Star treatment – back in touch with Ian Broudie, talking Lightning Seeds

It seems a negative way to start this feature, but other than reaching No.1 in the UK singles chart three times with David Baddiel and Frank Skinner with ‘Three Lions’ (in 1996, 1998, and 2018, for a song seemingly everywhere during this summer’s Women’s Euros, as the Lionesses memorably brought football home), you have to go back to the last century for the last time Lightning Seeds made the UK top-40.

A minor hit in 1999 with ‘Life’s Too Short’ followed 11 other singles chart successes over that previous decade, and despite platinum and gold certification respectively for 1994’s Jollification – eventually celebrated with a sold-out post-pandemic 25th anniversary tour last autumn – and 1996’s Dizzy Heights, rather surprisingly there were no UK top-10 albums either.

But one thing’s for sure, Lightning Seeds’ chief sound architect, Ian Broudie, never lost his ability to craft classic pop, as is apparent from the three singles so far released from new LP, See You in the Stars, out this weekend, his first for BMG. What’s more, there’s at least one more sure-fire hit tucked within those vinyl grooves. We’ll get on to that later though.

After radio-friendly lead single ‘Sunshine’ and worthy follow-up ‘Walk Another Mile’, came the, erm, marvellous ‘Emily Smiles’, co-written – as was 1994 hit ‘Lucky You’ – with Specials/Fun Boy Three/Colour Field legend Terry Hall, described as a ‘a big, infectious tune with a tight focus: human connectivity,’ Ian adding, “Emily Smiles is about miscommunication and lives being changed by small moments and random events. It’s about desperation and the distances between us being unlocked with the magic inside a smile.”

And overall it’s fair to say that See You in the Stars – completed at Ian’s West London home studio earlier this year – is nothing if not tunefully and emotionally uplifting, its 10 songs written and recorded in short bursts over the last three years, the first of those tracks recorded – ‘Great to be Alive’ and ‘Live to Love You’ – co-written with The Coral’s James Skelly a year apart back in Liverpool.

I’ve had a few listens this week, opening track ‘Losing You’ a great way in, straddling Tales Told-era Broudie and the grand ol’ Lightning Seeds. There are more polished songs on the LP, as Ian puts it, but perhaps that’s why it stands out for me. A late addition, more erm, pure and simple. 

Polished does work when it’s as good a song as ‘Emily Smiles’ though. Infectious, and I could so hear Terry Hall’s own take. Not sure I’d allow many modern pop starlets near it, mind, even if that would inevitably lead to wheelbarrow-loads of added royalties for its authors. It’s certainly on the right side of pop fare, Mr Broudie telling us this is him, ‘trying to get out of that cloud and be me again.’

Talking of commercial, ‘Green Eyes’ provides a sonic link to the early days, Ian remarking, ‘I felt like it was a postscript to ‘Pure’ – so I thought I’d shadow it with that little melodic line. Because, in a way, it’s about the other end of that relationship.’ And it’s not just his own past conjured up. I could hear this on a late ‘80s or early ‘90s Pet Shop Boys album. Not sure which, but one I probably bought dirt cheap from some market stall in Thailand or Turkey.

Then comes the delightful, ever so catchy ‘Great to be Alive’, one for full cast and city centre flash mob treatment in Lightning Seeds – The Musical perhaps, James Skelly’s input keeping it the right side of acceptability, street cred-wise.

I wasn’t sure about ‘Sunshine’ at first. There are hints of vocoder pop and catchy Clean Bandit-isms. It screams, ’We need a hit!’ But somehow Ian gets away with it, and I couldn’t possibly begrudge him that hit. And if it also suggests an ‘80s feel, why not? He was there in the thick of it first time around, after all. In his own explanation, he adds, ‘ultimately it’s about retaining your sanity. It’s a worried but hopeful song. It also reminded me of my first band, Care, and the Bunnymen, and producing The Pale Fountains. I thought I want to write like it was me, then.”

‘Fit for Purpose’, with added strings, is another that could play its part in a tie-in musical (want me to help script that, Ian?), and perhaps because I mentioned Pet Shop Boys, I’m contemplating their partnership with Dusty Springfield, concluding it’s a shame Cilla Black’s not around anymore to guest on this. I could so hear her duetting with her fellow Liverpudlian. Maybe it’s that ‘anyone with half a heart, anyone who has a heart …’ line putting that in my head.

Lyrically, it’s another deeply personal number, from a writer with an older brother who took his own life after battling depression, and a mum who had to live with polio. But again – in the words of John O’Neill, it takes the positive touch, his mum’s words of advice and comfort taken on board on ‘blue days’, the dreamer of the family living up to her ‘you can be anything you want’ philosophy, determined not to ‘let that darkness take over’.

As for ‘Live to Love You’, written a year after ’Great to be Alive’, that gorgeous guitar and the sheer class within lets me know this is another Broudie/Skelly number, while ‘Permanent Danger’ carries a darker air, and I love it all the more for that. Apparently, the last song written, that backs up my instinctive feelings about the LP’s opening number – don’t over-think these things, Ian, sometimes you just need to deliver in more raw form. There’s a big sound incorporated, and the usual sense of songcraft, but I get the feeling this is Broudie exposed, down to bare bones.  

He’s back in outwardly jollified mode again with second single, ‘Walk Another Mile’, and it seems like this was sprung from Ian’s ’90s vault, but it’s stood the test of time and is as soulful as it is fresh and catchy. In fact, it was borne out of a love of Northern Soul and an appreciation of songwriters who write proper stories within songs – its author suggesting Squeeze, The Kinks, and Eminem. And his take on that is a tale of ‘two imaginary people arguing about the end of a relationship and blaming each other’.

Then we’re away on perhaps the most poignant number, neatly fitting our collective pensive, post-pandemic narrative, but never over-egged. Reflective but subtle, a ‘see you later’ to a close friend who died, Ian paying tribute to someone who lifted his spirits when he faced his own dark days, saying, ‘He’d make me go out and play shows. He helped me back into the world …’ adding, ‘The idea of seeing you in the stars is not mordant – it’s hopeful. It’s saying: nothing ends. It’ll carry on. Keep on, stay strong.’

In effect, this is his seventh Lightning Seeds LP, 13 years after the last, but even that is debated, Ian seeing 1999’s Tilt as its true predecessor, despite having followed up 2004’s splendid Tales Told solo long player during  a period of much personal anguish with Four Winds for Universal in 2009, something he saw as closer to another solo offering. He bowed to record company pressure at the time, but on his own terms, refusing to promote it live, feeling it didn’t have that necessary band feel, not least that positive message he strives for.

He certainly has this time though, the finished product very much a feelgood statement in places, sometimes in spite of everything. And maybe that’s what we need in these dark times, I suggested.

“I think one of the reasons I haven’t done anything for so long is that I felt emotionally I wasn’t able to write a Lightning Seeds tune. The last album I did, I felt wasn’t that, so I sort of disowned it. And I think what Lightning Seeds tunes are … they have this innate positivity. I hope this {album} really has that. It’s hard to write positively without writing quite vacuously, somehow the Lightning Seeds lies amid all that, and I wanted it to be a positive album. But I know what you mean about ’in these times’ – these times are so strange. Not just the pandemic, y’know … the world … the country, really.”

Yes, Brexit Britain, where Joe Public’s misguided dream of UK independence from Europe led all too easily to economic freefall, an increasingly fragile NHS, Government support for draconian measures and public service cuts, less protection for our rights, our waters, our wages, our wildlife … all going hand in hand with bonuses and tax loops for the rich. Not as if I ranted much of that with my interviewee. Just a few key words. But he gets it.

“And no one will admit it. Without taking a side, it’s the lack of the value of truth at the moment. It’s an unsettling time for everyone, because there is no truth. It’s like if you say something enough, it’s a bit true. So I think it is kind of a good time to maybe just … I don’t know, I feel like it’s an open album, you might say. I’ve tried to be quite direct. Sometimes I get a bit shy and cover up things. I’ve tried not to do that. I hope it gives you that feeling.”

It does that. And certain songs, for instance the title track, are deeply personal, it seems. But you still offer that positive take on difficult situations. You don’t seem to dwell on negatives … at least not on record.

“I don’t know, I’m kind of a blue person, I suppose. But I do try and see the beauty in things, if I can …  sounds a bit wet, that, but I think when you’re bombarded with negativity … you have to kind of try and find the way to do that.”

One of the artists you’ve co-written with on this record, Terry Hall, was arguably seen as the rather glum, miserable face of 2 Tone, yet here the two of you come up with the highly infectious ‘Emily Smiles’, in a similar way to delivering ‘Lucky You’ back in the day.

“Yes, although lyrically, ‘Lucky You’ is a bit darker. But I think Terry’s just one of the greatest talents I’ve had the pleasure of working with. We started working together when I produced a couple of things for him …

Was that initially with The Colour Field?

“I think so. I’d met him before, but I think the first thing we worked on was The Colour Field, and we struck up a friendship, really … I’d say a bond. And it’s been lovely seeing his career re-blossom with The Specials. Then there was The Fun Boy Three, and … he’s done so many things that have been great. I think he’s brilliant.”

Mind you, as a Manchester United fan, that seems to go against this notion of you working with so much Liverpudlian talent down the years. 

“That’s his main fault!”

I must also mention James Skelly from The Coral, also integral to this record, co-writing two songs. That’s someone else you go way back with, in that case producing his band’s early albums.

“I started working with James when they were an unsigned band, and we stayed working together from then, developing them into … well, I did the first three albums. And again, I tend to work these days with people I know I have some sort of affinity to. And with James, it’s kind of shocking to think we started working together 20 years ago.”

Indeed, their self-titled debut album released in 2002.

“Yeah, so probably a bit longer, and again, we’ve always remained friends, really in touch friends – The Coral and I, the Bunnymen and I, Terry … certain headlines in your life go beyond a sort of resume.”

Last time we spoke was in Summer 2018, and so much has happened since. Back then, we got on to the subject – and it’s something you’ve alluded to again – of the Lightning Seeds LP you didn’t really get behind. So I wonder how you felt this time. Did you know instinctively these were Lightning Seeds songs, rather than Ian Broudie songs?

“Well, once bitten, twice shy, really. And the reason I didn’t do one {a Lightning Seeds album} for so long was because I felt the songs I was writing didn’t fit the bill. But I feel these do fit the bill. I’m very proud of this. It’s kind of funny, they could be Ian Broudie songs, but they’re Lightning Seeds songs. It’s almost like the two things have almost become the same thing. Does that make any sense?”

It does indeed. And with regard to you sat there with Terry Hall and also James Skelly, for example, does that come easier to you now, 30-plus years down the line? Have you always been keen on collaboration? That mighty production CV of yours suggests you work well in the studio with others.

“I don’t say this with ego, but I never wanted to be a producer. I’ve always ended up convinced to produce things. And usually people I’ve worked with before are keen to work with me again, so that must mean something, in a way – it must mean I’m okay at collaborating.

“I think one of the things that’s always annoyed me about producing is the fact that it’s called producing. If someone said to me, ‘Will you collaborate on a tune?’ ‘Anytime!’ Know what I mean? But being a producer, it’s like, I don’t know. it’s just soulless.”

It kind of suggests you’re making a product … which doesn’t strike me as what you aspire to do.

“Yeah, and it’s excluding you from a certain part of the process which you might be good at.”

For whatever reason, Steve Albini prefers the term engineer.

“Yeah, and it’s not an inclusive term. It’s an exclusive term, so that’s why I don’t want to do it.”

I wasn’t exaggerating when I mentioned a mighty production CV, Ian’s credits ranging from Echo & the Bunnymen (Crocodiles, 1980, then Porcupine, 1983) through to Miles Kane (Don’t Forget Who You Are, 2013), the latest in a long line of Merseyside musicians benefitting from the Broudie Touch in the studio, also including The Pale Fountains and their successors, Shack, plus The Icicle Works, The Coral, and The Zutons.

And there are several other personal favourite LPs with his name on, including works by The Bodines, The Fall, Dodgy, Sleeper, and I Am Kloot. But let’s get back on track. There are a few nods to Ian’s past on this LP, one jumping out straight off being ‘Green Eyes’, with its nod to ‘Pure’ in the brass synth effect.

“Definitely, and it was obviously intentional, yeah.”

You add in the notes it’s perhaps a continuation, a part two.

“Yeah, it might not be a part two. I think I did say that, but … It just reminded me of that tune and the way words were sort of gushing out – it just felt related to that. It’s definitely connected.”

You seem to have lost nothing of your pop craft, ‘Sunshine’ a prime example of radio-friendly fare here. Two decades after your last chart appearance other than for regular ‘Three Lions’ re-presses, do you think you needed those years in between to get back there again, writing commercial pop?

“It seems I have needed that, in my mind. I think a lot of it was reluctance. And I am in two minds doing this. I don’t mean this interview, I don’t mean it as specifically as that, but you’re sort of opening this door – and it sounds dead spoiled when you say it – you’re not sure you want to open again. There’s loads of stuff beyond that door that is great, but it also requires something you’ve got to be willing to give, really. Y’know, I can’t be less vague than that – it is a vague feeling!”

Last time we spoke, I suggested perhaps originally you were happier in the shadows, hence going with that Lightning Seeds name for what was ostensibly just you. You said you always wanted to be part of a band. How about the 2022 version, including your Riley? How much of a collaboration is it these days?

“I think it’s still mostly me on my own creative process, but it feels like I’m buoyed massively by Riley’s enthusiasm and talents, and also the rest of the band, who I’m very fond of and feel very much a part of.

“When you’re not a band, and it’s a person – which is kind of me – you have good and bad bands, and if you lose focus you can become not so great live, quite easily. I described it as going to the bottom of the Championship then fighting back up to the Premier League. I think live we’re really good now … possibly better than we’ve ever been. And I think that inspired me in some ways – thinking it would be a shame not to make a record. We’re in such a good moment, live, y’know.”

I told Ian I took that on board, but that analogy needed work for a Woking fan, my club three rungs down from the Championship, yet loving it there. Grass-root approaches can work too. Accordingly, a discussion followed about Disney Plus documentary, Welcome to Wrexham, following Hollywood stars Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds’ takeover of National League side Wrexham. And from there we briefly got on to Marine AFC, the subject of 2001 Granada TV documentary, Marine Lives, both myself and Ian – with his brother – having visited Rossett Park, Crosby, in the past. Furthermore, Ian spoke with warmth about occasional visits to Luton Town with his pal, Rob, talking about, ‘a different kind of … almost obstinacy, really. It’s very English, isn’t it?’

As well as Riley Broudie (namechecked in 1992 hit, ‘The Life of Riley’, now 31, playing guitar and Dad’s manager), Ian’s joined by Martyn Campbell (bass, backing vocals), Jim Sharrock (drums) and Adele Emmas (keyboards, backing vocals) these days, his band rehearsing this week for in-store and radio appearances ahead of tour rehearsals for the real deal. At the grand age of 64, can he ever see himself not involved in all this?

“I think I’ll always be … I mean, I’m not going to retire or something.”

I wouldn’t have used that word.

“I think for me, and with the generation I’ve come from, certain people in my generation and the generation before felt they’d be in a band, then at 26 they wouldn’t be in a band and wouldn’t be doing music. And in some ways that’s pretty cool – burn brightly, and move on. Then there’s others who think this is a vocation, and I’d say I’m one of those. I think music’s not really a job, and I can’t imagine myself not doing it really. Even when I’m not making albums, I’m doing it all the time – playing gigs, writing, maybe a bit of production.

“I did think about not doing it anymore at a certain point when there were a lot of things going on in my life that were negative, and I felt, ‘Should I be sitting in a dark room worrying about drums?’ That’s not the best way to spend your life. But in the end, I felt this probably is what I enjoy doing.”

Last time we spoke, I mentioned seeing you at Lancaster Library, yourself and Starsailor’s James Walsh doing solo sets. Going back to that footballing grass-roots analogy, maybe you needed those low-key live shows to remember what you’re in this for.

“Yeah … I don’t know, maybe I’d rather be someone who was exploring the Amazon or sailing on big boats. But I’m not really, I’m a bloke who likes making music.”

Arguably, as a creative you can explore all that via your music career anyway, hopefully. At least in your imagination.

“Yeah, although I don’t think it’s the same as going. But y’know, everyone has their lives to lead. I think everything’s {about} balance. And balance is tricky.”

Maybe like Serena Williams, it’s not about retirement so much as evolution.

“I think so. I think everything changes around you, and you probably change. It’s different as a sports player – they either win or lose. Whereas with the arts, it’s more vague, subjective. But like I said, everything changes around you, and you change. And sometimes you’re in sync, and sometimes you’re not. You just can’t worry about that after a certain point. You have to worry about that when you’re 18. I’m not sure you do at this point, although it’s lovely when it clicks a bit.

“I mean, this has been interesting, having been away for so long and not making a record. In the past that would have been an advantage, but it’s a real disadvantage, completely, because everything’s now an algorithm, there’s no previous algorithm, and all these things work on continuity in product, continuous product.

“It’s a real different world, and one that benefits the career rather than the vocation. Now, I think it’s easy to manufacture careers and celebrity. I’m not saying, ‘it was better in my day,’ it’s just different, and throws up amazing things. I think music’s probably never been as good and creative. People seem so talented and so able to focus, almost like they’ve been taught how to focus.”

There’s probably a YouTube tutorial for that.

“Yeah, I’m just saying it’s different. And I think you function better as someone armed with knowledge and a career as a kind of hazy, vocational Nick Drake type.”

Getting back to this record, ‘Great to be Alive’ impressed straight away. Is that a track you’re holding back on for a pre-Christmas hit?

“Looking at what record companies tend to do now, and again, it’s different for me – It’s a different world and might not suit me, to be honest – it seems that when the album’s out, that’s the end of job. It seems to be all about a chart position on week one for the album … which I find mystifying.

“I never looked at a chart, I had no idea who’s in the chart. The only people who know who’s in the top-10 seem to be the record companies. The focus has shifted away from selling albums to kind of a trophy position, which seems mad. The industry seems very focused on that kind of thing. Whereas you and I … I feel like ‘Great to be Alive’ would be a great single to bring out next. No one’s said they won’t, but I just wonder if that’s in their system.”

Well, hopefully people will read this and know they need to hear the album. And seeing as we mentioned chart positions, it was only when I was putting questions together that I reminded myself that afore-mentioned breakthrough single, ‘Pure’ was out the summer I met my better half … and now we’ve been together 33 and a third years. Maybe there’s something in that.

“Well, congratulations. That’s great. And it’s funny that even in those days, chart positions … with ‘Pure’, we only had a few pressed up, so it could never chart {at first}. Even in the end when I did Top of the Pops, they ran out of records. It could never go past No. 16.”

Wasn’t it initially a 500 run?

“I think it was 200, actually.”

Have you still got a copy?

“I’ve got one somewhere. I think I’ve got a cassingle!”

That initial deal was with Rough Trade, Ian’s first single eventually requiring re-press after re-press. After many months and lots of graft, their modest grassroots campaign took off, that eventual top-20 slot here (and in the US) leading to a higher profile for debut LP, Cloudcuckooland, a major deal and second album, Sense (1992) following, including ‘The Life of Riley’. They were on their way.

“It is quite funny, y’know. ‘Pure’ was a song where the chart position doesn’t reflect what it was, really. And I think Jollification, our biggest selling album, sold a million or something in the UK … although it never got into the top 10. And yet, everything is kind of facts and figures.”

For this website’s Summer 2018 interview with Ian Broudie, head here.

Lightning Seeds are set to embark on a 14-date UK tour, with ticket details here, calling at Cambridge, Junction (Thursday, October 27th); Oxford, O2 Academy (Friday, October 28th); Frome, Cheese & Grain (Saturday, October 29th); Southampton, The 1865 (Thursday, November 3rd); London, O2 Shepherds Bush Empire; Leeds, Stylus (Saturday, November 5th); Glasgow, Old Fruitmarket (Sunday, November 6th); Birmingham, Town Hall (Thursday, November 10th); Newcastle, Boiler Shop (Friday, November 11th); Liverpool, Olympia (Saturday, November 12th); Brighton, Chalk (Thursday, November 17th); Cardiff, Tramshed (Friday, November 18th); Manchester Albert Hall (Saturday, November 19th); Sheffield, Leadmill (Saturday, November 26th).

See You in the Stars is available on CD and standard Forest Green vinyl. For details of that and a limited-edition transparent midnight blue vinyl LP available from the official artist store, HMV and independent retail, head here. And for the latest from Ian Broudie and Lightning Seeds, head to his website |and check out his Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.

About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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