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Vinny Peculiar - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 21 / 5 / 2015

Vinny Peculiar - Interview


Manchester-based singer-songwriter and cult artist Vinny Peculiar, who will be playing our next Pennyblackmusic Bands' Night, talks to John Clarkson about his new album ‘Down the Bright Stream’

Manchester-based singer-songwriter and cult musician Vinny Peculiar has recently released his latest solo album, ‘Down the Bright Stream’. Peculiar, a former mental health nurse, is perhaps known best for being the front-man in the short-lived Parlour Flames, which also featured original Oasis rhythm guitarist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs. While that group’s eponymous and solitary album won much critical praise upon its release in 2013, Peculiar’s solo career, which extends back over twenty years, has also been the subject of much acclaim. ‘Down the Bright Stream’, which is his eleventh solo album, combines wry humour, sharp social observation and, as always with Peculiar’s work, a sense of nostalgia and yearning for the past. It opens with ‘English Village’, a hazy folk number, which tells semi-confessionally of Peculiar’s late 60’s and early 70’s idyllic childhood in the Worcestershire village of Catshill. ‘Egocentric Man’ is spikier, reflecting upon twenty-first century society’s increasing narcissism and absorption with itself (“I’m only interested in one thing,” spits Peculiar). The vaudeville-influenced ‘Antony Gormley’ pokes fun at the famous British artist, who for his modern sculpture ‘Another Place’ placed a hundred permanent life-size iron cast moulds of himself along the beach at Crosby near Liverpool (“Ooh wee, that’s the most existential penis we ever did see”). ‘The King of Pop’ muses angrily upon the death of Michael Jackson, while the softly psychedelic 'The DooKumInn' features a guest appearance from Jah Wobble on guitar and, again set in the early 1970s, reflects upon the decline of a fashion shop near Peculiar's home. We spoke to Vinny Peculiar both about where autobiography starts and finishes for him and 'Down the Bright Stream'. It is an interview, much like the album itself, that moves in a moment from a deep-rooted understanding of human frailty and failings to laugh out loud humour. PB: You were originally going to call this new album ‘Sentimental Music’. Why did it you change its name to ‘Down the Bright Stream’? VP: I planned to put a song on it called ‘Sentimental Music’, but it didn’t appear on the album. I ran out of studio time and, although I had recorded half of it in another studio, a whole different set of songs had taken priority by the time I got around to thinking about it again, so I just came up with a different title. The title is from a book by ‘BB’, which was the nom de plume of a 1940’s children’s writer (“Denys James Watkins-Pitchford – Ed). It was a great book when I was at primary school (Laughs). I was regressing back to happier times. PB: On the subject of regressing back to happier times, ‘Down the Bright Stream’ starts with ‘English Village’ which describes very nostalgically an almost perfect 70’s childhood. It is brought to an abrupt end by your decision to move away and your brother’s death in a hit-and-run accident. You were brought up in a small English village in the Midlands. How much of that song is autobiographical? VP: When I write songs I often blur time. The conversation between my grandmother and my grandfather on it as they are watching ‘Top of the Pops’ is all true (Laughs). My grandmother was always very liberal in her attitudes and like, “No, let them watch what they want,” while my Grandad was always much more reactionary - “These people are outrageous. Is that a boy or a girl? That is absolutely despicable.” My brother in fact committed suicide rather than died in an accident, but that happened years after I left the English village and not until 2001. He had had schizophrenia and he had been pretty ill for a long time. It was a long time ago now, but as you can imagine it was pretty hard on my family at the time. PB: The video for it is shot in an English village and shows you dancing in a park with a group of Morris dancers. Was that actually filmed in the village that you were brought up in? VP: No, it wasn’t. It was filmed in a place called Newnham which is in Gloucestershire. Andy Squiff, who directed it and was also the bloke who directed ‘Pop Music Football and Girls’ for Parlour Flames, found out that he could get the Forrest of Dean Morris Men to take part. They weren’t going to come North to the Midlands to shoot it though, so I went to them. We shot it really quickly. The Morris Men weren’t allowed to dance on grass. It was something to do with the insurance, so we ended up in the park. It was a really good experience and they were lovely people. PB: Why do you think your childhood holds such resonance for you? It is something that you keep coming back to time and time again as a songwriter. Do you think that it is because you simply see childhood as being more innocent? VP: Yeah, that has probably got a bit to do with it. In recent years I have been talking about it a lot more with my father as well, who has got dementia. He is in a nursing home, and I seem to be almost by default reliving the past through him a little bit. He doesn’t really know what is going on in the here and now anymore, but he does remember a lot of what happened thirty, forty years ago. I don’t know whether that has anything to do with it. I have always mined my early years a lot, but I have done it a lot more in recent years. PB: Do you think that you had a happy childhood? VP: Yeah, it was happy. There was no major trauma really. The trauma came more in adolescence (Laughs). That was harder, but the early years were fine. PB: ‘Egocentric Man’ in contrast seems to be about the worst elements of all of us and, despite his pretence at respectability, man’s capacity for absolute selfishness. VP: A lot of us a lot of the time just spend our whole day focusing on ourselves and it is not an all- together healthy way to be all of the time. I would like to think that I am not an egocentric man all of the time, but the song I think admits to the fact that we are very isolated in this life and self-preservation and self-gratification is a major driving force. It is not the prettiest of sentiments really. Ego and the obsession with self does seem a modern thing. I don’t think it was always that way. It is a comment in a way not just on my egocentricity, but on the way people view the world now for their own potential benefit. PB: You don’t have much regard for the sculptor Antony Gormley, do you? VP: I suppose I do find a degree of pretentiousness in dropping sculptures based around your own bodily image all over a beach (Laughs). Maybe Antony Gormley is the egocentric man in my subconscious. The sculptures do make some striking shadows. They have actually brought a lot of tourism to the local area. That has been quite positive, but as works of art I don’t find them particularly inspiring and I think they are there to be satirised (Laughs). PB: ‘The King of Pop’ pays bittersweet tribute to Michael Jackson. You imply that we all were responsible for his death with the lines “We killed him/We killed him dead.” VP: If you look at Michael Jackson’s life and the enormous pressure he was under as a child, he was denied a lot of classic childhood experiences. In his adult life he was not able to function as a grown adult and that led to him becoming something of a freak show, and we all bought into that and thought that it was very funny - “Thank you very much, he is hanging a baby out of a window.” He had a really indulged celebrity lifestyle and so I am sure that was the way he felt that he had to be and that was his path, but a lot of the absurdity around him was created by the public’s insatiable lust for the freak. I felt very sad when he died. I watched the funeral, and I genuinely think that he was a seriously and naturally gifted performer. PB: The album features Jah Wobble on ‘The Doo Kum Inn’. How did you get him involved? How well did you know him? VP: I have met John a couple of times, but Neil Macdonald who has a music shop in Altrincham was recording some guitar parts for a couple of songs, and he was working on them when John happened to come in the shop and said, “Oh, I like that. Can I have a little play on that that?” and Neil said, “Oh, go on then,” and so he played that. He only did a couple of takes, and one of them is slightly out of time. It is not mixed highly in the track, but it is definitely him playing it. I didn’t discuss the part with him or anything like that. It happened spontaneously when I wasn’t even there (Laughs). PB: You are playing the Pennyblackmusic Bands Night at the Macbeth in London on June 12th. You will be playing as a duo with your keyboardist Rob Humphreys. What can we expect from you at that? VP: There will be a lot of stuff from the new album, and some of older stuff and probably some stuff that I haven’t recorded yet. We are very excited to be coming down for it. PB: Are you working on another album at the moment? VP: Yes. It is called ‘Silver Meadows’. It is sixteen songs based upon my experiences working in institutions. ‘Silver Meadows’ is the name of the institution, the fictitious institution in the song collection. PB: You’re going to be playing a lot of dates this summer. Where else are you going to be touring? VP: We have got a few festivals this summer and most weeks we have got a show somewhere, mainly in and around Manchester, so we are not strictly touring yet. I hope to be doing that in September/October and to do a run of definite dates. I have got six pencilled in so far, and I am looking at doing ten to twelve fairly close together. I should have hopefully finished off ‘Silver Meadows’ by then. I would like it to come out in October, but realistically I think it will be January. I am always encouraged by the very positive response for my music . I don’t sell millions of records or anything like that, but I still enjoy the creative process. As long as that continues, I will keep on going and releasing albums. PB: Thank you. Vinny Peculiar will be playing the next Pennyblackmusic Bands Night at the Macbeth in London on June 12th with the Band of Holy Joy and the Black Site.

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Vinny Peculiar - Interview

Vinny Peculiar - Interview

Vinny Peculiar - Interview

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