27/12/2011

BLUSHING GOD

Photo by Rob Golding
Having previously interviewed Marco Pirroni, I was delighted to have the opportunity to quiz band mate Chris Constantinou, the enigmatic front man of The Wolfmen. With a musical career of over three decades and a variety of anecdotes stretching back even further, Chris was certainly not light on material!

For those unfamiliar with the man himself, let me give you some background. Following a somewhat eclectic musical birth in the Seventies – spanning blues to rock – Chris’s big break came in 1982. He joined Adam Ant, playing bass guitar and supplying backing vocals, under the stage name of “Chris De Niro”. Chris is probably most notable for his work in 1985 during the 'Vive Le Rock' period, where he also played Live Aid with Adam, and worked with legendary producer Tony Visconti. After his stint with Adam, Chris moved onto several exciting projects. Teaming up with former Bow Wow Wow starlet Annabella Lwin resulted in the surprise hit “Do What You Do” in 1994. Chris also had a songwriting partnership with Guy Chambers, now renowned for his work with Robbie Williams. Subsequently he founded JackieOnAssid, which released two albums and went on to support Iggy Pop. In 2004 Chris got together with long time friend and ex-Ant, Marco Pirroni, to establish The Wolfmen.

In this candid interview, Chris opens on his influences, ambitions, regrets and schoolboy mishaps.

Chris, who were your first serious musical influences?
Jimi Hendrix and T. Rex were fantastic. Ska, Blues and Country music were on constant rotation.
Your first musical memory?
My parents’ family favourite LPs had a big impact on me. A track that really stands from those early years is “The Man From Laramie” by Jimmy Young.
Describe the soundtrack to your adolescence
Jimmy Cliff
Lou Reed - Transformer
Slade
Howlin’ Wolf
Dave and Ansell Collins - Double BarrelTangerine Dream
Amon Düül II
Jimmy Hendrix - Hey JoeHawkwind
Franz Zappa
Cat Stevens - Moon Shadow
Johnny Wynter
Black Sabbath
James Taylor
Billy Cobham - Spectrum
Roxy Music
Anything you mimed in front of the mirror to?
T. Rex - Ride A White Swan
And what about your first snog?
It was up a lane in Derriford in Plymouth with Linda Bloom. She bought me an ice cream. It was raining. She was wearing a red pvc raincoat and she had massive red bee stung lips.
How did you learn to play guitar?
I went to the skinny man in the music room. He played the clarinet. I wanted to play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix or Marc Bolan. The teacher taught me how to play the melody to a piece called “Edelweiss”. I then decided to give the flute a go and was sent to the skinny man’s room again. I really wanted to play a Jethro Tull song – but living in the past – he stuck to scales only. He couldn’t actually play flute! 
From then on, I had to teach myself to play guitar, flute and bass guitar.
Did any records inspire you to be a singer?
No, there wasn’t one record in particular but I admired Howlin’ Wolf, Marc Bolan, Leonard Cohen and Franz Zappa as singers and lyricists.

I was always a singer, you know in the choir and that sort of thing. In terms of what inspired me to be in a band? Well, that was out of necessity, at the start. I began doing simple backing vocals in my bands and then with Adam Ant I learnt quickly. You had to. It was intensive training! Also, to play the bass live with bands you had never even met before, or rehearsed with, was quite a thrilling - if daunting - task. Adam got me to sing all backing vox on the “Vive Le Rock” album.
When did you first discover your vocal talent?
I never had and still don’t see it as a talent. I just see it as something I can do okay and just work with.
How did you form The Wolfmen?
Well, I was in a studio with Harvey Birrel, in North London. We were working on some JackieOnAssid tunes (“Mr Sunday”, “Andy Warhol”, and "Company Car") and I called up Marco and asked him to play some guitar. As that went well, we decided to write some tracks from scratch and that was the beginning of The Wolfmen!
What don’t we know about you?
  • There was a professional country band that had a residency in an American camp in Baumholder, Germany that I used to play for. I was seventeen. A man got shot dead in the audience. The singer told me to keep playing
  • I was not one bit nervous playing at Live Aid. 
  • After playing at Radio City Music Hall in New York I partied with John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams to name a few.
  • Cooking is a love of mine.
  • During my first television appearance as part of the Plymouth College Choir, I picked my nose. I then hid behind the sofa when I saw it all back - including the gruesome close up.
  • When I was young, I went for a sleepover at Martin Foster’s place and shat in the bath. I would like to publicly apologise to him and his parents, if they are still alive.
  • Cat Stevens is my God Brother. He goes by the name of Yusuf nowadays.
Which musician did you most enjoy collaborating with?
Daler Mehndi was by far my favourite. The creation process behind “Two Eyes” was very exciting. 
We were sent his vocal files from India. It was mostly based on a one-chord Bangra vibe. 
We then wrote and wrapped Wolfmen-like music around it.






  










Do you have any musical regrets?
I started off wanting to sing as well as play guitar and bass, etc. In hindsight, I wish I had just stuck to the singing from the very beginning.
Any views on the innumerable reunions seen over the past few years? 
Well, I guess it beats having to get a proper job.  
What was the most challenging recording you’ve ever been involved in?
Ha! I suppose it most be the session with Gary Katz in which I had never heard the track before. I went to the pub, bought some bottles to take back to the studio, sat with the music in front of me. In fact, I got it in one take (apart from one note). That must have been a bit of luck but the track turned out pretty good, it was for a singer called Thomas Ribeiro. 
“Scorpio Rising” from the Vive Le Rock album, with Tony Visconti producing, was also a challenge. I had been out clubbing and had met a girl, so I went straight from that to the studio and I had never heard the song before. Again this was a first take – Tony said that is was the best bit of bass on the album.
Digital downloads - blessing or curse?
Blessing.
Tell me about the film Drapchi you star in.
Jack Cassady was the character I played. He’s a successful musician and producer who is sick of the rat race. He sells up and moves to Kathamandu.
For about two weeks I was in Kathmandu. The director Arvind Iyer is brilliant and they all looked after me very well. An amazing experience!
The film is out very soon so I can’t say too much.
It’s strange because “Plastic Charm” refers to Kathmandu but the lyrics for this track were written about fifteen years ago.
How was it working with Sinéad O’Connor? 
She was good fun to work with and is of course a brilliant singer and lyricist. It was an honour for us to work with her. The new album, “How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?”, will be coming out in February.
What was your input? 
Marco and I recorded about five tracks altogether at Raezor Studios. We co-wrote three songs with Sinéad that made the album - "The Wolf Is Getting Married", "I Had A Baby" and "Old Lady". We also recorded another two. One was a track called "Very Far From Home" and the other I can't remember.


You had finished “Married To The Eiffel Tower” in late 2009 and yet it was released two years later. What was the reason behind the delays? 
We were pissing about!
I know you teamed up with Annabella Lwin for the critically acclaimed singles “Car Sex” and “Do What You Do” in 1994. Were there any further plans? 
We signed a record deal with Sony. Unfortunately, the project was blighted by poor management and never went further than a couple of singles. A treasure trove of material was recorded, which remains unreleased to this day. What a waste!


Tell me about your partnership with Guy Chambers
I played on a number of sessions for Guy and he became a good friend of mine. He was on the verge of giving up before the Robbie opportunity came. He was telling me he might just have to become a music teacher! I told him he should keep at it and it was just a few months later when he got the call. I like him. Met up with him at a mate’s birthday party and have been in touch ever since. Working with him again would be nice.
Balancing Marco’s reluctance to live work with the financial interests of the band must be hard? How do you do it?
Marco doesn't like playing live and I respect that. We did a great gig at the 100 Club recently and Ciaron covered Marco's parts really well. Everyone knows that you need to play live in this day and age, I love playing live, and so that’s what I'll be doing.  
Will Ciaron be working with The Wolfmen in the studio? Or is Marco still on board?
Marco is still very much on board despite not playing live. 
Ciaron has already played on a cover of a song we have recorded by David Bowie’s project, Tin Machine, called “Bus Stop”.
Who is behind the art direction for the group?
Mark Alleyne has done most of the work so far. He’s brilliant!
Do you have any celebrity fans?
Pete Shelley, of Buzzcocks, was up at the front of our first gig. He took some photos and gave us a nice little write up in his blog. I can’t think of any others at the moment.
Oh, David Bowie loved “Cat Green Eyes” and “Wam Bam JFK”.
What are your thoughts on auto tune?
It’s another tool, like any other. 
Please describe your time with Adam in the eighties
It was amazing, like a never-ending fun paid holiday. I loved it!

Have you ever had a groupie? 
Are you joking? 
Your favourite Adam Ant/Adam and the Ants album?
It has to be “Dirk Wears White Sox” and some of “Kings Of The Wild Frontier”. I like some of the b-sides, too.
Would you like to work with Adam again?
Marco gave Adam the two albums and he said he really liked them. Yes, I'd love work with him again.  It would be nice to collaborate on a track in the studio.
Are you likely to buy his forthcoming ‘comeback’ album, snappily titled “Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter”?
Yes! 
How crazy is it on the road? What was your most interesting experience whilst touring?
It was San Antonio. When I wandered on to the roof of the hotel and saw a girl who was about to take her life. I talked her down and let her sleep in my hotel room – and no we didn’t have sex – she was nothing to do with “The Adam Ant Show”.
We kept in touch for many years and she told me how her life had improved.
But I haven’t heard from her for a long time now. I hope she is happy.
Most recent book?
Bowie Bolan And The Brooklyn Boy by Tony Visconti 
Did you enjoy the 100 Club show? The reviews have hailed it as a real triumph.
It was amazing fun and yes, the reviews were great too.
100 Club, July 2011 - Photo by Rob Golding
What does the future have in store for The Wolfmen? 
Live Nation has taken us on meaning you can expect plenty of live shows from us. There are also some interesting collaborations in the pipeline. So lots to look forward to!
Does a follow up to the “Married To The Eiffel Tower” album look likely?
I hope so! We have all discussed making the third album. If we do go ahead and make it, we’ll find a decent label to release it on.  
Chris, where do you want to be in five years' time?
I want to be alive, creative, fit, playing live and having fun.

“Married To The Eiffel” is out now

4 comments:

  1. > He scored a top five hit with “Puss ‘n Boots”.

    Chris did not play on the studio version of Puss 'N Boots - Adam and Marco did all the bass parts for the Strip album.

    Chris did get to mime the bass on Top Of The Pops and other TV shows and he did get to play Puss live on the 1984 Strip US Tour.

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  2. Thank you for the clarification. I have made amends.

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  3. Love your interviews and how in-depth they are. You're making me excited about acts that I'm not familiar with, and that's definitely an indicator of a good piece of music journalism. :) Keep them coming!

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  4. Hi Sisterrays, thank you for the kind words! I've nearly finished working on an interview with David Shah from The Melting Ice Caps.

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