Music Interviews

Q&A: Malcolm Middleton

Malcolm Middleton has made his album for this year. March’s Sleight Of Heart appears to have been a ’rounding up’ of this stage of his career. An extended EP of sorts, it finds the ex-Arab Strap singer in new songs, old cover versions and assembled B-sides. So as he grabbed a minute prior to his Latitude appearance to talk to musicOMH, his characteristically acerbic wit was pleasingly in evidence…


You’ve toured a lot as a solo artist, but was this the first time you’ve played in Australia?
I’ve been over a couple of times before with my previous band Arab Strap. It was always good fun, hence the fact I can’t remember much about it. We played on a cruise boat in Sydney harbour with Mogwai once, that was a good laugh. Oasis were onboard too, as well as 500 moody indie kids.
What could you truthfully say you were most looking forward to on the tour?
Well, I was excited about the three weeks off at the end of it. I managed to travel around New Zealand and Japan for a bit, you know, back-packing, but with a suitcase and nice hotels. And soap.
You’ve spoken about most recent album Sleight Of Heart as the end of your ‘boo-hoo/way-hey’ period. Does that mean you’re moving on to a new and different phase in your career – and if so, do you know what direction that might take
I’ve no idea what this means now, I’m still writing the same old crap I’ve always written. If I suddenly start to sing happy songs about success and contentedness then shout “Liar!” at me.
On Blue Plastic Bags, the second song on Sleight Of Heart, you seem to be writing an observation about how the UK drinking culture has changed – is that the case?
Not really. It was a simple observation of myself and people around me acting in a tedious manner. Like most of my songs, saying things out loud will hopefully spark a personal change for the better. I will embarrass myself into submission and hopefully some sense will occur.
You seem to have a genuine connection with people and their issues through your songs – do you think that’s an accurate observation?
Yes. I am one of us too you know. I’m not some preaching singer-songwriter talking down to the masses in a condescending manner. I wear my shoes when I sing, there’s no Persian rugs here!
You’ve been around the world several times on tour, but are you still keenly conscious of your roots in Falkirk?
Yes, of course, it’s where I grew up. It’s always nice to go back, but I always leave feeling drained. I still worry that I’ll end up back there some day, in a council house and on the dole – eating dried noodles and drinking cheap beer. That and being the bore in the pub who tells everyone that one Christmas he was Number 31 in the UK Top 40.
With your roots in mind, do you have friends who have been involved in the Grangemouth dispute, and if so what your views have been on that?
What? Pop and oil don’t mix, sorry.
You’re a prolific songwriter, and more recently you’ve managed an output of an album per year. Were you writing on tour in Australia?
I wasn’t, no.
You mentioned being the old bore in the corner who got to Number 31. What did you think of the campaign to get We’re All Going To Die to Christmas Number 1? Was it something you endorsed wholeheartedly?
Yes, and I’d do it all again! Well, maybe twenty percent of it. It was fun but it was like wearing a hat that didn’t suit me. Come Christmas day I just sat down and took the hat off and everything was OK again. I still have the hat though, hidden in my cupboard. Should I get it out again this year? I dunno.
You perform live a lot, but what kind of live environment are you most at home in?
A small room filled with people staring at me in expectation, waiting to hear the guy sing songs about singing shit songs again. Somewhere quiet and dark. Birmingham Glee Club in the wee room is always nice. I would like to do a series of one-on-one gigs sometime though. Just me and a one-man audience, staring at each other. The hunter and the huntee.
You’ve done some unusual but revealing cover versions, a couple of which appear on the Sleight Of Heart album. What in your mind makes a good cover version, and what are two of your favourites?
The perfect cover would have to be when someone sings a really cheesy pop song in a sincere and sickening manner. When the singer pretends that the content of the song is personal. Playing the guitar like a drum between chords also helps. Eurgh.
• Malcolm Middleton’s Sleight Of Heart is out now through Full Time Hobby.

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