This interview with ex-Oasis guitarist BONEHEAD, now of The Vortex, was carried out for This Is The Daybreak by the Reform The Roses MySpace site. Thanks very much to Bonehead for taking the time to do this feature.
To visit the MySpace page of The Vortex, click here.
The very mention of Bannockburn is normally enough to spark patriotism into even the most historically-challenged of Scots. This particular Saturday November night in the world-famous Stirlingshire village, synonymous with English/Scottish rivalry however, is not for fighting our neighbours from the South.
In a venue called McQ's, which leads from the charming Tartan Arms bar, there are a couple of hundred locals, who are there to embrace five unsigned Mancunians with nothing more than music on their minds.
Manchester music has had an ongoing love-affair with Scotland for years and Scotland has always loved it back in droves. Memories of The Stone Roses at Glasgow Green in 1990 and of Oasis at Loch Lomond in 1996, not to mention a certain night back in 1993 at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut, will live forever in the minds of fans lucky enough to have witnessed such pivotal moments in the history of modern rock music.
One man who has witnessed more monumental musical events than most is Vortex guitarist Paul 'Bonehead' Arthurs, and he did so from the main stage playing a rhythm guitar...
It is that same rhythm guitar, which was used to record a trilogy of albums that sold over 20 million copies worldwide in the nineties, that Bonehead has carried up a flight of stairs to this cosy and intimate venue tonight. There are no flunkies on tour with this band to carry their load. No passengers.
If anything The Vortex are travelling light this evening, as backing vocalist Jacqueline 'Jaxx' Gilbert is unable to make the Scottish dates of this Winter tour. Bonehead explains that she adds an extra element to the band's sound, reminiscent of Denise Johnson on Primal Scream's seminal 'Screamadelica' album of the early nineties.
And it's Glasgow's very own Primal Scream who are bestowed early praise by Bonehead and Vortex bassist Nick Repton, who cites the band's vowel-hating XTRMNTR as a benchmark for his own band. Bonehead feels that The Vortex recreates the Scream's 'Party vibe' and admires Bobby Gillespie’s band's diversity.
"They can come out with ballads and then 'Country Girl' and then 'Kill All Hippies'. You don't know what they're gonna come out with... The beats, samples and dancey guitar... I think this band could go in that direction."
Nick sees any comparisons with Primal Scream as a compliment and also cites fellow Strathclyde rockers Glasvegas as another band he's a fan of. On James Allan's group, Bonehead concedes that he also "Loves 'em" and says of their mentor Alan McGee:
"He's a judge. A judge of bands. If you look at his past record, when he says, 'That band: watch them' then generally that band does it. He's never far wrong..."
It is no surprise then that the former Jesus & Mary Chain Manager has already tipped The Vortex for the very top in the coming months, predicting that when they next play to their hometown crowd in Manchester in December, it will be to 1000 fans:
"It's kinda like The Roses, it's just on word of mouth. Always trust in Manchester music. The Vortex are set for big things."
When describing The Vortex, Alan McGee is already making comparisons with some of the finest alternative UK bands of all time:
"They’re more Primal Scream than they are Oasis, they’re more Happy Mondays than they are Oasis. But they have that Oasis attitude."
The Vortex may have that well-documented attitude on stage but off it they are perfect gentlemen; opting to sit all night amongst their own fans rather than hiding away backstage in a bubble of their own self-importance. Keen to keep the rock 'n' roll myth alive however, the band are earlier spotted before the doors of the venue are opened, indulging in an excessive pre-gig cocktail of steak pie, chips and veg...
Bonehead still enjoys the designer labels and Jaguar motor cars that his self-made wealth allows him but he's refreshingly grounded. Despite travelling the world more than once as part of the biggest band of the last twenty years, he's under no illusions as to who creates the best atmosphere.
"I've done places like Rio and I've done Sydney and I've done New York, all these places, and people say, 'What's your favourite city in the world to play ?'...Glasgow mate. Why ? The people. The reaction. The passion. They do it. It doesn't matter if you play the Barrowlands or you play an arena. We played in Bathgate last night and they were down the front dancing. They were having it. They were loving it."
Its difficult not to mention Oasis when speaking to Bonehead. After all, he was in the Burnage band before a Gallagher had even joined and he was a major factor in creating that 'wall of sound' on their best-loved albums. But any thoughts of avoiding the subject of his former band are quickly dashed when front man Mike Price mocks Bonehead during his soundcheck with jocular taunts of 'Supersonic !' and 'Live Forever !"
But Bonehead looks back fondly on his time with Oasis. He's quite rightly proud of what they achieved.
"We were really, really fortunate in the fact that we turned up at King Tut's, Alan McGee happened to be there, he liked what he saw and he said, 'I like it. I love it. Do you want a record deal ?' We were in the right place at the right time, simple as that. We were just lucky in that sense."
And does Bonehead ever wonder what Oasis would have achieved had McGee not missed his train that night ?
"We did have a demo but we didn't hand it out to people. Who knows what we would've done. Would we have handed it out to record companies ? Would we have got bored with that ? I don't know."
So what does Bonehead think his band needs to do now, 16 years later, to get a record deal in this digital age ?
"These days it's a lot different. You've got MySpace, you've got Facebook, you've got the Internet, you've got a massive tool there.
Record companies aren't what they were. We were selling millions. Bands don't sell millions of records anymore. Record companies don't have any money anymore so who knows ? It's a day at a time for us.”
From multi-million selling albums and sell-out tours with Oasis in the nineties to the unsigned but hungry and ambitious Vortex in the noughties. How did Bonehead get himself back into a band and playing live again ?
"I was doing a radio show on BBC Radio Manchester with Terry Christian. Terry left and I ended up doing it with two girls who are big friends with Nick, the bass player in The Vortex, and I got to know Nick through them.
He turned and said 'We're doing a gig in Manchester, do you want to DJ before we come on ?' I said, 'I'll tell you what, I might come on and do a few songs with you cos I really like your stuff' and it turned into a regular thing where The Vortex were playing and I'd jump on and do two songs because I enjoyed doing that.
I really wanted to join them but I didn't dare ask them and they didn't ask me so I just butted in...You've got to be cheeky in life."
Conscious of the fact that Bonehead and Nick do most of the talking and not wanting to be cheeky to the rest of the band, I ask frontman Mike how he's enjoying life on the road. Mike is a little coy about answering questions but has something he wants to get off his chest:
"I don't do interviews. Chris Martin's shit though I'll tell you that and Coldplay are fucking rubbish."
So that's why McGee didn’t liken The Vortex to his favourite "bed-wetters" then...
After playing the biggest-ever UK gigs at Knebworth in 1996, how has Bonehead enjoyed getting back out on the road and playing in smaller venues ?
"It's going back to why you do it. It's not just the venues and the intimacy but it's the people that you're doing it with and it's the passion of the band. I'm getting that within the band.
Forget the venues and the size and the scale of it, the main thing for me is the passion and the determination that we've got here. And that will fit anywhere. So for now we'll play in small places and then we'll go on."
It sounds as though Bonehead has been very selective and has spotted something in this group that he believes in. For a few moments, he falls into classic 'Mad-for-it' mode and gets straight to the point:
"I did fucking Knebworth mate with Oasis and I went from the bottom to the top with them boys and I went up the ladder. I don't need to join a fucking band. Been there, done it.
For a band to make me get off my fucking arse, get off my fucking chair and pick up that same fucking guitar that I played all them records to. To turn me on to do that, they better be fucking good and there's the band (points to his bandmates). That's why I'm here, simple as that.
I didn't want to find a band. I did a few things in-between, it was fun and I enjoyed it but it didn't turn me on. But it was good, it got me out of the house, it got me playing the guitar. I enjoyed that, it got me doing what I like doing but it didn't turn me on. Them boys turn me on."
After his impromptu appearances onstage with The Vortex and with Bonehead a fully-fledged member, the band decided to embark on a full-blown tour together:
"We just came back from a two-week European tour. It was brilliant you know. We did it with no press, no promotion and we packed it out. We did back to back gigs with one day off and it was brilliant and we went and got a great reaction.
Next year, when we've got a bit of time, rather than do London, Manchester and Birmingham I think we should concentrate on Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and do Scotland, maybe Belfast and down to Dublin and then go off again to Europe.
People get it in Scotland. For some reason they always have and they always will."
What about the crowds in Taunton, the next stop of your current tour ? Do you think they will get it like us Scots ?
"I thought Taunton was in Switzerland. I had my suitcase packed and my passport out..."
Bonehead used to write songs with Liam Gallagher back in the days when Oasis were called The Rain. Has he been getting involved in the song-writing process with The Vortex ?
"I write them all but they get the credit... No, they write the songs; Shaun (O'Donnell), the drummer and Maz 'Beat-Boy' Behdjet (Lead Guitar). They write the songs and I come in and make them sound massive. The reason I'm in this band is that they write the songs and the songs sound mint."
As well as taking the songs on the road, the band have been busying themselves with getting an album together, despite the fact that most of the band are still working full-time (drummer Shaun's day job is in an ice cream-making factory):
"We're doing an album. At the moment it's all very much in-house. We haven't got a manager, we haven't got a producer and we haven't got a record label. We're just an unsigned band from Manchester. Forget me. Forget what I did, we're an unsigned band from Manchester.
We've done a tour of Europe, we're doing a tour of the UK and the money we get we're ploughing it in. We're recording it ourselves, so by Christmas or the beginning of the New Year we'll have an album ready. Mixed. Done. We might end up putting it out ourselves."
And it's safe to say that when a Manchester guitar band releases an album the music world stands up and takes notice, because they are putting themselves up against a procession of unbelievable talent from the city. I ask Bonehead why he thinks that Manchester has created such a conveyer-belt of musical greatness:
"I think it's a working class city right. You've got Liverpool and 30 miles over the water you've got Dublin. You've got Irish roots, you've got Celtic roots and already you've got a passion. You've got a hunger. You've got a work-ethic.
You've got people who slave and dig and do what they do nine to five, Monday to Friday and on a Friday, come hell or high-water, they're gonna party man.
My roots are in Ireland, people work all week and on Friday night they haven't got enough money to go and piss it up like lord of the manor. They'll pick up a guitar. They can all play a guitar or a banjo or a piano or something. They'll get round a fucking fire and just make music, brew their own beer and it won't cost them fuck all.
It's the Celtic roots and I think that's why Manchester and Liverpool produce brilliant bands; they've got Irish roots, they come from massive Irish communities. Johnny Marr, Liam Gallagher, go through the bands, they've all got Irish roots and that's why.
It's working class. They've slaved it all week and on Friday they say, I deserve to do what I fucking want and I want to play a guitar and drink beer."
Besides the beer, is it the same mentality that allows for these working-class cities to produce talented footballers ?
"Again, fucking Irish roots. Roy Keane, have you ever seen a fucking Irish man with more passion ? Show me an Irish footballer with no passion. They're all fucking so passionate.
It's a way out and it is a Celtic thing. If you come from Ireland, if you have Irish roots, if you're working class; you're either a footballer or a pop star or you're digging fucking roads. End of. And you're gonna break your fucking back.
The way out is to pick up a guitar or pick up a fucking football. That's the passion. It's a get-out. It is a hunger. It was my hunger. It was music or football and I was never that good with a ball but I was alright with a guitar so I thought that's my way. Guigs (former Oasis bassist Paul 'Guigsy' McGuigan) was a great footballer but his knees were bad."
When I ask Mike if he agrees with Bonehead's philosophies on music, football and life in general, he seems to still have something else on his mind ?
"Coldplay are shit. Chris Martin's a knob."
So Bonehead strongly points out that a working-class band grafts hard to get something more out of life than digging holes. Once a band achieves their goal however, does the trappings of fame rid them of the passion and hunger that made them so great in the first place ?
"I've made millions mate and I'm still fucking sat here eating steak pie with them lot who are on the dole or working nine to five in ice-cream factories. I don't try to be fucking big or fucking posh or nothing. I'm still me.
Yeah I've made millions. Yeah I've done that but I don't blart it. I wear fucking Prada, I might wear Gucci but I'm not going to fucking rub it in your face mate."
So the dark brown leather jacket with the furry collar is Gucci ? I tell him I like it:
"If you wanna borrow it you can gladly fucking have it.
It's never changed me mate, I'm still me. A lot of people do change but we're not fucking Coldplay mate and I'm not Chris Martin.
Chris Martin made a million pound and married an actress, I didn't. I married the fucking bird that I grew up with. End of."
There’s that name again, Chris Martin. Bonehead and the rest of The Vortex seem to be the antithesis of someone like the Coldplay frontman and all the better for it. The Oasis founder-member was in a bigger and better band than Coldplay ever will be and he didn't try and save the world or become a Clono.
"I was standing about in my driveway this morning bouncing about like a cunt, then I had to go and pick the band up to do a gig. Load the car. Gig.
Being in a band is about making great fucking music with great fucking people. It's not like going, 'oh god I'm not going to be this millionaire' and pretending I'm back to my roots. I'm still fucking me mate and I've not fucking changed."
I mention that I'm getting the impression Chris Martin and Coldplay might not be the band's favourite people in the world and Shaun asks Bonehead what he thinks of them:
"The first album's genius. It is, seriously. Coldplay's first album, song for song is pure Jeff Buckley man. The guitar playing ? Trust me, it's brilliant mate.
Forget Chris Martin, I would be proud to be on that album. Seriously, It's pure Jeff Buckley. It's classic. It's a brilliant album mate."
The rest of the band aren't having this and it's clear that it doesn't matter if you've sold almost 30 million records, there's no airs or graces when disagreeing about music in The Vortex as Nick affirms, "I hate it" and Shaun states that Chris Martin is a "fucking knob". The discussion goes on and is hilarious and priceless and Bonehead isn't for backing down although he conceded that he's not a fan of Coldplay‘s current output:
"They've changed. They're bollocks and I don't like that. The first album ? I really like it. I don't like Chris Martin but I genuinely love their first album."
Shaun still isn't letting Bonehead have his own way and he really sparks to life, the subject matter obviously one the likeable drummer feels strongly about:
"They've got one good song and that's 'Yellow'. Yellow's alright. They only broke through because there were no good bands coming through. If they would have come out in 1994 they never would have got as big as they are now."
And it's a good point because when Oasis broke through back in 1994, they were up against big-selling bands like Blur, Pulp, Radiohead and even their neighbours, The Stone Roses, who would return from their self-imposed exile a short time later. Bonehead points out that bassist Nick has a look of the 'rogue rose' Mani about him and suggests that "it’s an influence he might want to wear on his sleeve." I ask Nick if he’s happy with that comparison and he seems quite satisfied with it, replying:
"I’m nearly as wrote-off as him yeah."
Bonehead explains that they're going to Mani's birthday party the next day and that the Primal Scream bassist has turned over a new leaf:
"He doesn't drink anymore though. It's his birthday on Sunday, we're going to his party."
Nick explains that Mani DJ's at the Beat Club in Manchester and that the music is aimed at fans of Northern Soul. Nick's not a huge fan of the music and Bonehead isn't afraid to admit that the credible Northern Soul scene isn’t his thing either:
"I’m not that bothered with it. I can appreciate it for what it is but I just can't get so passionate about it."
Mani is someone who Bonehead paid to watch at Spike Island in 1990. He took along his 'Bonemobile', which Guigsy helped him paint in a Jackson Pollock-style, and they had a great day out watching Manchester's finest band of that era.
When I suggest that he should sell the infamous car on eBay, he explains that he scrapped it years ago for £150. Probably an even worse piece of business involved the couch on the cover of Definitely Maybe being sold, this time online, for just £260 ! Bonehead just laughs and tells me that he still has the pink flamingo from that famous cover in his garage and that the decorative window panes went with him to his new house.
Bonehead and the rest of the band are great company and I comment that Manchester has such a massive musical community that a birthday party at Mani's on a Sunday doesn't seem to be that unusual to them. Bonehead agrees and tells me that he sees Manchester music legends regularly in mundane and normal surroundings and that it can get quite surreal at times. Just the other day he was filling up his Jag and Johnny Marr was stood on the forecourt filling up his motor. They were catching up as if this was a normal everyday occurrence as other motorists were doing a double take. Former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, Bonehead points out, is someone that even he would feel a little starstruck with though, such is his legendary status.
When the fans start to head over in Bonehead's direction, he comments that he is appreciative of the attention and never takes it for granted. He's also quick to point out that his former band-mate Liam still retains that attitude towards his legion of fans, despite his celebrity-status and fortune.
Of his former band mates (other than the obvious ones), I wonder whatever happened to those faces on the cover of Definitely Maybe. Bonehead reassures me that Guigsy is quite happy chilling out in his back garden, content with the hand that life has dealt for him and that Tony McCarroll, the much criticised original drummer of the band who was sacked in 1995, is a top bloke and still a close friend. He confides that he was saddened with the way that Tony left the band.
Bonehead still thinks those first three albums are untouchable so how did he feel about Oasis after he and Guigsy quit ?
"The band wasn't the band any more. We were a gang. They were still brilliant. I'm still their number one fan, or was."
And with that mention of Oasis' well-publicised split, for the first time in the evening we start talking about what Liam and Noel are going to do now. We're speaking about Liam's new band then Bonehead drops a bombshell when he says of Liam, who still calls Bonehead his brother:
"I'm waiting for the phonecall. I think he might. I think he'll want me. From what I've been told I think he's going to phone me but you know what ? I'm in The Vortex mate. I really am and as much as it might mean, I would not do it because I'm with these boys. Really."
Liam Gallagher reckons his new band will be recording a new album at the beginning of 2010 and we may never know if that phonecall will happen. If it does and Bonehead stays true to his word then I for one will salute him for his integrity.
I mean, who would have thought that the unfancied rhythm guitarist would emerge again as part of a band who might just smash it 15 years after his first band did ? If he pulls this off, it will be a welcome turn up for the books and we may be looking forward to three records by former Oasis members in 2010...
The night goes on, The Vortex reach the stage and the front man who doesn't do interviews owns it. Bonehead is as cool as a man who has done it all before and Nick is just as cool, so must have as much confidence as he has ability. Shaun is a focal point in himself and Maz seems happy in the shadows, playing the artistic and quiet songwriter to a tee, despite Bonehead claiming that he's not like that at all.
The Vortex send the Scottish crowd away home happy and pack up their own gear for their next trip to Taunton, Switzerland. You get the feeling that the next time we see this band in Scotland the crowd and venue will have grown sufficiently in size. As long as Bonehead and his lovely wife Kate don't do Celebrity Wife Swap with Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow, I'll still believe in them.
As has happened with so many bright hopes before them, let's all hope for the sake of outstanding guitar music that this band are not swept up in the vortex of Rock 'n' Roll excess. In his own words, Bonehead has, "been there and done it" and as long as he's around, I don't think he’ll allow that to happen.
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