When the dust settles on the career of The Streets’ Mike Skinner, it’s unlikely that he’ll go down as one of Britain’s greatest pop stars.
What certainly will be the case though, is that Skinner will be thought about as one of the country’s most charming and likeable musicians. Honest to the end (we suspect he’d happily admit that the albums that followed his classic debut Original Pirate Material and superb follow-up A Grand Don’t Come for Free weren’t of the same quality as the records that came before them), and with an eye on the underground that fame’s never diminished (last year he got Superisk in The Guardian, played TRC and Julio Bashmore on his FACT mix, and tapped up Damu to remix his last single), Mike Skinner is quite frankly mint, and something of a national treasure.
Last week The Guardian posted a video of Skinner reading from his forthcoming memoirs, and this week they’ve followed it up with a lengthy series of anecdotes from Skinner’s life. We’ve highlighted some of the juiciest below, including Skinner on why he hates Aphex Twin, how he was getting so hammered every gig that even Paul Oakenfold told him to calm down, and Daniel Bedingfield using the phrase “see you in the charts”.
“My first proper gigs were at the Reading and Leeds Festivals on the August Bank Holiday weekend of 2002. I’d done a couple of calamitous trial runs in Dublin and Belfast, where I “nearly died” twice on Take That’s old tour-bus (puking in your sleep tends to alarm roadies out of all proportion because it’s claimed so many of their number), and one semi-secret warm-up show at Hammersmith Working Men’s Club. That night, Damon Albarn from Blur came up to me after the gig, put out his hand and said: “Welcome.” It was one of the funniest things that happened in my whole career. Basically it’s all been downhill for me ever since that moment. (I think everyone who’s ever got anywhere musically has at least one of these stories. I’ve been working with Rob Harvey from the Music a lot recently, and his was that while they were mixing their first album, Daniel Bedingfield was working in the next room. He burst in to see them, doing a bit of beat-boxing and bouncing off the walls like he does, then left just as suddenly, saying: “Well, I guess I’ll see you in the charts.”)
“Paul Oakenfold sent a blunt note to my dressing room once that said: “Calm down.” This is a veteran of Primal Scream and the Happy Mondays, so if he’s telling you that, you know you’ve erred on the messy side. We had the same live agent for a while, and we were both playing the Miami dance music convention. I was onstage first, completely annihilated, shouting at all these beautiful American dance fans with dummies – or “pacifiers”, as they call them – stuck in their mouths.
“There were probably only a couple of nights where it went totally Joe Cock-eyed. One weekend in Amsterdam when I totally lost it ended up being the starting point for the third album. As if that’s not a sufficiently permanent record of the kind of state I got myself into, the whole thing was also preserved for future generations on video. Dizzee was on before me, and I’d fallen asleep in a drunken stupor under the stage. By some fluke, my subconscious woke me up during his encore. I didn’t really know where I was, but by the time they’d sorted out the changeover I’d somehow found my way upstairs to the stage. Then someone handed me my microphone. I was just spinning around and lying on my back and being completely incoherent. I remember wandering round the festival afterwards and people just telling me: “That was absolutely awful.” The Dutch didn’t really get it, and I couldn’t blame them.
“It’s amazing how many of the fundamental issues of life come down to threes. From how many primary colours there are, to the tally of numbers in the humble drug-dealer’s basher I swapped my iPhone for. People have done economics tests where someone will have a stall selling jam and if they have five flavours, they don’t sell nearly as much as if there’s three. Five is too much choice. Three is just the right amount. De La Soul weren’t messing about when they sampled that song about it being the magic number. I’m not saying the sales figures of my five albums absolutely support this theory, but let’s just say that if my record company had decided to set me free after number four, I couldn’t really have blamed them.
“I have been quite shocked at the extent of some of the antipathies I’ve witnessed backstage, and the identities of those involved. For instance, Blur and Oasis had nothing on the Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx. I’m good friends with both parties so I find it hard to understand why they don’t get on better, but I suppose the Chemical Brothers see themselves as being very serious, so Basement Jaxx get on their nerves by being a bit too frothy for their tastes. The latter duo are a mild-mannered pair who wouldn’t say a bad word about anyone, but the Chemical Brothers don’t seem to like Massive Attack much either, and no one could accuse 3D and Daddy G of being frothy.
“Don’t get me started on the Aphex Twin, though. He’s an absolute knob-jockey. I’m not generally one for speaking harshly of other musicians, but he’s been quite vocal in his distaste for the Streets over the years, so fair’s fair. I don’t normally mind people not liking me, but people who don’t like me who are absolute shit, I do have a problem with. I spent the entire evening cussing him over the PA at a German festival called Melt once, after he came onstage with about 20 disabled people playing netball in wheelchairs. I realise that on paper this might look like quite an impressive spectacle, in a Spinal Tap kind of way, but to those who were actually there, it just felt really wrong.”
You can read all of the anecdotes here. You really should, in fact.