Ex-Spacemen 3 bassist Will Carruthers returns to CQAF
Will Carruthers joined 1980s indie rock godheads Spacemen 3 and lived to tell the tale. David Roy spoke to the bassist turned author about his brilliant memoir Playing The Bass With Three Left Hands, which brings him back to Belfast's Cathedral QuarterArts Festival next weekend
"SHOULD you ever find yourself onstage playing the bass guitar with three left hands, it is usually the one in the middle that is the real one. The other two are probably phantoms."
This sage advice can be found within the acclaimed 2016 memoir from former Spacemen 3 bass man Will Carruthers, titled for the Rugby-born rhythm man's experience of playing a gig with the 1980s band while under the influence of LSD.
In addition to negotiating surprise surplus appendages, Carruthers (50) also spent a good portion of this Leeds show dodging huge fireballs apparently emanating from the venue's lighting rig.
This is just one of several amusing rock anecdotes in Carruthers's compelling account of self-destructive psychedelic escapism in Thatcher's Britain. Naturally, it's not all good times: the bassist's recollections of sharing needles while shooting speed with Rugby's rougher characters as a teenager make for grim reading, while his evocative tales of mind-numbing factory jobs and building site work put the joyous bursts of band related creativity with the likes of Spacemen 3 and the fledgling version of Spacemen guitarist Jason Pierce's Spiritualized into sobering context.
Crucially, Carruthers retains a healthy sense of perspective throughout. His thoughtful writing is infused with a dark, self-deprecating wit, making Playing The Bass a proper page-turner.
Hardcore fans can even buy the Berlin-based ex-Spaceman's memoir as a beautiful, hand-bound limited edition made by the author himself.
"I've got about two of them left," he tells me of his third book-binding endeavour, following poetry collection A Spoon For The Air and the highly recommended compendium of manual labour-related tales, A Book Of Jobs.
"They take a lot of work and they're expensive, but sure it keeps me out of the bars."
While bohemian Berlin has a long-standing reputation as an artistic refuge, Carruthers ended up moving to the German capital nine years ago for a much simpler reason, as he explains.
"I came here because you can still smoke inside. I didn't take up smoking so I could get more fresh air, d' ya know what I mean? Also, it was nicer than Britain.
"I was over here for five weeks and then I went back to the Midlands and was like, 'why do I f***ing live here?'"
He adds: "There's people I miss in Rugby, but most of them are dead now anyway. We're dropping like flies!"
Indeed, Carruthers's own health hasn't been the best of late: he caught Hepatitis C from his brief flirtation with shared needles nearly 30 years ago, with this potentially fatal disease flaring up back in 2016 while hew was finishing his memoir.
Happily, the wryly titled crowd-funder campaign Musician Needs Money for Drugs enabled the bassist to afford the £2,000 course of pills which provide a cure.
"I think it's going to become an increasing problem," he says of the Hep C treatment, which cost a whopping $90k when first brought to market. "That was the first time in the western world where the drug companies were like, 'OK we can cure this disease – if you can afford it'.
"If I was being cynical, I think they did it deliberately – because it's hard to feel sympathy for a bunch of junkies."
Carruthers's chronic tinnitus has also seen him give up the bass after a 33-band-long career, including post-Spacemen stints with Spiritualised, Brian Jonestown Massacre and Icelandic psyche rockers Dead Skeletons.
His knee isn't what it used to be either.
"I decided it would be a good idea to Icelandic wrestle the Dead Skeletons drummer after a load of grappa, like an idiot," chuckles Carruthers of his 2013 post-tour ailment.
"I tore all the ligaments in my knee. So when I got home, I couldn't go back on the building site as I'd usually do so I can pay for chips and fags.
"Luckily, there's a f***ing amazing book-binding studio here which really saved me when I needed to pay the rent."
Sure enough, this happy accident set the musician off on his current book writing/binding path as an alternative source of DIY-generated income, which quickly led to a 'proper' book deal.
"Somebody sent The Book of Jobs to [publishers] Faber while I'd gone off to Zagreb to work on Playing The Bass," he tells me. "They got in touch and told me they wanted to put it out, so then that made me a 'real' writer."
Rave reviews, reading tours and related DJing gigs soon followed, including memorable visits to Distorted Perspectives festival in Letterkenny and the Swell Festival on Arranmore last year.
The latter engagement led to Carruthers forming a whiskey-fuelled DJ tag team with Joe Greene of Belfast drone popsters Documenta at The Black Box.
"It was a riotous evening and much fun was had," the retired Spaceman recalls, somewhat ruefully. Brendan the very nice doorman politely told me to stop dancing on the tables about 20 times.
"I really enjoyed it there. I went for three days and ended up staying at Joe's for about three months or something.
"If you invite me, you'll never get rid of me – I'm one of them!"