Max Bell interviews Billy Mackenzie, Great British vocalist as The Associates return with 'Love Boat'
As lead singer with The Associates, Billy Mackenzie has long been at the forefront of great new British vocalists.
His experimental style, fashioned with Alan Rankine until their split, resulted in a string of memorable singles from the Bowie-esque 'White Car In Germany' to pop classics such as 'Party Fears Two' and '18 Carat Love Affair', which indicated the commercial range of Mackenzie's talents.
After a year of inactivity in 1983, during which Billy was involved in wranglings with his record company, he has emerged revitalised with the recent hit 'Those First Impressions' and the new single 'Love Boat'.
While it's unlikely that Mackenzie's wild man of rock image has completely deserted him, he now appears to be both lucid and confident about his future - as I found when we shared a bowl of Pedigree Chum and a couple of stiff malts by the banks of the River Tay.
"It was typical that Alan (Rankine) and myself split up at a time of success. The trouble was that we'd spent all our emotions and needed a fresh communicative bunch of people to work with.
"We might get back together, but it's unlikely. If I fall out I fall out. I know it's bad to hold grudges.
"It wasn't really Alan's fault, but I just remember the horrid things so I take it out on him. It was great until people started whispering behind our backs, 'I don't like Alan' or 'I don't like Billy'. I wish they'd shut their mouths.
"I don't feel bad about keeping the name Associates because it was my idea. When I met Alan in Edinburgh he had a lot of ideas that needed shaping, so I smashed up several of his records and said 'Listen to these instead'. At least he did like Donna Summer. It'd be too cruel to say what I broke!"
RADIO TEL AVIV
"I first started singing in the Cubs. We threw a pensioners' party when I was seven and I sang 'Eidelweiss'. Shortly afterwards I was thrown out for cheek.
"I resumed singing at school thanks to a teacher we had who I was madly in love with. She was a real swinging '60s type who let us sing folk songs instead of doing maths.
"Later I'd sing along in the bathroom too to Radio Tel Aviv, turn the dial to anything weird.
"I've had no formal training. I string along words that have continuity and rhythm something to do with euphonics. The shape and sound of vowels interests me.
"The lyrics are laced with humour, but they are usually about disillusionment, an emotion I've experienced a lot!
"I ran a clothes shop and did my own fashion design in Dundee in 1976. The shop had pre-Bat Cave style leathers and '50s spiv suits; fashion as fun.
"Then I discovered that my friends were stealing from the shop."
ARROGANCE GIVE UP
"I like a lot of my newer stuff, like 'Those First Impressions' and 'Love Boat', because 50-year-olds can relate to it.
"I've been getting on better with people of that age. They've been through it all so they give you that piteous look. Getting older rids you of pretensions.
"I'm 27 now and I hated being young."
"The Wild Man image the press painted was rubbish. I just enjoyed myself at a time when it seemed no one was enjoying life. It was all gloomy Joy Division, sit in the corner and slash your wrists.
"I'm up for a laugh and a few drinks - which the press interpreted as a self-destructive habit. I love drinking but after a two-day binge I'm a zombie. I get riotously drunk. I'm a blitzer.
"One result of that image was that WEA thought I was a piss artist, not a good professional investment, so I had trouble with my album last year.
"They understand me now which is good because Scotland needs artists like me to promote the country. The people are so poor there and it's that damned cold it defeats them sometimes.
"Perhaps that's why Scottish people channel their creative energy into being snappy.
"I'm very patriotic."
"I spend most of my time at home in Dundee. I like fresh air and the outdoor life.
"Me and a few pals have got a whippet club, we train them in the hills every day. The dogs run over a course after an electric car battery with an onion bag attached.
"You have to treat them like little race horses - only give them so much greens or chicken at mealtimes.
"Dundee is poor, But the setting is nice; it has a clean river and a good beach. I go fishing or skiing in the Cairngorms, horse riding and lechering now and again.
"I go for older women around 45. There's no mucking about with them.
"Clubs don't interest me much, but if I go out I go to Fat Sams on a Sunday - to score, to fall in love, to get looked at. That's what clubs are about - reproduction.
"I hate London. It's been put back together by uncaring folk. I hate the petrol fumes and the water is awful. It burns and nips your skin when you shave and it doesn't mix with whiskey.
"Look at the bottom or your kettle.
A GIRL NAMED DUSTY AND LADY DAY
"My favourite singers are generally black American - southern gospel and soul singers - Brook Benton, Marvin Gaye, Nat King Cole.
"White men I like include Bryan Ferry - he's really weird - Bowie, Russell Mael of Sparks and Bobby Vee.
"Of the women I've loved Dusty Springfield and Billie Holliday since I was 12. Annie (Lennox) is good, so are Angela Jaeger (Pigbag) and Julie Hepburn (The Delmontes).
"Paul Quinn is quite good. He lives around the corner from me. I see him walking his spaniels down the road.
"Otherwise the new band contains my favourite musicians. Steve Reid, who was in Orbidoig, is my top songwriter, He constantly surprises me.
"All the members have their own bands as well. Steve has Third Wish, Howard Hughes has TWA and Roberto has Swing Club, a very kitsch aggregate.
"That's good, It means they don't depend on me.
MESSAGE OBLIQUE SPEECH
"We will play live - on the condition that half the money goes to homeless children. It's unlucky to earn too much money. If Elvis had given his wealth away he'd still be alive today.
"When people see us I want them to realize that there are no boundaries, that you don't have to be operatic or soul or country.
"I'm just a singer. Some days I feel like Glen Campbell, othertimes I'm Charlie Rich.
"There is a broader scope to what we do now. People need to be freaked out, bands need to be left field.
"Top Of The Pops should be a riot but it's so sedate.
"Pop music means taking chances."