It’s been a happening summer for Ian Broudie, back in the limelight with the ‘Three Lions’ single amid a number of festival and studio commitments, topping the charts for a third time on the back of a successful England World Cup campaign.
And while it turned out that football didn’t quite make it home – the VAR team unmoved as Croatia snuffed out England’s chances of ending 52 years of hurt (debatable, I know), then France jumped in to claim their second trophy in 20 years – the occasion certainly provided a boost to the sales of David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and the Lightning Seeds’ initial 1996 hit, the Gareth Southgate feelgood factor truly evoked. Was it nice to get that complementary recognition, Ian?
“It was surprising. And it’s great really. It’s maybe just linked to how well England play, but the song feels good, and it’s great when people sing it.”
That song’s clearly stood the test of time, with new generations seemingly just as quick to adopt it.
“It’s seems to have! It was ages ago now, wasn’t it … 22 years, y’know.”
For me, it’s definitely up there among the nation’s best football songs, of which I’d have to include 1970’s ‘Back Home’ and 1982’s rather ironically-titled ‘This Time’ …
“Yeah, although I can’t say I ever play those songs. A little nostalgia, maybe, but …”
I was all set to get on to New Order’s 1990 hit, ‘World in Motion’ there, not least John Barnes’ memorable rap. He is a Liverpool fan after all. But I got the feeling Ian’s all talked out on the subject, the national media having done it all to death in the past couple of weeks while I’d patiently waited to get my audience with him.
Instead, I changed tack and asked, for all the successful material he’s been associated with, if he felt happier in the shadows … and I didn’t mean the band.
“Well, I used to be Cliff Richard … Erm … in the shadows? What do you mean?
I try again, suggesting that since there’s just one album with his name on the cover, I get the impression he’s happier to hide behind someone else, let them take the credit.
“You mean, the name Lightning Seeds? Yeah, I suppose so. I think at the time I just felt like I wanted it to be a group. That was my thought process. If I give it my name as a solo artist it can never have that same camaraderie.
“All the things I ever liked were groups really. People around me like the Bunnymen, the Teardrop Explodes, The Fall, New Order … There were very few solo artists. Initially I was looking for a singer. That was the idea … until I got to the point where I sang the songs myself.”
Did you realise around then that missing link was actually you?
“Yeah, so it wasn’t really so much what you were saying, although there’s an element of truth to that.”
Let’s just dwell on his impressive production credits for a while, because after his initial spell with short-lived Liverpool post-punk outfit Big in Japan, Ian soon proved himself a dab-hand in the studio, going on to produce records – sometimes under the name Kingbird – for many happening artists.
As early as 1980 he was listed as co-producer on the first album by John Peel favourites Original Mirrors, of whom he was a founder member, and also helped out fellow Big in Japan bandmate Bill Drummond and Teardrop Explodes keyboard player Dave Balfe with production duties on Echo and the Bunnymen’s debut album, Crocodiles. And the following year he was credited as a member of Bette Bright and the Illuminations on their sole album.
By 1983, during a period in which he also recorded and wrote under the name Care with vocalist Paul Simpson, he was the sole producer of the Bunnymen’s third album, Porcupine, and two years later the Pale Fountains’ From Across the Kitchen Table, another favourite on this scribe’s turntable, while the following year saw him team up for the first time with Specials vocalist Terry Hall, producing the self-titled debut album by The Colourfield.
In 1987 Ian worked with another Liverpudlian outfit, producing The Icicle Works’ If You Want to Defeat Your Enemy Sing His Song, and was also behind The Bodines’ Played, a favourite in my Captains Log fanzine days. And 1988 included production credits on Skids’ frontman Richard Jobson’s Badman, The Fall’s glorious I Am Kurious Oranj and work with Mick Head again, this time on Shack’s debut LP Zilch.
Even when he was off and running with the Lightning Seeds, there was time to produce the likes of Frazier Chorus, the Wild Swans, Northside, The Primitives, The Katydids, Dodgy (their first two albums), Alison Moyet, the afore-mentioned Terry Hall, Sleeper, and Republica.
You may also recall his role in the BBC’s star-studded cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ in 1997, and it was only after I’d spoken to Ian that I was reminded (take a bow, Richard Houghton) he also worked with The Wedding Present, producing 1992 singles ‘Silver Shorts’, ‘Come Play With Me’ and ‘California’, while supplying additional vocals on 1994’s ‘It’s a Gas’ single.
He’s added several more notable credits in the 21st century, not least those with The Coral, Texas, I Am Kloot, The Zutons, The Subways, The Rifles, The Automatic, and Miles Kane. And when it comes to working with the Lightning Seeds, there have been notable co-writes, including Terry Hall, Alison Moyet and Manic Street Preachers’ Nicky Wire. So who’s top of his studio wish-list now?
“It’s funny. I think the wish-list is for me to write this as a more … well, I‘m doing my new album at the minute, and it’s been about 15 years since I’ve really full-on tried to write for the Lightning Seeds. I did my solo album, then there was a collection of songs that came out that were really more solo songs …”
“Yeah, which was just something separate.”
I guessed that’s why you put your name on the front cover that time. It didn’t feel like a Lightning Seeds album, but something more folky.
“Well, there was Four Winds too (the most recent Lightning Seeds album, from 2009), but yeah, Tales Told was definitely a solo album. I felt like I wasn’t writing for the Lightning Seeds that time. It was all very pared down, heartfelt songs really, which was just how I felt at the time. I wasn’t playing live as Lightning Seeds. I felt it was over at that point.”
That LP certainly made an impression on me. It was down my road at Leyland Library that I picked up a copy of Tales Told, and I was quickly won over, not least by opening track ‘Song For No One’.
“Thanks. Yeah, I’m very proud of that album. I was going to do another solo album fairly quickly, but various things stopped me. I haven’t really done an album since. It’s a long time since I’ve properly thought about doing a Lightning Seeds album. I’ll probably end up co-writing a bit, but I’m trying to get the core of it as just me.”
But this one will go down as a Lightning Seeds album?
“It will. I’m writing it as the Lightning Seeds.”
You have a big birthday coming up, I see (August 4th). Does that number 60 fill you with dread, or is it just another number?
“No, it’s just a number, although I definitely feel a little bit different and it’s a kind of a landmark. It’s something you never imagine being. I think everyone imagines inside their head they’re really 18 or 19. I certainly still feel like that. It’s almost slightly embarrassing.”
Since that 2009 Lightning Seeds return, Ian has extensively toured with a line-up including Angie Pollack (piano), Martyn Campbell (guitar) – both on board since 1996’s Dizzy Heights – and Ian’s son Riley Broudie (guitar). In fact, I admitted to him that when I recently wrote about father and son outfits – inspired by The Vapors occasionally including guitarist Dan Fenton as well as Dad, David – I listed a number of esteemed examples, including Neil and Liam Finn, Lloyd and Will Cole, Johnny and Niall Marr, and so on … but forget to include Ian and Riley.
“Yeah … true!”
Is Riley a chip off the old Broudie block?
“Err, no, he’s his own man.”
He’s played with the Lightning Seeds for some time now.
“For ages really. Yeah, that’s good. I mean, the reason I started playing again really was just because we were always playing acoustic guitars, and then we ended up opening up for a couple of friends. We just did a couple of songs, and that was fun, and that just sort of led me back into playing with the Lightning Seeds.”
Time flies and it’s somehow 30 years next year since the first Lightning Seeds recordings. Was there a feeling at that point that finally big-time recognition was coming your way? Or was there never that compulsion to prove yourself?
“I don’t know … none of those things. I just felt like I was a songwriter. I was in a couple of bands before, and they just weren’t the right bands. Big in Japan was just when I was a kid really. Although that’s lived on in the memory, it was only going for three or four months.
“I then drifted into producing, and really the thought when I did the Lightning Seeds was, ‘You’re a songwriter, so you better write some songs while you can’. But at that time the bands being signed from Liverpool were real bands, like The Real People and The La’s, all people who were gigging as bands, whereas mine was really just me.
“I didn’t really have a band. I recorded it all in the house on a four-track for that first album and then continued to record at home. And gradually home became a studio. So it was very much just about putting some songs out without any thought of anything else.”
“Yeah, I was kind of prised out of the studio really … prised out of the house, actually. And I was very nervous about that stuff and hadn’t really sung in public. Our very first gigs and our very first tour was in front of around a thousand people. So I didn’t really get a chance to get used to it or develop. It was sort of very much in the glare of the albums.”
Conversely, last time I saw you live it was just you and a guitar plus keyboard from past Lightning Seeds employee Ali Kane at Lancaster Library, sharing a bill with Starsailor frontman James Walsh in December 2009, hidden among the books.
“Yeah, that was part of my rehabilitation, I think.”
In my pre-WriteWyattUK review at the time I described it as a ‘low-key semi-acoustic success’, Ian giving us a glittering run-through of old and new Lightning Seeds songs and solo material, even sharing a stage with James and Ali on Bob Dylan’s wondrous ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’. Does he tend to enjoy the small and intimate gigs as much as the larger festival appearances (with several of those lined up this summer) these days?
“Well, y’know, I wouldn’t want to play a festival with just my guitar. That’s for sure. But there is something really nice about them. It just becomes something else. When you play something like that library gig, it’s as a songwriter doing his songs. And it’s something different when it’s a band playing.”
I can still recall the first time I heard and loved debut Lightning Seeds single, ‘Pure’, now safely tucked away in one of my 45s boxes. And the subsequent Cloudcuckooland album was still getting plenty of plays on my Walkman (yes, I’m that old) by the time I headed off on my world travels at the end of 1990.
OMD’s Andy McCluskey and the Icicle Works’ Ian McNabb had a hand in that debut Lightning Seeds album, the latter also supplying vocals on the next two LPs. Which made me think – my interviewee’s not only appeared in Liverpool bands, but he’s also worked with a lot on the production side, and there’s clearly a certain feel about many of those acts. Has he ever tried to work out what that vibe is about, or is he too close to the product to have that clarity?
OK, that was a bit of an impossible question really. It’s not just a Liverpool thing anyway. Those production credits also included Dodgy, Terry Hall, and The Primitives, by way of three examples. Of all those credits, which record gives you the most pride in being involved?
“Difficult to say really. When you’re producing, it’s not really about you. it’s about the band you’re producing. So it would have to be for my own records, really. There’s a lot more of me in them.”
You’re a keen Liverpool football fan (he’s endorsed the Justice for the ’96 and Support the Liverpool Dockers campaigns, and the Lightning Seeds headlined 1997’s Hillsborough Justice Concert). Are you an Anfield regular these days?
“Not as regular as I used to be. But I’ve got a season ticket, so whenever I can, I’m there really.”
These days I see you tend to float between Liverpool and London. So where do you call home?
“Nowhere! I’ve always been a bit of a wanderer.”
Have you got studios at both?
“I had a studio in Liverpool until very recently, but I haven’t right now. I just work in the house again – like when I started. I’m taking it right back to when I started.”
Is it like a Lennon and McCartney thing, but with you sat opposite a cut-out of yourself writing a song on an acoustic guitar?
“Yeah. A bit of a lonely Lennon.”
Finally, if you had a chance to go back in time and talk to the teenage Ian Broudie, playing with Big in Japan alongside the likes of future Holly Johnson and Bill Drummond, what advice might you offer him?
“Erm …. relax … in the words of Holly.”
The Lightning Seeds are set to headline the Cotton Clouds Festival at Saddleworth Cricket Club, Greenfield, Oldham, on Friday, August 17th, with support led by the Pigeon Detectives and Badly Drawn Boy, while Sister Sledge, Starsailor and Toploader top the Saturday, August 18th bill. For more details try the festival’s website or Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.
The band then head to the Victorious Festival, Southsea, Hampshire (Friday, August 24th); Solfest, Aspatria, Cumbria (Saturday, August 25th); Solihull Summer Fest, West Midlands (Sunday, August 26th); Bingley Music Live, West Yorkshire (Friday, August 31st), Cool Britannia Festival, Knebworth, Hertfordshire (Saturday, September 1st); and On Blackheath, South East London (Sunday, September 9th). For more details head to their official Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages, or the Lightning Seeds website.