Si interviewed by Michael Stewart for his blog
I’ve just read Simon Wolstencroft’s memoir, You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, a PDF pre-published version. It’s a really enjoyable read about the many near-mythical figures of the Manchester music scene: Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Ian Brown, John Squire, and of course Mark E Smith. Simon was drummer in The Fall for eleven years, spending more time in the group than practically any other musician (with the exception of Steven Hanley – nineteen years – and Craig Scanlon – sixteen years). After which, he left of his own accord, unlike the many who were sacked. I met him at a Sleaford Mods gig two weeks ago and he asked me if I’d like to interview him. Of course, I said. We meet in the beer garden of the Britons Protection pub in Manchester on Tuesday 20th September. It’s over twenty years since I’ve been in. It hasn’t changed a bit. I find Simon in the beer garden drinking lager and smoking. I introduce myself.
First question. Why now?
Because, over the years, people have said to me, Si, you’ve had a really interesting life, why don’t you write a book about it? Yeah, right, right. Then I was watching Mastermind and the question was, who played drums on the first ever Smiths recording? and they got my name right and I thought, this might be the time to do it.
There are a lot of rock biographies out at the moment [as I type Steve Hanley’s has just been reviewed in The Guardian].
It’s unbelievable, everyone’s got one. Have you got one out?
I’ve got to form a band first.
The first 250 copies of the book, we’re putting a CD together. Ian Brown, doing ‘Billie Jean’, which we recorded as a B side back in 2000 and ‘Free Range’ hopefully.
You’ve got rights for that haven’t you?
Yeah, fifty fifty. I’ve had no money for it for years though.
That’s the only non-cover by The Fall that got into the top 40 isn’t it?
Why do you think the covers have done better than the original material?
I don’t know really. ‘Victoria’ I thought would have done better because they played it on Eastenders, in the cafe.
Radio 6 regularly play, ‘Victoria’, ‘Mr Pharmacist’ and ‘Ghost In My House’.
‘Hit The North’ they still play.
They do, occasionally, but it’s mainly the covers. ‘Mr Pharmacist’ they play virtually every day. It winds me up a bit. Why can’t they play original material? I guess they’re just more popular.
They’re the ones that stick out, aren’t they?
A lot of people think that ‘Mr Pharmacist’ was written by the band, don’t they?
Yeah, they do. It’s The Other Half, int it. It’s one of my favourite ones that I played on that. Not just because it was in Abbey Road. You know, the sound was fantastic. You get a good vibe off the place. Maybe because of all the wood.
The video is the one with Leigh Bowery with polka dots painted all over him.
I don’t think I’m in that.
I thought you were?
I don’t remember. I was strung out at the time. I was smoking gear for a long time.
[I checked later, in fact, strangely, unaccountably, Simon isn’t in the video.]
Did you keep it quiet?
Yeah, I did.
Did Mark know?
Eventually, he came out and asked me. Simon, have you been taking heroin? I said, what is this, the Spanish Inquisition? He started laughing. I didn’t admit it. Why should I? He’s not my school teacher. I never said to him, you’re drinking too much. Though I did say to him at the end, people are laughing at you, Mark. You’re going on stage, making a fool of yourself. He said, so fucking what. If I fart into the microphone people will buy it.
That sounds like a lot of the recent gigs of theirs I’ve been to.
More often than not, he’d fuck it up. He’d go off for ten minutes, as you know, and not come back. We’d be like, where the fuck is he?
What was he doing?
Just sat in his room. But he thought he was entitled to do that. I suppose he is. They’re paying to come and see him.
They’re not paying for him to sit in the dressing room though, are they?
It was funny when people came backstage. The atmosphere, you could cut it with a knife.
You’ve had a few battles with him, haven’t you?
A few. Justifiably. I had to give him a good hiding in Athens.
About your mum?
Yeah, terrible int it. It was only three days since she died. He’s got this thing, he worked on the docks, but he wasn’t a docker. He worked in an office.
He’s often been cited about his belief in the protestant work ethic. But he doesn’t always display it himself, does he?
No he doesn’t.
He’s a bit of a slacker, really.
Ha! He likes to think he runs the band like that. Thing is, he was paying our wages.
And he set up a pension for you. That made me laugh that.
Yeah, he got us all in with Rothschilds. Took us for a medical. If I’d kept paying into it I could have retired by now.
What do you think of his recent stuff?
There’s nothing that I think, that’s brilliant that. Not since that Corsa advert.
Yeah, I thought that was brilliant.
I’ve not really liked anything since Fall Heads Roll. His voice has gone all phlegmy.
There’s no singing, like ‘Edinburgh Man’. When he came up with that, he put some real emotion into it.
I thought it was funny you saying you didn’t join The Smiths because you didn’t like Morrissey’s voice, because Mark’s voice isn’t exactly soothing.
Well, it wasn’t just his voice, it was the whole dour image.
The raincoat and all that?
Yeah. I was into jazz funk so was Andy Rourke. Obviously Johnny and Andy were mates for years. It didn’t surprise me that they hooked up again.
What did you feel about all the court stuff with Morrissey and Marr?
I thought Mike [Joyce] was good for taking it on. That drummer out of Oasis settled out of court.
Andy took a settlement didn’t he?
Andy took a measly pay-off. hundred grand or something.
Because Joyce got a big sum?
Supposed to be about a million. I thought, good on you Mike. But at the time I was very friendly with Johnny. But I don’t see him much now. He moved to America to work with Modest Mouse.
Do you like his solo stuff?
Some of it. I’ve seen The Healers and his new outfit a couple of times. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the best guitarist of my generation. I think his son Nile’s band is a lot more interesting though. They’re called Man Made. Nile really is a ‘chip off the old block’.
I quite like that new single [‘Easy Money’].
Do you? I heard it on Radio 2 today. It’s a grower. I’m dead glad for him. I’ve seen him a couple of times over the last few years. He’s dead happy.
He’s completely clean now isn’t he?
Yeah, he gave up everything years ago. In fact, the only time I see him now is when he’s running to his mother’s from one of his houses, through Altrincham.
[Looking at the cigarette packet and the pint of lager] so you’ve not gone that way yourself then?
No, not yet. A lot of my mates have though. Andy Rourke has stopped smoking.
Marr looks better than ever.
I know, must be all that clean living.
Are you still in touch with Ian Brown?
Yeah, he’s been totally helpful with me. He’s got a brilliant memory.
Have you used him to fill in some of the gaps?
The early years, definitely.
I like his solo stuff.
I know yeah, I was lucky enough to play on Golden Greats. Not all of it. About five tracks.
In a way, I thought reforming The Stone Roses was a backward step.
Well, maybe not for the younger generation. It wasn’t just old geysers like me at the comeback shows, though I wouldn’t hold your breath if your waiting for a follow up to The Second Coming. Having said that, no way did I think they would get back together in the first place. So what do I know? I’m sure Ian will continue to come up with the goods, with his solo stuff, though.
Read the full interview here