The Press Article
People Who Live In Glass Houses
Forget about dressing rooms and hotel suites. Supergrass offer you a once-only tour of their domestic stamping grounds - so watch your manners and wipe your feet...
Regency seaside splendour with the perma-toking, Lapsed Catholic Lead singer
Gaz is looking out of the window, smoking a fag. Gaz might well look out of the window - the eastern wall of his living room taken up with plate glass, and it overlooks a Palladian garden square full of summer. Gaz has the key to this garden.
"You see down there," he says, gesturing to trees. "There's a tunnel down there, with stained glass windows. You go down the tunnel, through a wrought iron gate, and you're on the beach." takes a drag of his fag, and beams.
Gaz lives in the clouds, in the top three stories of a Regency Brighton townhouse with his girlfriend Jules. All the windows of this airy haven show sea and sky. Fluffy dope clouds drift around the house, apparently self-propelled - you unexpectedly run into a sweet-smelling cumulonimbus halfway up the stairs or in the bathroom.
Gaz is winningly instinctive. He finds it difficult to deal with anything in the abstract - any question starting 'What do you think would have happened if...?' meets with a friendly but confused frown. He is a child of airy unconcern, in a world of his own. Supergrass' own Mickey Quinn refers to Gaz's house, and his life, as 'The Bubble'.
It's Gaz who disappears and comes back with perfectly-formed demos, Gaz who shies from publicity, Gaz whose indecision on the naming of the last album prompted Parlophone, six hours away from printing the album sleeves, to offer him £2000 to come up with anything. Danny was gunning for 'Children Of The Monkey Basket', and Mickey liked 'Hold Onto The Handrail', but Gaz plumped for 'In It For The Money'. Only he could get away with a statement like that, because he doesn't seem to know what money is.
His kitchen is engagingly homey and houses the item he's spent the most money on in his life - a green enamelled cooker. "That wasn't quite £2000." The noticeboard is pinned with entry forms for poetry competitions ("They're for my girlfriend"), a wall chart listing the vitamin contents of various foodstuffs, and a solitary newspaper clipping showing Gaz playing football under the heading 'Who Needs Gazza When You've Got Gaz?' The article underneath recounts Gaz's performance at a local charity match, and states that he has 'silky skills'.
"That's bollocks," he laughs. "I was crap. I'm out of practice now. I get knackered coming up the stairs with five bags of shopping."
In the cupboard, where one would normally store tins of Heinz Spaghetti Hoops and cheesy peas, Gaz has stowed a Mercury Music Award, a Brat Award, and an award that congratulates Supergrass on contributing to "the Advancement of Sonic Excellence" with 'I Should Coco'.
The hallway is filled with Elvis: a huge picture of the King looms over the coat rack, while the shelves are rammed with videos and Elvisopoly - like Monopoly but, sadly, "you don't get Fat Elvis instead of the hat". There's a picture of the young Gaz by the phone. His eyes look exactly the same then as they do now. He hasn't changed a bit.
IN 1985 GARETH WAS A PUDGY NEW BOY WITH A suntan and a Californian twang. His parents - food scientist father and English teacher mother - had moved from San Francisco, to Oxford, England, where the houses were smaller, the rain cold, and everything smelled different.
Gaz played piano. Mozart. Berlioz. He really liked Debussy He went to mass every week, even though he didn't really get it, and was a dab-hand at tennis. He wasn't exactly homesick for California, he accepted that people move around a lot.
By 1986, things started to change. The rain didn't seem so bad - at least he didn't get heat rash.
England was creeping into his life - big brother Robert hung out with Nick Goffey and brought back records by The Smiths and David Bowie. Even though Robert teased Gareth, as big brothers do, calling him 'Hamster' on account of his pudgy cheeks - "You keeping nuts in there, Gaz?" - they listened to these records in Robert's room, and Gareth started to use his tennis racket as an air guitar. At school, he was given grief for being girly, living in a world of his own where he didn't fight or'hang around'.
On the playing fields of Wheatley Comp, Gaz met Nick Goffey's kid brother, Danny. Danny also looked too pretty and skinny to be a proper boy. Two years older than Gaz, and more streetwise, Danny protected him from the bullies even though his school chums took the piss for hanging with a "little kid".
Just so they had a reason to hang out they formed a band, and Gaz started practising on his guitar. His tennis racket got dusty. His sideburns grew luxuriant. He got his ear pierced and was sent to the headmaster's office.
"I last prayed in 1986," Gaz Coombes says today. "It was the World Cup, England versus Germany, and I prayed we'd win. When we lost, I thought, 'If you can't even manage that...'"
Gaz and Danny formed The Jennifers when Coombes was 15. They would do a gig in London one night, drive back in time for school the next morning and then leave early to gig in Manchester. However, despite a single, 'Just Got Back Today' - which now fetches £200 - other Gaz-penned numbers like 'The Girl With The Removable Face' and'You Keep Punching Me' failed to set the world alight and The Jennifers broke up in 1993.
With the last of their Jennifers money, Gaz and Danny treated themselves to a proper meal in a restaurant. It was candle-lit, and two bottles of wine, a bottle of Jagermeister and a bottle of brandy in, they vowed to always work together in the future.
By now they were living together in a beer can-strewn shared house on the Cowley Road with fake breasts in the fireplace. Danny would while away the evenings telling fairy stories of how famous they'll be one day, how they'll have gold Rolls Royces and, possibly of more interest to Gaz, how they'll have unlimited studio time and all the guitars they'd ever wanted.
Early every morning Gaz would go to work in the local Harvester, taking old Jennifers demos with him and playing them over the PA before the restaurant opened. The other staff formed impromptu Juke Box Juries, passing comments and advice. One of the kitchen-hands, Mickey Quinn, was as obsessed with David Bowie as Gaz. Somewhat inevitably, Mickey, Gaz and Danny started playing round Mickey's house.
"There was instantly this thing," Gaz now recalls, exhaling a large cloud. "I still don't know how to describe it. But when we play together, it's magic. It's like anything could happen."
Of course, what happened was 'Caught By The Fuzz', swiftly followed by 'Mansize Rooster' and 'Alright'. However, as Gaz swiftly found out when 'I Should Coco' went in at Number One and the whole world suddenly wanted his arse, there were problems that came with the unlimited studio time and all the guitars he'd ever wanted. And the main problem was his face. The Gaz face is a lie.
That blend of feral tooth, lush lip and manic hair say Jagger, Hendrix, Rock. Gaz, however, is un-Rock. But that face promised something else, and Calvin Klein, Steven Spielberg and Vogue all wanted to do things with it.
"Yes, we probably would have been face down in a pool if we'd said yes to all that," Gaz ponders. "I mean, our heads would have returned to our shoulders at some point, but... it felt like cheating. Too easy. Short cut. Y'know? If you have to do all that to be the biggest band in the world then... then what does that say about your music? And all that..." he gestures to Spielberg and Calvin Klein with his spliff "...would have just got in the way of the music. It would have taken so long to get to grips with. We'd have lost years."
So you won't get a stabbing pain in your knackers when Hey Hey, It's The Stereophonics Sitcom Produced By Steven Spielberg hits our screens, then?
"I dunno." Gaz looks momentarily perturbed. "I suppose it might feel a bit weird. You might wonder. I mean, I do want to sell a lot of records. I've been thinking about it a lot, recently." He rubs his forehead with the palms of his hands. "When 'Pumping On Your Stereo' went in at Number 11, I wanted to know why. I wanted to do something about it. I've been thinking about marketing recently." You can't imagine how weird it is seeing Gaz Coombes say this.
"It's kind of like a game, and maybe I should play it more," he says, letting loose another cloud of jazz fag. "But then, I read this interview with Jamiroquai about his new album, and he was saying,'Yeah, I put something for the record company on there, something for the clubbers, something for the mums.' How can you do that with your music?" He shakes his head in confusion.
When you ask the man with the most sorted life in British Rock what he wants for the future, he rather modestly plumps for a beach hut and five kids. "I've been broody since I was 17.
"I'd really like to go back out to America for a while," he adds, "but it's convincing the rest of the band that would be tricky." He drifts into a reverie. "I remember so many things from America. The swimming pools. Really hot days. Sprinklers. Hot rain. Bob." He grins. "Bob's Big Boy. It's a chain of restaurants. They do the best hot fudge sundaes ever." Possibly mindful of this, he continues: "I'd love to record the next album over there. Maybe on the West Coast. Maybe I'll get a motor home, and take my kids around the world," he beams. "Five kids all hanging out of the window. With little sideburns. Yeah. That'd be alright."
Modern parenting in Camden with the well celeb-connected drummer
Danny is in the pub with his missus Pearl, and his new baby Alfie. He is smoking a fag. Page six of today's Evening Standard is spread open on the table. It shows a paparazzi shot of Danny and Pearl in a limousine with Liam and Patsy. The flashbulb makes Danny's hair look like ex-Inspiral Carpet Clint's bowl-cut. He's quite distressed about this, and starts explaining why, but it morphs tipsily into a story about Liam going into a junk shop in Australia and buying what Gallagher Jr was convinced was a magic flute.
"At their gig that night," Danny recounts, "when Noel was doing a guitar solo, Liam ran off into the dressing room and came back with the magic flute and started playing it. The whole band just ground to a halt, but Liam just carried on. The sound engineer gave him a tape of it the next day, and Liam was quite surprised that it sounded fucking awful."
Danny laughs as he lolls across the table. Talk of Patsy's pregnancy turns into an argument about where Alfie was conceived. Danny's sure it was St Lucia. "It was the Reading Festival," Pearl insists, swirling the ice in her fourth Baileys. "Nah," Danny quibbles. "It was sunny, I'm sure."
They continue the argument on the way home. Danny wheels the pram down the streets of Camden in the style of Liam Gallagher. "Come on then!" he bellows, intermittently. "Cooooome on then!" Pearl clacks along behind him in high heels and a yellow mohair sweater. The pram occasionally veers towards the kerb: one of its wheels is wonky. The reason that one of its wheels is wonky is because Danny ran over it last week in his jeep.
Danny and Pearl's house has been in Elle Decoration. It has red velvet sofas and the purple and gold drapes of wealth. The bedroom has a four-poster that looks like half a church. Danny shows us his music room in the attic - "That's my dead grandmother's piano, but she only had it two weeks before she died so it's not that morbid."
Danny is the firestarter. He's absurdly good company, and pathologically gregarious. A night out with Danny invariably turns into an early morning with Danny. "If Supergrass consisted of three Dannys," says Mickey, "it would be rack and ruin by now." But then, it was Danny geeing everyone up in the early days, Danny who had the plans. Danny who came up with the name.
"Although the others will dispute it, it was me," he asserts. "We were Theodore Supergrass. And the idea was the band would be a little black character, and we wouldn't ever have to do interviews. We'd get the questions in advance, script the answers and then animate Theodore Supergrass answering them. But," he adds, somewhat inevitably, "it cost too much money."
Although he and Gaz occasionally argue about it, 'Alright' is undoubtedly Danny's - they're his hammering piano vamps, also seen on the chorus to 'Late In The Day', 'Mansize Rooster' and 'We're Not Supposed To'. Simple, two-handed, Lennon-in-the-pub riffing.
By half past ten a bottle of whisky's been drunk and Danny's crashing around trying to find the new Supergrass album demos. "This one's called 'What Went Wrong In Your Head'," he says, putting on a fabulous, thumping, Madness-at-a-funeral piano-stomper. "It's one of mine," he adds, unnecessarily. "This is me singing."
He lights a fag and sits cross-legged on the floor. "Not many people know I write a fair amount of the songs in this band. Liam was amazed when I told him."
What's this song about?
"It's about being mad." He sings along to the chorus: "Lalalala. Mad. It's about my mate. He's dead. It was when I was really young. He was born with a hole in his heart and used to do his paper-round on his BMX. He just collapsed. Er, I don't want to talk about this."
Danny Goffey made a very pretty little girl. He had huge eyes and skinny legs and everyone doted on him, even though by the age of ten he was using words like 'facetious' in everyday conversation. His father, Chris, is a TV journalist (once a voice of cam-shaft reason on Top Gear), and his mother a Labour councillor. They never played music, although Danny's father would sing Ella Fitzgerald numbers at parties.
When Danny was nine, his big brother learnt to play guitar, and Danny played along, banging chopsticks on lunch boxes. At ten his parents bought him a high hat and a snare, and Danny formed his first band: "Jubbly Squfflelumps - me, David McKie and my brother.
When Danny was 13, his parents moved from Berkshire to Oxford. Was this an emotional upheaval? "I was fucking blessed, because I was friends with a boxer called Donny," Danny replies, mysteriously. For the next two years he bridged the social gap between the hardest boy in the school - "Nigel Collins" - and the wimpiest - "Richard Ash" - by making them laugh.
Danny was 15 when he spotted the 13-year-old Gaz Coombes on the playing fields of Wheatley Park School: "I mean, you couldn't fucking miss him. He was gorgeous." All of Danny's year took the piss out of Gaz. "He grew sideburns and they gave him loads of shit, but I was really into him," Danny continues, dreamily. "I think I fancied him a bit, y'know? He's really beautiful. He wasn't very mature at that age. He was like a kid. I just went up to him and asked him to form a band. I could. I was a drummer. The tallest drummer in the school."
They jammed 'Green Onions' all afternoon, and Danny "felt the magic". Danny also used to bunk off - between his house and school was a field where travellers used to stay. He made friends with a couple called Chris and Judy who had a little kid, and they did hot-knives all day using HP Sauce bottles. Chris also had a miniature bucket, and they used to do 'mini-buckets'.
"There was that advert on at the time for Mini-Kievs, where the mum shouts'Mini-Kievs!' and all the kids rush down to get them," Danny recalls. "So Chris used to shout 'Mini-buckets!' and we'd run and get them."
Around this time he was expelled for compulsive smoking, "insolence" and regular non-attendance. He went on to do his A-levels at Henley College - but all his computer lectures were at 10am, "And I never, ever made it."
By 1993 The Jennifers had been and gone. Honouring their candle-lit pact to work together, Gaz and Danny were trying to get a band together, and with this end in mind, Gaz introduced Danny to Harvester man Mickey.
"I imposed on Mick's life. I imposed on him greatly," Danny sighs. "He had a house, and I used to take people back and sleep with them on his sofa. That's how he built his foundation in this band. That's how I met him. I shagged too often on his sofa. But when we played together... we've still never been able to describe it in interviews. When we're in that room, we're all really similar. We know. We all have the same ideas. We're really quick. It just.., happens."
Danny would play so hard and fast his hands bled. It was Danny goading them on with dreams of gold Rolls Royces, Danny who enlivened their early interviews with comments about his mum wanking the whole band off, and doing a 69 when he heard that 'I Should Coco' went in at Number One.
"I think," he says now, reflectively, "that it was more likely that I was doing a number one when I heard we went in at Number 69. But I think," he says, even more reflectively, "that I come across as the jester in the band because I'm trying to fuel the others to say something. Enjoy it. Have fun. Live!"
It was this ethos that lead to Supergrass' most troubled time. Following the success of 'I Should Coco', and the multitude of spurned cash-in offers - the making of 'In It For The Money' brought to a head various lifestyle clashes that had been simmering for a while. Danny had moved out of the house he and Gaz shared in Oxford to set up home in London with the lovely Pearl from Britpop also-rans Powder.
Danny had never been one to stay in at the best of times. Moving into Pearl's social circle - which reads like a Who's Who of Brit Stardom: Sadie Frost, Jude Law, Kate Moss, Patsy and Liam - fuelled what looked like two years' worth of The Best Nights Out Ever. This didn't sit well with Mickey's rampant DIY habit and Gaz's stoned hermitage. Differences started to show, exacerbated by the lengthy 'Money' sessions at Sawmills Studios in Cornwall.
Danny frequently went AWOL back to London to record with his and Pearl's band, Lodger, and was "told" by management that this wasn't really acceptable. Danny and Gaz squabbled in the music press about the lyrics of 'Going Out' - Danny seemed to presume that they were about him and Pearl in the gossip columns. Today Danny says that, while Gaz "smokes too much weed" to argue, he and Mickey have had "little things" going on, due to their outspoken natures.
"But," Danny adds brightly, "that's been the great thing about the last two years. Me and Mick have got really tight, and we understand each other now. We respect each other's decisions."
Indeed, things are so cakey now that Danny would like everyone to live together in a big house - "or a couple of smaller houses next to each other. It would be great if they lived in London."
Should this plan not come to fruition, Danny has another scheme in mind.
"We should all - everyone and all their families - go and live somewhere for six months," he says, tipping the empty whisky bottle hopefully into his glass, before lighting a fag instead. "Six months out of a life - it's nothing! Take all the kids out of school! Travel around the world! Just do it! For an album! For the band! Bands don't do that kind of thing any more, and they should!"
This is most bizarre. This is exactly what Gaz said he wanted to do. Have you spoken about this? "No. Really? Did he say that? No, we never speak in this band. We don't need to. Did he really say that?" Danny looks incredibly happy. "That's fantastic."
Then suddenly his face falls. "I bet Mickey won't do it, though. He's a stick in the mud."
Getting grave with the Yank-cheese-hating bassist
Mickey Quinn's in the graveyard; smoking fags in the sun. This was one of his childhood haunts - up on the crest of a hill, overlooking most of Oxfordshire's gentle fields. It seems only proper - he's one of nature's natural undertakers. Earthy, brisk, but undercut with a slight air of fatalism.
Mickey is the earth in Supergrass's elemental recipe and, musically, he likes a bit of kick, a bit of bollocks. He cites 'Richard III' as his kind of thing. "But that was one of Gaz's, ironically," he adds.
Mickey was the main progenitor of'Lose It', 'Sun Hits The Sky' would be nothing without his furious basslines. Mickey also came up with the Hawaiian guitar solo in 'Alright'.
Conversation with Mickey is effortless - he draws on TV, independent films, science and a healthy disregard for anything airy-fairy or unrealistic to make his points, and speaks with a faint Australian twang that intensifies whenever he tells a joke. In a way that's Very Supergrass, he refers to the '70s as "The Sevs".
When the extraordinary ability of Supergrass's rhythm section is pointed out, he defers to Danny. "He makes me play 14 times better than I can. I come up with all these incredibly intricate bass lines for our mid-tempo songs, I just about master them, then we go in to record them and he plays it all ridiculously fast. I just try and keep up."
Mickey clearly thinks Danny is mental, and that Gaz lives in a world of his own. He also loves them to bits, in his fatalistic way. "If Supergrass consisted of three Mickeys," he surmises, "we'd be hard. But it just wouldn't work." He laughs. "I'm the just boring one."
Mickey's dad is a biochemist, and Mickey was brought up in a world where wonder lay in the things beyond our conception - the distance between the stars, life on other planets, how fast the speed of light really is. Just how magic things are was banged home during the Quinn family's travels - Europe, America, India. Although he was only 13 when they went to India, Mickey remembers every day, every meal, every smell.
"As we stepped off the plane the smell hits you - a mixture of fruit and shit and hot sand. There were two stray dogs running across the runway, and there were about 1000 people chasing them and blowing whistles in the middle of the night. There were amputees in the streets, ruined temples covered in creepers, train journeys that were just incredible."
By the age of 18, the wanderlust had bitten Mickey hard. He returned to his parents' birthplace, Australia - backpacking around the country, crashing on uncles' floors. He watched sunsets in the desert and drank cocktails in Melbourne and nearly got bitten by a tiger snake, which his friends were throwing stones at before Mickey suggested an alternative plan of running away.
When Mickey returned to Oxford, replete with suntan and antipodean accent, things had moved on. The friends he used to knock around the villages with, smoking dope in country lanes as they walked to each other's houses, had all gone off to college.
He was, by this time, living in a house in an Oxfordshire village not far from where he grew up. He shared with a friend, and they didn't see daylight for the best part of a year - they would wake at sunset and smoke dope and listen to records all night, going to bed when the sun rose. Although he didn't realise it at the time, he was quite depressed. He worked in the kitchens of a Harvester and was brassic. He couldn't afford to go travelling. His life had ground to a halt.
At the time, one of the few entertainments for someone who preferred the Stone Roses to raves and who lived in Oxford was go to gigs by local heroes The Jennifers. They weren't the best band in the world by any means, but their gigs used to be events - everyone you knew would be there. It would be a springboard to a night of merriment.
So Mickey was quite surprised when the lead singer of The Jennifers, Gaz Coombes, turned up at the Harvester one day and started washing dishes. His mum had made him get a "proper job" as insurance against The Jennifers bombing. When The Jennifers eventually split, Gaz asked him to form Supergrass. At the time, Mickey's only previous gigs had involved playing acoustic guitar accompaniment to an interpretive female dancer. He agreed.
He thinks Supergrass' biggest accomplishments are the things they haven't done: "Not doing Calvin Klein. Not doing Spielberg. Not doing nearly all the things we've been offered. Except Rimmel." Rimmel, you may recall, used 'Alright' in one of their ads.
"It wasn't a vast amount of cash, to be honest. I don't know why we did it. I think we were just surprised anyone had asked us. I get a lot of inner turmoil over it now."
Why is he so proud of these abstentions?
"Since Live Aid, the only kind of protest a musician can make is against capitalism itself. I mean, there are bands who do it more. Chumbawamba." Mickey starts laughing. "But, you know, if you can do your bit to make the industry a bit better for everyone, a bit more responsible, a bit more real...
Mickey leads a very real life now. Two kids. DIY. Mowing the lawn. The only parts of his heart that are wild these days are those devoted to music and travel.
"I can't explain what happens to us in the studio," he says, echoing a key Supergrass theme. "But the only thing like it, apart from really good films, is travel. That's what I'd really like to do in the next couple of years. Take the kids around the world. The Far East. Thailand."
This is incredible synchronicity. Does this mean Mickey shares Gaz and Danny's desire to travel around the world with their kids and relocate to California for the next album?
"Naaah," Mickey says, immediately. "It's too hot. The milks horrible. And the bread. And the cheese is all rubbery. You can't make a decent sandwich. And seafood every fucking day. Ugh." He thinks for a minute.
"South of France would be nice, though...
Select - October 1999