Just one big hoo ha - Supergrass interview
Once thought of as the cuddly boys of Britpop, Supergrass tell Aidan Smith how a little bit of wife-swapping and a near-death experience goes a long way
IN A hotel bar a few hours before they bound on stage and shout "Good evening, Edinburgh!" to signal the start of yet another tour, Supergrass are recalling the ups and downs – and the uppers and downers – of life on the rock'n'roll highway.
"Remember that night in Dundee when the stage collapsed, the crowd invaded and the gig turned into a big party?" says bassist Mickey Quinn.
"Gigs were always turning into big parties back then," says Gaz Coombes (guitar, vocals and emblematic sideboards). "We'd find the nutters – the nuttiest nutters – and go back to where they lived on some estate and get off our faces and then have to find our way back at five in the morning."
Then Danny Goffey makes his contribution and, as will happen a few times this afternoon, it will either crystallise a conversation, or have the rest of the band wondering what kind of crystals he's on.
"Best-ever Scottish gig? That's easy," he says. "It was 1995, 'Alright' was a big hit, and we were travelling to the festival in a Bentley. On the way, we stopped off at the place they make Tunnock's Teacakes. In a questionnaire we'd said we loved them so a guided tour was arranged. Mr Tunnock himself was so pleased to be showing us round and I always meant to go back and apologise for being barefoot in his clinically clean factory and E-d up to the bloomin' eyeballs."
Every good and enduring band – and Supergrass are now on their sixth album – needs a Danny Goffey. Someone who wears red trousers because he can. Someone who shrugs off a tabloid wife-swapping scandal alongside Jude Law (more of that later). And someone who inquires of your correspondent: "Scotland on Sunday – is that a daily paper?"
Danny's duties in Supergrass would appear to be drums and lunacy but, while he may be crucial to many of their comic moments, the others are hardly slouches in the fun department. It's easy to see why Steven Spielberg wanted to turn them into a cartoon.
"We still get asked about that," says Gaz of the movie mogul's idea for a TV series, hatched after glimpsing one of the group's zany videos. "Most of the questions infer we must regret turning the offer down, but we don't. I can still hear one of Spielberg's people telling us the group would have to be 'put on hold'. We didn't want to go to Hollywood for a year. We hadn't even made our second album and, blindly or otherwise, we were into our band."
It's almost time for another Danny Goffey moment. Supergrass were formed 14 years ago and the group are reflecting on how the music business has changed since Britpop, when they blasted out of Oxford on a flying bed. "Remember when the promo for a single would be a poster?" says Gaz, but Danny can't quite pinpoint this moment in pop-culture history. "Did we have mobile phones in those days?" he asks. Cue chuckles from the others, including Gaz's elder brother Rob, these days the fourth member as the band's keyboardist.
Did they think they would last this long? Danny says not. "Those first gigs were just an extension of our day. We still spent the whole afternoon in the pub and did some acid." But Gaz says he fantasised about running a finger down the spines of 14 Supergrass CDs perching proudly on a shelf at home. "All my favourites likes the Stones and the Kinks were bands which lasted. We're almost halfway to 14, but who even makes it to four albums now?"
The new one is called Diamond Hoo Haa and they're very proud of it, not least because it was recorded faster than any since their debut. We talk about their image; I tell them it's "cuddly". For while Britpop set Oasis and Blur against each other, everyone was supposed to like Supergrass, almost in a patronising way. "I know what you mean," says Gaz. "Our first singles had a lot of warmth to them. We've never shouted our mouths off. And people have always said this funny thing: that they like having us around."
When other Britpoppers fell by the wayside, the band started being asked to justify themselves. Why had they lasted? Why didn't Gaz and Rob fight with each other like Noel and Liam Gallagher? In one such interview, in 2003, Danny said: "We've had no big dramas." At the time, this probably read as the secret of their longevity.
But the band all laugh when I quote the line back at them today because, since then, big dramas are all they've experienced. First Gaz and Rob lost their mother, and for Gaz this was a crushing blow. "She was such a big fan of the group," he says, "and I was left feeling pretty numb. That only stopped when I went back inside the studio. Surrounded by all the equipment, I felt safe and protected. Mum would have wanted us to carry on."
The next big drama concerned Mickey who, in 2003, was described as the "reliably sensible" one in the band, only for him to end up in a crumpled heap, with a compressed fracture of the spine and a broken heel after sleepwalking out of his Toulouse hotel window.
"My room was three and a half metres up and it was pitch black so I had no idea how far I was falling," he says. "When I was bedridden for four months I worried I wouldn't be able to walk again." Then Mickey waves his stick in tribute to his surgeons. "Tonight will be my first gig since the accident."
Now all in their thirties, these four have been Supergrass for half their lives but friends for even longer, so obviously at times of crisis they support each other. Mickey describes watching a home-movie recently of Gaz, Rob, their dad and younger brother Charlie on a skiing trip and being touched by their togetherness. Now Charlie has joined for this tour to help out on guitar and bang a cowbell.
But the musketeer ethic of Supergrass was challenged by Danny's big drama – the allegations splurged across front pages three years ago that he and partner Pearl Lowe had "swapped" with Law and Sadie Frost. You sense that much as the others felt for their chum, they couldn't help sniggering.
Danny says he "wasn't bothered" by the scandal. At the time he was more concerned with trying to combat a sizeable cocaine habit. He thought the report was "funny".
Gaz: "You mean you weren't bothered because the story said you were well-hung!"
Danny: "OK, it was a silly thing to do. But of all of us I at least had the fall-back that I'm in a rock'n'roll band so that sort of behaviour is almost expected."
Gaz: "So if you were an EastEnders actor it would be more frowned upon? Or an MP?"
Mention of other occupations gets the band thinking about alternative careers, should any future big dramas bring about the demise of Supergrass. Rob at least had a job before – as an astronomer. Surely he's the only rock'n'roll star-gazer in existence? No, corrects Gaz, Queen's Brian May is one as well.
Danny: "So if Supergrass ended you could open a shop with him: Brian & Rob's Telescopes. And CDs."
Mickey: "What about you Danny, what would you do?"
Danny: "I'd start a rock club. Like in a town. For kids to get into music. You know, do my bit."
Gaz: "What, and call it Danny's Rock Club In A Town For The Kids To Help Society? Well. I'm going to start a label for young bands."
Danny: "So I train 'em up and you nick 'em? Bugger that!"
See Supergrass? They're not that cuddly. Always at each other's throats. It's just one big power struggle. But keeping the band going is by far their best option.
Aidan Smith, Scotland on Sunday - 23 March 2008