Now and again we see an artist perform and think, now that’s someone I’d like a word or two with. Chris T-T was one of them and he’s back in Aberdeen on Friday night at The Lemon Tree.
Hi Chris, its been a couple of years since we saw you last in Aberdeen, at The Tunnels…? Many thanks for returning, we do appreciate artists that make the effort to include Aberdeen in their tour dates.
Hey, it’s lovely to hear from you again – I hope you’re rocking, thanks for doing the interview. I always loved Aberdeen right back to the Dr Drakes days. Also looking back, I do wish I’d played the Highlands (and more generally further afield than Glasgow/Edinburgh) a bit more often.
But, straight to the unexpected main topic, this is your last tour?
Yeah, I’m giving up this year. I’m doing these ‘Best Of’ concerts (there’s only a handful of them – I’ve got six shows left). They were booked already, before I made my decision. Then a few festivals and then I’ll do a ‘farewell’ blowout in London in autumn.
And twenty years, ten albums and over 2000 shows, that’s a fair old crack of the whip… how has it been, is it just as enjoyable these days or…?
Yeah it is a fair old crack of the whip! The actual singing and playing is still very fun, I’m sure I’ll miss it a lot and I’ll always make music for myself, I play piano every day on my own and love it. I also still enjoy driving around on my own in a hire car.
But everything else to do with the business of being a ‘musician’ (especially perceived as a political activist musician, when I’m a cis white middle class bloke) who may be really fucking brilliant (yeah!) but isn’t very well-known has got old and boring, or humiliating and drives me crazy.
And in a sort of subtext, is it easier or harder to keep being inspired, making these releases and booking the shows?
I don’t think it’s harder to get creatively inspired, I’m quite an outward-looking songwriter and the world is a fucked up place right now, which is full of inspiration. I have songs coming out of my ears.
But it is a constant punch-in-the-face for the old ego, being in a position where it’s my career but it’s so hard to reach a decent number of people, without compromising everything else.
But good ol’ Blightly just keeps churning out the reasons for the people to sing… Trump, foodbanks, shafting the poor and looking after the rich…
Yeah very true. I’ve done my fair share of that wodge. But I’d also say, if you come to believe that only direct action will fix some aspects of the problem (and your personal ideology starts to the fray the edges of the presumption of non-violence), it’s deeply risky to also be the person shouting about it. “Live quiet and polite in the heart of the bourgeoisie” or whatever the phrase is.
Do you think artists should maybe use protest type songs a bit more, to get any message from the streets across?
I think they are trying. I notice more political material, not less, across a lot of different music scenes, although a lot of it’s quite basic because people haven’t had practice in writing while looking outwards.
I’d imagine you have some followers since the early days who have grown old(er) with you?
I do and they’re the best. I’m meeting people on the road right now who’ve been supporting me so long we’re part of each-other’s furniture – certainly more like true old friends, than ‘fans’.
Speaking of old, the beard, will it be retiring also?
Ha, funny, I’ve been thinking of that, yeah. I was thinking maybe the morning after my London farewell gig, I get some glasses, cut my hair, ditch the beard, buy a different kind of jacket and try to be a Normal for a bit. Even though the Normals are fucking annoying.
I’ve sort of jumbled these questions around, but we need to know, what’s the TT about, and are the Isle of Man motorbike people or Audi your main sponsors?
My surname is Thorpe-Tracey. Also I was already signed as Chris T-T before the Audi TT came along and I wish they’d sponsored me or given me a free one. I’ve never even sat in an Audi TT the tight bastards. I have got a close relationship with the Isle Of Man probably partly because when I first went there maybe they thought my artist name was a tribute to their motorbike race. But I go most years and have some lifelong friends there.
Many of my friends and myself of course were brought up listening nightly to John Peel, want to tell us about that little 7 Hearts fact?
Back in my early years I was more the kind of artist supported by Lamacq, rather than Peel. I’d been in Magoo (Norfolk indie band and early Chemikal Underground signings) before doing solo music and they got played on Peel a lot, he loved Magoo and Delgados who signed them were one of his very favourite bands. But for early Chris T-T stuff, mainly it was Steve Lamacq helped me out on the Evening Session (back when just a few Radio 1 evening plays could kickstart your whole career).
So it wasn’t til 2004 that John Peel suddenly got into my music (I think because we put out some 7” singles). He played me quite a few times that year and supported ‘7 Hearts’ a lot. He was always a totally lovely guy. His final shows before he went on the holiday where he sadly passed away, he’d spun ‘7 Hearts’ both on his Radio 1 show and on the highlights show he made for British Forces Based Overseas radio, which is his real ‘final ever show’ and only has six or seven songs. The same morning he died, his producer had emailed about potentially bringing me in for a Session.
Were you a JP fan at the time? Did you tape his shows and stuff?
Yeah of course, I adored him. Had loads of friends and bands I loved who were his crowd, like I mentioned Delgados for example, they’re simply one of the greatest bands ever; and were hugely reliant on Peel’s friendship and support. And you don’t need me telling you the extent to which they built an industry for Scottish alternative music.
But Peel’s death was devastating for all music, I’m just a tiny droplet of that. I honestly think UK music never quite recovered: BBC 6Music does a great chunk of that job today but in the years in between, too much has changed and been commodified.
In a weird way I fantasise that the evil Cowellian Distopia couldn’t truly take hold while Peel held the line for Good Music, like a magic realist battle between good and evil, Peel was Gandalf to Simon Cowell’s Sauron.
Who were your own early influences (musically)?
First of all Springsteen, Scottish 80s pop/soul music (Deacon Blue, Hue & Cry), The Waterboys, then I discovered indie and punk, which I first got into via the riot grrl scene and (at roughly the same time) Carter USM.
And you are the #IAmSpartacus inventor?
Yup. That’s my one undisputed worldwide smash hit and it’s a flippin tweet.
Is the Best Of album basically what it says on the tin? Any previously unreleased tracks on it?
Disc #1 is the big tracks I think; my audience’s most loved songs. Inevitably there’s one or two missing because I’ve been around so long and there’s only room for 70 odd minutes but I’ve tried my best. Disc #2 is b-sides and rare studio cuts, although I’ve still prioritised songs I know people love, in lesser known versions. A fair few unreleased bits. Inevitably, I’m enjoying Disc #2 much more than Disc #1 right now but I’m very proud of the whole thing, it’s like my entire adult working life in one splurge.
One of my memories of your last Aberdeen show was your little story of a fan (possibly in Middlesborough) who’d shouted `More Bleak!` at a previous gig, not sure how I can use that to get more people to come along though. Is bleak THAT interesting?
What are you talking about? Bleak is everything! Bleak separates the humans from the idiots: if you meet someone who only likes art that’s “nice” and “fun”, run away fast.
When a new delivery system for culture breaks through, like cinema, or more recently social media and now VR and AR, everyone isn’t an artist but gets the tech starts to frantically make culture that makes the audience go “Whoah! That’s so cool!” – which is 99% shite but impressive technology we aren’t used to yet.
But the moment (usually not far behind) that the real artists go in to make some bleak, that’s when it gets value.
Actually, you’ve even co-headlined with The National?
Talking of bleak! Yeah, many years ago. I’m sometimes rude about them but that’s mainly to wind up my friends who are fans of theirs. They’re a great band, obviously, just back then, on that particular evening, one or two of them were nob-ends. Of course they had no fucking idea who we were.
Funnily enough I’ve got a big list of famous acts who’ve been lower than me on bills but it’s not really boasting, it’s more like, “look how long I’ve been not very successful!”
Can you maybe tell us a couple of favourite stories from your tours over the years that have not been heard before?
Did you know I once left after an Aberdeen gig, around midnight, attempted to drive all the way home to Brighton in one go? I got to the English border and someone had killed a deer, left it in the road right over the brow of a hill, so I drove over it, so then I had to stop at a garage to sort out the car, call the cops to remove it, and also throw up. It took about 12 hours to get home.
Any bands or artists you can recommend that we many haven’t heard of?
Tell you what, rather than recommending specific artists, I’ll plug my weekly late night folk music radio show, it’s called Midnight Campfire and it’s on local radio where I live in Sussex, on Juice 107.2 – but it’s also online at Totally Radio – and if you like it there are over 120 episodes archived, so that’s nearly 250 hours of folk-ish music radio. It’s well good – I’m always uncovering new folk, acoustic and psych artists, as well as playing the classics, so if your readers want a good source of acoustic/folk stuff, come find Midnight Campfire.
What’s the one thing you know now as a musician that you wish you’d known 20 years ago. (apart from perhaps, not getting rich)
Easy: use different names for making different kinds of music; don’t expose yourself with your own name as an artist (even a reduced version of your own name like I did). That way, you’re freer to do what you like, without building up the baggage of previous projects.
I hate trainer socks, what do you think about trainer socks Chris?
I don’t know what they are. Am I missing out? Are they socks for people who don’t know how to use socks properly? Like potty socks?
Headline the Royal Albert Hall or Glastonbury?
Glastonbury definitely (though not the Pyramid, one of the smaller stages, maybe The Park). I couldn’t give a shit about Royal Albert Hall – its just a mid-size room on a prohibitively expensive west London street.
Tricky one, your five desert island albums…
Fuck you man! I’ll be here all night. Right, let me see, off the top of my head…
Bruce Springsteen – Live 75-85
June Tabor – A Quiet Eye
Prince – Sign O The Times
Dinosaur Jr – Where You Been
Keith Jarrett – Koln Konzert
And finally, your favourite flavour of crisps?
Chris, thanks again for returning to Aberdeen, and I wish you the very, very, best of luck with your new projects.
Thanks so much for this, really appreciate it.
Thanks for your time and I’ll hopefully see you there. Still Burning.