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Breaking Bad: Badly Drawn Boy on his acclaimed debut - The Irish News
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Arts

Breaking Bad: Badly Drawn Boy on his acclaimed debut

It's 15 years since Damon Gough – better known as Badly Drawn Boy – released his epic debut LP The Hour of Bewilderbeast. He spoke to Brian Campbell ahead of a celebratory tour and album reissue

Badly Drawn Boy, aka Damon Gough, is re-releasing his debut album

ONCE Around The Block is one of the stand-out songs on Badly Drawn Boy’s brilliant debut album, The Hour of Bewilderbeast.

To say that Badly Drawn Boy – aka Damon Gough – has been around the block a few times in the intervening 15 years would be something of an understatement. He has switched labels, had a few on-stage meltdowns, claimed he would never perform live again and has broken up with his long-term partner Clare, with whom he has two children.

Thankfully, Gough has gone back on his vow to quit playing live and is touring to coincide with the 15th anniversary of his Mercury Prize-winning debut.

The album will be reissued later this year and I spoke to Gough just as he was starting rehearsals for a string of British tour dates (which got under way yesterday). He admitted he was “partly excited and partly daunted” at the prospect of touring his seminal album.

“I have an all-new band. A guy called Matt, a musical director, helped me to build the band. We talked through the album and listened to it together and talked about what was required,” says the Lancashire singer-songwriter.

“I played One Plus One Is One live in its entirety when it came out, but with this it’s more of an event because the album is 15 years old now and I felt like doing it a different way.

“I’ve been too busy with life, so this way – getting hired hands – was the easiest way to do it. The guys have had to learn the first album and a bit of the back catalogue, but they’re cool guys and very talented. The plan is to do two hours at these gigs; the album and then an hour of other stuff.”

The Hour of Bewilderbeast features 18 songs and Gough admits a few of them needed more attention than others in rehearsals. “There are a few songs I’ve not played for ages. I think I might have only done Say It Again once before and I actually really like it. I can’t remember the chords so the band will have to teach me,” he laughs.

“And it’s a long time since I played [closing track] Epitaph. But it should be interesting. It was my first attempt as a songwriter to make an album and it went surprisingly well. I wanted it to be like a story, a song cycle, and that’s what it became. So it lends itself to being played in one go; it’s almost like a theatre piece.

“There are certain songs from Bewilderbeast that people like and that I couldn’t have done a gig without playing. Like Once Around The Block; I don’t think I’ve ever done a gig and not played that.”

Bewilderbeast features a staggering mix of musical styles and it remains an exceptional album 15 years on. Gough has always been a huge Springsteen fan and the album features many upbeat and rockier tunes (Another Pearl, Everybody’s Stalking, Cause a Rockslide) but it’s the stripped-back, delicate and uber-melodic tunes – such as Magic in the Air, The Shining, Stone on the Water and the instrumental Blistered Heart – that made it such a classic.

“As long as I’ve got a piano, Magic In The Air is one I always like playing. I originally wrote that to a drum loop. I sampled the drums from Superstition, the Stevie Wonder song, but then I reverted it back to piano.”

Bewilderbeast won the Mercury Prize for album of the year in 2000 ahead of nominees including Doves, Leftfield, Richard Ashcroft and Coldplay. It was released on the same date that year as Coldplay’s debut Parachutes.

“Winning the Mercury was something I couldn’t have predicted and it’s something to be proud of. It was unbelievable,” says Gough. “The album took a while to make. I worked with several producers and suddenly it came together. It’s like a mix-tape.

“I remember finishing the album and I thought it was rubbish. I was devastated. I’m a Springsteen fan and when he did Born To Run, that was his make or break album and he said one day he hated it and one day he loved it and I know how he felt. It’s just that anxiety of releasing your work into the world.

“It’s a song cycle largely about Clare, the mother of my kids. It was about trying to get off with her, really. My ineptitude when it came to my prowess with women was legendary; I couldn’t get off with my shadow at the time,” he laughs.

“A lot of my writing is about wearing my heart on my sleeve. I sometimes find playing gigs difficult because of the personal elements to a lot of the songs. I often feel like I’m a massive contradiction because I’ll be a bit of an idiot on stage and talk a lot of nonsense and then I’ll play a song that’s dead heartfelt.”

The most recent Badly Drawn Boy studio album was It's What I'm Thinking Pt.1 – Photographing Snowflakes (2010), a great but under-rated record. Gough is also known for his 2002 soundtrack to About a Boy but he admits that his debut is “special”.

“It’s special because of the memories it conjures up and how I felt at the time. I’m so grateful that so many people took that album to their hearts over the years.

“Now I’m quite excited about what I do next. If anything, I’ve got too many ideas. Part of the reason for re-releasing the first album was to give myself a bit of a kick up the backside to get back to writing and recording.

“I’ve let it slip a bit for the last three years. I broke up with Clare. We’re still on good terms but it’s been a massive change in my life. And it’s ironic now that the album’s coming out again and we’re not together, because it does largely represent our relationship. And I’ve acknowledged that I’ve had depression, so it’s been tough.”

He says the plan is for the Bewilderbeast reissue to come out in September and he hopes to announce Irish gigs too.

“We had planned to begin this tour with Irish dates but something went wrong, but we’ll hopefully add some dates on later in the year,” says Gough, who has roots in Co Roscommon.

“If there are people there that still care, I’ll definitely come back.”

:: The Hour of Bewilderbeast will be reissued later this year. For tour updates, visit BadlyDrawnBoy.co.uk

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