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Interview: Luke Haines

WHENEVER THE WORD "BRITPOP" crops up, most casual observers will immediately think of the Blur vs Oasis "battle", Jarvis Cocker singing the praises of the common people, or the sub-Bowie belly-button exhibitionism of Suede's Brett Anderson. But lurking in the shadows behind the self-proclaimed crown jewels of that mid-1990s movement was Luke Haines, whose band The Auteurs was one of the first to be championed by the media as representing Britpop.

This agent provocateur's Deep Throat antics are now being regurgitated with the publication of Bad Vibes: Britpop And My Part In Its Downfall, in which the man who led The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder to modest chart success while amassing music-press notoriety tells all about his helter-skelter times as the wild card in Britpop's pack.

If you followed the opinionated musings of Haines, you'll be less than astonished to discover that very few of the era's icons escape without a spanking. Noel Gallagher, Alan McGee, Justine Frischmann, Chris Evans and Damon Albarn all get a strip forcibly removed from them, and you can almost feel the contempt flow from his fingers as he keys in a roll call of mono-monikered Britpoppers: Menswear, Elastica, Powder, Marion, Echobelly. He insists that none of it is personal. "I have to make it clear that I haven't listened to a single Oasis album all the way through," he says. "I've heard (Blur's] Modern Life Is Rubbish a couple of times, but I haven't heard Parklife. Those bands weren't the enemy, though at times they did feel like it; it was this whole movement towards light entertainment that they represented."

Haines insists, however, that the book isn't a sweeping critique of Britpop, but one maverick's vivid experiences. "It had a couple of legal reads, but it's all just opinion. I think I come out of it worse than anyone else and we have to say what we see, as Roy Walker said. It was written through my mindset of the 1990s, it's not really what I think now. By and large I don't care about those groups anymore."

The starting point of Bad Vibes is a portrait of Luke Haines as a struggling young artist with The Servants, a late 1980s band which included bassist Alice Readman, who would go on to be his girlfriend, a constant member of The Auteurs and the person who just about saved Haines from himself. Then, it was a life of demos being sent back from record companies and thumbing the pages of the music press to spot a single mention of his band. With the inkies finally taking notice, Haines began extricating himself from his contract with Fire Records, a contorted process that planted the seeds of his later psychological problems (though that mental state wasn't helped by prodigious drug-taking). Later, at the height of this mania, Haines saw spectres floating in his hotel room. "I don't think that stuff is especially dark," he says now. "It's just what was going on at that time. For me, it was my day-to-day."

As he tackled his private demons, there were also public outbursts and episodes of physical brutality. He ended up in hospital after a rammy at the 1993 Mercury Music Prize when The Auteurs' New Wave lost to Suede's eponymous debut by one vote; he broke both ankles and caused spinal damage after jumping from a 15ft wall in San Sebastian with the band on the verge of success; and he was once angrily confronted by The The's Matt Johnson after insulting the headline act onstage at Brixton Academy.

"I really don't have any regrets," Haines says. "Put it this way, there's nothing I'd do differently, but I wouldn't want to do it again." No regrets about spending months in a wheelchair, having been told you may never walk again? "I never really realised how serious it was. The doctors were saying 'you're being remarkably stoical about this', but my mind was on other things. While I wouldn't say that the possibility of not walking again was a good price for sanity, I was just reaching the point of lucidity again."

As for the Britpop movement, Haines may have damned it at the time, but is even less happy with its legacy. "The worst thing about that whole period was that, with the exception of Pulp, it kind of quashed any kind of eccentricity in British music. Britpop really flattened it all out and left us with these homogenous guitar bands. Nowadays it would be a lot harder for people like Vivian Stanshall or Ian Dury to come along. You'll never get a pottymouth cripple back on stages again, it's not going to happen."

Haines hasn't been idle since the demise of Britpop and The Auteurs. There was the one-off Baader Meinhof album followed by five solo CDs and three Black Box Recorder releases that consolidated his status as a chronicler of a peculiarly dark Britishness, revelling in the tedium of motorways, high-profile disappearances and child psychology.

Perhaps the biggest myth to be debunked in Bad Vibes is that Haines is an arch misanthrope: the book is outrageously funny. Then again, how could you take seriously someone who called for a National Pop Strike in 2001 in the same week he released a new single, or released records such as The Worst of Black Box Recorder and Luke Haines Is Dead? "Jokes is probably the wrong word, but there are certainly asides in some of the songs. Though I do take the songs seriously, I don't take myself quite as seriously as some people imagine. The reason I wrote the book was that I was far enough away from the 1990s to realise that it was quite funny." And Haines delivers one of his many giggles during our chat. "Actually, I thought it was all pretty funny at the time. Albeit in a kind of demented way."

&#149 Bad Vibes: Britpop And My Part In Its Downfall by Luke Haines is published by William Heinemann on 15 January, priced 12.99.

 
 
 

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