How affectionate are Billy Mackenzie and Alan Rankine, and what is the state of The Associates? In this exclusive interview Mackenzie talks about the rumoured split and how he has now grown up. Interview: Paul Morley
THE WHIPPETS have pissed on the carpet of Chris Parry's Office. Billy Mackenzie grins, a little wickedly; There's a nice little stain that should be there forever. Billy adores whippets. Good looks, he says, good personality, lively and friendly ... he wouldn't mind being a whippet.
"The Affectionate Punch is now a lot more powerful than 'Sulk', which was meant to be quite a powerful album. It needed it's right setting; before it was candy floss.
There was always some good songs and now that the spirit has been captured because of the re-mix I really like it. We always knew that given a chance we would re-do it. And here it is. A cruel to be kind album, cruel towards all the indifferent people.
What are you thinking about, Billy?
I'm thinking about all other kind of things other than Billy Mackenzie, someone who looks quite good in a magazine or sometimes quite awful.
Like I've been through the mangle, and I'm no' gonna go through my past, but I was pretty wild and roughed up. From when I was born. Scots-Irish-fucking gypsy family, d'ye ken what I mean? That's some fucking pollination.
Did you physically hurt people?
Eh, no' really, but I've got that capacity: I was always called Billy Whizz. I was always dashing off here or dashing off there. It was my energy that always got me into trouble.
There was one teacher at primary school. She really turned me onto things, helped me wi' music, and when I left I was overcome by leaving her. All the other kids going to secondary school. I don't think they could've given an f about her - but she was magic in my eyes... and there was old toughie Mackenzie crying.
In some ways physically attacking people doesn't mean that you havenae got a good heart. Being indifferent to everything and everyone. that's what I wouldn't have wanted to be like. Indifference is the real nightmare. Sometimes I'll punch someone's face when they're real indifferent. If you punch somebody's face they don't feel numb anymore.
It seems that you've had to learn for yourself what to do with all that energy. No one's really directed you.
Aye. Mines like been dissipated, I think that's the right word. I've got to have my energy working for me rather than against me. That's what I'm slowly learning to do. It's hard coping with the energy that charges around inside your whole being. But I'm beginning to like it. And people that I work with can have as much energy as me and sometimes more, and I like to help channel their energy. It gives me a really good feeling, to see other people going along wi' yourself going YES!!!
Do you still relate to that isolated dedication of athletes, the pursuit more within your own particular context?
Aye. I'm getting much more into that. I'm getting it all back again. You really need that strength. If I had this really good melody but I smoked 80 cigarettes a day, the smoking would stop me capturing the mood. When you are relatively fit things are that much easier. It's very pleasing. It's like no' being handicapped.
The dedication of a Wells escapes all the piddly analysis you get inside this context.
The zoo complicates it, the environment. When you get the 'click' with something or someone or yourself, it's just there. It's like going to a hundred of your favourite parties in a night. It's that wow. It's like people heard a little bit of Elvis Presley for the first time and they felt as though they could move continents. Imagine if that feel was always there wi' people!
For me the first thing that did that was 'Virginia Plain'. I was an apprentice electrician or something and it came on the radio and I went. What's that! It was as if I was able to grab it and meet it. It was that fantastic the feeling I got off it.
Do you think that your songs throw that feeling out?
I know that they do. I've been told. It makes me feel real good. Cos you feel as if someone's along beside you, sharing things. You could do everything for yourself. but ultimately that's no good.
Going back to the athletics thing, which I can relate strongly to: you could do the 100 metres like I used to do and then run wi' the relay team, and you could get even more pleasure from that. Cos you helped and elated four people instead of one.
Teamwork: this is The Associates. Is it the more that are involved the more that it delights you?
Aye. Cos you build friendships. That's dead important. Friendship is like another high.
Fame to me came be like Woolworths, and I cannae go near the place without getting some kind of headtwist. Nae joke... But you have to splice that kind of thing in wi' your work. I don't think it's a big deal anyway, what I am. If I was a scientist or something it would be different... an astronaut.
Before the fame some of us celebrated The associates for their intensity, abstractedness, madness, and then you arrived in the popsie context and it looked like you were pissing about, taking it light and easy. The surprise was going.
It was the only way I could get through that period If l was to have taken that seriously and acted in such a way that I thought I was important I would have been a real fucking dumb-dumb. I wasn't faking it or anything. It would have been a proper fake to have done the songs live on TV. There has to be soul there all the time, when that soul isnae there, well, it's like Woolworths. And there is a lot of soul in those songs but... I just couldnae help laughing.
We got the smiley cocker, not the difficult bugger.
I'm just like everybody else. Sometimes you cry and sometimes you smile. My crying periods over and my smiling period's over, and this is just another period now.
Y'know, between the ages of 21 and 25 males go through the weirdest phase. I seen it wi' all my pals. Like at 22 I had that serious young man thing, no posy thing, it was just the way I felt. But now I'm 25. I just feel quite comfortable wi' myself. And it's good. Sometimes, as long as I stay straight.
Do you want to rise above all the crap?
I want to be part of the crap as well in a way. Cos I just really like the potential of people. I'll always be for the underdog. Cos there's always going to be good things coming out of people. There's none of this I'm so wonderful and there are only two people in the world who can write like me, cos that's a load of rubbish, as I'm finding out all the time.
Do you find it difficult to express things about yourself in your songs?
Depends what day of the week it is: With songs they're no' about one topic, they're no' political or religious or supercilious, so I like talk around them. I'll tell you the way I'd like it to be . My ideal situation would be for all Billy Mackenzie songs to be thrilling in the way early James Bond films were when I was like seven. That's what I would like to be captured. I'd like to thrill people. I'd like to go THRILL! THRILL!... so there's nothing more straightforward than that, Paul.
Meself, Right, out of all the songs in the world, I didnae ken the lyrics to half of them. I'll pic wee things up like a couple of lines, but I don't go into if that much. If I like a song, I don't pic at it. It's left to turn me on, that's what I go for the pure high of the song. To pick me up, that's what it's about, a tonic, a medicine. I write songs that hopefully give people the porcupines.
Have you got your bearings Billy?
When I was up in Scotland, say from 16, I was always traveling about. Before I came down to London all the time I was never trapped in a horrible fucking grey city. I was like an animal trapped in a zoo. It felt horrible in me cage. I was always used to open spaces. Loads of time I felt as though I was able to jump mountains wi' the energy that I had then. Then I came down here and I got twisted this way and I got twisted that way by other people. I learnt quick to bite back.
Now I'm in a position like when I was up in Scotland. I feel more secure. I'm back to basics, no' in a Dexys manner, cos I'll go around the house in my best clothes. prancing about and feeling brilliant. I'm no fish out of water anymore. I know I've got it in my ability to give people something and that's a real topper. You're not sitting around like a big fat pig wallowing in your fame and all those supposed rewards, cos I really don't need that much. Just the basics. The sharing things surpasses it all.
I didnae need anything to make me feel good other than the porridge of it all. I don't need any fancy food. I don't want to be ignorant anymore. I want to be aware of other people's feelings. It's really good to know that other people can feel as good or as bad as you. I mean if success had happened back in 1980 after 'Punch' it would have been awful. I couldnae have stood it. I was a pure weakling back then. It was all new and exciting, but I didnae have the experience that I have now. I wouldn't have been able to take the pressure that now just goes over my back. It's experience and age. I'm getting old and hard.
But feeling groovy?
Oh aye; this is just a way to feel quite groovy. Pop music to me was always a groovy thing, and the people were always groovy. Even something like Vanity Fare. I can remember that song and I was about eight and I thought it was dead groovy. And when I was about eleven I threatened my mum that I'd tell my dad that she'd thrown me down the stairs if she didnae buy me some mod clothes. I didnae know what the fuck mod clothes were, but I had to have them. So that's always been a strong - the groovy groovy.
Was there pressure on The Associates to be an orthodox group with usual organisation?
No pressure that we took any notice of really. Nobody could organise us. I'd have to be in jail before somebody could organise me.
The hits introduced peripheral challenges that haven't profoundly affected your personality.
Aye. Sometimes I wish I could feel the wondrousness of being famous and wow-ish. But I don't get like that. I could go back to how it was last year quite easy. I can get amazed by other things, like The Deerhunter, but no' by meself. You can look in the mirror too much and go of your head.
You enjoy showing off though.
I love it. It's a great thing to do. I can be quite proud of all that business and when I was on Top Of The Pops I was definitely showing off. I was being dead Tom Jones-ish.
The name has always implied... that The Associates are Associates, that was always the course to take, work with mates. It was getting to be that there was just two Associates, and now we're getting like eight or nine, all doing different things. which is fantastic. Me and Alan have been working together seven years. It's a long time. We're having like a breather.
So there can never be such thing as a split.
It all just fragments off into other associates. It doesn't matter who The Associates might be. One dentist, ten dentists, you're doing the same job same teeth. The Associates/associates are friends that work together. For now we're probably making three times as much music not being together.
Wi' me and Alan, its always had it's ups and down, it's just that people see it more now cos we're a hit group. You just need to do different things to make you feel good. We reached a point where we could have taken The Associates up to Jupiter, but we can see too many other planets.
How do you and Rankine fix together?
It always came from the music. We always got a 'clicking thing' going dead easy. We know that much about each other that we could get each other locked away if we let it out. He's probably writing something brilliant right now...
Does that make you jealous?
No! That'll make me very happy. It'll make me go, Yes! Alan is a wee bit more business orientated than me. He's got to develop in lots of ways as well. He's not the greatest but he is really good... He's no' the be all and end all, so he's developing, and I'm developing cos I'm no' the be all and end all. So we're both working with other people.
When we come back together again we'll have learnt that much more and we'll write some brilliant stuff. To separate after seven years for some people would have been like suicide but for us it's just another avenue to take.
What makes an Associate?
Clean finger nails... no, somebody's got to be able to give a little bit of magic. They've got to be in tune on most levels and they've got to be your pal. Your mate. I think first of all they've got to be your pal.
Y'know, I get quite a lot of flak from people. That bit of fame thing, I've been the object of four physical attacks. Four weeks ago I got a tumble in my face just cos it was me. It got me right over the nose. And then I had a fight with these gamekeeper lads, pointing their guns at me and everything. I war out exercising and one of them clocked me, there's that fucking little pop star. A week before that I got spat on. I get a lot of stick.
People are always wanting to impress themselves. A bit like me, but I don't want to deceive myself.
What do you feel about Billy Mackenzie?
Sometimes he's OK and sometimes he's horrible. But he has a lot of manners.
Has he grown up?
I don't know! But I do feel a wee bit different.
Is he a lucky bastard?
Always has been. Jammy. Like even - this'll probably be a cue for other people to try and stuff a tumbler in me face - but that tumbler in my face a few weeks ago by rights should have cut my face open but it just left a little mark. I'm always falling over things and I've been run over four times but I get through it. So there's definitely a jammy element there. I just hope it continues. And the songs, they just come. They just happen. Anytime. Any place. And I'm really good at it basically.
Billy Mackenzie is waiting to see Sparks. He's been waiting since 1974.