Interview: The Courteeners
Published on February 18th, 2010 | Jonny Abrams
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I caught up with drummer and all-round top bloke Michael Campbell to discuss how he winged his way into drummerdom, playing table tennis in Belgium, rocking out in Japan and performing in front of Morrissey in a sweaty Camden venue…
Is it true that you became the band’s drummer without ever having played drums before?
Yeah. It was weird, really – Liam [Fray, lead singer] was doing a few gigs around Manchester as a singer/songwriter and he bought a drum kit. I lived next door but one from him and he said, “Do you fancy coming round for a bit of a jam?” So I said, “Yeah, ok”, although we always used to go round his garage anyway for a few beers before going out in the evening.
We were just playing along and he said do this and do that, and then asked if we fancied playing on Friday. I said alright then, but asked him if he was sure because it was the first time I’d ever picked up a pair of drum sticks! He said he thought it would be alright so I did it and we kept at it and ended up learning three or four songs. It just grew from there, really.
Why are you called The Courteeners?
I dunno. It might sound vague and ambiguous but if you’re a Courteener then you’re one of us!
How did you come to work with legendary producer Stephen Street [The Smiths, Blur, Babyshambles etc] on your first album St. Jude?
He heard some of our demos just after we signed our record contract. We got on really well with him and we spent a week demoing. Then he asked to do the album and we were like, yeah, f***ing too right, Stephen Street wants to do the album! It was amazing – he’s such a nice, personable chap and he loves St. Jude so it was win-win for us.
Did he have any good stories about bands he’s worked with in the past?
He was very professional and got on with the task at hand, but we’re massive fans of The Smiths and we also like Blur and Babyshambles so we kept asking him what that was like. He was very reflective about his career as a whole, and enjoying the fact that he’s played a huge part in many people’s taste in popular music. I think he was beaming with pride about that. He got out some b-sides from one of his former acts that we listened to together and we were like, you know what mate, that’s absolutely brilliant.
Your second album is out next Monday, and it’s produced by another master of the art in Ed Buller [Pulp, Suede etc]…
That was a similar kind of thing, really. Ed had apparently got wind of some of our demos and wanted to work with us. He’s got a studio in Brussels which is where we did the record but he came over to Manchester when we were demoing and sat and listened. He went to dinner with us and told us that he’d really like to do the record. So again we thought, yeah, brilliant, we’ll have some of that! We love Suede and Pulp.
He’s a really nice bloke, we got on well and we’ve got a great second record out of it. It was the perfect match. His studio in Brussels is amazing, like an Aladdin’s cave – all of the guitarists were like, f***ing hell, look at all that! And there were about 30 drum kits there ranging from late 1950s ones to the most interesting and stupid ones I’ve ever seen. It was just an amazing place to do the record and if you’re in a band then I fully recommend trying to do it over there. It’s like its own little complex – there were table tennis tables, which we all got pretty good on, it had a pool and a gym – you just woke up there and recorded. It made you not want to go out and completely concentrated your mind on the task at hand. We had an amazing six or seven weeks there.
What’s been the best festival you’ve played and why?
It’s probably a close one between Fuji Rock in Japan, with the idea of us being half way around the world with thousands of people listening to us and knowing the words – that was mind-blowing. We got treated brilliantly and had some amazing cultural experiences. The other one would have to be Coachella last April – we’d just finished a six-week tour with Morrissey, we were in the Californian desert, it was freezing back home while it was 100 degrees over there, it was a beautiful setting, Paul McCartney played – I’d never seen him before – Morrissey was there and there were loads of good bands like Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It was a perfect festival and the perfect ending to our first jaunt over the pond. It now features highly in my list of favourite places.
Morrissey has spoken of his love for you guys a few times in the press. What’s he like in person?
When we first met him, he came to see our gig at the Barfly in Camden Town [London]. We were just outside unloading our gear and he turned up and said, “Are you any good?” and we were like, “Yeah, come and have a listen.” We didn’t know he was coming. He came in, stood at the back and had a listen. We went down to the dressing room – the worst one we’ve ever been in, and we’ve been in some pretty bad ones…think of the room your boiler’s in at home, it was like that, and with a pungent smell as well! – and Morrissey came in and said, “That was really good.”
We asked him if he wanted a beer but he opened up his coat and he had a bottle of Becks in his inside pocket! He was a perfect gent – a really nice bloke, personable, funny and we got on really well with him. He invited us to America for six weeks to support him, which was a huge honour for us because we love The Smiths and we’d never been to America before. It was a dream come true. Amazing.
I just can’t imagine Morrissey standing at the back of the Barfly drinking a bottle of Becks!
He didn’t stand with the people, he stood in the lighting box! (Laughs) I thought that was well cool.
You have quite an affinity with Coronation Street. A fair few of your songs have blared out in the Rover’s Return, and apparently there was a plot where one of the characters tried to win back a girl’s affections by buying her a ticket to one of your gigs. If you had to win back a lost love, who would you buy her tickets to go and see?
The Beautiful South. Paul Heaton.
What have you been listening to lately?
Friendly Fires. They’re really good. Brilliant harmonies.