With a fourth LP by his band The Moons out next month, his first photography book newly published, a successful online radio show, and a solo venture taking shape, it seems that Andy Crofts is going somewhere right now.
Yet, despite all that, it seems that this São Paulo-born, Northampton-raised, Worthing-based 43-year-old father of two and talented multi-instrumentalist occasionally has doubts about his abilities. But maybe that uncertainty and determination to prove himself is what drives him.
Besides, there are times when even Andy acknowledges he’s not doing so badly for himself. Take for instance, the moment he first got that debut publication in his hands, This Day in Music Books’ Paul, a collection of his photographs from world travels as part of Paul Weller’s band, complete with the author’s hand-written observations.
“I’d seen bits but hadn’t had the final thing. When it arrived, I filmed myself opening it, and it’s going down really well. It was beautiful. I was just really proud, to be honest. I’ve done a few things in my life now, mainly music-related, but tend to be one of these people who with everything I do, I never feel like it’s proper. That’s not putting myself down. But I always feel if I do something, it’s not as good as someone else. But when I got my book, I thought, you know what, I think I’ve actually done it! I’ve actually made a book and it looks great.”
It does look great. Although I have to admit doubts about the title at first. I was thinking something more in keeping with the subject matter. When I got to oversee an advance copy, the gorgeous ‘Village’ had just been released, ahead of true contender for album of the year On Sunset, and that line ‘Heaven in my Sights’ jumped out at me. It seemed to tie in perfectly. That said, I could also see where you were coming from.
“I was thinking of all these names, and originally it was going to be a little more avant-garde and maybe include less pictures of Paul. I was originally going to call it A Lucid Dream. But I felt that was too abstract. At the end of the day, it’s a Paul Weller book and I kind of wanted to downplay it in an odd way by simply call it Paul, I thought there was more innocence to it. I didn’t want anything to do with ‘The Modfather’ and all that. Any labels end up a bit tacky, don’t they. But I felt I didn’t even need to write Weller on the cover. Anyone who wants it will know it’s him.”
To my mind, it’s essentially about travel as well as the joy of live music, so how have these last few months been for you, unable to do all these things?
“Well, as you know, that’s what we do, year in year out, touring the world and all those kinds of things. But this quarantine thing has messed everything up and we’re all at a bit of a loose end. We’re all excited, hoping everything will be back to normal next year, but it’s been a bit rubbish in the sense that we just love playing wide. You get a buzz playing live, off the audience and off each other.
“But on the other side, I’ve pushed myself – I’ve got this book finished, very quickly; I’ve put out some music of my own and for someone else on my label; and I’ve kept busy.”
A wise ploy, not least during a period when it seemed that the world and his wife were all intent on giving us wall to wall online gigs from home. There are only so many hours in the day to catch all those, however much of a fan you are of those featured.
“Yeah, even I’m aware of that. I’ve got one more little acoustic thing, I think, but I knew it would all get stale eventually. It was fun at the beginning – yeah, we can all entertain from home. But on the other side of what you’re saying, before the lockdown I was going through quite a few, not bad things, but in my brain I was over-analysing and punishing myself a bit, so in some ways the lockdown thing helped fix me a bit. I was going down a bit of a destructive path. But I got my head together and I’ve done more in 2020 than I have in years.”
Has it been a creative time, songwriting-wise too?
“Kind of. The main thing with me is literally having the moment – I’ve got two little girls, so it’s a bloody nightmare to pick up my guitar or play the piano. Every time I go to do it, I’ve got to go and do something else. The good thing about me is that I’m constantly dripping melodies into my head, 24/7, so if I get a little window I can just pick up a guitar and more than likely something will come out. The start of a song maybe. I’ve written a few bits, and one demo I’ve actually put as a bonus track on The Moons’ new album. A nice fun little thing just to keep it fresh.”
In a sense, I don’t think we’ve had a summer, but one of the few public positives in a way for me has been On Sunset, the latest Paul Weller LP. How can a bloke who’s been bringing out great records since 1977’s In the City still be on top of his game. And let’s face it, he is on top of his game right now, yeah?
“I think the best way I can describe it is that he’s not settling for the past. Most people of his age and his history with bands and stuff settle on something they’ve done previously and milk it to death. All they’ll do is basically a greatest hits tour. I don’t think Paul sees that as an option. He plays some of those songs, because they’re great and we put them in the set, but in general he sees himself as completely contemporary and he wants to keep creating. He’s still striving to write that best song.”
You’ve been part of Paul’s band since the 22 Dreams tour in 2008, with your first recorded contributions on 2010’s Wake Up the Nation, shifting over from keyboards to take over bass guitar duties from Andy Lewis. Those who know him well, talk of a different Weller, but I was brought up on those more acerbic responses to the music press back in the day. He was seemingly more of a gruff character in those days. More to the point, there’s the sheer weight of quality product to his name, from The Jam and The Style Council through to his solo years. Did you find it a little imposing auditioning for him a dozen years ago?
“He was pretty free with me really. I have to play the parts of the song, but he’s never been strict with me unless it’s a specific part of a song. For instance, you wouldn’t not play the riff on ‘Daytripper’ by The Beatles, would you? In general though, he let me do my thing as long as it was based around the style.
“When I first joined, I went down for a little jam with him, just me and him. I thought it was going to be a band. It was really chilled, but I was like shitting myself. I sat down at the Hammond organ and he stood up and played his Epiphone Casino, his famous ‘60s one. He said, ‘Let’s just play a bit of ‘All Along the Watchtower’, like the Hendrix version.’
“We did a bit of that and a bit of ‘The Changing Man’. I was pretty nervous and my hands were sweating. my fingers slipping off the notes. But after that I said, ‘Let’s have a cup of tea. sit down and chill out for a bit. I’m being stupid here!’
“I went home, rang him later, said I was really sorry, telling him I was pretty nervous and my fingers were slipping all over the place. And he just said, ‘Don’t be silly, the gig’s yours, mate.’ I said I can’t play Chopin or Mozart style, I play Beatle piano, for the song. And he said, ‘That’s exactly what I want. I don’t want someone to play all over my songs. Little is more.’
“So I was nervous at the beginning, but never freaked out by him. He’s always been very welcoming. What you read about The Jam days, I think he was mainly abrupt because people were dickheads to him.”
Are you working with him again yet? Have you been back to Black Barn Studios lately?
“Yeah, I went back a couple of weeks ago, to do a little rehearsing and a few recording bits. And it was nice to hang out with the band. We were there for a week. It was really nice just to be together again. We miss each other.”
I had a conversation with Paul’s recent songwriting partner Erland Cooper earlier this summer where he suggested he’d already moved on, excited about the next record, when On Sunset hadn’t even been released – already keen to move on again. That seems to be the measure of the man.
“Yeah, well. I can’t say too much, but he ain’t messing around … put it that way!”
I’ve also got to know Paul’s multi-talented string arranger Hannah Peel, a long-time friend and collaborator of Erland’s, not least through their work with The Good, The Bad and The Queen’s Simon Tong in The Magnetic North. It’s lovely to see her get a bit of kudos right now too.
“Oh, she really is an amazing girl. I’m really impressed with her. She’s so talented, a beautiful girl, inside and out, and so musically intelligent. And I think she’s done wonders for Paul’s music.”
He clearly sees that as well.
“Oh yeah, I think when he finds something he likes, he sticks with it for a while. She’s been fantastic and that’s been a really nice thing, and she’s done some amazing work for On Sunset.”
Agreed, not least on closing track, ‘Rockets’. At the same time, there’s always been a kind of transient nature to Paul’s work – since The Jam days there’s been plenty of drifting in and out of the band, and I guess he likes it that way. You can’t take any of this for granted, can you.
“No, at the end of the day he’s a solo musician, a solo artist, and without making it grim, he doesn’t need us. He can do it all himself if he wants. But the beautiful thing is that he wants other people, like us, to bounce off.
“He likes not having that predictable nature of himself – he wants someone to upset the apple cart a little. He’s had loads of different musicians with him over the years and I’m lucky enough to have done it for 12 years now – one of the longest going. And I’m honoured.”
“Well, he’s been involved for 20-odd years, he’s Paul’s right-hand man really, and he’s another wonderful, colourful soul, and such a kind-hearted, genius musician.”
So how did it come to you getting that audition in the first place?
“We supported Paul with my old band, The On Offs, our power-pop punk kind of thing. He really loved it and we swapped numbers, and I sent him very early home demos of The Moons (Andy’s ‘Lunar sessions’, recorded in Northampton). He got back, told us, ‘I really like this song, and if you want to use my studio …’.
“I didn’t for some reason, and nothing happened for a while, other than the odd text to each other – probably me pissed, saying, ‘You’re amazing!’ and stuff like that. I think I did offer my services as a bass player or musician, saying, ‘If you want a change, let me know’. Always when I was drunk! Then once upon a time I got a phone call saying, ‘We’re looking for a keyboard player. Do you think you can do it?’ And that was it really.”
You seem to have that same work ethic as Paul, judging by the book, a solo record, your work with Paul, the radio show, and a new Moons LP on the way. Then there’s the video work and photography. You’re not averse to trying something different out.
“I like to try everything, and there’s one thing I am confident about – my music. I know I can write a half-decent song. Whether it’s commercial or good for radio … I know I can write a good song. The second thing I’m confident about is my eye. I trust my eye and feel very tuned in to art, photography, poetry …
“I live my whole life based around that world. Even the weather affects me. If it’s a rainy day there’s nothing I love more than sitting by the window. I can write songs there, lyrics, poetry, whatever. I get inspired by all of that and it makes me constantly create. Taking photos, writing music, filming – like that Paul Weller documentary.”
The latter was One, a Weller tour documentary, with Andy also behind the promo videos for ‘These City Streets’ and ‘She Moves with the Fayre’. Meanwhile, it’s been six years since Mindwaves, the last LP from The Moons, where his bandmates also include Paul Weller’s drummer Ben Gordelier and From The Jam’s keyboard player Tom Van Heel. But now we have a follow-up on its way, Pocket Melodies set for release in late October.
“Yeah, it’s a long time, innit! I’ve been going through a lot of ups and downs in my thoughts. People don’t need to know this, but they kind of do. I ask myself, ‘Am I any good anymore? We were never successful with The Moons. We were a very underground band. Do people even want to hear it?’ That sort of thing.
“But I did a few acoustic gigs on my own to try and build some confidence back, and it worked. I realised I could cut it on my own, and from doing that it gave me the strength back for The Moons, and we recorded the album at Abbey Road, studio two – The Beatles’ room, The Zombies, all that. It was magical – we did the whole album in a day, live, with a few finishing touches done back at Paul’s studio.
“We cut about 14 songs on the day – 12 for the album, plus a B-side and a bonus track for the CD. After that I just thought, ‘How could I have been so silly? I just slapped myself. Even if I don’t make another album, I’ve just enjoyed making this one. It’s a real colourful album, sweet and poppy, and I’m not going to lie – it’s heart on my sleeve ‘60s influenced pop songs. I’m not trying to be dark or abstract. It’s straight up, natural songs.”
Was there something special in those walls at Abbey Road, do you think?
“I’d already written the songs, but there’s a magic in the room, 100%. Just the history I guess, but there’s something in there that made us play better.”
You’re juggling family life too (with his beloved Tara and daughters Luna, six, and Gigi, two). That must keep your feet on the ground, just in case the thought of going to work with the likes of Paul Weller, Mick Talbot, Steve Cradock, P.P Arnold and so on should affect you.
“Oh, God, totally. It’s obviously the best thing in the world, but I’m not going to lie – it’s hard as well, from a selfish musician point of view. The days when I just used to sit and put a tape recorder on, press record and keep recording, sat there all day with my cassettes, dreaming on a rainy day then listening back and hearing these ideas I never realised I had. Now I can’t do that, but there are all these wonderful things too, and that’s life, and it happens to everyone.”.
Talking of family, can I just ask about your Brazilian roots? Are you still in touch with anyone there? Do you think Brazil plays a part in that sense of what you’re about and the music vibe itself?
“That’s interesting. No one’s ever asked me that before. I’ll briefly go over this, and it has to start with my Mum, who was a dancer in the ‘60s. A ballet dancer at first, she ended up dancing at the Royal Palladium in London, dancing with all the stars. Then in the early ‘70s there was a job opportunity that would have been massive back then, to go and dance in Brazil in a circus, Tiffany, in Sao Paolo. It was massive.
“She went over, met all these girls from all over the world who became her best friends, and my Dad was a bit of a celebrity in this circus – Circo Tihany – and even starring in a Brazilian film. She met him, and before you know it, I popped out! But for whatever reason, she came back a year later with me, and I was raised in Northampton.
“I can’t remember anything of that, but I was born in this circus world, surrounded by moneys, elephants, all that, and I actually have some footage. I was born with the surname Goncalves, but I was never happy with that and always felt that I didn’t have any connection to that family. They were all Crofts. So years later, I started calling myself by my Mum’s maiden name, an old Northamptonshire name. I just wanted to feel more a part of the family that raised me.
“We didn’t see my father again, and I thought he was dead, and I wrote a song which is on the new Moons album, called ‘Where Are You Now?’ But years later we found out he was alive, with all my half-brothers and half-sisters on Facebook. I found them and often speak to them. They can’t speak English, and nor could my father.
“I think he wanted to talk to me on the phone, but I was scared to open this hole that had been there my whole life. Was it gonna mess me up? My Mum’s still around, and she would talk to him every Sunday, but he came down ill and died a couple of years ago, so that kind of put an end to that.
“I never knew him, but I know he knew about me, and apparently he was proud. I must admit I felt very upset when he died. Some of my blood had died. It’s a long story and so hard to describe, but it’s how I imagine it would be having an identical twin and never being with them, and then they died. It’s that kind of feeling.
“So, in a nutshell, Brazil is nothing to do with me, but I’m fascinated by Brazil and would love to go out there and explore. We were very poor, and there’s pictures of me sitting with chickens and dust.”
Finally, at the risk of sounding like Eamonn Andrews or Michael Aspel on This is Your Life, first there was The On Offs, with those Weller supports in 2006, then you joined the band in 2008, touring the brilliant 22 Dreams album. We also have The Moons too, and it’s a decade this year since debut LP, Life on Earth, and also playing on Weller’s Wake up the Nation. You’re in your early 40s now, and you’ve achieved so much. There’s the band work, the guest roles, the solo stuff, the photography, the videos. Is there a specific dream from here, or are you already living that life you always wanted?
“Well, you saying it like that makes me realise how much I’ve done. I always felt I hadn’t done enough. So in that case, I want to do so much more. I think I’d like to do another photography book, and I’ve been given a free ticket to do that whenever I want. So that’s cool. I’m going to do a solo album. I’ve got all the demos, and that’ll be next – after The Moons album.”
There’s already been a solo venture, but that was a covers LP through your Boogaloo radio show, yeah?
“Exactly. I did a cover every week and compiled an album. That was just fun, never to be taken seriously. “I also did a single called ‘Forevermore’ with my friend Christophe (Vaillant), of Le SuperHomard in France, and that went down really well.
“All I want to do in the future is create, in whatever form, whether I get a load of large canvasses and paint and do an exhibition, or a photography exhibition, or just make music. Whatever it is, I’ll constantly be doing something. And I can’t get enough – it’s oozing out of me!”
To pre-order The Moons’ Pocket Melodies, set for release on October 23rd, head to www.themoons.co.uk/. You can also keep in touch with Andy via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For more about Andy’s book, Paul, try this This Day in Music Books link.
There’s also another great interview with Andy here from friend of WriteWyattUK, Richard Bowes, not least detailing his covers album.