Murdoc's Guide to Britain
An exclusive interview with the leader and bass player of the Gorillaz, about booze, Brexit, Ringo Starr, and 'Carry on Matron.'
Something is stirring. It's been four years since Gorillaz released their last record, The Fall, and four years since the band were sent spinning off in disparate directions. Russell blown 60 times his size, 2D nearly becoming whale food, Noodle battling demons-turned-mafia-dons in Tokyo and Murdoc… well.
Since their last record, Gorillaz chief songwriter and bassist Murdoc Niccals has been through the wars, a little more than usual at least. After finding himself stranded on the titular Plastic Beach—a remote island seemingly miles away from civilization—Niccals was surviving, just about, with nobody but the cyborg version of Noodle for company. However, when the island was besieged by pirates, he was forced to escape on a small rusting submarine. Following an ungodly stretch of time, submerged and without toilet facilities, he was eventually forced to surface—only to be greeted by the Battleship Ringo, a huge sea vessel owned by EMI. The multinational record company proceeding to take Niccals aboard, back to London only to imprison him in a dungeon beneath Abbey Road. So, yeah, it's been a hell of a year.
Luckily for us, he's negotiated his exit (and a packet of fags) in return for his commitment to write and record another Gorillaz album. This, of course, is hugely exciting news. New Gorillaz means, well, we have absolutely no idea what that means, and that's what makes the prospect so exciting. What also makes this prospect exciting, is that it gave Noisey the opportunity to sit down with Murdoc for an exclusive head-to-head chat. We were a little nervous going in—don't forget this is a man rumored to have sold his soul to the devil and permanently damaged the eye sockets of his band's lead singer. But as it turned out, he's quite an affable bloke, in his own special way.
Given Gorillaz's propensity for capturing the good, the bad, and the ugly of Great Britain—and the ever thickening, deep grey quagmire that is the "state of the nation"—we thought it was a perfect opportunity to ask Murdoc a few questions about his beloved United Kingdom. Where was he born? Where did he first play music? Where did he first kiss somebody? And where is this slippery rock heading next?
Noisey: Hello Murdoc. Honor to meet you mate. So where were you born then?
Murdoc: Mere mortals are born. Murdoc Niccals stage-dived into existence in a blaze of total fucking glory. But if you're after an exact location, I was delivered at The Three-Legged Dog in Stoke-on-Trent, my dad's local boozer. Out the back, by the wheelie bins. It put that dump on the bloody map. There's probably a blue plaque up there these days.
What was the Stoke-On-Trent of your childhood like?
It's the Venice of the North, except with turds instead of gondolas. Stoke-On-Trent was pretty tasty back then, 'specially after chucking out time. Dog-eat-dog. Well, man-eat-dog, if you had a burger at Barry's Snack Van.
How was it living in a city of industry during the 1980s, during the reign of Thatcher and the dismantling of the manufacturing sector.
How was school life?
It was your typical British state institution. All the usual bollocks. Blackboards, bullies, Bunsen burners. And this psychotic bastard of a teacher. Hitler mustache, bow-tie, leather gloves. You know the type. Mister Bronson, I think he was called. Hang on, that was Grange Hill, wasn't it. Fuck knows if I remember. Was off my tits on Sherbet Fountain most of the time.
Where and when did you first perform in front of people?
Also The Three-Legged Dog. My old man made me sing in the monthly talent contest to win him beer money. First gig, I was 6 years old. Smashed out "The Wheels on the Bus". One of the most seminal gigs in pop history.
Where was your first kiss?
On a school trip to Tipton silage plant. Kelly O'Driscoll. Now a bare-knuckle boxing champion.
Where was your first fight?
At the silage plant with Kelly O'Driscoll. Gave me my first broken nose. And broken pelvis. And broken heart. God I miss her.
Where did you first get drunk?
I was too young to remember.
Do you have any memories of childhood holidays?
I've got a blurred memory of a donkey and some sand, and possibly crabs, but that could have been Tijuana in '92. That aside, yeah of course. There's nowhere like the British seaside: thieving seagulls, empty arcades, bigoted pensioners, arctic fucking water. Makes you proud.
Where were you when you sold your soul to the devil?
Listen mate, selling your soul isn't like flogging a penis pump on Gumtree. It's a big deal, a very private, sacred moment in a Sunday Satanist's life. So please show some respect. Besides, even if I did want to tell you about it I couldn't 'cos I was totally whammed off my nut.
Tell me about Gorillaz's first ever show.
Camden Brownhouse, 1998. How did it go? Like any paradigm-shifting event, it overloaded people's synapses. They were so shell-shocked a massive riot broke out (which I predicted). The place got trashed, there were multiple casualties, and I picked up a range of STDs. Top night.
Where do you go to be inspired?
Where do you record your music?
Strangely enough I record in a recording studio. Top secret spot in London. State-of-the-art gear. We've even got a Nespresso machine.
Who is the greatest British artist—living or dead?
Living? Me. But credit where it's due, for sheer versatility and staying power, I'd have to give a nod to Ringo Starr. While everyone else was coked out of their minds in the eighties, he did his career's finest work on Thomas the Tank Engine.
Dead—Delia Derbyshire. Got you there haven't I! She was a genius innovator, a sculptor with sound. Worked with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the 60s. Doctor Who theme? Delia. Popped her clogs in 2001, but throughout the cosmos her legend wails on.
What is the greatest British film ever made?
Carry On Matron. On the surface, a film about randy blokes in nurses outfits trying to steal contraceptive pills from a maternity hospital. But below the surface, a damning expose into the terminal malaise that was 70s Britain.
What makes you proud to be British? What makes you ashamed?
Britain is one of the few places in the world where the old bill don't carry guns, which makes me very proud. And alive. I wouldn't be here if they were packing. I'd have been gunned down in Ann Summers in '98 assaulting a security guard with a pair of arse candles. As for shame? I don't really do it (see previous answers).
Has your attitude towards the UK changed in your lifetime? When? Why?
My upper lip has become a little less stiff. I think that's inevitable. Make no mistake though, everything else is as hard as lead piping.
Did you vote to leave or remain inside the European Union?
Why would I leave somewhere so great? Did you know Lithuania ranked number one in the world for internet upload and download speeds? Imagine what you could stream with that.
Who—if anyone—would you vote for in a general election?
I vote for whichever arsehole is slightly less of an arsehole. Which usually means the Green Party. I get my PA (2D) to fire off my postal vote while I'm kicking back with a mani-pedi and a crack wax.
Do you trust politicians? Any of them? Who can you bear and who do you most wish to suffer in some act of unspeakable violence?
Politicians are inherently untrustworthy, because it's in their interest to lie. Much like journalists. Right, pal?
How can we make Britain great again?
Stick the Royal Family back in charge. They're bat-shit crazy, love a booze-up, and occasionally dress up in period German military outfits. All of which is right up my strasse.
When you lie back and dream of England, what do you see?
David Attenborough in his Y-fronts and a trilby, holding a Staffordshire bull terrier on a gold chain.
What makes a good pub?
Pubs aren't meant to be good, mate. They're meant to be depressing and anonymous. A home from home for people with even shitter homes. But a slot machine always helps. And a jar of pickled eggs from the time before Diana died.
What makes a good breakfast?
Anything over 80 percent proof.
Wetherspoons, yay or nay?
A big fat yes. Some of their branches open at 7 AM. Seven fucking AM! That's customer service.
What is the best British food and why?
Curry. Yeah I know we didn't invent it but we stole it and made it our own. What's more British than that? A lot like tea. Nicked it from China, added milk and two sugars – best of bloody British. People say the British Empire was built on tea. It wasn't. They used guns with knives on the end. But it must have helped.
Beatles or Stones?
Blur or Oasis?
Who should play the next Bond?
I think Noodle should be the next Bond. What's that, Murdoc? But she's a woman? Yeah, deal with it. I'm a feminist now.
Is rock dead?
I'm insulted you'd ask me that when you're sitting close enough to feel the heat pulsing from my trousers.
When/if you finally die, where in this green and unpleasant land shall we bury you?
Death is for mugs, mate. Cryogenics, that's where it's at. Plan is to freeze my important bits (head and penis), then attach them to some cyborg or whotnot in the future. Then they plug me in, whack a thousand volts up my arse, and I rise again like a fucking Terminator messiah.
Finally, can you tell me anything about the new album?
You can follow Angus on Twitter.
All illustrations by Jamie Hewlett. Find out more about the new Gorillaz album at Gorillaz.com.