
I rest my case there, your lordship. Now Roddy's a fine man and a talented
writer, but - bearing in mind that Mark Knopfler is producing the Aztec's
new l.p., and that Dire Straits' live album was titled 'Alchemy' - I won't
go expecting miracles.
Another old punk priniciple: if I want good songs, I'll write them myself.