In 1997 you were one of the acts on Lollapalooza – a famous alternative rock festival in America – but James’ music has never been full of screaming guitars solos. Did you get abuse from the metal fans?
It was a struggle. We’d go on stage and the Korn and Tool fans would shout “Faggots” at us. So for the second night I found these spangly shirts, skirts and dresses for about $10 and thought, “Let’s go for it”. If anyone shouted faggot I would say, “I appreciate the fact you’re attracted to me enough to enquire about my sexuality”. After two weeks I’d walk along the stage and just sing to the barrackers. These fucked up mall kids just couldn’t handle it.
When James are on tour is your bus a den of drink and drugs? Or do you just sit around playing scrabble?
I hate it on the bus. There’s horrific bunkbeds and it’s like the worst camping holiday with your parents. But your parents aren’t there so nothing gets cleaned up. On the Lollapalooza we had two buses, my neck was smashed up so I had to lie down the whole time. My bus was the quiet bus, the other was like, “Wow”, none of the other bands on the tour could keep up with us.
How did you injure your neck?
I was dancing on a sloped stage in Portsmouth and I fell. I felt something go bang in my neck, I carried on but the next day I couldn’t move my neck. I discovered I’d ruptured two discs in my back – popped them.
Your dancing has been described as, “A man with one foot in a bucket of water sticking a knife into a toaster” – where did your distinctive style come from?
From pent up rage and frustration and finding a place I could put it. That’s why James asked me to join – they saw this nutter throwing himself around in a bar. Then I met a woman who taught me how to dance myself into a trance – to go into an ecstatic altered state. I can’t do it when I’m on stage but when I dance at home I can get to the stage of frothing at the mouth and seeing green men. After an hour and a half it feels as if you’ve just taken the best ecstasy you’ve ever had.
James released their first record Jimone in 1983, a time when Wham! were appearing on stage in white pedal pushers. Did you feel the need for a particular style?
No, it was the complete opposite. We were famous for not giving interviews and when we had our photos taken we would cover our faces. We even turned down the cover of NME when we were totally unknown. We had no idea about image – some of our early photos were horrendous knitwear demonstrations. We were huge fans of the ethnic folky jumper and woolly hats.
You studied drama at Manchester University, did you master the art of “being a tree”?
I lied to get into university and made a long list of plays I’d been in. I was terrible at remembering my lines. I would get parts, in Shakespeare plays, and just improvise. I once had the lead in a Machiavellian play and I learnt the first three quarters of the play but not the last quarter – each night the last part would be a mystery. I knew generally what happened. The other actors hated me.
Have you trod the boards since?
Yes, I appeared in a play called Saved in Bolton and was on stage for two and a half hours. I wanted to get back into acting to overcome my terror. I actually had hypnotism to help learn my lines. I’d love to do more, I’ve had offers, a lot of soaps but I’m not interested in that. I was even offered the lead role of Tommy on Broadway.
Are you a health nut?
I am now because I have an inherited liver disease. I was yellow all through school, I was called Chinky. When I was 22 I stopped breathing in hospital and the doctors said there was nothing they could do. That was when I turned to alternative medicine – a mixture of herbs, acupuncture and colonic irrigation.
Presumably having a tube shoved up your bottom is deeply uncomfortable?
It doesn’t hurt, it’s very gentle, the liquid is a mixture of water, aloe vera and herbs. Afterwards you feel as if a great burden has been lifted. It’s quite a high. I’m sure it’ll be the next unusual sexual practice performed in London but with gerbils wearing aqua lungs and wearing wet suits.
Like Sting you’re an advocate of Tantric Sex – where the male is supposed to enjoy an internal orgasm rather than spilling his milk – where’s the fun in that?
Basically most forms of Tantra are about retaining sperm which is seen as energy. So you have to lock, retain and have an orgasm. It’s like patting your stomach and rubbing your head at the same time. There’s a basic genetic drive to ejaculate that you have to thwart.
You’re 39 now, but in your twenties you joined a religious cult – was there a lot of chanting and coloured robes?
No, but you did have to meditate for 2 hours a day and 16 hours every weekend. I once did five 18 hour days of meditating. It was a fucking intense cult – it was the sore arse cult. It also advocated celibacy so I didn’t have sex for three and a half years.
Did that mean no “manual self-gratification”?
You sometimes had a nocturnal emission by mistake. I didn’t miss it at all for a year and a half but then I missed it big time. I obviously was meditating right.
What’s been your biggest holiday disaster?
About ten years ago I was stuck in Morocco for two weeks with terrible shits and my wallet stolen. Everyone was trying to rip me off. In a cafe I was approached by this snake charmer – when I refused to pay him he tried to threaten me with a poisonous snake but it slipped out of his hand and dropped around my neck. Everyone sitting near me ran – even the snake charmer. I just didn’t move. Thankfully the charmer stepped back into the cafe and removed the snake. It was only later it hit me what happened – I became a gibbering wreck.