Sunday 23 September 2018

Suede's Brett Anderson: 'I'm 50... I really can't be bothered settling scores'

Suede frontman Brett Anderson tells our music criti what inspired him to write a memoir, and how difficult it was to revisit his mother's death as well as the loss of ex Justine Frischmann to Britpop rival Damon Albarn

Artistic streak: Brett Anderson says the part of the book he found most emotional to write about was the death of his mother, who died in the same year he formed Suede
Artistic streak: Brett Anderson says the part of the book he found most emotional to write about was the death of his mother, who died in the same year he formed Suede
John Meagher

John Meagher

Brett Anderson has written a wonderfully evocative memoir, but Suede fans hoping for Morrissey-type score-settling will be disappointed.

Coal Black Mornings pores over his working-class childhood, some decidedly tricky teenage years and those first tentative steps taken by a band that would get a lot of people very excited indeed. Potshots are thin on the ground - and his book is all the better for it.

"I cant be bothered with settling scores," he says. "In memoirs, when people slag others off, it's often because they haven't anything interesting to talk about. We had enough of that sort of Punch and Judy stuff in the 1990s [when Suede were in their pomp and Britpop was all the rage] and it's dull. I'm a 50-year-old man and want to be generous about the people I've encountered in my life."

And, in what may raise eyebrows for some, the book ends at the very point that Suede are about to make it.

"There's a bloody mindedness to it," he says with a chuckle. "Don't give people what they want! The thing is, I didn't want to do something formulaic - that predictable arc of struggle, success, excess, collapse and rebirth."

Anderson was inspired by a classic memoir of boyhood, Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie, when he decided to tell the story of his own early life.

"It's untouchable and so beautifully written… but it inspired me to really look back at my early years and the relationship I had with my parents. And, to be honest, I wrote it for my son. I sort of wanted to leave an account of my life for him, especially as it's so different to what he knows."

Anderson grew up in a London council house and his parents were gloriously eccentric. His father was a taxi driver with an obsession with art and classical music. His mother was a housewife but was passionate about both books and making art. The Andersons were very different to their neighbours and the young Brett felt acutely aware of it from an early stage.

The portrait of his parents is fully drawn, and he hasn't shirked from looking at some of their faults, especially his father's hot temper. "It was easier to write about them now that neither of them is alive any more," he says, "whereas, with my sister, she's not quite a fully drawn character."

The title, Coal Black Mornings, refers to the bleakness of his early life in an deeply unglamorous enclave of London in the 1970s and 1980s, but while his parents may have been frustrated not to be able to give their children a better quality of life, he now realises that they helped install that artistic streak that would fuel his creativity.

Anderson quips that he has been accused of over-characterisation in his songs, but his memoir avoids histrionics. And, boy, can he write: his description of the death of his mother when he was 22 is especially affecting.

"That was the most emotional moment for me [when writing the book]. I was sitting up in my room with my laptop and the tears were just streaming down my face. All those emotions had come out again after nearly 30 years."

She died in 1989, the year that Anderson and school friend Mat Osman formed Suede. He says she would have taken great pride in the band's success. "It was really sad that she wasn't there when Suede took off," he says. "I used to mull it over a lot then that she wasn't there. I remember having dreams about her and she was advising me about the songs. What it was, I suppose, was my subconscious talking to me…"

If writing about his parents was tough, discussing his relationship with Justine Frischmann was even harder, he says. They had fallen in love at university and she was in the early incarnation of Suede before going on to enjoy 1990s success as the frontwoman of Elastica. As students of English pop culture that decade will know, Frischmann left Anderson for another young musician with dreams of glory - Damon Albarn.

Anderson's book doesn't mention the Blur frontman by name, but he's not afraid to write about the devastation he felt when the relationship fell apart, even though, he says, he's aware that it's a chapter that could rekindle much of the prurient tabloid interest about his private life in the early days of Suede's success.

"I had to write about Justine because she had been such a hugely important person in my life and very important in the Suede story, too," he says. "I wanted it to be truthful about how I felt at the time, but as it's so personal, it's a funny balancing act - it has to be revealing, but there must be a cut-off point and you don't reveal any more.

"A lot of Suede songs wouldn't exist if I didn't have that relationship with her and, more specifically, if we hadn't have split up because the split was the motor for me to get off my arse. It gave me material to write about, a drive and rage, and let me dig down into myself and find those very primal feelings of jealousy and pain.

"Before that event, we would have trickled along writing nice little songs about nothing really. '[The break-up] gave me drama in my life - and my work."

Suede's fortunes were transformed with the recruitment of Bernard Butler, who had answered an ad seeking a guitarist.

"If he hadn't seen the NME that week, I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you. It's kind of terrifying how our live hinges on small but key moments."

Relations have sometimes been strained between the pair but in their short partnership in both Suede and, much later, The Tears, gold was hewn.

"Bernard is an extraordinary musician. He's such a special talent - still is. We wouldn't have achieved any success without him - and that's the simple truth. We could barely play, but he was already a brilliant musician when we first met him."

Anderson speaks to Review a couple of days after the untimely death of Dolores O'Riordan. It was in support of Suede on their US tour in 1993 that the Cranberries went from hotly tipped band to sales sensation. Anderson says he is saddened that she should die at such a young age - 46 - but admits to have barely known her.

"I met Dolores a few times and she and the band were very pleasant," he says, "but they were travelling separately so our paths didn't cross that much.

"That was a tricky period for me personally because it coincided with a time when the relationship between Bernard and I was fracturing. It wasn't a happy tour at all - lots of my memory of that tour was clouded by what was going around in the background.

"But that was then. Right now, at this moment, I'm as happy as I ever have been."

Coal Black Mornings, published to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the release of Suede's self-titled debut album, is out now.

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