You can call him Vinny Peculiar but that's not his real name. He made it up all because his real one is lame. The man behind the name is far from lame though. With an array of albums to his credit and his latest offering, 'Goodbye My Angry Friend' due for release this month, I decided it was time to throw some questions his way. Hilarious and philosophical, say hello to my lovely friend, Vinny Peculiar...
SoundsXP: You've had some mixed reviews for your album, 'Goodbye My Angry Friend'. All the negative ones are wrong, we know this. How hard is it to deal with criticism if you truly believe in what you are doing?
Vinny: Goodbye…did get a rather bad review recently in the Independent on Sunday; that said the day before The Saturday Independent gave me possibly the best review I’ve ever had. It was kind of amusing really. Either way good or bad it’s nice to get reviews as a way of gauging a reaction. I’ve been lucky in the main, critics tend to like writing about Vinny Peculiar.
SoundsXP: What/who is the inspiration behind 'Goodbye My Angry Friend?’
Vinny: I recorded the songs with Tim Browne (long time musical associate and producer of 2004’s Growing Up with Vinny Peculiar) in his home studio. I’d had some of them awhile, most had proved unworkable or deemed unsuitable within a band context. Tim and I reinvented them and tried to add a little MOR spice, Billy Joel piano, Thin Lizzy guitar solos, loopy girl vocal detours, we had a lot of fun and were briefly, as Stephen Jones so eloquently said, almost cured of sadness. The title came from a post-it note I chanced upon on Tim's notice board…he’s no idea how it got there but it was obviously there for a reason.
SoundsXP: You've got quite a few albums under your belt now, is the man who sung his first words as Vinny Peculiar far removed from the person that you are now? How has your music developed and you with it?
Vinny: Some elements remain, I’m sat here now writing lyrics for an Art Rock record that will be joyful and optimistic[I promise it will no matter if it kills me] but alas the demons melancholia and introspection seem to have gatecrashed the party! Half full is a half decent result for my glass…it’ll never be frothing all over the kitchen floor. On a personal level my circumstances are not that different to ten years ago, I have what Americans call relational stability, which reminds me I must clean the bathroom in the next hour or I’m dead.
As a songwriter I’d like to think I’m getting better, as a person I’d like to think I’m getting wiser. Both are debatable…
SoundsXP: I'm quite fond of 'Ironing the soul' myself. Have you got a particular album that makes you smile inside and feel proud?
Vinny: 'Ironing the Soul' is probably my favourite sounding VP record (Rob Ferrier did a great production number on it). It’s certainly the one that I spent the longest time working on. That said the new album is growing on me…I had another listen to it the other day. 'Egg Incident' from Growing up with Vinny Peculiar still amuses me, but I’m pretty faddish when it comes to listening back, Craig Gannon and I are still arguing over the production values on the Fall and Rise…
SoundsXP: You've been compared to lots of different people but to me you're Jarvis Cocker playing cards with Perry Como. Do you mind some of the labels that people have pinned on you?
Vinny: I’ve not heard that one before but I see what you mean, isn’t that what the scribbling trade calls extreme bedfellow technique, or maybe I made that up. Or maybe it’s a band name I just thought of, EBT, sounds charming. When we played in Europe recently I got a lot of Jarvising; Perry Como, my mum would love that. Journalists need to pigeon hole and people need a reference… I have no complaints really…
SoundsXP: Does writing come easy to you or does writer's block cast a shadow over you?
Vinny: It comes in spurts much as it did for Richard Hell. Writer's block, that happens too but I’m far too dogged to succumb. It’s the Carry On mentality…although I do question why at times, who doesn’t?
SoundsXP: Your present tour band is quite the mix. How did you all come together?
Vinny: I met Mike Joyce four years ago after he came to a club night I was running/performing at, I needed a band, he joined. Andy Rourke also joined but left in 2005 after we played Glastonbury. Craig Gannon was in the band also for a couple of years and we are still work together occasionally; the new single b-side 'Ghost Camp (prelude)' is a Gannon/Peculiar song inspired by events at Salford Lads Club in WW2. Bonehead joined as last minute bass guitar replacement for European dates, he also managed the band briefly in 2006. Ben Knott has been in the live band also for about three years and joined not long after Mike and Andy. We are currently having a break from band shows although this might well change later in the year…we’ll see what happens.
SoundsXP: Have you got a favourite poet or poem? You're quite the poet yourself.
Vinny: ‘Fire Station’ by Charles Bukowski does it for me on so many levels; I guess you’d call him a realist-type writer (oh dear…is that a pun?). I tend to re-read Bukowski a lot, he’s like an old friend, reliable and strangely moving…I also like Horses by Ted Hughes, for some reason it struck me at school and still does. Richard Brautigan’s ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’ I just love, I re-read him a lot too. Billy Childish, John Hegley, Allen Ginsberg, Roger McGough, there are many…
SoundsXP: Tell me one thing that I may find peculiar about you.
Vinny: I like watching Gone Fishing on TV, the presenter laughs all the time and has an accent like my dad's…my partner thinks it’s bizarre especially for a vegetarian but I find great comfort in it…my brother loved fishing, we used to go as kids…it’s something I could never imagine doing again and yet…
SoundsXP: There have been lots of changes in the music world recently, in particular the digital download age that we find ourselves in. What changes do you like and what changes grind you down?
Vinny: Music is so much more instantly available nowadays than when I first started getting into bands, the absolute accessibility of the digital age has taken away some of the mystique, the sense of discovery, the idea of tracking down something that speaks to you…or perhaps I’m just looking back through the keyhole of nostalgia.
I also get the idea that music just isn’t dangerous anymore, although that could be because I’m too old to be scared?
In terms of digital downloads the VP stuff is available on most of the major sites like iTunes..…this is good thing isn’t it? Or would it be better to take the Factory approach to promotion…promotion as in NO promotion? Pity that, in today’s climate, playing hard to get probably means that nobody gets you. I’m going round in circles here I fear….next.
SoundsXP: I've been reading bits of Vinny Peculiar's journal and it's all quite frank and honest. You even toy with the idea of changing your name in there (don't, it's wonderful) Do you find writing a journal a form of catharsis?
Vinny: I like writing the blog but my enthusiasm for it tends to come and go. Amazingly I get regular feedback from it which is nice, and kind of always comes as a shock, so, cathartic, yes, I suppose it is. Perhaps I should do more of it…
SoundsXP: You're like a hidden treasure in some ways aren't you? I don't think you get half the exposure that you deserve. Does it frustrate you that the media is not dancing with you as much as it should be? Shouldn't it be tangoing you all around the place? Or are you going to tell me that mass recognition is not what it's about?
Vinny: Hidden treasure, not sure about that…but I like the sound of it. I would happily embrace a little more recognition as would most outsider artists. VP is hardly a household name when of course it should be! That said I’m a realist and am working within the most minuscule of promotional budgets…add that to an innate reluctance to shove my work down the throats of all and sundry and pretty soon cult status rears its ugly head, which is not really where I want to be but I’ll take it if and when…
SoundsXP: If you had to return to one of your past jobs what one would you revisit and why?
Vinny: I enjoyed work as a hospital porter, hanging out in a little cabin, making the toast and delivering the cornflakes, loads of down time to read any given riot act…the thought of returning though, that’s another thing altogether, it’s probably a lot more structured and demanding than it used to be…
SoundsXP: You've toured with many people and in many places. What particular incidents will you look back on with fondness or embarrassment from your old folk's home chair?
Vinny: I did a gig with Edwyn Collins at Birmingham’s Glee Club and got entangled in the stage curtains as I made my stage entry, a proper Eric Morecambe moment, after twizzling around a few times and with the audience gently chuckling away I had to be disentangled by security, it set the scene and served as a perfect ice breaker, the gig was great, the club kept the footage from the in-house video, a source of great amusement so they tell me. I keep meaning to ask them for a copy…
We played a Swedish festival a couple of years ago, Marcus Williams (formerly of The Mighty Lemon Drops and Julian Cope – the George Best of Rochdale no less) was on bass, and quite the gifted comedian. He acquired around 20 large slabs of cheese from various band riders which he bought onstage, he then built a tower of the stuff during the set and between us we sold the lot in-between songs to bemused punters.…it all evolved like a spontaneous part of the act, Markus was something else, we all miss him and reminisce upon his time with us with affection…
I turned up for a gig in Stoke, I think it was. I was touring with a good friend, a Liverpool singer-songwriter called Steve Roberts, the venue was packed. Ten minutes before we started the crowd swiftly disappeared…they were all off to see Moby play across the street, there were about five people left in the place including the bar staff, what you might call an anti-climax…
SoundsXP: What bands/music are you enjoying at the moment? Does other people's music inspire you or do you look to other creative arenas for inspiration?
Vinny: I am inspired by great bands sure…although far too many seem to begin with the letter K. I was explaining this to Owen Morris the OASIS producer the other day…he didn’t get it. Bill Drummond on the other hand gets it all too well.
I love the new Radiohead album, I especially like Bodysnatchers and Weird Fishes, they seem so fused as performers, like a well disciplined modern jazz outfit. Thom Yorke is such an engaging presence and he mines the emotions better than most I feel. OK so he’s not funny or quirky but he does have something raw and precious and, well, yeah, I like Radiohead, they are the only band I’ve ever seen in an arena….I loathe arenas…so cold and corporate, awful places. Give me a skuzzy rock roll dive any day. This new record has some proper tunes on it too, a good return to form.
I saw Robyn Hitchcock on Jools Holland the other night and have been revisiting his stuff; he’s got acres of wit and wonderment, although he’s not new of course he’s still a very fine writer/performer. I love the Arcade Fire, possibly the best live band of recent times, driven as performers, relentlessly uplifting, like they’re on some kind of crusade to save us, like a religious cult; I love that about them, the look, the drama, the full on full on...
I just read Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion, which is a scientific thing, (I usually read novels or poems), but everyone should read Dawkins, he makes all the fundamentalists look silly but in a nice way, an inspired read for sure…I’m going to see him speak soon, should be good. I also love Henry Rollins, great books great shows. He’s a bit of a hero too.
SoundsXP: How do you think 2008 is going to treat you? What are your plans for this year?
Vinny: I’m writing a new album, it’s mostly done and demoed, I’m going to record it with Rob Ferrier, we’ve been doing some joint production work of late, this has led to a rekindling of our collective desire to make another VP record. I expect it’ll take a while, Craig Gannon will also be involved, it’s early days but I’m really pleased with the new songs…I’m also playing solo gigs, there’s a tour coming off April/May time and I’m hoping to do more radio sessions to support the Goodbye…release, it comes out next week [12.2.08].
Buy his album. Go see him. Make the peculiar an everyday occurrence. I have.