Tim kindly gave up his time to sit and speak with Grov and what follows is a very interesting and educational look into one of Britain’s finest acts!
One of the threads of this book is rebellion. Do you think mainstream music is an acceptable medium for spreading ideas, truth and rebellion? And do you think mainstream music has lost this idea and become corporate controlled?
I think that it has been. I think it’s in a very conservative place right now. The media has a stranglehold. You can see in the 60s it didn’t know what was going on and in the end it just followed the bands, right up until the 70s. Corporate structures couldn’t keep up with change that was going on and the dissemination of ideas, often mystical ideas. It simply couldn’t keep up with the change that was going on, certainly not with the ideas that were changing the way people were thinking in the west. But gradually the corporations got a grip. And now they’re falling apart again due to the internet and downloading. I like Pete Townsends comment when he said, “A band comes along and it starts a tribe and people get angry and express their stuff, then they get old and then a new movement comes along.” He put the emphasis on “the people learn a new dance”. He had it down to being about the dance quite strongly. I do kind of come from a place where dance is revolution for me and it’s a place where I get in touch with my intuition and get detached from the culture and the culture’s grip on my thinking. So I like the idea that punk had a dance, a specific dance, and House had a dance. So dance is very important to me. It was banned by the Christians in this country for hundreds of years because of what it unearthed and that tends to be way.
At the moment with the Simon Cowell’s and the X Factor style of T.V. it’s becoming just about being famous and a celebrity. The word celebrity does have a kind of vacuous meaning to it. It’s like a dirty word. And you can see the public’s attitude to it on shows such as “I’m a celebrity get me out of here” which is basically a torturous celebrity show … which is quite fascinating because the public love celebrities. They also want to torture them. It’s interesting to have that split of the desire to be one and also to have them hung, drawn and quartered, frequently. But while all this is going on there is some fantastic music being made and some really great bands out there. I’d say better than twenty years ago. But you do have to work hard to find it.
Your lyrics contain much Universal wisdom and very usable philosophy. Have you ever written a song and wondered where it came from?
Just about all of them. I never sit down to write a song about a topic, ever. It nearly always just comes out. And it usually comes out reflecting the intensity within me about something. So even a song like ‘government walls’ which is extensively a government song, was about my anger of living in Manchester and seeing John Stalker basically getting stitched up because he was investigating shoot to kill policy. So even though it was a political song, it was more personal about my anger. As I say I was living in Manchester and he was a Manchester cop, clearly honest, maybe too honest and it got me angry so I wrote a political song. I don’t write many political songs, probably a handful in thirty years, but they come from being angry enough or emotional enough to write it. Nearly all of my songs come that way. And the ones that don’t, come from my unconscious and I don’t even know what I’m writing about. Often I’ll find out a year later. But most of the time I don’t really have a clue what I’m doing?! I’m not a writer to order and it doesn’t come from the conscious part of my brain at all. It reminds me of a fantastic story I heard of a woman living in America who’s considered one of the greatest poets. She is in her eighties now but she describes how when she was in her teens and twenties she was working in the fields and how she could hear poems come rumbling down the hillside like a creature, and have to run as fast as she could to her house and grab a pen and paper to catch the poem. Sometimes she’d make it back and other times she felt the poem pass through her and disappear into the countryside looking for somebody else. When she did catch it she was able to write the complete perfect poem in five minutes or so. Other times she felt it passing through her and she’d literally grab it by the tail and pull it back into her body and write with her other hand as she was pulling it back, and then write it down perfectly but in reverse order. I thought that was the most example of a physical muse I have ever heard.
In the song “Pressures on” off the Wah Wah album you sing “Love is at the heart of everything.” Is this something you strongly believe?
Yes it is. But there are hundreds of words for love, just as there should be hundreds of words for snow. There are so many types of love that it can get confusing, but yes, love is at the heart of everything. When we don’t mess around with it this is an incredibly abundant planet. There is food and water here for people and a cycle which is quite remarkable, and I can’t see that as being anything other than benign. Now if you see death as cruel you may disagree. I see death as part of a cycle so in that case I do see love as being at the heart of everything. But I’ve just had a very interesting lesson where I know someone who brought up their son with complete unconditional love, in a certain kind of way. But it was unconditional love without boundaries and it didn’t do him any good. So again, love can be abused just as anything else can. It must come with a discipline. One of my favourite quotes which I used in a song is “Are you disciplined enough to be free?”
It always amazed me when I saw thousands of James fans singing along to lyrics of such tender and philosophical subjects. I don’t know of another band which has done that on such a scale, if at all. Almost like a modern day equivalent of healing ones-self through tribal chants. Were you aware that something very special and unique was taking place?
Yes! I mean I have been touched by music in the same way. There are other people making music who have touched me in the same way … from Patti Smith to Leonard Cohen. That’s what I was always interested in … the way it hit people.