Baxter Dury: “I’m just a ponce from Chiswick”
An interview with the heroic Baxter Dury about his brilliant new collaborative album 'B.E.D.' and why it's "just a bloke nattering on over an 80s drum machine."
Here’s the salamander. The sausage man. The shadow licker. The tiny little ghost that features in your despondent moments. Here’s Baxter Dury, the man who’s words get inside your head and mess with you world when you hear them, and many heads and worlds were messed with earlier this year when Baxter finally had a break-over album with ‘Prince of Tears’, which was pushed blinking into the daylight by the single Miami, which dropped lines like this into family breakfasts:
I’m the turgid fucked-up little goat
Pissing on your fucking hill
And you can’t shit me out
‘Cos you can’t catch me
‘Cos you’re so fat
So fuck ya
There was something about the character he inhabited on that record, and the image of him in a white suit stumbling through the desert on the artwork, that tickled people in the right way. Here was a crumpled man out of time, a shining knight of decadence and accidents, such a character that he can only be real. There was something about Baxter that was such breath of foul air in these puritanical times where we’re all treading on egg shells lest we offend the sniffing preservers of social decorum with a tweet two degrees off the consensus. Chaos is still closer to the truth of most of our off-line lives, is it not? Well, if not, at least we have Baxter to live through for a taste of what it’s like to admit shame, spout regret, grasp for grand romance, recoil back, mutter something inaudible to yourself, stroke a stubbly chin and avoid your own eye in the mirror. Only Baxter is allowed to be human anymore, on record at least.
All of which is nearly beside the point.
Baxter Dury has a new album out! It’s called B.E.D. and isn’t a solo album, but is the battered fruit of a couple of years of long lunches and short studio sessions in Paris with French dance music maker Etienne De Crecy, and London punk samurai Delilah Holiday. As you’ll see below, Baxter likes to play down things, and according to him it all came together almost by accident, which may be true, but it doesn’t stop it from being an exceptional record with De Crecy’s sparse electro disco providing surprisingly effective counterpoint to his familiar drawling Beat spoken-rap. According to the Baxter in the press release it’s a concept album about a short and bittersweet affair in Paris, although the Baxter we speak to disagrees. Which one’s telling the truth doesn’t really matter, it certainly works as a short tale of attraction, muddied feelings and a half-cut morning-after Eurostar ride-of-shame, one in which Delilah, playing the woman involved, has as much of a say as the man himself. Never ones to let a good man rest, we spoke to Baxter to found out more about the album, and, truthfully, just to hear him speak – he didn’t disappoint. Why would he? He’s the urban goose. He’s Mister Maserati.
How did this album come together after Prince of Tears?
It was just a lull in time after doing that record. We were just pissing around. It was borne out of idleness more than anything.
I was in Paris quite a lot, I’m not sure quite why but I was. And I was an acquaintance with Etienne – he has a studio so it all just made sense. We ate lunch and piddled around and it grew out of that. There wasn’t any great agenda or philosophy behind it, we just politely steered something toward a finishing point. That’s all it was really.
I always have a kind of austere set of rules where there’s not meant to be a lot of music in the songs – he adhered and we met in the middle somewhere. He didn’t do 4am stimulating arousal music, which is his thing, but I did my monotone, self-obsessed monologue, so it was just a normal day for me.
It just emerged organically?
Yeah we didn’t think about it that much. When you take away yourselves you let it happen and don’t worry. I didn’t think about the record that much, but I played it at an office party at Heavenly and they’re enthusiastic people and they went yeah its amazing. And I was like ‘What? Ok…’ so that’s where it happened.
I thought it was just fun, but we always had the intention of putting it out. I’m not downplaying it, I think it’s really good, but I think it’s good in its innocence.
Do you worry about opening up yourself on these songs?
Not really. I don’t have an honesty filter I just say things as they are and I can’t help that. Maybe it’s a musical Tourette’s thing. Musically I confess, that’s really what it’s about. I find if you start talking about the mystery of it, tigers and mountains, the mysterious thing, I get bored. It has to come down to a Ken Loach level of reality for me. The glamour and mystery of a song meets the smell of real life – that’s what I’m interested in or what I’m good at. So that’s what it’s meant to be. It’s just a bloke nattering on. And someone’s sat next to him and pressed play on an 80s drum machine. Basically.
And there was a third party.
Deliliah’s really good. She changed the game. She’s pretty cool in gold trousers from north London and young, still attached, still running shit. She changes it. She’s cool. She turned up and didn’t say much then you realise she’s quite a presence. She’s got an amazing voice in the sense that she’s like an actress, it’s got a lot to it without trying hard.
There’s a tendency for French people and people like me tend to use a female backing vocal as an instrument and make it quite anonymous and she changed that thankfully because I think it’s quite a dated thing to do.
How did you find collaborating when it’s usually your solo thing?
The musical bits are really good because they’re fun and I’m like a child with it. After that it can be quite tricky because you realise you have created something collaboratively and it’s not totally my thing. That stops you in your tracks. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just complicated. You can’t just do what you want with it, you have to think about other people. I’d like to play it live but I don’t think Etienne would like to. So we’re in a conflict, which is a bit of a shame.
Are you not doing shows then?
I don’t know, it depends what happens next in our negotiations. It’s complicated. It’s what it must be like being in a real band. It’s a shitload of fucking compromises and negotiations and that’s quite uncomfortable. Never had to do that before.
Being in a band has never appealed to you?
No. Really no. I don’t understand it. I’m the guy who is in an entitled position. I don’t understand that process. ‘What do you mean you’re sensitive? What the fuck’s that mean?’
But then its also really interesting having a young person on board who has a whole new view of the world. And these old blokes. Especially an old Latin French bloke and me – you’re like, ‘shit man, we’ve got a lot of updating to do.’ And that’s quite good I guess.
What do you have to update?
Just everything. I tried to dress up for the photo shoot, but you’re not allowed to do that anymore. I’m not against that, it’s just interesting that everything has changed.
First song on the album is called ‘Tais Toi’ – is that “shut up”?
Yeah it means shut up. It’s the only French I know….
I thought you spend quite a bit of time there?
Yeah I do. It’s still the only French I know.
Can be quite useful I suppose.
I’ve never used it outwardly. It’s only been used on me.
What was your approach to that song?
Like everything – I just winged it off. He came up with the melody, she sang it, it was easy. He had a few beats already which I picked up on and stripped back what I call all the arousal noises which DJs like to use. High frequency arousal noises. They don’t really appeal to me. And then just did my old usual mockney schtick, based on a kind of true situation. It was very instinctive, very quick songwriting. It’s not thought about that much, and that’s where anything good about it is..
Do you have a notebook full of writing to go from?
No – I never write anything down. Maybe the odd bits and bobs but I’m much better at instantaneous words – I find it better that way, I find it more interesting. Because if you start thinking about it too much, trying to rhyme interesting words with other interesting words, when you start becoming this person that you think is wordy, and you construct stories based on the words you think you know. And you can really sense stories orientated by words, y’know, its awful. You start writing songs like you’re writing a James May novel, you sound like James May, fucking awful.
So I find this more beat poetry thing sometimes works, though sometimes it doesn’t. But I don’t know where it comes out of.
You just do it straight off the bat?
Quite a lot of the time yeah. I can just wing em out. I don’t know where they come from, it’s pretty weird.
There’s a great noise you do on it, a kind of a clock of the tongue.
You know [does it] like that. Not a tut, it’s a [clock].
Oh really, I don’t know what that is. Well that sort of stuff you can never make up, you could never do that again. I did this other song, the biggest song on the last album, ‘Miami’, was totally a demo, me just splurging this stuff. The longest thing that took to record on the whole album, more than the strings and everything we did, was me trying to get that again. It was so fucking hard. I spent four days on my own in the studio. Big posh studio. Just piecing that together, trying to get every little bit. The way I’d randomly said something. It was just insane. The weird burrows of the rant that I did. Not to suggest I’m smart, clever or anything, I’m just more weird.
But this album was good, it was a nice process. I have no idea what it will achieve or if whether it’s meant to achieve masses, do you know what I mean? It might be meant to just sit there comfortably
It’s good to hear honesty on a record and some real human relations when everything is so puritanical and virtue signalling.
I kind of got inspired into doing this just because I became pals with Jason from Sleafords. And I thought that’s a good linear way of doing something. So I sort of nicked his idea. But I’m much more in a softer space than him. I’m talking about something different, a bit more self-obsessed, while he’s on a soapbox. He’s on about something much harsher, I’m just a ponce from Chiswick. But I got inspired in doing this, based on him, really.
Because of the characters you play in your songs do people have certain assumptions when they meet you?
I think people think you are a dark sorcerer with bags of opium but unfortunately I’m not. You create a character don’t you? I’m opium Rasputin meets – I don’t know. I’m not that but its good fun to pretend to be that for that time. Maybe people are let down by how normal I am.
Do you find you now get yourself involved in certain situations because you might later get a good song out of it?
I think there’s positive and negative price to my lifestyle. I’m not in a transitory poetry world, I live quite a stable life, but I’ve never quite settled down, I like to keep some kind of adventure going. And I’m really interested in the world, and I’ll re-dramatise it all, it’s not all true, actually most of its bullshit. I just see everything in a fantastical way.
That’s quite a romantic thing to do…
That’s what I’ve learned, that I’m quite romantic. I like the contradiction of the romantic flawed person. It’s very French, it why the French like it. Although their version of it is very outdated, the Serge Gainsbourg crumpled face type. A bit fucked up. You can’t model yourself on somebody like that, but there’s a certain interest there.
There’s lots of talk about men and masculinity changing, do you think that’s true?
Yeah, I think the important bits will stay, I think the revolution washes away all the unnecessary things. People getting stuck in lifts with horrible geezers has to be seriously thought about. If your idea of masculinity hides bad behaviour, allows people to get away with things that they shouldn’t, absolutely it needs to be redesigned. My main concern is not if I can be a lad still, it’s whether people can feel safe. That’s what’s important. There’s no justification for any of the other stuff.
You have a teenage son – how has fatherhood changed you as a person?
Well there is no other person. You are that person. If you don’t have children you get rubbish scarves, and wear rubbish clothes, and you look like a nob. You’ve got too much time on your hands. You wear big European scarves. You look like a prick. And becoming a dad just stops you becoming that.
My son and I live together. He’s sixteen doing his GCSE’s and it’s a fucking nightmare. But he’s funny. And I’m fucking grateful for it. There’s definitely a duel life, but I’m not letting him follow me – my hip bohemian life isn’t an entrance for him to join that. I’m not having it. So it’s a bit confusing for him. Because I’m relatively strict. I’m like ‘Nah, I’m not having that.’I want him to do his GCSEs.
Do as I say not do as I do?
Yeah definitely. I mean, I’m not always totally right or get it right. When I say I’m strict it doesn’t mean he’s scared of me. It’s called soft resistance.
But I think it just is you – once you’re a parent, you’re a parent.
Do you see yourself doing and saying things that your Dad did to you?
Yeah all that. I’m much more of a present dad. I have a different agenda, my dad didn’t know about that stuff. They tried their hardest I’m not saying they didn’t, but this is different. I really enjoy it.
You’re playing some big shows in November, are you looking forward to them?
Definitely. Although we had two months off so we’re probably rubbish again, when we were getting in our stride. I’m really happy it’s a bunch of gigs in venues not just festivals. Cos there can be quite an upheaval getting somewhere in the corner of the world, just for one weekend date, but yeah I’m really looking forward to those, especially the Shepherd’s Bush Empire one. It’s where I was brought up. My dad played there and we lived local, so if we sell it out, which is looks like we’re gonna, it’s a real result. I’m really looking forward to.
And no shows for B.E.D.?
Yeah there is, a few little parties. I don’t know what it’s going to be like. Delilah is an amazing performer. It’ll be interesting. This weird old bloke and this young girl.
I think I’m going to nick their format of Sleaford Mods and just press play. Try and de-unionise the experience. I don’t want to do it with a load of unnecessary bods.
‘B.E.D.’ is out on 27th October. www.baxterdury.net
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